Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Looking Forward, Looking Back

One of my dirty little secrets is that I love Christmas, probably because it always seems to be a time for looking back and reflecting. (For someone who reflects far too much and is in danger of having a crooked neck for looking over her shoulder too much, this isn’t always a good thing.) Of course, this time for reflection on what is past comes immediately before New Years, which is the king of all dates for looking forward and being hopeful – something I don’t do well.

Christmas is the holiday of memory. We spend the holiday period comparing our wins and failures to what has come before, whether it’s the successes of our academic year, or, as in my beloved sister’s case, that she managed to knock over all her Christmas shopping in one afternoon and beat her personal best from last year. We reminisce about Christmases past with those we love, and every now and again we adjust as someone we love is taken from us and the world as we know it shifts. There are the holidays in which there are young children once again, only this time they belong to us rather than our parents. There are the Christmases we spend apart from those we love, and the Christmases we spend in solitude, or perhaps only with a significant other. We travel far, we stay close to home, but ultimately we compare one Christmas with all the others we remember. Some of us try to recapture a sense of child like joy, and others just drink to get through it. But I’m willing to bet that at some point during the lead up to the big day, if not the day itself, you find yourself comparing the holiday to one that has come before and working out what that means to you.

I spent most of my recent trip to Melbourne anxiously checking my phone for the e-mail telling me what my thesis mark was. It was in a smelly ladies’ toilet that it finally arrived on my final afternoon of the trip. One of my other dirty little secrets is that my Honours result ended up being a lot lower than it should have been. It’s a secret that’s hard for me to admit.

But during this time of reflection, I try and acknowledge that things could have been a lot worse. Despite my illness being a greedy bastard for 10 of the last 12 months, I managed to finish Honours. I did more than well enough for acceptance to the advanced Masters program I want to study next year (I’m still waiting on this news, one way or the other). I have sung in beautiful venues and heard my voice ring out. I spoke at an academic conference and evoked an enthusiastic question time. I travelled for pleasure and for business on my own and managed not to get lost more than half a dozen times. I turned 30 in a room filled with my closest friends, and was touched by the love and compassion they show me every day. I stood in rooms filled with people as amazing artists and bands played and made me feel alive.

I am still alive. As bad as it got (and it got very, very bad) I am still here and still trying. I still have plans to make and things to look forward to, and I want to stick around for those.

This is my 31st Christmas, and I’m kind of excited about it (although maybe that’s because I don’t have to cook….). I hope the same for you and those you love, and I thank you for continuing to read this little blog of mine. Frankie is written and dispensed with, but I’m going to be a student for some time yet and I hope you’ll stick with me for that. May your tomorrows be bright and sparkly, friends. 
Friday, October 18, 2013

Be Our Guest

I'll be writing here again soon, but in the meantime I am over at A Brave Life offering some thoughts on turning thirty and finishing a thesis. I'm not one to really offer advice, but Kim's a long time friend who I actually got to meet in person last December when she visited Australia with her husband. 

I'll be posting something more substantial here over the weekend, but in the meantime you can read my stuff over at Kim's. 
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Election Night

Hi everyone! Just a few thoughts from my weekend here, but as of today I won't be blogging again until at least the second week of October. My thesis is currently more than a full time job, and I just can't afford to be writing anything else. I hope you'll all come back when I start writing with some frequency again.

On Saturday, I got up very early and went to a local polling place to work for the Australian Electoral Commission. Australians had to vote on Saturday for a federal government (it's compulsory to vote here, at all levels of government) and the conservatives came crashing in.

It's a long day, working a polling booth. My job as a 2IC is a sort of catch all position, basically anything that the manager needs to palm off. I was working quite a small booth this time around, and my manager was up to the task, so the day could have been a lot worse. 

We don't have it perfect here. The Senate voting paper is ridiculously complicated, especially for people who don't speak English (my electorate and the one I was working in have a much higher number of non English speakers than most), and the turnout was much lower than it should have been. But as I lined up to vote on Friday afternoon at a pre-polling venue, I couldn't help but get choked up at what I was about to do.

We vote in peace, without harassment (unless you count party workers, which I don't - usually). The AEC is mostly a well oiled machine, with pencils and paper so no defective machines for us. Rarely do you have to wait more than half an hour to vote anywhere in the country. There are sausage sizzles and lamingtons on offer at little stalls at many venues, fundraisers for the local sporting team or school. 

As the sign on every voting screen said, your vote is a valuable thing. Democracy, for all its faults, is a beautiful thing. And even though I hate the administration who just came in, I still feel strongly that our system of government and the way people are elected is one of the best going. It is a privilege and a responsibility that I cherish, and I exercise my right to choose with pride.   

Some time soon I will vote overseas, perhaps in an embassy, while I'm on a fellowship or a research trip. I can't wait, just like the little kids who eagerly push their parents' votes into the overflowing ballot boxes every election day. I remember doing the same when I was little, and I still poke mine through gleefully. My vote matters, and it's a personal, beautiful thing. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Great Expectations

It's probably pretty obvious by now I expect a lot of myself. I feel like all my life I've been this untapped potential and chronic underachiever - and I'm sick of it. 

I had a frustrating time yesterday as I got one of the marks back for the seminars I took as part of my Honours work. It was bad enough that I was really upset, and it occurred to me that perhaps I should ask for my second mark back so I could get all the upset over with in one day. 

So I asked the mentor for the second mark. It was slightly better, but still far short of what I wanted, nay needed for the overall mark I am seeking from this ridiculous exercise in self discipline and self doubt. I was right to get it all over with, and mourn what I can't fix. I woke up today ready to try again and make the thesis, which is worth 60% of the final mark, as good as it possibly can be. 

Look, they're not bad marks. My supervisor assured me that I'm in the top couple of percent of students with these marks, but still. It feels like a failure.

Expectations can cripple you. If you're a perfectionist and you want the best, sometimes you can paralyse yourself and not even start. The blank page is both frightening and exhilarating, because you know it probably won't be as good as in your head.

The trick is to start, to draft, to cut, and to believe that it can be better than you'd hoped. Over and over and over again. 

I leave you with this video of Dylan Moran talking about one's potential. I worry that he's right, the bastard:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friend of Ours

Three and a half years ago L. and I held hands, lined up behind a woman we love as she wed her high school sweetheart. Yesterday we held hands again outside a tiny country town crematorium as our friend farewelled her stepfather, who died suddenly last week. 

We stood, cold with the wind against our backs, part of the huge crowd that couldn't fit inside the small building. The deceased had been a prison guard, his fellow officers making up much of the crowd; the young guard next to me would wipe her tears away and then adjust her dress hat every few minutes as the service wore on. This man was loved, you could feel it, this man who had told me all about his kids proudly as he blew up balloons for my friends' engagement party. Everyone wept quietly, brought undone as the children said their piece. I'm not sure anyone could have kept it together as his youngest daughter struggled through her short eulogy. 

I sing at a lot of funerals, and you never get used to them. It's not unusual for me to be moved to tears with the odd story, especially if the person who's left is clearly adored and missed. So often, though, it's not for the deceased that we cry, it's for the people left behind who are hurting. It's for the people we love who one day will leave us. And it's the sobering realisation that, one day, a few people might gather and mourn us too. 

Coming from as Catholic a background as I do, I'm always unsure of funeral etiquette for others. Catholics all go funerals a lot, because it's not just a celebration, it's a requiem, a chance to pray for the deceased. So if you know them at all, you go. I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing going into yesterday, but the moment our friend C. walked out of the church and saw us, the look on her face told me we had absolutely done the right thing, making the 3 hour trip down from Sydney. When she was able to break free of her family, we held her close and told her we loved her, which is what we had gone there to do.

We ended up at a workers' club for drinks that were filled to the brim and slopped down the side as we tried to budge our way through the crowded wake. L. and took turns looking after our friend and after her mother, who was doing pretty well all things considered. The crowd dwindled, and eventually it was just us and the immediate family ranged around, sipping drinks and trying to make each other eat. We made inappropriate jokes, we made plans to catch up when C.'s in Sydney next week, we talked about L.'s daughter's birthday party. 

My friendship with C. worries me from time to time - do we have enough in common to stay friends? Are we really close if we can sometimes go quite a long time without speaking? The answer was on C.'s face when she saw us, and how pleased she was to have us there as she tried to take care of everyone while trying to come to terms with her own grief. The petty, paranoid stuff ebbed away, and I am grateful that my presence meant something to her and made a shitty day a little bit better. No friendship is perfect, we're not close like girls on television shows, but we do have an intimacy that no one else can share. 

We take care of each other. Sooner or later there'll be different combinations of friends holding hands at different funerals, but that won't change. We have each others' backs. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

All The Pictures On The Wall

I'm currently immersed in writing hell, almost 4800 words into a 6000 word paper (whee!) so what you're getting from me is a bit of picture fluff....literally. 

I'm a committed and regular letter writer, and a lover of the medium. My plan for Masters is to use letters as my main source, lots of them, from lots of people. But a few years ago, when my life was a total mess and finding nice things to write about was difficult, I would occasionally fall back on an old writing trick of mine, where I would describe my surroundings. It came to me that there might be something interesting in talking about what I loved enough to put up on my wall. 

My parents wouldn't let me put posters up as a teenager, but eventually they stopped tearing them down and my tastes evolved, just a little. (I still kind of miss my Buffy poster that my mum destroyed....) When I first lived by myself it was mostly movie posters, but now it's swayed back to music, as I find the nicest and most interesting designs are being done for bands and solo artists. Having said that, I do have some art prints up there. 

So this is what I have my walls right now:

Oh, Chrissie. I had a clipped magazine article about The Pretenders that I'd nicked from the library that also didn't survive my mother's purge of '99, but here she is in a fabulous, wonderfully colourful poster I bought two years ago from a 2007 concert. I love it.

I wish I could link to the etsy seller from whom I purchased this, but she seems to have closed up shop. This is a 8 x5 inch card, and I don't know why I love it so much, or why it appeals to me, but I do and it does. It's also the most feminine design on my wall. 

(Hieronymus Bosch, 'Christ Carrying The Cross')

I think some of you know I have a thing for Bosch. No, not the power tools. Especially given some of the craziness in my head, this poster has a certain strength for me, and is especially relevant given the paper I am trying to write  at the moment. (Shuddup and forget about the damn thing for ten minutes!)

This image does not do the poster justice. It is this beautiful, thick paper and the design is shiny on the page. These guys are amazing live, so I like that this is a concert poster, albeit for a concert in the UK (Wembley, April 2009).

Hey look, it's Kyp Malone before he shaved his afro off! This is a much more modern design than most of the stuff I like, but the colours and silliness of it are very appealing. TV On The Radio are one of my favourite bands on the planet, can't live without'em.

The 'Writing Frankie' poster girl. I had this in my etsy favourites for about a year before I finally bought about a year ago. You can buy it here from a lovely lady in Finland. 

There's a positivity to this that I love.

Finally, apart from a two month calendar from my favourite magazine, there's a small square of paper with a definition of what a 90+ Honours result looks like. A 90+ result would mean that I have produced 'work demonstrating the highest level of accomplishment and intellectual autonomy that can be expected from an undergraduate student'. 

That's what I'm hoping, so it's back to the paper now.

What do you have on your walls?

Saturday, June 22, 2013


I love how the really important conversations with my sister always seem to take place late at night as one of us reheats dinner while the other watches. We stand on either side of the tiny kitchen, the old wooden table that Dad's father made some forty years ago between us, and we talk, usually a talk that's been a long time coming. Last night it started just as a catch up, and her telling me about the work she has on a camp this coming week, and we made plans to have lunch when she gets back, a lunch we've been planning since she bailed on the Morrissey concert last year. (Bitch.)

On the spur of the moment, it just seemed like the right time to tell her about the scary health stuff that's been going on. She knows there's been stuff wrong (there's only so much you can hide when you live in the same house), but she doesn't know how bad. It took me a few goes to get the words out, mumbling some other rubbish first, and eventually came up with this:

'So I've had some stuff. Like, voices and psychosis. All new.'

'You haven't already had that for years?'


'You've had that stuff for years, right?' 

'What? No! What's wrong with you?'

'What's wrong with me?'

'Yeah, fair call.'

We didn't talk about it much after that. She took the news calmly, and was really good about it, and promised not to tell my parents (I still don't know how to have that conversation). I feel better talking about it now with a bit of practice on a few friends and now that I am mostly certain schizophrenia isn't on the table. She was calm for me. The same way I am calm for her when she needs me to kill a spider or a cockroach. The same way she is calm for me when I have to get a needle or a blood test and she talks sense into me. 

This give and take is still kind of new for us. We've fought and scrambled our way to this strong support that's so good for both of us; we talk each other up and down as needed. It's a dynamic that runs the gamut from: 'How can you possibly think that? What is wrong with you?' to 'Oh my god, I thought exactly the same thing, you're in my head' and carrying on full conversations with movie and comedy quotes from people we love. We have three brothers, but they're not like us much. There are things that she and I share that no one else can.

Last week I read an touching series of interviews conducted with sets of sisters. The sister of Alison Bell, the actress, said something that cut through to my heart: 'The best thing about having a sister is that it's Alison.' 

It's a beautiful thought, and one that I believe too. The best thing about having a sister is that she's Clarence.* It's not always easy, but it's worth it, and it's the most important relationship in my life. 

She's not perfect, but she's my person. 

*her nickname
Saturday, June 15, 2013

I Go To Sleep

I rarely do 'State of the Nation' posts, but this is a necessary anomaly. 

A few months ago I mentioned that I had been experiencing some really scary stuff, like hearing voices and psychosis, among other things. I've been in and out of hospital since December, but my contact with my specialist has been limited and I haven't been able to afford seeing her. My GP (or my regular doctor - I've no idea what you'd call her in the States or the UK) left her practice around the time I was getting ill, and I was only just able to track her down. However, she's now arranged with my specialist for me to see her under the same bulk billing practice that is used by most GPs, so the health care system at the federal level is looking after me. Thank Christ for socialised medicine and decent doctors who give a damn. 

The de Balzac line that 'our greatest fears lie in anticipation' rings very true where my health is concerned. Until now I have always been very proactive about my condition since I was diagnosed properly. I am compliant about taking my medications, and when I have the cash I see my specialist. I go to hospital when psychosis starts. I try and educate myself about things I can do to live better and reduce the severity of my symptoms. But even though most of the reason I haven't been seeing doctors of late is cash related, there's also a part of me that didn't want to be told I had schizophrenia. 

So here's the big news: it's almost certainly not schizophrenia. (Cue sigh of relief.) The bets are on the psychosis being triggered by my past trauma, even after all this time, and it's possible my diagnosis will now be Bipolar I, not II. This feels strange to me. For some time now I have joked that the definition of Bipolar II in the DSM-whatever should be accompanied by my photograph, but the psychosis changes things. I dunno. It might change again soon, who knows. 

I have a new medication to add to the mix, a little pill so tiny you can hardly believe that it's so important. If I sneezed I'd never find it. It has a sedative and calming effect and should help keep the psychosis at bay (please, yes) so I add it to the other medication I've been taking for a few years now. It's all at night, and the pills are dry and smooth in my fingers as I sip the water to wash them down. It's amazing how we can imbue such minute objects with such power, and it's not unusual for me to look at them with longing, hoping that their intricacies will help me through the next day and beyond. That they'll send me to sleep soon, and allow me to be at my best.

Here's hoping.

P.S. - Google Reader is soon to be no more, and given how infrequently I update the blog I'm asking those of you who read this when I do to either sign up with a service like BlogLovin', which I've just started using myself and quite like, or subscribe to the blog via e-mail at right. I do occasionally tweet that I've updated, but if you're a regular reader I'd be very grateful if you'd sign up so I don't have to do that - it makes me feel foolish. 

I just took my tablets so I'm going to bed now. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

All Fired Up

While it seems that some of the scariest things of these last months aren’t going away, it does seem that I’ve stumbled on a patch of relative calm and creativity. I had a major breakthrough on some horribly overdue research that I’m now assembling and then writing up, and if this holds for me then getting all my Honours work done by October is manageable. For the first time in months I am not consumed by blinding panic every time I think of all the work I have to do. I’m actually excited by the prospect of my work for the first time in ages, and I’m fighting my head well enough to get some shit done.

It’s a strange thing, getting something of your real self back after months of being so disconnected. While it’s not a terribly original analogy, it really is rather like the lights coming on inside your head. It’s thrilling, cracking something so resolutely and steadfastly infuriating as the work that’s been in front of me for months. I also like that I’ve been able to speak with people this last week or so and actually be able to play along and pass for a normal human being.

I was feeling well enough that I could run away to Canberra for the weekend just gone, a long arranged trip for a concert by one of my favourite Australian bands. I have lived with their music for more than fourteen years, and listening to these guys and seeing them live are memories of my teens that I don’t completely hate. It’s not simply nostalgia – they’re still releasing outstanding music – and I was looking forward to seeing them in a venue I haven’t been to before. I know most of the Sydney live music venues like the back of my hand and am a little bored with them, so the intimate microbrewery with great sound was a lovely surprise for this passionate gig goer, even if we were all dying of the heat by the end of the night (this sounds especially ridiculous given that we were on the very cusp of winter that night in Canberra, of all places). My friends and I got there after splitting some amazing dumplings and some even better beer, and for a few hours it really felt like someone else’s life. We were laughing and chatting and the Moz who’s in and out of hospital managed to stay in her cage for the night. One of the joys of live music is that it always wakes me up, and so it was on Friday night. I was present, and having a good time.

We stood and drank and tried to carry on a conversation despite the noise, waiting for the band to come onstage. The slightly older crowd, who would have been in their twenties when this band was at their peak, swayed and made out with one another, and I smiled, hoping that some of these couples had, in fact, gotten together all the way back when. Then there they were, and after a few songs I looked around, almost expecting to see my younger, thinner self, just singing along. But instead I saw my friends, who I love so much, and who welcome me into their home when I come to town. I looked back at the singer, wailing about time travel and times past, and it suddenly hit me that I’m so busy looking back and trying to work out my own past that I’m missing what’s in front of me right now.

This is probably self-evident to everyone but me. It makes complete sense that I study history; I'm certainly obsessed with my own past and what went wrong and what passed me by. Now I am missing what’s in front of me, and the truth is that even though a lot of the time I’m paralysed by my illness, I am doing my Honours work. I am doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing right now, at a university I love, and I am free. This work isn’t a burden, or something that someone else is demanding of me. It is my choice, and I am good at this. It’s research and it’s writing, and there’s creativity and imagination required of me in what I do. This is my vocation, and this time and place is mine.

So while I’m chained to a hospital bed more often than I would like, I am privileged enough to mostly do what keeps me alive and feeds my soul. I am doing what I love, and that sets me free. 
Thursday, May 23, 2013

(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard

One of my closest friends as an adult is a girl who used to bully me at school. Badly.

A lot has happened in the years since we were at the same school. I did my last four years at another place, but because our mothers have known each other since they were at school and are sort of friends, we kept seeing each other around, not least because she lived close by. Our first year of uni she started dating a man who became one of my closest friends, and she took classes with my ex, but we still had this awkward, difficult thing going on. They eventually broke up, and I figured that was it. Surely we wouldn’t have contact any more, our lives were too different.

Then, almost six years ago, her older brother killed himself, in one of the worst ways possible.

My mother called me at work to tell me. There was a message waiting on my voicemail that I found at the end of my waitressing shift that night, and I knew something was wrong because my mother never calls me. This left L. as the oldest child of the remaining six children, four of whom were still in school, at the most Catholic of Catholic schools that exist in this country.

In the haze of months that followed I tried to reach out to her; I made an effort to invite her to gatherings of my friends, if only so she could be with people who didn’t know the story. She never came, and as I was falling down the rabbit hole of mental illness in earnest myself there wasn’t much I could do. Again, I figured, we wouldn’t see each other anymore.

Not quite two years ago I had just started my final class of my B.A. and had one foot out the door, planning on a law degree in Canberra in 2012. It was my first morning tutorial with the mentor (little did I know what was coming) and I was yet to meet my closest girlfriend who was also in that class. I was at uni very early working, racing through the readings, when there was a tap on my shoulder. It was L., she was smiling, and suddenly – SNAP! – we were friends. After 23 years of knowing each other, and avoiding each other at parties and gatherings, the friendship was just there. Said friendship has been one of the greatest joys of the last few years of my life. We’re both on the academic track (she just finished her advanced Masters in a complementary discipline), we’re both living in the same area again, and the mental illness that has ravaged both our lives seems to have formed this bond between us that’s unshakeable. Plus, we’re both single. Hilariously we have the same psychiatrist, a discovery we made only a few months ago. It’s a bizarre experience to become friends with someone and be so close after almost a lifetime of enmity, as you have this history, but most of isn’t good. Yet it’s amazing how trauma can bring you together, hers and mine.* We have no curiosity about the dreadful things that have scarred each other, it’s just understood.

On Saturday night I dressed up a little and headed out to a bar, an unusual occurrence, for L.'s birthday drinks. I was nervous because I knew there was a good chance of other school people being there, as well as most of her siblings who I hadn’t seen in years. I’ve discovered if you’re trying to avoid people it’s best to go early to these things, as most people don’t turn up for drinks until two hours after the start time, and the trick worked well. I was coping with chatting with new people, and caught up with an old friend from last year’s Honours cohort who’s about to get married, I drank a few glasses of cheap yet good red wine and laughed at two guys wearing slankets. It was nice. Ultimately I only had to speak with one old classmate, and it was actually really great. It was friendly, and there was even a little acknowledgement that yeah, maybe we gave you a rough time way back when. To my great surprise, I had a good time (it helped I left before the scary people got there). It seemed to mean a lot to L. that I was there. I’m proud that we’ve done one better than our mothers, and actually managed to be friends for real.

As I got myself home, reeking of cigarette smoke from the bar, it occurred to me that when I host my 30th birthday party in a few months’ time, L. will be there. She will also be the only person attending who was at my rather pathetic 21st birthday lunch almost 9 years ago. She came late, and I only invited her because she was still with that guy who used to be one of my closest friends. I’m planning a very small dinner for September, with just the people who really matter to me. Putting her name on a very short list was a no brainer, I’m so lucky to have her. I also find it comforting that you can be wrong about people, and that sometimes even the most difficult of relationships can change on you. It’s one of the nicest surprises of growing up.

*I still think this space is better off without me being too explicit about my trauma (and I count myself lucky I didn't lose a sibling to suicide). I think most of you can put the pieces together anyway. 
Monday, May 13, 2013

Dressing Up

Last week Kirsty started a game that seems to have caught on, which isn't surprising given that I couldn't really stop thinking about it. If you can't be bothered clicking the link, she decided to imagine what her blog would look like as an outfit (and what she came up with is scarily accurate, you really should go and look), so I started looking around for my version. 

Turns out finding stuff which coordinates with every colour on my blog design is tricky, so I tried to get as close as I could. 

My blog outfit

H M fitness shirt
$23 -

Topshop winter white skirt
$50 -

Accessorize metallic ballet flat
$56 -

Nine West real leather handbag
$179 -

Blu Bijoux yellow gold jewelry
$28 -

Forever 21

Nars cosmetic
$33 -

Rimmel lipstick
$7.69 -

By terry
$47 -

Butter london
$18 -

Thanks Kirsty, this was an awesome procrastination tool! (In fact it was so good that I tried to make a completely different blog post with another outfit and paste the images into blogger, but Polyvore works much better.) Anyone else wanna play?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lisztomania (Take 3)

Most of you on the list have already received your Christmas mix CD (only several months late, but oh well....) and those of you who haven't (Nina, Rob and Ginger) should get it very soon. In the meantime I'm going to post the list of what went on last year's edition, because I'll probably forget if I wait any longer. 

For those of you new to this game, every year I put together a mix CD for close friends, both at home and abroad. The friends at home all (OK, almost all) received theirs before Christmas but I was pretty bad about getting the overseas ones out as international postage is a bit pricey.

There are a couple of rules: no using artists or bands I have used before, but side projects and solo efforts are OK. No covers. I like to include at least 5 songs from albums released in the year that's just passed, and I try and include several Australian acts. There's usually also a few classic tracks, mostly from the late 70s and early 80s because I just eat that stuff up. Live versions are always fun, but that's not a hard and fast rule. It usually works out at about 15 tracks each year, about an hour long in total, because I think that's kind of a perfect length for a CD. Maybe that's because my commute is about an hour long....

You can see the CDs I made in other years here. 

2012 - A World Elsewhere

Billy Idol - Dancing With Myself
Peaches - Showstopper
Can - Mother Sky
Morrissey - The Last of the Famous International Playboys
Bertie Blackman - Mercy Killer
Alabama Shakes - Be Mine
Ball Park Music - Coming Down
The Kills - Pull A U
Cat Power - Cherokee
Clubfeet (feat. Chela) - Heartbreak
Goldfrapp - Number 1
The Naked and Famous - No Way
Lisa Mitchell - Bless This Mess
Something for Kate - Eureka
Paul Kelly - Cradle of Love
Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hairdresser on Fire

About a month ago I called the salon which employs my hairdresser to book a haircut I badly needed. I find that the hair conversation I have with myself in the mornings leading up to my haircut being booked usually goes something like this:

Days after haircut, 96 - 'Hair looks OK.'
Days after haircut, 97 - 'Hair looks OK.'
Days after haircut, 98 - 'Hair looks OK.'
Days after haircut, 99 - 'Hair looks OK. Who says I should get it done every three months?'
Days after haircut, 100 - 'Hair looks OK. Might need a hairband - oh yeah, that's better.'
Days after haircut, 101 - 'OH GOD I NEEDED A HAIRCUT YESTERDAY!' 

You see, that's because I suddenly look like a cross between these two gentlemen:

Beethoven, trying to count


Einstein, as modelled in soft toy form.

And that's usually when I pick up the phone and call Adam. My hairdresser.

Adam started cutting my hair in about August 2010. It was the first time I was getting my hair done professionally in about 2 years, as I had a neurological condition that required several surgeries in early 2009 and I had been loathed to go to a hairdresser and explain the scars. So I cut my own hair for a while, sometimes after taking sleeping tablets. This was not quite as disastrous as it sounds (I have very thick, curly hair and the texture covered a multitude of sins), but maybe that's because I'm comparing it to the time in Year 7 when I decided my eyebrows were completely ridiculous and so partly shaved them off with a razor. Of course, this wasn't good enough, so I took some of the rest of them off with a stanley knife. Yes, you read that right, and no, I didn't cut myself. I did, however, have a public speaking competition the next night, and my mother drew some in with an eyebrow pencil, which essentially converted me to the wonders of makeup.         

But I'm talking about haircuts here.

Adam is from London, with a wonderful bedside manner and a deliciously curly mop of hair and snazzy shoes. He's straight, and for some reason a straight male hairdresser is alluring. He also has excellent taste in music and is roughly the same age as me, so the call to the salon to book my haircut always wakened the slightly delicious anticipation of having someone make you feel nice for a little while. I was excited to ring the salon and book an appointment with Adam. We had lots to talk about, and I was looking forward to seeing him. He got married the same week I was in Melbourne, you see. Then the girl on the desk that day broke my heart a little.

'Oh, I'm sorry to have to say this, but Adam doesn't work here anymore.'

'Is he all right?,' I asked, slightly crushed. 'What's he up to?' (Could I have sounded anymore like a fan-girl?)

'Yeah, he's great, he's working in IT now.'

'Oh, OK,' I said brightly, as I was thrust into the hell we all dread when this happens to us. 'So....I need someone to cut my hair.'

Now I get my hair done at Toni & Guy, and one of the good things about it (apart from the cuts being decent value) is that the training program they run world wide means you're pretty sure of getting a good haircut with anyone who works there. The problem instead, as with so many other instances in life, is that I have no idea how to ask for what I want. Lyn's typically hilarious (but somewhat unhelpful) suggestion was to '[make] high-pitched, wordless noises while gesturing wildly in the direction of [my] head', so I count it as a win that I managed not to do a Beaker impression in front of my new hairdresser. Instead I mumbled something about not wanting to look like a dead, deaf composer anymore. 

The woman who eventually chopped my locks off also happens to be from the UK and is good friends with Adam, my now former hair paramour. She's quite mannered in that very British sort of way, and had fun telling me how much she likes the lifestyle here (the UK and Australia seem to have this citizen swap going on where we lose people to the other, indefinitely), but it was all slightly awkward and I left not really feeling like my best self. I was mostly just uncomfortable from all the hair that was everywhere on my body covered by skin. You know, everywhere.

I like my short cut, and think it's a vast improvement, but it does occur to me in the mirror most mornings that I now look something like this: 

Oh yeah, sexy face like that Dylan Moran. 

Then again, at the end of the day, I also look a little like the other Dylan: 

you know, from the cover of Blonde on Blonde.

'But Moz,' I hear you say, 'they're all guys. With facial hair!'

I don't want to talk about it.

I am happy with the cut, I am. Except then I realised the person I really look like now is my mother. And that's a hundred times worse.

I'm off to deal with my facial hair. With a stanley knife, I'm kind of broke. 
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Postcards from Melbourne (Part 2)

(Errrr.....this was not the post I sat down to write, it just came out. The final installment of my Melbourne reflections will come when my best friend passes on a copy of the letter I wrote her while there. Until then, here's this, and I'll be back in a few days with the post I thought was coming.)

Dear moment,

We have about fifteen minutes, I think, so it’s rather a long moment. It has been a very long day, a very hard day, and I’ve spent quite a lot of it talking myself up.  First there were the few hours before my presentation where I tried to convince myself it would be OK, and pictured Rocky pumping himself up in my head while I ate breakfast and drank a really good cup of coffee. Then after my presentation I had to skip the next session and try and talk sense into myself before the mentor collared me at lunch and actually managed to talk sense into me. If I trust him on everything else, maybe I should believe him when he says it was truly excellent, that I was truly excellent.

So I’m sitting here, having ordered what will be a truly excellent pizza I will eat in my plain little hotel room I have come to rather love (once I’ve stumbled there without the shoes on that have been killing me all damn day), and I am watching the very natty dressers who work here as they buzz around and tease each other on this quiet Friday night. The staff here are so friendly, and each of them seems to pause as they pass by me – I think I really must look every bit as shattered as I am. I’m thinking to myself that this day I have been working up towards for five months is here and almost over, and that this is probably a time for celebration. I did OK today. I didn’t make too much of a goat out of myself, I managed to not sprint from the room the moment the thing was done to throw up, and I had a number of lovely chats with people today, including with almost all the people who came to my presentation and wanted to speak with me about it. This is a day worth remembering.

It occurs to me that I have some money, the money I have been stashing away for five months so that I could actually live a little while I was here, on this very important trip. And the wine list is right there, oh look! The glass of red I really want will almost surely make me fall asleep right here and now, so instead I order a pinot gris and I’m happy as I smile and ask the waitress for it.

I’m waiting for the wine and for a moment I hate that I’m here by myself at the end of this day. One of the worst things about being single, one of the things I rarely think about, is that when the good stuff happens you don’t have anyone with whom to share it. I feel this very strongly because I am terrible at celebrating. I don’t know how to jump up and down for myself and get excited for something I did. It does feel very lonely, and for a second I hate that it’s just me in this little restaurant with the friendly, well dressed staff and that I will go home by myself to the little yellow room.

But here’s my wine, and I suddenly know that no one else is going to toast me, no one else is going to acknowledge how momentous today was and what an achievement it has been to just get here in one piece. I got on the damn train to Melbourne rather than walking in front of it. This was my day, this is my moment, and although I’ve spent most of the day shaking and close to tears, it really was one hell of a time. I raise my glass to myself, just a tiny bit so no one knows what I’m doing. And I blink the tears away and try to breathe.  There’s no self pity here, I promise, it’s just the way it is. It’s quite OK. I need to get better at cheering myself on.

I’m alone in this moment, and it feels pretty damn good. This little space of time, for me and my glass of wine, is golden. For just a bit I am the luckiest girl in the world.


Me x

(Yeah, I know, it was a big postcard.)
Monday, April 15, 2013


Hi! Looking a bit different here. I took a cue from Kirsty and went for a new look. You might need to adjust your zoom settings a little, because the blog header’s a bit big, but if you do that hopefully you get the impression intended.* The look of this blog has always been a bit dark and martial  (unsurprisingly so given the content and my own personal aesthetic preferences), and I thought it might be time to pretty it up a bit. As I am completely incapable of doing that on my own, I turned to the internet for help with a (small) fistful of dollars.

In real life, I’m going through a corresponding period where I just hate the way I look and wish it was as easy and as quick to fix with a blog template and a little bit of money. I know this is pretty common, especially for women, and I do all the typical things like avoiding mirrors and not buying clothes unless I absolutely have to. I spent some time with someone recently which ended up making me feel even worse on that front, and it’s not like I’ve ever had much confidence when it comes to my appearance. It’s just that any anxiety or discomfort I might feel about how I look has been drowned out by the misery in my head, and it’s been that way for a long time.** It’s absolutely one of the reasons I don’t post personal pictures on the blog.

I also know that aesthetics matter, and maybe if I pay a little more attention to the outside I might feel a little better on the inside. Obvious, huh? I thought it might be worth doing the same with the blog, trying to spruce the place up a bit might help alleviate the dark stuff I write about. So I’m going to try and post a few more pictures, and try writing about some more everyday things, in order to make this is a slightly better place to visit as a reader. I’m profoundly grateful that I have a small, committed group of you who read and comment, especially given the difficult themes and content up for grabs here.  I’d like to try and make it a more pleasant experience for you.

But how to do it? It turns out that just about every blog template you can buy without expensive custom work is all pretties and pastel colours and cutesy fonts. They’re all so feminine and imply that the blog to hand is filled with food pictures and teddy bears. The templates I could find are for bright and shiny blogs, filled with posts about how hard things were, and now it’s OK, I figured it out. How difficult but fulfilling parenthood can be. Or how to make a yoga mat out of cucumber peelings and a picture frame out of your baby’s first teeth. Those blogs are lovely and all, but that isn’t what I write about and probably never will be. I hope that I will eventually be able to write about some things with a measure of retrospection and experience, but it will never be an advice blog.*** ‘Here’s how you get through this’ and ‘here’s how I did it’ is not my style. I’m just groping about in the dark in real life, much like how I fumble writing this blog.

I started this blog because I wanted to write about things I couldn’t really find elsewhere, especially amongst Australian bloggers. I want to become a better writer and flesh out ideas for my work while I obsess over some of problems which have defined my life. But I also don’t want it to devolve into something so dark that you all only read it out of obligation.
I want to punch a hole in the wall for some light and air. I’ll be here, in my corner, trying to breathe and start over. Hope you all like the refurb.

*Thanks, Mel! There are some small changes, physically – you can now subscribe to the blog for e-mail updates, I’ve updated my bio slightly, and my blog roll is now current. There are some other bits and pieces I’m trying to figure out too, so with a bit of luck it should be easier to navigate around here and get in touch, should you need to. And no more word verification! I apologise for that, I didn’t even realise it was part of the deal.

**This is not, in any way, to discount the mental illness or distress caused by eating disorders or something close to them. I know exactly how devastating they can be (a very close friend nearly died from one), and that they are not simply a physical disease. It’s one of the reasons they are so tricky to treat - they are both physical and mental illnesses. My friend who went through it wrote a memoir about it that I highly recommend.

*** The only advice I can dispense with good conscience is about what music to buy. 
Friday, April 12, 2013

Will Do

This is not a carefully written post, for once. This is the written version of the life raft that has been bobbing in my head since the madness descended in earnest last December. This is the expression of the need I have to reach out today, on a crappy day - a need I have resisted thus far, in some 15 months of blogging. On a day when the rest* of my Honours cohort is graduating and celebrating, I am hiding under my bedcovers. Despite my careful screening of social media, I couldn't avoid the shenanigans completely. It doesn't help that I hate myself for taking others' joy so personally, I swear I am not usually this person. 

So today I keep telling myself what I have to believe to keep going:

I will finish my work. 

I will graduate.

I will get the mark I want, or something damn close to it. (A 93, if you're interested.)

I do not expect to win prizes, but all marks over 90 (for the combined thesis and seminar class results) are considered for the University Medal. The work is submitted for consideration to the Honours committee and read by lots of people. This has been my goal from the beginning. It is a lofty goal - although about half of the students who do Honours in this department get a first (it's a world class department), the majority of them get somewhere between 80 (the low cut off for a first) and about 85. It is a scant handful of people whose work gets to the meeting. But I have the talent, I have the help. I can do this. I HAVE to do this. 

I will do this. 

Keep me honest, friends. Please. 

(On a lighter note, come back early next week to see the blog's facelift.) 

*except for a few of us who dropped to part time. 
Thursday, April 4, 2013

We Used To

I am shaking with nerves, and with something else. The something else doesn’t have a name, because at this point I can barely identify what is happening to me.  However, tonight I have a job to do. I am singing roughly half of the most important piece of music in Catholic liturgy all year, and I’ve learned it all in the last 24 hours. It is unaccompanied, difficult, and almost perfect for my particular skills, for my voice which has suddenly kicked into gear quite spectacularly. But I do not feel worthy to be here, in a house of God on Easter Vigil night. This is a place for believers, for those who practice what they say, and because of what is happening to me outside this place I cannot believe that I belong here, that this job is mine.

The Bishop has asked for me, urged on by my favourite organist. She spent an hour or so on the phone to me last night, playing the piece down the phone to me and, unbeknownst to her, to my father’s dictaphone which has been volunteered for this purpose (it’s amazing what my parents will volunteer when something Catholic is up for grabs). The piece of music is marked in pen (oh, the horror!), with bits scratched out in Marie’s elderly scrawl. My more modest cursive has made small circles around notes that bother me, phrases I have sung under my breath all day on a cash register serving frenzied shoppers not so far from here. I am not really ready for this, but I know the basic notation well enough that I can always return to the original key and starting point for the next phrase if I need to.

People are on their way back in to the chapel after lighting their candles and praying outside, where the Mass begins. My head is seething with a panic caused by a chain of events that was started in that same place as the cash register I worked today. My job is my one place of refuge outside of school, but it has also become a place of darkness, marked by spaces where I cannot go for fear that HE will seek me out. It is bad enough that when he tells me to meet him at his car around the corner from work I have to do so, but now he might hurt me at work too – this is where it started, you see. It has been going on for a few months now, and for some reason, here in a place of worship, my mind lingers on the traumatic details. Why now?, my mind protests – I mean, really? Is it somehow part of God’s plan for me to be panicking while I sing His praises?

The Bishop goes first, his voice really quite decent for a man his age. Priests are rarely singers, and even more rarely good ones, but his does his job. I am conscious of Marie close by, she has not a doubt in her mind that I can do this, she pushed for me to take over the job from a man unwilling to let it go. I remember that I am in a venue where the acoustics do most of your work for you. I breathe in, and sing out, and I hear a voice that has changed so much, so very recently. I am a mezzo now, a grown up singer, still changing, but definitely more adult. I look up into the vaulted ceiling and hit the notes just so, as needed. I do not falter. I hear my voice ring out in a beautiful venue with a full chapel beneath me, and I realise that although my life is falling apart, I can do this. This is still mine, and that small moment of pride stays with me, even as the shame and pain of everything else colours my life, both that night and for the rest of the year. Tonight I become a little more like a woman.

It’s all thirteen years ago now, but it’s so easy to write it all in the present tense. This last Saturday night I sang the piece again, as I do every year. Easter all about the rituals within the liturgy, but it’s also the rituals created around the practice of it. For me, even though I no longer consider myself to be Catholic, it means singing at Maundy Thursday Mass, the Good Friday ceremony at 3pm and then Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. I stay in the family house with people who fast and take this stuff very seriously. I walk to and from this lovely chapel, still with the beautiful acoustics, that remains such a feature in my working life, and on a piece of land where I exercise almost daily. And I sing the Exsultet in full, by myself now, feeling a connection with my past and my future and with the faith that still has elements of beauty that move me. I still use the same copy of the music with Marie’s handwriting all over it, marked up terribly in a way that would make me ashamed to show it to anyone else. (Marie doesn’t sing with us anymore, she’s in her late eighties and now has trouble placing me when I call. The Bishop retired some years ago, and I have no idea where he is these days.) When people talk about the exciting things they’re going to do over the Easter break and ask what I will do I smile and say ‘lots of singing’, because I know exactly where I will be, and what I will be doing. I will be upstairs in that hot, stuffy gallery, singing beautiful music with people I care about, gently touching the music marked by someone I love, and then walk home in the crisp Autumn air.* I think of the man who tore my life apart, wonder what happened to him, and am filled with regrets. I remember a time when I was even more trapped and confused than I am now, and am grateful for how far I have come.

* Autumn in Sydney always seems to only kick into gear at Easter, for some reason. Doesn’t matter whether it’s early or late, Autumn waits for Easter.