REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, PART TEN

Over at Facebook, I was tagged in a meme that required me to list three things that made me grateful, every day for three days.

So I thought I’d list them here, too.


  1. I’m grateful for my art. It has provided me with friendships, income, travel opportunities, and was the vehicle by which I escaped the soul-destroying depths off despair I was slowly being crushed by while working in the Public Service. I’ll never be famous, I’ll never be remembered, and I’ll never be considered at even the middle of the tree, but my art has been the thing that has kept me from disappearing into the obscure midst of my mediocre family tree, and I’m grateful.
  2. I’m grateful for a reasonable income. Yes, we struggle, and we juggle finances on a fortnightly basis, but I’m aware that we do so from a level of decent comfort. My children go to a good school, my wife is able to study, essentially, full time, and we have room to both expand our horizons and entertain our hobbies & indulgences. We never suffer, and having both come from backgrounds of grinding poverty, Lyn and I have only ever wanted our children to appreciate a good upbringing.
  3. I’m grateful for the respect of my peers. I get little of it at work, and I rarely feel like an author doing good work, so when a fellow artist expresses their respect or admiration for the work I do then it usually comes as an enormous, and humbling, surprise, because, to be quite honest, I generally don’t know what I do to merit it. I’ve undervalued my work for so long– it’s only in the last fortnight, for example, that I’ve decided to set a minimum fee for appearances, despite doing them regularly for the last 12 years– that I’m always a little stunned when others do value it. And grateful, because sometimes, I doubt I’d go on without it.
  4. I’m grateful for my readers. Despite all the mechanical hoo-ha-ra that goes into writing, ultimately it comes down to entertaining a stranger with the power of your imagination and your words. Anybody who comes back for a second helping, or who picks up my work because they like the cut of my snippets, is someone who has chosen to invest their time and imagination into my maunderings. It’s a weird kind of long-distance love affair of the mind, and I’m thankful to all who take it on.
  5. I’m grateful for my children. As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve read this Facebook page for long enough– by which I mean half a day or more– my kids constantly entertain me, fill me with wonder, and enrich my life by keeping me innocent, impish and focused on doing good for others who need me in their life. Whether it be my naturally-arrived Miss 12 and Master 9, or my inherited bonus kids Cassie, Aiden and Blake, granddaughter Little Miss 2, grandson Little Man
  6. I’m grateful for the quickness of my mind. I’ve mentioned before that my father’s mind is failing, and it’s killing me to watch a charming, erudite, quick-witted man struggle for words and concepts he used to fling about like gossamer. I love being funny, I love being deliberately unfunny to spark a funny exchange, I love to tease, to argue, to explain, to build worlds and concepts out of nothing more than my vocabulary and my ability to knit words into never before-seen shapes and tastes. All my other gifts belong to the people who bestow them upon me. This is the only thing I have going for me that is purely mine. If it ever begins to desert me, I don’t know what I’ll do.
  7. The care and love shown to Master 9 during his illness by people who have no other investment in it than they are his teachers, or our friends. From just-because gifts, to messages of support, to structuring his classroom, people have gathered round him for the 14 months of his illness and provided him with an atmosphere of caring and support that has done wonders for his morale and self-esteem. To Kris, Kim,Grant, Lilysea, Mark and countless others, my gratitude.
  8. Free education. I went to a shitty High school in the 80s, when my pre-Child Support Agency divorced mother raised two teenage boys and covered a mortgage on a single mother’s pension and a $30 a month in child support payments, and thanks to a nominally free education system I still managed to claw my way through 4 years of University. Now, it’s going to cost tens of thousands of dollars to send my children to a good high school. Much as I would love to do my Master’s degree, I simply can’t afford it. My wife’s attendance at University each semester is a matter of financial negotiation. My eldest sons struggle to hold down shitty part-time jobs and find enough time to attend to their study obligations. If I were starting my educational career today, I’d be working at K-Mart full-time, because that’s the best that people like me could have hoped to afford. I’m grateful that free education enabled me– and subsequently, my children– to escape a lower-class existence through education.
  9. A stable political system. Yes, Tony Abbott and his Ant-Hill Mob of witless cronies are a blight on our culture, and yes, we can argue back and forth about the relative merits of our chosen allegiances until we’re blue in the nads. But nobody shot at me today, and I own my house, and my children are safe and my wife can wear whatever she wants and get herself a tertiary education, and any meal I’ve missed since I was at Uni has been by choice, and I have freedom of travel, speech, religion and thought. And I’m an artist, and a well-paid member of the permanent workforce. I’ve never been conscripted, I’ve never fought in a war, or against my own people. I’ve never been gaoled for my beliefs, tortured, or disappeared. My neighbours don’t spy on me. I’m safe, and warm, and comfortable and educated. And I’m grateful.


And, things being what they are, here’s a little bonus extra grateful content:

10. Above all else, I am grateful for the presence of Luscious Lyn in my life. We have been together almost twelve years now, which boggles me to think of, and in that time we have faced innumerable struggles, traumas and hardships, but throughout it all she has been the pivot around which our family revolves. She has brought me unparallelled joy, belief and support, and whatever happiness I have managed to gather unto myself has been, in large part, because she is beside me, pointing me always towards positivity and joy. I cope, and occasionally flourish, because of her. I am a better person because of her.

And for that we should *all* be grateful.

HELLO? IS IT ME YOU’RE LOOKING FOR?

I’m still alive.

I realise things have been deader then Dannii Minogue’s career around here lately, but things have changed significantly since last I jotted something down in this space. Reality has eaten my life. My new job— Cultural Development Officer at the City of Rockingham — takes up every ounce of my day: it’s been 17 years since I’ve been anything but a Commonwealth Government employee in my day job world, not discounting a couple of years in the middle where I was afforded the luxury of being a stay-at-home Dad. It’s not just that things are done differently in my new environment, it’s that people think differently, even when confronted by situations that are inherently the same. Whilst it’s been an education to learn just how many attitudes and processes I’ve internalised over the years, breaking out of those modes of thought and adapting to a totally new way of doing business, amongst a completely different set of personalities (people’s personalities are defined by their workspace— another adaptation I’m having to learn) is taking time.

To add to the hilarity, we currently have more than a full house—Darth Barbie has been back with us for the last three months, after having left a relationship which went bad in the way that knife fights go bad when you don’t realise the other guy is packing an M-60, and working through the scars of it has been, well, shall we say, hard for all concerned (Not for him, as far as I can tell. Just hard for those of us who give a damn.) And Aiden, whilst still in year 12, has found a steady girlfriend, who is now his fiancé, and is 15, and is pregnant, but not to him…. Oh yes, it’s a simple life we lead.

Somewhere in the haze of get up-go to work-come home-have dinner-take part in the latest crisis-watch the World Cup-snatch a couple of hours sleep-get up that my days have become, there has been writerly stuff. Not actual writing, you understand, that’s just crazy talk, but associated writerly stuff that at least keeps my fingers in the pie. My withdrawal from the writing world, forced and voluntary though various elements of it may be, seems almost complete: I managed to bump into a few old writing colleagues at the WA Museum’s breathtaking A Day in Pompeii exhibit yesterday, and it was pleasant, but hardly the fiery, passionate mental affair of days past. Perhaps I’m just growing up—it’s impossible for me to be interested in writing if I have writers and my family in the same place.

Still, writer-coolness abounds:

­ I’ve just attended my second Writing Race at the AWM Online, a fun online forum where an invited writer hangs out with attendees, swapping tips and anecdotes and writing like a mad thing for an hour, which is always a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

­ I’ve stepped up to the plate and agreed to act as a judge for this year’s Aurealis Awards , in the Graphic Novel category, comics being a long-held love that’s been shunted into the background while the SF thing became established but which is rearing its wonderful head again.

­ The ever-lovely Tehani Wessely has accepted a reprint of Claws of Native Ghosts for the upcoming Australis Imaginarium anthology she’ll be publishing through her bright and shiny new publishing venture, Fablecroft Publishing.

­ I’m involved in developing and pitching an online course in Science Fiction Writing (of which more details when it’s a going concern).

­ And I’ve just received through the mail the podcasting materials for an upcoming episode of Keith Stevenson’s Terra Incognita podcast.

All good, clean fun.

Added to which, there’s some interactive Battcool which you can be a part of: Lyn’s brilliant story of family and loss, The Mikarr Way, has been posted as a free web story over at Electric Velocipede. Go, read, enjoy, marvel at my darling wife’s talent.

Lyn and I will also be appearing at the A Toe in the Ocean Writing Festival, two weeks from now, where we’ll be giving a science fiction writing workshop. If you’re in the area it’ll be well worth coming down and having a look.

And, of course, the biggest writing news item of my day…….. which is the subject of my next post 🙂

PORTRAIT FROM THE ARTIST AS A 17 YEAR OLD GIRL

Cassie’s over, she’s waiting for her fiance to turn up so we can have dinner, she’s doodling idly on a piece of paper.

“Tell me what to draw,” she says.

“A chicken.”

“What, just a chicken?”

“Okay,” I say, kinda concentrating on my own thing and not really paying attention to her. “Solving binomial equations.”

Two minutes later:


This, from the child who will insist she has no appreciable talent whatsoever. Don’t you just want to slap the self-knowledge into her? 🙂

AND THE REST

So why, I hear none of you cry, has it been so long, and why, none of you echo, have my messages been so damn depressed-sounding lately?

Three weeks ago, I fell ill. No idea why, really, but it resulted in two weeks off work, and on the 27th, I spent most of my day in hospital being checked out for suspected appendicitis (it wasn’t).

The following afternoon, we received a phone call, and spent three hours driving to Bunbury to bail out Darth Barbie, who’d been arrested.

She’s been with us since then. To say it has been easy would be… wrong. Normally, I’d be all ranty and get it all off my chest, but this one is different, I think. This girl hs been allowed to go so far off the rails that bringing her back into a normal sphere of thinking is too important, and ultimately, too private. I feel like we’re fighting to bring someone back from the precipice, and it’s exhausting, it’s frequently devastating, and we spend almost the entirety of our time trying to keep our family unity together in the face of a child whose only recourse to dealing with the world is to spit hatred and anger at those trying to save her.

This family is going for a long walk. We may be some time.

16? SWEEEEET
Consider us old: my Bonus Daughter Cassie turned 16 on the weekend, which means can officially anticipate grandchildren in any given year from now on (although with no current boyfriend, and a consideration that all the boys she know are “fairly idiots”, the actuality of grandkinder remains blessedly distant).
Still, I’m checking out gun shops in the Northern Suburbs, just in case.
16 is a bloody awful age, imho: you’re pretty much expected to be an adult, yet receive all the privileges and responsibilities accorded a child; half the time you’re so on top of your body that the most complex tasks are like dancing on water, the rest of the time you’re lucky to stand up successfully; you’re not ready for half the stuff you want to try, and more often than not, the stuff that’s forced upon you terrifies you ; everybody around you is more mature, smarter, better around boys (or girls), or just has a clearer idea of what the hell they want to do with themselves…. a pox on it.
Cassie’s as angry as a sixteen year old gets, and defence, for her, is definitely the best form of attack. And much of the time, I just want to peel back her skull and damn well force the understanding in. But there are times when she shows the kind of adult she will be: intelligent, hilariously funny, adept, artistically inspired, and capable of great acts of kindness and caring. It’s been a bumpy ride, no doubt about it, but there’s only adulthood ahead of her now, and I can’t wait to see what she makes of it.
DUCK!
What the hell: it was an excuse to frock up– Luscious and I wandered down to Swancon last night in order to attend the WA Science Fiction Achievement Awards, affectionately (and at least semi-officially) known to all as the Tin Ducks.
There is a reason for the name. I can just never quite remember it.
The Tin Ducks are my favourite awards, for a number of reasons: I’ve never seen a result I’ve wanted to argue with; the voting membership is generally far more au fait with the work they’re judging than with the Ditmars; nine times out of ten, the nominees are people I know and whose work I respect; I’ve never won one, and Lyn’s won two!
And then there’s the Mumfan.
The Mumfan (respectfully, and hardly ever, officially called the Marge Hughes Award) is deeply special– no matter what comes before it, it is the highlight of the award night, a recognition of those fans who work so hard throughout the year to make Perth fandom an amazing place, out of no greater sense of reward than a love of our community and the genre which brings us all together. At it’s simplest, no matter what precedes, the Tin Duck Ceremony ends with a standing ovation for an award for being nice. If the Ditmars are Loves ya, maaaate, the Mumfan is We love you. How can you not enjoy being a part of that?
To all who won last night, my heartiest congratulations, but on a purely personal note, my warmest affections towards Mumfan award winner Sarah Parker and my good buddy Martin Livings, who won Best Long Professional Work for his novel Carnies, consigning me to the runner-up spot. In this case, I can say with not a hint of disingenuity or falseness that I was far more happy to have lost the race than won it. A most apt and deserved recogition for a fine writer with far too much of a low self-image. Told you we all believe in you 🙂
Oh, and the room party afterwards was a bloody larf 🙂

A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A FAT BASTARD

Heh. Typical: every year I say I’m going to lose weight, and it never happens. This year I make no promises to myself, and for no reason I can really pin down, I start eating better, get some concerted exercise into my legs, see the doctor and have all the tests done, get on some helpful medication, and lose 13 kilograms in just on 7 weeks.
I’ve made some big changes this year: withdrawing from much of the inconsequential foo-farah that was clogging up my mental space; concentrating on writing rather than the cat-vacumming aspects of the business (goodbye LJs, goodbye mailing lists, goodbye review sites and message boards, and on and on…); returning my attention to securing our financial health and putting the requirements of the family and house above all other matters; and generally just making a sustained effort to bring a sense of balance into my personal equilibrium.
I’m astonished at how good I feel about life. I have a renewed sense of purpose. I feel inspired. My writing has taken a quantum leap forward- Lyn, my most accurate and uncompromising critic, says the work she’s reading now is by far the best I’ve ever done. I’ve accomplished more around the house this year than I did in the entirety of 2006. And the weight, well, it’s not dropping off. I’m working damn hard– I climb an average of 35 flights of stairs every work day, I walk home from the train station (somewhere between 40 and 45 minutes a day), and I’ve started hitting the gym for a high-cardiac workout a couple of times a week. I’m fitter, I’m faster, I have more energy than I know what to do with… I’m sparking, baby 🙂
I’ve got a long way to go, as the little graph below shows, before I hit my goal weight. But I’ve discovered a determination hiding behind a mental corner I’d overlooked before this. It’s not a matter of if. Just when.
The next SF convention in Perth is, conveniently, on the weekend of my birthday, the 10th and 11th of November.
That’s the goal.
(And just because no petard is worth its weight unless hoisted, let it be known that I, mocker of Big Brother extraordinaire, currently watch The Biggest Loser every night. I choose to call it a spur to inspiration. All those friends with whom I’ve shared BB evenings over the years, you have earned the right to call it payback 🙂 )


A PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER AS A YOUNG BOY

One of the things my mother left mewhen she died was a large plastic bag full of photographs, a companion to the enormous plastic box of photos she left my brother. When we moved to our current house I packed it away, without much of an idea what I was going to do with it other than keep it around to amuse myself with when I needed to bore the kids with stories of my past.

Re-arranging my computer desk last week, I realised that what I really needed to do was to scan them all in, so that I could burn them to CD. Then I could give a copy to my brother, and I’d have an indestructable collection of photos so I could amuse myself when I needed to bore my grandchildren with stories of my past. This was the first photo I pulled out:

Me, aged somewhere between 3 and 5, I’m guessing. Looking at it, I’m struck by how innocent I am, how there’s a look on my face that says I’m just happy to be here, just soaking it all in because everything is wonderful, everything is an adventure and a source of excitement. It’s the same look I see on Connor’s face, that same happiness. Looking at it, I feel old, and broken down, and sad in a way I don’t feel a man with such a happy family life has a right to be. And honestly, I look at myself now: in my mid-30s, in constant pain, with a million responsibilities and a million and one irritants, and I don’t know which urge is strongest– to somehow go back, to put my arm around this little boy and sit him down, tell him of his future and all the pitfalls and pains that will beat him about, and give him the clues and the keys that will turn him into me, mid-30s, pain-free, with the world at my feet and all the power and fearlessness that innocence should become; or to gather my children into one all-embracing hug, look into the innocence and happiness in their faces, and weep for what will become of it.
Or maybe I’m just getting old and mentally flatulent.
And then I do look at the two children I have fathered, and I hear my friends and family telling me how much of me is present in their faces, and I struggle to see it– genuinely, hopefully, I look at their faces and see nothing of myself. And I wonder how much is projection, and how much is hope? And really, in the end, it doesn’t matter. I have 5 children, and only 2 of them have a share in my face. And I would die for the three who have no share in my genetic heritage every bit as much as for those who do. I have 5 children, and I love them all dearly, and as long as I do right by them that is enough.
I should have taken better care of my future, when I was young. At least I have some chance of helping my children do so.

Any Dad in there?

WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY BONUS-DAUGHTER?

So Luscious is on the phone while I’m in the shower on Monday night, and as I’m drying myself she sidles up to me and says “Got some news.”

“Oh, yes?”

“Cassie’s coming to stay with us for a couple of weeks. She’s on her way now.”

My part in the kid-decision-making process has been completed- I’ve been informed. Battening of mental hatches commences.

Except since she’s been with us she’s been brilliant: taken part in the family stuff, gone in to her course with Lyn in the mornings, had lunch and girlie chats with her Mum, watched TV with us without complaining (She sat through Time Team and asked interested question, and we even watched The OC with her last night, so the love-fu is going both ways), and when lyn and I rose this mornign we discovered that her last act of the evening was to clean the kitchen from head to toe, just because. We even had a potential flash point over which bed she was going to sleep in for the duration, and how shocked was I when she acquiesced without a struggle?

She’s been fun, and funny, and polite, and interested in being an active part of the family.

Ascribe it to whatever cause you like: the distance from her father’s sorta-parenting-sorta-techniques; a calm before the storm; the rules we laid out before her in a calm manner when she arrived; a gift from the Giant Charlton Heston Impersonator In The Sky- I don’t really care.

This is the Cassie I wanted back when I wrote my big-ass Year in Review meme a couple of days ago.

Long may it last.