Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Literary Leanings

I recently did a workshop on 'Authors with Authority' with the Queensland Writers' Centre.

For this, we had to write a critique on a chapter of Joanne Carroll's An Italian Romance and write something creative of our own to throw to the lions. It was quite intimidating laying yourself open before Martin Buzacott.

My critique didn't get scrutinised and my poem wasn't demolished entirely, so I thought, given I don't often write either, rather than hiding them away, I'd post them here for the world to get its talons into.

Rip away, sayeth I.

Faltering at the first step

The world loves a love story, so we’re told, and on the face of it, readers of Joanne Carroll’s new novel, The Italian Romance, may expect to encounter just that, rolled into an idealized European setting for good measure.

The novel opens with the presentation of a number of questions – gaps to be filled by the ensuing chapters. Why the estrangement between mother and daughter? Who is the man from the bush? Where does Margaret fit in? And of course the necessary, what will happen?

No doubt what will happen is that these things will become clear and the relationship between Lillian and Francesca will be borne out to either a satisfactory conclusion or one that frustrates. It’s all rather formulaic.

The University of Queensland Press, however, doesn’t have a reputation for publishing the prosaic and so the reader is tempted to hold faith in this and read on. It is unfortunate that the domination of mediocre novels for middle-aged women in the popular market in many ways works against those with more substance.

Marketing would have us believe that The Italian Romance belongs to the latter group, but the use of so many clichés in the orientation works directly against this. The descriptions of setting are romanticized, replete with cool, damp lawns, golden light and references to heaven. Lillian is excessively self-aware and conveniently placed as a novelist, ready with a vocabulary to describe every sense. It’s all rather neat.

The fact that the opening chapter had to be read twice to make sense of some of the direct speech, in particular, would lead one to believe that Carroll has perhaps been a little too obtuse for those who have not done some initial background reading. On the second visit, some details became much clearer.

What is very clear is that the men of this novel are defined by the way in which their women treat them. Margaret disregards her husband; Lillian caresses her memories of Antonio and leaves nameless the man who assists her. Francesca is the only woman, on face value who confounds with her description of herself as ‘Bernard Malone’s daughter’ and her initial seeming refusal to reveal her own relationship status.

The Italian Romance will no doubt satisfy the requirements of a certain readership but leaves one wondering if all the stories have been told and this will be just another Looking For Allibrandi (Marchetta) clad in different garb.

What Lies Below

Beneath her shawl
In arrogant self-assurance
Bright eyes peer
Challenging the unfamiliar crowd
To breach the façade
And expose the uncertainty of her intellect

The siren calls
Certain of an answer
Eager to devour
Only to taste bitter truth
And burn with the rising of bile

Beneath her shawl
She draws in the unwitting innocent
Alternating slaps and praise
For those who would discover
The prize of convention

Beneath her shawl
Of a constructed reality
Oblivious to her needs
She rejects the purging
That floods in

Beneath the crepe
She aches in the face of the slurs
And expectations of a seeming selfless society
Arms filled with the sometimes love of
Others’ offspring
She gurgles with fleeting pleasure

Beneath her shawl
Those who come to her
For sustenance
Against the aching
She encircles with light
Those with the stomach for the fray

Beneath her shawl
From lessons learnt about honesty
Images of domesticity flee
And a cacophony
Cascades with messages

The phoenix burns anew

Beneath the layers
At the expectation
Of a relentless world
The façade slips
In an unending echo

Shards penetrate
The unguarded
Nests of the unwary

Beneath her shawl
She’s unsure of where to start
For the pieces are fluid
The field slanted
The future a mirage

Beneath her shawl
From ash dry choices

Oblivion tempts

Just as the delicate thrust of a blushing bud
Masks the inevitable thorn
And flow of blood

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I Had a Dream

I've been dreaming a lot recently. Crazy, mixed up dreams where nothing seems to make sense and if you get distracted for one moment, when you turn back to something, it isn't what it was before. I've never been one for writing down dreams, but this morning I had an appointment with someone who knows a bit about dreams, so we talked about it, and even in the retelling, I came to some realisations. I was told to try always to write them down. Some of it is still vague, but it went something a bit like this...

I was in an amateur biatholon or something like that - nothing too strenuous - and I couldn't tell you who else was in it, but they were all familiar to me and we were chatting as we were finishing the walk/run, going past some buildings from the last school I taught at as we approached the water. That school is nowhere near water. I am a passable swimmer, but not a strong one, however I went into the water for the final leg with a calm confidence, if no real drive. Rather than having to push myself, I just did it. I have no memory of any real finish, other than that it was out in the water and we had then to swim back to shore.

As I was lazing my way back in on my back, a man I knew - though I have no idea who it was - was complimenting me on my swim leg and the calm strength with which I'd approached it. He asked me what was different to other swims and I'd said that I wasn't really trying, I'd just been determined to live in the moment and focus on each stroke, my breathing and so on.

When we all left the water, people went to get changed whilst many others, who hadn't been participating, settled to a buffet dinner in two school rooms made into one with the retraction of a concertina door. Some were people I knew but there were many others I didn't. There was a buzz of conversation reminiscent from progressive dinners I attended as a child in the 70s. Unlike the other participants, I wrapped myself in a towel and made my way through this impromptu dining room to let myself into a storeroom at the end where I had my belongings. I received friendly jibes about my inappropriate attire for dinner as I walked through, all of which I replied to wittily.

As I was gathering my things, I needed to blow my nose and then needed somewhere to put the used tissue, so I put it under the switch of a light. Pinned by the switch. This is nothing I've ever done (is it even possible?) yet as soon as I did I realised it was a common sight in my dream and almost a mark of ownership. This is my space. I control the lights. Some other woman - an older version of me? - came into the room to do something and I felt a little intruded upon but went about my business and I think she went back to the meal outside.

Soon this storage space had suddenly turned into a walled garden. It was lit with shadows and had several garden beds, paths, trees and a compost bin constructed out of recycled timber. The whole space was not well kept but was alive. Functioning. I went to put something in the compost heap and discovered there the carcas of a sheep. It was somewhat decomposed, with insects and birds having removed the flesh from much of its face and other parts of its body. I needed to move part of it to fit into the compost whatever it was I had and received a shock to see the sheep flinch - that the sheep was not dead at all, but in a dire condition.

As a result of my inadvertant stimulation, the sheep suddenly shook itself and heaved itself out of the compost. It moved away from the bin to find two other small but full-grown sheep, in perfect condition, together in the garden. It tried to 'talk' to them, but they wouldn't tolerate it, rejected it, and it stood in dejection. The sheep required euthanasing, it was obvious to me, but I couldn't find any means to put it out of its misery, so I re-entered the dining room to find someone to assist me.

Having secured myself an assistant, I drew them back to the walled garden only to find that the door now suddenly led to an overcrowded bus on a hot day - replete with animals. I searched amongst the passengers and found the two healthy sheep stuffed under seats. I approached the rear of the bus, fearful that the injured sheep would be gone and that I would not be able to do anything about its suffering. Under the second back seat, I found my female dog, who looked a bit guilty (sheepish? Ha!) at being discovered. What was she doing there? Then, from under the back seat of the bus I dragged out the sick sheep, only to find that its nectrotised face was in fact only marred by a couple of sores. The assistant I'd brought with me to put the animal out of its misery exclaimed that this was not an animal in need of being killed and then I woke up.

Bizarre. Huh? Apparently, everything we dream is a part of ourselves. The different parts of the dream represent different parts of our self.

What the hell does this say about me? I have some ideas, but they are perhaps not for sharing here.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Veritable Feast

This is what my kitchen looked like the morning after I had friends over for dinner and made Japanese food for the first time in a long time. It would have been better if I'd taken snaps of the food as I'd prepared it, huh?

Please note the lovely retro kitchen. That's not a trendy reworking. It's original.

Anyway, want some recipes? I made:
Tofu in Lime-leaf Broth
Soy-marinated Salmon
Spinach with Sesame seeds
Teriyaki Chicken
Awayuki (Strawberries in Cointreau Jelly)

Tofu in Lime Leaf Broth
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp grated ginger
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup chinese cooking wine
6 shredded kaffir lime leaves
2 1/3 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch snake beans, cut into bite-sized lengths
500g firm (silken) tofu, diced

Place all ingredients except beans and tofu into a pan over a medium heat and bring to a simmer then maintain for 3 minutes.
Add the beans and tofu and stir gently for a further few minutes to heat.
Serve, for four.

Soy-marinated Salmon

1 tbsp oil
500g salmon fillet
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup lime juice
2 tbsp chopped dill
1 tsp cracked pepper
steamed bok choy

Heat the oil in a frypan, over a high heat.
Add the salmon and cook for 5 - 8 seconds on each side. (This is not a typo)
Remove from pan and place in a a shallow dish
Combine the soy, lime, dill and pepper and pour over the salmon
Cover and refrigerate for 2 - 4 hours, turning once
To serve, slice the salmon and soerve on steamed bok choy. Pour a little marinade over the salmon as a dressing.

Spinach in Sesame seeds

500g fresh spinach, deveined.
3 tbsp white sesame seeds
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp dashi stock (I use one made from a powdered product, not from scratch)

Heat sesame seeds in a non-stick pan until they smell toasty.
Set aside a good pinch of seeds to use as a garnish and grind the rest of them in a mortar and pestle.
Add sugar and mix well with dashi and soy.
Wilt spinach in a large pot of simmering water. Drain, cool and chop to 2.5cm lengths.
Toss or drizzle with dressing.
Serve and garnish with remaining sesame seeds.

Teriyaki Chicken - the way I like to do it

Teriyaki sauce
1/2 cup light soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin wine
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp sugar

Combine ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
Set aside. (This can be made several days earlier and stored in the fridge.)

Chicken breasts, skinless) for 4 - 6 people (I use three)
A little oil for the baking pan.

Cut each breast into 4 - 5 strips. (The chicken, not your own!)
Bake at 180C for 10 minutes with foil over the chicken, then 10 minutes without foil.
Remove any excess pan juices and set aside for use in a sauce or stock later on.
Toss the chicken pieces in the teriyaki sauce and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
Serve with rice.


4 cups hot water
8g agar-agar powder
4 egg whites
1 punnet of strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Cointreau
1/4 cup milk

Place agar-agar and water in suacepan and bring to boil then simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes.
Add the Cointreau and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Strain the mixture and set aside to cool.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold with the milk through the cooled mixture.
Pour into a square plastic mould.
Hull the strawberries and arrange in rows in the mixture. Place in the refrigerator to set and cool.
When set, cut into squares and serve with ice-cream, whipped cream or on its own.
I served mine with green-tea ice-cream made from a packet mix!

Monday, September 05, 2005

I'm not usually much of a political person...

... but Tony Abbott makes me really, really, really fucking angry.

He makes me angry pretty much every time he opens his mouth. I first heard him speak in person in 1999 and I thought he was a knob then. On a panel, he attempted to hijack every question that was asked of other panellists and successfully painted himself an arrogant, narrow-minded fool. Another panellist, Tim Costello - that other idiot-Costello's brother and now head of World Vision in Australia - was talking total sense about strategies for the safe management of otherwise unsafe illicit drug-taking practices and Abbott repeatedly failed to listen, in course completely failing to divert the thrust of the discussion. Whilst the good twin was daring to dream of practical and compassionate responses to reality, the pollie dug his heels into that rich, privileged soil from which he hales and dug himself a hole not quite deep enough for my liking.

Fuck it.

I'm so angy, I can't even really articulate my full response to him. This is the censored version.

The really fucking annoying thing about Abbott is the electorate that was stupid enough to vote him in.


Friday, September 02, 2005

There's Smoke, Now Where's the Fire?

Smoke is the most unusually-coloured of the kittens. I've never seen markings like them before. Charcoal/black on the back, tail and neck, but flip it over and you have a dark grey tabby on the legs and the mask of the face. I think Smoke might be the favourite to stay here at the moment.

Smoke worries me cos he/she isn't really thriving. Far more likely to keep sleeping than eating, it's the runt of the litter and very ribby. Whilst Sox, Stripe and Mini-mum are in training for ripping the heads off other animals, and doing it with commitment, Smoke will just be off on its own, catching up on some more shut-eye. If called upon to do so, he/she will participate in a bit off rough and tumble, but is often at the bottom of the stack.

I've tried to orchestrate a bit of Mum and Smoke alone time, but it feeds for about 30 seconds before dozing off. I keep poking Smokey's ribs to stimulate and remind him/her of what it's meant to be doing, but it then only lasts about 5 seconds.

Now I know I'm a nervous new kitten-rearer, but can anyone give me some advice or reassurance?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Happy Snap

Here, albeit somewhat belated, is Pixie and the Pixettes. I can only spot four in this piccy, but I assure you there are five!

They will be two weeks old tonight and in that time have opened their eyes (on the weekend), doubled in size and started wobbling around a bit in their box.

The funniest thing about wobbling around in their box with their eyes open is that they have started to play. The funniest thing about that goes with a script from me a little like this...

"Oh, there's one of my siblings, looking all peaceful. I think I'll go and jump on them!"
Kitten begins wobbly trek of 10cm to where vulnerable sibling lies, blissfully unaware.
After 5 cm:
"Damn it! My hind legs can't keep up with the rest of me!
"Geez this slope is tough!"
"I'm sure my head is getting bigger as I walk. It's sure getting harder to hold up!"
As they make thier destination, all they can do is collapse onto their fellow-kitten with their mouth open.

Amidst the gnawing and waving of paws that follows, one invariably ends up on its back and takes several minutes to right itself again, all the time flailing around like Kafka's bug in Metamorphosis.

They seem to like me and sometimes even wobble over to me. A couple have started to purr every now and then and I've been gummed a few times. Pixie seems to have temporarily given up on bringing them to bed with me (two nights and counting) and we are a most contented household.

Kitten-TV rules in this house!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Night Pixie Popped

N.B. This post contains things that may induce an 'Ewww'-response. Read on at your own risk. The remainder of these italics contain a spoiler for those who intend to read on. For the squeamish, a summarised version is that my cat had kittens, got an infection and is now being treated. The kittens are cute. (Of course!)

Tuesday night, when I wrote that Pix was in labour, I don't think I really believed it was happening. It seemed all rather indefinite, like if you scrunched your eyes up and looked at her at an angle of 330 degrees for long enough, yeah, maybe she was. When I arose on Wednesday morning, you could have adopted aforementioned posture for as long as you liked and detected nothing. Grrr.

On Wednesday night, she was behaving as she had on Tuesday night, once more, and I started to think this was just some new night-time behaviour designed to taunt me and my lack of control. No fun. In a huff, I went off to bed and didn't give it another thought. (Okay, I don't recall being in a huff, but it does sound effective, methinks.)

During the night, the little minx came a-visiting me in bed. I assumed this was for a cuddle and so let her poke her head under the covers to cuddle against my chest. It's not normally tolerated behaviour, but it was cold and I wasn't going to emerge to pat her. She there we were, spooning, as I sleepily stroked her down the length of her back.

On about the third stroke, I froze in that awful shock of instant wakefulness. Something was wet. (Go on, say it. Ewww!) I quickly turned on the lamp and looked down to find some markings on my sheets. In a lightning move, I grabbed my robe and got it underneath her. Five minutes later, with a few pants and a couple of pained miaows (not much - sorry Violet!) the first kitten was delivered in my armpit.

Yes! My armpit!

Over the next 90 minutes or so, another 4 kittens were delivered, along with placentas, which Pixie gratefully devoured. She stayed in the crook of my arm throughout, at several points resting her head on my bicep and bracing her hind paws aginst my stomach as she bore down. I guess this is what a father feels like. It was gross, sure, but also fascinating and touching. This cat had been with me for less than three weeks and yet the place she chose to be - the safest and warmest place she assessed - was with me. That's pretty incredible, you've gotta admit.

So, the Pixettes were doing well. One is a pale silver tabby with a fine stripe, another is a typical silver tabby with a very fine stripe and there's one that is silver tabby on its legs, belly and mask but black/charcoal elsewhere. Very cute and unusual. The other two are more typical tabbies, but I'm starting to think they have more grey in them than I thought at first. One has white socks and so all are distinguishable. No-sox and Typical silver were fighting hard over a nipple this afternoon, so yes, personalities are starting to show. Sox is adventurous and so on.

So, all were well, tolerated being moved out of my bed so I could get cleaning and were feeding nicely. At about their 24 hour mark, Pixie decided they should all come back to bed with me - I will learn to close my bedroom door - and I had to put my foot down. The previous night's sleep deprivation was sorely felt. Back to their box they all went.

The next afternoon, Pixie was behaving strangely: panting and occasionally hissing faintly. As looking at her in puzzlement wasn't making much difference, I decided to ring the vet.

Now, I was very nervous about doing this. Well, I wasn't nervous about using the phone or anything, but I was concerned about looking an utter fool. As a result, my patter went (embarrassingly) a bit like this. "Hi, I'm sorry if I'm wasting your time with a stupid question. You know I'm probably just a nervous first-time mother, but..." Okay, I know I'm not the mother, but it was quicker to say than the real situation and they knew what I meant...

Anyway, before we knew it, we were packed up to go to the vet: Pickwick, Pixie and the Pixettes. I was still quite sure I'd be told it was nothing and look like a slightly poorer utter fool. Everyone cooed over the kittens as required whilst the vet clicked her tongue at Pix and hauled her off for x-rays. Something was in there that shouldn't be and was causing problems.

As it turned out, it was not another kitten (phew!) but her uterus had not contracted as it aught have. I didn't know that cats regained their figures immediately (sorry again, Violet) so hadn't been alarmed by her still swollen stomach as I aught have been. Instead of being all little and taught, it was distended and filled with pus. (Another Ewww moment) X-rays don't show if it's because she didn't pass all the placentas - I wasn't exactly counting - or if a freak bacteria caught her out. Her temperature was up and she was still bleeding, which the vet assured me I wouldn't have noticed as she would have cleaned herself regularly.

So, you go to the vet and everything's hunky-dory. Right? Not necessarily. The next 24 hours were critical. She was right to go home with an injection there and then, and antibiotics twice daily for the next four weeks, but she could still go 'toxic', requiring instant surgery that could interrupt lactation. Yikes. Bottle feeding five kittens every two hours! The other problem was that I was going to spend a lot of the next 24 hours out of the house. J was promptly recruited and trained to look for signs of toxicity and given instructions about the vet, who was on standby, more-or-less. She was more than happy to do so cos it meant she got to look at the kittens a lot.

As you may have predicted, she made it through the 24 hour mark and slimmed down a lot in that time. That's Pixie, by the way. Not J or the vet. A miracle! She has learnt to hate tablets, which I suspect she'd previously had little experience with.

The real miracle is, however, the strong likelihood that, had I not adopted the preggers Pixie, she and the kittens would have perished.

And that is just too sad to contemplate.

Time to go and check on them again. :-)

How low can you go?

There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.

Henry van Dyke, poet

I'm low, but I somehow don't think an offshoot of that will be to lift my fellow-folk higher. I only wish it were so.