Embarrassment – the writer’s last frontier

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When you write a book, it’s pretty clear you write about the stuff that interests you. Why otherwise would you bother? It takes a long time, for no definite reward at the end. Most writers, unless you’re a Clive Cussler or James Patterson, aren’t doing it for the money. Even then it’s apparent that Mr Patterson isn’t doing the writing himself anymore. Why bother when whatever you put your name to will be a bestseller? That might sound bitter, and you’d be right. A fine example of this is the man publishing under the name Stephen King, but what most people don’t realise, because they don’t read the reviews first, is that it isn’t the Stephen King.

So I write about stuff that interests me. Unfortunately, I’m not really the sunshine and cups of tea sort of writer, such as Alexander McCall Smith, whose genius lies in making the everyday interesting. The things I write about can get a little embarrassing, particularly when close older relatives want to talk about your book that has some pretty full on sex scenes in it. My standard response is to stick my fingers in my ears and sing the theme song to The Muppets until they give up.  The downside to that is the song gets stuck in your head for days afterwards. I bet its in your head right now, going round and round because, like me, you can’t remember all the words.

I tried something new with my last book. It was clean – no sex or swearing, though still pretty dark, because that’s just the way I roll. I wanted at least one book in my career that I’d be okay with relatives and my kids reading at some stage. I am quite happy with it, and am now waiting, hoping that my agent agrees. So, whatever happens with this one, there is no font for embarrassment, on subject matter at least. The writing may be crap and the storyline line complete rubbish, but there’s no hanky panky or bad words. Because nobody knows about those. Right…

I’m going to admit something embarrassing here, because why else does one write a blog except to expose yourself: I get a ridiculous amount of enjoyment out of some pretty questionable reading material. I’ll read almost anything from space opera to historical bodice rippers, crime fiction to teen fiction. It doesn’t even have to be the best of its genre, sometimes its better when its not. And though I sometimes laugh at the ridiculous premises, I love a good hot alien capturing a human woman whose been done wrong by men all her life. Entertaining shenanigans ensue, because she’s feisty and he secretly loves it. Even though I know from the first page that they’re going to live happily ever after, I can skim the fluffy pages at the end, because that’s not what I read that sort of book for. I just like to know its there.

But what about the not so pleasant stuff? I just finished Tight by Alessandra Torre and though I’ve loved her other books, particularly Black Lies, the imprisoned and torture topic just doesn’t work for me. I realise it was a side line to the main part of the book, but interestingly she referenced the genre that’s out there and quite a lot of women like to read it. It’s one thing to like something in the privacy of your kindle, but the authors who write the stuff are the ones who are really deserve the bravery award. Some of them are hiding behind some pretty obvious nom de plumes, but some aren’t. Are they also having these awkward conversations with relatives? It makes my level of discomfort kindergarten stuff. So even though I don’t want to read about women being tied up and whipped or having sex with Big Foot, I applaud the writers like E. L. James who take their most secret thoughts and fantasies and put it out there.  It can’t be easy when there is a wild and windy plane of mortification to cross, knowing you may never reach the other side.

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Midnight shame

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I know I wrote in an earlier post about how responsible I am now with caffeine consumption, but lately I’ve fallen off the wagon. This year, I asked for a sexy Italian for Christmas. In all honesty, I’m not sure what I would do with a sexy Italian, one husband being more than enough, so luckily it was a domestic electrical item that turned up under the tree. I received a coffee machine people, get your minds out of the gutter. So I now am the proud owner of a gleaming, spaceship-like contraption that makes the most excellent of coffees. It sits there winking at me all through the day and I’ve been falling under its spell, willpower helpless to its hard, angular good looks.

Any hoo, in the way of these things, there’s always a price to pay. Unusually, it hasn’t been a pounding heart in the early hours of the morning, but a pounding conscience instead. I’ve been waking up in the early hours remembering odd events from my late teens and early twenties in excruciating detail. Like many people, I was pretty much an asshole until around twenty-five when I finally grew up, so there’s a fair bit of material there. Shame is a horrible feeling, particularly when there’s no way to fix or apologise. I’m reliving it with the benefit of hindsight and experience and wondering what the hell my younger self was thinking. If I was a character in a book, in many instances I would have been the villain, the awful ex-girlfriend or generally the foil that makes the heroine look better.  I’m not saying I was irredeemably bad and I had some good moments, but those aren’t the ones playing in the quiet hours around midnight.

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Just as it seems no one wants to read about the perfect person leading the perfect life, my conscience likes to linger on the times I got it wrong. But why is my mind fixated on this period of my life? I think its mostly because I’ve decided to tear apart my latest book and completely rewrite it and that’s the age of the people in it. Some of the events in the book actually happened, so I’ve been thinking about those years a lot and how it felt to be that young and the excruciating awkwardness that is most teenagers. With no clear idea of self, you don’t know how to act, so try on different personas to see what fits. Sometimes I got it right, but most often I didn’t, after all I was just pretending I knew what to do.

As I lie awake, staring at the dark ceiling, I try to forgive my younger self, mostly so I can go back to sleep. Caffeine makes my conscience into an overtired toddler. I’ve just got to take away all the stimulatory material and hope it crashes out. That or drink less coffee.

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.

 

Looking Crap

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Why is it, when you are looking crap, that you always run into someone you don’t know very well? Strangers don’t care and if you saw someone you are friends with, you could explain, have a bit of a laugh, and then move on, secure in the knowledge that they knew this wasn’t how you normally looked. But it’s never the last group of people, it’s always the first, which comprise (in order of descending levels of horror): The last person who dumped you, your old boss or former colleagues, any previous exes, your exes’ friends and people from school you never wanted to see again.

I’ve just been away skiing for a week and last night was looking definitely worse for wear. I’d been out in the sun and wind and drunk too much wine in a superheated lodge so resembled one of those dehydrated chips you find periodically under the couch cushions. Two days of driving failed to add any to my level of moisture. I’d also forgotten to take my tweezers so after nine days, my militant and well organised eyebrows were staging a successful coup to take over my face. To compound the problem, we’d stayed at a friend’s working sheep farm on the way home. As they are on tank water, we were all conscious about water conservation so didn’t shower which might possibly have led me to forgetting to brush my hair too. We then went out into the paddocks on the back of a ute and “helped” (I use that in the loosest sense) with the lambing. A smoky bonfire lunch of charcoaled sausages later and the overall package of utter degeneration was complete, from my muddy boots to my birds’ nest hair.

Stopping for takeaway sushi on the way home seemed a great idea at the time. Our local Japanese is quite nice and knowing the menu, I could order from the car and we could just grab it on the way home. Unfortunately, the snatch-and-go didn’t go quite to plan. The food wasn’t quite ready, so I had to wait, antsy as all hell, given my current state and wishing I had been driving the final leg so spared the indignity of appearing in public at all. And of course, while standing there trapped, the door opens and in walks a well-dressed couple. Thinking they looked familiar, I glanced at them for slightly too long and was then forced to acknowledge the presence of my former boss. He gave me a solid once up and down followed by a condescending smile. Given our working relationship had ended on not a great note, the judgement was mortifying. Clearly, I had “let myself go” after having children, spectacularly so. Saying something in these situations can only make it worse, so I tried the next option of just brazening it out and pretending everything was fine and I was aiming to look homeless – its the latest hipster look!

As I spent a bit of time today doing some grooming, I assured myself that I didn’t care and that no one probably even remembers who I am, should chat at the water cooler happen to come around to former workers they’d recently bumped into. Unlike school, at least there are no reunions for former workplaces. Not that I care that he saw me like that. No, really I don’t. Promise. I’m just going to wear a paper bag with eye holes cut out from now on, unless I’m coming straight from the hairdressers.