Tag Archives: Sleep

Amanda Palmer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and asking without shame

It’s midnight. My children will wake up in six hours and I can’t sleep. I tried everything, but now I’ve given up. I open my computer and find a message on Facebook from a friend. I had been telling her about crowd funding to get myself to a conference in Portugal and how it felt like begging and she said you must watch Amanda Palmer talking about asking for help.

When I told her that asking for help to get to Portugal felt like begging I was not speaking in metaphors. I have been clean and sober for sixteen years. I am writing this the day after Phillip Seymour Hoffman died with a syringe in his arm, after having been clean and sober for twenty three years. I am writing this with a keen memory of standing on King Street in Newtown, begging. Sometimes it was for drugs. Sometimes it was for food. Sometimes it was for a coffee so I could sit in out of the cold and feel like I belonged to the rest of the world.

Once, it was for a light. I held an unlit cigarette in my hand and asked, and asked, and asked. People said no before any words passed my lips. They assumed it was money I wanted (and usually it was, but that night it wasn’t). I got angrier and angrier. Finally somebody stopped, and lit my cigarette without meeting my eyes, and moved on.

People rarely looked me in the eye. I know what begging feels like.

So when I won a $2,000 travel scholarship from my university, and worked out that I would need another $2,250 to actually go, I was reluctant to ask for help. I searched out other sources of funding, but there was nothing available. Eventually, I decided to set up a pozible project. Was I begging? Was it ok to ask other people to help me? Was it fair?

In the first two days there were pledges made to the value of $1,565; I have just over $600 until I reach my target. I was overwhelmed, and thrilled, but also ashamed. I had asked for help, and asking had made me vulnerable. I had offered poems and post-it notes covered in kisses from my children as rewards. Was it enough? Was this fair?

So tonight I watched. I watched and listened as Amanda Palmer in her tight black jeans and beautiful boots and painted on eyebrows held a white flower and stood on a box and talked about asking for help. And I heard her speak about crowd funding, and then she said this:

“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly. But more important: to ask, without shame.”

So now, I am asking without shame. If sixty people read this, and pledge $10 each, I will be able to go to Portugal this May. And when I get there, I will read my hybrid poetry/theory/memoir, and absorb Lisbon through my skin, and write more poetry, and know that I am not on King Street anymore.

I am asking for help to do something real: to move my body through space, to find poetry wherever I land, to send hope spiraling back to the woman I was. To speak. To write. To travel. To create.

Cake success and blogging from the driveway

The cake was an unmitigated success (if I do say so myself). The pre whizzed and frozen cake mix thawed and cooked and rose beautifully. I actually enjoyed the icing and decorating, and the whole thing got et. When asked what his favourite thing about the day was, Monkey replied “the caterpillar cake” without hesitation. I have to say, it felt pretty good. I’m unclear how I became infected with the cooking-a-good-birthday-cake-makes-me-good-mum cultural meme but I have. I could go on, but this mum’s done it for me (and if you haven’t discovered her brilliant crappy pictures blog yet click through – it’s rare that things I read on the interweb actually make me laugh out loud but this does). Ok nuff said about cakes (except that Sparrow turns one shortly and I can’t guarantee I won’t go through the whole bloody thing again).

I keep waiting for a moment (just me and my laptop) to blog in but it just doesn’t come. So instead I’m blogging from my phone while Sparrow sleeps in his car seat. I’m dreaming of a cup of tea but I know that if I go he will wake. So the payoff is a quiet moment in the driveway writing this. I hate the keypad though. It disturbs me that I can’t press down on the letters, that there’s no sense at all of imprinting. I want to feel the words going down, tactile, that up and down of actual keys (better yet inky lines and paper that smells of 15 and afternoons reading like I would never stop). But my phone is what I have with me, and I’m grateful to have gotten down something. Sparrow’s awake and thirsty. Fragile in the cool afternoon. Here we go again.

The family laundry and missing women (mothers, take your babies)

Sparrow has had a feed, a vegemite sandwich, and a sleep. All in the Atrium. This means I’m out of tricks. He’s next to me in the pram while I kneel on the floor and type. We’re at The Family Laundry and I’m hoping that if there’s anywhere baby noise will be tolerated it will be here. I find a tiny green striped maraca in the bottom of the nappy bag and for now, he’s happy. There’s a woman with a baby in a sling walking up and down behind me, then standing still and rocking; the baby dance. Sometimes I do this dance in supermarket lines, even when there’s no baby on my back.

Sparrow rollingAnn Patchett reads from her new novel, State of Wonder, and I take Sparrow to the back of the theatre to do a nappy change. There is a thin flap that unzips from the nappy bag, the only thing between his body and the slate floor. He squeals and kicks and I try to be as fast and as clean as I can. State of Wonder sounds thick with gorgeous writing but it slips over and past me. The nappy change is done and I lie Sparrow down on the strip of wood flooring that cuts through the slate, to type with both hands, to try to pull words from the air and get them onto this page. Maile Meloy is reading and then Georgia Blain. Sparrow has rolled nearly onto the slate. He bangs the maraca and tries to sit. I am momentarily jealous of the baby dancing woman who could type right now if she wanted to. I try a breastfeed even though he’s not due. I hope that a nipple will create enough quiet for me to at least hear, even if I can’t write. I try to type one handed. It’s excruciating. Sparrow keeps lurching away from my breast and swiping at the keyboard. He’s making so much noise I feel sick. I give up. We go out to the Atrium and I drink coffee, and breathe, and decide to try again at the next session.

A young woman with an Equal Love t-shirt and forearms crisscrossed with cuts stops and smiles at Sparrow and reaches carefully to touch his hand. He grins at her with his gappy teeth, spit dripping from his chin. We talk. I try not to look at her sad arms. Sparrow, I think, has made her afternoon sweet.

The friend that I’m with comes to find me and we make our way to Missing Women. I put Sparrow in the ergo and try to be present. Carpeted floor. That’s good. A wide escape stretching out behind me. Good too. I bounce and rock and listen to the recorded intro. Sparrow makes noise, but I hope that he will sleep. Chris Gordon, who’s chairing the session, asks why, with so many women in publishing, do most non-fiction books and biographies feature the lives of men? Katie Holmes stands behind a lectern and says she is staggered by the stories of grief and the stories of hope that she hears from women. Sparrow squawks. Chris smiles at me (he’s out of the ergo and I’m trying to breastfeed him again – he’s so full of milk that it’s spilling from the corners of his mouth but I want to stay and so I keep trying to keep him quiet), a warm smile, a smile that says I understand. But there’s someone else in the audience who glares, a few times. I put him back in the ergo and try to get him to sleep. Please. Sleep. I fail. The cranky woman is psyching me out. I bail.

Sparrow sleeps on the peak hour train and then on the walk home. By the time I open the front door it has been a five hour round trip and I feel defeated. What I know is that I tried. And what I want to say is this: mothers, take your babies. Stretch these adult spaces. Require them to open up for you. And if you, out there, see one of us with a pram or a sling and a small squawking thing, trying to do something more, trying to make the world a bigger place, at the very least, hide your disapproval.

This is my last MWF post. Last week I watched Monkey reach a bubbler in the park in our street that he’s never been able to reach before. He pushed himself onto tip toes and pressed the button until a small trickle emerged. He had to poke his tongue out to get any water, but he did it without needing to be picked up. I feel like I had to do something similar to get to this festival. I had to push and stretch and do something that I didn’t think I’d be able to, and I’m glad that I did. Tired, but glad. Thank you for reading.

The glue of good fiction (and a sleeping Sparrow)

My pram being used as a laptop tableI type this with Sparrow on my back. My airbook is balanced on the hood of the pram and jiggles as I type. I hear “the intimate space of other people’s relationships” and “reflect our own world back to us” and I sway and type and sway and hope that Sparrow will be lulled by amplified and echoing voices instead of kept awake.

There are four women in armchairs in a semicircle on the stage. Marion Halligan is introduced first. She has an easy slouch, a silver grey bob, and Sparrow is saying “ya ya ya” in the soft, raspy way he has. I zone in and out. I hear and don’t. I see the Yarra beyond the glass back wall of the BMW Edge theatre and a girl child riding her bike, swerving to miss the clichéd joggers and tourists.

Enza Gandolfo is chairing and next she tells us about Jane Smiley and Gail Jones.

This theatre is big and full of light. There is a huge space at the top, at the back of all the seats, and I am relieved because maybe this bringing a baby into sacrosanct adult space will be ok. He blows raspberries into the middle of my back. Sings into my shoulder blades. Can I rock and type and bounce for an hour? People in the back row turn to look, and mostly smile.

The last to be introduced is Elizabeth Stead. I keep bouncing and trying to listen but there’s more “ya ya yaing” and a gang of seven year olds is inspecting the architecture of the glass wall on my left. A child with tracksuit pants that don’t quite cover her ankles traces one of the metal supports and lags behind to peer in at us. A teacher moves her on.

Enza wants to know what kinds of relationships these writers are interested in exploring and Marion says birth, love, marriage, and betrayal. She says she’s tired of hearing this called women’s writing, that Shakespeare wrote about the same thing too. She’s interested in the having and the not having of children. She says that this generation is full of young women pushing forty and desperately trying to get pregnant.

Sparrow still singing. And doing this thing where he pushes his whole body against the ergo and jiggles up and down at the same time with a loud “ah ah ah ah” like that will help him escape.

Gail talks about the collapse of the present into the past. That when people leave the room we don’t stop having relationships with them. She says that there’s the physics of the text, but it’s the metaphysics; time, space, memory, the inner and outer, that interest her.

1.15 and I think Sparrow is asleep. His breathing has taken on a regular, deeper cadence. Can I stop rocking?

I concentrate again and hear Elizabeth say “I write more about people who are lonely.”

It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I walked into a wind tunnel in the city yesterday that nearly pulled the pram from my hands. I wrenched my shoulder in the holding on against that fierce blowing and now the ergo straps have set up an ache. It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I listen but my heart is beating fast. Always this division. I can’t listen with my whole self. Part of me is reserved for “is he waking?” and “will he be hungry when he opens his eyes?” and “I could sit in that chair there to feed him” and “if he makes too much noise we’ll just have to leave” and, and, and.

And suddenly they’re all talking about flat irons, and who remembers them, and the ironing of old wedding dresses in Paris.

Then Jane says “the occasion of the storytelling is displacement” (I am displaced). “You just start writing” (I am writing). “The novel is linear because words are linear… that’s your boon and your bane… you hope that once the words enter the reader’s mind they’ll become three dimensional”. I am entranced. I forget, momentarily, about my children, and I am all there, all words, undivided, inhabiting this talk, breathing it in. Gail is speaking and she says “you don’t need to know where you’re going, you need to see the space of illumination in front of you”. I see the space of illumination in front of me. The way is clear.

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.

Lost: huggalug and sense of equilibrium

I may have already said this, but Sparrow and day sleeps don’t go together. At all. He ends up sleeping on my back in the ergo, or during pram walks, or in the car. Last Thursday I tried for an hour to get him to sleep in his cot because I needed to breathe. Because I wanted to write, and drink a cup of tea, and stare out the window without a wriggly baby on my hip. When I had those I-must-be-alone-right-this-second feelings with Monkey I would assume it meant I was a bad mother. Despite years of therapy and a pretty decent amount of self awareness, my ability to descend (not descend, that almost sounds gentle – to plummet) into guilt, shame, and bad-motherness is extremely well developed.

The hour was interminable for both of us. I should have given up sooner. I turned off the music and the heater, lowered the cot side, and picked Sparrow up. And felt desperate and alone. And like a cliché. Woman in house alone with baby, going quietly mad. So I changed his nappy, rugged him up, and put him in the ergo on my back. At least that way he’s behind me, I thought, and I am facing outward. At least I can walk. Woman with baby walking has to be better.

While I walked I listened to the podcast that currently helps me to stay sane – a Buddhist psychologist named Tara Brach. On joy. It’s far braver and harder to live in joy I heard. Sparrow wriggled and grunted on my back. Joy is a complex thing, it is an expansive saying yes to this moment, here. Yes, I tried, my chest cracking with the weight of one deep breath. Sparrow grabbed for my scarf. Sleep, baby.

I felt behind me for his kicking legs, thinking that if I could still them he might settle. My left hand brushed icy skin. Sparrow has these things called huggalugs; essentially baby leg warmers. The left huggalug, and with its left sock, had fallen off along the way. No wonder he couldn’t sleep. By the time I discovered it we were a few kilometres from home. So I pulled the sleeve of my jumper over his foot and ankle, and warmed his toes in the palm of my hand. Five minutes later, he slept.

Tara spoke on and I let the idea of joy wash through me. I tried to see the creek, to look at the sky instead of the path. I turned towards home, Sparrow’s foot still in my hand, and scanned the path for the huggalug. I was ten minutes from home before I found it. Those green and blue stripes unmistakable on the side of the path.


The movement of crouching to retrieve it made him stir, but not wake. Fifty more metres gave me his sock. I stopped a couple on the path and asked them to put the sock and huggalug on him. They said they had seen those, and wondered who they belonged to. I remembered that, before having babies; wondering why there seemed to be so many baby socks in the streets. Sparrow’s foot now warmed, I kept walking, and listening, and he stayed asleep long enough for me to get home and make a cup of tea. And to drink it, still hot, while staring out of my callistamon framed kitchen window. Joy.