Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

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i like that phrase. The small perfection of it.

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what it means:  the fraught anticipation rising from the knowledge that there is something more to come.

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the implication is that an event- the dropping of the first shoe  – occurred and that by so doing, implied and heralded a second event –  the dropping of the second shoe, the timing, the force of its fall, beyond your control. 

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tram stop

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the others in the crew might have experienced exactly this combination of  powerlessness and inexorability in the Enola Gay after Thomas obeyed the command from Tibbets.  And Tibbets, commander of a crew barely out of their teens could not surely have imagined the dreadful impact of that dropping shoe, when he allowed his saucy, insouciant, uncomprehending smile earlier in the day to be captured forever in accusatory black and white; Could not have imagined the forces that he and the rest of the crew had set in motion with their obedience, as inescapable as Daddy’s descending fat black foot.

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 one small step for man, one great and terrible boot in the face of humanity forever.

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and how did Jacob feel, three days later, giving the same unthinkable answer again? Did he feel like the bomb dropping on Nagasaki was the other shoe? How did he justify the second drop, when the consequences of the first had been so dreadful that one of the baby-faced crew in the Enola Gay had cried out: My God what have we done? (Why can’t I ever get them out of my mind? And why can’t I find out which one of them said it? And why do I always feel like someone will do it again?)

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of course not all of the shoes dropping are so weighty.

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on the other hand, who knows what the consequence will be of any action or event? As the English proverb says, from tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow.

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and what happens if a second shoe does not drop? Does that breathless waiting go on forever? Or does it resolve into a sigh of relief or of disappointment; Hope or fear thwarted by fate? Does the beginning require an end, never mind the means?

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there is no question that waiting for the second shoe is a more profoundly uneasy business than merely waiting; For the bus say, or for a party, or for the first or last day of school.

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audience

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these, too, are consequences, since nothing is truly separate from the things that have gone before or those that will come after.  All event and words are part of a continuum, each thing both cause and effect. Whether or not we see the connections.

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but.

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there are events – words – that intimate a response or a repetition or a consequences so strongly that a void is created, drawing them inexorably into being. One shoe, dropped, suggests and implies a second shoe.

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remember how, when the twin towers were hit, there was that hiatus in which the world held its breath waiting to see what sort of other shoe would be dropped by America? 

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to wait for a letter from one’s lover is not waiting for the other shoe to drop, but waiting for a response to a letter you sent to him or her, with a dramatic revelation or ultimatum, is. The response – that shoe or glass slipper or black boot may be expected, but it is also a wild card. You don’t know when it will come and and there is no telling exactly how it will land.  And therein lies the rub.

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 think of the shoes you are waiting to hear drop: The result of an exam for which you did not study, the request for a second opinion after a medical test, the result of a job interview with a man who was a child you bullied, an audition for which you did not properly prepare, the response of an object of desire to desire expressed or intimated, or to desire revealed as dead or fled, an offer made, a secret told, a betrayal revealed,  a deed done and unable to be undone. Whether North Korea will make good its threats to test a nuclear device. (If humanity itself is the first shoe.)

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that waiting is a band of rubber, stretching and stretching, increasing in tension and tautness, potent and yet unstable, too. The rubber might rebound painfully, or break. 

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 there is, in that waiting for the other shoe to drop, both an anticipation and a sort of dread that cannot be endlessly sustained. The shoe must drop. It must.

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i like longing for things.  I love yearning even when it hurts. I like it in myself and I like this aspect of humanity. It feels like hope, that striving of the heart and mind and spirit and most of all, of the imagination that comes when you reach for something that might truly be beyond you. 

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as Browning said, a person’s reach should exceed their grasp, or what’s a Heaven for? 

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hand in hole

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but waiting for the other shoe to drop is not longing or yearning.  It is expectation complicated by a certain uncertainty.

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 i am waiting for my own (small) shoe to drop.

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i am waiting to see the first copy of The Cloud Road, with all its corrections and all of the pictures in place. I don’t know which ones were chosen of the many I did. I trust Marina, designer for the book, who has done such exquisite work on my other books with drawings. I have to trust her, because I know my own judgment is riddled with doubts and uncertainties-  the feeling that the pictures are not good enough; That I should have done them again. And again. I have to believe her and my partner who is an artist and my daughter who is fiercely irritated by my self doubts, convinced they are an affectation.

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 cat on tin roof

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i wish

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this waiting is fraught, but only in a small, intense life affirming way. (A focusing on my small life and what I do.  What I can do. As opposed to what I cannot do. Or stop.)

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fraught because although I loved drawing the book and inking the pictures, I do not know ultimately, if they have wings to fly beyond the crucible of their creation. Me.

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i am waiting to see the galleys. I am waiting to hold the book in my hands. I can almost feel the hard cover – the heavy shininess of it, the slightly yellowish page stock, that lovely real book smell that will flow out at me like a breath when I open it.  I could call the publishers, but I don’t.  I am waiting because that feels like part of it.  It IS part of it. That readiness to wait, that impatience and edgy anxiety, that love and tenderness folded in my clasped hands.

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the other shoe is the knowledge that people will read it, buy it, own it, judge it. And knowing I have no control over any of that because I am sending the book out into the world. By offering it, I have invited all that will befall it.

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i am nervous. (A small delicious nervousness counterbalancing the greater nervousness and helplessness I feel about all of all those other, larger more appalling shoes that have been dropped, might be dropping, might drop) Because the book has left me and I can do nothing more for it or to it. It must fly on its own wings now – the ones I drew for it. I hope they are not wax, I hope they will endure the sunlight and the storms. I hope when it lands in the hands and minds of a reader, it will do so lightly, with some of the grace it had for me, in the act of creation.

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a wish…

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 i hope this small shoe will fall as softly as a whisper

As a feather falling from a folded wing

on the bruised world.

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me

 

 

 

 

On The Road

(with Crow)

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Part 1.

Being on tour is being inside a kalidoscope.

 

everything is turned inside out and upsidedown.  It is all bright flashes and shifty jewels. You try to work and you are being interviewed and photographed constantly for different articles and different publications. You are meeting fans and other writers, some old friends, some people whose work you have adored. You are in planes and trains and buses and cars and people are saying this way, just along here, just through there. You forget to eat or you eat too much at weird times.

(now, as I post this, I am back in Prague. It is 4 degrees.  Yesterday in Australia, it was 33. A vivid sudden memory erupts of being in Apollo Bay that last blazing hot day, sitting in one of my favorite writing Cafes. The doors are open and a hot cross breeze tinged with a hint of the cool that is forecast flows in one door and out  the other. My hair is salt stiffened into dried medusa snakes from the dip I took an hour ago in a perfect, still, aqua sea, on the beach across from home, where I did not see another soul. Some part of me is still floating.

 

as the memory fades, I gaze out at the slate grey sky, where snow is being purposefully stockpiled, and am reminded yet again that love Prague as I do, some part of my spirit can only be at home there, by that particular wild sea …

 

how strangely close this moment in Prague seems from my departure over a month ago.  How like a wound time is, that opens when we travel away from home and then closes so neatly, upon our return, so that in a little while, it is only a faint fading scar. )

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it is 4.30 pm on a frosty Monday when I set off.  There is no snow falling but the air is icy. It is the beginning of a week of school holidays but my daughter has not come to the airport to see me off, even though we are going in a taxi, because a. she would have to get dressed to come and she is too lazy, and b. she wants to try astral traveling.

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‘you know what that is?’ she had asked incredulously. I smile, remembering. Inside the bag, Crow, who insisted on being packed, sniggers. I ignore him, overwhelmed and exhilarated by the busy-ness of my schedule. As usual it feels as if I am being made to leave my life, as if all of this is not of my doing and my choosing.

‘and why are you doing it?’ Crow demands.

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 as the taxi pulls up at the airport, I think of my daughter lying on her bed trying to astral travel, even as I did at her age.  It occurs to me with a sharp little chill that I was exactly her age when my dad was killed in a car crash.  I do not mention this to Jan. Our airport goodbyes are always brief. It is not that we don’t feel but that the emotions are sharp enough that we do not want to cut ourselves on them. On this occasion we are happily distracted by a wistful exploration of cheap possibilities of air travel to Iceland. There are only expensive possibilities.

‘Let’s see,’ I say, as I part, from Jan  out front of the customs desk watched by its bored, gimlet-eyed men and women.

‘nevermore,’ Crow announces, ever the nay sayer.

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london is a too brief stopover and I am sad because this will be the last stopover now that Quantas has divorced BA and taken up with Emirates. Yet another decision taken over which I have no power, though it affects me. Next is the longest stretch of the journey, but having managed to get an aisle seat, I discover there is also spare seat next to me.  The man by the window catches my eye and tells me he is a Gold frequent Flier, which means he gets a seat spare next to him, if there is one available. At the end of his journey in Singapore, he gives me his card and (endearing himself to me) shows me a picture of his astonishingly lovely daughter.  I sense he would like to ask my name but with an odd perversity that sometimes comes over me, I withhold it.

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travel is made up of all these fleeting connections. Once on a train in Europe, stopped for an hour because of a bomb scare, I met a woman who lived with Chagall for 8 years.  She gave me a short biography she had written about that time, which made me dislike the man heartily, though not his paintings.

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it is delicious to step out into the hot balmy night after the dry cold of the plane, the icy cold of Prague, where at that moment a text from my partner tells me, it is minus 7 and snowing hard. How lovely and simple things seem at such odd hours, if you are out and about. The world falls quiet and slack and soft and you do not see anybody rushing anywhere or doing anything.  The smell of eucalyptus in the hot air is intoxicating and I feel a sudden spasm of joy to be home.

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 perth Festival has arranged a driver who transports me and a nice Guardian journalist named Oliver through the dark, sweet, pungent night to the Festival Hotel. He tells me he has written a book in praise of pessimism –  this strikes me as funny, given the subject matter of a recent blog: On Happiness. We talk the subject around until we find, as you so often do, that we are only coming to the same opinion from different directions.  We agree that simply stating one is good with aggressive optimism is not good enough. There must be work, and ability, a soupcon of luck to attain success in any endeavor, not to mention a certain ability to reflect upon oneself and ones desires to ensure they are remotely possible. Checked in we discover our rooms are on the same floor, the doors opposite one another. This vaguely embarrasses both of us, as if the entering of ones private space is an intimacy not to be observed except by complete strangers. I do not see the journalist again until the last night of the festival but observe a tendency to snack on soup at midnight, which makes me like him.

‘you talked too much,’ Crow opines sagely.

‘shoosh,’ I say.

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the next morning I await the promised minder in the foyer, drinking strong coffee to stave off jetlag.  No one comes.  The table signposted for the Perth Writers Festival remains obtusely unmanned and finally, in consternation I get a taxi. After a moment, I ask the taxi driver what day it is.  If, I fact, it is Thursday. He says, No love, it’s Wednesday all day. I ask him to turn around. Crow laughs all the way back to the hotel and I wish I had not left all of those hysterical messages on the Perth Festival Office answering machine. At least I was not abusive, I console myself.  But this is not a good beginning and unfortunately life cannot be edited.

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i decide to go for a walk, lured by the memory of that soft warm midnight air. I have not noticed the daytime heat, scooting between the hotel and taxi, but within two blocks of walking, my bones are melting and I think I cannot live in Australia.  I cannot come back to this heat. I buy fruit, return and retire to my room to work on the graphic novel script. I work well but when I fall asleep I do not wake until almost midnight. Jetlag is not all that much different to insomnia and so I cheerfully accept the gift of these quiet hours and spend the night working on the script for Evermore in between reading The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. The Penguin Publicity rep Tina, sent it at my request, for I have a panel with its author. Tina is not here yet but has suggested a drink. I agree and ask her to bring a little sample of the ceramic jewellery she makes. I like her very much and I wonder how much this has to do with her being an artist as well as a publicity person.  She is German and blond and astoundingly efficient, but she is funny too.  She told an hilarious story about ringing her boss because the price in a hotel for a photocopy was $12 a page, which she found outrageous. Of course it was, but I loved the fact that she reacted like a human being and not a corporate cog.

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during the night, lonely, I wander downstairs and order room service in the foyer. Drinking coffee, I continue work on the Graphic novel script, the hotel staff giving me puzzled looks.  They always do this, to start with, then they get used to the sight of me wandering round in the night. I am not after conversation but there is some, inevitably, and the barriers break down. The next night, a waiter will tease me in the lift about being the hotel ghost. It makes me think of all those famous writers that lived in hotel.

don’t get any big ideas,’ Crow jeers.

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i wake after two hours sleep, exhausted and disorientated, to the alarm.  Groundhog day, I think, as I dress in the same clothes as the day before and come down to drink coffee in the foyer. I am still reading through the final edited version of The Cloud Road, accepting or rejecting the editors’ changes. I am pleased with how well the book reads. I think I should read it aloud in my room, in readiness for the audio recording. I realise I am enjoying the final editing- my editor’s occasional suggestions are good enough that I take in the ones I agree with as is, rather than rewording them.  Sometimes her comments make me laugh aloud. I think how I love the company of a good editor on this final journey through a book.

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the festival site turns out to be the university. Today I am to be the Queen of Modern Fantasy- a title that invariably embarrasses me.

‘hah, you love it!’ mocks Crow.

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it is blazingly hot and bright, but I am in an air conditioned theatre venue and the session goes well.  The green room turns out to be a cool dark cavernous room with great food and I see Alison Lester (whom I last saw in an Italian palace in Bologna a few years ago) and Ramona Koval who tells me some juicy gossip. I see China Mieville, of whom I am in awe.  He looks less tough than ascetically poetic in real life. The signing tables are set up under an awning in front of a wall of glass behind which, oddly, a line of ducks are sitting. ‘Why odd,’ demands Crow truculently. ‘Humans are much sillier than ducks.’   Ambelin Kwaymullina is pointed out to me. She wrote The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, which I am galloping through and loving. I say hello to Tom Shapcott whom I last saw gamely toiling up a steep hill towards a lighthouse in Byron Bay.

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one night my niece comes to stay in the hotel with me. It is nine years since I last set eyes on her. I am struck by her fragility. Odd when, aside from being  an ex navy soldier, she is tall and athletic, but she is almost breakably slim. I remind myself that she works as Head Rigger on an Oil Platform, bossing a bunch of men and working out mathematical ratios.   I have got us tickets to the West Australian Ballet at The Quarry and to our delight, the location turns out to be an actual quarry but it rains and the show is cancelled. Crestfallen, we taxi back to the hotel, eat our picnic and then walk into town to see a movie. Beautiful Creatures.  It seems silly and the main character is too petulant but it is fun seeing it with my niece in the slightly retro theatre. I love it that there is a warm wind blowing as we walk back to the hotel, and once again, I feel a potent sense of wellbeing.

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i am happy in this moment, I think. I do not want to be anywhere else with anyone else. ‘You have to notice when you are happy,’ I tell her earnestly. ‘You have to pay attention.’  She smiles tolerantly.

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my niece accompanies me to the university and is in the audience when I am I talk about The Rise of the Apocalypse with Peter Heller and Karen Thomson Walker.  They are both very good speakers and the panel is a true pleasure. Peter Heller knows so many experts!  He seems to preface every comment with “I wanted to know more about so and so (obscure but interesting topic), so I contacted the head scientist/expert/President of so and so.”  This would be pretentious except he makes it a joke against himself .  His book sounds wonderful and if I was not worried about my overweight luggage,  I would buy both his and Karen’s.  Nevertheless I cannot resist downloading them to my kindle as e books. Then I think this is the way everyone is thinking and wonder how many print books are being sold at the festival book shop.

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i meet editor Jonathan Strahan and local SF/F publisher Alisa Krasnostein for lunch.  Jonathan tells me he is not a writer and I wonder why I thought he was.  I tell him Under My Hat is a very elegant collection with some pretty amazing names. (None of us know yet that he is about to be short listed for the Aurealis best Anthology award, and that my story in it, The Stone Witch, will be up for Best Short story. ) He tells me he is organizing a dinner with China Mieville.  He knows I am crazy about his writing.  I say yes but think I might cancel because it will be nerve wracking to talk to someone that bright and sharp.  I am slightly startled when Jonathan and Alisa rise to go back to their day jobs.  Somehow I have managed to forget that book people mostly have other jobs.

‘just because you have not had a real job for years,’ Crow mutters.

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on the way back to the hotel in the killing heat, I drop a winter boot to be repaired with a jovial man who would make a good blacksmith in a story. His booth is in a little arcade designed as a miniature street in Tudor England.  The sun beats down on people walking along it in a very Australian and no nonsense way. I notice some lifesize bronze kangaroos watched by a row of beady eyed but languid pigeons settled on the rim of a meta lagoon. Tourists pose for photos by the bronze kangaroos. There is a little settlement of indigenous people sitting in a loose circle on the large grassy expanse beyond them, talking and I wonder what they are talking about. I wish it were possible to eavesdrop. I do not look long for I fear they will notice and be angry. Continuing, I wonder why I think that.

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i am excruciatingly late for a late night drink with Liz Gryzb (who looks killingly good in bell dance attire) and Russel Farr of Ticonderoga books (also about to be shortlisted for an anthology in the Aurealis Awards), who are unfailingly gracious even though the bar has closed as I enter and we can only sit and talk – luckily they ordered drinks, but I feel bad that I cannot even buy them one. There is always too little time, I sigh.

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go to dinner with China Mieville, Jonathan Strahan, James Bradley and others. It is Japanese and I am an immediate convert.  It is not all miso and raw fish after all. China is up the other end of the table, to my relief.  I can look at him and listen to him but will not be required specifically to engage in conversation of the sort that is likely to reveal my intellectual inadequacies.  But then we find we are both vegetarians. This occasions that sort of immediate silent connection you feel with those who share a profound belief arising from a whole network of ethical notions and knowledge. I see he feels it, too.  We confer from one end of the table to the other over the vegetarian options. Then he overhears me talking with James Bradley about the graphic novel and it turns out he is writing one, too.  Now I am sorry we are not sitting next to one another.  But I am still relieved too because he makes references to a lot of comics I do not know.  As ever I know a lot but my knowledge is totally idiosyncratic, full of quirks and snarls and odd intriguing disconnected facts, but without a logical framework.  It occurs to me that I am hoping the Phd will give me a framework for my knowledge.  Sort of like a shoe organizer.  As I suspected China has that sort of encyclopedic mind that knows a lot about everything, and a brilliance of intellect that enables him to weave it together into a whole.  I think how I love his name and how lucky he is to have such a name. I gather my courage and tell him how much I loved discovering his writing, how brilliant a feat Perdido Street Station is, how I thought The City and The City was a tour de force and how I could barely cling onto Embassyville with the fingernails of my mind, and yet did because it is so compelling.

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‘sychophant,’ Crow jeers.

‘don’t be so dark,’ I tell him cheerfully.

it is my nature,’ says Crow .  ‘And I am homesick.’

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we walk back through the hot warm windy night, and trailing a little behind the others, I feel another surge of elation and contentment which is somehow sharpened by the tinge of melancholy occasioned by thoughts of my daughter and partner back in the Greylands.

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one day my PA sends a message saying the ballet will be rerun the one night I am back in Perth after the Albany Festival.  My niece is keen and we make a raincheck date. On the last day, I give two talks and then am whisked away to catch a plane before I can sign the books I have promised to sign.  I feel guilty but it is unhelpable.  I ask Tina to arrange for me to sign books at the Dymocks I saw in town, on the day I return. It is the best I can do. Why is the best you can do never enough, I wonder?

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the short flight to Albany requires two flights.  There is a distinctly bus-like feel to the plane and the people on it are all cockies and their wives or rigs workers aside from one severely disabled young man, who is a champion weight lifter. He has a trophy and the stewardess, who knows his mother, feels the muscles in his arms when he offers them to her. The men on the plane are all red faced with strong meaty arms. The man in charge of luggage on the ground is in the seat in front of us, and tells us all sorts of interesting facts. He also tells us that the most dangerous moment in a flight is take off. We take off. There is a fly on the plane. I think how I told my partner when he first came to Australia that when anyone comes here, they are allocated one big truck to dog them anytime they are on the road in a car, and two flies to buzz around them. Where is my other fly, I wonder?

‘i ate it,’ grumps Crow.

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 i do not recognize Albany (Al– bani, I have been schooled to say, not All-bany), though I thought I had been here.  I am brought to a hotel overlooking a train line. It seems all of the visiting writers are to be accommodated in different places throughout the town. Perhaps a critical mass of creativity might be actually dangerous, I muse. Beyond the rails are a road and the sea.  The Albany Art Centre rises up hugely on the shore like Uluru in the desert. ‘We are getting used to it,” my minder told me as she carried my bag upstairs for me. She is a writer with thick wild curly hair that makes her look like a gypsy, and she wears gumboots. I protest her carrying my bag and she says she is strong.  She looks strong and I think that come the Apocalypse, she would make a good addition to a survival enclave.  Then I think, as I often do, that I would be not be taken in because I can only tell stories.  I could offer a cheerful positive disposition and a willingness to work hard, but would that be enough? ‘No,’ says Crow,

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i  have half an hour to ready myself for the evening panel. I can do it, I tell my weary self.  I do it. I am brought to a theatre to tell a 7 min unscripted story about a recently published book, along with all of the other authors. I arrive early and as a reward, though the earliness is not my doing, am given a glass of wine, which is very cold and delicious. I am alone on the stage for a time, in the empty theatre. Couches are set up surrounded by fragrant branches of eucalyptus and the stage is bathed in a ruby red light that make my magenta boots look fantastic. I sit in the light, liking the red nimbus of my hair and thinking about what story to tell. It is supposed to be a real account of an incident occurring with the book.  I have no idea what to tell, for all of the stories in Metro Winds owe much to life.  I know Jon Doust will tell a sad story. He has  promised he will cry. I have trouble NOT crying when I tell a story that moved me and marvel not only that Jon can weep at will, but that he wants to do it. I am relieved  not to have to go first. The others seem nervous, too. It is surprisingly interesting to hear the stories told, though the first, by Virginia Jealous, is the best in my opinion.   I tell about Jan telling me about the strange little circus he saw in Paris, when I had to leave him in my Paris studio for a couple of days, to go and speak in Scotland. I tell how it enchanted me so much that I demanded it as a gift, which he gave, and how I used in The Dove Game.

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all night long endless trains pass, each box car piled with wood or wood chip or stones or something else. I like the sound and sight of them, rattling through the night, and wonder about their solitary driver.  Would there be two?  The trains seem like a metaphor for me, rattling solitarily through the nights, and stop me feeling lonely.  I have not seen another human in the motel and wonder if I am the only one here. It would not be the first time on tour I have stayed in an otherwise empty hotel. Part of me loves these weird, slightly uneasy moments when I feel I might be the only person left in the world.  But it would not be just me.  It would be me and the train drivers, I think.  I would have to run and flag them down. They might not even know the world had ended.

‘i would know,’ Crow says darkly.

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i am up early for A Thoughtful Breakfast with Gus Gordon in the art centre. It is lovely inside with a fantastic view of the ocean. One of the café people  tells me that one of the enormous glass doors that separate the café from the foyer exploded the night before.  Nobody knows why. I marvel that the waitress who had her hand on the door handle when it happened, was unhurt.

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i talked with Gus on the plane and fleetingly in the Perth Festival green room but it is only now, as he tells his story on stage, that I begin to get a sense of him; his generous, rather gallant humility, his sense of humour, a certain stubbornness of the sort that my grandmother would call grit. I think how he was a stockrider and marvel that he chose to do that instead of taking up art, because everyone told him he should be a cartoonist.  We are being questioned by a lovely woman with a mass of long wavy hair and a rather mystical and circuitous approach to questions that terrifies me. When a question is asked I look at Gus who like the true gentleman I have divined him to be, takes the bullet without even a glance of reproach, floundering to get his footing. This happens over and over. Afterwards I apologize, saying I am still jet-lagged because I could not seem to find the question in the question. He laughs and says he thought it was just him. I laugh incredulously and think I like him very much.

‘you like everyone,’ Crow sneers.

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i am driven to Denmark in the afternoon. It is a long drive and the little town has a very Apollo Bay/hippy feel, though it seems to be in the middle of paddocks.  We are early and my minder takes me for a coffee in an amazingly avant gard place that serves great ethnic and vegetarian food. I love it enough to make Denmark a future destination.  The gig is in an enormous, darkwood lined theatre hall attached to the library and town hall. The mayor is a woman who also writes.  I love her. I love the kids and parents and the gig and the town.  The talk goes really well and I know I am at the top of my form. Everybody kisses me and I love the warmth and sincerity here. I am sorry to leave.  On the way back a maniac recklessly crossing the centre line almost kills us.  We are all silent for a long breathtaken while. I think how my brother and father died in car accidents and how I fear that my family has a fractal pattern of  death by car in our genes. I feel a sudden lunging of the heart towards my absent daughter.

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i am to meet with some young writers. I have a warm but slightly uncentred half hour with them, unsure whether I am meant to be socializing or lecturing.  What do they want, I wonder? They are very silent, though they smile and nod, too.  The sole, dread-locked young man in the group turns out not to be a writer but the boyfriend or brother of one of the girls. He makes eye contact only occasionally and in a darting, slightly amused, slightly self conscious way. I find myself liking him, though he also seems very young to me. Younger than the girls, though he is older. We all go through to see the poetry reading.  I am relieved not to be the centre of attention and enjoy the poetry immensely. I am startled when the single non poet on the bill reads two of my most favorite poems in all the world.  After, I have dinner with one of the poets, Virginia Jealous, who turns out to be the friend of a friend from Prague. I love her name, though she is the least likely to be jealous person I have ever met. We share a pizza at a restaurant that has a slightly mafia hang out feel. I see two men eating by our table that actually look like they are mafia men. I wish I could hear what they are talking about so intensely. They are frowning hard enough that they might be plotting a murder.

‘paranoid,’ Crow mutters disparagingly.

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 flying back to Perth my companion is the Singaporean detective novelist Shamini Flint. I love her name and her no nonsense intelligence and kindness to a very old, very spry man drawn into our conversation as the plane is delayed and delayed. When we finally fly, she tells me she has a daughter.  When we land, I give her Little Fur for the daughter, whom she has described as precocious, hoping she will like it. I think how this trip seems to have a theme of daughters. I would like to read one of her books, and marvel that she has decided to stop writing her detective novels, to try something else. I tell her I cannot imagine stopping.  It would be like deciding not to breathe. She says it is not like that for her.

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the Director of the Fremantle Literature Centre drives in to have a drink with me.  She looks hot and tired and I persuade her to try a mohijto.  I worry how much physical work she does.  It seems to me that a Director should not carry heavy boxes of books.  She never speaks of staff but of her team. We talk about how wonderful the inaugural Conference for the Centre was and she asks if I will come and do some more more Youth Literature days.  I want to talk less, but find myself nodding.

  ‘you have to learn to say no sometimes,’ Crow scolds.

‘not to her,’ I tell him.

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i take my niece to the Quarry Theatre early enough for us to watch the warm up.  It is a warm, hot soft night, and I am enchanted to be sitting on a tier of the grassy open air amphitheatre, watching the cast practice and talk and interact with wind riffling their hairs and their clothes. Trees all around the rim of the quarry rustle and whisper and hiss as the breeze passes through them.  The smell of eucalyptus makes me want to cry. The ballet is sublime. ‘Supremely sublime,’ Crow murmurs. Even he is impressed. Three pieces, perfectly chosen, brilliant dancers, and all the while, the moon climbs up the clear dark sky behind the set, to rest fleetingly among the floodlights bathing the stage. All around me people are picnicking and I vaguely regret there was no time to arrange a picnic.  But at the same time, I am too full of delight to fit anything else in.

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‘i have never been to a ballet,’ Claudia whispers.

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the next morning, I pick up my repaired boot from the imitation Tudor street blacksmith and hurry back to the hotel in time to check out and be taxied and then flown to Adelaide where I am met at the airport by a kind and warmly efficient woman who takes my heavy bags, my winter coat and another writer to the hotel so that I can taxi straight to Flinders University. A year ago, I made an arrangement to visit a sleep clinic here as research for a book. I am still somewhat startled by the fact that my writer friend Sean Williams has just emerged from a week of being experimented on in another sleep lab in Adelaide.  I am vaguely suspicious that someone blabbed sending my idea out into the ether, but I tell myself I will discover all tonight, for Sean has asked me to dinner at his house. The researcher I have been communicating with turns out to be younger than I expect and handsome in a rumpled academic way. He is very warm but slightly bemused by my visit and unsure what I want.  ‘I am not sure what I want,’ I tell him. Mostly atmosphere, I add and he frowns.  Does he disapprove?  Does this seem too insubstantial for a scientist to regard as a serious endeavor? He tells me he is reading one of my books, which startles me. He takes me to the clinic observation room where I meet some of his team. Someone asks if the institution in the book I want to write will be evil or good. One of the team turns out to be a fan and says with a grin that, had they read my books, they would know. I am pleased that she is wrong. I am not so predictable, I think.

‘don’t kid youself, kid,’ says Crow.

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i am permitted to watch several sessions of a clinic the university runs, where they try to help children and young people with sleep problems.  My fan is the person dealing with the children and parents, and watching her on a monitor, I am stuck by her kindness and naturalness. She knows we are all watching, but there is no hint of this in her manner. I make a mental note to ask her for her thesis. I am impressed by the thought that the process of research can involve actually helping people. Despite the heat, it is raining hard when I emerge. Miraculously I have an umbrella. The taxi that was ordered by the festival to collect me takes a long time to arrive and then longer to get me to the hotel. Everything on the way looks unfamiliar, though I have been to Adelaide before.  Maybe I always came in at night before, I think.  The driver tells me that as well as the Adelaide Festival, there is the Clipsal 500 Car Race being run, so a lot of streets are closed off.

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when I get to my hotel, which turns out to be a set of apartments up the ugly end of town, the small reception area is full of what I feel must be Clipsal fans. As I am checked in, a group of young women with black mini dresses, black boots and manes of blond hair emerge from the lifts to converge with bird like cries of delight and excitement. Two old women with those grey mannish hair cuts older women often get, stare at the young women with unsmiling but unjudgmental interest. A very tall very skinny vaguely familiar man with longish stringy graying hair walks through the foyer.

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my apartment is spacious and surprisingly nice. I unpack and dress hurriedly for dinner, getting down to the foyer just as Sean arrives to collect me. I think again what a nice guy he is even if he has stolen my idea by osmosis.  He laughs when I accuse him, telling me his ‘sleep experiment’ arose when he told someone at some obscure function that he would be interested in being involved in sleep research, whereupon an experiment was created to enable that. I tell him I bitterly regret not being experimented on as well, but at least I can interrogate him.  And I do. His and his partner’s house and garden and library and life are perfect and  I wonder how anyone ever assembles around them such perfection.  I felt the same when I was invited to dinner at the incredible Sydney apartment of Justine Larbalustier and Scot Westefeld, who are also in town for the Festival. How can anyone get it so right, I wonder. It must be a genetic thing.

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once wined and dined Sean shoos me and the others outside to admire the truly spectacular sunset.  The air is warm and full of the scent of flowers and I feel again that intense joy of being perfectly happy in the moment. Sean gifts me a comic that I will treasure- a double up from his amazing collection. I am sorry to leave but they are tired, even if I am not.

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Pt 2

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I cannot sleep and when I step out onto my little balcony facing a brick wall, the Adelaide night is hot and dark and noisy with shouting and howling.

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it is the second last night of the Clipsal 500 and I think the end of the world might sound like this – a vague aimless cacophony.  Then I think how cities always sound that way at night. I hear angry voices and look down into the narrow lane that runs between the apartment building and the blank side-wall of the next building.  Two men by a skip at the end of the lane shout savagely at another man further down the lane.  For some reason, the men look up and see me watching. They shake their fists. I continue to look down, knowing they cannot reach me or identify me, hoping to forestall whatever violence is crackling in the air. After they have all gone a full beer can flies down past my head and I withdraw, wondering if it is the Clipsal people.

‘snob,’ snaps Crow, in a huff because  he was not invited to dinner.

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at five, feeling sleepy at last, I try to get a wake up call and discover the phones do not work. Nor is there any internet reception. The next morning I am told there is only wireless in the foyer, which is a small square of marble with two bench couches set up parallel to one another and the front desk.

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breakfast with an old friend whom I managed to track down after a couple of years of trying, a week ago.  She used to have Kidz Books, and has been in recent times, a local politician. She tells me she is retired. Retirement seems busier than being employed for her. After breakfast, I taxi to Flinders university to be shown the sleep unit where people are experimented on.  The rooms look like bedrooms made from windowless classrooms, only with a lot of wiring that runs to the control room where the sleepers are watched. I am told about some experiments and in between a look around see photos of Iceland displayed showing in a computerized frame and wonder if this is a sign that we will manage to get to Iceland after all. It turns out my contact has an Icelandic wife. When I see her face, I think she will be one of my researchers.

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i meet with more of the team. The head of the unit, the expansive and urbanely silver haired mentor of my contact, is American. He looks like a distinguished doctor in a sit com. He tells how he got into Sleep Research, how he ended up in Adelaide. He tells how he once figured out something because of noticing how brightly his daughters’ bike light shone in the shed. I imagine him in the garage on his kneels, hands cupped around the LED light, and think how I love this idiosyncratic ad hoc side of science.  I will use his stories, I think, and him. I notice the young team are as fascinated by his tales as I am and one mutters that she ought to have brought a notebook as well, and think how some people are natural story tellers; how it gives them a charisma that is hard to resist. I ask the team to write their names and email addresses so I can gradually read my way through their research. I am looking for characters, and habits and personality quirks.  I am looking for mannerisms and interactions, as well as research. A few ideas begin to form but I do not let them form too clearly.  I know it will be some time before I can allow myself to write this story so until then I must allow it to stay loose and fluid so it will draw in other material.

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i am driven to Salisbury, at the centre of which is a tiny graveyard.  This seems strikingly strange and wonderful. I speak for almost two hours to a large group of young writers shipped in from all over the area.  Within minutes of commencing, I know I don’t have to perform to get their attention and establish my credentials.  All of my energy can go to telling them things and to engaging their questions.  How I love gigs when I am with like-minded kindred spirits.  Their ages vary, but age is irrelevant with this group.  They are intense, interested, hungry. They are writers who write and I love their questions and their company.  If only all talks were like this, I tell myself.  It helps that I am being interviewed by a woman who asks perfect questions and then lets me run on and interact with the audience. She is the same women that so kindly took my bags from the airport when I arrived.  I love her light handedness and her sensitivity. Afterwards, I am not surprised to learn that she has done a creative Phd.  She tells me I ought to put my ideas down in a book. I say I can’t, it would take too much time from writing, I don’t know how to organize my ideas. She tells me someone will do it for me. She would. Then do it, I say. She seems as startled and delighted as one might be to have a handsome stranger propose, not entirely sure I am serious. I am.  Projects like this always happen suddenly and serendipitously. It is as if you are waiting for the right person, the right moment, the right words. We agree to communicate when I am back in Prague. She gives me a huge box of chocolates. I eat a kilogram of them when I get back to the room.

‘humans can be such pigs,‘  says Crow.

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i am at the festival proper, having been walked here by a saavy Allen and Unwin woman who turns out to be based in Wellington NZ. I am pleased to meet her because later in the year I will tour NZ. She gives me her card and we agree to meet. My first event is in a small, badly sited little tent set up for kids sessions.  Badly sited because it is away from the trees which means the audience can only fit where the shade falls. I am told later that it is the first time there has been a kids tent and that it is not funded. Is this why the writer events in the kids tent are not listed in the catalogue? I am early and watch an indigenous story teller talk. A beautiful young woman is signing his talk and I am spellbound by her graceful swooping hands. I think I should learn how to sign . When I talk, I bring Crow out and let him be rude. He is a hit.

‘i told you so,’ Crow says insufferably.

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 later in the Green Room, which here is an air conditioned portable, I talk to Nick Bland, whom I last saw in Bologna in the Piazza Maggiore. Scot and Justine arrive and I lust after her cowboy boots with rose stencils. Planes in formation pass overhead with a deafening crack of sound. Our chair has not turned up and I nominate Justine. Scot comes to hear her- his interview with Sean Williams is not until later. I think what a perfect match he and Justine are as we troop over to our venue tent. It is not really a tent but an enormous and efficient pair of sun flies strung overhead in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. I am surprised how cool it is under them, how many people fit, how efficient the mikes are.  Last time I was here, years and years ago, the noise from one tent impacted on another and there seemed to have been less trees, less room, more heat. Justine introduces me, adding that people like her are read because my books opened the way.  I do not know if this can be true, but I am incredibly touched. The panel turns out to be in turns intense,  engaging and funny and we agree it was one to remember. We all know that panels ultimately live or die on the alchemy of the participants. We have all been on panels where the mix was off.

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there is a ballet with Sophie Guillem.  She is as old as I am and incredibly agile.  She does a clever typical piece by Matt Eks that I love, and a less interesting piece by my favourite choreographer, Jiri Kylian. There is a very cerebral central piece which makes the programme too heavy and sonorous overall. I can’t help contrasting it with the sublime West Australian ballet.

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i breakfast with fans at the pancake parlour.  I mean not to stay long, but I am with them for hours despite the heat and an incredibly loud large table of people I decide must be Clipsal people. We are all relieved when they leave and we can talk. The waitresses look grim and harried, but when we compliment one as she clears the table, she suddenly smiles and I think how I miss these heartwhole smiles from strangers when I am in Prague. I part having promised to take part in NanNoRimo (?) with them when it happens next.

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i manage a coffee with Tina, who has arrived, and choose some pieces from her little stash of ceramic jewelry, determined to find something special in Prague to thank her.

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my ex mentee Emily and her boyfriend Josh take me to dinner at a Tibetan Restaurant where we are served by a very sanguine little girl- an actual child.  Occasionally her younger brother comes to stare at us. ‘Slave labor,’ Crow mutters. ‘Shoosh,’ I say, ‘ they are the children of the proprietress.’ As we wait for the meal, we are brought shining bronze bowls and little wooden clubs and I am shown how to play them. The sound is strange and seems to get inside my bones and blood as it sings out into the air.

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i have dinner at Concubines with Justine and Scot and Ruth Starke, who has co ordinated the occasion, and with Sean Williams and Peter Morgan Downs and DM Cornish who were invited by Ruth who had asked who else I might like to dine with.  Sean recommended the place and is a dashing and generous host with great stories that make me sorry I don’t live in Adelaide where I could enjoy more of his company. The strange thought crosses my mind that I will be spending a lot of time here in the next few years. I am amazed when Sean and Scot and Justine actually sprinkle on extra dried chili from a glass jar he has brought with him. Later one of the guys writes to thank me for including him saying it was surreal to be in such company. Some of us walk the long distance back to the street where most of our hotels are, after parting with Sean who has a home to go to, and again I feel a swelling of delight that I am lucky enough to live this life, know these people, walk along this street at this moment in this warm wind.

‘you are drunk,’ says Crow.

‘i am not,’ I say loftily.  ‘Or maybe I am intoxicated by life.’

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in the apartment foyer, several beefy young men in shorts and t shirts wrestle like trolls on the couches while two others stand by grinning, holding slabs of beer. On the wall is a sign forbidding slabs of beer to be taken to the rooms.  ‘Look at those idiots,’ Crow says. I do not smile. I am fiercely repelled by these men and the world I imagine they inhabit. I think how fast a happy drunk can become a violent or vicious or savage drunk.  It is all there in their sweaty striving.  I abandon the idea of coming down to work on the internet in the foyer. Regretting the lack of a place to wander, the possibility of two am coffee, I remind myself to say in future that I do not want to stay in apartment buildings, though I have been glad enough of the washing-machine and dryer this trip. The smell of fish and chips is in the hall and it is only when I am in my room that I feel safe, which is a strange thought.

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a surreal moment.  It is my last day in Adelaide and I have just been filmed by ex games tech Roland, who is keen to get funding for a joint project. We are sitting in the unappealing foyer waiting for my taxi, talking about possibilities, when I notice Nick Cave sitting on the other bench chair with the tall skinny guy with graying hair that I noticed on the first day in Adelaide. Nick’s hair is very black and his skin is remarkably white.  He did not look so black and white when I saw him at the Ubud Book Festival. We talked quite a few times in Ubud and it was his teasing insistence that I could write a script that made me agree to do so with Greylands. I am both delighted and very surprised to see him here in Adelaide in this strange apartment building, given we both live on the other side of the world. He has caught my eye too, and we both smile in spontaneous recognition, but then a look of baffled horror fleets across his face and I realise that although he has recognised me, he does not know from where or when. Instead of sensibly throwing him a spar, I merely ask, beaming like a fool, what he is doing here. I meant,  here in this weird set of apartments. God knows what he thinks I mean! He mumbles something non committal and rises nodding to me, his smile slightly fixed, flees into the lifts and away. I feel like smacking my hand against my forehead at having not simply said something to ground the meeting. I would have loved to thank him for teasing me into trying to write the script and to ask him if he really meant it when he said he would do the sound track if the script was good. ‘Was that Nick Cave,’ asks the somewhat bemused Roland. ‘He looks like a vampire.’

‘there is a man who knows the value of blackness,’ Crow says mysteriously.

a taxi pulls up and I go out to ask if it is for me. ‘I am for Kiss,’ the driver says.  When my taxi pulls away, I sit bemused, wondering what the mathematical probability is of my being put up in the same hotel as The Kiss and Nick Cave by chance.

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in Melbourne, I am picked up in my car by my PA, Heather. We drive companionably back to Apollo Bay via Bolinda to sign contracts, confirm the recording schedule and do some audio book shopping.  We stop to collect my mother who has decided to come and stay the night, even though I have to leave to come back at some ungodly hour in the morning for the first recording.  It would have been far more sensible to stay in Melbourne but I am longing to be home. We stop in Lorne to eat noodles. It is hot but the breeze is cool and sea scented and the food is lovely.

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i rise in the dark after three hours sleep, get my mum a cup of tea in bed, then set off for Melbourne for my first recording stint. Her boyfriend will arrive later in the day to stay a night and then they are off on a cruise. I have shed my big os bags and I am dressed for summer. I wind the windows down and take in great sweet breaths of morning sea air. Feeling light, I stop at my favorite coffee place in Anglesea, but it is 25 minutes before opening time. Determined to have the coffee I have been daydreaming about, I wander across to look at the river flowing to the sea, its surface skimmed by thick drifts of mist. I think as I always do here, that I would like to walk along the side of the river one day when I have time. It is very cool but the heat of the day to come is already in the air.  I drink my coffee, gazing at the river for a little.  Later, caught in hideous traffic on the Geelong Melbourne Road, I know I ought not to have stopped so long in Anglesea. I listen to The Red Wind to remind myself of the voices of Zluty and Bily and wonder how anyone can bear to do this drive day after day. In the end, I am only five minutes late, and I am elated to find the recording guy is the same tech that was with me through all of the Little Fur books. I like both technicians that have handled my recordings over the years very much, and I think that if I had a real job, this is the company I would work for. Everyone here seems happy and I love audio books passionately. We had planned to begin with The Cloud Road but we decide to start with Greylands.  We record for three hours.  When I come out, oven hot air flows out of the car and the steering wheel burns my hands.

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i meet editor Helen Chamberlin and artist/illustrator Anne Spudvilas at Madame Sousou for a drink. Anne has driven up from her property in Mildura and will tomorrow fly to China, so this is our only chance to catch up.  The last time I saw her was at Ubud Writers Festival and we reminisce and drink Gin and Tonic. I think that spending time with friends in this way has to be one of the nicest things to do. As always, meetings in town are ruled by parking meters and it ends too soon. Later, I drive through the night to the house of one of my best friends for a delicious dinner and several hours of gossip interspersed with watching The Walking Dead and theorizing about what we would do, if the world really was peopled by zombies. When I leave for home in the wee hours, I make her watch from the doorway until I get into my car, in case of zombies.

‘idiot,‘ says Crow.

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i stay a night with my brother Dan in his apartment above his new venture, The Bear Café. Before it was a clothing store called Neo Tokyo Animal Lovers. Now it is a vegan restaurant, though there are still clothes for sale. His ventures wrap themselves around one another like the layers of an onion. He is on a quest to find an ethical way to sustain a business that funnels money into animal care organizations. I love his ideals. I breakfast there with my daughter’s ex baby sitter, a beautiful brilliant young essayists whose name I now see everywhere, and who just won yet another essay award. I rush from her to meet a journalist in the foyer of a hotel so she can interview me. ‘I only have an hour, then I have to rush of to a recording session,’ I tell her. She does a stellar job of turning me inside out before I go off to Bolinda and I am looking forward to seeing what she makes of me on the page.

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on the spur of the moment, that night, my brother’s partner and girlfriend Helen buys a mass of food from the place down the road and all of the staff and my other brother Matthew and his wife Kat and the musician partner of my sister Samantha, who are all visiting,  eat at the outdoor tables at The Bear Cafe.  The warm night is intoxicating and I, who do not often like outdoor tables, find myself loving this impromptu alfresco meal.  Helen gives me a present- a little aluminium bird with the words Mama bird stamped on it, made by the woman who makes leaping rabbits for PETA. It is perfect.

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i meet with Dan Reed who is doing the artwork for Evermore. This is the first time I have been to his house/studio and I am over an hour late because of the traffic. It is incredibly hot but I am listening to Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus and would not mind the delay save that I miss Helen Chamberlin, who is editing it and has had to leave. Dan and I talk and look at his work and then I drive three hours to the property of a friend on the Bellaraine Peninsula, to spend the night. She is a long time writer on the verge of having her first book published with Allen and Unwin and she knows me well enough to have cooked me breakfast for dinner. I discover she and her partner are going to Apollo Bay the next day because he has a photography job and I invite them to stay at my place, though I will not arrive till very late. I drift to sleep in her palatial spare room, marveling again at people who manage to orchestrate such perfect surroundings.

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the next morning I creep out at 6 and drive back to Melbourne for another recording session.  At one point, I am finding it hard to read because I am trying not to cry.  I marvel that the book still has the power to rouse that old profound grief that is at its core. I finally give up the struggle, get a tissue and ask my tech to wait while I pull myself together.  Then I see he has tears in his eyes, too.  ‘Of course,’ he says, when I laugh at us both. I realise that one of the reasons I like him so much, and Bolinda, is the palpable loves of books- of story- that seems to animate everyone here. Later, as I leave the lovely Asian girl who helped me locate an audio book gives me the sweetest smile. I wonder about her life as I drive back to Geelong for dinner at Taco Bills. I am meeting my long time student playwright friend Stephen Taylor, with whom I co-wrote This Way Out. We reminisce about all the times we did this when we were students together and about the numerous trips we made to Melbourne to see movies and eat pizza at Pizza Napoli. Time collapses and, reluctant to end the night,  we walk down to the foreshore to get take away coffee and drink it sitting on a bench facing the dark sea. There are a few spots of rain and then a brief, strange shower that fills the air with steam. I listen to a cd he has made for me as I drive home to Apollo Bay. I had thought I might be too tired and might have to stay the night in town, but I only need one nap outside Lorne and I arrive at midnight.

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i wake early and we walk along the beach and swim at the inlet.  The day is already very hot but the water is astoundingly cold. Rosemary and I brave it while her partner takes pictures. He has hurt his back and is being careful. After the initial shock the water is lovely, but within half an hour our teeth are chattering.  They buy me breakfast in town and then they go off to arrange a flight to take the photos. I begin to transcribe my blog notes and in the evening, when they come back, talk them into staying another night. My brother Matthew and his wife Kat arrive and they go get pizza.  Half way through my favourite neighbor comes by and we talk him into getting his wife and joining us. We sit until very late on the porch eating pizza and talking. I think how the stars are brighter here than anywhere in the world and how loud the waves are on the shore; how much I love their soft thunder.

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one day, I am alone.

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‘at last,‘ says Crow.

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 i get up very early and walk on the beach. To my surprise, though the day is much cooler, the water is warm. I swim and work on the article for Sophie and later have a massage and buy chips and eat them sitting on the sea shore. I read a book in between looking at the waves and think how much I love this place, this shore. Part of me does not want to read, because then I am inside the book rather than in the world. On the spur of the moment, I drive an hour up Wild Dog to see a friend who has been operated on. Rob lives on an incredible property deep in the Otway National Forest in a mud brick mansion he built himself. As I pull up, the air is full of the smell of the bush and there is someone talking in the shed.  It turns out to be ABC radio. This place is so remote and I think that if the world ended and this place was in one of the bits that remained, I would come here. We drink the last bit of the bottle of wine I opened the night before and solve the world as we eat some lush dessert leftover from a party he had two nights before. When I leave, about twenty minutes along the dirt road, I find a tree has fallen across the way. I wonder if I will have to go back and get Rob to bring his chainsaw- but then I see the tree is splintered along the middle and wonder if I can move it.  Ignoring the vague thought of zombies, I try but the tree is too big and will not budge. I notice the splintered second half is thinner and think I might manage it. Straightening after I have made room enough to pass,  I have the feeling of being watched and turn to see a small black wallaby on the road.  We gaze at one another for a long time before it bounds away, and I realise I have been holding my breath.

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i make a run to Colac to try to get a nib as Penguin wants one last drawing for The Cloud Road. It is too late for me to buy it but I have asked my artist friend Peter to get it for me- he lives in Cressy, and we sit and talk for a while in a Colac Café. Only when I get home do I realise I have only two bits of the right paper and a tiny dribble of ink. I manage one drawing then blob Bily’s eye.

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i drive back to Melbourne to do another recording session at Bolinda. We are now working on The Cloud Road and we have to stop so I can check on the voice of the Monster, which I have the feeling is not right. I am right. He has a Russian-ish accent in the first book. We redo two pages. Rebecca who started Bolinda with her father following a successful career as a model, takes me to meet her dad and see some ‘selfies’ her daughters have made on his iphone. I think how lucky she is to have her father, and to share such a relationship.  I think how proud he must be of her.

‘another daughter,’ Crow muses.

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the night of the Midnight Breakfast arrives. This is to be a meeting of friends and fans and the core of a possible future literary salon. I am slightly nervous in case no one comes. ‘I hope you have not cooked too much,’ I tell Helen. ‘It will be fine,’ she tells me.  She is always so calm and kind.  I think she looks thin and wonder if she is working too hard in the heat. The Bear Restaurant is not air-conditioned, but this night at least is cool.  Later her mum and dad arrive with a pile of exquisite vegan muffins that she is donating for the occasion. The Midnight Breakfast is a lot of fun with just enough people for it to be merry. Catherine Bateson reads some of her wonderful poetry and we talk about what the next salon, due to take place in July, might involve. A family arrive, having been invited by my brother. The tiny daughter is a fan and I give them the copy of The Red Wind that I have been listening to in the car, as I no longer need it. I am meant to stay at my brother Ken’s house so I can leave the car, but idiotically I forget the number. It is midnight and I can’t think who to call. After going up and down the street long enough to make neighbors look out their blinds suspiciously, I give up trying to recognize it and drive back into town to stay at Dan’s again.

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 the next day I go back and have brunch with Ken and his wife Tina, who is my web ninja. Turns out I was up the wrong end of the street, which runs over an intersection. Later they drive me to the airport for my flight to Tasmania. I am startled to find Morris Gleitzman is flying out after being in town with his daughter.  The last time I saw them together was in Prague. Then it turns out the cruise my mother and her boyfriend are on stops in Hobart and we arrange to meet. I have the feeling that things are speeding up. I do two schools jobs, catching up with Paul Collins who is also giving talks and later see the Festival Director Chris Gallagher, whom I last had drinks with in Byron Bay at The Balcony. I reconnect with the lovely vivacious Katherine Lomer, whom I met at the  Ubud Writers’ Festival.  I tell her about bumping into Nick Cave and she laughs and says he would certainly have remembered who I was later.  I do not believe this but laughing with her at my idiocy, I feel better about the encounter. I do a talk for the ABC radio and catch up with some local book people over brunch one morning.  One of them, an illustrator,  takes me to a special art supplies shop so I can get  ink and paper to do the final drawing Penguin wants for The Cloud Road. I rough the drawing out and do one and then another and another during a wakeful night. I visit the Salamanca Markets and have soup at The Laundromat Café in between Twitch sessions. I do a reading and then a panel with Katherine and with Lian Tanner on Strong Characters in Real and Fantastical Landscapes.  They are both brilliant speakers and we could have gone on for hours. The audience thinks so too, which is gratifying.  I fly back to Melbourne on a delayed flight, to be collected by my brother and his wife and whisked off to a dinner with my nephews and their wives and girlfriends and another good friend who insists on shouting me. They have all been waiting for hours. It is fun though eerily the pub is entirely empty but for us.

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I am meant to fly to Prague the next day but I have made the decision to put the flight off a day. What I want more than anything in the world is one last full day at home.  I am so tired now that I have to stop over and over during the three hour drive. I should have stayed somewhere but I want very badly to wake in my bed for that last precious stolen day.

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i wake  at 8 am.  I am elated not to have wasted any of the day sleeping.  I walk on the beach.  It is cool this early in the day, but the water at the inlet is deliciously warm.  I run back home and get my bathers and then swim for an hour.  I pack, weigh my bags then drive to town and bring coffee to my PA whose day it is to work in a shop. We sit in the sun and talk. I sit in my favorite café and work for a while. I am pretending I have weeks of this ahead of me. At night I swim again, then drink a glass of my favorite wine as I do a final drawing for Penguin. This is the one, I think. I ought to have got some food but I don’t want to drive to town. I find some crumbling diet biscuits and some old vegemite and eat that.

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it is the last day. I get up early and walk and swim for an hour before I set off. It is blazing hot again. I get coffee in Lorne, and collect the bronze statuette my mother has had at her place in Lara, which I received two years ago for the Nance Donkin Award. It is time for it to be returned. I get lost in the messy city fringe trying to find Penguin’s new Docklands office to drop the drawings, wasting an hour. I am late to meet my friend Virginia and her husband at my brothers’ Café. They are to take the statuette and return it. I wanted to take the car to Ken’s house, but Dan says it is too late for that.  Virginia and John offer to drive me to the airport through peak hour traffic and Dan will ask Ken to come and get the car, so he can drop in Geelong next week, for Heather to collect. I think how lucky I am to have family and friends who pick up the pieces for me. I feel as if I have only just arrived.  I experience a sharp and painful tug of longing to go back to Apollo Bay. But this is an old ache and  the pull towards my daughter and partner are stronger.

‘home is where the heart is,’ Crow whispers.

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it is 33 degrees in Melbourne as I enter the airport building, but in Prague, my partner texts that it is minus 6 there and snowing hard.

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‘Onward,’ Crow crows.

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The importance of being present

it is important to be alert.

 

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photo by Jan

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being alert requires us to be present in the present.

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by this, I mean we must be aware of what is happening in the present moment; Conscious of the people and things around us now, rather than always thinking about what will happen or what did happen.

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this thought is in my mind as I ride the tram into town to go to the hairdresser. It is very cold and it snowed on and off all night and day. The city is white and hushed and the river has a greenish, metallic  look.

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photo by Adelaide

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i wonder what is it about humans that our minds are so constantly yearning backwards to things that have happened in the past or forward to things that might happen in the future? Of course no matter what we think will happen, no matter how certain of it we are, something random always occurs to change our destination or to take us there by an unexpected route. The future is always out of sight which makes anything but a playful preoccupation with it almost absurd. The greatest absurdity, though, is when people spend time regretting their inattention in a moment that is now past, only to neglect attending to yet another present moment.

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i notice the way my legs tense when I step down into the icy-slick cobbles at my stop.  I feel calm as I walk but my legs remain tense.  As if the body has its own set of responses divorced from mind and will. Its own anxieties.

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photo by Adelaide

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i have always inclined to be attentive to the present.  When I am not blind and deaf to past, future and present in this world because I have retreated inside my head to attend to one of the multitude of worlds that whirl there in giddy solar systems, that is.

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it may be that the amount of time I spend in my imagination actually enables or even requires me to be fully alert to the present in the real world. Or maybe it is just the bit of me that is a writer, honed by years of conscious observation and the certain knowledge that  it is only the present moment that we can harvest for raw material, since things remembered are invariably stretched out of shape or holed or worn bland by handling, and the future is a mystery.

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but is that enough of an answer for my attentiveness to the moment?

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inside the salon it is very warm and the receptionist takes my coat and scarf, her smile stroking and soothing me. I notice her nail polish is the same colour as the fresh flowers in the vase and wonder if the painted them to match. I sit in the chair she waves me to, glancing round to see who else is here, thinking how eyes never meet directly in a hairdressing salon- glances angle unexpectedly from mirrors into other mirrors, endlessly rebounding.

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i look at my face in the mirror, wondering why you always look tired in a hairdressers’ mirror, wondering if the red is a good idea. It will make me look like my mother.

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photo by Adelaide

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i think of a fellow writer once telling me that he thought me stupid when he first met me because I seemed so happy, and surely only a fool who is blind could be happy in this (dreadful) world.  I am not a fool, though I am as capable as anyone of being foolish.  But it is true that I seem to be noticeably happy a lot of the time. So much so that both my daughter and partner utter an occasional muttered (grunted/growled/snarled) request for a mute button on my cheerfulness, which they seem to experience as a painfully bright light beaming into their eyes. Does that light interrogate them, I wonder? Does it accuse them? Perhaps it does, because my cheerfulness  seems to cause a reactive cheerfulness in other people, or anything from irritation to real dislike.  The latter was as puzzling to me as the hostility of the bullies towards me at primary school. Who knows, perhaps their hostility had the same cause, though I do not recall being overly cheerful at primary school But by the time I reached the middle of high school I had discovered a clownish ability to make people laugh, even teachers, and that those who laughed were disposed to like me. Is there a link between my cheerfulness and my ability to make people laugh with my stories and comments?  Upon reflection, I think not- after all many men and women in comedy are famously depressive.

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photo by adelaide

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i see a male hairdresser I have not seen for a while and realise I have imagined he left and that this had not surprised me. Perhaps it is because he is stocky and pragmatic looking as a butcher, though my own hairdresser once told me he is better than anyone else at applying extensions. He has a new haircut which makes him look like the victim of an experiment. The woman he is working on looks sad in that way that makes you think she has been sad for a long time. Maybe she is depressed. Maybe she hopes a new hairdo will help. Surely it will. How could anyone not feel better coming away from a hairdresser.

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Coming here makes me happy.  In truth, I feel happy a lot of the time. And perhaps strangely, though it does not seem so to me, I am often inexplicably happy , or happy for reasons that other people find inadequate or strange or idiotic or (in the case of my daughter) exasperating, if I am unwise enough to speak of them.

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photo by Adelaide

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i don’t know what to make of this except that, far from bemoaning my freakishness, I feel fortunate. Also slightly uneasy because according to the Romans, the gods did not like anyone being too happy- presumably because it made them too godlike. I do NOT feel godlike. Indeed, what I feel about my propensity to be happy and positive is lucky.  I do not think of my happiness as an affliction or an aberration or even a perversity, let alone that it is the product of dim-wittedness. Nor do I think it is dependent on my circumstances, though I have no doubt if lived in some awful situation that instinct to happiness would be constrained. But I believe it would still exist in me because I think it is hardwired.

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in short, I think I have a disposition to happiness.

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that sounds smug, but I am not alone in thinking happiness and unhappiness are not merely responses to external positive stimulus, but actual genetic propensities.

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photo by Adelaide

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my hairdresser arrives. She so very slender and fragile looking that i always feel protective of her. Her neck and limbs seem too fine and yet hairdressing is physically hard work. She is never nasty or unkind, nor even snide.  I am always touched by her grace.  I wonder, looking at her sweet face bent over my head, if she is ever nasty or cold or angry. I can’t imagine it, and yet I know there has been tragedy in her young life. Yet her smile is open and heart-whole when she directs it at me in the mirror. It is like having sunlight fall on me.

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photo by Adelaide

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someone once told me, or maybe I read, that Eskimo people consider unhappiness to be an actual sickness. A woman or man who are chronically miserable and negative and unhappy are considered to be bad marriage prospects because they are unhealthy.  To them, it is healthy to be generally happy and unhealthy to be generally unhappy.  Do I believe that?  I don’t know. Seems harsh to judge a person who is often unhappy as sick, and yet there is something in it.

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a woman in another seat closes her eyes for long slow seconds each blink- is she tired?  Someone enters in an icy gust of air but there is nothing to be done- people have to come in and out.  I brought in the cold air too when I came, and I will let some more in when I leave.

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photo by Jan

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while I feel I am genetically disposed to happiness, I can’t help but thinking that part of my ability to be happy rests upon the fact that I can be content with many circumstances.  I do not require much more than being allowed to work, a decent coffee in the afternoon, not too many appointments and people to see in the day. I am undemanding of life and people.  I don’t think the world owes me a living. I don’t think I am special or a special case of anything, so I am not bitter when my living turns out to be a bit precarious. I chose this life- to be a writer- and this insecurity is part of it. Seems like a fair exchange, now that I mention it.  Certainly better than a lifetime of doing what I hate. Also I relish tough circumstances sometimes- I like the test they offer me. I like managing with little, though not all the time. I am prepared to work hard – in fact I would go so far as to say I like working hard.  (Though I am sure I would like it less if I worked in MacDonalds) Perhaps most importantly,  I don’t expect people to make me happy, and if they are the cause of my unhappiness or discomfort, I always prefer to imagine they have injured me by accident or by chance. Another person might rage when a car drives in front of them, cutting them off  but the minute I have got over being startled,  I remember the times I have sped and cut someone else off because I was in a desperate rush for something. And I extend to the unknown driver that same excuse.

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photo by Jan

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why do you always excuse everyone for everything?’ my daughter snaps.

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‘Better than imagining they are just rude and inconsiderate or that they have deliberately been aggressive and provocative. Because if you imagine those things, you can’t help but being furious about it.  And being angry is like being poisoned.  It makes you sick.  I don’t like feeling angry,’ I say.

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i drive my mother and sisters and probably my brothers mad, with this sort of rationale. I suspect this is because it feels to them as if  I am taking the high moral ground.  I am not taking it. I don’t have any desire to preach the sermon from the mount, but perhaps one cannot help being on high ground if one chooses to step above the choking fogs of bile and anger that rest lower down the mount. I mean, why would anyone want to be angry?  And what possible benefit can be got from ascribing low motives to another person if the ONLY result is that your anger is fortified and stoked? The other person does not know they have angered you.  (Unless you speed after them, cutting off other hapless drivers on the way to stopping them, get them out of their vehicle and punch them.  In which case you would be up for assault and you would have sparked off responsive anger in the drivers you cut off and possibly in the person you punched – so much for the virtues of anger!) Isn’t it better to assume something that leaves you feeling tolerant, calm, amused and maybe even a little smug? And if they did cut you off deliberately, isn’t this the best response of all?  To render their poison powerless?

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photo by Adelaide

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a plain square woman with a crooked mouth is now getting her hair trimmed by the butcher hairdresser. They look like brother and sister. Oh wait, it is a man in the chair!  I feel really startled by this.  Now that I know the client is a man, I am struck with how feminine he looks though when I thought him a woman, I thought him mannish looking. He looks happy but slightly nervous.

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it is funny how people feel about happiness. I remember a few years back my partner heard a whisper that he had won the FX Salda medal for his book on poetry criticism The Ever Falling Jug, and I wondered why he was not more excited.  It was after all the highest award for poetry criticism in the Czech Republic. He said that he was not sure he had won- what if it was just gossip.  Better wait and be happy when he was sure.  And I asked, but why not believe it now, and enjoy the happiness, because the fact of your being happy now will not increase your unhappiness if you find out that you didn’t win it after all.  And if you did win (he did) you will have had all those extra hours of joy. This clearly confused him.  It was as if he felt that premature happiness could actually endanger his chances, even though the thing had already been decided.

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photo by Jan

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i notice my hairdresser squinting when I speak and realise she has been doing this all along,  as if she could not hear me.  She does not usually do that. People look so grimly concerned when they pass the window, glancing in at the warmth suspiciously, longingly. I think I probably look like that too when I pass a hairdresser, wishing I was in there. I love the warm, over sweet smell of them, that feeling of being enfolded.

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i remember one of my sisters meeting up with an old lover and getting involved with him again, and my mother asking how I could be happy for her and with her over this when it would all end in tears. I thought but did not say that even though the relationship was almost certainly going to go the same way again, my sister was incredibly happy. Wasn’t that happiness worth having?  Because if she walked away, seeing it was doomed, she would have been miserable anyway. Years later she told me one of the things she loved most about me was that I was able to be happy with her, even though it did, in fact, end in tears. She did not love my mother for being right.

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as I sort out a tip, I notice in the mirror that the receptionist and one of the unoccupied hairdressers stand together behind the desk, drooping like beautiful bored flowers.  I think I might go to a nearby restaurant where they make the palest green soup. My hair feels a bit damp and if I have soup, it will have time to dry.  Outside it is colder than ever and a couple passing clinging to one another, walking warily on the icy pavement. A man coming along behind them scowls and huffs, annoyed and impatient that he cannot pass them easily.

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step out, pulling up the neck of my coat, my head instantly freezing.  I see steam coiling and rising from a grate where the snow has melted.  It is like the hot breath of a subterranean dragon. I think how there is a correlation- between my happiness and my ability to live in the moment.  I am ready to take happiness when it comes  – I don’t interrogate and second guess it.  I don’t hold it off and count its teeth. In that moment when there is happiness, offering itself to me, I accept. I am present.  And when the moment ends, and happiness steps away, I don’t cling to it.  I don’t try to make it stay. I don’t reproach it for going.

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i understand that happiness – joy- delight- are fleeting, ephemeral, fragile, transient.  They occur in a moment for all sorts of reasons much less dramatic and specific than prizes or the arrival of a once beloved lover.  For ultimately, it is not the big things that cause us to feel happiness.   They are too big and complex for that. It is smaller things  – the sweet warm smile of a young woman in a mirror, a snow covered seat, the  particular creamy green shade of a bowl of soup, the comfort of re reading a book you loved before, smelling dinner when you come up the stairs after a tiring day and discover the scent is emanating from your apartment, the way the little black cat sits with delicate grace on your daughter’s narrow hip as she studies, the sound of a saxophone being practiced two rooms away. Or your daughter playing piano and singing her own song in her bedroom. Or something even more detached and slight.  The cool feel of wind lifting your hair off your hot neck; a falling leaf on a summers day; sunlight glancing on a high window; the violet shadow under a curling wave; a net of birds thrown out into they sky by unimaginably mysterious forces; the look of startled delight on an old woman’s crumpled face when a child giggles at the back of the tram.

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and if you are not present in the moment, you miss these slight, exquisite, wonderful things. You fail to notice them. Worst of all- most absurd of all- you fail to notice that you have been happy!

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i make a point of noticing when I am happy, even to a slightly ridiculous degree. I have trained myself to notice when my happiness swells.  I think, now, walking along the snowy street to the apartment, that I am happy. I cherish this feeling. And paradoxically, wonderfully,  noticing that I am happy, relishing it with all of my senses,  turning my face to that amazing benediction of a shaft of pale subversive sunlight on a grey winter day, my happiness transmutes into joy.

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 photo by Jan