Sunday, May 7, 2017

Evolution in Progress

Lately I seem to be asking the question ‘What’s the point?’ more than I usually do.

Writing is a difficult passion and writers throughout history are notoriously moody fuckers – I guess it’s because writing involves spending a lot of time in one’s head – observing people and situations, constantly reading random information under the guise of “research”, reading other people’s work to compare your own to (and torture yourself with), formulating ideas and then trying to press those ideas onto a page with a combination of letters – a secret code to transmit your idea into the minds of others.

Sometimes the ideas and words flow and it gives me great satisfaction, at other times it feels about as futile as scratching stick drawings into the dirt. And sometimes I feel like giving up – life would be easier without the self-imposed torment of writing I think.

I give it away for a few days or a week, unstrap myself from the writing rack and try to walk around like an ordinary person doing ordinary things...

When I was a young adult writing seemed like such a romantic idea.
 I pictured myself living alone in an urban apartment, wearing black, drinking coffee, spending hours at a desk with a typewriter furiously filling empty sheets of paper with words, slamming the return lever at the end of each line of type, tearing out each newly printed leaf and adding it to the growing pile on the desk. My fingers stained with nicotine and typewriter ink, I would be a productive writer, churning out dozens of best selling novels…

I hadn’t known then that the reality of writing is more akin to a monkey getting termites out of a nest with a stick.

The lure of those damnable little termites, protracted and measly as they are to procure, keeps me coming back for more. And it doesn’t matter how sophisticated technology gets, whether I use a pen or a laptop, I can’t upgrade the stick.

I curse the stick and the termites but my tantrums are pointless – the termite mound remains immovable. I am a primate with opposable thumbs who can use a tool but all my evolution and intelligence gets me no closer to the feeling of purpose or completion, it just makes me question more. And when I have come full circle, stripped away the complexities of every facet of life in an effort to reassess the purpose of it all, when I have returned from a journey round the dark side of the moon there is only the glimmer of hope to guide me back.

And the stick is where I left it, lying in the dirt.

Photo creative commons license courtesy of GorillaSushi

Sometimes life feels lonely and difficult. Sometimes the voice in your head isn't friendly. Sometimes it feels like the pieces aren't fitting together. You're not alone. Leave a comment if you like. xx 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mirror Mirror, On The Wall...

When I was young I was terrified of looking in a mirror after midnight. I’d read somewhere you’d see a ghost over your shoulder. It was probably the same book that said you could find out the first letter of your future husband’s name by throwing a long piece of apple peel over your left shoulder.

Unfortunately it’s impossible to make the letter ’T’ with one long piece of apple peel – I wasn’t convinced Tim was going to be my husband for about ten years.

These days I throw my apple peels straight into the compost bucket, but I’ve never been able to kick the habit of not looking into a mirror after midnight. I guess by day it’s easy to laugh at a silly old superstition, but in the middle of the night I just can’t shake the idea of glimpsing a luminescent figure behind me.

My solution is to keep my eyes closed. I rationalise doing this by telling myself it’s good exercise for my other senses, so i
f I have to get up to go to the loo I feel my way along the walls, searching out familiar corners, registering the change underfoot from carpet to tiles. Of course, along with not seeing any ghosts, there’s the added advantage I can’t see the enormous pile of dirty clothes that has materialised.

Once upon a time I may have thought I was alone with this strange fear of seeing ghosts in mirrors, but a quick search of the internet tells me I’m not, in fact, (like everything these days) there’s even a name for it: Catoptrophobia. There are probably chatrooms and such devoted to it too, or self-help blogs written by sufferers who have worked at overcoming their phobia.

Maybe I should read them and get some tips. They will probably tell me the answer is to gradually expose myself to mirrors – but what if that exacerbates the problem? What if, like people who are scared of spiders, who scream if they see one at any time of the day or night, I start becoming scared of mirrors in daylight hours too? What if I become so skittish and terrified that I jump like a kitten spooked by its own reflection every time I see one?

Maybe lots of people have this same fear and are working to keep it in check all the time – all those people exercising in mirror-walled gyms for instance, that’s probably the real reason you see so many people in active-wear away from the gym – because they’ve chickened out of going! And maybe that’s why people love their hairdresser so much – they’re like therapist-magicians, flourishing that cape across your shoulders, hypnotising you into believing the illusion of what you’re supposed to believethat mirrors aren’t dangerous.

But they are.

Perhaps my fear of mirrors is already out of control and I’ve been in denial, after all there are some mirrors in my house that I favour over others, and a few I try hard to avoid - there are certain mirrors that you shouldn’t look in.

Like the mirror in our downstairs bathroom – when I stand before it the light from the small 1930s window is slightly yellowed giving me a tired, wan appearance, the lines on my face are accented. ‘Don’t I look old!’ the voice in my head says, and it’s my mother’s voice and in the mirror I see parts of her face staring back at me and I wonder if I will suffer the same fate as her – maybe that’s the real ghost I am scared of seeing.

Have you seen a ghost in the mirror? 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cruising the Vortex of The Bermuda Triangle

The other day in a magazine I read:
‘If you live in the West, you are one of the richest 5 per cent of people on the planet. That makes you one of the richest people history has ever known.’*

And now I believe it. I am taking my first cruise on a ship called the Celebrity Equinox, a floating twenty-first century palace. Fourteen levels of dining and entertainment, a casino, 2 theatres, 3 swimming pools, gym and more. It is a world unto itself complete with twelve glass elevators and eleven bars – one of which looks like a deck on the Starship Enterprise. The only living things on the ship (besides humans) is an enormous ornamental tree suspended in a cathedral space in the centre of the ship, and the syringes of botox in the day spa.

I have come on the cruise for two reasons – firstly, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to rewrite the ending of my memoir. I was told once that in Japan if a writer hadn’t finished their manuscript by the contractual date they would be locked in a hotel room by their publisher and not let out until it was finished. Locking myself on a boat without my family sounded like a fair equivalent.

The second reason was that it wasn’t just any cruise, it was a ‘celebrity cruise’ – the headlining act was one of my favourite spiritual teachers, a lady called Esther Hicks who channels a collective entity from another dimension called Abraham. When I told my friend about Abraham-Hicks she said bluntly: ‘Katie, this sounds like a cult…’ I told her it wasn’t a cult, I wasn’t going to change my name to Shakti anything or start saying ‘Om Guru’.

That said, I was surprised to learn there were a whopping 800 Abraham-Hicks devotees on board who had come from all corners of the globe, many had been on dozens of her cruises before, could recite her words like scripture and had adapted a familiar lingo. These followers evidently took things more seriously than me, a YouTube listener who tuned in to pass the time while I was washing the dishes.

Followers of Abraham-Hicks believed in The Law Of Attraction, the idea that all your thoughts and desires, whether conscious or not, attract the things that come into your life. The premise was that meditating (getting “into alignment” and “lowering your resistance”) put you in touch with your higher self (aka, “the vortex”), which would naturally attract good things to you (“manifest your desires”).

For that reason, Abraham-Hicks followers were forbidden to talk about anything bad, such as the gastro bug they picked up on the fourteen hour flight, or the taxi driver that had fleeced them for three times the correct fare, for risk that they might attract more of it into their life – instead they said things like, ‘I’m experiencing a lot of contrast right now.’

How things had changed since Old Testament times I thought to myself… The followers of Moses had squatted on the hard rocky outcropping of Mount Sinai for literally weeks on end waiting for him to deliver the Ten Commandments. If only they had known how to manifest two hour seminars in a tired auditorium with plush velvet seating! And how much more fun was it now being an Abraham-Hicks follower watching for signs from the heavens – no more burning bushes or being slapped in the head by raining fishes, instead we had iPhones to capture the time when it read 11:11.

I was glad I was following Abraham-Hicks who preached unlimited abundance and no guilt – I felt like I had been manifesting this cruise since I was ten years old when I was obsessed with stories of ships sailing through The Bermuda Triangle, before I’d learned of the harm wreaked by fossil-fuelled cruise ships on the environment, the noise pollution that negatively impacted the behaviour of whales and dolphins. 
Except that I’d gotten a little too carried away manifesting the giant supernatural whirlpool that sucked ships down to the submerged lost city of Atlantis… 

I realised that although yes, I still desperately wanted to see a UFO, I did want to return to see my family again. Also, I realised that my fellow Abraham-Hicks followers were growing tired of the contrast of sea sickness.

So after the forth day of high winds and turbulent seas I returned my attention to my first priority – rewriting the ending of my book. And as the revellers frolicked in the sun-drenched pool on the top deck, lowering their resistance with a few cocktails, I got on with the job at hand, appreciating all the while every second of realisation that I am indeed one of the richest people history has ever known.

* ‘Does Altruism Need Science?’, New Scientist 25 Feb 2017.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cerebral Cortex VS Clitoris

One of my earliest memories is of driving across the Harbour Bridge with my parents – a song came on the radio, it was ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ by KISS. I realised something, and a question arose from me: ‘Why are all songs about love?’

My parents glanced at each other and shared a knowing chuckle. One day I would understand they said.

They were right. Not long after this revelatory musical moment I watched Raiders of The Lost Ark. I was in love with Dr Jones by the time he started shouting ‘Jock! Start the Engine!’, a tribe of Amazonian Indians in hot pursuit. My seven year old heart was beating faster than the pizzicato strings of the score. Everything about Indiana – his roguish dialogue and 5 o'clock shadow, the scar on his chin and his adorable fear of snakes, made me dizzy with longing. Raiders of The Lost Ark was the top-grossing film of 1980 – it was hard work earning that much pocket money, let me tell you.

But there’s only so much interaction you can have with a Smash Hits centrefold… Urged on by oestrogen, out of eyeshot of my father, I went hunting for a real boy.

Most of the boys I had access to were private school boys – they all looked appealing in uniform, but when caught in my sights they were like timid gazelle. And let’s face it, who bothers to visit gazelles when they go to the zoo? No one, well not me anyway. I wanted a boy who would stop me in my tracks, I wanted one that would keep my interest longer than the time it took to finish my chocolate sundae.

I met my husband when I was 20, it was love at first sight and we courted like crocodiles – I was hooked. We loved each other to the point of loathing at times, and after ten years decided to cement our relationship with marriage – it was like a mobster burial, and we’re stuck in it, for better or for worse. Our relationship hasn’t always been easy, but it’s never been dull.

So today, on Valentine’s Day, I’m dedicating a special request to my husband – ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ by KISS. Except that tonight I won’t be giving it all to him (because we have children in the house), and in the darkness the only thing I want to do is watch Married At First Sight, because there’s nothing more entertaining when you’ve been in a twenty year relationship than watching these couples.

The brides frequently say, ‘I thought he’d be taller...’ and I am overcome with desire to slap them with a King Cock Extra Girthy dildo – ‘You can order a plastic penis online any day girls, even in different colours, but you can’t buy personality!’

It’s true what fairy godmother's say – If you’re looking for love, follow your heart – but I say trust your cerebral cortex over your clitoris.

Which classic song are you dedicating to your love this Valentine’s Day?
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hardcore Hippy

People like me are not going to save the planet. I talk like an environmentalist but when push comes to shove I’m the first to run screaming for the last bottle of Exit Mould.

The woman who’s house I’ve rented for the holidays will save the planet – she has chickens, an alfalfa sprouter and lots of jars of fermenting miso paste in her fridge. She also has no television, no WiFi and most of her belongings are broken, possibly salvaged from a Macquarie Fields curb-side collection.

Money and physical possessions appear to be of little importance. Her towels are faded and threadbare, the decorations around her home consist of collapsed candles, moth-eaten feathers and bone-dry sticks of ancient lavender. As I walk from room to room taking in the interiors my one thought is: 'This shit is not on Pintrest'

The only child in me that knows my holiday is ruined goes into a sulk.

It is evident the woman does not wear deodorant, her bedroom – the room I am supposed to sleep in for 10 nights – smells like the unshaved armpit of a Bikram yoga instructor, her dresser looks like Beetlejuice’s graveyard. The beds are a watercolour of ancient stains – I feel like Gordon Ramsay in Hotel Hell inspecting the place with his UV light, except I’m not using a UV light.

I consider walking out of the house right there and then, I could calmly back out the way I came, silent as a cat burglar… The woman had left the house unlocked for us with the key beside a handwritten note on the dining table – she said in the years she’d lived in her unlocked house she had never been robbed.

‘That’s because there’s nothing to steal!’ the only child says.

This Shit is Not on Pintrest

No, there's only one crime that's been committed, and that is the gargantuan shitting on my holiday from a great height. And so I have the choice – to take it, or leave it. I roll up my sleeves and boil the kettle to start cleaning, angry that I'm having to put some hardcore hippy's house in order, angry that cockroaches are floating in the water when I pour it into the sink. I'm angry that I’m cleaning on my holiday and angry that I've been forced into buying stuff – an armoury of new towels, pillows and sheets that come out of plastic bags smelling like fresh formaldehyde.

I stew on the reviews I could write…
A great place to teach your kids about the lifecycle of insects – Exterminators delight!
Third World Reality Check.
BYO Blowtorch!
How Does A Hippy Clean the House? – She Opens the Window!

If only I’d rented this Roach Motel through AirBnB! But I didn’t, and the money’s probably long gone towards Steiner school fees, the hallmarks of which are dotted throughout the house – wax paper lanterns, 
carved wooden bowls and scribbly handwriting that looks like it was written with twigs dipped in ink. God knows, I want to love this woman’s principles, her quest to live a wholesome life, her defiant rejection of the poisons of modern society – money, television, deodorant, cockroach bombs…

But it's like riding a bicycle with flat tyres, it's just shit and depressing. 

On her bookshelf are dog-eared books on chanting and meditation – what luxury to just sit passively while all around the world dissolves into entropy! (Note to self: That's called a HOLIDAY and it's what I was supposed to be doing...) So she must be doing something right – positive visualisation for instance – because she visualised me, a person crazy enough to pay money to rent her property and then clean it for her!

In the end, once again, maybe I was too quick to condemn myself – maybe it's not just hardcore hippies that are going to save the planet, maybe I will too. 
When things get ugly I don’t turn away, I use my anger to make positive change, and I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty. But... I'm still a little bit scared of roaches.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Meat In The Sandwich

Mum, pregnant with me, hated this photo!

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Just as my youngest came out of nappies, my father went into them - not willingly mind you, my father couldn’t be bribed with Chupa Chups! I’m one of the ‘sandwich generation’ - stuck between caring for ageing parents and young children. 

My mother, the one and only Jeanne Little, was thrilled to bits at becoming a grandmother. When Tom was born I christened her Ninny, short for Nincompoop, which was a bit cheeky but Mum loved it. She was known for doing ditzy things, she was incredibly intelligent but thought in such an unconventional manner that she was always doing things that made us laugh.

For instance, when she was pregnant with me she refused to wear the awful pastel 70s maternity dresses that made her look like a blimp she said, so she designed and sewed her own. One had big pink elephants marching round the tummy and another had a target on the stomach with a matching handbag like a quiver of arrows. Her photo ran in the local papers and she was asked onto ‘The Mike Walsh Show’ - two years later she was awarded the Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality. The story reads like a modern day Cinderella!

Mum was still working flat chat when I had Tom, appearing weekly on Foxtel’s ‘Beauty and The Beast’ and touring her own stage show ‘Marlene’, both my parents were healthy and living at home in the family house. There were a couple of years of blissful naivety, before things started going wrong.

Mum absolutely adored Tom and the two had a special bond, which is no wonder, the similarities between them are countless, they’re both extremely loud and could talk underwater! Usually I couldn’t get a word in edgewise with Mum, it was only when she started talking less I realised there was a problem.

The doctor at Prince of Wales gave Mum tests, they looked like the worksheets Tom brought home from preschool, squashed in his backpack beneath plastic bags of wet clothes and tupperware - draw the hands of a clock face, match three letter words to pictures - cow, pig, dog, etc. I was used to seeing my son’s scrawly pencil marks, we stuck them up on the fridge, but Mum’s test results were not stuck up anywhere, nobody wanted to be reminded of them.

By then I’d had my daughter Charlotte and my life had dissolved into sleep-deprived chaos. Mum wanted to be busy and helpful with the kids but the Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point that I had to keep an eye on her at all times, she once fed Tom a whole 2L tub of ice-cream! Obviously he thought she was THE BEST grandma on the planet but I was less than thrilled when he threw up in the car on the way home. There was only one place in the world that worked for all of us - playgroup!!

The noise! The chaos! The other exhausted mothers who loved Mum’s simple repetitive conversations about the weather and frequency of planes flying over Gladesville! Mum loved the chatter and busyness in the kitchen, and the normalcy of easy tasks such as washing up endless plastic plates and cups. It was the only place I could relax, knowing the kids and Mum were having fun and that everyone was safe, over a hot cup of tea I could even pretend nothing was wrong.

If it wasn’t for playgroup I don’t know how I would have survived those years. Mum was the glue that held our family together and if losing her wasn’t bad enough, by the time she went into care our family was torn apart with grief, anger and guilt. My father, living by himself refused any help and became deeply depressed. I really did feel like the meat in the sandwich at that point, you can’t help someone who isn’t ready to be helped and my father and I had a tenuous relationship at the best of times. It was a dark time, my children kept me grounded in the present but I felt very lost and alone.

I started my blog ‘Going To Seed’ about this time to stay sane. I only know how bleak those years were because I’m still surprised when I hear myself laughing, and my blog posts have become funnier. I’ve taken it on as a personal challenge to find the funny side of awful situations, I want to show people you can laugh in the face of adversity. You have to have a very black sense of humour to find the funny side of dementia! But it’s important because so many people are suffering through the same awful experiences. That’s the kind of attitude Mum would want me to have and she was such an energetic and inspiring person.

I have a lot of fun writing about sticky situations in parenting too - what to do when someone calls your child a psychopath in the playground (Metaphorically Speaking), capturing your child’s precious first moments - ALWAYS have the camera ready at the primary school sex education talk! (Grown Ups Do What?), and how to plan a tonsillectomy holiday for your daughter in Thailand with a vasectomy for your husband thrown in (Nip Tuck Tuk Tuk)…

It’s not easy, at times it seems impossible. Witnessing Mum’s deterioration, comparing the shell of a woman she is now with the enormous larger-than-life person she once was tears my heart out over and over again. Watching my father struggle on without her, fighting old age every step of the way, trying my best not to be short-tempered when I see a note from school come home about ‘Grandparents Day!’, having to be the adult all the time when I still feel like the child.

Are you one of the sandwich generation? What are your tips for staying sane in the midst of toddler tantrums, challenging geriatrics and teenage hissy fits? 😍  

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