Sunday, March 30, 2008

What Tim Does

Hey, this is my friend Tim's project. I think you'll like it:
The Dog Ate My Serial

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Here's a link to an article by David Jenkins that appeared in the Canberra Times care of The Guardian and I thought it was very relevant to this project - the Canberra Times called it ' Don't Make Friends with Writers'.


Thursday, March 27, 2008


Sasha’s father was frowning again. She sat, elaborately relaxed on the Turkish cushions of the Old Fish Shop café on King Street, her arms bare stretched either side of her. To him they looked less like wings and more like a harlot’s bare arms in one of the pictures they had looked at in Bible study a few weeks ago. It irritated him that his daughter was turning heads. That the four young men with their faces pierced with metal had leered and whooped at her as they passed the window that opened onto the street. He watched the older waiter – who should know better –staring. It rankled him she had insisted that while he was in town he would have to stay with her. Any enjoyment he got from his lecture tours was mainly spent in private meditation in the small hotel rooms he chose for himself. Not in the bustle, the music, the evidence of the kind of life that he had shunned was thriving around him, taking up all the available space.
Sasha was smiling, thinking what a really odd character her father seemed in this setting. Had he always been this way? She was half tempted to ask him, leaning forward aware of the bare skin of her arms brushing across the prickling wool of the cushions. She sipped her peppermint tea.
‘I think you look tired Pappa.’ She said, not without concern, but with a certain grownup daughter tone in her voice. She had been enjoying watching him squirm in the chilli-hung hippy café, but now she was tired of him. She wanted him to leave her, go to the room she had vacated for him. She wanted to know he was in there praying for all these lost souls, and maybe for her. She knew he prayed for her salvation, that the whole family prayed for her return to the church.
‘I am tired, Sasha. Perhaps we should go back to your house and…’
‘But, we only just got here, Pappa.’ Now she was the little girl again, on her Pappa’s knee, waiting to hear him talk, to tell the stories about Jesus, who she thought she might just overflow with love for. As a child her love had been hot and spurted out of her heart in red gushes, just like the heart of Jesus.
The adult Sasha found she was suddenly sick. Sick of her father but still wanting him to stay and see her life, what she had made of herself out of the city’s chaos. She wanted him to just stop being so tired and so worn down and so sure that his way of looking at the word was the only true way. She turned and moved her arms so her silver bracelets tinkled their way back down to her wrists. How did he do this? She was sure he couldn’t spoil King Street for her, with its crowds of people, the beggars, the buskers and drunks the trucks and furious motorists. She was sure he couldn’t make her tired of it, take the colour out of it, the music she found in all the noise and activity. But, he had. His drawn face with the lightest hint of stubble, the wrinkles she thought of as ‘kind’ around his eyes, tired, always so tired.
And she was sick of herself: the endless battle with herself over how to live, how to make choices that weren’t based on what someone else told her. To live according to her own truth, as far as she’d worked it out. She was tired of her father, even though he’d only been in Sydney for three hours, his was the voice that always reproved her, when she chose her breakfast cereal and when she walked into the circle of light ready with her fingers spread, to play to the audience.
‘I’ll pay, then.’ And even to her father her voice seemed to falter.
‘No, Sasha.’ The battle had begun again. Even though she won this small victory, throwing coins onto the counter, ignoring the puzzled glance of the waiter, and swinging her hair and she fled out of the door. But she knew as she turned the corner and trod heavily on the jacaranda blossoms that were lying on the footpath, that it had never been a truce, only a small lull.
It always seemed to Sasha that her father didn’t do it deliberately. He was just so deeply himself, so strongly attuned to the choices he’d made, that there was nothing he could do but disapprove of her. They had both wondered how he had fathered such a wild and daring girl. Her sisters were both calm. Life seemed so much easier for them, with their slim bodies and ordinary sleek hair. Sometimes Sahsa blamed them for their mildness, but most of the time it wasn’t them she was concerned with. At 27 she understood she was deliberately at war with her father and everything he insisted on. Sasha knew what would make her father wince, she knew how to excite his anger so that the tiredness sometimes lifted. She had realised that in some ways it was impossible for him to win. And in others, she could never completely be free.
She unlocked the car and slipped onto the driver’s seat taking a deep breath as she watched her father approach. The engine revved, she was ready to drive him back to the rundown Glebe terrace. Though she’d left the church, fled the city and been done with the community, she hadn’t left her family. Sometimes, on the cusp of sleep she imagined never seeing them again, breaking the ties so completely and soundly that they would never be able to find her. At 3am this seemed like a kind of suicide a sin her father abhorred more than any other. And she planned with meticulous detail her escape routes, the false names, police statements, the AVOs.

‘Is he your boyfriend.’ Her father pronounced the word with such distaste that Sasha turned to look at him for the first time since the café.
‘No. He’s my flatmate. Out here in the real world people save on the rent by sharing accommodation, so that’s what I’m doing. I thought you’d approve of saving money.’
‘He’s rather large.’
‘He’s a wrestling champion, Pappa. That’s what he does.’
‘Oh.’ And he stood there with his skinny bones showing through his shirt. Sasha momentarily wondered what her mother had ever seen in him. And then, at the same moment it struck her: she was exactly like him. All prudish and judgemental. And she wondered what she saw in him herself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Elise stood at the top of the stairs in a fury.
‘When I’m feeling this bad, you sitting there looking at me doesn’t help!’ And she threw the heavy silver boot that she’d bought at the markets at Eddy’s concerned face. ‘Go off to Melbourne! Leave now!’ She slammed the door behind her as she fled to their room, half afraid that her shot might have hit home. As Eddy stood in the dim stairwell and his expression of concern remained the same. He frowned, wondering how it was going to turn out. He had to go to Melbourne, it was a chance he couldn’t miss. The scholarship was only part of it. The faculty’s reputation and the teachers there, to be supervised by Garry Endright, it was too good. But Elise was so important, and he felt like his chest would cave in at the thought of her being sad about him leaving.
He picked up the boot from the bottom stair. He knew things for Elise were never simple. He’d give her some time to herself, though all he wanted to do was go into the room and stroke her hair and tell her that things would work out, that they would see each other.
That was the easy bit, the harder part was saying it was OK her aunt had died. That death couldn’t be too bad, it was just the end of life, he’d seen it often. At least he’d worked on the cadavers. But he’d never really known someone who died, no-one in his life had just disappeared. His grandmother had died, but he was too young then to understand. Everyone else was still around, and he squinted as he tried to imagine someone, like his mother or one of his brothers just no longer being.
Because that was what death was, a lack of life. The body was still there with all its fibres and bones and organs, they were just no longer ticking over. They were still. And in that stillness Eddy sometimes sensed, as he ran his scalpel across the greying skin, a relief.
When the news came through he was able to be useful. His studies of the brain let him translate for Elise and her family what had happened. The haemorrhage would have left her confused and numb, so there would have been little if any pain. Gradually the brain was flooded with blood, and so slowly it would have shut down the body’s functions. The grief at this was understandable. But, in his mind, though he could never say it, there were worse ways to go.
As he’d sat, watching Elise, he tried to imagine her feelings. She was closed, too sad to talk, the sobbing had finished and she sat there with her eyes swollen and her nose looking sore. She was a picture of misery, and Eddy wished that he didn’t feel so distanced from her and the grief. Grief was something he’d seen a lot of; at the death of children in the hospital; relatives in the emergency ward. He separated himself from it with clear lines of knowledge, this is what happened and this is why, I understand, I read a paper on it, led the discussion, have done the research, seen the numbers. But, with grief coming to live in his own house he wasn’t sure what to do. The knowing why it happened didn’t help. Elise wasn’t interested in the pathology. She didn’t want to know what the latest data showed. That was why he’d sat, glassy eyed, looking at her. That was what had sent her upstairs shouting. Eddy just hated it when it came to this.
‘Hey, man, what’s happening?’ Stew had just let himself in the front door.
‘Oh,’ Eddy was momentarily startled. And, as he looked at Stew squinting his stoner’s sqint, a pang of love for Elise and everything she was squeezed its way out of his chest and made him turn and go up the stairs. ‘Not much Stew, not much at all.’
Eddy opened their door and found Elise lying on the bed, face down. He put the boot back in the corner and slid down into the bed beside her.
‘I know it’s not your fault,’ Elise mumbled through the bedclothes, ‘but I just can’t make you OK when I’m not. I can’t help you cope with me not coping.’
‘It’s OK.’ Eddy put his arms around her. ‘I don’t want you to.’
‘But I hate making you feel this bad.’
‘I hate you feeling this bad. And you’re not making me feel bad. I’m just not sure what to do.’
‘Don’t do anything then. Just don’t look at me like this.’ And she turned around to fix her gaze on him, drooping her eyes and mouth.
‘I am not looking at you like that.’
‘Yes, you are.’
‘Well, sorry, but I think it was more like this.’ And Eddy summoned his worst impression of himself, allowing his glasses to slide down his nose and his eyes to widen.
‘No…’ Elise was smiling, no she was laughing at him. Thank god. After a week of sadness… ‘Why are you grinning like a maniac?’
‘I’m not a maniac.’ But he thought of the way the body had to be flown home from the Fiji holiday. Elise’s family’s shock that such a thing could happen. That someone could be dead and postcards could still arrive from them in the mail.
‘Lets go and get chocolate, I feel the need for chocolate cake.’
‘OK.’ And he sprang up in that way he had of suddenly being on his feet. It made Elise think that he’d never be caught off balance. Always be able to find up. ‘But I’m not going to let you forget that you just threw a huge silver boot at me.’
‘Oh God, I didn’t hit you, did I?’
‘No, you didn’t, but it was a close thing.’
‘I’m sorry. I’m just so…’ She waved her hands, and sitting with her legs folded under her, hips to one side, hair akimbo he loved her better than ever before. Please be happy for a while, he thought as he took hold of that waving hand. Please let’s leave this sadness in the house and go away from it.
He put his arm around her waist as they shut the front door. It fitted there, just so, as if it was made for him to hold. She put her head into his shoulder, where she felt it fitted, and all the morbid thoughts that had hovered around her hushed down, like rain on the roof. And as they walked towards Glebe Point Road she said:
‘Jan is – I mean was – a rich woman, you know. It’s as if some scenario that we always played as children has become reality. All the cousins, all her nieces and nephews, we were always playing that the rich aunt would die, that there was all this mystery and intrigue and … I don’t know, it feels strange. She was only fifty-two. That’s young, really isn’t it? Mum says that there’s a will, she’s only just written, and that there’s something for all the nieces and nephews. I mean, it feels weird, as if as kids we were acting out something that would become real.’ And Elise was back in the café with her mother, watching her cry in that wretched way you do when the sadness is too much even for tears. She heard her mother sob dryly as the checked table cloth – but it wasn’t even cloth, it was laminated so the waitress could come with a sponge and wipe away whatever had been spilt – imprinted onto her retina she had stared at it for so long.
They walked down the hill, the evening fading into night, currawongs calling from the camphor-laurels in the church-yard, the traffic lights glowing in the gathering dusk. They had their head so close together that, to them, walking, leaning into one another, there was nothing else in the world but the two of them. And Eddy knew it would be all right, he knew that things were going to be fine.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Elise lived on the other side of Bridge Rd when she first met Sasha. Glebe in late spring was full of jasmine sending sprays of flowers to tangle with the morning glories and plumbago. Frangipani trees leaned out to sprinkle the footpaths with white and yellow flowers, and like someone possessed Elise always picked them up. She would arrange them on the windowsills of the rented terrace and they would brown in the sun. The cat would bat them around the polished floors into the laundry cupboard, where there was a pile of old flowers composting in the corner. Elise and Eddy didn’t mind. Just as they didn’t mind the stair that groaned when you trod on it, or living in the smallest room in the house where they could only fit a bed and a chair. They didn’t mind that the chair’s seat was made of a chopping board. Nor, that the bed shrieked when they got into it.
These things worried Sasha. When she came to visit the cat was eating a chicken wing on the carpeted stair. The bookshelf teetered, it was so overloaded and every book had sticky notes and postcards protruding from it. She wanted to straighten the novels, or even more than that, she wanted to arrange them with their spines in descending order, in clumps of colour. To put the ornaments on the mantle piece and wash the scarves that draped across the window. But, in the long narrow kitchen, Elise was making tea and talking to Sasha about music, about songs, about what she was thinking. Already Elise was talking about thoughts, how she was coming to the conclusions that Sasha found so surprising.
‘And so, I thought that sad bit, you know where you slow down before the chorus…’ Sasha tried to focus, tried to concentrate – but she had just come through the heavy stained glass door, she felt she had stumbled into the sunlit kitchen, and here was Elise, talking about her songs before she had even exchanged niceties, even though there had been a brief embrace. Elise turned from the tea making. ‘So, you see, I was wondering… what is it?’ Sasha hid her eyes for a moment under their heavy lids.
‘I’m not used to it.’ She admitted.
‘Used to what?’ Elise was taken-aback, her close-cropped head moved back on the pivot of her neck.
‘Used to people like you, I mean talking about music and art like it was important.’
Elise didn’t know what Sasha had meant that morning, as sunlight tinged with dust - or was it exhaust? - slid into her kitchen. She had thought that Sasha would be constantly discussing her work. She had imagined a long line of friends for this slightly older woman, imagined, when she let herself, Sasha in jazz clubs late into the night – while she and Eddy were neatly curled in bed together – inhaling smoke, leaning in over in the candlelight to compliment her friends on their performance. She imagined rainy nights where Sasha would help the band load their instruments into the van, wave them off and turn back to the club where the man with the half-closed eyes was waiting for her.
Sasha found herself steered into the courtyard the tea in front of her on the plastic table steamed slightly.
‘So, how are you?’ Elise was wearing her glasses crooked, and she frowned at Sasha. This is what Sasha had imagined; for years at college she had longed for the kind of friend who would emphasise that word to her. ‘How are you?’ How am I? She thought. But it was too late, she had paused, and now Elise would draw back just like the girls in her classes and narrow her eyes. She would find fault with the way that the males in the class were drawn to her – all wanting something, from simple sex to more complicated forms of sympathy. But Elise had waited, still frowning. ‘You are OK aren’t you?’ This isn’t Lismore anymore, Sasha sighed to herself. She looked up at Elise and for a second her green eyes flickered. This was the kind of meaningful friendship people on the outside had. You didn’t need Christ to talk to one another did you?
‘Yes, I’m fine, just a bit tired I ‘spose.’ And she busied herself drinking tea.
‘Well, I’m tired too. Eddy had to go to this thing last night, with the scholarship candidates, and he’s only just home now, completely shit-faced. He stinks like a butcher’s armpit.’ Sasha caught by surprise, lost all her self-consciousness in laughter. When she laughs it’s like when she sings, Elise noticed, her throat opens her face relaxes. She’s like another Sasha.

Elise loved Eddy’s long narrow-boned feet. She loved the way his hair was wild in the morning, ruffling on the pillow. Elise loved the way he spoke and smiled, the way he made her coffee, the way he fitted into the dip in the mattress with her. If she had stopped to think about it, there wasn’t much that Elise didn’t love about Eddy. Though if anyone had asked her she would have hesitated to say that she would definitely marry him, move cities for him, find infinite pleasure travelling with him and have his children. All these things seemed too far away. Indefinite. It was too early to think about all this as far as she was concerned. How they were made Elise happy, and this pleased Eddy. They walked down to their favourite Italian restaurant on Fridays, stopping for a bottle of wine on the way, talking together, laughing, Eddy stopping to balance on a fence, Elise stopping to smell the stephanotis hanging from a garage roof.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Where did Elise get her confidence? There she was making her way up the sandstone path through the overgrown garden with an absolute surety. It was the way she moved, balanced so, her small body quick through the light and shadow. Her life just fell into place around her, Sasha decided. How could anyone be so sure? Elise was the one who had decided they would move to the old house. She had quit her job in the city, leaving Sasha uneasy. She just shed one existence and was moving through a new one in less than a week. Sasha wished she could do these things so easily.

She turned away from the small waving figure and back to her car. Already, the cicadas in the spotted gums around the house were making her ear drums buzz and she’d only just pulled in.

Elise looked as if she belonged here. She fitted onto the path, the fibro beach shack that had been in her family since the early 50s seemed to embrace her. Her hair was wet, probably from a swim. The way she dived into the water off the jetty was too much for Sasha. Her teeth went on edge, like they always did when the boys would scratch their nails down the blackboard at school. How could Elise throw off her clothes and toss herself into the water? How did she know no-one would be looking? How did she know that Sasha wouldn’t look at the way her skin continued from her neck down to her breasts and out onto her belly like one skein of fabric? How did she know nothing would come up out of the murky deep of the water where the sunlight couldn’t get to, and grab her, bite her, pull her down? What was it that buoyed her to the surface so readily? And why did the African irises and asparagus ferns that infested the slope of garden right down to the water’s edge brush against Elise’s bare legs, where they always seemed to scratch Sasha.
Well, maybe confidence came with ownership. Elise was about to inherit the house, or at least part of it. Even now, as she pulled her last few belongings out of the Barina, Sasha wondered if she could live up to her friend’s dreams for her. As she took out her bedding, putting it reluctantly on the dirty sand, the sense of freedom, the sense that anything was possible, that the two of them would make things happen, left her. And in its stead the wretched hollow opened in her again.
‘How was the drive?’ Elise asked, reaching out an embrace.
‘Fine, fine.’ Sasha tried to be breezy, a deep breath of the salty air. Elise smelt of ocean, she smelt like the hot leaves in the scorch of the sun. Her hug was brief, mechnical. Sasha found herself wanting to hold her by the waist, like Eddy did when he was walking with her. Sasha wanted to lay her head on her friend’s shoulder and cry. But she struggled against it, like she had been against falling asleep next to Elise these last few nights, and turned away.
‘The piano made it.’ Elise smiled. Sasha breathed in sharply and looked back at her friend. How had she forgotten the piano? In her dreams Sasha had seen it float out into Pittwater, wreaked and gutted, it was sunk too deep in the green water to dive for. Sasha helpless on the shore couldn’t get a boat, couldn’t get anyone to see how she needed the piano, or her concert would be cancelled, her career in ruin. In her dream she had a career in music. She was the centre of something. Everyone needed her to perform. The removalists just laughed at her. Sasha, woke grieving from her sleep to find herself on the far side of Elise’s futon, the sun lapping at the curtains. There was a sense, in her dream, that Elise was somehow responsible. And this worried Sasha, so she would lie absolutely still and just listen to Elise in the kitchen, boiling the kettle, the gurgle of her stovetop espresso, the pad of her bare feet out onto the verandah. And sometimes Sasha felt that it might just be possible – as she had that first morning they met – for Elise, her thin wrists, the spring in her step, the way she turned her head to listen and would talk about anything, things that other people spent so much energy avoiding – for her to fill that gap Sasha heard in herself.
‘I thought you’d want to know. Hey let me take that.’ And Elise brushed Sasha’s arm as she reached for the pile of sheet music and the bag of groceries. ‘They were nice guys, the piano guys, they stayed for a coffee. They said you might need to tune it soon though, because of the salty air, humidity.’
‘They stayed for a coffee?
‘Yeah, I think they thought it was an interesting old house.’
‘And you were interesting too.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, they are just removalists. I paid them half my salary to move that piano, you don’t have to be all that nice to them.’
‘Don’t worry, they had to work hard to get it down the path.’
‘Uh.’ And Sasha felt stupid, as if her friend had just seen right through her and was laughing at her.

The drive from the city, through the old suburbs, along the winding ribbon of the Monavale Road and out onto the peninsular was enough to send the breath right up into your chest. Through the trees you got glimpses of the sea, bluer than you’d think it could be against the sky. The drive took long enough for Sasha to practice her arias, her scales and sing along with the Best of Crowded House CD. She’d calculated the route, counting the traffic lights, comparing the bridge with the detour and now, having done the drive five times, she knew which lanes to get in, where she could overtake. She enjoyed the driving, enjoyed doing the two things at once: singing and accelerating. When you pulled in to Avalon, the sea air speckled the windscreen with salt. Sasha would obediently slow to a crawl with the traffic, turn the fans down and lean over to open the passenger window. The whole drive had a sense of history to it, the old houses, the big trees, the roads following the contours of the hills, not cutting through and across them. Sasha found it frustrating and yet, somehow it also made sense to some part of her. She liked the leers of the surfers as she sped past them, her mane of wavy hair catching in the draught. She liked, too the looks she got from the older men, the balding ones in suits driving their smart cars, who would peer over their sunglasses at her, approvingly. If only my dad could see me now, she’d think. Or Elise.

Elise was having coffee with Eddy and some of his friends, when Sasha approached them. She was a friend of a friend, and she sat down next to Elise. Had she been at David’s party, yeah that one with the wings theme? Elise felt she knew her from somewhere, the familiarity of her hands, the shape of her eyes, the way she laughed with abandon?

‘Were you at the fireman’s ball about two months ago?’

‘Ah, yes I was. I was the one in the canary yellow.’

‘Well, that must be how I know you then.’

‘That would explain it.’ And they laughed together at the quickness of the exchange, how they were both on their toes. Talking the same chat lines, the same stupid conversations that others took so seriously. The warmth, like flirting, but doing it safely because there was Eddy sitting just there, and this woman was only waiting for a takeaway coffee.

Sasha smiled at Elise, the kind of smile that had that warmth, and recognised the warmth was returned, and that there was a seam of it to mine.

They found that they were both working on creative projects without support. They were frustrated with the city. They were tired of trying to earn enough money to pay the rent. Flatmates were difficult. So much that seemed so enticing about earning money just left you no time to write or sing, and how could you ever make it writing or singing if you had to meet these societal expectations placed on you by your family and friends who didn’t understand why you needed to be creative? Why was it that you needed to do what everyone expected anyway?

The quick easy way that Sasha talked, so fluent in the problems that were only just becoming problems for Elise, impressed her. Sasha brushed her hair over her shoulder and spoke with vigour and conviction. She splayed her hands to emphasise her point. She seemed to have endless empathy for how Elise was feeling. And as they talked the banter of the group spilt around them. Sasha nodded and laughed and stayed to drink her takeaway, perched on the arm of someone’s chair. Elise watched Sasha’s hands, the olive skin against the bright silver rings.

‘I live across the road. Why don’t you come over and hear this song I’m telling you about?’

‘Love to.’ And Elise just got up, and brushing Eddy’s shoulder to let him know she was going, she left the café with Sasha.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Writing in Sleep Project

The housework will be untended.  There will be what my mother calls 'slut-wool' in the corners. But, there will be writing on this blog.  I am not using it as a journal, not as a chat-tool, not as a review of events.  Here, each week, if I can manage it, I will add 1,500 words to a serial novel.  I'm hoping to get a readership and also feedback if people find they want to.  My aim will be to update it on fridays.  Please stay tuned for the Writing In Sleep Project.

NB you may recognise yourself, or someone you know, unflatteringly characterised. Please enjoy!