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July 18, 2006

Of dead mice and dreams


You can see the big picture clearly, and you better appreciate how your personal activities, interests, and goals fit into the needs of society as a whole. Consequently, you see ways that you can expand your career goals and avail yourself of opportunities and resources that you have been neglecting or overlooking.

I feel quite terrible. In the process of trying to rescue a baby field mouse from the champing jaws of my heartless cats (the hundredth in a matter of weeks, it feels like) I managed to instead accidentally drop the washing basket, loaded with clothes, on its head. Now it is quite, quite dead and I have significantly added to the quota of creatures I have maimed, killed or inadvertently sent to their death since arriving on these shores 64 days ago. Staring at my cats with malevolent eyes only draws insolent stares and the recommencement of licking of nether regions with one ear cocked. I really am at a loss.

I am quite surprised to find myself typing away again but suspect that this rampant insomnia has something to do with it. I have also just quaffed half a bottled of red with N across the road and been involved in a long rambling conversation that started with Owen Wilson and ended with speculation about the true origins of the universe, so for quiescence sake I have to empty some thoughts onto the page.

I was telling N tonight that I have a friend who will be going into space in less than two years and it's true. In a matter of months W will be shooting into the cosmos on a relatively untested Virgin Galactic flight, among 100 other lucky punters around the world with a cool US$200,000 to spare and a dream stuck in their throat. Whenever I think about it I feel sick and excited for him, because for us mere mortals it is still such an unfathomable dream to eject ourselves from our planetary sphere and more to the point it seems so very risky. Of course dollars would dictate who gets to go: god forbid, he might find himself staring death in the face along with Victoria Beckham, Paris Hilton and that guy who invented Microsoft computers. Yes, that guy. Still, I would give my right arm for the chance to stare down at the curvature of the earth from above, if not just to prove that the pictures do not lie.

One day it could be cheap as chips. One day, one day, one day. For now, I am just happy for W - a gorgeous man who spent countless hours as a child staring up into the skies and dreaming of what lay in space. Hell, the man even edits COSMOS these days. Could anyone be more deserving of a trip to the (hitherto) last frontier?

July 17, 2006

Now for the real story

This can be a romantic and creative time. It might be full of love or the illusions of love. You may have the ability to create beauty around you by what you produce and how you act. While such beauty and romance is wonderful, be careful about projecting your fantasies on others, only to be disappointed when you see the situation in the clear light of day.

It takes me weeks to notice that there are no traffic lights. Someone gently points it out to me one morning and I am shocked, racking my brains for at least one incidence of "green means go" in the past eight weeks. But they are right. I have been coasting along, dreamlike, arcing around roundabouts and pausing at stop signs, but never once stopping for a red light. Strike one for road awareness, it seems.

Did you notice? Eight weeks. Perhaps you skimmed over that part but for me it seems inconceivable. Two months since my eyes were first dazzled by the blue waters of Gantheaume Point, 63 days since I left my old life behind. Now I feel suspended in limbo, caught between the recent past and this strange new path. Work is busy and demanding enough that it causes the days to slip by at an alarmingly rapid rate - we seem to arrive at Friday before we've finished Monday's morning coffee and somewhere in that lapse of consciousness we've produced and produced and produced. By the end of the week, we're wrung dry and the words need to be coaxed out with hits of sugar and promises of sleep.

Still, I am strangely energised by this and have learned a few things: I turn out better features when I have only an hour to bash them out as opposed to a couple of months. Working as a journalist can be endlessly fascinating and mind numbingly boring (stand up and take a bow, advertorials). When you write pleasant things about people or their property, they treat you like their best friend. When you sit in a tiny and sweltering country court scratching out notes, during a case where six members of the same family are up on serious drug charges, one of them will sit there and stare menacingly at you for the duration (and suddenly the wall clock on the opposite wall becomes very, very interesting). And paedophiles look like normal people.

I have decided that court reporting is one of the most terrifying things I have come across so far. The need for accuracy is absolute and so far there's been any number of obstacles thrown in my way. I can't do shorthand. The judge is Belgian and mumbles his verdicts in an indecipherable accent. The police prosecutor is harried and harassed and usually reads out her statements at 1500mph so by the time I've got down times and dates I've missed names of victims and descriptions of their terrible deeds. But my god, it can be fascinating. Ignoring the litany of petty drink driving charges, the occasional biff up outside a pub and servants pilfering from their employers, the Magistrates Court is a soap opera in the making.

Even the lawyers are great. Lawyer one is the Foxy Lady, who wears bright red mini-skirt-suits and knee high black studded patent leather boots. She doesn't walk, she strides, and heads turn. And she's a dab hand at the argument, dazzling her opposition and the Magistrate with her turns of phrase. Lawyer two I dub the Old Rocker. With an impressive blonde mullet, stained yellow with years of nicotine ingestion, in court he pairs his acid wash jeans and dirty sneakers with a dry wit and laconic approach which sees some hard-worn crims get a second go. Favourite lawyer number three is The Elf, a short and sprightly man who's completely irreverent and knows the system inside out; he's jocular with the prosecutor and never seems to let even the most unpalatable cases sink underneath his skin. Finally there's the "Have You Had An Accident" lawyer, he of the TV infomercials and banana-slippage claims. He's dry, distinguished and handsome and I suspect hired by the lucky crims who have a dollar or two to spare.

Each Monday, we start our week in the company of criminals, and each Friday we end it with them too. There's the guy who gets drunk and decides to beat up on his girlfriend, elbowing her twice in the face and punching her to the ground and dragging her along the ground by her hair. He saw her talking to another man. He's done it before. He gets a fine and she decides she still loves him, asks for the violence restraining order to be withdrawn. The police prosecutor shakes her head. There's the woman on the other side of a domestic violence dispute. Sick of being someone's punching bag for years, one day she does it. She picks up a kitchen knife and plunges it deep into his heart. They live on a remote community, too far from help. He dies and she is taken into custody. But jail, fines, whatever - she can't ever go back to her family and community because she'll be dealt with under tribal law. And that is an eye for an eye. Minor drug charges, wayward kids, alcoholics being alcoholics ... it's mostly the poor end of society, people wending in and out of the system, being slapped with fines they'll never be able to afford to pay. And so the cycle continues.

I find myself staring at the ones who beat up on girls. They're usually big and strong with a solid look to them, big paws that could fell a small woman with one or two swipes. I try to rationalise the words with the person before me but it's very hard to do. They usually stare at the ground while the charges are read in gory detail and pictures proffered to the Magistrate, showing split lips and bruised faces, skinned knees and arms. I have to concentrate very hard on being impartial, reporting the facts as opposed to editorialising.


A DERBY man was sentenced to six months prison in the Broome Magistrates Court last week for breaking his girlfriend's arm in a violent assault.

As opposed to:

A big hairy beast of a man decided to take out his life's frustrations on an innocent woman last week in an unfair fight which left her with a broken arm and him with a momentarily inflated sense of self - "Yes, I'm clearly a big man now," he thought proudly as he dragged her along the ground.

This morning outside court, the police prosecutor and I stand in the sunshine. "How does this not get to you?" I ask, as she rifles through her papers looking for the particulars of Broome's latest accused paedophile (a taxi driver, a big, ugly man with an enormous stomach who has allegedly forced young indigenous girls to perform sexual favours in exchange for cash). "I've only been doing this for six weeks and it's so ... depressing."

"Hah!" she barks. "You're depressed." She smiles wearily, tells me the man is 47, and lugs her enormous pile of papers to the car.

July 11, 2006

I often think about changing myself

When faced with an emotionally intense situation, you are likely to flee, Flip. You would rather skirt the issue and quickly change the subject to something much more lighthearted and palatable. Keep in mind that this form of escapism is going to do nothing to solve the problem that is crying out for attention. In fact, by avoiding the emotional topic and moving into your own fantasyland, you are only creating more friction than if you just approached the problem head-on.

I have been having, it seems, the same conversation with countless different people of late. By people I mean women, and by conversation I mean the lament about the convoluted worlds we have created for ourselves in our dealings with the opposite sex. And ourselves.

This particular post is not born of a particular discontent of my own; nay, life feels rickety-but-still-rolling at the moment. It comes from the tears in a new friend's eyes, the confused stare of a woman watching her once-lover splay his fingers over another young filly in the pub. Around the table we sat last weekend spilling a litany of tales of insecurity, of past wrongs and future yearnings - and there was an overwhelming sense that somehow we're getting it wrong. After knocking back the drinks on Friday, we drunkenly swore that things had to change. As we necked yet another beer at the races on Saturday, caught in the sweaty ring of country blokes throwing shimmering coins into the two-up air, we promised ourselves salvation. On Sunday, broken and feeling the livery pinch, we sat on the beach at Gantheaume point and sipped delicately on expensive champagne to celebrate a new friend's birthday, another Monday looming. We have been drunk, drunk and not so drunk, to smear a glassy haze over our worlds.

I am not sure how many times I have promised myself that it would be the last. The last cigarette, the last drink, the last inapprpriate fuck or the last morsel of food. Somehow I have made myself promises I had no intention of keeping. And then we start to speak. For hours we sit, swapping tales of insignificance and sharing the load. We find a common thread that I have seen before, the sharp-edged swords that we keep impaling ourselves on. Hungover and sombre, skirted and sore, we all admit to looking in the mirror with a measure of disgust, pinching hard in the places that need to reduce. We speak of wanting to be pure, holistic and whole. We agree that alcohol is killing us and that each drink is beginning to feel like a death sentence. We are quiet when speaking of drugs, shuddering at the amounts we have tipped down our throats. We are all guilty of making excuses not to exercise, and of letting our creative juices shudder to a halt in favour of empty entertainment. We have all tried to change. And tried again.

Running parallel to this has been relationships, good and bad. It seems we all have a "nice" ex-boyfriend, consigned to the scrap-heap by virtue of being so sweet it makes our own faults all too glaringly obvious. Then there are the "bastards", the sexy ones with flashy eyes and haircuts who make us go weak at the knees but run off with our friends or dismiss us with withering stares. The man-boys, emotional ruins, regular guys and players have all flitted in and out of our worlds.

(Earlier in the night, a girl I have just met admits tearfully to her first one night stand in years. It's just not something I do, she whispers, and I don't know what to do. We glance at the object d'amour - or object d'hour? - as he flits and flirts with girls. He hasn't said anything to me since and I don't know how to bring it up. She leaves alone to sleep in the car.

Later, he tries valiantly to get into my knickers and asks me to take him home. Availed of a rare sensibility, after many years of wanton and drunken lustful situations that have got me into all manner of trouble, I loftily refuse. You've got to sort out your situation with xxx first I tell him. He shrugs, apparently surprised. That was nothing, he says, it was just a drunken fuck.)

I relay this to the girls and we all nod knowingly. We all have a story like that. We have all been that girl, struggling to understand the whyfore and wherefore of the male psyche, or worse. We have over-analysed the placement of punctuation in a text message. We have been left wondering.

But soon the wine kicks in and we are so tipsily incensed that we turn for hoursinstead to a conversation about the relative joys of sex toys, laughing raucously and red-faced as we get down, dirty and personal.

And we forget, and forget, and forget.

July 3, 2006

Cognito ergo sum

You can be highly stimulated by new ideas at this time. It may be challenging to assimilate them all. But it is a good time to let your mind go and explore the wildest possibilities. It enhances your creativity, even as it makes handling life's ordinary details a bit more difficult.

It's all very well to be stimulated by new ideas, but getting them down on paper for posterity is another thing altogether. There's been countless occasions where snippets, sentences, paragraphs have filtered through my brain and I've thought hmm, must write that down before I forget or guilty times like tonight, the rarest of occasions, when I sit down to watch TV and feel my brain leach out of my ears and I think hmm, I should be tip-tapping out those thoughts that have been causing me angst but instead I sit, sit, sit and vegetate.

I really am becoming a bit of a time-waster of the evenings, mired in blogs and sleeping before I am due. But my body is taking some time out to heal and my mind is mostly quiescent for the time being. And it's nice. But the cold clear air and hours spent refining, thinking and writing at work have actually made my thinking slightly more acute and I should be doing more with it.

Oh blah, blah, blah. Should have could have would have. What a pointless exercise and how often we writers bemoan our tendencies towards procrastination. And then write about it, in the greatest irony of all! Now would be a pertinent time to share a few salient points I found (on another pointless web-surfing lesson I suspect, though I can't actually recall. Slightly edited, but mostly intact.

Ten Things I Have Learned About Writing
A Meme perpetuated by Kate Eltham

1. Writers write.
2. Editing is not writing. Proof-reading is not writing. Attending writing workshops, critique groups and festivals is not writing. Neither is making cups of coffee, cleaning the light switches or tidying your desk. I'm pretty sure planning your book tour is not writing and telling your friends about wanting to be a writer is definitely not. Only writing is writing.
3. When your story comes back with a rejection slip, send it again. When it is rejected again, send it again. At once. Keep sending it out there. Your work may not be published when you submit it to a market. But it definitely can't be published when it's sitting on your hard drive.
4. It's okay to be a slow writer.
5. Strong verbs are good.
6. What you earn from your writing is in no way related to your ability to write well. Some amazing writers starve. You only have to look at the shelves of your local bookstore to know some crappy writers prosper. Don't let it stop you.
7. Inventors, rocket scientists, chefs, painters, composers all refine their creations. Many iterations are required to get it right. Writing is no different.
8. Many other people before you have succeeded at this. They have useful advice. Listen to them.
9. The lone writer in a garret is a myth. Reach out to a group. Be part of the writing community. Network. Writers love talking shop. They are supportive of one another. This can help you. Plus, it's fun.
10. Writing is really hard.