Monday, November 24, 2008

swimming with my girl

“You know Ellie”,

asked my girl, though it wasn’t really a question

“her mother has had a boob job.”

I looked at her, a little dismayed, already right out of things in the yummy mummy stakes as it is, and I automatically covered mine protectively, lest she suggest I have a 'boob job' too.


“She came to pick up Ellie, and she came across the playground in her little pink top”

My heart is sinking already.

“And a brand new Prada bag.”

I am about to launch into one of my usual tirades about materialism and labels and whatawasteoftimeandmoneyhowvacuousapradabagismeaningless

“then I thought of last time you came and picked me up and came right into the school to find me and I watched YOU come across the playground in your little black smock and those long striped socks”

I am feeling weaker by the minute.

“…pulled up and your tights tucked into them. You had your usual face covered in charcoal and a green painty moustache. And blue paint up both arms.”

Ah, I think to myself. At the end of the day, those pretty, silly, safe, clean, slice-baking mothers with pert bosoms are the winners. Are affirmed. Not us filthy weirdo ones.

And then she continued.

“and I was thinking, I’m so glad that I have you as a mother, rather than an airhead with a boob job.”

She has sold her surfboard and bought a camera. She has made some lovely photos, and she does very much like comments on them. You might like to have a look.

Originally uploaded by bella2096

Monday, November 17, 2008

in which the fish accounts for speaking up

I didn’t realise until the last minute, on the way home, that he was taking me to meet his mother.

It had already been a day of small humiliations, the kind that arise from the fact of being so entirely in love with someone that any slip-up causes the enormous fear of rejection. And it hadn’t been so long, either, and I had been out of my depth all day, worrying about how I looked, and looking at him out of the corner of my eye. Still at a loss as to what he saw in me, really, because , quite honestly, he was the most beautiful creature that ever walked the earth. That’s a fact I still maintain as a truth: he was. I felt like such a peahen beside him.

He hadn’t said anything, he just turned into the gate of a small modest house. I followed him up the path, and onto the porch, where he opened the screen door and disappeared inside. I heard him call his mother, and felt sudden sharp waves of self consciousness numb my face. I stopped, paralysed.
I don’t think he noticed I hadn’t followed him in.

I couldn’t move.

He had disappeared into the darkness, and when I hesitated, I lost him. I didn’t know whether to open up the door and go in, to look around in unknown corridors, walk into a strange bedroom by mistake, or even worse, an unknown bathroom.
He didn’t come back out to fetch me, so I stood there, realising how rude this must look. My heart cracked and thumped, and stole my voice away with its hammering. Minutes passed. My face prickled and I stared down at the ground, with no way I could go in now, it would look too awkward, and by now he would be angry, or embarrassed. Perhaps he had told her I was coming, and now I had refused to enter the house.

I waited woefully on the porch until he reemerged, unable to speak. I was like that, sometimes. As a child I was quite shy, and hated speaking in public. In class I shuffled and whispered when it was time to give my speech. But this was far worse: I wasn’t a child, and I had humiliated myself in front of the one I wished to impress the most, and was left completely mute by the experience. I couldn’t have cared less had it been anyone else.
We walked out the gate. It was some time before my voice returned.

She never liked me much, his mum. I tried for years to make her like me. Years later, I asked him why she didn’t.
He reminded me of the summer holiday we had joined his family, in a beach house, of the night we had been overtaken by passion on the sofa and had rolled off onto the floor.
His mother had wandered in to see what the noise was, and he had looked into her startled face over my shoulder. I was completely oblivious.
“She made a little squeaking noise when she saw your bare bottom” he explained, helpfully.
Naturally, I was mortified. Thank God I hadn’t known at the time.

It may not have been my most humiliating moment, that paralysis on the porch, but it’s the only memory I have, of being speechless with embarrassment, that actually still bothers me. It still makes the shame flare up in my cheeks: I was just so self-conscious then. That afternoon retains the power to make me feel shamed, but has informed the way I have conducted myself ever since.

I’ve not really been in my current job that long, this will be my fourth year: most people my age have spent lifetimes writing and researching and lecturing, and have much more fancy curriculum vitae than me. But it’s what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be, despite the fact that I have lost a decade, and am so far behind. So when good things happen, which is rare, I celebrate them with myself. Nobody knows the dramas I have to go through to do anything, the fighting for time and the endless stepping around the huge domestic elephants that sit in my house, the late hours I spend at my books, the research that gets tossed aside due to some unannounced activity, or a blown-up car, or whatever hundred and one obstacles are placed in my path as I struggle to do things. If I am successful, I have had to work twice as hard as anyone else for the success.
I cannot say any of this, of course. I just have to get ON with it. So when it comes together, I am wildly pleased.

Last week when I spoke at the conference, I knew I would present well: I always do.
I just hate the lack of thorough preparation that circumstances present, or the thought that I have not done my best.
It’s a point of honour, you see, a vow I made to myself, a long time ago, that no matter what, I would never be mute again. I would always speak up and never be silenced, not ever.

And so, as always, there were two persons in that lecture theatre who always come when I am speaking. That blond girl in the front row, with the smiling, unlined face, that girl on the cliffedge of a serious daydream, but listening now, to my every word. I suspect she doesn’t recognise me.
How can you DO that? She asks, and I tell her,
it’s just practice, it’s just breathing.
She has no idea how sweet and hopeful she looks, with her shiny hair and untroubled face. No idea, silly thing.

The other sits closer to the back, smiling that smile, the one he tries to suppress, but can’t. He was the most beautiful boy in the world, once, long ago. He’s still pretty gorgeous.
Look at you, he says, Look at you.
He certainly remembers that fair haired girl in the front row, even though she can’t see him, up the back in the dark: she’s busily squinting at me, with her head to one side.

I speak to him. He listens, to my clearspoken words, as he always does, and disappears when I am done, as he always does, fading then into darkness.

And that young me in the front row? She disappears too, selfconsciously standing now, shaking back her bright hair, moving towards the door, already becoming taller, thinking, dreaming, looking out for her beautiful boy, who is surely waiting for her just outside, holding out his arm, to go together somewhere, finding her voice, speaking up.
Softly at first, then a little more boldly, bit by bit, as best she can.

After a moment, when they are gone, the sound returns,  the chair is fielding questions, and I am back in the moment, answering them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Five Tales from a Fish in Western Australia


The sun is at my back as I look towards the horizon: so strange, like afternoon, and yet it isn’t.
Despite the evening atmosphere, it's morning, and I am on the other side of the world, where the sun sets into the sea, rather than rising from it.
The Indian Ocean is turquoise and the sand almost ultraviolet in its whiteness. Small branches of flowery seaweed lie in bouquets on the shoreline.

I swim out and along, the currents are at odds with one another. On the surface the sea rolls in, underneath it pulls outwards to the deep, rolling and tossing.

It’s a different colour, this water, and softer.
Strange pale rock platforms rise from beneath as I pass over. I’m swimming northerly, when suddenly the swell lifts me and deposits me gently upon a rock shelf.

I swear, I can hear the watery laughter: I find myself standing in the sea, ankle deep. It's shallow, and I am forced to pick my way back out to the deep.

Fish swim in hollow circles as the fronds of weed whip this way, then that. The light is beautiful. When I returm to the south end I catch a wave all the way in, belly first on the sand. I leave the indian ocean in my hair and finger the tips when it dries: the salt seems soft.

Back home when I return, the sea wears its sparkling morning mantle, and Is perfumed like my dreams. As I gaze, the sea tells me:

That was me, you know. Tossing you like that, that was the other me, in all watery places. It was the other side of me.

The waves hissed to my feet.

And the other side of you, too.


You know it’s not quite ready: there is editing to do, and a run once through.
You receive a text message:

Can you present your paper on Wednesday instead of Thursday ?

You know it’s not a question.
You reach your hotel at 3am Sydney time, having finished a full day of lectures and packing and leaving clean clothes for the children not to mention food, flown through a time zone and half a day,

And you arrive and listen in a bit of a fug and wonder if you will be able to see the words on the page your eyes are so tired.

At lunchtime in a sudden moment of clarity,
You edit your paper, drawing arrows, running lines here and there. Quieting yourself in parts with the slash of a pen.

It’s like the last sprint to the finish.

Unusually, lots of people come.
You smile to yourself and begin,
falling into the storytelling zone, watching your words float around the lecture theatre, settling on peoples shoulders, into their ears.

You don’t miss a beat. Not a scratch not an arrow not a crooked paragraph. Leaping over newmade ditches from one side to the other: The words have made a web now.

As you speak you look at each and every person, into their eyes. Try not to miss anyone, except your friend, who may cause you to smile too broadly.

Questions. Much attention and compliments, a marine biologist rushes up: we have to talk, pushes her card into your hand
A poetess comes and touches your arm and smiles.
A person says, matter of fact:
I am not being sycophantic, but that is the best thing I have heard all day.
A singer says: 
you have a lovely voice.

And if you weren’t so tired you would run outside and dance, because this is all so unexpected, and you so happy.
The best thing is, it goes on for days.

The best thing is, you were pleased with yourself.


In Fremantle, I have a very important assignation: the finding of the Red Hen.
Don't worry, I'll recognise her straight away, I whisper to my friend.
She has red hair, and flowers around her neck

Lucky for me, she spotted me first: her hair was not at all red, but there were flowers around her neck.
What a delight to meet a friend, a lovely girl.
There being no cake, we ate Thai prawns instead.
I'm afraid I was in a state of lunacy
and laughed all my makeup off.
I'd like to say, Red Hen, I'm not usually like that
only that I am.


The boat finds me, in a way. Then I fall into it.

I no longer dream of boats: this is far longer than a dream. I sit with it inside my head, and allow myself to be transported.

I take this space and make things in it and listen to the words of the people who share this space.

The boat rocks eternally, ploughing through an endless sea. I need to close my eyes several times: hundreds of years and millions of tides sweep past.

I make pictures. I share them.
The boat sleeps on.


I travel from the edges of the known universe, past names which are unfamiliar and yet known, the sand in the scrub is from some forgotten childhood. Banksias along the road proffer startling candles.delightful.

Fremantle, Pinjarra, Bunbury, Mandurah.

A snake dashes across the hot highway like a squiggle of black lightening.
We talk  kilometres away in the landcruiser, looking at bright sea and endless landscapes. Our words wind around and out the windows, over the lit paddocks and beyond.

Hours later the farm swings into view: corrugated iron, as silver as the moon.
There are roses, which smell so edible I wish I could eat them, growing near the eucalypts.

Who is waiting for me here?


I love her.
Her tiny fingernail hooves, her pointed pixie ears.
Her curly hair makes me think
Of tough samoan boys with their Mohawk hairstyles in Sydney streets.
Her legs mere twigs.

At the secret signal,
Sarah and Iona run, and transform into the most noble and beautiful pair, sprinting like arabs with their tails up high, a queen and princess.

Back up the paddock, Iona gallops fastest,
Past her mother in an impossible burst of speed.

She is twenty-eight-days-old.

Monday, November 3, 2008

three random thoughts from a tired fish

Today I loaded up my car with 20 large scale charcoal drawings, 4 heavy drawing boards
12 oil paintings (2 tied to roof, very huge), 3 crates art suppiles, a box of tools,
books , a roll of paper.

and my car died.
I sat in paddington in a heat wave wondering how the heck I was going to manage.

I did manage to get it going, but almost passed out driving all the way over bridge to the studio space in brookvale, and hence to the mechanic.

Tomorrow night I fly to Perth!
I won a little grant and I am heading to Western Australia.
Naturally I am going to be speaking about the sea and such things. I shall watch the sun set into the sea, into the Indian Ocean: imagine! here i watch it rise from the water.

I am going to see these two gals, here we are having a photo with Neil MacGregor in Melbourne. Woo Hoo. It was a posh reception at which this fish was rather excited, because this fish saves her excitements for seeing British Museum Directors.

Yes, he is the director of the BRITISH MUSEUM, and one of those girlies knew him in Scotland as a young girlie, so I of course was all overcome and insisted on an introduction. I'd wish I had studied harder at Charm School.
(And the HAIR looks even better than usual hahahah)

I am also going to see the Red Hen too.
It will be fun. I hope we eat cake.

A week ago i severed a bond which was driving me insane: I feel so different, like a trapped honeybee finally flew out of my skull.
It's strange when you have felt a particular way for such a long time and then suddenly you are set free of it. I feel stronger, although there are still places in which I feel sad, here i walk with my head up, smiling, thanking the universe for delivering me thus far.

When you feel your worst, try to love and send the love somewhere. I cannot articulate properly this odd sentiment: I must get some sleep. I have a plane to catch, a life to live, a world to negotiate.

love from the fish.