Not with herself, nor with anyone else currently living, but with Thomas Hardy — who died almost 100 years ago.
Why? I hear you ask.
The answer is simple: I have just finished reading Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and the whole book made me fed up and furious.
I never even planned to read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but it turned up in one of those brilliant bargain boxes of books the Thrifty Ficionista falls prey to every now and then, this time a Young Adult collection purchased for my elder daughter. I nabbed Tess before she got hold of it, thinking it would be an entertaining read — which, for the most part, it was — but I was not prepared for how angry the novel would make me.
Especially the ending.
Without spoiling the story (or its ending) for anyone who has not yet read it, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a novel exposing the sexual hypocrisy, entrenched misogyny, and overbearing patriarchy of the period in which it was written. Even though the book was first published in 1891, many of the themes and abhorrent behaviours depicted in it remain all too relevant today — and this realisation was a substantial contributor to the Thrifty Fictionista’s current crankiness.
I’m now faced with a dilemma: do I give the book back to my (early teenaged) daughter to read or not? Would she find some of the characters’ conduct as offensive as I did? Would she dismiss the behaviour I found so repellent as simply being fusty and of its time, or would she also recognise it — repackaged and more than likely digitised and/or broadcast — in her own experiences of the current century?
I can only imagine, given she has been raised by me, that my daughter would respond to Tess of the D’Urbervilles in a similar fashion to the Thrifty Fictionista. But does she really need to read a fictional account of how lousy things were for women back in the day? Or am I better off giving her books like Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own or Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, which may give her the headspace and the tools to forge her own way as a woman in the world?
You see, getting cranky is a good thing.
It might make the Thrifty Fictionista uncomfortable, but it also makes her think.
About what’s important. About what influences — fictional, historical or otherwise — I want my daughters to be exposed to. Even about the possible effects of reading the works of a novelist whose female characters generally appear to be subject to fates they can neither change nor challenge.
Honestly, I want my kids to get cranky if they read books like Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
But — more significantly — I want them to focus on becoming the incredible human beings, and not being circumscribed by history or sex or gender or labels of any kind.
Most importantly, I want my daughters to understand life as Glennon Doyle describes it:
I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself.
So: thank you, Thomas Hardy.
The Thrifty Fictionista read your book and is cranky.
But she’s also a whole lot clearer on what she wants for herself and for her children.
Three years ago today, a small furry bundle of joy made her way into our hearts and lives. She was underweight, a bit skittish, and had been looking for a place to call home for some time.
From the moment we adopted her, Tauriel — our truly magnificent feline — has been an important part of our family.
I remember the day we got her well, and particularly recall her following cautiously at my heels as I showed her around the house she would call home. She was alert, interested, and seemed to trust me from the start.
Needless to say, I was smitten from the moment I saw her.
Even now that we have moved house, I still find it inordinately comforting to know that she will be there when I get home. Her previous life as a stray has resulted in her being a strictly indoor cat, but she is an adaptable sort, and I appreciate her presence in the house when no one else is here. It is lovely to find her waiting for me at the front door when I get home, or — now that the weather is getting colder — curled up on top of my doona.
She is never far from my side or my thoughts, and is a gracious and graceful companion.
I am grateful beyond measure for the morning three years ago when The Bloke, knowing exactly why I was awake so early, rolled over and uttered a single sentence that filled my heart.
I started this blog in 2014, and I don’t think I’ve had a month when I didn’t post something in all that time — except for March 2022.
Last month, the dreaded Spicy Cough finally caught up with me, and I was stuck alone in my room for seven days. I’d managed to avoid getting it when the kids did in early February, but in mid-March COVID finally got its claws into me. How I got it I will never know: I’m double vaxxed plus boosted, I’d worn a mask everywhere I went, and I’d hardly been anywhere.
I didn’t think COVID had affected me too badly until I started to recover. Only then did I realise how crook I’d been, and as a result I am so grateful to be back doing normal things like working and shopping and exercising. I can run up the (many) stairs to our rental without puffing again. I can walk to the beach and back without having to rest halfway. Most importantly, after being contained in a small space and not being able to see the rest of my family for an entire week, I can truly appreciate living life to the full.
And I guess that brings me to the second part of my musings today: the tragic and untimely death of Taylor Hawkins, a man who appeared to live life to the full every day.
I have joked often, and publicly, that Taylor Hawkins is my spirit animal.
I never met him, of course, was not likely to, and now never will.
But in life, Taylor seemed to be sunshine personified, imbued with incredible energy and creativity, and ever ready to smile, laugh and have copious quantities of fun.
What’s not to like about all or any of those things, or to aspire to emulate them?
And who says it’s not possible to grieve, in some way or another, for someone you never met?
Not being especially well versed in such matters, I am now wondering whether I need to choose a new spirit animal for myself — but I’m guessing Taylor himself would say: no way.
It’s been a long time since I wrote about my Travels with The Professor.
Part of the reason for that is I have been grappling with the loss of my father: not physically — because he’s still very much alive — but mentally. On that score, dementia is a cruel disease.
For many months I’ve watched my father disappear. He has been increasingly vague, sleepy, repetitive, and occasionally disoriented. Then again, he has also been calm, appreciative, optimistic and unfailingly polite.
How wonderful, one might say. What a blessing that he is not aggressive or abusive, as can happen in such cases.
The Professor I grew up with — the person I know as Dad — was quite the opposite of all the things I have just described.
Except unfailingly polite. He’s always been that.
My Dad was one of the most intellectually engaged, rigorous thinkers I have ever had the privilege to know. If you asked his opinion about something — anything — he had a ready answer (or six), delivered with erudite precision. If we debated a course of action, he could see every last thing that could possibly go wrong. He was an early riser who had a hawk-like intensity and focus in everything he did — and he never, ever stopped doing, striding swiftly and purposefully from one task to the next.
Relaxation was not part of his vocabulary.
Dad was not always an easy man. He was strict, strong willed and someone I clashed with often. He was no stranger to anger, though incredibly self-controlled. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who sensed rage simmering below his eagle-eyed exterior from time to time. He did not suffer fools gladly and certainly didn’t use seven words when a single carefully selected one would do.
He was competitive, but would probably not have admitted to it. Family gatherings, however, would often turn into contests to see who could drop the most deadpan, tinder dry one liner into a conversation, and watch it riccochet around the room.
And then Alzheimer’s Disease stole my Dad away from me. Dementia has robbed me of the man who I would turn to for rapid fire reassurance and quick witted responses. It’s still difficult for me to comprehend that person — my Dad — is gone.
It’s really, really hard.
But then, last Wednesday, my father — as he is now — came over for the afternoon and, for reasons that will probably be forever unknown to me, we managed to have quite a lengthy conversation, one that ranged over many topics and contained surprisingly few repetitions on his part.
It wasn’t quite the same as it used to be, and given the degenerative nature of his disease, I know it never will be.
And then it happened.
Towards the end of the discussion with my father, I offered an opinion and — lightning quick and just as bright — there was Dad, telling me exactly and precisely what he thought. His face, his posture, his demeanour were all suddenly, fiercely, sublimely, transformed.
It didn’t last long, but he was there.
Hello, I’ve waited here for you…Everlong...
It’s heartbreaking to know that he is in there, somewhere beneath all that busted wiring and brain fog.
But it was so beautiful, so unexpected, and ever so precious, to see him again — and it is something I will cherish, knowing full well that it might end up being the last time I see him.
Today is the last day of Miss Malaprop’s school holidays, and as the hours have ticked by I have found myself thinking about that old song by The Doors:
Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing or find a new town...
It’s been an unusual holiday, to say the least, and many of our activities were circumscribed by the date on which Miss Malaprop herself could receive her first Pfizer shot. Our casual joys have been destroyed by this pandemic — or, more accurately, by the choices I have made to keep my children as safe as I can, the best way I know how. After all, keeping them safe is my main job.
We’re doing our best to go on playing, because there’s absolutely no point in finding a new town when we are completely in love with where we live. We are incredibly lucky to live a short walk from the beach, and heading down there whenever the mood strikes us has kept an element of spontaneity in our otherwise contained lives.
The ocean is where I feel most at peace at the moment.
In a world that seems to be almost permanently tainted by anxiety, the sea is where I am free.
Floating in saltwater is one of the most calming and beautiful experiences I know of: my muscles relax more deeply and my mind quiets more quickly than when I am anywhere else.
And even though this has been a strange summer, I suspect some of my memories of being in the water in the past few weeks with my girls will endure.
In which the Thrify Fictionista abandons her usual carefully considered annual Top 5 posts and crams all her thoughts about the things she has read, watched and listened to during 2021into one hot mess of a post entirely appropriate for the year that was…
Folks, I am so grateful for the gift of literacy. To be able to read — and hence escape between the pages of a book — is one of my life’s true delights, a pleasure that has only been heightened by being part of a protracted historical event. So, as of now, I’m putting on my positive pants and dismissing any further mentions of that pesky Pandemic in this post, and presenting to you in an order as yet unknown to me with the things I loved most this year. Books, TV shows, movies, songs and various bits of ephemera that caught my attention, held it, and made me feel. Because FEELING is what it’s all about, my friends.
I’m going to kick things off by recommending Craig Silvey’s book Honeybee, which just so happened to be the first book I read in 2021. It’s brilliant. So much so, I wondered whether I would read anything as good for the rest of the year (spoiler alert — I did, so please read on). Honeybee made me laugh, cry, shake my fist in both rage and triumph. I absolutely loved it, and reckon you should get a copy for yourself. Pronto.
Another summer holiday read I thoroughly enjoyed was Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip. In addition to having a cracking storyline following the main protagonist, Kerry Salter, and generations of her First Nations family, this story is dramatic and darkly comic. I may have found it even more engaging because the country where the tale is set (despite focusing on a fictional town called Durrongo) reminded me strongly of a part of northern NSW where I spent a lot of summers during my childhood.
Shortly after reading these, I got stuck into watching Narcos on Netflix. I was very late to the party, I know, but after watching Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian I was keen to see what he could do without a helmet on and was not disappointed. Wagner Moura did a brilliant job of portraying Pablo Escobar and (being a non-Spanish speaker) I was not troubled by the fact that he apparently wasn’t so great at nailing the Medellín accent. Watching Narcos was an edge-of-your-seat ride combining politics, risky and highly illegal business, insurgents, excess and corruption, ever-present danger, families and cartels, the Colombian jungle, and a few blokes who were trying to stop the whole cocaine trade in its tracks, and I loved it.
By the time Lockdown rolled around again (I think it was the third one for us — the one that went for 17 weeks?), our whole family was looking for something to escape into, and when we weren’t snort-laughing watching back episodes of Travel Guides, which we also watched to take in scenery of anywhere but our own backyard, we got right into The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney Plus. This was a show the entire family enjoyed, and the fact that a new episode dropped only once a week gave Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop a taste of what life was like for The Bloke and I when we were kids in the days before streaming services. We’re all looking forward to Season Two!
Speaking of second seasons, we also used up quite a few tissues earlier in the year watching Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds on ABC iView, which also prompted Marvel Girl to develop an app for older Australians with some of her classmates for a Praxis project at school. The entire family loved the show and The Bloke and I were really proud when Marvel Girl and her mates took out the top gong for the project it inspired.
During lockdown I also embarked up on a Couch to 5km project that was curtailed only by us having to pack up and move house, but heading out on a run gave me the opportunity to listen to tunes. Not surprisingly, the music I’ve been listening to this year has been far more gentle than I would normally go for. I got into things like:
Running Red Lights by the Avalanches, Rivers Cuomo, Pink Siifu
Balenciaga by New West
Strange Girl by Laura Marling
Smile by Valerie June
Move by Flight Facilities, DRAMA
I also delved back into some oldies but goodies like The Wallflowers’ One Headlight, Funkadelic’s Can You Get to That and U2’s I Will Follow. Troubled times call for familiar favourites.
On the reading front, I got through those seventeen long weeks with the help of Hilary Mantel and hertruly remarkable trilogy of Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies (both of which I re-read) and The Mirror and the Light. I am in awe of Mantel’s writing: sometimes her words were so beautifully, perfectly chosen that I would have to mark my place in whichever of the gorgeous hardbacks I was currently reading with the jewel-toned ribbon bound into the cover and simply close my eyes. Then I would go back and read the passage again and sigh (often quite audibly), and would then find myself hoping that one day I, too, will be able to write so succintly, so eloquently, so precisely, and also to elicit such feeling. Because — as I said earlier — it’s all about the FEELING, folks.
I had a similar reaction to reading Ed Ayres’ book Whole Notes, which is truly and utterly a MUST READ for any music lover. Unusually for me, I have embarked upon a second reading of this volume, which is part “call to instruments” and part memoir of becoming a trans man aged 50 (better late than never, as Ed says). Same goes for the brilliant Trent Dalton’s book Love Stories — but as any regular readers of this blog will know, the Thrifty Fictionista is a massive fan of Dalton’s work and it did not come as a surprise to me that I found myself wanting to stretch Love Stories out for as looooooong as I could, trying to make it last — it was that good.
What else did I enjoy this year? I binged all three seasons of Medici on SBS On Demand and found myself going down various Florentine themed rabbitholes on the interwebs for quite some time afterwards. Filmwise, I got a bit of a kick out of the 2020 movie Rose Island (or, in the original Italian, L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose), and I also enjoyed Hugh Grant in The Gentlemen.
The Bloke and I decided it was high time we introduced the kids to Daniel Craig’s Bond movies, and so far we’ve watched Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. I suspect Spectre will be on the menu soon (if my offspring are not devouring more episodes of Gilmore Girls, which they have recently discovered and have many questions about — including what a video store was — thereby making The Bloke and I feel somewhat antiquated, if not ancient). We also made the kids watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which looks massively dated but the jokes still hold up, for the most part. I tried to get them into watching Lupin (which I loved) but it only piqued the interest of the Paris-loving Marvel Girl, and failed to grab Miss Malaprop. That said, we all thoroughly enjoyed Hawkeye.
There are a couple of other things I don’t think I could have got through 2021 without — like watching episodies of 30 Rock on Stan, because sometimes all you really need is 20 minutes of madness and mayhem from Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey to lift your spirits. In a year where internet shopping has taken on a life of its own, I am still eyeing off a T shirt reading “Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks” in honour of Jenna Maroney’s alma mater, but I ended up settling for a 3 pack of Silent Theory T shirts instead (the Lucy style is great and the quality is top notch, in case you’re asking). Another internet purchase I loved? A drink bottle from Target that has the hours of the day printed down the side so I know where my water intake should be up to when. But I digress…
What else? What else did the Thrifty Fictionista love? Well, towards the end of the year I got right into reading Dave Grohl’s book The Storyteller, which inspired our New Year’s Eve feast of Kentucky Fried Chicken and French Champagne. And I finished up the year reading Hannah Kent’s Devotion, Sarah Winman’s Still Life, Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock and Anne Enright’s Actress — all of which were great, and made for a solid finish to a rather troublesome year.
And so, friends, here endeth the Thrifty Fictionista’s cultural ramblings through the year that was. I would love to hear what you watched, listened to and read during the past year than made it more bearable for you and yours. I hope you find some solace or joy in what I enjoyed.
Hey folks…how are you all doing riding the Christmas Crazy Train?
The year is drawing to a close, and here in Antipodes that means we’re nearing the end of the school year too. Some kids have already finished, though mine don’t have their last day until next week.
For me, this week’s stops on the Crazy Train include/d a wedding (congratulations again to the blissfully happy couple), a presentation day for Miss Malaprop (who took out her class English award — hooray!) and The Bloke’s Office Christmas party. It’s been great celebrating milestones and achievements, virtually and occasionally in person. Despite being an introvert, I have genuinely enjoyed greeting familiar faces I’ve not seen since Lockdown ended and meeting new people, too.
It might just be me, but it feels like being in Lockdown for 17 weeks straight actually made my local community stronger. More connected. Definitely happier to see each other. And even far more likely to strike up a conversation with a total stranger (especially if it’s outdoors).
And I like it!
It could be that we’re getting better at reading each others’ facial expressions over the tops of face masks. Maybe we’re being forced to notice what other people are truly telling us when we look into their eyes. Or we may be more likely to talk about the things that really matter to us, being far more well acquainted with what they are having been denied them for so long.
Perhaps it’s premature (particularly given what happened here on the Northern Beaches last year), but I can honestly say I’m looking forward to Christmas, to seeing family and friends. I’ve ordered the Christmas ham and we’ve even sampled some of the local butcher’s turkey and cranberry sausages — and we don’t mind if we do that again, either!
December 2021 feels very different, not only because we are living in a rental property while our house is being rebuilt, but also because we’re making do without our usual utterly ridiculous colour themed profusion of baubles, lights, wreaths and other decorations. I’ve caught myself enjoying the simplicity of being able to walk around the house without crashing into festive ornaments (or, more accurately, obsessively rearranging them if someone has dared to move them).
The Christmas Crazy Train I used to ride made so many stops they made me dizzy. This year, with inspiration from one of my favourite writers, Trent Dalton, I am allowing my cheeseball heart to guide me — to figure out what’s really going to make me happy while keeping me and my family safe. If I can’t realistically fit something in, I’m allocating time for it in the New Year, because time is what I want to spend with people, particularly when we were unable to do that for so long.
And so, as I prepare for next week’s stops on the Christmas Crazy Train, which include a livestream of Marvel Girl’s presentation day and various other festivities, I’m letting that cheeseball heart open up and feel light.
They’re part of the holy trinity of things that make me whole: words, music, food.
These three things anchor my life, colour my world and fuel my existence. They allow me to express myself more meaningfully, feel more deeply, and to live more completely.
But, as The Bloke will tell you (and as he has even more frequently told me), sometimes I use words too much.
Especially with our children.
And, truth be told, I don’t always use my words in a pleasant way…but in more of a drawn out, repetitive nag.
Sometimes they even come out as a rant.
Or a tirade.
Or a garbled stream of complaints and admonishments.
My children are reaching the age when they either don’t need me so much any more, or when they firmly believe they don’t need me at all (and could I please leave them alone and perhaps also shut the door on my way out while I’m at it).
As you can well imagine, once you’ve thrown a bunch of elevated hormone levels into the mix, a politely phrased and modulated request to perform the most perfunctory of household tasks (the musical eqivalent of which would be Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending) can produce such unexpectedly snarling, snarky response (think Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Heads Will Roll turned up to at least 11) that I frequently and ever-so-immaturely find myself retaliating in kind.
Things came to a head for me last week (though, fortunately, heads did not actually roll) after an especially super-charged exchange with my elder child, and I did what any self-respecting woman in her mid-forties does, if she still can: I called my mother for advice.
And a bit of a cry.
OK — it was a lot of a cry.
Who says we ever finish growing up?
Except we generally do grow up, and sometimes our mums aren’t always there to listen or helps us find the answers, or to guide us gently to the truth at the heart of the matter — which probably has something to do with the fact that you’ve managed to nurture your child to this point, and now they have reached the stage of their existence where they have to complete that same process you guided them through all over again, for themselves. And that you’ve given them a safe place in which to express themselves and to try out all the wildly different versions of their new, expanding sense of self.
The real question, I suspect, is not about growing up or finishing anything at all.
Because — naturally, serendipitously — once I’d processed the truth bombs dropped by my teenager and the truth pearls bestowed by my mother, I happened to open a book and there was a quote from Rumi which stopped my breath:
And you, when will you begin that long journey into yourself?
And so, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ve chosen to be quiet, and to witness my reactions from within. I’m not asking my children to do things any more — they’ve heard my requests thousands upon thousands of times, and they know what my expectations are.
And when my expectations are not met, I am applying what I call Silent Theory. Not a frosty, passive agressive silence, but a moment of taking a breath and stilling the response which would have so quickly come to my lips and spilled out as sound the split second after my children didn’t do exactly what I wanted them to.
Who, I now wonder, was the child?
It’s extraordinary what you discover in the space between, if you choose to begin that long journey into yourself.
After over 100 days in Lockdown, I am fortunate to count myself among the double-vaxxed who can now go about all sorts of business here in my little corner of the Great Southern Land.
But BEFORE Lockdown ended — ironically, inconveniently — we had to move house.
The past three weeks have been a blur of repeated strenuous activity: packing, sorting, carting, unpacking, crying.
Well, that’s not strictly true…I only cried when after more than ten hours on the phone to offshore call centres, I begged the universe to resolve my NBN and internet connectivity issuses, and a man named Cosmos (I know, unbelievable coincidence) finally agreed that I did indeed have a problem beyond my capability to solve and that a technician would be sent to our new abode…THAT was when I cried, and I have to admit it was the gulpy, messy kind of crying that only gets done when you’re really at the end of your rope.
Anyhoo, all that aside, we’re in. We’ve done it. And now we’re ready for the next exciting chapter in our lives, of knocking down our old house and rebuilding our dream home.
I feel incredibly fortunate, I really do.
But in all honesty, I’m mostly just tired.
I consider myself a pretty organised person, but the past three weeks have stretched me to the limits of my powers — and today is the first day that I am taking a much needed (and probably well deserved?!) break. I’m taking time to reflect, to acknowledge the enormity of what has just happened and is about to happen, and to consider some well-learned lessons.
Basically, the main takeaway I have from moving house (which, for the record, I have done more than a dozen times including twice overseas), is that you just have to keep going, and not stop until it’s done. It’s chop wood, carry water over and over again. And this time around, we had a steep driveway and several steep flights of stairs added into the mix.
But now it’s done! Because we kept going, chopping wood, carrying water, and didn’t stop.
Until today, which is — thank the old gods and the new — full of blue skies and sunshine, and space to do whatever we please.
I know this because she showed me during one of our daily FaceTime visits, when I catch up with her and The Professor, and their cat, Monty.
She has always grown violets in her garden, and I have always loved them: their velvety petals, their heartshaped leaves, their deep sweet scent.
When I was a small child, I would pick posies of violets. My mother showed me how to clip the stems — not too long, not too short — and to gather a bunch of purple blooms, then surround them with a border of deep green leaves.
I could never pull the posy together quite as well as she did. Then again, I couldn’t do many things as capably as she could. Her hands are so much smaller than mine, but her fingers are deft. Her hands are careful, and care-filled.
To state the bleedingly obvious, one of the hardest things about Lockdown is not being able to see my parents.
And I would imagine — no, I know — that I am not the only one feeling like this right now. I also know that there are plenty of people who have not seen their loved ones for a lot longer than me, particularly when they are separated by vast oceans, either literally or figuratively.
But it’s funny how when you can’t see someone, you remember things you might not have otherwise, like picking violets for my mother when I was a little girl.
It also reminded me of the words of Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass, which I haven’t read for many years.
These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me, If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing, If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing, If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.
This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is, This the common air that bathes the globe.
Clichéd as it sounds, and is, we’re all in this together. All in this common air.