Tuesday, August 26, 2008

August Audit: Part Two

With just a few days left of the month of August I realised that I hadn't even made the smallest of headways into auditing my work, as I'd set August aside to do. Thankfully today, with a trip to our much loved 'Lollyland' I was able to get all my short stories catalogued, along with all the side bits I created for Finding Aphrodite last year and the background stories that have been created in anticipation of Adam and Eve for this year's NaNo. A sense of achieving something seems to be really important at the moment - even if it is a couple of lists of stories with the potential publisher box filled in with a series of ?s

It was an interesting activity to do on numerous levels. Firstly it meant cleaning out all the misnamed, and repeated files that contained the same stories. Secondly it meant filing everything away where it actually belonged. There were a few unfinished stories, that got a new 'unfinished' folder to live in, all the Adam and Eve stuff lives in its own folder, along with the Finding Aphrodite stuff. It was important for me, caught in a period of writing ambivalence and doubt to go back and see just how much work I have created since I made the decision last year to 'just write.'

I have been despondent more often than not over the last month, after the excitement and re-energising kick of the Byron Bay Writers Festival wore off. I've felt a block in getting anything on the paper, of committing time and effort to even arrive at the paper and my only saving grace has been my contribution to Captain Juan's adventures. Otherwise I may really have thrown in the towel.

Perhaps part of it is reminding myself that it's quality and not quantity that matters. Though I do have to also remind myself that I have to turn up to the page every day - even if it is for half an hour and I do have to make time for things like Fiction Friday. Claiming my writing space is becoming a priority again as other things have enroached on that sacred space.

At the end of the short story audit I found that I have 24 short stories - one of which has been published, another which is almost in final draft form and ready to be sent off, and several others that need a little TLC to get them up to scratch to find an audience beyond my blog and hard drive. In addition to that there are 7 stories contributing to the Adam and Eve concept which have all been written this year, and another two or three side stories from Finding Aphrodite.

Feeling rather chuffed with the fact that I managed to get it all catalogued, I realised that I have a number of articles published on my blog that probably could find homes elsewhere - so I'm now contemplating doing a catalogue of my online articles and considering where else they might be sent to be enjoyed (well I can delude myself!) by a wider audience than is available on my blog.

The other things that I wanted to do as part of August was print off my NaNo project from last year (that's tomorrow's to do) and get Evie sorted out and ready for sending off somewhere (which I have done - just have to round up the critiques that I was hoping for!) The final thing is to get 100 Years of Solitude completed in order to keep up with my reading schedule of two books a month. Granted it took me a while to get into it, but I'm rather fascinated and entranced with Marquez's writing, the weaving of magic and reality, history with geneaology.

All in all, not a bad run at the to do list in the dying days of the month. Sounds like my work ethic at play again - designate a large period of time to complete something in and do it at the very last minute.

Meme Mia

While I’m on the meme roll (and with Hannah Montana playing in the background) here are my answers to the one Paul tagged me for. It was so much more fun to play tag in the school yard than on the internet and involved burning far more calories! Do you think that I out punned Paul?

The meme comes originally from Steph over at Watch Your Steph and asks us to reveal six unspectacular quirks about yourself.

But first, the rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you (done)
2. Mention the rules (which I'm abiding by now).
3. Tell six unspectacular quirks of yours (see below).
4. Tag six bloggers by linking (gosh that’s pushing it since Paul tagged everyone I know!)
5. Leave a comment for each blogger (will do when I'm done – if I can find any other friends out in the blogsphere).

And now my quirks – I’ll try and make them as quirky as possible.

I am obsessed with the way that the towels are folded and placed in the linen press (they must be folded in half, long ways, in half short end togegther, then in three and the fold facing outwards). I blame this on my time working as a cleaner in large resorts and hotels. Some brainwashing never wears off!

I am convinced that I always have bad hair (and that I’ve been afflicted with this ALL my life). I’m sure I have some poorly aspected Leo in my chart. Short, long, medium length - it makes no difference ... though short hair (a good short hair cut) seems to ameliorate the worst of it. I was one of those teenagers who would look at all the popular girls and just wish that I had hair like them. Maybe I'm just a closet Leo lusting after great hair! Or maybe I bother about some really insignificant stuff!

Despite what my friends may think, I am hideously shy and really don’t like meeting people for the first time. A glass of wine always smoothes this along. My mother was so worried about my shyness as a kid (I would hide under my bed whenever someone knocked at our door and of loud noises) she took me to dance class - to help bring me out of her shell. I wonder if she ever rues the day she made the decision and carted me off to Renee-Anne Martinees dance class in my badly fitting leotard and blue and white striped runners.

When I eat, I wont mix food together, so at dinner time I will eat around my plate. I don’t start with anything in particular – and it tends to be in a clockwise direct. Dave loves to flabbergast me with curries and things like that. Then I have to pick each individual component of the curry out as best I can. I’ve only ever met one other person who has this crazy gastronomic idiosyncracy.

I’m a boot girl. I can’t understand women’s obsession with impractical shoes. My most impractical pair of shoes is still flat soled and were bought to go to a red carpet movie premier last year in Sydney. Having said that, I do have a pair of knee length Spanish leather boots that have ridiculous heels on them (or I'm just out of practice given that I never wear them any more)

As a hangover from childhood, I still rub the corner of my pillow between my fingers when I’m having a particularly hard time going to sleep (I’m also prone to rubbing the hem of shorts or other bits of clothing that are soft and feel good in the daylight hours!) I also sleep wrapped around a pillow, much to Dave’s disgust. The pillow was there long before he was, and it’s a habit I just can’t break.

I'll be back later with some links once I've gone out and befriended some new people in cyberspace and also given my son a bath!

Photo of kids running found at Captainstlucifer's blog. Number photos from Free Fotos

Knowing Your Style

Over at Write Anything a new writing meme has been posted, and Janie has asked for readers to respond on their own blogs, and post a link back. The meme itself was started by Becca at Write on Wednesday. What a wonderful way for me to break my five day writing drought ....

1. Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Or both?

Both! My first love is fiction, because your characters invite you to share in their world. It was also the first sort of writing I ever did. Non fiction writing is a little soul destroying I’ve decided after completing the reclaim sex after birth project. When you write non fiction, there is research often to sift through and synthesise, no one whispers secrets into your ear, or gives you the next plot development, it’s all up to you to bring it all together. Unless you write about something you know really well, or you’re incredibly passionate about, non fiction writing can be a little bland when stood next to fiction writing. I remain committed to writing non fiction though, to try and address the imbalance in the information that is available to women on a range of topics, and I guess to indulge that part of me that likes to educate and fuse ideas with information. It’s also a good balance for fiction writing.

2. Do you keep a journal or a writing notebook?
I keep a little note book with me to scribble ideas in (which I’ve normally left behind on my desk or on Annie’s table when I make the commitment to put it in the book) I try and file my ideas away in my head, hoping they will be there when I need them. I write morning pages, as per Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, every morning (well almost every morning) which doubles as a creative and personal purge point, as well as a personal marker of events.

My blog also tends, as Paul said, to function as a journal. I look back and can see the definite trends in what I’ve written and the subjects. I gifted myself a new blog for the last eclipse phase – but have yet to really give it a work out. I’m hoping it will be more of a creative journal.

3. If you write fiction, do you know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts before you start writing or is that something else you discover only after you start writing? Do you find books on plotting useful or harmful?
I’ve never read a book on plotting – it seems like would be a rather mechanical and contrived thing for me to do. I believe that some goals, motivations and conflicts are revealed to you in the beginning (after all you have to start with something) and that as you go along other bits and pieces come into your consciousness.

For example: when I wrote Evie I had always intended for Sarah-Jane’s mother to be the villain, after all, she’s a woman who contrives to go and steal another woman’s baby. I knew what her motivations where to bring her to that point, the conflicts in her life. What I didn’t count on however was Sarah-Jane’s attitude to it all, and how one young woman’s words could transform the act of stealing a child into something almost any woman could empathise with. The definitely came from left of centre.

Another example is the Captain Juan epic. All I ever knew was the Ruby wanted to steal something from her husband and be free of him. I never thought in a million years I could begin to weave the plot lines of others into a semi coherent form in my head. While we do occasionally have a little plot setting succession of emails, just to make sure everyone is vaguely on the same page – anything can happen, and generally does. I imagine the Captain Juan, like any other story, would suffer from being plotted to death.

4. Are you a procrastinator or does the itch to write keep at you until you sit down and work?
Lately I have been giving in to the itch to write. I used writing to procrastinate from cleaning my house. This was definitely the case last week when I re-wrote Evie. I think rather than being a procrastinator, I’m a bit of a time thief, in the sense that I don’t budget and use my time very well … and in doing so I don’t cut out sections of time to write, and as a consequence my writing is suffering at the moment. You can only plot so far in your head before you need to sit down and have a good purge.

I remember poignantly the very first day that Dylan had a whole day at kindy this year – the house was quiet, my desk was tidy, the house was clean and when I opened up my laptop, I went blank! The perfect setting, and I couldn’t write. It’s a good thing that most of my life is made up with imperfect moments.

5. Do you write in short bursts of creative energy, or can you sit down and write for hours at a time?
I guess I’ve had to learn to be a short bursts writer – as motherhood only affords you soundbites of time and you have to make the best of them. When I am deep in a story, I could write for hours and hours – NaNo last year attested to that. While I would ideally like to be able to do that, you have to function as a writer in the real world, and for me that means continual interruptions, less than salubrious environs for writing and often writing when I’m very tired (either from having woken early or trying to write late at night)

6. Are you a morning or afternoon writer?
My body clock is so screwed at now that I don’t know if I’m a morning person, an afternoon person or a night person. I would say that I used to be a night person, and I guess I still do lots of writing at night, but I’m not sure if I am my most productive then (even if its quiet and there generally are no interruptions) I think I have to concede defeat now and say that I write best in the late morning and early afternoon … which only works five days a fortnight!!

I’ve come to learn that any time is a good time to write … being precious about the perfect everything when it comes to writing, is the death knoll of writing anything.

7. Do you write with music/the noise of children/in a cafe or other public setting, or do you need complete silence to concentrate?
I love to write to music – especially if I am trying to evoke a certain feeling or atmosphere in my writing. My most poignant memory of this is writing a short story called ‘Hail Mary’ where I had the soundtrack of ‘In the Name of the Father’, as my story was set at the same time as the movie, and involved an IRA sympathiser. It also helps to drown out the noise around me.

But yes, I can write with the sound of children ‘playing’ in the background or in the café. Without harping on the same theme over and over again – I’ve learnt to make do. At the moment I’m writing with Tarzan in the background, but my favourite music is Snow Patrol and I’ve been dabbling back in a little Cat Empire and Mia Dyson which were the soundtracks to NaNo last year.

8. Computer or longhand? (or typewriter?)
Computer! I’m attached at the hip to my laptop. I find it difficult to keep up long hand with my run away mind. Though I do remember in the early 90’s when I was crossing over from long hand and into typing that I really struggled to make the creative connection. Thankfully now I am able to type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts … and well the conversations of my characters.

9. Do you know the ending before you type Chapter One? Or do you let the story evolve as you write?
When I began NaNo last year, Chapter One was actually the first part of the final chapter. I wasn’t sure where to start, as opposed to where to end, so I opened the book with an interview. I knew who my character was going to end up with by novels end (and of course never actually go there) but I had no idea what was going to happen between.

When it comes to short stories, I have a general idea I guess, but there’s always twists and turns that you don’t expect. When I do definitively know how it I going to end, there’s always a concern in me that the story comes across stilted. This was my worry when I wrote 24.

10. Does what’s selling in the market influence how and what you write?
No – not really. I find that what I am reading at the time often influences the way I write, or at the very least the way I think about writing. I don’t think that I’ve read anything on the current bestseller list for years (if ever?)

I get annoyed and often a little spiteful about the market influence towards established authors or the endless succession of biographies of sports persons and celebrities .. and the fact that first time writers very rarely get a see in because of this trend.

11. Editing/Revision - love it or hate it?
Had I answered this question last week – I would have said dread it, hate it, absolutely in mortal fear of it – telling myself that you can live without it!

I was an editor for three years so I guess in some respects I do love the editing aspect, but the editorial love is usually reserved for the work of others. I’ve been living with this delusion that I can churn out the perfect story with next to no revisions or alterations. Last week taught me an important lesson about that. A good story can become a great story, even a brilliant story when the author approaches their work with a detached tenacity and a lack of preciousness when they come back to revise. You learn that you are able to you sift through the bits that are good and make them great, and jettison the bits that are just hanging on. Editing is best done in the cold – that is, once the story has cooled and you can look at it objectively.

Having said that, every writer (and especially us bloggers) need to maintain the practise of giving our work a basic perusal for minor spelling and grammatical mistakes before we hit publish.

Editing/revision far more time consuming, and in some respects less rewarding in the short term, than writing. But I believe it’s an aspect of writing that you’ve got to embrace, even begrudgingly. And like everyone – you do need a good third party editor. All writers need someone who can look dispassionately at a piece of writing and point out what works, what doesn’t work and give you some suggestions for making it work. And I do believe, that taking the time to critique and edit the work of others, does improve your writing and your own skills for self editing.

Can you be both an editor and a writer? I’ll get back to you on that!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Great Bovine Purge of 2007

I've been asked by Paul what the Great Bovine Purge of 2007 is - or should I say, was. Well before I give up the real story, (and some photos of the survivors!) I'd like you my readers to offer your thoughts on what The Great Bovine Purge of 2007 was? So muse away, letting your imagination run riot.

For those who really know what happened, don't spoil the silliness for everyone else!

Here's my dear friend Catherine's take on it (stolen from her comments a few posts down!)
"I'd say the vegans got to town, rounded up all the bovine critters on Jodi's desk and workshopped them quietly into a serene place."

Your turn now!
Photo from Funny Cow pics at funny-games.biz

Evie: Part 2

This follows on from yesterday's post. Part two is much longer than yesterday installment - hang in there! I want to keep the alternating voices together as best I can without posting all 3600+ words in one post. Again, any constructive feedback welcomed.

The bedroom is cold, but it’s not the drop in temperature that brings her out of a dead sleep. She’s had a let down and the constriction in her breasts, as the milk gushes down the ducts and swells her breasts is painful - still. The milk begins to leak warm and sticky, soaking into a soiled, over sized t-shirt. She pulls the t-shirt up with the automation that comes with mindless repetition, even when barely conscious and reaches out to draw the baby to her. The baby is not there. She sweeps a hand across the sheets searching for where the baby wiggled to, but there is only the cold cotton beneath her outstretched palm.

There’s a jolt of dread and she sits up. She is the only one in the bed.

Where is Evie – oh fuck what have I done?

A thorough search, on frantic hands and knees reveals that Evie is definitely not on the bed and horrific images surge in, riding the wave of adrenalin induced dread - Evie lying twisted at the wrong angle on the floor beside the bed. But there are just the slippers she kicked off earlier on when exhaustion finally triumphed and she laid down for an afternoon sleep with Evie.

Where can Evie be?

She’s so sleep deprived that she’s not certain of anything anymore and can’t remember the last time she had any mental clarity. It is like walking through water, the slow weightless movements; the fluid resistance that is every where. She feels disconnected from both time and space, uncertain that she exists any more because she can no longer feel where she starts or ends. Or if she even has the capacity to feel anymore. She is a shell, a zombie in her own skin - numb.

Did I put Evie to sleep somewhere else? Did I just think that I laid her on the bed to sleep?

She stumbles out into the lounge room, with fear curling itself around her airway. Constricting. Sarah-Jane’s quilt is lying on the floor and she remembers. Evie was happy to lie on her back there this morning, yes it was this morning, her arms moving erratically like a baby bird trying to gain control over its flimsy wings. She had tried to rest, breathe, focus and read a magazine for five minutes. But then Evie started to cry … again.

The crying seems to be never ending. Colic they say – whatever that means. Evie’s unsettled a lot of the time and so is her Mum. She thought she was ready for motherhood, a baby that would validate their love. This isn’t what she bargained on. Everything has changed … she’s changed, they’ve changed, and she wants it back like it used to be. She’s stopped believing that love will conquer all. All the love in the world will not put Evie to sleep, stop the crying and make Michael smile and touch at her like he did before Evie.

Have I done something to Evie?

Like a woman possessed she runs from room to room - the bathroom, the laundry, the spare room with the bed piled high with nappies and baby clothes, the tiny bathroom. Evie isn’t anywhere … just disappeared? She checks the garbage bin, the fruit and vegetable crisper, the freezer … the oven.

She pinches herself so brutally a purple bruise immediately rushes to the surface and she begins to cry. She’s in a waking nightmare. The couch reaches out to embrace her, it seems to be the only thing in the world willing to accept and cradle her. She sits rocking, hugging her knees to herself underneath the t-shirt. The agony in her breasts is like the pain of labour, coming from deep within but only felt on the surface, but there is no hot towel or soothing words for the ugly wound inside her.

Through the hot tears she tries to focus on the Scrabble board and Michael’s nonsense word. It brings her back into the present momentarily, reminds her that Michael is all a part of this too. The appearance of a new word on the board seems to be the only way of her marking time, or the fact that Michael too lives here.

Conspnki – what the hell does that mean? Michael? What does any of this mean?

Everything is even more unbearable as the truth dawns on her. Raw sobs break out of her, quietly at first, then in a crushing crescendo that requires more energy that she thought she had in reserve. Her t-shirt is drenched in sweet smelling milk and her breasts are throbbing again – they are going to explode. She is going to explode. She needed Evie … Evie needed her. Evie is just a tiny little baby.

Oh God what have I done?

She’s crying tears of salt and breast milk. She can’t think straight … can’t breath. She can’t believe that she would. Her head is spinning. Hyperventilating. She’s drowning in the truth, wanting to go down, die.

Then she looks angrily at the Scrabble board again and hates Michael with every sinew in her body. He did this to her. And it’s only then that she sees the third word on the board. Her chest is heaving, in a violent hiccupping and she’s shaking as she wipes her eyes to see clearly. There is a third word.

She scrambles for the phone, for Michael, taking deep breathes to try and calm the shrillness that threatens to erupt when she opens her mouth to talk. His call is routed through to his secretary who tells her in a haughty voice that Michael’s unavailable. She yells hysterically at the secretary to get him, it’s urgent .. it’s about Evie.

After a time Michael comes to the phone, and she can tell from the tone of his breathing he’s pissed at her.
“Evie is gone,” she wails. “Someone’s kidnapped Evie.”

“Yo … Sarah-Jane!” It’s Julian’s voice rising above the milling crowd on the platform at Central Station

I ignore him, I’m not interested. My world’s been turned upside down. The English exam was a mess. The one exam I was certain that I’d breeze through was the hardest, and now I don’t know what’s going to happen come January when the scores are released.

What if I don’t get into uni in Melbourne? What if I’m stuck here in Brisbane … with Mum, Dad, Daniel, Liv and Evie.

“You gave him your phone number Sarah-Jane. Why are you ignoring him now?” Sally was giggling. Julian was jumping up and down waving in our direction, trying to get my attention.

Sally doesn’t get it. She doesn’t care that she bombed out in her English exam. She threatened that she wasn’t even going to turn up. She’s never liked school, never excelled and now there’s a hairdressing apprenticeship waiting for her on the other side of the Summer holiday. Her new bosses are not going to care if she fails English. It’s a done deal for Sally.

“I don’t feel like talking to him now.”

When the train arrives I make certain that we’re in a different carriage to Julian, pushing through the kaleidoscope of uniforms, glad that I’m no longer one of them. Even if the future is uncertain, I’m glad that I wont be going back to high school next year.

“He’s cute.”
“He’s probably drunk. He said they were going to the V?”
“The exam only ended an hour ago – how much do you think he can put away in that time?”

I ignore her question and cling to the bar at the train door, and weather the bags and stinky boys that push past me. I don’t feel like a seat. My phone starts ringing as the train lurches into the first set of tunnels, bound for Roma Street Station. When I make no effort to get the phone, Sally goes for it instead, as I try and wrangle my backpack out of her reach without falling flat on my arse on the dirty metal floor. It’s stopped ringing when she finally has it in hand.

“Just your Dad.”
I take the phone and look at the screen. As I do it beeps to let me know there is a message.

“You gonna get your message.”
“I’ll wait until I get home.”

After several attempts to strike up a conversation about Julian, Sally gives up and we ride out the rest of the trip surrounded by the juvenile chattering, giggling, shouting and swearing of the teenagers excited about the weekend.

“Can’t you get out of going to your Dad’s place tonight?” Sally asks as we pull into the Graceville.
“It’s complicated.”
“But schools over. You’re meant to be getting drunk tonight.”
“I’m going over to celebrate with them.”
“Sure that’ll be sweet. Didn’t think that you liked Liv.”
“I don’t.”
“But you’ve got her on Facebook.”
“Only because Mum doesn’t do Facebook and I’m making an effort for Dad’s sake. I tolerate her and I don’t have to like it.”
“Do hate Her – for like stealing your Dad.”
“I don’t hate Her and I think Dad’s big enough to make his own decisions. I don’t think that she stole Dad.”
“Do you hate your Dad.”
“Not really. Well not today. He says love conquers all. It’s just a cop out, sugar coating his own selfishness.”

The train leaves the station and trundles towards Graceville, swinging and creaking as it goes around a corner.

“Why don’t you come and hang out a bit at my place before you go.” I don’t feel like being home alone with my thoughts on the final day of highschool but I don’t feel like being with anyone else either, especially Sally.

“I think I’ll just go home. I’ll call you later.”

Sally gives me a hug that threatens to topple us both back over the school bags as the train jolts to a stop at my station. Free of the bus and the smell of Impulse and rotting sports clothes, I pull out my iPod and walk home with music blasting into my ears. I don’t want to call Dad. For a while I want to pretend that there is nothing else in the world but me and Julian, that I’m spending tonight with him and not playing happy families with Dad and Liv. It’s almost as if I believe that if I play my music loud enough it will chase away all the thoughts I don’t want to have.
I see Mum’s car is in the driveway as I turn into our street. “Nights of Sardonia” is playing. It’s the music I tell myself, that makes the little red hatchback seem to ominous, but it’s definitely not normal, even on a Friday? It’s been years since Mum had Friday’s off, since we were little and at primary school. I turn off my iPod as I open the door, reluctantly abiding by the new ‘no music when you come in the door rule’ and immediately hear the screaming of a baby. I follow the shocking sound to the guest room, the room Mum sleeps in now. It’s like she’s martyred herself, a guest in her own home just because Dad doesn’t live here any more.

As I push open the door, I see Mum sitting on the bed, her back to me. There are two pink piggie feet kicking out and I immediately recognise the outfit as one I bought for Evie. Mum’s bawling and there’s something both desperate and primal in their collective wailing.

“Mum,” I say sitting down on the bed next to her, putting my hand on her arm. She’s sitting crossed legged on the bed with my half sister in her lap. “Mum.”

After a while she realises that I’m there and tries to stop crying. She looks at me with swollen, bloodshot eyes. Evie continues to wail, her face claret and angrily bunched.

“I wanted another one and your father said no,” Mum sobs, picking Evie up and holding her close. “I wanted another baby …. he said no.” It’s a long time before she calms down enough to start talking again. “I froze him out … I was so angry and hurt …. I did it for so long he left.” And she starts sobbing again. “And now there’s Evie … one two three … one two three … one….”

I stroke her arm because it’s what she does to me when I’m too upset to talk. When she worried about me, before Evie came along. “Mum. How about you give me Evie,” I say, holding my arms out to take Evie fromher. “I’ll go and change her nappy for you,” even though there hasn’t been a nappy in our house for 12 years.

“Yes ... yes … Sarah-Jane. You’re such a big girl. Such a big help to Mummy.”

I’m standing out the front of our house, with Evie wrapped up in an old towel, in lieu of a nappy, when Dad and Liv arrive. She is sucking furiously on my little finger. Her soft pert mouth feels like razor blades as she breaks the skin around my finger nail with the intensity of her sucking. She’s starving, but distracted now that I’ve got her out of her wet nappy and clothes

Both Dad and Liv are ashen, as they hurry up the drive way. Liv is in an old t-shirt of Dad’s that looks like it’s been dragged out of the garbage bin. I don’t remember her ever looking so bad. Dad’s got his tie pulled down and the top button of his shirt undone. I can see his anger brewing just under the surface
“Leave Mum alone,” I say with such venom that scares me and I thrust Evie into Liv’s trembling hands. Her perfectly manicured nails are now all bitten down to the flesh. “You’ve both put her through hell. I’d say you were even now.”

And I turn my back on them both before they can say anything. I’m fed up hearing what they have to say. They’re lucky, they got Evie back. They’ve got everything that they wanted, and I hope that they get everything they deserve.

If the police were involved they didn’t find us at home, nor come looking for us. I put the L Plates on the car and drove Mum, Daniel and I to the beach, to our caravan, as the sun was setting and the motorway was jammed. It was like we were escaping. Neither Daniel nor I could make up for the baby Dad denied and then taunted Mum with, but we could be gentle with her, love her as best we could.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Evie: Part One

This is a re-write of the [Fiction] Friday story that I posted a few months back. On the advise of my writing group I've tackled the story of three women, in three different voices (1st, 2nd and 3rd) to differentiate the parts of the story. The story was originally written as three 1st person parts that made up the whole story. If you've read it before you'll know how it ends, but please read on, and let me know if the change in voice works or doesn't work. If there are enough teasers to beind the whole story together. My writing circle convinced me that it's just adacious enough to work! I'll post the second, slightly longer part tomorrow. All constructive feedback welcomed.

The 7:09am is clattering out of the station as I race onto the platform. I bend over to catch my breath and wonder why the hell I was running in the first place. Habit. I’m in no hurry to get anywhere today, except out of the house.

It’s odd. Peak hour and the platform is vacant. I sit down on a blue painted seat underneath the Graceville sign and drop my backpack onto the concrete. There is a long crack snaking through it, and I trace it as far as it goes. I remember how I loved to sit on the toilet at my Nan’s as a kid and trace the worm like embossing in the beige lino. It entertained me for hours. And I remember the chip in the windscreen we got on holiday and how the heat of summer turned it into a crack, running across the glass until Dad got a ticket. Then we got a new windscreen.

It’s like that with Mum. Dad caused the first chip by leaving and everything else just added heat, turning the chip into a crack that is still running, long and deep inside her.

“Hey Sarah Jane.”

I look up and it is Julian. He looks so different out of uniform. I’d spent the last weeks with Sally trying to decide just how hot he’d look in clothes. And here he is. And he’s talking to me.

“Hi Julian.”
“You doing Economics this morning too?” I laugh – me Economics!

But it comes out sounding strange, like I’m choking because my chest and throat are so tight. I pretend to cough to cover it up, and it only makes it worse. My drama teacher would be mortified. I can feel my face flush with embarrassment. He offers me his half drunk bottle of Coke and I shake my head.

“Just English this afternoon,” I croak. “I couldn’t study at home.”
“My olds are getting on my case too. I can’t wait for this to be over. Just a few more hours to go for me.”
“Two on the last days got to suck.” I wish my voice would go back to normal.
“Yeah but then it’s done. All over red rover.”

The stress of exams is only part of it, the tension in my whole body, not just my chest. I wish that Mum could have held it together a little longer, just until exams were done. It wasn’t like she chose for Evie to be born during SWOTVAC though. Still I hate her sometimes, most of the time at the moment.

Julian hands his phone over to me. “Put your number in and maybe we can get together next week.” My hands tremble. I have that terrible fear that I will forget my own name and number. Perfomance anxiety. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for months, as I’ve obsessed over Julian, wiling him to notice me, like me. Unlike the laugh, my name and number come out OK and go into his phone. He holds my hand for a moment as I pass the phone back and my fingers tingle at his touch.

“We’re going to the Victory this afternoon if you want to come along.”
“Sure.” It’s a lie, but I can live with.

The train appears down the line, squeaking and shuddering as it slows approaching the platform.

“Good luck Sarah-Jane,” and Julian leans over to kiss me on the cheek. I feel my cheeks burn, as I grab for my back pack and stand.
“Good luck,” and we make our way to different carriages.

I make a mental note to hug Mum especially tight this afternoon when she gets home from work. Tell her all about Julian – well except the kiss, so she doesn’t go getting the wrong idea. Tell her how much I love her. And maybe then she’ll stop crying, think of someone other than Evie for a change.

The white noise hum of the fridge in the kitchen stops and the apartment is quiet. You search for traces, the reminders that are uniquely his, avoiding the photographs, the happy smiles of man, woman and child on the walls and the Ikea shelves. On a small pre-loved table by the front door is his gym card – casually tossed there last night. He’ll need to charm his way in for his lunch time laps today.

As you walk towards the bedroom, through the tiny lounge room you see the Scrabble board and look down to see what’s on it. Just two words today. The first is qwigybo - the word that always starts it off. Connecting to the i, built vertically, is conspnki. It is an eternity since you’ve talked, that you’re not sure what conspnki might mean in his world - a conspiratorial ring of key cutters? You pick another seven letters from the small flannel bag; randomly building a word sideways capturing the p in the centre. It’s been so long since you played that you don’t even try to construct a nonsense word in accord with the rules.

You once laughed together like teenagers as you read the made up words in the New York Times. You both agreed that you’d each need an ‘innoculatte’ every morning – coffee taken intravenously when running late for work. And you’d were always running late. So busy – always. Two ships veering off into the distance and colliding for half an hour in the morning and a few exhausted hours at night. Too busy to have a child, but Sarah-Jane came along to prove you wrong. Just the one, he’d said, then along came Daniel … and now Evie.

As you stand at the bedroom door, you convince yourself that this is his fault. You are not, and you won’t be to blame for your actions. If he’s above feeling guilt, so will you. If he can masquerade as selfish with a purpose so can you. He’s pushed and pushed you and now your shoving back. He forced you to construct the walls, you built around yourself.

You think of Newton for a moment – that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Well this is yours.

You tip toe into the bedroom and see her lying asleep on the huge bed. You don’t think of the bed, of what went on here – you only think of her, of Evie, of the baby that finally completes your family.

Evie’s tiny pink hands are squeezed into miniature fists on either side of her head, her delicate, red tinged arms thrown backwards in a sleeping version of the moro reflex. Her Cupid’s bow lips begin to suck and you know exactly what she is dreaming.

Gently you slide your hands under her tiny sleeping body, cradling her head and carefully place her against your chest. Quickly you turn your back to the bed. You fear the thundering of your heart will wake her and Evie needs to stay blissfully asleep. Unaware.

At the front door you take the lime green baby sling from a hook and put it over your shoulder like a hand bag. Evie stirs ever so slightly.

“Oh Evie,” you croon, so only the two of you can hear. “Oh darling … little Evie.”
She sleeps on against your chest, oblivious, as you close the front door and take out the single brass key left temporarily abandoned in the lock.

“Sleep little Evie sleep,” you whisper in a sing song voice, as you go together through the front gate and out into the street.

And you walk - you and Evie, one block, then two and three, until you are far away. The hollow ache in your womb lessens; the feeling of anger consuming your sanity is retreating; the coldness, the barrenness receding like the ebb tide and being replaced with a honey warm glow. You have Evie and everything will be OK now. Your family is complete.

Wordless Wednesday: Shine a little light

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What does your writing space say about you: part one

In his Sunday column for the Write Anything website Paul asked "What does your writing area say about you? Before I try to explain any of my space - perhaps a snap shot is best served - and I admit that I did not rush to clean and tidy my space and give the unreal impression that it is always spacious and clear, because that would be a blatant lie!

What does my writing space say about me? The most important thing I think it says about me (until all the renovations are finished) is that I share my writing/creative space with the family's loungeroom. My space is nestled in an odd alcove in the corner. I dream of having a WHOLE ROOM that is mine - but that feels a little greedy at the moment. One day! After all, that's what ear phones and good music were designed for - drowning out Sponge Bob Squarepants and Sonic the Hedgehog. Weren't they?

In February I cleared out this space, which had been my work space for a year. I bought the cubes so I could have my favourite books close to me. I created an writers altar on top. I also bought curtains, which six months later are still sitting in my bedroom waiting to be hemmed and put up. The flashing fairy lights are still in their box also waiting to be put up. I made a decisive effort for this space to be fun and inspiring. I didn't want it to be a 'work space' ... I wanted it to be a place of creativity.

Now I look at the collection of rocks I have on my window shelf, along with the last of my cows that survived the Great Bovine purge of 2007 and think about the layers of dust there - same goes for my altar. And I'm sure I could do with a new brightly coloured altar cloth. Orange? Or maybe pink? Green perhaps. I also look at the top of the cubes and see that instead of being a home for my tarot cards, its become another horizontal space for putting stuff. I have a Mothers Day painting that hasn't quite made it up onto the wall (along with my certificate from NaNo last year that fell off the wall and never got put back up - though at least it's no longer just lying on the floor.)

What does my creative space say about me - it says that as usual it's a project not quite realised .. and that I should committ over the next two weeks to finish the curtain, hang the lights, get the duster out and perhaps choose which of my favourite books I'd like close to me on my desk. It also reminds me that the tacky gold pineapple top clip on ear ring that's been lying on my desk for an eternity needs to go back in the dress up box, looking at my desk tidy and a new vase from Dylan, I'm reminded that I need to get some different coloured paints in our craft box because everything seems to end up being gree, and the last of the paper work for applying for a new credit card and for a plumber to look the house over as part of the Water Wise initiaitve needs to be attended to so I can get rid of the last of the paper clutter.

Thankfully I'm used to starting projects with all the enthusiasm and energy in the world, and then struggling to actually see it completed (why doing magazine work was good for me once upon a time!) This instance is no different to the hundreds that have come before it.

Now that I've shared ... tune back in at the new moon and see the wonderful colourful, fun space I've finally finished.

PS: I had a moment last week, sitting in a cafe in Westend having brunch with Dylan. The walls are plastered with all manner of posters for bands, plays, comedians, photo exhibitions etc. Sitting there I was hit with idea after idea. I also found out that a replica Endeavour will be in port in two weekends time and that Talk Like a Pirate Day is on the 19th September (more on that in the not to distant future!) It reminded me of how important a stimulating environment is for me to be in ... to write and plot in. And sparked the original idea last week to do something about finishing off my creative space at home.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Finding My Self

“That’s me in the corner,
That’s me in the spotlight,
I’m losing my religion”
- REM-

All the preparation in the world never really readies you for the real thing. Like preparing for a play, all the practise, rehearsals, mental run-throughs, watching, waiting, listening and anticipating never really allow you to get the lived experience of opening night. Anything can and probably will happen, and it’s often beyond any expectation harboured – good or bad. As a Mum-to-be I did all the preparation I thought possible and I got it at an intellectual level. Living it was a whole different kettle of fish.

Around six months into my pregnancy I had a shattering insight that left me cold – this was for life! There was no opting out of motherhood if it got tough, if I didn’t like it or if I believed that it wasn’t working. It wasn’t like a job, a love relationship, a friendship or a place of residence. If it didn’t meet my expectations or wasn’t how I wanted it to be – tough! I couldn’t break it off, ask for a transfer, or negotiate for my bond back if it wasn’t working. I was in this for keeps.

As a bit of a commitment-phobe this was a huge wake up call, and it took me a few weeks to come to terms with it. The child I was carrying was one that I had dearly wanted, subconsciously yearned for, even though the actual conception was completely unplanned. At that six month mark of pregnancy the romance of being a Mum was starting to wear off and the stark reality of what awaited me loomed large.

I read Kate Fige’s ‘Life After Birth: what even your friends won’t tell you about motherhood’ and was taken aback by the dark side of motherhood she presented – there was no sugar coated, rose coloured glass representations of motherhood in the 230 plus pages. So I steeled myself for endless hours of breastfeeding (and all the associated issues), of broken sleep, non stop nappy changes and the ensuing piles of washing, for the feelings of exhaustion, disillusionment, confusion and loss of confidence. I prepared for the fact that my body would never be the same again, my relationship with my partner would be altered forever and that I may possibly feel very alone in our small apartment – shut away from the world and living in my PJ’s for days at a time. I also understood that I was at risk of suffering postnatal depression.

Knowing what I was facing I made a survival plan. I made peace with the 24 hour a day responsibility that was motherhood; not only the care of a small helpless human being at the start, but in the long term for another person, the rest of my life. I made a real effort in the last few months of pregnancy to connect and bond with other women, who would be travelling the same road as me. Attending support group fortnightly in Brisbane made this easy for me. I knew that even if I was unable to leave the house, there was always the telephone. There would always be someone that I could find to talk to and confide in.

I trusted this would be the case, even though Fige’s warned about the competitiveness between new mothers that put her off sharing her difficulties and early motherhood experiences. I bought four pairs of PJ’s so I could at least have a clean pair every day, before I had to do washing, and enough nappies to last three days. I also talked at length about my fears. First to my caring and empathetic midwife (who continually reassured me that I ‘could’ and ‘would’ mother well) and secondly to my partner.

As the case always seems to be with me, the imagined never lives up to real life. The worst case scenario I had carried around in my head and steeled myself for didn’t transpire. I never had to implement my survival program. I learnt early on about the need for flexibility and became very thankful that I had never been a rigid or dogmatic person in the every day running of life. Dylan was a very easy going baby, who slept lots during the day, had his awake period between 5:00pm and 1:00am most days (which suited perfectly my own night owl predisposition), and had no problems with breastfeeding. He was generally content and happy. All the aspects of mothering I had been warned of didn’t come to bite me as a new Mum. I seemed to adjust well to motherhood. Then January 2005 came and my world was turned upside down.

Nothing I read or heard shared the danger of ‘losing your Self’. I understood at numerous levels, that you change and grow as a person and in doing so you leave many elements of your BC (Before Children) life behind you. Fige describes it as crossing ‘a one way bridge … (from which) you can look back to where you have been, but can never return’. I loved and held tight to the image and legend of the Phoenix – of surrendering to a fiery end and being resurrected from the ashes - it seemed to be to a pretty fitting analogy for motherhood. But what I expected was for it to all happen to me as a new mother, in those early months. I didn’t expect to cruise and then for the wheels to suddenly fall of the Happy-Coping-Well Adjusted–Mumma-Wagon. And the wheels were never going to go back on exactly the way they were.

Seven months into motherhood life changed. It took me weeks to work out why I was no longer coping – because nothing seemed to have altered. When it first hit my Mum was staying and I couldn’t work out how suddenly I was so frustrated and angry with Dylan and with life in general. Dave and I had reorganised the fridge and the food, especially the condiments, were constantly falling out each time I opened the door. Looking back now the fridge was echoing what was going on with me – the contents had been moved around, into what seemed to be a better fitting arrangement, but in actual fact it wasn’t working, and the contents were trying to find their way back to their original homes. The fridge had lost its space and so had I.

What had changed? Dylan’s sleeping patterns. My darling boy no longer slept for five hours during the day. He had begun to chunk his sleeping patterns in a different order. The three or more hours he cut out of the day had been tacked on to his night sleep. No longer were we sitting watching fantastic, though often bizarre, late night TV until 1:00am (in the days before all the tacky monotonous games shows came on commercial TV after the late news.) While I now understand that sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity and it was great we were sleeping more at night – time and space to myself were also a necessity. Dave was spending lots of time away from home doing the final throes of the ‘bottom of the rung’ work duties that came with his change of profession. This left me alone and responsible for Dylan days and nights at a time. It gave me a new respect for the world of single Mums. While there were some benefits in being alone at night, there was no down time and after six months of it I was fed up and wanted my partner and Dylan’s Dad back full time.

I was so caught up in moving with, and adapting to the changes that I had no concept of trying to reclaim something that was lost. My moods and emotions should have been a dead give away that something needed to happen. I was frustrated and angry. I felt caged. I dared not think about the way things used to be in case I lost my mind. I’d made peace with the fact that this is what I had wanted and it seemed like I just had to lie in the bed that I’d made. I thought about all the people who were worse off than me, and tried to be grateful for all the things that I had. It never occurred to me that small things could be changed and I could feel better. And it didn’t ease with time, it got worse.

I wanted to eek out a space for myself but I didn’t know how and I failed in that seminal first year of Dylan’s life to understand either the importance or the urgency in establishing time and space for myself. This set the pattern for the years that followed. I felt it was selfish to want time to myself – but it was echoing through my words and the charges that I levelled against Dave. ‘At least you have half an hour on the bus to sit and read a book,’ I remember saying to him. Eventually he told me that he must be the only man on this earth who feels guilt about going to work. But still it didn’t seem a legitimate need, to spend time by myself! We had no family to offer an opportunity for me to do something alone, or time for Dave and I to do something together. ‘Me time and space’ fell from the priority list altogether.

In addition to this, I had set up a scenario for myself where I couldn’t leave Dylan to take time away. I chose to never express milk for Dylan, so adamant was I that breastmilk should only ever come from the breast. In that first year Dylan fed every hour – so there was little room to move or escape. I locked myself into behavioural patterns that pitched me at the bottom of the rung as far as needs and nurturing went. I had martyred my Self for motherhood, believing that the two were unable to co-exist. A no win situation.

I legitimated ‘me time’ by taking on the layout duties of Down to Birth, which grew and expanded to fledgling Editorial duties as well by the time Dylan turned one. What I came to realise three years on was this wasn’t ‘me time’ - it was ‘other time’. Working on the magazine was nurturing and making an investment in the homebirth community. It was time that I gave to the magazine and its readership, not to myself. It took me a long time to understand that it is only ‘Me time’ if it nurtures and supports the Self.

I’d built a succession of cages around myself – my own internal labyrinth of imprisonment. Somewhere in this transition through motherhood I’d dropped the Self off and forgotten to go back and pick Her up. I’d got busy, distracted and forgot that She even existed. I cried and raged on the outside. I felt cheated, desperate and lost, and I had no understanding why I felt like this. When I did try to comprehend it, I wrongly attributed it to being part and parcel of the rigours of motherhood.

Then I began doing some personal development work – which meant reclaiming some time and space for myself (and I didn’t even realise it at the time!) First I did Liz Lotscher’s ‘Healing the Mother Within’ workshop and then the seven week ‘Womens’ Rites of Passage’ course in 2006, which gave me seven Friday nights out of the house in a row. In 2007 I started The Artist Way by Julia Cameron and had twelve weeks of ‘a ha’ moments. While I was reading with a mind towards my reignited love for writing, with every chapter I was struck at how Cameron’s words of wisdom on creativity had striking parallel’s with motherhood (which after all is the highest evolution and most primal form of creativity). I became more and more certain that Cameron’s book was something all mothers should read, with the emphasis on the absolute need for filling up the well within and investing in the Self to live creatively.

I began to dismantle all of the cages I had built. I realised I’d invested all of my self worth into the magazine and into my HMA work. Without it I felt like nothing – there was nothing but a shell of myself remaining. Which left me with a terrible dilemma – did I stay or did I go? I chose to go, feeling like I had just ‘dumped myself’ and in the process cleaved off a functioning limb. I spent days crying and cringing away from the emptiness inside, but it was time to face up to the task of finding my Self and refilling the cup of my Soul.

Three weeks ago I re-read some lines from The Artist Way and had another major epiphany. To be creative, to fill up my cup, to reconnect with my Self I had to make a decisive effort to carve out time and space for myself. This was how my Self had been lost in the first place, and why it did not happen immediately after Dylan was born. In those hours during the day when he slept I had time to read, to write, to cross stitch, to indulge in an hour of Dr Phil (shameful to admit I know!) or to talk to friends. I had space alone, with the autonomy and sovereignty of my body. When all of that changed in early 2005 I got so caught up in coping I didn’t work to make space and time for my Self – just for ME.

Now I’m back at square one. With Dylan starting kindy this year the luxury of time and space has opened to me, but I understand now that it needs to be more than that. I need to invest in me. I need to nurture ME every day.

“Creative living requires the luxury of time – the time which we carve out for ourselves …. Creative living requires the luxury of space for ourselves.”
Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way

As new Mums, women need to get the pattern of self nurturance happening from the start. So many of the daily certainties of life change after birth. Creating time and space for the Self is a change that can happen right along side with all the others. It’s necessary to recognise that it is not a luxury to have time and space for your Self. Like sleep, it is a necessity. We need to do it first if others are to follow suit and support us. And as Cameron alludes to, we need to ‘carve’ it out for ourselves – no one is going to hand it to us on a silver platter.

To give me the time and space for a morning walk, I had to ‘carve’ (and it was initially like hacking off part of my body) half an hour out of my sleep time, by getting up earlier. Yet within a few days I didn’t miss the sleep. I had more energy, was more alert, more comfortable in my own skin than I had been in years. I was happy, back in touch with my Self having found a way to relive my needs for ‘freedom’ in a way that fitted with my responsibilities as a Mum and my responsibilities to my Self.

It starts by putting yourself on the list of priorities, not at the bottom, but at the top. Nurturing your Self is not something nice to be done sometimes or on occasion, a workshop every now and again, or yoga once a week. Nurturing your Self requires daily attention. Create a routine that is important to you and do something that you love. As mothers we are constantly giving and the cup runs dry very quickly if we don’t take the time to replenish it every day. I realised too late that once the cup runs dry, you mine your soul to keep going.

It’s also important to learn to ‘ask’ for this time and to let others know it is important to you, if you are to function effectively and happily both as a person and as a Mum. Dylan quickly learnt when I began doing the Artist Way, (which requires writing three pages of sponanteous, stream of consciousness every morning) that this was ‘me time’ and it was important. I remember him answering the phone and saying “Mummy is doing her morning pages.” He understood that all demands had to be shelved for that half an hour and he accepted it as part of daily life. The space you hold for your Self needs to be protected and your boundaries set firm – it’s an every day event, not just when it’s suitable or convenient for others. It takes 21 days to establish a new habit, and only three days to break it.

Nourishing and nurturing your Self doesn’t have to be grand or expensive. It’s about simple joys, simple luxuries, simple pleasures and only you will know what it is (if you have no idea see my suggestions following that will nourish your spirit). If you can’t carve out an hour – negotiate for half an hour. Any time is better than no time. It is about time and space for YOU. There is no need to feel guilty, selfish or needy for wanting, needing or desiring time and space to be with your Self. You owe it to yourself and your family to be all there, Mother and Self. We need to take care of ourselves first and foremost, if we are needed to take care of others. This is not just in the early months of having a baby, it is for life! We are also modelling to our children the importance of setting and holding personal boundaries. We also show them that luxury is about simple pleasures that feed the soul, not the ego. Encourage your children to spend time alone doing something that they really enjoy too.

Don’t leave it as long as I did, so long that you lose your Self. But if you do, be heartened - She’ll still be where you left her waiting to be claimed again. She won’t be angry or upset with you – like old friends you’ll embrace, glad to be reunited and time will slip away, like you had never been separated. And you’ll resolve the two of you, to never let it happen again.

This article was first published in Down to Birth's 71 issue subtitled "On Becoming Mum".

If it’s been so long that you have forgotten what you love here are a few examples gifted to me by friends and Mothers near and far:
Take a morning walk alone
Listen to a favourite piece of music or a whole album
Soak in a bath with essential oils or bath salts
Sit in the shower to wash your hair
Take a drive alone
Paint your toe nails
Put on a face mask.
Enjoy breakfast, lunch, morning or afternoon tea at your favourite café (alone!)
Chill out and do nothing – yes nothing!
Moonbath under the moon and count stars as you hang out washing
Stop and breathe three times and remember where you are
Tend to a small veggie garden or potted herbs
Enjoy your favourite tea in a china cup somewhere you love in your home
Do yoga, tai chi, qui gong …
Do a guided meditation
Read a book
Buy your favourite skin care products and use them every day
Doodle while you listen to your favourite album
Knit, cross stitch, crotchet, macrame
Write in a journal
Play a musical instrument
Read the newspaper from cover to cover
Draw, paint, collage
Get a massage
Go to the art gallery or favourite place
See a movie – alone
Swim – in the sea, at a water hole, in a pool
Walk in the forest or botanical gardens.
Collage your dreams
Put on the toilet door the affirmation ‘When I treat myself as something precious I am strong’ read it three times every time you make a pit stop

For more ideas invest in Dr Rachel Harris’s ‘Twenty-minute Retreats: revive your spirits in just minutes a day’ published by Pan Books.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Creative Experience

As a writer every moment, each chance meeting, all conversations, life in general becomes creative potential … possibilities just waiting to be realised on paper and shared with others. Then there are ideas that spring from nowhere, gifts from the Universe? These stories, scenarios and characters that materialise out of the ether can push our authenticity to the limits …and sometimes we need to go out and recreate an experience that we’ve written about to get the realism that may be missing from our writing.

Comedian and author Nury Vittachi spoke at the Byron Bay Writers Festival about a book that he wrote about a middle aged Asian man being hand cuffed to a young Caucasian women in the creation of one of his Feng Shui Detective novels (I’m so intrigued by the concept that I can’t wait to get my hands on one of his books). When he presented the manuscript to his publishing house, his editor read it and then told him to go out and hand cuff himself to a young woman for 24 hours (just like the characters in his story). His editor said there was something missing – that it would be found in the recreation of the experience. Nury wasn’t sure how his wife was going to feel about it. His editor suggested that he get his wife to find the woman for him. And his wife did. Nury spent 24 hours hand cuffed to a 20 something, blonde Jazz singer (it later transpired after this day together that she was gay – his wife wasn’t stupid!) Then Nury went back to his novel and redrafted it, to the adulation of his publishing house and editor.

A writer wants his or her words to be believed, for there to be an authenticity and sincerity about their work. Readers don’t want to be lied to, or treated like they are imbeciles. Even far fetched adventures such as Captain Juan’s or my favourite Dirk Pitt’s, from Clive Cussler’s novels, have to resonate with an element of truth (though Cussler did push the boundaries leaving Pitt and Giordino in the Sahara for six days without water and allowed them to come across the remains of a historic plane crash that they used to windsurf their way out of the sands – but I could still enjoy it!) I’m not sure what it is that the reader picks up on that makes them balk; perhaps there is a two dimensionalism about the whole concept or the writing runs contrary to the parameters of the genre or pushes beyond acceptable limits. Maybe it misses a sparkle, a connection - we have no empathy or love for the characters - I’m not really sure.

In acting there is a style called ‘method acting’ … and I believe that writing follows lots the method acting philosophies (but then again I write from a ‘doing’ foundation). When writing the scene from Captain Juan where Ruby murders her uncle I was struck with – well how does she do it? How do I make it authentic? I’ve never murdered someone (strange but true!) I’m not a deft hand with knives, a blade or anything like that. I know no martial arts and the physical exertion of an evening walk leaves me shattered. Luckily I was at Annie’s house while I was writing and deliberating.

I looked up to her and asked how the hell Ruby was going to kill her Uncle. Compounding my dilemma of not actually knowing the mechanics of how a trained person effectively stabs another, Ruby is left handed. Annie has done martial arts for years. She grabbed a knife from the rack in the kitchen and showed me how Ruby could literally pull and cut her Uncles throat open in one swinging arc movement. I was impressed. It also gave me a clear visual for my writing.

A clear visual is often what I need when I’m creating descriptive narrative or ambience in the story. Earlier on in the week I wrote Andrew Said, set in a cemetery. I struggled with parts of the descriptive narrative and the ambience, because I’ve never been in an actual working cemetery (I was going to say ‘live’ but that just seemed wrong!) I went to a historic cemetery once before Dylan was born as part of a camping trip out west to Mount Mulligan in Far North Queensland. So I realise to be at peace with the authenticity of this story, I need to go and have a wander through a cemetery. There is cemetery about five minutes from our house that I can go for a wander through and set my story in. I might even take my camera. Charlotte Wood mentioned on the same panel as Nury that she often takes photos of places she is setting her story in and creates montages of the pictures on her wall.

And there’s also the doing, the being. This is where I’m really being pushed most at the moment. In creating and doing a little poking around for my Adam and Eve concept, I found out that Brisbane is actually interlaced beneath the city with convict built tunnels. I had some photos sent to me. Now I’m thinking that to really get a sense of the feeling in them, the terror of being stuck in them without light … I’m going to see if I can find someone who will agree to take me down into them. It’s frightening – actually it’s terrifying for me who is both afraid of the dark, of being underground, in closed spaces and always tried hard to abide by the law – it’s actually illegal to go down into them, but that doesn’t seem to stop a small group of people!

Lived experience can be there without the writer even realising it. I’m currently reading Max Barry’s “Company: a novel”. The first half of the book fell a bit cold on me – I was a little disappointed. I heard Max speak twice at the writers festival, and had a short personal conversation with him and was intrigued and entertained by him. He had read a short passage from Company while on panel and he’d come across as a cross between Ben Elton and Nick Earles. As I was reading through the first 70 odd pages, I was wondering when something was ‘going to happen.’ I wasn’t connecting, I wasn’t getting the humour. I began to wonder if I was dumb because I seemed to be missing the point.

Annie came to visit Monday and as I was firing up the espresso machine she picked up the book, and began to flick through. I could hear her chuckling. “This is so true,” she commented when I brought the coffees over and launched into telling me all about luncheon etiquette and how you never take more than two sandwiches, regardless of how much food it leftover at the end. She was identifying with the missing donut that drives the character of Roger. Annie spent a good chunk of her working life working in large companies and the landscape, the characters and the philosophy is common ground. I’m enjoying it now, I have about 80 pages left to go and I’m intrigued to see how the drama plays out. I’m resigned to the fact that most of the humour is lost on me.

Writing is always an adventure. An infinite array of possibilities, creative exploration and a chance to live beyond the square – both on paper and in real life .. and the smudgy blurring that occurs when the two meet. And would we want it any other way?

Does realism matter- is it necessary … to you …to the reader? It is important to make your realism accessible to others, or do you risk loosing realism in the pursuit of making it accessible and enjoyable to the majority?

Monday, August 4, 2008

A little privacy - PLEASE!

Since coming back from Byron Bay I’ve been stalked. It’s not the first time and it probably wont be the last time. I’ve been followed to the toilet (and not just by my four year old), had uninvited guests in the shower, the car often carries passengers that were not intended to be with us on the trip, there are others in the backyard when I'm hanging out the washing and I’m certain that there are at least two people who trail behind me in the supermarket isle every time I go (well I’m at least positive that they are there behind me in the check out queue). And not content with the daylight hours, they’re prowling through the recesses of my nocturnal mind, weaving their way in and through my dreams, leaving me to lie awake and think about them and their lives.

Like Mel Gibson in What Women Want I hear all sorts of things. In the past week I’ve been privy to conversations on a ten year liaison with a Queen – of the royal kind, spiritual crises, guilt over killing someone and plots to kill others, there’s been a case of Government conspiracy, stolen technology and complicated love (well is there any other type?) And that’s just in the last week.

A year ago I would have thought someone insane had they talked about characters speaking to them … voices in their head. I would have wondered if they were paranoid, mentally unstable or prone to flights of fancy. Now I wouldn’t blink and eye – in fact I was enthusiastically nodding my head in several session at the Byron Bay Writers Festival when other writers spoke about their characters speaking to them. Phew – their not mad and I’m not crazy.

All this talk of characters first started during NaNo last year. Square1 spoke often about her characters harassing her, and yes at first I thought she must have been just a little mad – well you do have to be a little crazy to undertake NaNo in the first place. Then I realised that yes … my characters seemed to follow me around all the time. At that time they were particularly drawn to showering with me.

Not only that, but my characters did things, influenced the plot and direction of the story more times than I cared to admit. Then there were characters that emerged from the shadows and take centre stage. I was writing a feminist political novel – so where the hell did these two men come from. One a drug addicted, middle aged journalist on the downward spiral and the other an emotionally confused, damaged football player who propped his entire life up with cocaine and the hope that he'd 'get her back'.

And they took me places that I had never intended to go and forced my central character Abby into situations, conversations and predicaments that I would never have willingly chosen her to traverse. They brought out dimensions in her that I could never have brought out and also crystallised who other characters were – especially Abby’s long suffering husband. Then there was the character of Alex (he was called Jamie then – he objected at the start of the year to that name and thus provided me with a name more befitting him –or so he thinks!) I spent the whole of NaNo waiting to write the scene in which he walks into Abby’s life – I’d spent the entire month of November fantasising about it, but never knowing just who that character was going to be when he set foot on the page. It was a surprise who turned up on the page – but he was perfect.

Then there was the incident of my characters Abby and Alex bugging (or should that read begging) me to let them 'get it on' with each other - something that I kept resisting - after all it was January and I had shelved Finding Aphrodite. But they were insistent. Who could imagine that two imaginery characters could be so persistent about sex. Finally I caved in - and they got their wish in one of the 3am Epiphany exercises that I did. While it was mostly out of context from the story, and their names were never mentioned - they've been happy ever since. No more petulent outbursts nor cries of sexual frustration!

As a writer your moral boundaries are often pushed by characters. Sue Wolfe was one of the panellists at a session on where your ideas come from at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. She spoke of how she got writing block in completing her third novel and the reasons behind the block occurring. She said that her male central character suffered from such a severe stutter that he was basically mute, and became a peeping tom in his pursuit of the woman that he loved. She said she tried for a week to steer this character away from his practise, that she found morally objectionable. In the end she discovered that she couldn’t write any more – her and her character were dead locked and the writing process ground to a halt ... for many months.

This sparked Sue's interest in neuroscience and both the scientific and biological bases for creativity. One of the things that she discovered, and now teaches, is what she terms ‘dangerous writing’. As writers we have to surrender and let our characters take us to wherever it is that they must go, even if we object. There really is no room for ego in writing, not unless you want to be constantly at odds with your characters. Sue Wolfe said that its in this dangerous writing, that we open ourselves up to all kinds of possibilities, when the creativity flows the easiest and we’re best positioned to connect with all the ideas, especially the broader ones that concern our writing.

It was another of those enthusiastic head bobbing moments for me. I have been lucky enough these past few months to have had Paul championing me to go to my ‘uncomfort places’ when I write … and this is really an example of Sue Wolfe’s ‘dangerous writing.’ Some of the things I have written about really have pushed my buttons; I’ve explored people, situations, emotions and repercussions that I probably could have happily left well alone - baby stealing and an unfaithful husband two of them. But I’ve gone there, I’ve played in the shadows, I’ve surrendered and I’ve had some of my best stories to date.

I guess what we as writers need to educate our audiences, and loved ones (if we have two distinct groups!) is that just because we may write fiction that is gruesome, that is painful, is morally objectionable (and the list goes on) that it’s not a reflection of us as people. I believe that the writer is the vehicle of the characters, rather than the reverse ... And that we from time to time might say insane things and speak of our characters as if they are real life, living breathing human specimens - well they actually are for us.

So now I’m getting used to being stalked - even though I want to shout out, “A moments privacy – please!” as Captain Juan and his first mate Pete wander into the toilet after me to discuss some pressing matter aboard the La Gongozzler. There really is little that I can do with them, other than be grateful (begrudgingly) for them having paid me a visit and gifted me with more jewels of storyline and dialogue from the wide open sea. They’re probably as blissfully unaware as my four year old is about the need for some privacy – after all they seem to be only focused on their stuff. If only my people could talk to their people about organising a better spot to meet up - the check out queue perhaps or the washing line?

Cartoon from Royalty Free Cartoons which have a great selection of privacy cartoons available!

Musical Musings: Andrew Said

Musical Musings #9 : Honesty by Billy Joel.

Take one of your existing characters and have them reflect honestly on something that they are not proud of in their lives. Are the willing to say 'sorry' for what they have done or is it too late? Does your character write a letter, make a phone call or is it simply being honest with themselves that is important.? Use the music to guide you.

This story links back to a Fiction Friday piece called Mercurial about a young woman called Maia. I suggest that you read the following piece, Andrew Said first and then go back to read Mercurial.
Andrew Said
Andrew had never been in a cemetery. The word graveyard flickered through his head, but he chased it away. If he was being honest, the word cemetery conjured up less confronting images of death, dying … murder. It had taken him six months to get the courage to come here. He put one foot after the other, propelling himself forward down the well maintained bitumen.

Cradled in his left arm was an extravagant bunch of flowers, the brilliant orange of the huge petals a vivid point in the dismal winter day, the black freckles little storm clouds in an tangerine sky. Tiger lilies had been Maia’s favourite flowers.

At coffee one morning he’d told her how the American author Titus Munson Coan had described them as the panthers of the meadow. Maia had liked that, he remembered how her face lit up and softened. It was a rare shift in the stiff guard that she’d erected around herself.

Her beauty was breathtaking, but there was a hard edge that came with it. Her physical splendour was at odds with inner ugliness that she made no effort to hide. There was a conscious wielding of her beauty to get her what she wanted, when she wanted it. Men fell at her feet, hell - he’d fallen at her feet. And she fed on it. People called her vain, selfish and ego centric. Yes, Maia could be callous and inconsiderate – motivated by her own needs … take, take, take and never an ounce given back. He knew that better than anyone else. Her ego over inflated beyond anything had ever known in anyone, man or woman.

But Andrew had seen beyond Maia’s masks, through the veils and beyond her own personal Berlin Wall. He’d had glimpses of the vulnerability, the yearning and fear of tenderness, of true connection with another. When he had tried to talk to her about it, to give her a safe space to discuss her parents, both of whom had abandoned her at a young age, she would clam up. Maia would throw a hissy fit, to end all hissy fits and he’d go out for flowers, for chocolates, for a new handbag, or whatever material thing she needed to fill that aching vortex inside her. Anything but the love he was willing to give freely, deeply and honestly.

Andrew stopped, the laughter of a kookaburra breaking him out of his thoughts. He realised that he had walked past where he needed to be. He fumbled with the map in his hand, trying to work out how far back he needed to go. He was bad with directions at the best of times. The bright yellow highlights on the crumpled piece of paper seemed gaudy and the bright circle around a plot number, camping spots for the dead.

A shiver ran down his back. He turned and walked back to a narrow street that ran off the main arterial. It was up here, somewhere up over the hill that Maia rested.

He was prickling with sweat when he finally reached the tomb stone.

10.08.79 to 14.09.08

A daughter lost before her time

His hands shook as he stood the flowers up against the cold stone. Andrew wished that he’d bought a vase of water – the flowers would wilt and die quickly without water, even in the middle of winter.He sat down with his back against the side of the stone, tears stinging his eyes. It was going to be one of those one sided discussions again.

“I’m sorry Maia,” he said, when his throat finally opened enough to let the words come out. It was so quiet that the words were easily swept away on the brisk wind that had sprung up.

“I’m sorry for so many things.”

He watched the trees in the distance shudder and then sway in the wind.

“I guess you can’t ask for anything more … now that you’re gone. Don’t you know Maia there was nothing that I would not have given you. My heart, my soul, my everything …”

He dug his fingers deep into the thick, moist grass.

“But you threw it back to me. You told me that I was too nice, too considerate, too caring. What you were really telling me though was that you were too good for me.”

Hoarse sobs choked out of him and for the first time he allowed them to come. His chest heaved and his throat threatened to close on him. He probably wasn’t worthy of sucking down oxygen any more. He was scum – the worst sort of scum.

“I didn’t mean for you to die Maia,” he said when the sobs finally receded and he could breath almost normally again. “I only ever meant for you to get a little bit sick. I wanted you to lose control for a little, to be weak, vulnerable – for you to need me, like I wanted you to need me. I wanted you to have to need me, to rely on me.”

“But you had to be a stubborn bitch didn’t you. I waited. I waited by the phone, at home, at work. I slept with my mobile – waiting for the call from you Maia. Telling me that you were sick – could I come over and care for you. And I would have Maia. I would have dropped everything to come and care for you. But you never fucking rang did you.”

“So I took that holiday I’d been saving for. The holiday I had promised you in Morocco. The holiday that you said that you wanted in Morocco. I went alone. I went and lay in the sun, I ate amazing food, I even slept with a couple of women. And what did you do while I was gone – you went and died.”

“You just couldn’t ask for help could you. You could not admit for one moment that you were weak, that you couldn’t do it all by yourself.”

He wiped his nose across sleeve, his misery swinging to anger and self denial. It was all Maia’s fault after all. He had only coated the lining of the pillow protector in mercury. Just a little, he’d been careful, he’d done his research, enough to strike Maia down, but not to kill her. And for two months she’d laid on that pillow … and then for another ten days after she died.

She came to the end of her life so disliked by so many, it was an unknown office worker at the organic produce company who had called the police to report something amiss with one of their clients. Andrew wondered how an entire apartment block, in the middle of summer, could have explained away her absence – the smell?

It was weeks after he’d returned from his holiday that he ran into one of her co-workers at a café. She’d mentioned that she hadn’t seen him at the funeral. What funeral? Maia’s … and how weird was it the way she died.

And the sickening realisation enveloped him. He’d killed her. There had been one interview with some detectives and he’d lied, said he’d never seen Maia again after they separated. It told them it had not been acrimonious break up, as far as break ups go. He’d never called her, leaving it to her to come back to him, crawling back admitting that she was wrong. One of the officers did mention that Maia had placed a call to his office the day of her death. He’d be in Marakesh – too late Maia, too late.

“I’m sorry Maia,” Andrew croaked pulling himself to his feet. “I guess it was your ego and your arrogance that was your undoing in the end.”

He got up, brushing the dirt and leaves off his pants. “All you needed to do was ask for help.” And he left it at that. He couldn’t bring himself to say he loved her, he wasn’t sure if he did, or had, or even if it mattered now.

He scrunched the map into a small ball and walked off. His conscience had been silenced – he’d been honest with the only person that mattered.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Thought dissidence

After a rather long absence from Fiction Friday I am back with a new take on my Adam and Eve concept for NaNo in November. My apologies - it is long, because there were things that came up that had to go down.

This week's story comes with a warning. It does have adult content in it - so if you're likely to be offended by sex, it possibly not the piece you want to read!

It is 12:09pm on the information bar on the TV screen as I walk into my local. I take my earphones out long enough to order a short black and allow the barrista to scan the back of my hand. He smiles at me, out of well rehearsed and imprinted hospitality but I know for a nanosecond that he wonders when I will stop coming in for my short black.

Coffee is a luxury. The price rises each day as the store of beans slowly but surely depletes. Coffee is not considered an essential food item and is therefore not on the Government’s Agriculture charter. There is no land allocation for coffee though I imagine that there are high officials who have the power and access to bribes to have a few acres assigned to coffee for their own personal use. But we down here on the ground will never see it again. There is no international trade so one day, someone will pay an exorbitant price for the last public cup of Joe and that moment in history will be streamed straight into everyone’s mundane existence; another bastion of civilised society gone.

I have few other things to spend my meagre Government allowance or the savings that I have accumulated since I arrived here, so coffee it is today, tomorrow and with any luck the day after that. There was once a saying, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Where I am ultimately headed, any amount in a digital ledger will be pointless.

The café continues to thrive even with coffee beyond the reach of most. They still serve food and as a Government affiliated eatery there is rarely an empty table. I squeeze between two men at a counter overlooking the street and slip my earphones into my ears. The unit looks exactly like the latest iPod and I notice both men glance sideways in jealousy at it. Every purchase is obsolete or out of fashion with a few months. The drive to work, earn and purchase is obsessive and socially sanctioned, as is the need to exercise, refine and hone the body. After all, there is nothing else now. Despite global constraints on energy, resources and production we have become the ultimate market society - we exist only to consume.

Slipping the earphones into my ears I scroll through the options, a playlist like no other. Immediately there is a flood of static and it takes a moment to tune into a clear frequency. My coffee comes and I smile at the girl my age who works here from dawn to dust. I know, because I’m here for breakfast, coffee instead of lunch and I stop on the way home for the simple dinner that is Government fare.

She is a drone in every sense of the word. No unique thought has ever escaped for her cerebral cortex while I have been in here. Her mind sprouts Government propaganda, responds in the agreed upon format. She is a glowing example of the third wave of the Government micro chipping programme. It chills me to the core.

As I sip my coffee, I surf the frequencies hoping that I will find someone with a dissident thought. There has been a growing trend in the past month. I’ve been able to collect more names since the last new moon that I have the entire time that I have been here. Something is shifting, something is freeing the minds of the population. Cracks are emerging, thoughts are seeping in, biology is working to triumph over technology.

Towards the end of my coffee I come across a thought. A man’s longing for a woman, the brunette with the short bob who had just ordered a green tea and the standard heavy wheat bread sandwich with hummus, and is walking out the door to take a seat with a colleague out in the sun. It is the briefest of indiscretions, so brief he doesn’t pause for an extra moment to stare after her. He will not have even realised that he’s had it.

There are five more minutes left of my lunch break. I have to be back at my desk at exactly 12:46pm. No one is ever late; it’s been programmed out of us. It is in the hands of the Universe as to whether he will be chosen. He stands just as I do and I follow him out. With speed and a lightness of hand, I drop a lolly wrapper in his pocket as I stride past him, with expert agility in my high heels. I’ll find his identity and apartment number later, if the lolly wrapper makes it home. They often don’t. There is with the simple tracker woven into the plastic. And if it does, I will add him to the other names and addresses on the list I will give Adam.

Adam ….

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw Adam last. The thought of him and what we do together in the shadows of the Neo-Burlesque club makes my chest tighten. My breathe catches in the bottom of my throat and my yoni moistens. I ache for wanting his touch, however brief. But I catch myself and file those feelings away for later, alone in bed, in the dark where the cameras can’t catch me. We may have successfully stolen their prototype thought transistor but their face recognition cameras are sensitive enough to detect shifts of emotion through facial expression. The last thing I want to become is a person of interest.

I push open the imposing glass foyer door of the Djerassi Building, the sole manufacturer of the reproductive micro chip that started it all. I sit down at my desk as the TV screen in the PR department flicks over to 12:46pm.

At nine o’clock every night the lights go out across the city. It is as if some naughty cartoon characters pull out a massive plug and the city is plunged into darkness. There are no candles or torches. There is the dim flickering of the LED television screen from apartment windows, powered by the days solar energy, captured by the massive panels that clad the outside of each of the apartment buildings. But they too go out one by one, until the entire city is cloaked in an un-urban like obisidan, with the only illumination coming from the moon as it rises. It is only then that I dare to venture out.

From my hotwired computer portal I link into the security system of my apartment building, over riding the night locks on my front door and the emergency stairwell. I exit the building through the second floor fire door, lift off the manhole cover at the back of the building and lower myself down into the sewer. The water is cold and slimey, I don’t want to think just what is in it. It’s a kilometre before I arrive at the manhole cover I want and climb the dangerously erroded ladder back to the road. The next twenty metres are the most dangerous. I need to walk down the street in full view of the cameras, hoping that Adam has disabled these few from his end. But I can never be sure.

I walk briskly until I come to the next manhole cover, but this one does not lead into the sewer. Lowering myself back into the subterranean belly of the city, I land softly on the paving. My bare feet are grateful for the cool smooth paving. The city is crisscrossed with convict made tunnels that the Eros Network has been utilising to smuggle the Liberated beyond the city limits, out into the country to a safe community.

The Eros Network originally linked people and kept safe houses for couples to meet. That was before my time though. It was a quiet revolution when the first draconian laws were passed forbidding intimate relationship of any type, when people still remembered and longed for sex, for connection, for love - before the yawning cavern inside was efficiently though inadequately filled with stuff. You can never buy what you are missing – you can’t even get sex or love on the blackmarket, even if you realised that was what you were really missing.

Now Eros liberates men and women from the biological suppression of the reproductive chip. I was one of the first to be liberated. I am the first link in the chain, identifying those who are open to being liberated - those who are having thoughts of a sexual nature. I have only met ever with Adam. The network is simple – you know who comes before and after you. In my case there is only Adam. That protects the network.

Now that we have the stolen Government technology, for the first time ever Eros is one step ahead of the Government. We are using their cutting edge technology against them, saving people who would other wise disappear.

Inside the tunnel I run my fingers over the wall until I hit pay dirt, the torch. It’s another of those commodities that are almost impossible to buy even on the black market. You have to have something of greater value to actually physically exchange for it - a mere torch. And few things command the same price. Who would have thought. A fragment of a memory surfaces of a little boy and a blue torch, an argument? Before I can get a mental hold on the memory it is gone, though I feel it, like the others, each memory is imprinting itself with growing intensity on my actual body. They warned me about this, about the memories, when I was liberated. I think I’m doing OK dealing with them as they surface.

The torch casts a thin shaft of light into the gloom. I marvel at the workmanship in the brickwork and construction of the tunnels, and at the lack of dust in them. I can’t help but run my hand over the bricks and know they are more than 200 years old. I hurry then. Adam will be waiting for me.

Beneath the cellar of the Neo Burlesque there is a trap door and someone has rigged up a simple rope ladder. There is an old plastic milk crate filled with misappropriated clothes – lavish costume pieces, simple sheaths of silk and satin. Tonight I choose a leopard print dress. It doesn’t fit perfectly – they never do. The lycra bunches or falls open in all the wrong places. It is also tailored for someone with a waist and hips. I have neither in the classic sense. There’s no time to change once I’ve pulled it over my head. The smell of sweat and stale sex tells me that I’m not the only one to wear it this week. I fold my office clothes lace up the knee high Doc Marten boots that I know fit me from past trips here.

There has never been time to ask Adam how it is possible that the Neo Burlesque continues to operate. It is the antithesis of everything that the Government stands for. It encourages the obscene, the sexy, celebrates the sensual and beauty of both the male and female form. And then there is what goes on in the shadows. Like coffee I guess, officials have their quirks and someone very high up must still have a penchant for this.

The club is one huge room, an old theatre. On the stage there is a band singing original, unsanctioned material. Two girls, one tiny and the other huge are dressed in bustiers and huge tattered tulle skirts that are short at the front exposing their fishnet stockings, and long at the back in an exaggerated bustle. A tall flamboyant feather is tucked into each of their upswept hair dos. The guitarist is in his usual knee length black trench coat and a top hat. From somewhere deep inside my head I hear a naturist’s voice commenting over the top of the brass section, speaking of the band as though they are exotic birds rather than a mish mash of left overs from Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras … where did that come from?

Before I have time to contemplate the new thought, there is a hand on my arm. It is Adam. We melt into the deep shadows at the perimeter of the theatre. There is a good reason that so much light is magnified to the middle, it creates these safe havens along the wall.

Adam’s mouth is hard on mine, his body pushing me into the cold, broken plaster wall. His hands are on my body, fevered and impatient, as mine are on him. He pulls the dress up to my waist, as I struggle with the button and zipper on his pants. My hands are shaking – again. There is no time for foreplay, for any tenderness or exploration. A chance for us to look each other in the eye, to traverse the histories we see there … for intimacy or love. There is only the physical act now and we are grateful for that.

Adam tears open a condom packet and rolls it over his cock in a single fluid action, then hoists me up onto his thighs. I wonder where he gets them – the condoms, but there’s no more time to think about it. There never seems to be any time to think about anything that matters. He presses me harder into the wall and fumbles for a moment with his erection, trying to get it inside me … and then for a delirious few minutes, we rut and pound our bodies into and against each other. Even with the anticipation and the two week wait, Adam cries out in the hollow of my neck and comes before I’m close to being there. That’s the way it is.

We untangle our bodies; Adam rolls the condom off, ties a knot in it and hides it in his pocket once he’s fastened his Government issue pants back around his waist. A used condom is the worst possible thing to have on your person, yet he doesn’t just drop it on the floor. I pull the dress back down and bend over to extract the list of names and apartment numbers from the inside of my boot. Our fingers linger, entwined for a moment as I pass the list to him.

There are screams as the outside doors of the theatre are beat in.

Adam grabs my hand and we dash for the stage, racing up the stairs and pushing through the startled musicians, making our way for the backstage dressing rooms. Adam takes the first of the Government’s henchmen in the throat with his fist, crushing the man’s windpipe. I grab for the Tazer as he goes down. There is enough of a gap between the two black clad men for Adam to pull a knife from his belt and fell the second with an expertly thrown knife to the heart. We waste precious seconds stripping both men of their weapons, but there is no alternative. I’m unarmed and Adam only has his knife. I fasten the second man’s belt around my waist and try to make it fit. They’re not meant for women.

We hurry through to the dressing rooms, pulling open the trap door in the toilet in the largest of the dressing rooms, jumping down into the cellar. Adam sets me first down the rope ladder into the tunnels, following me as voices erupt above. And we’re running, hearts pounding in the darkness, my hands clutching at the belt which threatens to fall and trip me up. It’s dark and only Adam’s hand in mine keeps me moving forward. It is a bad time to realise that I have a mortal fear of the dark.

We come to an intersection. We stop and we’re both breathing hard and shallow. I can feel a breeze coming from a different direction. I have no idea how we got here, or where we are. I’ve only ever come the one same way to and from the Neo Burlesque. We are only just ahead of the beams of light behind us, there is not time to falter.
“You go this way Eve. We need to separate.”
I want to say something, but he is gone before I can and I’m all alone in the world - running for my life in the dark.