Tag Archives: Melbourne

Festival, not freakout (and the glacial PhD)

mwf logoI’ve been trying to get to the Melbourne Writers Festival for some years. I was planning to go when I was pregnant with Monkey, but had pre eclampsia and was spending four hours, three days a week hooked up to monitors and having my blood pressure taken. In 2009 I had a ten month old baby who hadn’t slept through yet and festivalling was definitely not on the agenda. Last year I thought I’d get there for sure. Then my lovely wife was hit by a car while she rode her scooter to work and I was the only able bodied (34 weeks pregnant) person in the house. This year is my year.

Am I excited? A bit. Am I utterly panicked at the logistics of going to the festival, blogging about it, and managing Sparrow and Monkey and the rest of my life? Completely.

I think it’s a coping mechanism. Worry is easier for me than joy. It’s been that way for most of my life. Joy (excitement, happiness, gleeful anticipation, all of that good stuff) is something I have to work incredibly hard at. So I’m repeating this mantra: festival, not freakout. Festival like fun, like sun, like words and books and like-minded people. Festival like food for my brain, and my heart, and the part somewhere in between where poetry lives. Festival, Karina, not freakout.

And then there’s the glacial PhD. I feel like someone shot the starting gun and I’m wandering around in circles behind the starting blocks trying to work out which way to run. And trying not to run. I took myself out to the bungalow on Tuesday night and got two hours of study in (incredible achievement for a tired Mama – Sparrow was in the Children’s last week with an intussusception). Unfortunately my head did not think this was an incredible achievement. My head was so concerned about how to keep track of what I was reading and then where to file what I found that what I was reading barely registered. I’m floundering.

Today Sparrow and I went to the library and it took four hours to borrow some books, track down some theses, talk to my faculty librarian and get back to the car. For most of that time he was something to be managed while I tried to get tasks done. This is what I missed: the cuddle he gave me when we got out of the car (he goes still and melts into my shoulder for sometimes a whole minute before sound or movement draws his attention). The miso soup he lapped at, catlike, on my lap outside the Japanese place on campus. The grinning “ba ba ba” when I stopped trying to get him to sleep and got him out of the ergo for a feed. The way he holds one foot while he drinks and absorbs only everything. Every thing. He fell asleep on the way home so I’m sitting on my chilly front step drinking tea, eating one of the season’s last tangelos, and writing this post. I am remembering that I would not be attempting this PhD if I’d never had kids. So in the spirit of thx thx thx (and also because I’ve been practicing gratitude for about fourteen years – it works, but it needs to be practiced):

Dear Sparrow,

Thank you for being my constant companion so that I am required to treat the small moments I have like a rare treasure. Thank you for sleeping better in the ergo on my back so I can use your pram as a book barrow. And thank you for grinning at nearly everyone we meet on campus – you have made conversations with strangers an easy thing.

If you see me at the festival in the next couple of weeks, do me a favour. Stand next to me and repeat: festival, not freakout.

MWF here I come

Federation Square Theatre (BMW Edge)

Image via Wikipedia

The Melbourne Writer’s Festival has selected me as one of their five ‘UNbloggers’. I’m a bit in awe I have to say, being such a brand new blogger and all. My first response was excitement, and my next was more along the lines of what-was-I-thinking-I-can’t-take-an-8-month-old-baby-to-a-writer’s-festival. But I’ve just decided that I can, and that it’ll be ok. There’s plenty of couches scattered in that big undercover bit at Fed Square (perfect for breastfeeding), there’ll be a change table somewhere, and Sparrow will magically sleep through each of the minimum ten sessions I attend. Ah. Sleep.

I’m guessing that writers and audience alike may not feel particularly warm to either a crying, squirming, squealing, or singing baby. I wouldn’t have been, pre-baby. Note to self: paranoia and doing other people’s thinking for them whilst attending the festival will not be conducive to the kind of relaxed and inquiring state of mind I’d like to cultivate. More notes to self: everyone there was a baby who interrupted a grownup at some point. Sometimes childcare is a hard thing to get and babies need to travel with their Mamas. Sparrow might magically sleep through the sessions (yeah right). Even if every post ends up saying something like “the first five minutes of this session was amazing, and then I had to leave because…” that’s ok.

I’ve downloaded the app and made a must see list. It’s twenty-one sessions long, and that’s only because I couldn’t include anything after dark (Sparrow’s not so crash hot at going to sleep for the night without me).

Essential items (please feel free to add to this list in the comments): pram, ergo, cruskits, pear slices, blanket, quiet toys, food and water for me, all the other stuff that goes in a nappy bag, laptop, iPhone so I can dictate my posts as I think of them in case I can’t type, pen and paper for old school moments, a brave face, and the serenity prayer. No I’m not religious, but the serenity prayer is gold.

Knocking at MWF’s door

Merri Creek World War 2 Northcote bunker creek...

Image via Wikipedia

The Melbourne Writer’s Festival is running a competition to select five bloggers who will be given free festival passes if they can attend and blog about ten sessions. So confession time: I’ve never been to a writer’s festival. It seems unconscionable, unforgivable even. But here’s the thing: it’s taken me until now (36 years old, two kids, phd student, two very small publications in the works) to call myself a writer and not cringe or expect to be shouted down by random passers by. And if you’re not a writer, how can you possibly go to a festival for writers? I entered the competition. MWF asked us to write 200-500 words on the theme ‘Stories Unbound’. I’m posting my entry below. And hoping that I’m selected. And wondering in a vague sort of way how to manage a seven month old at the MWF, but trusting that it’ll be ok.

Here’s my entry:

I am writing this in a car, on my phone. I have a notebook in the nappy bag, but I know it will be hard to find the time to type up longhand notes later, so I tap the touchscreen and keep an eye on the autocorrect – it keeps trying to corral me. Apostrophes appear where they shouldn’t be (it only understands possessives) and it’s determined to turn my eses into zeds.

My baby is asleep, for now. He is seven months old and thinks sunlight is a solid thing that he can catch, and eat, and hold. The car park we are sitting in is filling up around us and people are moving places. It’s almost a given that the only long day sleeps my baby will have are when I need to be somewhere. Otherwise he catnaps. He bursts from sleep exactly as my eyes droop. I struggle up from the drowse and keep going. And in amongst it (the loving and the shopping and the walking and the cleaning and the ache that is me being pulled in two) I write.

I write in snatches. I steal time. I remember the luxury of not writing, because there was always plenty of time to do it later. When I can’t write I speak into the voice recorder on my phone to catch at stories and snatches of poetry. Later when I transcribe my voice I will hear birds and wind and the grinding pump of the sewerage works underneath my words. We walk, my baby and me. It’s the best way for him to sleep in the day and I crave the outness of it. There are other women on the creek path pushing prams and running to catch up with helmeted children on bikes and we give each other rueful smiles.

Walking, stories rise up from cement to meet me. For five days there is a drowned and headless cat on the path, and I look and don’t look. It is black, and bloated, and sprawled. I try to imagine it being a loved thing but all I can see is the gaping rawness of its neck. I can’t bring myself to do anything about it. Then it’s gone. Then for a week it’s just me and the baby and an uneventful path (except for the three barking Pomeranians that wake him on Monday). On Tuesday I see a man in a tracksuit leading a woman along by her hand and he is holding that hand so tightly that when I look at her fingers I see they are purply white. And then on Wednesday, a pink pashmina hanging over a bare willow branch. Like a flag, like a streamer, like a story unbound.

This is where I find stories, at the edge of a wintery creek. I capture them carefully. I lay them down with respect. I walk. I speak. I write.

Write while your children sleep

Baby sleeping

Image via Wikipedia

When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought (and said as much out loud) that I’d be able to finish a novel I was writing while the baby slept. The parents I said this to kept a straight face. Write. While the baby slept. While I was doing my Post Grad Diploma I said it to my supervisor and he said that it was possible, that I could get a few hours of writing in each day if he was a good sleeper. Had he done this? He spoke as if he had. I’m guessing he had another person to make the dinner and do the washing and and and…

It would take me an hour sometimes to get Monkey to sleep, and then I would feed myself, put on some washing, go to the toilet, and too soon, too soon, hear that sound. A whimper. A squall. It would make my throat catch and my chest tighten. The noise of my children waking still does that to me. It’s as if, while they sleep, I am returned. All of me is just for me. So that stomach drop at the first stirring signals an ending. An end to my own sleep in the night, and in the day an end to writing, or reading, or cooking, or phone calls, or sitting still in the square of sunlight that lands on one of my kitchen chairs at 11.3o each morning.

So no. I don’t write while my children sleep. At least not in the day. My grandfather was a poet and routinely rose at 4am to thunk poems out at his old typewriter. Sylvia Plath reportedly did the same. I won’t do this kind of writing, and can only imagine that in the cold and quiet dark, the kind of work produced would be coated in black ice, would be polished by the lonely night. Right now I write in the hullabaloo. I speak poems into my voice recorder as I do pram walks along the creek near my house. I type posts on my phone while Sparrow sleeps in his car seat in random Melbourne car parks. I snatch and grab at writing time in the bright noise of it all and hope that what I make is good, and warm, and full with my riotous days.