Night Moves

NIGHT -Cahill_expressway_loop

Upwards to the The Bridge…

Saturday, 10:08pm

I’m driving home through the city at night.  One of my dearest friends is riding in the car beside me, and we’re basking in the afterglow of an evening of revellery: good food, even better wine, a classical music concert with a brilliant soloist.  Crossing over Circular Quay, we get the giggles, cracking each other up with increasingly ridiculous remarks about the man we’ve just seen perform.

He’s a violin virtuoso, he sings like an veritable angel, he has such shiny hair he should be in a L’Oreal commercial…no doubt he is the world’s greatest lover, too…

We make the long loop up onto the Harbour Bridge, our laughter sprialling skywards through the arching steel and up into the night.

Monday, 5:45pm

There’s a dance off happening in the kitchen.

In this house we celebrate good news by busting out moves, and today we’ve had plenty. Ugg-booted and stocking-footed we rollick around the room, each of us attempting to outdo the others with displays of increasingly questionable choreography, while outside in the gathering darkness the real stars appear.

Tuesday, 6:13pm

Tonight I’m dealing with Arsenic hour — the fraught and fractious time of day when you’re wondering whether you might poison your kids or yourself — when mid-meltdown from Miss Malaprop I get a text from The Bloke asking whether he can catch up with the Other Blokes for a beer or three.  I flick back a quick, “If you want”, resisting the urge to scream obscentities or engage in a vicious game of compare and contrast.

There is no point in declaring marital war over the differences between our Tuesday evenings.

Wednesday, 3:36am

The Bloke and I are at the top of a ruined high rise, and he is about to be hauled through a dilapidated door behind him to face a firing squad.  I can hear bullets spraying, drilling into the the other side of the wall, and he’s pleading with me to leave, telling me everything will be OK (which it clearly won’t be) as I get progressively more agitated and distraught.

In desperation I wake up, wrenching myself from the drama of the dream into the quiet of the night, and draw enormous comfort from the sound of the The Bloke’s breathing, deep and even, beside me in the dark.

Thursday, 5:40am

The flying foxes are at it again.

Those manic marsupials were squawking and carrying on as I drifted off to sleep, and now their raucous predawn party in the top of the tree next door has me wide awake.

I get up and stalk down the long hallway of my house, surefooted and keeneyed as a cat. They say the darkest part of night is just before the dawn, but this is my territory and I have no need for light in the place I call home.

A large part of me is nocturnal, too.

Scenes from Suburbia

I stand in the supermarket, staring at the shelves in front of me, searching for a single pen. Beneath the bright lights are rows of gaudy plastic packages — pencils, pens, permanent markers — but none of them are what I seek.  How is it, I wonder, that an entire brand of felt-tipped pens, the pens of choice in my childhood, could have disappeared, replaced by the apparently ubiquitously popular Sharpie? How is it that my decisions, as a consumer, are being dictated by a duopoly of chain stores that stock only what is trendy or what is cheap?

Fuelled by a combination of nostalgia and disgust, I stalk out of the store to a newsagency around the corner that carries the brand I am looking for. I survey the shelves once again, shelves in desperate need of re-stocking, and select a pen. It costs $4.80 — nearly double the price of a ten-pack of pens at the supermarket — but I buy it anyway.

It’s not even the colour I want.

*****

I sit in a cafe, lured in by the breakfast special (a toastie, a coffee), somewhat dejected by my newsagency experience until I take out my new pen and begin to write. The smooth slip of the felt tip across the paper is soothing, satisfying, and I stop only when a woman sits down beside me and I have to heave my shopping out of her way. “Don’t worry,” she says, “I’m sitting by myself at a table for four.” We smile, complicitly, staring out into the cafe, silently sipping our coffee, savouring moments of stolen time.

A woman at another table is speaking — clearly, distinctly — to an older man sitting opposite her.  Not her father — an uncle, perhaps, or an old family friend.  She tells him that her mother has remarried, has moved away, has moved on. She does not know the people of whom her mother now speaks; new in-laws, new neighbours. She glances around frantically, speaks more loudly, but her words do not reach her companion. He is burdened by his own flailing, failing romance: his lover wants a ring, but not marriage. He says he will buy the ring anyway.

Outside the cafe, a grandfather rides up and down the escalators with his granddaughter. The child squeals and kicks joyfully as he tips her stroller back so she can see the blue sky above, secure in the knowledge that he will never let her fall. Inside, the woman falls suddenly silent as she recognises the table before her is a chasm.

And then a small bird, a starling, alights on the back of the chair in the space between us, bringing with it nature’s blessing in the midst of this consumerist temple of concrete, steel and glass.

*****

I drive home in my husband’s car.  My car is with the mechanic, being serviced. This car, an old blue station wagon strewn with tubes of sunscreen, CDs and smears of surfboard wax, feels so different from mine. The steering wheel is broader, yet the grip is thinner than what I am used to. The accelerator feels twitchy beneath my foot.  Unfamiliar plasticky rattles fill my ears.

Stopped at a traffic light, I turn towards the back seat, trying to see what could be making so much noise, and catch a glimpse of a fine, golden hair — my younger daughter’s — snagged on the upholstery, and feel the comforting rush of the familiar in that single strand.

Always hope

Bittersweet Symphony

BSS

Still one of the greatest songs ever written…

Winter arrived this week.

We woke one morning — I think it was Thursday — and discovered that Sydney’s seemingly endless summer had disappeared overnight. The world was suddenly a cold and windy place, rain-soaked and grey-stained, where clouds had settled themselves just above the rooftops.

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life…

The change of season often happens suddenly here, though perhaps I have been more aware of it this year because I managed to come down with the dreaded lurgy about ten days ago, when the days were still sunsoaked, and tried (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to keep working and to soldier on. The day winter arrived was the morning I awoke with the dawning realisation that the wretched thing has grabbed me in its claws again — this time, by the throat.

…try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die…

Well, maybe not die. Not quite.

BSS 2

Well, maybe not a million — but, like I said, being ill makes me slightly prone to exaggeration.

I will admit, albeit reluctantly, that illness does tend to make me slightly prone to exaggeration. I suspect that the main reason for this is that I, like many mothers, feel as though my family requires a great deal of convincing that when I say I feel unwell, I actually mean it. For example, one night last week, when I had finally stopped coughing long enough to fall asleep in the spare room (to which I had banished myself so as not to inflict the lurgy on The Bloke), I was woken at 2am by the light of a torch being shone directly into my eyes by my younger child, who proceeded to announce that she had a sore ankle.

Seriously?! 

Like the creator of aforementioned the dreaded lurgy, Spike Milligan, I sometimes wonder whether my headstone will end up reading I told you I was sick.

Since the cold snap hit, however, I have stopped trying to convert the non-believers in my house and have simply, and quite uncharacteristically, given into being ill. I have wrapped myself in blankets, drunk endless cups of hot tea, and surrounded myself with fresh lemons, a rather alarming variety of pharmaceuticals, a welcome selection of books, and The Verve’s Urban Hymns album.

The Bloke despairs of my love for what he refers to as “whingey Britpop”, but since I am as steadfast as I am eclectic in my musical affections, there are certain things in the life we share that he is forced to roll his eyes and endure. It’s not just that he doesn’t like what he refers to as “that awful music”. The bigger problem, I suspect, is that I have — as some wag once put it — three moods: skip every song on my iPod, let the music play without interruption, or play the same song on repeat for days.

In my defence, I tend to put entire albums on repeat instead of single songs: last week, for example, it was twentyone pilot’s Blurryface — because let’s face it, you need a little dubstep when you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other. And this week, it was Urban Hymns, which is still think is one of the finest albums ever recorded (even if its moody atmospherics drive my dear and long-suffering husband demented).

…I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now…

BSS 3

It’s amazing how other people respond when you start looking after yourself…

But here’s the thing, the (in my view) really weird thing: regardless of what I’ve been playing on the stereo, since I started treating myself like a person who wasn’t in the best of health, my family started behaving the same way.

To my utter disbelief, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop bounced out of bed each morning (while I dragged myself, coughing and spluttering, into the shower) and made their own lunches. And packed their snacks. For recess and for fruit break.

Three days in a row.

Who knew they could do that?!

And then this morning, after I had rewarded them for their helpful behaviour by ordering them both a hot lunch from the school canteen, they offered to make me breakfast.

Who are you, I was tempted to ask, and what have you done with my children?

Upon reflection, though, it’s not all that surprising that my kids stepped up when I needed them to. I am forever telling them to ask for what they want, say what they mean, and throw in a please or thank you and they can’t go too far wrong. What I had forgotten, in my desire to impress upon them just how awfully unwell I was feeling, was that I needed to do the same thing. So when I actually started taking care of myself, they started taking care of me too.

Yeah, it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life. And it’s going by faster and faster with every passing year. But today, I heard that symphony in my kids’ asking me if I wanted them to make me some toast, in my GP taking the time to listen to my symptoms sympathetically instead of treating me as yet another flu case, in a wonderful friend’s text offering to drop my girls at school this morning so I could rest.

It’s bittersweet, but it’s beautiful too.

And as well as being grateful, I’m on the mend.

Because it matters…

Audra McDonald: Build a Bridge

Audra McDonald: Build a Bridge

Last weekend I had the inestimable privilege of hearing Audra McDonald sing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Performing the final concert of a lengthy tour, she lit up the Sydney Opera House stage, singing celebrated Broadway tunes and other, lesser-known numbers: everything from George Gershwin’s Summertime to Kate Miller-Heidke’s Facebook Song.

At the end of the show, the vast majority of audience members rose to their feet and gave McDonald the standing ovation she richly deserved. And she rewarded us with not one, but two encores, the second being Somewhere Over The Rainbow, which she prefaced by explaining that she is a passionate advocate of equality — and particularly of Marriage Equality.

And that’s when it hit me: that Sydney, the city I live in and the city I love, is one of the few places Audra McDonald would have visited on her extensive tour where Marriage Equality does not exist.

And it bugged me. It rankled.

Now, as anyone who follows the Blue Jai Blog with any regularity will tell you, when something bothers me this is where I come to make sense of it. And they would also tell you that I’m not usually one to use this blog to talk about anything particularly controversial (like politics or religion, for example), and there’s a good reason for that: what you believe is your business, and what I believe is mine. It’s that simple — really.

To be clear, the lack of Marriage Equality in Australia is not something I am directly affected by: I’m a heterosexual female who is married to a heterosexual male. We had lived together for years before we tied the knot, we owned real property together, we even had joint custody of a cat (a British Blue; thanks for asking, catlovers). For various reasons — most of which revolve around me being far too stubborn and sassy for my own good — it took The Bloke and me the better part of a decade to set up a joint bank account (you know, a regular transaction account that allows you both to see exactly where the money is being spent, right down to the last bookshop and cafe dollar), but we got there in the end.

But here’s the thing: in days past — probably more recently than we’d like to admit — cohabitation prior to marriage was frowned upon. Female ownership of property was unlawful. With the exception of caring for a small furry domestic animal, pretty much all that The Bloke and I did prior to getting married was, at one point or another, either socially unacceptable or legally prohibited. And while my inner cynic may suspect that Ann Patchett was onto something when she observed that opening a joint bank account is “a moment of trust and commitment the likes of which most wedding vows couldn’t touch”, the fact remains that nearly ten years ago, The Bloke and I were able to stand up in front of our family and friends and make a public promise to love each other and to try to do the right thing by each other for the rest of our lives.

We got married. And it mattered.

Discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification? To me, it just doesn't add up...

Discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification? To me, it just doesn’t add up…

Now, I’m not about to wade into the troubled waters that swirl around the various arguments for or against Marriage Equality, because I don’t find political wrangling or religious rhetoric particularly appealing. (Ever.)

But what I will share are my musings about why I suspect achieving Marriage Equality in Australia would be a good thing — not specifically for me (an already married mother of two), but for our society.

First of all, I want to live in a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, race, religion, political persuasion, eye colour or even the length of your armpit hair (let alone whether you choose to wax it, shave it, or dye it green). I believe we all have a right to live in such a society, and to participate in the democratic processes that protect that right.

Thinking

Yes, yes — I know we’re not discussing war or the end of the world, but in my opinion the Twelfth Doctor makes a powerful argument for social evolution: “Thinking…it’s just a fancy word for changing your mind”.

I want to live in a society that is evolutionary, that adapts and responds to change instead of saying, “but we’ve always done it this way”. Social evolution has enabled me, a woman, to own property. To vote. To receive (supposedly) equal pay for equal work. As Charles Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.” And, to my mind, Marriage Equality is not the only issue challenging our society to adapt — combating global warming, closing the wealth gap, ending family violence would all go on that list too. But our responses need to reflect our society as it is today. Why? Well, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently: “Because it’s 2015”.

I want to live in a society where, if either one of my children comes home one day and says, “I’ve met the most incredible human being, and I love them and want to spend the rest of my life with them — I want to marry them,” they can do so. Legally. No matter who the other person is.

Love is precious. Love is valuable. Love is magnificent, it is mighty, it is miraculous. Love transcends sex and gender, politics and religion, culture and race, and it’s definitely got it all over joint bank accounts.

So if two people — any two people — love each other so much that they are prepared to stand up, publicly, and make a lifelong commitment to each other? Well, after all these musings, I know I’d like to live in a society where they can get married.

Not just because it’s 2015.

Because it matters.