The rest of my life

On disappointment and insouciance

Disappointments have been creeping in. Stealing quietly through the cracks and taking up residence. Under my skin.

The chicken is a bit boring. The tea tastes ordinary. Will the sun ever bloody shine this winter? Can we have a decent political debate in this country? The work’s a bit too hard. The washing never ends. My god it is cold. Could I really be sick again? Really?

Even though I have tried to foster insouciance, cultivate it, nurture it; it won’t come.

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Filled with wrath

I have spent the past few days full of anger. Literally, brimming over with wrath.

It is not directed toward anyone. There is no smiting of enemies to be done. I have been furious in a way I haven’t felt for a while.

It started on Monday night. I watched 4 Corners. It was about people smuggling. It was about people having their loved ones taken away from them, about men, women and children dying, it was about criminals robbing people of their futures and all their money. At one point during this story, it became apparent that one of these smugglers had sought asylum in Australia, and was detained. During the detention, this person continued to conduct his business. Then suddenly Robert said, I bet they end up in Canberra. I couldn’t believe my ears. What do you mean? I asked him. He explained that all the behaviours added up to amazing audacity and the most audacious place you could end up after entering the country in this manner, was the National Capital, seat of power, and place where the policies and legislation were made.

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No more tears

I made a comment on twitter today (yeah, I know, what’s new?) and it flew directly out of my heart into cyber-space.

@ I haven't got any tears left. They are all gone. @
Stella Orbit

It caused a ripple of consternation. What do you mean you can’t cry? Did it mean I was happier than I’d ever been, or that I was exhausted? Are tears finite? Like heartbeats are rumoured to be. You have an allocated quota the romantic notion goes, and then you have no more. Your heart stops. Your tears too, could be finite? Read More

There be monsters – in praise of wild things and the darkness of childhood

‘Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth!’

Maurice Sendak died this week. As a child, his books were like sacred objects, which to me, is against the spirit of his work completely. Not only did I have to wash my hands before I touched them, I was not allowed to pore over these books without supervision. This is because almost all the copies we had were hardbacks, neatly covered in opaque library plastic, carefully hoarded by my teacher-librarian mother and protected by her from the sticky, dirty, page bending hands of children. They are even now, more than 30 years later, still in pristine condition; withstanding three children and five grandchildren.

As an adult, with my own sticky, dirty, page bending, book chewing child, this makes me incredibly sad. So I let him have them, all of them. And they are all paperbacks, and if we have to have two copies of each to see us through his childhood, then so be it.

Of course, being forbidden, only increased their cachet. More than once, I read them on the quiet, hoping I wouldn’t get sprung. Aside from being well looked after, they were also beautiful and subversive books, featuring imagery and themes, seldom dealt with in children’s literature.

I still remember the mild scandal that erupted about In the Night Kitchen, which features Mickey’s naked bottom, not to mention the rest of him. This was the cause of some consternation among librarians, although it was fair to say not my mother, who had bought it for the school library. In The Night Kitchen deals with falling into the dark, and indeed the bakers all have strangely even, square and short moustaches. The oven imagery is thinly veiled, in my opinion, and Sendak confirmed in interviews, that the references are indeed a comment on the Holocaust. Much more concerning you would think, than a naked bum or the full frontal Mickey.

A baby is snatched away by goblins in Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There. The beloved author and illustrator — who took a darker approach to children's storytelling — died Tuesday at the age of 83.

A baby is snatched away by goblins in Outside Over There. Image: Harper Collins.

Outside Over There, less well-known than Where the Wild Things Are, features incredibly distracted parental figures, who so preoccupied with themselves and their love, leave their eldest daughter in charge of her younger sibling. Young Ida is initially no match for the goblins who kidnap her baby sister while she plays her wonder horn. An allegory for children everywhere, that sometimes you just have to fix it yourself and be courageous and brave. Rescuing your little sister, what higher achievement could you wish? The dark themes of this book have so far washed over my toddler, although he recognises that the baby is in trouble and needs saving. In the middle where the illustrations are of all the crying babies the goblins have kidnapped, he shouts loudly about how sad they are.

I let him have Higglety Pigglety Pop! too. Subtitled There must be more to life, it tells the story of a dog called Jennie who has everything, but is desperately unhappy. It is the story of how having everything handed to you can make you unhappy, and that to be fulfilled, you need to pursue your own dreams – even if that means saving baby from being eaten by the lion and joining ‘The World Mother Goose Theatre’. This book too, features distracted, ill-attentive adults. In Higglety Pigglety Pop, the parents of the baby move house, and forget to take her with them. It is a book for older children, and yet despite the density of the text, the story carries Benedict along, just not in a single sitting, yet.

Sendak understood how frightening childhood could be, how images and ideas, without comprehension of context, could loom large; being considered wild, being naked and having grand plans, could all get you into trouble with adults. Could lead to being sent to bed, which for some children was a blessing, as it meant getting out of eating your dinner, a torture all of its own. The sadness a child feels when she realises that these adults have no idea what they are doing, is a sadness that never leaves a person. What Sendak’s books give you is a sense that it doesn’t matter if the world is a confusing mess, you can work it all out for yourself and that sometimes the monsters are just that little bit closer than you imagine.

Amanda Katz writes in an essay for NPR books, that it is the adults who are scared of Sendak’s books, not the children. She writes:

‘Meanwhile, he [Sendak] reminds adults — even those of us who were once those young and fascinated readers, but who are grown now — to trust our children, who may in the end be less fearful of climbing outside than we are to watch them do it.’

Fortunately, while my mother was over-protective of the precious books, she let us climb out of the windows and be wild things. Sendak reminds us, and we need reminding, that children need to be wild, they need to allowed to express themselves, and tell their stories, even when these stories are too difficult for adults to hear.

‘I knew terrible things, but I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew … it would scare them.’

Cooking and Love

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10, 000 hour rule. No matter how clever you are, if you really want to be good at something, you have to practice. And practice. And practice. In short, according to Gladwell and others, you need to accumulate 10, 000 hours of time at a task to really master it. 10, 000 hours is over 400 days straight. So by ordinary application, it’s full days for a few years. Or some practice, every day, over several years.

My 10, 000 hours are accumulated in two things. Cooking and writing.

First to the writing. It is the easier to account for. Two degrees one after another, both involving a great deal of writing. One involving a ‘substantial contribution to scholarship’ and a big fat dissertation. Collectively, this took over 12 years of writing every day, almost. There were a few days when I didn’t write, but not many.

The second of my 10, 000 hours, cooking has taken longer to accumulate. I started when I could reach the bench. My first cook book was a large format 1979 Ladybird book called We Can Cook it featured animal character cartoons as illustrations. It had a fruit cake recipe, which I made and foisted on people.

We Can Cook (Board Book)

I wish I still had that book. I cooked often for my whole family and by my early teens could be relied upon to turn out dinner for us all when required. We had a fuel stove, so before you could cook, you had to attend to the fire. This taught me a lot about preparation.

Yesterday, I was reading Charlotte Wood’s food blog How to shuck an oyster and I read two great pieces that I wanted to comment on, but was concerned about essay length blog comments. The first is about a book I really want to read by Julian Barnes and the second, is about Conflict in the Kitchen and power struggles between couples when cooking for other people. These two pieces resonated with me together as much as separately.

Cooking as Conversation is a ‘review’ of sorts of Julian Barnes’ book entitled, Pedant in the Kitchen. Charlotte quotes from the book;

‘The result of all this…is that while I now cook with enthusiasm and pleasure, I do so with little sense of freedom or imagination. I need an exact shopping list and an avuncular cookbook.’

What is interesting to me here, is as Charlotte says, he is expressing his true nature. Barnes is a pedant, a nick picker and a bit not self-sensoring. It struck me right there that this what Robert is like when he cooks. This is how he cooks. Not so much the lacking in imagination, but more the requirement for precise instructions, and everything exactly as it says in the book. Almost always, when he cooks, it looks precisely like the picture. It is delicious and wonderful. But it is not fast, it is not spontaneous and there is always a mountain of washing up.

It is also, the complete opposite of how he does almost everything else. And it’s not like he doesn’t have his 10, 000 hours up. After all, years of working in cafes, sandwich shops and making pancakes for a living, as well as cooking for his family, have easily seen him meet the challenge. Perhaps it is this experience of cooking on a large scale, of the necessity of getting it right to earn money, that lead to his technique and approach.

In fact, in the kitchen, it is like we both are our mirror selves. Robert gets precise, and adheres to a script as if the meal depends on it. Even recipes he has made hundreds of times, he nearly always looks it up. I am completely the opposite. And this is in some way the opposite of myself too.

I make it up. If you open the fridge and want something for dinner, I am your woman. I can pull stuff together out of seemingly thin air. Robert would be off down the shops, with a list in his hand. And in that time I could have made the pasta. Spontaneous, making do, cutting corners to get a more efficient result, adapting recipes as I go to shorten the time taken, to chop out the faffing around.

This brings me to a second piece from How to shuck an oyster, Conflict in the Kitchen. We have, as a couple, had some conflict about who is going to cook when, who cooks the show pieces and who does the work-a-day meals. In our house we have very difference approaches and different skills, most of them complementary. I never have to make pastry again, for to do so would be a total waste of time, so good is Robert’s. But when it comes to the crunch of churning out weekday meals, it is just easier and faster if I do it. I am fond of spending a relaxing few hours on a Sunday making dishes for the week to keep things easy. Robert would just head to the shops every day.

Dinner parties cause conflict, especially in the planning phase. We fight over what to have. We disagree about the menu. We argue about the tried and true versus the opportunity to make something new or different. It would be nice if we could work together, share, make love on the kitchen floor, but our competitive natures won’t let us. Our egos fight it out. We argue. We clutch our favourite books, shouting menu suggestions across the house.

And then Robert trumps me. ‘I’ll get the fish kettle out.’ As soon as he says that, I opt out. I go and find candles and polish glass ware. ‘What am I supposed to make if you are going to poach a whole bloody salmon?’

All of it comes from love. All of it comes from the joy of making something delicious. But make no mistake, it’s a fight to the death. Whose cuisine will reign supreme?

9 February 2008 - Party Salmon photo Robert Gotts

To buy Charlotte’s new book Love and Hunger click here - Australia's #1 online bookstore

Work together; just add salt.

I just used the last jar of preserved lemon that Robert and I made in 2008. We made maybe 10 size 20 Vacola jars of preserved lemon. We had kilos and kilos of lemons. It was our first large cooking project together. In 2008 I rented a house in Curtin. It had an old garden that was full of treasure. Read More

Book review – Animal People – Charlotte Wood

Welcome to my first review of 2012. The first of many for this year – she says hopefully.

Charlotte Wood’s novel Animal People, follows one day in the life of Stephen, a character who also appears in her novel, The Children. Stephen is a character without ambition – lost in the distance he creates from the rest of the world and its concerns, he observes and pities those around him. He struggles to make sense of ‘animal people’, ‘dog people’ and the visitors to the zoo where he works, as they fawn over the animals. Isolation and desolation wash over Stephen’s life. Read More

The Versatile Blogger

Too long has passed since I was honoured by lovely Jennifer Smart over at A Sampler with a Versatile Blogger Award.

Acceptance of this award comes with the following conditions; one, I am to tell you seven interesting facts about myself, and two, I share with you fifteen blogs that I have discovered. Without any further delay then, here are some facts and some great blogs you should check out.


Seven interesting facts about me

1. I hold a PhD in philosophy.

2. I like stripey things – especially clothes.

3. I love red lipstick and I have many of them; all of them are blue based red.

4. Once I played the piano in a competition in the Cremone Hayden Orpheum.

5. I love rosé. It will never be unfashionable to me.

6. I have read Ulysses. Every single word.

7. Occasionally, I select book purely on their thickness.


15 newly (and some not so newly) discovered blogs that I enjoy – in no particular order

Karen Charlton –

Twitchy Corner –

Trish Smith –

Lisa Lintern –

Ruth Bruten –

K.J. –

Nicole McLachlan –

Michelle Higgins –

Tina –

Cat –

Very Bored in Catalunya –

Heather –

Gill –

Michelle –

Benison –


Life has a bow wave

Time. Marching on.

There is a kind of truism about the doctor who won’t see a doctor, a hairdresser who can’t get a haircut and accountants who don’t do their tax. Some of it is professional fatigue. After seeing sick people all day, or cutting hair or doing tax, why on earth would you want to do MORE of it? To me, it is also a professional snobbery. If you are good at your profession, it is hard to find someone else who meets your own professional standard.

What about a more esoteric example. What about a philosopher who is struggling to come to grips with time? Someone who has spent a long time thinking about the central questions of philosophy and who has read a large number of books on the subject by other preeminent philosophers? What about her? Read More

On reading

On Reading

The collision of the book and digital reading

The internet has not impacted upon my reading habits in the slightest. I still pass my eyes from left to right across the lines of text, just as I always have. I still read line by line, turn from page to page; just as I always have. I still pick and chose. I still seek inspiring texts (to read). The internet has no impact on my reading habits, but the book says the internet is ambitious, and the book is honourable. The book fears there will be worse come in its place, that will lay waste to its carefully nurtured kingdom of readers and writers.

Books are my friends, faithful and just; they line up in my study like soldiers. They look down on the interloping screens from their posts on the battlements high on the walls.

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When my husband does the dishes … Kerri Sackville’s booklaunch part two (A)

It is taking an incredibly long time to deliver on my promised part two of the story of Kerri Sackville’s book launch. I just read @TwitchyCorner’s account. Her part one. It’s such a big story it needs to be told in stages! There is also, perhaps, something like collective amnesia induced by champagne, occurring.  So to tide you over and to pique your interest, while I stuff around writing all the things I am supposed to be writing – like a review of the book for – par exemple – here is part two (A). The teaser to Part Two.
Some of my favourite moments from after the official ‘launching bit’ and the after party.

@Woogsworld diving into my cleavage to get a better sniff of my perfume (Fracas – for the record).

Giving @deemadigan a lecture on the ACT Legislative Assembly and how it is unicameral.

Dragging @alexricia around to meet people after she had an attack of the shys.

Saving my phone number to @indydreaming’s phone as DUDE! (This only came to light much later – like last week!)

Asking @electric589 why I always imagined the distance between Ariel Booksellers and Dinosaur Designs on Oxford Street, to be much shorter than it actually is, only to cut him off dead when he started to give me a totally serious and sensible answer about spatial perception.

Waiting what seemed liked hours for a pizza with @lgcollard @BenisonAnne @yvettevignando and @Nicky_Lavigne When it finally arrived, after what was actually hours, it was delicious, but we had all pretty much lost interest and were talking about sex. Again.

The Architect whispers sweet nothings to The Author

More more more – and then some – soon. - Australia's #1 online bookstore

On writing

When I first started using Twitter, I noticed the hashtag #amwriting quite often. I even used it once or twice. That was before I understood well, what it meant. Real writers, who write as a job, for pay, use it. I felt ridiculous using it once I realised that and I immediately stopped.

This is not to say that I know nothing of writing. I do. I have a 70, 000 word dissertation under my belt. I am accustomed to solitary hours, trapped at my desk, polishing sentences, planning, forcing ideas to come.


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