Living the Dream and Donna Summer

I’m typing this in my new kitchen.

It’s light and bright and the ceiling is double height. It looks new. It still smells new.

More — no most — importantly, it feels like HOME.

The Bloke and I dreamed of building a house for a decade before we had the knowledge, funds and chutzpah to pull it off. Physically occupying the place we have been imagining for so long is gratifying. It also feels strangely familiar – we designed this home, right down to the last detail, and it has been a pleasure (and a relief) to see the final form take shape exactly as I had pictured it would.

We’re beyond happy with the result. And we’re all happy to be here.

Even the cat.

But the best thing is, it’s home.

Did I mention that already?!

The past few weeks have not been without their challenges, but they have also been filled with good things. Like curling up on our new couch with Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop, watching Zan Rowe’s Take Five. The Tony Armstrong episode rocked (as does Tony Armstrong), and it reminded me just how great Donna Summer’s song I Feel Love is.

Incredibly, Summer recorded the vocal in a single take, ushering in a new age of disco and electronic music. It still sounds amazing, with its driving rhythms and floating melody. The legendary David Bowie told the story of how Brian Eno heard I Feel Love for the first time while they were recording in Berlin, and come running in to say he had heard “the sound of the future”.

If you haven’t already clicked on that link and started listening to it, do it now!

This house sounds and feels like my future.

I’m content, even though there are still a few boxes lying around (mostly of books, because my library shelves have not yet arrived).

We dared to dream and now we’re living the dream.

And, as I might have mentioned, it feels like home.

An Oasis in Time

It’s been ages, folks…I’ve been keeping a lot of balls in the air (which does make me happy), but it’s nice to find a moment or two on yet another rainy day in Sydneytown to tend my tiny patch of cyberspace.

Our house build is ever-so-nearly complete, and it has been truly gratifying to see my castle in the air take shape in solid form, particularly since my mental image and the finished product match.

Now, with the finish line in sight, my mind has turned to packing things up and turfing things out, to sorting out insurance and utilities, and to booking removalists and deliveries and cleaners and all manner of other bits and pieces.

It’s a lot, but it’s all good.

I’m at a point in my life where I am far better at making conscious choices about how I spend my time, and I was grateful today to find a few moments to read a novel at the hairdresser (instead of drafting interview questions for my next article), and to tap away for a few brief moments here (instead of packing yet another box).

It’s these small oases in time that allow me to fill my cup, and enable me to keep all the balls in the air.

I’m learning to pay attention to the little prompts from the universe which, by coincidence — if you still believe in such things — presented me with a picture of a beautiful wadi in Oman when I switched my laptop on today.

I understood the message.

Find time, find space.

What did the universe tell you today?

Mind yourselves,

BJx

Write Like You’re Running Out of Time

I’ve not been posting much here lately.

It feels like my patch of cyberspace is looking a little desolate: far more like a wonky pavement with weeds spilling from between the cracks than a verdant, carefully tended garden. That said, there is a good reason why I have neglected this space, despite my various attempts to nurture it over the years, and that is I’m trying to finish the first draft of my novel.

Writing is one of my great true loves. I love the feeling of sentences pouring forth from my fingers, pooling themselves paragraphs and flowing into pages of prose. I savour the feeling of selecting precisely the right words and placing them in a specific order to bring a particular scenario, emotion, or plot point to life.

But it takes time.

It takes time to enter the headspace of the character whose perspective you’re writing from, to inhabit their skin and to bring their inner life and backstory to the forefront of your own mind so you can produce a believeable, genuine response to what is happening in the story at any given time. And to achieve that, you need to possess a clear understanding of exactly where the tale you’re telling has come from and where it will end up — because you’ve had to create all that too, not to mention the world in which it takes place.

And sometimes you need time just to sit with an idea.

For the past two days I have been allowing a scene to germinate in my head. I’ve got some writing done, sure, but writing is not always about how many words you’ve got on a page. I’ve needed time to flesh out a new character in my mind, to understand where they fit into the action and how they relate to the other characters who already populate my world. I have needed time to figure out what they look like, how they move, and what makes them unique. And then I have needed time to turn my attention to the first impressions the character whose point of view I am currently writing from might have of them, and what knowledge these characters possess about themselves, each other and the wider plot of the novel as a whole. Only then could I map out how these characters might interact, and to decide what information I needed to hide or reveal to build suspense and drive the story towards its climax.

And that’s just for one small scene at the end of Chapter Thirteen!

Writing is hard, sometimes, no matter how much you love it.

It’s hard to find uninterrupted time to let the story unfurl in your head in the way I have just described.

It’s hard to admit you’re writing a novel in the first place.

It’s hard to answer questions about when your book will be finished, or where you’re up to, or whether it will ever be published.

It’s hard to silence the ever-present and insistent voice of my inner critic, who frequently tells me I am a fool for attempting to write a novel, or I’m arrogant to assume anyone would want to read it, or I’m any number of other negative things. (Then again, I’m yet to meet a writer whose inner critic does not persist in making a multitude of unhelpful comments and suggestions, usually at the most inopportune times).

It’s hard to keep believing in yourself and your story, knowing it might never make it onto the printed page.

But since I have started creating my characters and the world in which they live, I feel a strange sense of duty to make sure I see them through to the end — even if it means my patch of cyberspace suffers from benign neglect in the meantime.

As Glennon Doyle says, we can do hard things.

So I wish you well with whatever hard things you’re doing.

I’m off to write that scene.

Mind yourselves,

BJx

The Art of Hoping

Nearly three hundred years ago, a young French nobleman by the name of Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues was encouraged by his friend Voltaire to publish an assortment of essays and other writings, appended to which was a collection aphorisms called Reflections and Maxims (1746).

Among these sayings was one I stumbled across the other day:

La patience est l’art d’espérer.

This short phrase translates, very simply, as “Patience is the art of hoping”.

Finding this shiny little gem of a sentence was helpful to me, particularly as I am currently working on two long term projects: building a house and writing a novel. Both of these ventures require abundant quantities of patience, not least because La Niña has been persistently wreaking havoc with the weather and head colds have been stubbornly interfering with my children’s health and school attendance.

For much of my life, patience has been a virtue that has often eluded me. I have written before about being stalked by the Grey Cat of Restlessness, which I freely admit is much easier to live with than Churchill’s Black Dog, but which also presents challenges of its own — especially when longer tasks are involved.

It’s not that I’m not prepared to do the work or put in the hard yards. Watching our new home slowly emerging beneath the scaffolding is exciting, and writing makes my soul sing even on the dreariest day.

But, like Inigo Montoya, I hate waiting.

I think that is why I appreciate de Clapier’s aphorism (number 251 of 700, no less) putting such a positive spin on patience. By highlighting the role of hope in being patient, it becomes far more aspirational rather than temporal.

I like hope!

As Emily Dickinson said: Hope is the thing with feathers. It allows us to take flight.

I like steadfastness, too. It allows us to persist.

In fact, I’m a fan of a whole raft of great qualities that can help you when things — especially creative endeavours like building houses and writing novels — feel like they’re taking forever.

Because even when things feel interminable, it is worth remembering that life is short, and ageing is a privilege.

Just ask Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues, who died at the tender age of 31 the year after he published his collection of essays and other writings. Because he did it…he finished the book, and published it, even if he did so anonymously and he didn’t become famous for it until a century after his death.

The art of hoping allows us to persist, even when our patience cups feel depleted, or leaky, or empty.

Maybe especially then.

Because we never, ever know what is just around corner.

The most absurd and reckless aspirations have sometimes been the cause of remarkable success.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues

Mind yourselves,

BJx

The Thrifty Fictionista Is Cranky

Readers, the Thrifty Fictionista is cranky.

Seriously cranky.

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.

Hard.

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.

Rescued

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.

“We can get her, if you want”.

I’m so glad we did.

Thanks for being the best cat ever, Tauriel.

Spicy Coughs & Spirit Animals

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.

His spirit will always live on, if we let it.

If we aspire to it.

If we let it shine like Taylor Hawkins did.

Strange Days

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.

I know my love for the ocean will.

Mind yourselves,

BJx