Assumption of Crazy

Legally, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty but on the internet, the assumption is that you are a wack job until you can prove that you’re not. This last week, I’ve had two instances where I’ve been left reeling, realising that people have made that assumption about me. Being someone who believes they have an okay grip on reality and social norms, I found it quite shocking. Not that I don’t have my moments, where I look back and face-palm, but no more than most people.

I blame the whole author/book marketing attempt thing. I don’t enjoy trying to strike up online conversations with people I don’t know, and I don’t think I’m very good at it. But you have to try. I was reading one of those “helpful” articles on how to broaden your reach by attending book festivals. Unfortunately, the only ones I’ve been invited to be a signing author at are overseas and in the middle of nowhere. So, given none of the ones that don’t require a passport and a fortune in global roaming have asked me, I took the article’s advice and approached one of the regional festivals, which are more likely to appreciate your advances.

I carefully worded my introduction, polite and to the point. The response came back, equally politely that they we already set for authors. My “thanks anyway” return then bounced. They had blocked my email. Already – on that innocuous exchange. What exactly did they think I was going to do? I’m hardly going to hunt them down and start stalking them because they are a good six hour drive into the interior of Australia. Attack them in a flood of furious emails? Who knows, but any of the options would take far more energy than I currently possess. I struggle to maintain the rage with the teenagers next door playing music at  3am. Even with the kids home for school holidays, I’ve come to reluctantly admire their mess generation skills. They have raised it almost to an art form, particularly in the field of crumb distribution. I’ve reached the point where I just stand back and marvel.

The second one was a book blogger, usually one of the friendliest of the species. I wrote a quick intro, a personal one, not trying to market anything. I genuinely thought their blog was good. Again I got a four word plus emoticon response and nothing else. It was a clear discouragement to future correspondence and they usually want to talk to everyone.

Now, I’m just waiting for the third slapdown, which will possibly send me into online hibernation for good. I’m not particularly thin skinned, but there comes a point when you have to accept that you have no idea what you’re doing and clearly whatever you are doing is wrong because people are assuming you’re deranged. People like me are why PR companies are such a good idea. If I take myself out of the equation things might go better. I’ll think of myself like a guilty defendant – the best possible course is to get a good lawyer to speak for me and  then just shut the hell up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Death by Caffeine

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I’ve been silent the last few weeks, which given I have a book I’m about to start shopping around, meant something was seriously wrong. It’s a well-known fact that the bigger your profile, the more likely you are to get a publishing deal, even if you’re a crap writer. I believe it was Elle McPherson who uttered the astounding comment that ” I haven’t read anything I haven’t written”. The Kardashians have also had at least one book published that I know of, despite their lack of literary cred.

Much as I love amusing with my musings, it was put in the too hard basket three weeks ago. I did almost finish a blog, but then somehow hit this small innocuous label-less circle on the toolbar on the side and deleted the hours of work I’d just done. My computer laughed at my attempts to control z and giggled when I tried to restore previous versions, the only options being the first rough draft from two days earlier. Rather than see if my expensive laptop could fly, I walked away.

Then sickness descended on our house like the plague. First one child then the next fell with a brilliantly timed week long incubation period which handily skipped the weekend so that I had sick children home during the week two weeks in a row. When I succumbed the following week with the same symptoms, I naturally assumed it was ebola. I know I haven’t travelled overseas since 2012 and Canada, like Australia, doesn’t actually have any outbreaks, but I maintain that the temperature, chills and overall feeling of death more closely resembled that than a common cold.

This may not be the first time that I’ve slightly over-reacted to a health issue. There was the time when the kids were very little and my husband was away and around midday I came down with a cracking headache. When none of the over the counter pain pills worked, I reach the inevitable conclusion that it was a brain aneurism. Workshopping various scenarios of how my immanent death would affect the kids (I concluded that they were small enough that they wouldn’t remember so it wouldn’t be too traumatising), I belatedly realised that I had forgotten to have my morning coffee. Thoroughly embarrassed by my dire imaginings, I had finally worked out that it was actually a caffeine headache.

On a similar note, there was also the time when I was lying in bed, heart racing, unable to sleep, feeling my pulse pound in my neck like a timpani drum. Certain it was a heart attack, I dithered on what to do. My husband was again away and I didn’t know what to do with the kids. My life was flashing before my eyes, which turned out to be a good thing when I realised my current predicament was probably because I’d had three coffees and a diet coke that day.

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Though hypochondria is funny in hindsight, at the time it’s anything but fun. I like to think that on an evolutionary level, it’s probably a good thing to worry about your health. If you think every lump is cancer, you’re more likely to get it checked out and you might actually be right. One thing I’ve noticed about my particular type of hypochondria is that it is selective in its appearance. It usually only visits when I’m sole parenting. When my husband is at home, he out-hypochondriacs me by miles so it doesn’t get much of a look-in. The man has had more full body scans than anyone else I know. I might stop there before I relate any stories that might get me into trouble, but trust me there are some doozies.

Anyway, we’re all back to health now and I’ve learnt to make sure I have two coffees a day, no more, no less which does tend to limit the number of brushes with death that occur. I do feel more alive and grateful, knowing that I’m going to live after one of them, but its best that I don’t encourage too many of those types of thoughts. Responsible caffeine consumption is a way of life for me now.

 

Freedom’s Illusion

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As a parent, I hear a lot of “When I’m 18/38/45, I’m going to … and you’re not going to be able to stop me.” Though I’m explained it many times as best I could the fact that when they’re an adult, I wont be telling them what to do and that its entirely possible when they get to 38/45 (but hopefully not 18) they will have children of their own that they will be stopping from having a slushy for breakfast or sliding down the stairs on a cardboard box using their brother as an airbag.

As a writer, I look like I have a lot of freedom as I spend most of my time in coffee shops. Not just because they bring me caffeine and tasty treats, but also I find it a good place to get writing done as I don’t have internet access or a host of other procrastination opportunities. I go to places where I won’t run into anyone I know and start to chat and therefore if I’m not writing, I’ve got nothing else to do but stare at a wall (which I also do a lot of regardless). To an outsider, this looks ideal and for the most part its a pretty great job. I get paid to do something I genuinely enjoy, which is not something I can say about any other job I’ve had. Given I was doing it for years with no income being generated, that’s pretty telling. There’s no other job I would have done for free. But it’s not always fun. It can be frustrating when I know what I want to say, but can’t get it to read the way I want it to and lets not even talk about the excruciating boredom of the endless editing that is required to polish a book before anyone can see it. Like any job though, it has to be done. What freedom I have lies in the when, not the if.

This is the case for most things as an adult. Sure you get more say in how your life runs, but there are a lot of obligations. Unpleasant things that you have to do. You can put them off as long as you like, but when no one else is going to clean out the fish tank or the kitty litter, there’s only so long you can put it off before it moves to a whole new level of gross. Grocery shopping needs to be done, as does the laundry. These are all only a matter of time and as soon as you finishing doing it, the clock starts ticking on when you’ll have to do it again.

I know people who pay other people to do a lot of life’s less pleasant tasks, though there is usually a trade off somewhere. Even friends with more money than they know quite what to do with still have obligations. If they earned the money themselves, they’ve usually got a full-on job that takes up all their spare time and energy. If they’ve got it from family or from marrying it, they are usually beholden to the person who is providing that money and seem to be on call whenever that person requires them and have to adjust their lives to suit someone else’s whim.

Is there really any freedom beyond the superficial? Ironically, children who appear to have the least amount of control actually have the most freedom. They can wear a pink tutu with purple spotted leggings and no one will judge them. They can skip down the street singing the national anthem backwards and no one will have them committed. Still, I have no desire to go back to being a child and not just because my childhood wasn’t that great. Life is in the details and I decide the when and the where, even if not always the what. As the ever quotable Meatloaf said, “two out of three ain’t bad”.

Goldfish Guilt

goldfishThis week I nearly killed the goldfish. His name is Boots, named by a few years ago by a child in the thick of Dora the Explorer fever. Being someone who grew up with a variety of pets, I understand that pet deaths are mostly inevitable, though sometimes due to carelessness. The most striking example of this from my childhood was the short-lived Yabby the yabbie (a small crustacean)  who lasted exactly one change of water in the tank. While it was great that my brother was so proactive cleaning it out, he forgot that Yabby was a saltwater creature, not a freshwater one. In case you had any doubt, it matters.

So why do I feel particularly guilty about Boots? Well, Boots is a survivor – he outlasted his original companion Dora, who went off exploring into the sky on week one, then Tico and Benny (the golden snails who were supposed to clean the tank) and a much later companion Swiper, who lasted a couple of months.  He’s been through so much over the years, and I really sort of bonded with him. He watches me in the kitchen and begs against the side of the tank for me to come and drop the manna from heaven. I don’t really expect the child who “owns” him to actually feed him, so I have really assumed responsibility for it. And I forgot. For I don’t know how many days. He was limply flapping around, barely moving. I thought he was gone. And that was when I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I sprinkled those fishy smelling flakes to his gaping little mouth.

This week I’ve been assuaging my guilt by nursing him back to health. Today, he was almost back to his old perky self, flipping his tail around with only a hit of dorsal fin droop. In my guilt spiral, I flirted with releasing him into the wild, where he wouldn’t be adversely affected by an inattentive owner and could seek out his own food. Then I realised what a ridiculous though that was – a goldfish in the wild? Surely it would last mere moments. We keep creatures in our houses that are completely reliant on us, bred to be unable to survive on their own. They are as reliant on us as we are on technology, helpless if it were taken away. Without my phone, computer, tablet or more basically, dishwasher, washing machine, etc I too would struggle. I am Boots.

Secrets

Secrets – is there a good point to them? In light of the desire now to spew every thought you ever have into the ether, should we even have them or should we relinquish all control to the greater knowledge base that is the internet, to be lost in the vast swelling vortex of information? I think almost everyone has something deep within themselves that they never want other people to know. Tonight I told someone something I thought I would take silently past my deathbed and into the grave. Despite what they tell you in movies and books, it didn’t feel good or cathartic. I wish I hadn’t said anything, because it’s now out there and I have no control over it anymore. Though to be honest, there were five of us who knew and now there are seven, so realistically not much has changed. The five who knew though, would never have said anything, though there has been the odd fluttering conversation around it a couple of times over the years. The new two? Who can tell what they will do with it.

I don’t feel brave, having spoken. I fell vulnerable and sick. Why exactly is talking about things the answer? Nothing has changed and nothing can be changed. If I don’t feel better, the people I spoke to certainly don’t. I was asked a direct question, and I didn’t lie. But should I have? What is more important – a truth that can only harm or a lie that will function as a Band-Aid, covering it all over like a faux skin-coloured piece of plastic?

Betrayed by my (ex) favourite author

I was in denial for the last two books, but can deny my ire no longer. I’m pissed, feeling let down by someone I’ve invested so much time, money and emotional energy in. I loyally stuck it out to the end of the series, but months later, I’m still feeling betrayed. How could she do this to me?

You might wonder why I’m still bearing a grudge, after all, it’s not a new thing. Rarely does a series stay gripping until the end. The last book is usually a fairly large let down and for true fans only. The thing is, this series (which I’m not mentioning the name of) was good for nine books before it started to whiff. If you can write nine good ones, surely you can write another three that don’t completely suck? Apparently not.

The reason I’m writing about this is because Amazon kindly sent me an email, rubbing in the fact that I’ve bought so many of her books, by suggesting I might like her new one. I have to say, it did look good. But dammit! I’m still cranky at you (CH) for taking me for a ride on the last books you wrote, which were clearly phoned in to finish out your contract. I swore on the last page of the last book that I would never purchase one of yours again! But then, reading the blurb of the new one, I started to remember all the good times we had, and I’ll admit, I started to waver…

Now I’m conflicted – I’ll probably enjoy it if I read it, but then there’s the principle of the thing. But am I being too harsh? You will never get everyone to like your material and you can only write what feels true for you. I think this is why I’m not good at writing romantic declarations. With the exception of my first boyfriend at sixteen (who was American), all my other significant relationship have been with almost non-verbal Australian men. Oh well, at least there’s still the spin-off TV series…

Approaching normal

I am lucky enough to have my lovely sister-in-law staying with me at the moment and we’re having wine and deep philosophical chats. She mentioned how when you have dementia, your id takes over, so lots of people in the old folks home are getting it on in new and interesting ways. I’m a little sceptical, but I haven’t seen any data, so I’m going to go with it in the vibe of all these sorts of dinner conversations where lots of facts are spouted, with precious little reference to google.

So if your Id took over for a spell, what do you think would happen? Frankly, I’m worried. I have a strong suspicion that I’d never want to find out, or at least be aware of what I’d done. Still, given I’m nearing 40, I think it would have been a lot worse a few years ago. Like many people with interesting childhoods, I had a misspent youth where I took risks that the current me would gasp in horror and faint at the thought of my children doing the same. Clearly my husband will be in charge of those particular frank talks in a few years.

Not that I’m still holding that particular grudge. I think there comes a time when you have to stop using your parents as an excuse for being an asshole. There are some people from my past that are probably owed an apology, but realistically, I’ll never see them again so it won’t happen. Does it matter if you realise the error of your ways, but it’s too late to make a difference? So many of the books we read wrap everything up neatly, which I think shows our desire for order, rather than our desire for reality. Which is ironic when we criticize books for being “unrealistic” when in fact, if we wrote reality, the reviews would be scathing or at least put in a different genre. It makes it difficult sometimes to know what to aim for – realistic but not too realistic. What the stories we like offer is, I think, what we’d all like a chance for in life – apologies from those who have wronged us and the chance to make amends with those we have harmed. So, in a nutshell, I forgive you and I’m sorry.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Sex (scenes)

Okay, I need a glass of wine for this one… right, now I’m good to go. When things are going right, a sex scene just rolls off the keyboard. It’s fun, it’s spontaneous and delicious as a freshly baked cinnamon bun. But when it’s not, it’s just … awkward. Bits going here and there, throw in some panting and sweating, and you have? … something out of a wildlife documentary. It makes you wince and peer through your fingers, feeling embarrassed for anyone having to read it. The problem is that what people (women mainly) like to read isn’t the factual, anatomically correct sex that’s easy to describe. Nothing brought this home more than today’s research – I thought I’d check out some porn and see if there were any good ideas.

Yes, you’re right, there weren’t a whole lot good translatable ideas. Frankly most of it looked painful and not all that enjoyable, for either, or should I say, any of the parties involved. It could have just been that all their sex faces looked a lot like their unhappy, I-just-dropped-my-new-iphone faces, but I’m sceptical. That’s not to say that I didn’t find some people who were having a genuinely good time, but they were the minority.

Size of the male appendage seems to be one of the issues. I had to do a bit of research on this for my last book and can now quote a range of interesting trivia after an enlightening google search. I think we can all agree that professional porn doesn’t represent the average man (or woman), so what exactly does it offer the average writer? More than you’d think. We’ve all read scenes where our suspension of disbelief has been popped like a bubble by the fantastic bendiness/feats of strength/endurance of the protagonists. I read one highly improbable scene recently and got completely side-tracked by whether or not it was actually physically  possible and the book lost a whole lot of traction with me. Porn is so prolific and easily available now that you can just search for your scenario and the odds are good that you could find someone who has already filmed it. There really are only so many permutations after all. If it’s not there, then odds are good that it isn’t, in fact, possible. If you still want to use the scene though, never fear, just make one of them an alien or a yeti. Voila!

The Dark Side of Presents

We all spend a lot of time and thought on finding that “perfect gift” that the lucky recipient will be in raptures over and we do it numerous times a year for various loved ones. It’s exhausting! But no one mentions the ugly step-sister of the “perfect gift” – the “revenge gift”.

Depending on your commitment, the revenge gift can take longer and even more thought than the perfect gift. My eldest brother and I have been in an escalating arms race for several years. It started innocently enough (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) with oversized water pistols for the kids. It was a guerrilla attack that I wasn’t expecting, but chalked it up to panic buying in a pre-Christmas rush. The next year was Nerf guns for two still quite young boys. No 3 year-old needs access to a pump action dart firing machine. After my husband nailed me in the back of the head several times while laughing maniacally, it was game on. Needless to say, I was armed the following Christmas with plastic and lots of it for his kids, the bigger and tackier the better. He still one-upped me with a remote controlled helicopter for my six year-old, box stating in large letters “AGE 15+. THIS IS NOT A TOY”.

This last Christmas, I think I won – a remote controlled car/hovercraft/helicopter that had to be constructed first, served with a chaser of remote controlled hot pink Barbie convertible that required a C battery, which we all know cannot be obtained on Christmas Day. I don’t know what I can do to top that, except maybe a small pony.

The revenge gift does have the advantage of being amusing, but in this war the only winners are the children and the true casualty is the parent’s sanity. I think this year, it’s time to stop the madness. Also, I won.

Getting angry

I don’t like getting angry. I’m not talking about “shouting at the kids” angry, which frankly, if I didn’t pull that out on a regular basis, my kids would be doing exactly what they want to do ALL THE TIME – namely, eating snacks naked while playing Wii. I’m also not talking abut the everyday irritations at a partner. I mean, who hasn’t looked at their partner of nearly twenty years, blurred their eyes and imagined a strapping young Italian named Eduardo who didn’t speak much English? What I mean, is getting angry at friends. They’re not like family, where if you make a mistake and go too far, they will eventually forgive you and love you anyway. Particularly with friends you meet at your kids’ school, these are relationships that you can permanently damage, and you can be guaranteed that their kids will be in the same classes as yours for the rest of eternity.

I was angry at a really good friend last week and really struggled to express it in a non-damaging way. My family’s method of fighting, which I try not to do, is to go on the attack and bring that person down – at all costs. The aim is to win the argument, regardless of the validity of either person’s viewpoint. So without that to go to, or my other, more useful go-to method of pretending it didn’t happen, I was really at a loss.

In the end, I stopped myself from saying anything at all for a week. By that time, I’d had hundreds of conversations with her in my head, sorted out what was going to help the situation and what was just my anger speaking. I didn’t f*** up my friendship, which was more important that the issue the argument was about. The adult within is proud of me, even though I didn’t get to use some of the serious zingers I thought up.