Thursday, 2 May 2013


The heavy grey wind slapped across my face as I walked home to my car in the afternoon with the dull rumble of the river beside me and the sting of my hair in my eyes. With every gust my wrap dress would unwrap and lift then tangle itself between my thighs and little bites would come through my stockings into my legs and hip. I shivered walking, underdressed for once and hugged my bag against my side, the dangling arm holding my lunch pail cooling and whitening. The car was warm inside, having been parked outside all day and the leather had swelled and softened with it as I snuggled into it before putting my key in its holder and pressing the button that turns the car on and flinching from the too loud radio over the whine of the engine.

I backed out and began to drive, heading towards the mountains that hover protectively over our little hill and tried to let the tension seep out of my shoulders into the warm leather. Rubbing my dry lips together and feeling the flake of my matte lipstick as I indicated left for our street.

As the tension uncoiled, the tiredness began to set in and the fog of it surrounded me until I was wrapped securely in it unable and unwilling to break free. Thinking of dinner and wanting, wishing more than anything to not make and not cook and not eat anything but instead to crawl into bed and sleep for a week. But like always, I parked my car in its spot and turned off the engine. Sitting quietly listening to the radio for a few minutes as I always do before climbing out, collecting the bin and tapping my heels against the polished floor boards as I clicked into the kitchen and began the second round.

When Bingley's contract ended on his last job, it was of little concern. He's never been out of work since he graduated and has jumped his way up the career ladder as he always planned. And when 3 months later I returned from my time away, it was not so much of a worry that there was not much on the horizon because something always turns up. And we still had savings and we could keep on keeping on. Then Christmas came and the cool hand of it started to play around in my chest at times, as I watched our little nest egg erode.

Then it was 7 months then 8 and I would wake in a cold sweat thinking of it. Thinking how I couldn't support us all alone. Not without many things giving. And I love working, but we're a team, and all of the responsibility would suffocate me in the night until I sat up gasping.

At 9 months the cracks started to appear, and I began to feel each day that someone had a hold of the key in my side and was winding too much every day, and I worried about how many more winds I could take before the spring cracked and I was broken. But when I was at work I could shut it all out. I could be busy and work hard and not have time to dwell or be anxious. I could be good at my work and while the spectre of a looming exam was never far from my thoughts, I would chase my fear of failure and of study and of financial responsibility away and would instead throw myself into learning and procedures and having one thing in perfect harmony.

And it worked, most of the time, until the morning I came in and found out that the gentleman I'd done a procedure on the previous day had died. Had died of a complication that had come from the procedure that I'd done. That had it not been for me he and his kindly eyes and his soft voice would have still had life and his family would still have had warm hands to hold. And all the rest of that wretched day I worked, but the tears would not stay out of my eyes, and all I could think of was how I never see my children and I work so hard and in the end I have taken a life instead of given it. That that poor man's family would
have been called and if he had not met me, if it had been someone else, maybe he would have lived.

I came home that night and sat on my bed with my feet on the floor and I sobbed. I sobbed until all the tears had gone and the spirit had gone from my breath and so the only sounds that came were the sounds of the shudder as it racked through my chest. Bingley came in and stroked my head as it continued until the nausea began and I started retching, all done. Finished. Complete.

And for all those months that I'd planned how I'd celebrate for him, surprise him when he got a new job, of all days it was that one when Bingley could finally lift some of the weight from my shoulders. But there was a catch, that as my sobs subsided in the warmth of his belly as he held me there with my feet still flat on the floor, that started the sobs anew. This new job is away. Far away and he would be leaving in 3 days time. For weeks.

I thought of getting the girls to school and the Possum to kindy and then getting to work and I thought I could do that, that the rush rush rush I had not missed, but I could do that. Then I thought of coming home every night, of rushing home in the traffic and the rapidly darkening day as the sun tucks herself under her golden pink covers and making dinner and supervising home work and tidying and ironing and washing and sorting everything and whatever strength I had deserted me. I was 4 weeks out of an exam. A specialist exam with a pass rate of 25%. And I pulled my feet up off the floor, curled up under the blanket and cried some more.

Of course, eventually I got up, because what other choice is there? I could have lain there forever. I could have used any and all of those excuses for why I just can't do or be. But what sort of life would that be? There is a steely core within me. Some stubborn tenacious sort of fibre that refuses to break, and I set about making things work. I hired a new after school nanny, I wrote up a timetable, I had a family meeting and I had most of all a long, hard talk with myself and I told myself I could do this because there is and was no other choice.

It's not been all sunshine and roses. I can't be the worker I was before he died because he still haunts the periphery so that there's a tremble sometimes when I finish a procedure now, and an assumption that all things can and will go wrong. I have none of the confidence that comes from ignorance and I have tasted real fear for the first time in my life. There is a new quietness, and I was never loud in the first place. I withdrew so far into my shell that I'm blinded even coming near the light, and part of me doesn't want to come out again, but prefers to stay hidden and safe.

I am thinner again. My elbows are pointier and when I lie flat my anterior superior iliac spines are visible, tenting the pale skin above that does not pull taut but instead drapes across them. My belly again has the slack softness where it was stretched by the Possum and faded into silveriness and no longer has anything to hold it out so it falls. My jaw is stronger and has shadows underneath and there are little hollows in my cheeks that suck against my teeth when I am tired. Strangely, my breasts have remained full and soft and have not emptied with the rest of me, I am glad of this, to have one thing left of what it used to be like to be me.

There are lines around my eyes, still faint and not permanent yet, but they will be, and I am handsomer now than I was at 21 or 25. Not that I was or will ever be pretty, but my features are less harsh on this tired face than they were on the pillowy roundness of youth. My arms and my legs are thinner and my feet are smaller too. Who knew that feet could change in size. My hair is nearly down to my waist again and is darker too, and falls out in strands that get stuck in the bristles of the broom.

When Bingley is away I have no appetite and when the exam came I did not eat because I could not. And as I lay in my hammock afterwards, drifting listlessly in the pale afternoon light I was given food and forced to eat it for all I did not want it, because people were becoming concerned and I suppose they had reason. So I ate.

And now I live by my schedule where everything must be fitted in and around and somehow squished into the few hours of each day. And the children are happy and settled. They are thriving on all the routine and are helping. They miss Bingley too, but they know he is coming home and they know how much he needed to work. We read at night on the white sofa with the cuddly grey blankets in the pale white lamplight and they snuggle into me as I choke up reading Charlotte's Web. And I turn off all the lights at a sensible hour, and I climb into bed, feeling satisfied that the washing is folded and put away and that the kitchen is clean and the ironing is done.

And I lie here in bed, in my cold bed with the late Autumn wind whispering over me and I tell myself to sleep, because the tiredness makes my bones ache and I am doing far too much for one person who does not get enough sleep. And sleep evades me, night after night. So I read and I write and I compose stories in my head. And I miss the warmth in my bed that even on my worst days was always there, that I could somehow absorb into until his regular breathing became my breathing. Or the days when the tears came when I could burrow into the warmth and have it envelop me, encase me and penetrate me until all the cold was chased away.

I'm afraid to cry, but also I don't want to. The little thread inside me, the little core that refuses to break but instead tenaciously holds every piece together is intact. And while my skin may be softer than ever before and the legs that are holding me upright are whittled down, there is still a fire that burns there in the middle, and refuses to go out and believes all this is for a purpose. If only to prove that I can do anything, if I put my mind to it.

But I'm so tired.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


When my babies were born, people told me they were beautiful, but I knew they were being polite. My babies were born beautifully, but what birth did to them was no aesthetic. They were squished, swollen and bruised and not the least bit beautiful. Of course, now that I am a mother myself, it is this very grumpy, very ugliness that stirs the greatest emotions in me regarding babies, but they were not, for many weeks, beautiful.

I remember being given a voucher for newborn photography with the Elfling at one of those shopping centre places hawked by those that spring out between racks of tiny clothes and ask you to sign up for packages before you've even seen the shots. And while I baulked at the idea of the ubiquitous gerbera behind the ear, I allowed the photographer who was probably months older than myself to try and pose my newborn baby while she took photos.

And I remember recoiling from the hideous photos she took, displayed as they were on giant screens, at the thought of taking home photographs that looked like that. My babies were not Anne Geddes munchkins that look adorably smooth with little dimples in fat wrists. They were red and scrawny and smooshed. And they way she had posed her, it seemed to point to these things as flaws, as if to show how unbeautiful she really was. And so I bought none, and vowed never to do that again.

But as they grew, not just into their long scrawny limbs and their peculiar features, but in character and spirit that shone through their little faces and they became beautiful. First to me, and then to the greater world. And nothing gives me more pleasure than capturing that on film (or with many megapixels these days as I am up to my very last roll of black and white film). I love taking photos when they aren't looking and when they're not posing. I try not to line them up for photos aside from the standard sibling sets which are hilarious for how bad they inevitably are. I love catching a glance or a moment and being able to keep that memory in beautiful, delicate colour. I loe catching something that belongs to them, and not to a calendar baby, however cute they may be.

We were at a birthday party today for a little girl who has fought very hard to make it to the party which is never a fair thing for any one year old to have to fight. But hardest still, for this little tiny girl, is that the reason she has fought so hard is easily seen on her face. Her skin. Still delicate, but not baby soft. Not smooth. Taking her out is difficult because there is no normality, no hiding, no anonymity. It is there and it is visible.

And it doesn't matter that she has cheeky dark brown eyes and round chubby cheeks and a perfect cupid bow in her lips. Because most won't see any more than her skin, before they look away. Not sure how to react, or worse, reacting with distaste. I didn't shush the girls when they asked, because it was important to me that their curiousity not turn into something other than it should be. I just explained, simply, that her skin did not work like theirs, and she needed special medicine for that. And being children, they understood, and the Elfling jingled a toy for her, and played as she would play with any other baby.

But even at almost 9, the Elfling had questions on the way home, about how sad it was and how unfair it was that someone so little should have to deal with that. And she was very quiet for a little while, as she took it in.

I took my camera to the party, because I always try to, and the weather was hot and steamy and yellow. The end of Summer in a humid golden glow. And I took photos of the Possum as he raided the lolly table, and the Monkey as she swished in her pettiskirt, and of various partygoers too. But I also wanted to take photos of the birthday girl. So I did, photos of her playing with her grandparents, and when I was jiggling soft rattly toys with her to make her smile.

And when I opened my SD card tonight, I could have photoshopped them into oblivion, wiped away all traces of that which society finds hard to deal with and I wondered if I were her mother, if that's what I would like, and I knew it wasn't. So I fixed my light source and my white balance, and I flipped a few into monochrome because I'm a sucker for children's photos in monochrome. And I looked at the photos that came out, and I was truly happy with them. Photos of a happy little girl on her birthday, that looked like her. That had been tinkered with, sure, because a little bit of extra shadow and contrast can make a subject jump off a page, but I didn't up my saturation to where only her eyes were visible, or correct any of the shine from her creams. And I hope that her mother and her grandmother like them too.

As I went through the photos, I also found a few of my Elfling, looking ethereal and embracing her Rivendell heritage. And it was an awful day when I took them, where I cried for the first time in a long time and revisited things I thought were gone and buried. And I was bitter and devastated and miserable and crumbling into the cave inside my chest when I took them, trying desperately not to cry in front of her. When I saw her climb up onto a rock, her yellow sundress billowing lightly around her knees as the sun rays from above hit the golden lights in her hair. And none of it mattered any more. I may have plenty of things that are pushing my buttons and trying to pull me down, but I still have her. Embodiment of the Gleam.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I stood in front of the mirror after blow drying my hair today and suddenly decided to cut it. With scissors. So I took a hank in hand and began slicing through the almost black strands until the thick lock came away. The wisps left falling into my eyes, dark and shiny. I looked up through them, into the mirror, still grasping the thick ponytail in my left hand and wondered at what I'd done.

I walked out to show Bingley, hank in hand, scissors in other while he looked at me confusedly. "Did you cut your hair?" was the answer to my lifted eyebrow, followed by "You look 12, maybe 13". And I kind of do. Fringe falling into my eyes, dark and smooth and shiny and hair longer than it has been in years, curling down my back.

I'm not sure exactly what possessed me. It wasn't a bubbling idea in the background that came forth, it was an eyes in the mirror decision, to change something. Be someone different for a while. Do something ridiculous. I had spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, and then paying bills and organising salary sacrificing paperwork when something inside me snapped. Needed release, as I calmly sharpened my scissors before setting about to hack away at the most visible feature I've ever had.

When the shock had worn off, and the humour and delicious impish delight at having done something so reckless kicked in, I took a mandatory selfie and sent it to a friend, giggling as I did so, because the ridiculousness had set in. And the response from her, and later facebook friends was that I had somehow managed to cut my hair into the style of Zooey Deschanel, one of the original manic pixie dream girls.

I was never really that girl. I didn't have the chance. I've been a grown up since the day I became a mother at 22 and I think, sometimes, that shes' still in there trying to get out - not satisfied with sensibility and Mom jeans.

Over the last few days, many of my friends have been posting old pictures on facebook. Highschool and college photos of shiny happy people in the prime of their lives. And the comment from so many, as they looked at pictures of their past selves, was that they wished they could look like that again, be as free as that again. But when I look at the unsure girl of then, and the way she dressed and how self conscious she was, always, I don't want to be her again.

I want to be the girl who buys a ludicrously short dress because of the ruffles and the way the fabric feels on her skin. Who buys a belt of bells to give it shape and wears it barefoot. I want to be the girl that buys an acid green shirt dress, and wears it to work with patent nude pumps and a tied leather belt. I want to be the girl who wears a suit with a pencil skirt and a purple top tucked into the waistband with very high courts. I want to be the girl who wears shoes with buckles and deadly sharp points, that clack across tiles.

But most of all I want to be the girl who wears those things and isn't self conscious. Who not only cuts her hair into thick bangs that can't just be washed out and hidden away, but puts in a sparkly head band and grows long lost dimples in her cheeks at the very thought of them. Who demands to have her photo taken instead of hiding behind her friends. I want to be me.

Friday, 15 February 2013


About two years or so ago, I noticed a mole on my shoulder. It was a bit irregular and I was anxious about all sorts of things, so I fixated on it, worried it was serious. But at the same time, in denial that it could be and having fabulous dreams about dying young and leaving my children while I ignored it. Then after I started losing weight involuntarily I *knew* it was cancer. I had looked after women not much older than myself with metastatic melanoma and with my lily white skin I was a sitter. It fit in perfectly.

Then one day I slapped myself across the face, got a doctor to look at it and after a cursory 2 second glance with a dermatoscope he deemed it benign.

That reassured me somewhat. Or at least, I stopped blaming my inevitable demise on metastatic cancer and instead went with the more obvious anxiety as being at the root of my issues.

Recently, I noticed the mole again. It was raised, irregularly pigmented and every time I went to sleep my fingers would find it, and it was sensitive to touch so I kept doing it, poking it to see if it was sore. The fixation began again but I knew I was being silly so I couldn't talk to anyone about it. But that's the way these anxiety things work. I knew going to see a specialist about it would make me feel foolish, but because I couldn't convince myself it was benign it would keep me awake.

I contemplated cutting it out myself, but it's on my right shoulder and even with ambidexterity it's in an awkward spot. Plus I knew for myself that i would not be able to just throw it away - I'd need it looked at under a microscope once and for all before I could calm down again. So it simmered and stewed in my consciousness. A bit like my overdue Pap smear that I could justify thanks to all clear results previously and a full round of Gardasil vaccination. It's not the test itself that frightens me, it's the result.

Then I took some study leave so I could feasibly see a doctor during the day, and in one mad rush I booked all my appointments. Turned up at an anonymous skin cancer clinic and stripped off to my underwear (matching and tasteful, but not provocative, that was a good anxiety provoking decision in and of itself) before explaining, apologetically my fears.

To his credit, the good doctor was very thorough, but he was also very certain that there were no real suspicious features in my mole. He ran through the expected options, suggesting photographing it if I was worried, and coming back if it changes. Or, he said, he could cut it off now if I wanted, but it would be a decent scar and I couldn't swim or do any sort of exercise with my shoulder for the next 2 weeks. From his perspective there was no need to cut me, but there was no real decision for me, this thing had been on my mind and on my body for years now, I needed it to be gone.

So I lay back on the cold examination table in my underwear while he washed his hands and grabbed a trolley before washing me down with antiseptic. I heard the same consent spiel come from him that I give most days as I chatted nervously about medical school and where I was training before stopping to catch my breath as the sharp sting of local brought tears under my lashes. Then I felt nothing aside from slight panic at watching the scalpel slice into my skin as the mole was removed forever with 5 synthetic stitches pulling my skin closed again as if it had never been there.

I got up and dressed, came home and trembled a little. Glad it was gone, but realising that it actually really hurts when you have a chunk of skin removed and then held together with stitches, no matter how neat they might be.

It wasn't a melanoma. I think I'd always known it wasn't. It was dysplastic though, cells doing things they shouldn't but not quite tipping over into cancer and I'm glad that they're gone. Glad that the new cells are even now poking up from their germinal layers to fill in the gap where it was. I know there will be a new scar there, another to add to my collection. Red and puckered at first before fading to smooth and shiny white.

I once shared all my scars, all the ones from the jagged one on my chin to the rounded one on the tip of my finger, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. To take all the parts of me that had been broken and sewn together and to share them with someone else, who touched them and somehow healed them all.

This scar though, I'm keeping just for myself.

Monday, 11 February 2013


The airconditioning is humming tonight, the first in a while that we've needed it to suck the humidity. It's cool enough, just wet and the Possum doesn't sleep well under water. I don't like shutting all the windows for it, I can't hear the night and the wind sulks and won't play but the stillness and the rumbling of the vents make me sleep like the dead.

I have been dreaming a lot lately. Big, colourful, nonsensical dreams. I dreamed of a platypus the other night. Snakes another. Freud would have fun with the snakes, but I'm not sure how he'd react to platypi. The internet is not helpful. One site suggested it represented shyness, depression and negativity while another made innuendo regarding playfulness "downunder". I don't feel shy. Or negative. Or depressed. So I don't know what to make of it, though I remember being both surprised and completely at ease when accosted by a platypus.

I feel, if anything, wistful right now. Thinking of sweet things that tease the edges of memory and make me smile. Little snippets of a life well lived and a vague sense of... something.

There had been, in the centre of my chest, for some 3 years a beautiful bright kite that danced in the wind with streamers behind it against a bright and beautiful blue sky. And after flying high and battling the gusts it would occasionally crash to the ground with a sickening thud, and I would survey the damage, sometimes dispassionately, sometimes heartbroken, before running with the string behind me until the kite flew again. Veering drunkenly sometimes, but still fluttering with its beautiful tail. Then the last few times it fell, pieces were torn from it that can't be patched back, and then a little while ago, I stopped trying to see it flying and instead wrapped it up carefully and placed it away in a cupboard in my chest, leaving the remnants as intact as possible, not wanting to see any more torn off.

For some time, after I placed it in storage, I would have a memory of the bright colours and I would get a burning pain, right in the middle of my chest and I would fight the desperate urge to push it into the sky again, to prove that it could still fly. And maybe it can, but I refuse to tear any further strips off while trying to create something that has passed, I like the memories better.

The sky is very close tonight, and thick, tactile. I think the night gets lonely sometimes in Winter and longs for the endless Summer days when the sounds and the scents and the voices echo through her. Summer is still partying, but it is winding up, slowly. The music is playing but there are fewer dancers on the floor and the cool grey of Winter dawn is creeping around her edges.

I long for cooler days. I love the yellow dawns that wake me with brightness and heat and getting out in the rich sultry air before anyone else wakes and the way the wet humid Earth smells as I cross it, but I want even more the sensation of cool air slapping me awake and the thin cool greyness that slides over bare limbs and strokes it alive. I love the silver of the Winter night and the pure white glow of the stars and the moon. I love my Antares, twinkling away with her ruby glow in the heart of the scorpion dangerous and beautiful.

On a night long ago, I remember being disorientated as I got off a bus near midnight and had to stumble home through darkened streets that passed a cemetery. Being an imaginative 16 year old the sounds of night terrified me and I wished more than ever to be safe at home, not stumbling over the streets of suburban Geneva. But through the clouds that covered the sky for most of the time I was there, the moon came out, and just above the horizon the familiar whip tail of the Scorpion was visible and I was not afraid any more.

Some decade later, climbing off a bus onto a busy side road of another city far from home, the frigid wind curled around my exposed wrists and neck and made me shiver in spite of myself. I felt lost, and discombobulated and not sure which direction I should head, struggling with my internal compass as I crossed the overpass over the steady traffic, avoiding the pool of urine against concrete. As I looked up the sky was clear and in spite of the light pollution that faded the night towards the margins like a streaky watercolour, I still found her in the sky, my red star, following my heart.

I don't need a platypus in a dream to tell me that I feel lost again and in need of guidance, and somehow it feels as if the Winter will provide me that. I feel some sort of hope in my chest and assurance that great things are in store for this year, if I am patient and work hard and am humble. I do not know if I will fly again so high as I used, or if my colours will be so bright, but there is something new in me now, a strength that I never before knew I possessed, and a determination. A thread of something shining, and never broken that keeps on looking forward. And I know, somehow, that that will be rewarded this year, and my star will lead me home.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

So you think you can study.

It's 9:30 pm and my new glasses are on to try and stop the fatigue that bombards my eyeballs as I write out yet another 300 word essay exam answer. I have written 30 so far, with a further 8 fully coloured illustrations and I am tired. I don't care any more, but there are 170 to go. So the glasses stay, a placebo to convince me that my apathy and headaches have more to do with my sight than the fact that I can think of a million things I'd rather be doing. I am hunched slightly in my chair, because the chair is too high and my back too long and the stretch in the lower thoracic muscles is starting to burn. I will do yoga tonight to compensate while my body whines.

Pegged to the wire directly above my screen is a pencil drawing of Pont Alexandre with its beautiful lamp posts and La Tour in the background and I feel a million miles away from ever being there again. The cool wet air and the smudgy clouds over the chalk white barely tangible. To the right of the picture, strung over the same wire is a pair of red footprints, smudged ever so slightly at the biggest toe that belong to the Elfling when she was a baby. I didn't date the picture, and I had a moment of not being sure if it was actually Elfling or Monkey when I hung it, but it doesn't matter. It's a symbol, more than anything.

Underneath the Parisian scene and the footprints are innumerable kindy pictures brought home crumpled in bags to admire that are bright swirls of primary colours and smudged soft pastilles. A bright red kite with a trailing blue string and a Welsh coal miner's lamp to the left.

Above the bottom string is another one, strung with lanterns and Christmas craft which is hidden by pen and ink drawings of the medial orbital wall, posterior orbit (globe removed), medial nasal cavity, cross section of the spinal cord and the cerebellum all there to remind me. I think they're decorative in their own right - or would be if my apathy were not so pronounced.

Behind them all is my gilded map of the world with the ability to scratch off the paint of everywhere I have visited. There are great swathes of golden paint left on my map and I cannot wait until I can scrape more of it under my fingernails.

Next to my computer, to the left is my lamp with its warm white glow through the fluted shade. Plain matte silver stand that does all that is supposed to and nothing it is not. Propped up against it, the Santa photo from 2010 in its red leather frame. Anterior to both, becoming superheated by the vent from my notebook is Gray's Anatomy, leather bound, 15th edition with silver pages. The ribbon place holder within the axilla. Under the book is my tablet, closed and unloved at present as I instead stick to pen and paper.

To the right, posteriorly are two galvanised buckets filled with flotsam - pens, pencils, staplers, my glasses case. At least 4 erasers still in their wrappings, a sharpener. Receipts. Anterior to these is my mouse pad and tiny mouse, my pen and my phone which buzzes occasionally with facebook notifications that I've yet to turn off or reminders for things that I've long since forgotten. Then anterior again is my workbook, filled with exam answers that I hope are acceptable, because I have so little guidance about what they should actually be. I will be showing it to friends who have passed to see if there's anything I'm doing wrong at some point.

To the left and right of the desk are my new white bookcases. Gradually being filled from the piles around the house that previously had no home, and storing up my collection of study notes and journals. My big travel book closest to me on the left, for those times when I need to sit with a Matilda-esque behemoth on my lap and ruin my neck by craning through its pages of beautiful pictures. One day soon I hope to add an atlas.

Behind me is the new piano, bought for the girls' lessons, but also for me to sit at quietly when they are in bed and flex my fingers over so that I can enjoy the sound. I am desperate to learn how to play, in a way I never once appreciated at 11 when it was offered, and so I am gradually, and poorly, teaching myself while under the guise of supervising the Elfling's practise sessions.

Behind and to my left is the little Ikea table and chairs where the babies eat their dinner when it is too cold or wet to eat outside at the dinner table. It is permanently sticky and the paint is coming off in places, but it makes me happy. They all 3 of them sit there, telling stories, or jokes that make no sense and giggling together, and even when they are all tucked up safely in bed it is still happy and giggly there.

And in the middle of it all is me. Wearing all black so that with my hair out I look like a cat burglar in bare feet. Everything stretchy because I hate anything digging into me when I'm studying. Toenails half painted and fingernails ragged from too much biting while I'm studying. Procrastinating with 13 tabs open in my browser and only 4 of them related to study. My fitness pal chiding me because I've not eaten enough calories today but not being hungry, and slightly addicted to the feature that tells me how little I'll weigh in 5 weeks if I keep it up. Recognising that not eating will make it harder to study but liking that my hips protrude again too much to let it go. Recognising that that in itself is not particularly healthy but not caring.

Monday, 4 February 2013


University libraries smell different. They smell of old books and recycled air and ticking clocks, the same as other libraries, but there are different notes too. The smell of toner and carbon copy paper. Ink. Sneaky bottles of caffeinated beverages.

I am studying again, in a library even though I have an office at home with lovely natural light and white bookcases filled with texts. Somehow the artificial bright white light and the smell of toner and copy paper are more meaningful and I study better when I am here in my jeans and my hoodie in the middle of Summer with my feet curled up under me on the chair.

It is University holidays so it is quieter than usual and the quiet is welcoming. I like the tapping of the other computer keys and the click as the second hand navigates the clock on the wall. I like the clearing of throats from some unseen person in the corner and he librarian shuffling her things around in between checking facebook. I like the rumbling of the heavy metal cart that they use to replace books on shelves and the way it clangs across the tiles. I like the noisiness of the silence as the airconditioner hums in the background.

My newest textbook is open in front of me, its pages gilded at the edges so that when I get to a new page that I have not opened yet, I have to separate the pages. Proof that this is mine and mine alone. Somehow, for a brand new book they have managed to colour the pages into a sense of age and the type set is ever so subtly incomplete so that little chunks are missing out of letters. I love it. It looks old even though it is new.

I have always preferred new books. The excitement of birthdays and Christmas mornings when a brand new book smelling of brand new book would be opened and the first creases to be put into the paper spine would be caused by me and my reading. Even as an adult, this preference persevered, I think because of the novelty of having something new.

When I was a teenager, I came across the red cloth covered volume of Tennyson's poems from which this blog takes its title that belonged to my father. I have no idea if he bought it new, but I suspect, owing to both its age, condition and his financial status when he bought it, that it was not new. I have always loved it. Stole it from home, technically, without asking, because of that desperate love for it. It went to university with me, and lay on my cardboard box of a bedside table under the posters of wizards and dragons. I love that it is a book from history that has history of its own.

Earlier in the year, I was desperate to find a book that is not available in book stores. Even though it was an award winning book, it has not been republished in some time. I have its sequel, triumphantly scavenged from a second hand book fair but this book, one of my favourites of a childhood that refuses to end completely, has eluded me. I don't think I ever had a copy of my own - it was only ever a library book, so with the magic of the internet I searched for it.

The Book Depository didn't have it, but they suggested Abe Books, who I'd always been vaguely suspicious of. The idea of buying used books online feeling strange - I'm not sure why given my op shopped collection of Trixie Beldens. But they had my book, in a tiny independent store in Perth of all places in the world, and it would cost me merely $2. So I bought it, wondering how defaced the cover would be and if there would be pages missing.

There weren't.

Like the first time I'd read it, it was a library book, with the library plate still on the inside of the cover and the stamps from those who had borrowed it before, just like the one I'd read as a child. It was a different cover, so it wasn't *my* book, but this one, with its own history, that many other children had read before me, was somehow more special than any other. A new book would not have been the same because I'd already read it, had cracked the spine and smudged the pages. Had cried on a few. This was more my book than any reprint ever could have been.

I also bought, on the same day, for the princely sum of 2 pounds, Jane of Lantern Hill, the last written and published book of LM Montgomery's life. And it came to me with a piece bitten out of the cover and a little girl's name written on the inside cover in a childish script and although the book itself was not anywhere near my favourite, feeling like an idealised and slightly beatific version of Emily, it belongs on my shelf, because it too, was beloved by little girls who belong to the cult of PEI.

There is no other option, if I want to complete my collection of Trixie Belden's, especially if I want to know what happens in the last 2 books that I've never read. Unfortunately, due to the popularity and scarcity of these books, they are being offered at ludicrous prices of over $40 each online. There is part of me, though, that needs to know, desperately, if Jim ever kissed Trixie, after the lead up of all the books before then. But somehow I think I'm going to be disappointed. It's kind of nice, in a way, to know that the series has never finished for me, and that those books are still out there.

I wonder sometimes, when I look at our well worn copies of Harry Potter, and muse regularly about whether I think Snape was in fact part of one of the best stories ever written about unrequited love or just a slime ball if my girls will ever feel the same way about books. I hope so, because there is something still, that no e-reader can ever give, and that's the smell of type print that smears just a little under sweaty hands and tears that fall over stories that seem too real. And the way it feels to slide your fingers between gilt edged pages to open something that has never before been opened, and to learn something new.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

A very boring week. Because I write about those now too. Apparently.

Because it is school holidays, the children had their annual visit with their grandparents and Bingley and I sat on the couch and wondered at the silence. For a very short period of time anyway before trying to fill it. I still had to work all week, and weekend, but we managed to do some other things too.

The first night we went and saw The Hobbit and drank slushies that gave me headspin and ate popcorn until I couldn't feel my lips. It was good and I enjoyed the Hobbit very much. I am thinking of taking the Elfling for an encore as I think she'd like it but it may be yet just a little scary. We'll see. Plus the idea of a night out with just her is appealing.

After the movie we walked around Southbank for a while and sat down at a Spanish bar to eat tapas. Fun ambience and a jug of tasty Sangria mixed with the sultry night as we people watched and the bougainvilea bower swayed listlessly in what was left of the breeze. After dinner, having eaten too much, we wandered through the park to the beach where hundreds of others were still swimming and I peeled off my shoes and pulled up my jeans and waded in tipsily, wanting nothing more than to dive right in. The only thing that stopped me was that my underwear was sheer, otherwise I would have jumped. Bingley was much more sensible than I though and promised we would come back the next night.

So Monday, after work, when I was overtired and overworked and underpaid, I got changed into my riding gear, we snapped our new $10 LED torches to our bikes and we rode all the way to the city, across the Goodwill Bridge and back down into Southbank to the pools. Unlike every other day of this new year, it was actually blowing quite a bit, with the wind racing along the river and losing all of her heat. Remembering the strong pull of desire from the previous night however I forced myself to strip off my slightly sweaty clothes down to my bikini and jump into the water that was actually blissfully warm. Lapping at shoulders as we bobbed around watching the city lights and listening to the sounds of everyone else splashing. The wind as it blew across the surface raising gooseflesh and causing me to shiver so much that it was not quite as long as expected before we were back on our bikes and riding home in the night.

Bingley and I have never ridden our bikes together in Brisbane before and it was a revelation. Wide, well maintained bike paths that snaked under and over bridges that seem so much bigger when you're whooshing past on your own steam. On arriving home my knees and shoulders hurt, but the grin of self satisfaction and spontaneity and doing something fun and active was elixir enough to fall peacefully to sleep not long after.

Wednesday night I stopped at Ikea on the way home and bought a new bookshelf. It was very big and heavy and getting it into the car I used all of my grade 10 Physics to actually lever it in without breaking something. We then had the fun of sitting on the floor and putting it together, which is probably the real reason we own so much Ikea furniture - it's just a really big lego set.

Thursday we went out for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. It was ok.

Friday we had a big fight. I cried. We made up. I slept badly.

Saturday we woke up and the sun was shining and my room was full of light. I was snuggled up in my blankets as the airconditioning rumbled through the vents. After finally climbing out of bed and into the shower, we made our way to GoMA to the new APT exhibit.

Side note - I am lucky that I was brought up in a family that appreciated art and took the time to take children to museums and galleries and to explain it as well. Some art doesn't need explaining. Some art is just pretty and nice to look at, but art that speaks to you other than just being pretty - learning to appreciate that is a true gift.

Anyway, the Asia/Pacific triennial art exhibit at the Queensland Art Gallery is one of my favourite things to experience. The last exhibit in 2010 was spectacular and there were pieces there that made my heart hurt. Some that made my eyes sting and some that pulled my stomach out of my chest .I loved it. Loved experiencing it. Loved visiting it on my own. Loved taking others with me to experience it. The stag of globes still rates as one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. So of course my expectations were high, and I take disappointment badly.

I was not disappointed.

From the first moment of walking in, I knew I would not be disappointed. Some things of course I just glanced over politely, missing, or not caring about their meaning. Others had me spellbound, sitting and watching, sometimes nose right up to the glass or the paint or the wood, just to see every last tiny detail. To try and work out how as well as what and why.

Here are some of my favourites, and reasons why you should go too.

I liked these. I empathise.

This is techinically spectacular and utterly unnerving. So incredibly beautiful and so ugly at the same time. My phone has done nothing to capture the beauty of the colours or the technique. 

String theory. I followed each line to its completion. I loved the wobbles. String theory needs wobbles.

The yellow room 

Black and white. Texture and light. I was wearing a red dress and the reflected light from me gave the painting colour. I was profoundly moved by it.

Terrible picture of a stunning series by Michael Cook. Amazing.

This is a photograph taken of the sky in a mirror. The mirror is made from polished meteorite. When I realised what I was looking at my heart jumped a little. So spectacularly beautiful and so simple - seeing the sky from the sky. 

Large installation piece of cities that raise to they sky. Worth looking at close up to see all the little details. 

I usually am not much interested in the short cinema offerings at these exhibitions and wander out after a polite few minutes of trying to look interested. This one was not like that. 9 minutes that sucked the breath from my chest. I know it won't affect everyone like that, but it's worth sitting down for just to appreciate the cinematography. 

Whimsical Japanese print. Ethereal.

Farsi. I love that the room bent the more I looked at it to become a 3 dimensional thing. 

I am not sure why this moved me so much. It's massive and it is beautiful. Part of a larger series by an Indigenous artist. One of the bags reminded me of the Giants in the BFG. They seemed perfect for snatching up little children. 

One of those spectacularly beautiful wow creations that you don't need to be a critic to enjoy. I wanted to visit there in the clouds this temple. Live there. Home of the air nomads. 

Parade of the tiny glass animals. Intricate, refractory and flowing like water. 

Menacing shapes in the art gallery over the water. I loved the reflections and the menace and the beauty all mixed in together.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Heroines have messy hair

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that if one is to write of a heroine, she may not have perfect hair. She may have no hair - through illness or act of defiance or selflessness, it may curl riotously but more importantly uncontrollably, or hang limp like a wet dish rag but we are uncomfortable with the notion of easily perfect hair in a novel. We might like to look at perfect hair, to watch movies and struts up red carpets of long tresses shining in soft magazine lighting, but when it comes to the written word, when we have to imagine her, no author could contrive to make a truly loveable heroine who dared to have perfect hair.

It is unrelatable, to all of us, who have painstakingly sprayed and curled and ironed and zhuzzed only for it to look worse than when it started and to toss it up in a messy bun that is aiming for carefree and casual and somehow beachy and instead looks unfinished and lopsided. Who have massaged in a hot oil treatment aiming for luscious shine and ended up instead with a pool of grease that clings grimly to the scalp.

I tried to write a short story tonight, one with a title character of a female nature and it struck me that in describing her I had no choice but to make her hair messy and it annoyed me. It felt clichéd  to describe the hair that refuses to do as it's told. Everyone has read about *that* character before. Even the abominable Anastasia Steele has wild curly hair. And yet when I tried to imagine a heroine with hair that stayed put and gleamed in the sunshine in perfect waves I felt distrustful. I didn't like her. And so the messy hair stayed.

Google thinks this is messy hair. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

In which I write a title which is too long because I can't think of a good one.

Papery skin that bruises if you so much as look at it is surprisingly tough when it wants to be. The mess of haemosiderin in varying stages of decay splotched over cubital fossas and the cool flaccid turgorless dorsal surfaces belying the sheer grit of vessels that stare down the tip of my guide needle and dare it to pierce the flesh. And yet, even as I push and pull and prod, probe in one hand, fingers nimbly dancing with needle, each subtle stroke as with an épée, those who have most to complain about so rarely do.

"I'm Jennifer" I say brightly, clacking into the rooms with my very high heels and my pretty dresses and the hair that refuses to behave and ruins the whole effect, "I'm one of the doctors". And so many of them, on hearing this, relax straight away. As if those letters after my name actually mean something tangible and meaningful and that the fact that I'm about to poke them with sharp things is not something to worry about.

Sometimes I sit on the end of the bed, and have a chat about what we're about to do. Sometimes I chat while I'm washing my hands. Sometimes I hold onto the papery mottled hand and smooth out the bruises and cluck while vowing to not put another purple mark on skin that is so fragile and yet so tough.

Sometimes as I explain, the fear creeps up over skin, especially in those that are younger and the thought of pain has them recoiling from me while sheer force of will keeps them stoic. Some want to see my tiny needles and are reassured. Some screw their eyes up tight and look the other way.

When I am chasing a lesion - a mass of cells that doesn't look quite right - I turn the screen towards so that they can see too. They're there and they're part of this, it's not right for me to hide it from them. "See that white line in the middle of the screen?" I gesture as I hold the probe in one hand and point awkwardly with the other. And there's a definite pride that almost everyone gets when they realise what they're looking at, as I describe the bits that are important. And while almost no one wants to watch the needle or the biopsy gun pierce their skin, often they will be riveted to the screen as the sharp white line of my needle comes into view and reaches the mass of cells that they can identify too. Solemn quiet until the sharp click of the trigger as I withdraw.

"That wasn't so bad" is one of the commonest responses I get. But the one I get most is often "Thank you". I find it awkward when I'm thanked for hurting someone, because there are always bits that are a little bit painful, but I always hope that it hasn't caused fear and that the things I've explained, and described, so that the unknown ghosts can be chased away a little have helped.

Sometimes the response I'm given is that "That looks easy" and in some ways it is. It only takes a steady hand and some coordination. A bit of training and an understanding of the anatomy so that my needle pokes into the mass of cells and not into an artery or some such other important structure. And as I switch between hands, sometimes left dominant, sometimes right dominant (I'm sure the nurses think I'm doing it just to confuse them) it feels easy now. My needles go where I want them to go and I'm quick. I'm quite proud of that, because the frustration that gathered between my eyebrows the first few times as everything felt clumsy is largely abating. Sometimes things are harder, and I bite my lip and frown at the screen and fiddle with the dials until things look better, but I no longer feel like I'll never be able to do this, because I know I can.

And when I see my neat little purple line, exiting through the tiny hole in the skin; and the antibiotics can be hooked up or the chemotherapy started and my neat clear dressing is snapped into place and I don't see any bruises, I feel ridiculously satisfied. When I've applied my clean white dressing over the single tiny hole that leads to the subacromial bursa my pride gets a satisfied pat. Or when I'm standing next to my machine after the biopsy is all done and I can point with unsterilised hands to the point where my needle went in and the picture of how close we were to the artery or the nerve or lung or aorta but how I could see where I was all the time so that I wouldn't cause any harm and that look of amazement crosses both our faces, as we realise what we've both just achieved, I know that this is all very worthwhile.

I help. I heal. I still hold hands. I still explain even if it takes too much time. But most of all I love what I do.


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