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.

 

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It ain’t easy being an atheist

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Being an atheist is not all fun and games. Sure, you get to sleep in on a Sunday with no guilt, eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. For one, there’s no set holidays with treats and goodies. The upside of this is you can do the ones you want (who doesn’t love decorating a tree, baking jam doughnuts and lighting candles all in the one week). The downside is you feel a bit of a fraud while you do it and its hard to be convincing in front of increasingly sceptical kids. Particularly in regards to the Easter bunny – I still don’t understand how that one managed to get onto the roster.

I don’t think anyone starts out life wanting to believe in nothing. It just kind of creeps in there, even after eleven years of religious education. I’ve read the bible, cover to cover. I’ve studied and read about other religions and gave the matter a serious amount of thought. I’ve gone to ceremonies in all the major religions, usually at the best time which are weddings or around the birth of children. I’ve given religion quite a lot of opportunity to convert me.

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People who feel strongly about their religious views volunteer their time. I personally volunteer for Ethics, which fits in with my worldview. What is ironic is my littlest guy sneaking off to scripture instead of heading to ethics. I haven’t yet found exactly which religion he’s attending as the results are rather garbled. Allegedly Christmas is the birth of Santa and the death of God. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the person up front is saying, which makes me wonder why we’re making such of fuss about religion in schools. How many kids are actually getting what it is all about?

The reason I’m putting it out there, because generally I don’t think of my views are necessary to the existence of others, is because I got slammed this week. I was accused of being a bad parent for not giving my children the Christian upbringing that is vital to their wellbeing. I was told that children cannot decide for themselves what is right and wrong, they need religious instruction (presumably before they start roaming the streets and dealing crack to other primary school kids).

Despite knowing nothing about what is taught in Ethics, it was dismissed as sub-par. Now if this had been a stranger, I would have shaken it off, but it is someone who knows me well. Given that I lead a completely ordinary suburban life, largely indistinguishable from my neighbours and everything seems to be swimming along in a normal and reasonable manner, this criticism seemed overly harsh. If I had been Jewish or Muslim, I’m sure the way I bring up my kids wouldn’t have been scorned in the manner that it was.

Faith is the belief in something despite having no evidence. No one knows what happens after you die. Atheists are in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to that. But just because I don’t believe in a deity doesn’t mean that I’m out to destroy society because I don’t know right from wrong. My law degree might have helped, but I’m pretty sure I could figure most of it out myself, even without the somewhat opaque religious lessons of my childhood.

By far the worst thing about being an atheist  is being open to criticism because supposedly I have nothing to offend. Why is it okay for insults to be lobbed at me but then I don’t have the right to respond without being “intolerant” if I point out the limitations of their beliefs?

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Secrets Volume 2

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I’m really liking the Mary Lambert song “Secrets” at the moment, the chorus being “I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are”. Such an incredibly brave stance to take, given the things she’s talking about revealing, and has revealed about her personal life aren’t of the “I like to fart in the bath and pretend its a spa” variety. Secrets like diamonds, can be graded from the hardly any bad bits to bright sunlight and a strong breath and the whole thing fractures into dust. Internally flawless secrets are hiding lollies from the kids and sneaking them in the pantry while they’re not looking.  Heavily included secrets are more along the lines of “I murdered someone and stashed the body in the basement”. Not many people would have a problem giving up the first one, but anyone committing the second would tend to keep it to themselves.

But like diamonds, the grade of secret is only part of it. Another big part of what makes a diamond is the size. Similarly, I think part of what leads to secrets being confessable or not lies in the level of fault that can be attributed to yourself. People are much more willing to confess to big secrets as long as it’s not their fault. The more you move towards things that you are directly responsible for, together with the grade of the secret, leads to you being less willingness to be open about it. This is because people are judgemental. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, after all if we didn’t use our judgement we’d be still living in caves ruled over by the thugs with the biggest clubs. Judging things, weighing up the merits of our actions and others, teaches us how we want to live. What we actually want to stop is incorrect judgements about things and people. Being judgemental is natural and fine, what we do about it is more important. Not agreeing with abortion and making the decision that you wouldn’t have one yourself is using your opinion to form a framework for how you live your life. Applying that exact same framework to everyone else, regardless of circumstances, is where the flaw lies.

Gen X-ers like myself tend to think that the next generation are all about exposing themselves. If they’re not sexting, they are posting videos on youtube or endless pictures on social media. I think this is probably a little unfair, given the amount of newly single post-forties people I know on Tinder (no I haven’t looked, given the rumour that most of the pictures are not of their faces. Some things you can’t un-see). Similarly, my facebook feed is constantly filled with pictures of whoever is currently on holiday. I literally have seen every meal they’ve eaten. As a side note, I don’t get this trend. Anyone can order a meal from a restaurant. No effort or skill has gone into it. If you haven’t put the time and effort into making it yourself, I don’t care.

Letting the world know what you’re secrets are is fine and potentially liberating, but I can’t really see myself as someone who would let it all hang out. I’m far more likely to hide the big things away or let them be enacted by a character in one of my books. This is a confession of sorts, but nothing I have to own up to. Cowardly, possibly, but all writers need material and if you give away too much of it in public, there’s less left inside you to put on paper. I find when I’m deep into writing something difficult, it’s hard to stop from bringing it over into my personal life and vice versa. Writing about a married couple fighting in Saint Kate led to several tense moments with my husband but it also meant that what I wrote seemed to many people to be very real, because in a sense it was. So unlike the very brave Ms Lambert, I do care if the world knows what my secrets are, if only so I still have something to write about.

 

 

Chasing the past

 

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I’m a bit late with this week’s entry, but my excuse is good. It’s school holidays and we had visitors so instead of writing, I seemed to either be making food or cleaning up. Making food is my forte, cleaning up is not. Especially as our food obsessed cat lowered his whiskers and hoovered up any remains left by children on the floor and then promptly vomited everywhere, adding to the cleaning.

The last time our guests were here, we had an amazingly fun night out (see my earlier entry “Dancing”). Last night we tried to do the same. Now we all know it never works, but yet try anyway. We had most of the same people and a few extras, the same cocktails and pizza, but the magic just wasn’t there. Instead of one of the best nights out I’ve ever had, despite the debilitating knee injury, and stories that will remain untold on pain of death, there were stifled yawns and a few snarky comments from my overtired husband who’d been out to lunch all day, the poor man. Instead of dancing on into the wee hours, we were home by 11.

Fun nights out require spontaneity and a willingness to remove “no” from your vocabulary. More food? More drinks? Nightclub? Dwarves? Yes to all! They’re also one of the few things that practise does not make you better, only worse, as cynicism has no power and familiarity is a dampener. It’s like when you had a great holiday when you are younger and you go back years later and its just not the same. You’ve changed, so has the country and the people you met there have moved on. It would be better to never go back or try to recreate, as all it does is layer over the good memories with less stellar ones. But yet, the desire to go back and try to do it all again is almost irresistible. Just ask all those creepy old men in bars still trying to pick up the 18 year olds or the 45 year olds off their trollies at music festivals. They might be at the extreme end of things, but everyone does it to a certain extent. If I got a call saying everyone was back in town and we’re going out again tonight, I’d be readying my outfit in a trice, despite knowing that the chances of it being another amazing night weren’t great. Really we’re just Pavlov’s dogs slathering at the ringing bell of pleasure.

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”.

Something odd is happening…

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I thought I knew what I liked when it came to music. There’s some variety there: I nod along to eighties classics, raise a hand to nineties house, shout along to noughties girl power ballads and attempt to rap with Iggy (I like to think I’m fancy too). Given my husband’s musical taste stopped in the late eighties and is limited to ACDC, U2 and Guns n’ Roses, I felt it was my responsibility to keep up to date with current music trends for the sake of my kids’ musical education. I felt I had succeeded when watching the school Kindy to Year 2 disco, where my boys were right at home and grooved along with the girls to the latest hits played by the DJ.

There has been a recent, very troubling development though. I’d like to say I could trace it back to my childhood and the deviant tastes of my parents, but it was the odd humorous/folk musings of Harry Neilsson or Welsh tenor Harry Secombe that was played with alarming regularity in my formative years. Frankly, I’m surprised I turned out as normal as I did, given the number of times I heard “Put the Lime in the Coconut”, which contains the very misogynistic lyrics “you’re such a silly woman”. I’d like to say we’ve come a long way, but I’ve seen music videos in the last decade and I think it’s gone backwards. There’s nothing like an 80’s retro set on MTV to make you realise how G-rated those videos we grew up on were. The clothes might have been appalling, but at least they were there.

But back to the point of my post – I think I’ve been dreading actually admitting it and have been beating around the bush for the whole post. It started with some harmless and seemingly ironic banjo playing by the bearded hipsters in Mumford & Son. But it didn’t stop there! A few more songs entered my library that had a similar sound. I then thought, how bad would it be if I admitted that I injured my knee dancing to Dolly Parton? “Nine to five” is very catchy. Slowly, but surely, the creep had begun. Then tonight, watching Jimmy Fallon, it hit me in the face like a wet salmon straight from the river: I was nodding along and admiring the cowboy-ness of a band called Florida Georgia Line. For a moment, I was outside my body looking in, disbelievingly. If I was enjoying country music, did that make me a country music fan? Who am I…