July 2015 archive

‘I love junk’

The other day, my four-year-old grandson asked for ice cream for
breakfast, and I said ‘no’. 
No. 
He could have something like toast, toast with yummy
honey.  But no lollies. 
‘What about toast with sprinkles?’ he asked. 
I thought about this and weighed up the pros and cons in
my mind long enough for him to ask further,
‘Are sprinkles junk?’ 
‘They are indeed.’
‘I love junk,’ my grandson said and so it seems. 
My grandson abhors anything to which we might attach the label
‘good for you’. 
Despite his parents’ best efforts, he prefers to live on sultanas, Nutella toast and given half a chance he would consume nothing but
lollies. 
He can’t quite get his letter ‘l’ right and so the word comes
out as ‘wowies’  
He pleads with me constantly to buy him wowies. But I stand firm
and resist most of the time.
Do you remember when lollies, ice cream and sweets of all
kinds ruled the day?  When the greatest
comfort of all came in the form of aniseed balls, cobbers, liquorice all sorts,
White Knights, and butterscotch bars? 
Anything laced with sugar or flavoured with treacle.  Anything that filled your head and stomach
with the sweetest of sensations. 
This I craved.
My dream was to own a caravan of sorts and to travel around
the world. 
My caravan could convert into an enclosed tent with a fitted floor
and walls that left no cracks open to the outside world and so no bugs or undesirables
could get inside. 
I had a small fridge within my caravan.  I never went so far as to imagine how it might
be charged, but it kept ice cold in my day dreams and I filled my fridge with
all the desirables: three varieties of ice cream, lollies by the shelf load and
lemonade in the side compartments.  
Nothing remotely healthy. 
My plan for sustenance in my travels round the world was one
of the sweetest nourishment.  And I was
in seventh heaven.  No pesky parents or big
sisters and brothers telling me what I could not have. 
No, I was in charge here and whatever and whenever I wanted
something, I could eat it.
I marvelled that the adults in my life – namely my parents,
who to my mind had unlimited access to money – did not bother to fill their
fridge with the same sort of desirables.
I knew my parents enjoyed sweets, though my father could not
have them, except the sugar-free variety, because he was a diabetic.  But my mother did not suffer anything that
could restrict her diet. And she never said ‘no’ to ice cream and cake.
Why then was she not intent on stocking up more of these
basics in our fridge and pantry? 
Why did she try to restrict our biscuit quota to one pound of
sweet biscuits a week, and only when pressed would she buy more? 
And then there were times when we went out for Sunday drives
and my father eventually relented and let us have an ice cream each – a thing I
longed for from the moment the trip began to the moment when we were about to
leave our destination, be it the Silvan Dam, or Gembrook or the Grampians or
any other country place. 
I sat in the back of the station wagon beside my sister,
closed my eyes and prayed for relief in silence, until my father sent one of the
older ones off with a ten-shilling note to buy each of us an ice cream.
To my amazement, my mother was happy to let one of my older
brothers try a bite from her ice cream when he had finished his.  My mother was nowhere near so possessive of
her ice cream as I was. 
My mother did not feel as if her world had fallen in half if one
of my older brothers took a ‘big’ bite out of her ice cream and broke open the chocolate
casing that surrounded her Choc Wedge. 
Choc Wedges were the best ice creams we were ever allowed, a cut above
icy poles but several steps below the much desired Cornettos or Gaytimes, ice
creams my father never let my older brother choose, because they were expensive
and although choc wedges were twice as dear as icy poles, they were twice less expensive
than the grandest of ice-creams, the ones I never tried until I was almost an
adult and more in control of what I might manage to coerce out of my
mother. 
By then many of my siblings had left home and so only a few of
us younger ones remained. The ice cream bill reduced and so the standard of ice
creams rose. 
These days, lollies don’t do it for me anymore. 
How sad, now when I am the adult I once dreamed of becoming,
when now I can afford to spend buckets of my money on sweets, I choose not
to. 
These days I’d rather drink wine than lemonade, and eat
cheese rather than cake. 

My little self is appalled. 

Antarctic vortex

I bought the dog a coat this year to help him with the cold.  Other years it hasn’t felt necessary, at least
not in terms of my identification with him. 
And here, I think about how, on a cold day when I was a child
who refused to wear her jumper, my mother said to me; ‘It makes me cold to look
at you’. 
The roots of empathy perhaps? 
My mother sympathising, only, I did not feel cold at the time.  She felt cold looking at me.
These last several weeks I felt cold looking at the dog. And
so I bought him the best coat I could find at a reasonable price, one that fitted
well and one that was easy enough to put on him. 
Now every morning before his first visit to the garden, I
struggle to get him to cooperate in the wearing of this coat.  He needs to lift one leg at a time to fit
into the separate holes in the front, then I bring up the two sides to join the
fabric across his back and slide in the zip joins. 
This is tricky. 
If I accidentally drop one side and the dog drags a foot out
of its hole, I need to start all over again.
Who’d have thought it would be so hard to dress a dog?  I had wanted something I could slip over his
head, jumper style, something that did not need as much cooperation from
him.  But this was the only one that fitted. 
Although the dog has adjusted to the wearing of this coat by
day when he’s outside in the cold, I suspect he’d rather do with out, though he
seems now to appreciate the warmth it generates.

Or is that me again, me being like my mother, me responding
to my sense of the cold, not his?
My husband says, ‘He’s a dog. 
Dogs can manage all weathers.’ 
Maybe on the farm when my husband was a boy they could.
My daughter says, ‘Small dogs can die when it gets too cold.  They need protection.’ 
In several months time, I will be going off on a short freefall
writing retreat with the wonderful Barbara Turner Vesselago.  I’m looking forward to this time but also
fearful that I will not write to her specifications.  Not as I write for this blog, with its mix of
the ‘show, don’t tell’ variety and a heavy dose of telling, as in authorial
intrusion. 
I’m forever telling you what I think.  It’s a no-no in most writing circles. 
The rule is: keep yourself out of the writing, unless in
disguise.  It’s boring for readers, the
saying goes, ‘Show, don’t tell’.  Let
readers make up their own minds. 
I agree, up to a point. 
But I reckon there’s merit in the other style of writing too, the so-called
diegetic’. 
Don’t be put of by the word. 
It’s a writing style in which the writer speaks to you about what goes
on. WG Sebald for instance, and many others write this way.
Even wonderful writers of the show-don’t-tell variety have
sections wherein the writer paraphrases the action to move the story
along.  It helps with pace.  It’s also necessary because every single
detail cannot be shown.  There are some
things readers need to know if they are to enjoy the action.
Anyhow, I’m fearful of the freefall because it will require I
concentrate hard on the show-don’t-tell stuff, otherwise known as the ‘mimetic’.
Again, don’t be put off by the word. 
These are things I’ve learned about writing over the years.  That they fascinate me is no guarantee
they’ll fascinate you, rather like my mother’s view: Just because she was cold
without a jumper, there’s no guarantee I was.
I had a higher metabolic rate at the time.  I’d have been bouncing around in the garden
not noticing.  But my mother, looking out
on me from the windows of the kitchen where she’d have had the fire on high, would
have been more aware of the contrast between the warmth inside and the temperature
outside.  
When my mother entered her last year of life, she kept her
heater at full bore all day long in winter. To enter her room was to enter a
sauna. She found it pleasant and every time I came in with only a cardigan and
no coat she would tell me off for not dressing warmly enough. 
But I came prepared for her room.
These days, and this winter particularly, I feel the cold in
my own right. 
I’m not alone here. Everyone throughout certain parts of
Australia is complaining of and rejoicing in the fact that we have snow in
Queensland. 
Not for something like fifty years has there been snow in
Queensland. 
They call it the Antarctic vortex.  Which puts me in mind of a comment that JeniMawter made when she handed the fiction prize in the Lane Cove competition last
year to Marjorie Lewis-Jones, ‘Don’t start your story with the weather.’  

I hadn’t realised that. To me, the weather in my story was
simply that, weather at the opposite extreme of what we have now, a hot
stinking summer. 
There you have it.  When
writers talk about the rules of writing they can develop any number of rules to
justify what to do and what not to do. 
I say, ‘do it anyhow’ and see how it works.  If it sounds lumpy and clunky and does not invite
your reader in, then think again.  Maybe
some of these rules – better named guidelines – might help. Bearing in mind, what works for you might not work for the
other.  
Still your ‘feel’ for things is
probably a good place to start.

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