Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things I learned from the Zombie Christmas party

The other night we had our work Christmas party. The theme was "The Zombie Apocalypse." Like all work Christmas parties, it was fraught with danger. Mostly the danger that you will get too drunk and say what you really think. But it turns out most of us already say what we really think. 

"You know," said a partner of one of my workmates, "at our Christmas party, when the boss stands up to give his speech everyone shuts up. You guys heckle." 

And we heckle damn good. 

But here are the things I learned from the Christmas party: 

1. I cannot play pool. Although I play it moderately better drunk than when sober, I still cannot play it. I don't know why I keep believing that I can. 

2. I work with trained investigators, one of whom sidled up to me, grinned, and said "You don't look like a INSERT PSEUDONYM HERE." 

I always told myself that if I was confronted, I would look vaguely confused and ask politely what they meant. But it turns out that what I do instead is absolutely piss myself laughing and demand more alcohol. 

3. I take all of my photographs in Alco-Vision. Which turn out like this: 

Incorrect: back lighting. 

Incorrect: no lighting.

And, my absolute favourite: 

Incorrect: can't feel my face...I just...oooh...THUNDERSTRUCK!

And I don't feel bad for posting these photos of my colleagues, because there is already worse on Facebook. By which I mean recognisable. So I am avoiding Facebook for the next week at least. 

4. I am an ex-smoker. Ex is apparently short for "Except when I've drunk so much I can't feel my face anymore." 

5. When in doubt, put ACDC on the jukebox. 

6. Finally, it's interesting trying to get a taxi when you're covered in fake blood. 
"What's going on here?" the driver asked suspiciously. 
"Zombie party," Katrina managed. 
Leaning against the lamp post, I said, "Braaaiins!" 
Luckily, he gave us a lift anyway. 

What have you guys been up to this week? 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A tricky word...also, I give some thanks

Okay, so the other day I was reading the comments on and feeling morally superior -- I do this a lot, because hell, I'll take whatever edge I can get. And there was a story about how poorly our swimming team performed at the London Olympics, and whose fault it was, and how this national tragedy could be prevented in the future. Because for some reason it matters that people from my country should be able to swim faster than people from other countries, even though I can think of no practical application for swimming a tenth of a second faster than the next guy in the real world. You know, unless there are sharks after you. In which case, may I suggest a boat? 

Anyway. One commentator blamed everything on the fact that our swimmers are worked too hard. They train seven days a week, he said. They are sent to competition after competition after competition, and when they arrive at the Olympics they are literally buggered

As you can imagine, it took some time for me to get that image out of my head. 
Also, I almost died from laughing too hard. 

What is it about literally that so very many people get wrong? 

Hey, and for those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had a good one. And for those of us that don't, maybe we should. It's a nice sentiment, and it's always a good thing to take a moment and reflect, isn't it? 

Last night I had a friend from work over. We drank some good wine, some awful cider, some much better cider, and talked for hours about how shitty and stressful our job sometimes is. And she said that she needed to get something in her life apart from work. Something that would give her a place to pour her frustrations and work out some of that crazy pent-up energy you get when your brain has been skipping from crisis to crisis to crisis for eight hours straight. 

Like you, she said. 

And on that note, if I haven't said it before I'll say it now: I am so incredibly thankful for writing. I love it. 

What are you giving thanks for this week? 
Or, what words trip you up every time? 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Siege Mentality. Also, a Disney question.

Because of my possums I have developed a siege mentality. Or, at least, what I think might be a siege mentality. I haven't actually looked it up. Also, I haven’t tried tunnelling out, but I’m not ruling it out. Except then I would probably discover wombats, right? Which would be just my luck. I mean, I like wombats, but only in the abstract way I once loved possums. Before I found myself sharing a house with them.

My niece Meg heard about my latest possum encounter. She let me borrow this book.

Possum in the House is a chilling urban horror story filled with terror and disquiet, masquerading as a children’s picture book. Scary stuff. What’s scariest is the fact it was first published in the 1980s, and has a record player in it. Remember those? You weren’t allowed to touch them in case you scratched the records or broke the needle. Or, because of that one time, when you threw a wooden coat hanger at your sister’s head, missed, and smashed the glass cabinet the records were in. And then you got grounded, so you had to sneak out your window, commando crawl through the BBQ area, and climb the back fence to play in your favourite storm drain.

But anyway, possums. Short of closing my windows, there’s not much I can do.

Okay, so closing my windows might sound like an obvious solution, but it really isn’t. And here’s why:

It’s November. It’s stinking hot. If I don’t have open windows, I don’t have a breeze. I need the breeze or I will die.

Also, I cannot close my windows. Literally. The last time I closed them was during my Cyclone Yasi preparations several years ago. I beat the hell out of the latches but nothing happened. So I unscrewed them with a power drill. I figured gravity would do the rest and the windows would close. Not so much. Apparently my windows pre-date gravity. In the end I got a hammer and bashed (delicately) around the window frame until they came unstuck. It took over an hour to close all the windows in my very small house and, unless another cyclone is breathing down my neck, it’s not something I want to do again.

Also, there’s no point. Even if I close my windows, the possums can squeeze through the wooden shutters in my kitchen and bathroom.

So I’m trying not to feel to besieged. I’m trying to feel like a Disney princess instead. Because if you can’t fix the problem, you’ve gotta try changing your attitude right?

Me now, under siege:

Me next week:

But with possums. 

Which Disney character would you most like to emulate? And let's not forget that Star Wars is now in the game. In which case, I'm gonna change my answer to Han Solo. Now and for always. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Story with a Moral (and inappropriate language, and marsupials)

Last night at work I was wondering what to blog about today. I'm not one of these organised people you may have heard about, who plans out posts weeks beforehand. That's okay. They say that you should let your personality show when you blog, and I think that my general lackadaisical attitude really shines through in my posts. So, mission accomplished. Anyway, I figured that at some point between finishing night shift, sleeping most of the day away, and crawling out of bed in the mid-afternoon, I'd come up with something I could blog about. 

I got home just after 6 a.m. I fed the pets, and read through the instructions from the vet on the dog's medication regime. Because of her arthritis and an ear infection, she's a junkie now. My mum turned up. She's one of those Morning People. I don't understand them, but I recommend keeping at least one in the family. 

I told her a bit about my night, we planned a trip to the shops tomorrow, and we were still talking about nothing much at all when I went into my bedroom to get into my pyjamas. I walked in, turned around to respond to something Mum said, and FREAKED OUT. 

"Holy fuck," I said, which is never a good thing to say in front of your mum. Even when you're an adult. Because she raised you better than that. 

"What?" she asked. 

"Holy fuck," I said again, when the word I was looking for was, in hindsight: POSSUM. 

And look. Here is my oblivious dog, being oblivious. 

"Jesus, Cleo," I said. "What if it had been after our TV?" 

Who am I kidding? Cleo has a drug habit now. If anyone's going to steal the TV, it will be her. 

"How should we get rid of it?" Mum asked. 

"Court order?" I suggested. 

Luckily my mum is more practical than me. 

Step 1: With the use of a stepladder and a towel, we removed the possum from above the door. It escaped briefly in the living room, dashed out the back door, and tried to climb the rail on the back steps. It swung around repeatedly trying to gain purchase. It looked like an astronaut in one of those spinny-training things. This was the point where my mother was laughing so hard she dropped the step ladder, and I tried to get the spinning possum on video but connected to my voicemail instead. 

Step 2: We bundled the possum up into the towel again, righted the ladder, and tried to introduce the possum to the possum house hanging outside in my car port. The possum scrambled straight over it, onto the fence, and into the neighbour's palm tree. It was about this time, just when I thought I could call it a victory, that the cat vomited on the back steps. 

So there you are. Last night I didn't have anything to blog about, and I trusted the universe to provide. It provided a possum. And cat vomit. 

Moral of the story: Careful what you wish for.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ha ha! Made you look!

The lovely Marian Allen tagged me this week. And here is the game: 

Tagged, you’re it! Who remembers that game? In this take, the requirement is to copy several paragraphs from your current manuscript with the word ‘look’ in it.

And while my last post technically qualifies, I'm going to give you more of SWUP: Slightly Weird Untitled Project. In this installment  the boys are being civilised. They don't know why. (Pantser confession: neither do I.) 


You have to learn, the Captain says, and this is what happens.
Bootlaces go under and over and under and over all the way to the top of your boots, and you make a bow by pressing your finger down on the crossed-over laces and wrapping them around again.
You hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right. You don’t use your teeth to cut your food.
You don’t use your fingers to eat it.
There are clothes to wear in the day and clothes to wear in the night. You don’t wear clothes twice in a row. Clothes get taken away to get washed. When they come back they are clean and flat. You check the black letters on them against the ones written on the inside of your arm -- Ryan -- to make sure they are yours.
You call everyone except Mitchell sir. 
You look at them when they talk to you.
You are moved out of the hot shed. You are given a canvas cot to sleep on in a building in the middle of the Settlement. It is a small building. It has four rooms. You share a room with Mitchell. The Captain’s room is right next door. The other two rooms are empty. At night they lock you in. 
You piss in a trough in front of all the sirs, but you use the cubicles when you need to shit. 
There is toilet paper and zips and elastic and buttons and soap and taps to remember. You have to get them in the right order as well. 
You don’t drink from puddles. 
You don’t eat stuff off the ground.  
Toothpaste tastes of burn. You put it on the brush and make a ch-ch-ch noise on your teeth until the Captain tells you to stop. If you don’t, you’ll have to go back to dentist. 
The dentist hurts. It takes two Men to strap you down in his chair, and he digs his fingers into your jaw until you can’t help but open your mouth. He clamps it open too, and tells the Captain he’s not paid enough to get bitten by some feral fucking kid, and the air from the mask smells wrong. Then your bones dissolve and you don’t care that the dentist’s blue gloves taste bad on your tongue and in the back of your throat. 
Afterwards, your whole mouth hurts and tastes wrong. Your jaw aches. So do your arms and your ankles where they strapped you down. So when the Captain listens to you make the ch-ch-ch sound with the toothbrush, you don’t care that it tastes of burn. 
You’re clean and dressed and you say sir and answer to the name they gave you. 
You’re being civilised. 
This is a good thing. This is a proper thing. 
Their eyes shine when they tell you you’re being civilised. 
They don’t tell you why.

And I'm passing the challenge onto some of my favourite bloggers: 

Marsha from Marsha's Musings
Miss Cole from Miss Cole Seeks Publisher 

Show us what you've got, ladies! 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hold Me Closer Tiny Pantser

I have no idea for a post today -- my pseudonym broke my brain after having to go on a blog tour and come up with a whole bunch of posts that were supposed to be creative and amusing and interesting and free of typos. Not sure how successful that was on any count... 

Meanwhile, instead, here is something I wrote earlier. 

Remember I shared some of my drunk pantsing with you guys a while ago? This is from the same story. I call it SWUP: Slightly Weird Untitled Project. Still don't know where the hell it's going, but I suspect it will end badly for all concerned. 


I’m the shadow in the rain. 
I’m the whispering in the walls. 

I’ll be the last thing you see coming. 

Fear me.
If it took nothing but heat and hate and wanting, the Men would be dead. A fireball would rip through the Camp. It would buckle the tin on the roofs. It would blister the paint on the walls. It would catch the Men and make them howl. It would bend their spines and crush them in its burning fist like dried leaves. It would consume them. 
It would. 
I would. 
I raise my face to the grey sky. 
The Captain squats down beside me. He rests his elbows on his knees. His hands dangle from his loose wrists. “You okay, Ryan?” 
I shuffle closer. 
He exhales slowly and it sounds like weariness. He releases it into the air. “You ever hear the story about the scorpion and the frog, Ryan?” 
“You know what a scorpion is?” 
Another shake. 
The Captain’s mouth curves into a smile. His eyes shine with a laugh he can hardly hold back — can’t he see the shed? Can’t he see right through the walls? Can’t he see Mitchell, feel him, even from here? “Okay. We’ll make it about a spider. A spider and a frog.” 
I watch while he rolls a cigarette. His tanned fingers are dexterous, practiced. His gaze travels the fence line. “So there was this spider, and it wanted to cross the river.” 
I lean toward the sound of his voice, and I fucking hate that I do that. I should be burning but I’m wilting. 
“It was a venomous spider.” The Captain lifts the cigarette to his lips. He runs the edge of the thin paper across the top of his tongue. He is still watching the fence. “It knew that if it tried to cross the river that it would drown, but its children were across the river. A frog saw the spider waiting by the water, and came and asked what was wrong.” 
The old man at the T-House used to tell stories, but not the same as these. The old man used to tell us about when he was young and his back wasn’t bent and he ruled the town and we laughed at him and jeered at him and threw rocks on the roof on the T-House. 
Bang, bang, bang. The rocks would hit the roof and then slip down the gutters of the corrugated iron, rattle, rattle, rattle, bigger and louder and more, until it was thunder. 
Shut up, old man, shut up, we yelled, and drowned him with our storm. Our thunder made him small, small as we were when the whole grey sky growled at us and flashed its jagged teeth. 
I didn’t listen to the old man’s stories. I never waited open-mouthed for his words. I never let him draw me in like a fish following the dip of a feather across the surface of the water. I lean towards the Captain, towards his spiders and his frogs, because these words are clever words. They’re the same simple shape as spiders and frogs, they make the same noise, but put them together and then you see there were other words hidden behind them the whole time. 
The Captain turns the cigarette in his fingers and catches the end between his lips. His hands pat his pockets until he finds his matches. A dry rasp, a flare, and the sweet, heavy scent of sulphur curls up my nose. The flame dances in the Captain’s grey eyes and then it’s gone. Smoke settles over us. 
“So the spider asked the frog to take her across the river to her children.” He smiles slightly as he remembers I’m there at last. He turns his gaze on me. “The frog didn’t want to, because he knew the spider was venomous, but the spider begged and pleaded. Eventually the frog agreed to swim her across the river, and they set off.” 
I hunch my shoulders and look at the dust between my boots. 
“Halfway across the river, the spider bit the frog.” The Captain’s smile is still hovering around his mouth. “The frog asked the spider why it bit him, because now that he was dying the spider would drown as well. I can’t help it, the spider told him as they both slipped under the water, it’s in my nature.” 
In the silence that follows I wonder what I’m supposed to make of that story. 
I wonder if the Captain thinks he’s the spider or the frog. 
I wonder which one I am; if there’s any sting left in me at all, or if I’m just too tired and drowning slowly. 


What are you working on this week? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Melbourne Cup Runneth Over.

Today is The Race That Stops A Nation.

It’s Melbourne Cup Day which, if you’re in Melbourne, would probably be fantastic. You get a public holiday, and you’re pretty much expected to go the Flemington, get drunk and gamble. Australia: a land of proud traditions.

You can get as frocked up as you like:

This is from 2011, and probably hideously outdated by now.
Or make another choice entirely:

And I wish I could tell you I'd most likely be in the first picture, but I think you all know me better than that. 

“The Race That Stops A Nation” isn’t just hyperbole. You try making a business appointment for Melbourne Cup afternoon. Try going to a shopping centre, a bank, or even the dentist. Because when the race is on, all customer service ceases. Everyone watches the race. It’s kind of like how I imagine the moon landing was. Except it’s every year. And there are horses. Which would have made the moon landing even more exciting, honestly.

 My earliest memory of The Melbourne Cup is drawing sweepstakes in primary school, and watching the race on TV. Looking back, I wonder how appropriate it is to teach children to gamble. I wonder if they still do it.

Melbourne Cup Day is strange. If you can get the day, or even just the afternoon off work, there is a general expectation that you'll head down to the nearest pub or club. There you will pore over the form guide in the newspaper like you actually understand it, throw around terms like “boxed trifecta” as though you know what that means, and listen to the advice of strange old men who smell of beer and tobacco that lurk in the TAB and promise you they have a sure tip. 

This year I’m not working. This year I have the whole day off, and I’m going out gambling and drinking just because it’s Melbourne Cup Day. No, I’m going out gambling and drinking because it’s a friend’s birthday. The gambling will be incidental but the drinking will be compulsory because Nikki is ex-Navy. She still drinks, and swears, like a sailor. Going to be a big day.

I’m putting everything (by which I mean ten dollars) on Ethiopia. The form guide tells me it doesn’t have much hope of winning, but I like the jockey’s colours. Wish me luck!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A brace of rifles bristled in the wind

I don’t have a favourite sort of music, not really. I’ll listen to anything at least once, whatever the genre. For me, it’s not just about the music — it’s about the words. This is probably because I don’t have the proper frames of reference to talk about music — I don’t know how to describe the anatomy of a piece of music, but I do understand words.

When I was a kid, I was drawn to narrative songs that told me a story. Stuff like Eleanor Rigby, or Puff the Magic Dragon, or Abba’s Fernando. Even Johnny Cash’s I’m Being Swallowed By a Boa Constrictor.

(Okay, I’m going to stop this list right there. Not just because it’s really uncool, but because soon I’ll be tempted to Google the lyrics to that Slim Dusty song Rusty, It’s Goodbye.

Childhood trauma right there. My dad used to think it was funny to play that song on car trips and make me cry. Because the dog didn’t know that his master was dead! And he waited! HE WAITED!!! 

Excuse me while my inner child has a breakdown.)

I love songs that are narrative, evocative, and with language that is as lyrical as the music that underpins it. This is from E. Watson by The Decemberists:

Til I’m dust I’ll never know why he came ashore,
With all those killers gathered on the shoreline.
Kicking holes in ugly mud with trigger fingers pinched,
A brace of rifles bristled in the wind.
And we towed his body northbound and buried him all face down
With a good view into Hell.

That’s poetry even before you add in the music.

You can listen to E. Watson here: 

I think of songs like these as fuel for my Muse. They aren't the soundtrack to my life -- those are the commercial songs that are played everywhere, and you learn to associate with specific events or periods in your life -- they're the songs I've hunted down and chosen for myself. They're the soundtrack to my writing life; the songs that spark images and ideas every time I hear them, and never fail to draw me in. 

Tell me why you love the songs you love. 


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