What is the deal with February anyway?

What is it, with a date? Or even, a time of year?

I came to realise months ago that there was some peculiar, truly funny business concerning a certain month, and in particular often, a number.

The offending number was 27.

And the all-encompassing offensive month was February.

Specifically, February 27.

Because you see, on that date, a few things happened. Well, this year one BIG thing happened, but then it reminded me of other like things, and soon I was scratching my head and looking up at the planets and asking ‘what the?’

Was it a cyclical phase? Were the planets aligned a certain way the same time each year, making certain life-changing events happen? Was it coincidence (of which I don’t believe anything of…)

Chance? Hmmm…. nah.

Let me divulge.

I received a phone call on February 27. It was in the afternoon, from an unknown mobile number.

From my bosses, bosses, BOSS.

It was my great grand-daddy of bosses. Immediately, without even being in my industry, well, being a person of any workplace or industry… this was NOT a good sign.

I immediately thought to myself amidst the shock of it all, “some heavy shit is going down.”

I imagined bosses getting sacked.

A huge weather disaster.

A terrorist attack on our work building (I am not even kidding).

But as he began to speak, I started to see where he was headed…

What he said meant major changes NOT just for me, but for me and practically every person I knew and worked with and came into contact with in my daily work operations.

We, and I, were being given notice, of a more than likely redundancy in a years time.

I was in absolute and profound shock. I somehow managed to string some words together and sound somewhat professional talking to this grand-daddy of bosses. He expressed his need to talk to all involved, even if they weren’t at work that day when the news bomb had dropped. It was a hardening business, the industry was changing, and in doing so they were downsizing and moving on over interstate to help themselves, economically speaking.

I remember sitting with baby girl only minutes after the call ended. She kept asking that I play with her dolls. I sat on the floor with her, holding up some barbie doll, it could have been Ana, Elsa, Ariel, hell it could have been all of them for all I know. All I remember though, were the whirling thoughts in my head, the shock, the getting to grips with things. The adjustment. The profound sadness for myself and all of our team.

The acknowledgment, that this good thing, was coming to an end.

It wouldn’t be for another year. They didn’t know when the official move and migration would happen… at this stage, all we had was indicators, and we were given lengthy notice to help us in this massive change of our lives.

And we had known for a while. We knew this was coming. My favourite phrase was “if we’re all still here in 5 years, we’re VERY lucky…”

We weren’t lucky anymore.

And as I sat there, my mind bursting with all of this new information, I remembered something.

Something from that morning. Something that wasn’t shocking. Rather, something that had made me smile.

Because it had been a facebook memory.

You know how facebook reminds you of something you posted years ago, and it will say “on this day X years ago…”

Well I got one of those that morning. I got a “On this day 5 years ago…” and saw with absolute delight that February 27 had been the day I had made my birth announcement on facebook, that I was expecting baby girl. I didn’t share the memory again, instead I opened up the photo, remembered the comments, smiled so hard at the joy expressed from family and friends, and reminisced about a major and truly important milestone of our lives.

From Feb 27 2013. And on that day, Feb 27 2018, I was getting made redundant… soon.

But no, that wasn’t even ALL. Because the previous year, I had walked into the family room with baby girl at the start of the day, and upon opening the blinds, felt it odd I could only hear…

ONE BIRD.

We had two then. We had our trusty and loyal male cockatiel who had been with us for well over a decade. He had been hand-reared by both myself and Hubbie, and had travelled through houses near and far to be with us.

The other one was an Indian ringneck, recently given to us by some family members who could not give the bird the attention it deserved in light of them having had a baby recently.

Then, our cockatiel had been with us for about 15 years – the Indian ringneck, 6 months.

Both males. Yet both so different. The ringneck was cheeky and clever.

A dangerous combination. Because that morning as I decided it was all too weird that I could see one bird from the side view of his cage, yet I could not see the other, I decided to open the back door and take a closer look…

I gasped when I stuck my head out. The cage door was ajar.

The ringneck had escaped!

Feb 27 was whirling in my head. What? A Feb 27 incident from this year, last year, 5 years ago, and that wasn’t even the entire list of everything that had ever happened in February.

2 years ago I had had an accident, literally 20 minutes after jumping in to drive my new car. 20 minutes. My new car. Out of nowhere. This upsetting event was the precursor to my carcrashgratitude site being born.

And then 6 years ago in February, we found out a family member had a terminal illness. The ending wasn’t happy.

I couldn’t believe the insane symmetry of it all as I sat on the carpeted floor alongside baby girl. It was just too much. It couldn’t be a coincidence. Though one event was a happy one, the others were generally upsetting, with another one a shock, but one common theme threaded them all together…

They all indicated CHANGE. Whether the change was good, bad, or just a new adjustment. A learning curve. All these events brought with it major change and adjustment, a different way of coping or looking at life, of trying to deal, and grow in amongst much uncertainty around us.

An illness change – Someone passed away and it gave us an important life lesson in life and death.

A pregnancy change – The most beautiful life change you can get, that equally drives you insane as it does heap rewards on you.

A car accident change – It sent us on a spiral but I started my carcrashgratitude blog, a personal exercise in writing daily and finding gratitude in each day and in everything. 

A bird disappearing change – Some things are just there in your life for quite literally, a season.

And now, seemingly a career change – to be continued…

It must be planetary, there must be something above us making the same wheels turn again and again at the same time of year. I don’t understand it, though I don’t think I am meant to. I think I am just meant to do what I always do.

ADJUST.

And I have. I have had a long time to get used to my new adjustment. My new work change. I haven’t been able to talk about it though, and I don’t know why. Very few people know, and for some reason the words to talk about it can’t seem to find their way out of my mouth…

I think it is because saying it out loud, makes it more real. It means it is actually happening. Sure, it is about the only topic we talk about while at work, but away from work, when it becomes spoken of, well… then it becomes MORE real.

And when it is more real, you know what else will come?

“What are you going to do?”

And that is the clincher. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I have a million ideas. But I just don’t know where to turn to. And it is this unknowing that has me holding back.

roman-bozhko-251947-unsplash

Roman Bozhko at Unsplash

 

 

 

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The Root of all things

dark roots

CATE KENNEDY – Dark Roots

“The butcher becomes my friend. All day he bashes up the carcasses of dead things, and I’ve never seen the smile off his face. Now there’s a puzzle for you.”

Not only is that my little homage to my own smiley butchering Hubbie, but it beautifully represents the regular juxtaposition the following book presents… that beneath the common every day, lies something unknown, deeper, darker…

Dark Roots.

I came across Cate Kennedy and her work in a round-a-bout way. The year was 2013, and I was about 6 months pregnant.

It was also Hubbie and mine’s wedding anniversary, and on top of that I was going to a writing workshop up in the Dandenongs, hosted by none other than the above, yours truly.

I had been writing my young adult novel for a while, and when I heard about the workshop, was more than intrigued. More so because it was in a location we had been to the same time last year, and it was the foundation of this picturesque setting, that I decided to take a day off work, and take myself out of my comfort zone, and to a place, both figuratively and literally speaking, where I would be alone, vulnerable and at the mercy of possible harsh elements.

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Not just the bush, but the critics.

The day was eye-opening in many ways. I learnt much, discovered not to compromise my style, whether in life or in writing, and found that as much as some people there were truly lovely and supportive, others eyed me off judgmentally and with deep critique.

It’s to be expected when there are many of the same field in the one room, and abundance isn’t the universal language of all.

At the end of the day, I purchased a book from Cate, as I had never even come across her name or style. Dark Roots it said, and she wished me well in the inside cover.

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And finally, I started reading it over a year later, once baby girl was about 6 months old.

Let me start by saying that reading darkly-themed stories isn’t probably the best idea when you have a newborn.

Not to say the themes were horror and kept me up at night, when I already had a little monster doing that for me – no, not at all. Cate’s short stories embody a sense of unease about the world, about life, where people are placed in unfair situations, and in many of these they stay there. There’s a deeper meaning, a greater picture, a portrait to paint of the human condition. And it ain’t all fair and pretty.

Even when the endings are happy, and there are only few, they are so only by being bittersweet, where the happiness is tinged with just enough sadness to make you go, “oh, damn.”

Three things became apparent to me as I made my way through the stories. The first was how bleak the stories at the beginning of the book seemed, and how mid-way through they seemed to lift just that little bit to keep me going.

The second was the double-meaning of the story titles. Habit became an early favourite of mine, and very cleverly penned, both about drug use and a Nun. Resize becomes not only about resizing your wedding rings, but resizing your entire relationship. And The Light of Coincidence was another enjoyable one, talking about a favourite topic of mine, but one that showed the incredulity of life and how sometimes, things can work out in the most remarkable of ways. A game I started to play at the beginning of each story was to try and determine why the story name was as it was, only to find out it in fact had two meanings, almost every time.

However my third observation and confirmation, came early on in the realisation that I was not cut out for short stories, even more so, ones that had ‘dark roots.’ I prefer to fall in love with a set of characters and a different world over a period of time, where I dedicate myself to their path, rather than the quick chop and change, 15 or so pages dedicated to each story in this book. Having said that, Kennedy is one who performs this niche art form like the artist she is, capturing your attention, your heart and your mind, making you feel for a character who may be insane, pathetic, or a murderer, and make you root for them the whole way. She has an innate ability to pull at your heart strings by showing the rawness of life, and it’s because she does this so damn well, that I just can’t fathom the sadness of it all.

Her ability to represent life in its true form, either through dialogue or description is on key. She also brings an acute awareness to every day tasks, things that you wouldn’t normally think about, but reading her words you think ‘I get it.’ For example, in the first story the main character is climbing out of bed:

“This is how you slide from a bed: move your foot out and over the edge, find the floor, slide sideways supporting yourself on the bedside table, your fingers touching the fake antique lamp your parents gave you a pair of for a wedding present. Haul out from under the doona…”

And suddenly, I was the one climbing out of bed. Not only does she paint the picture as if she were watching you try to stealthily get out of bed undetected, but the addition of those physical descriptors, not just the antique lamp, but FAKE antique lamp from your parents no less, well here lies another back story…

Another story has a man fishing, and the visual imagery is so beautifully striking in its sadness:

“The trout lay there drowning in the air, and I could see the miraculous gills opening and closing, its eyes moving as it gulped the wrong element, two old scars on its big mottled back, and then everything slowed down and I reached my fingers, fumbling with agonised realisation, into the trout’s mouth to get that hook out, and I snatched the fish up in both hands and threw it into the water.”

And finally, when I read the following:

“Three years ago I tried some street coke and the hit was just enough, through the glucodin and speed percentage that seared into my nasal cavities, to make me make a vow to myself. I decided that if I ever had the chance, I would try the real thing: the purest, whitest, Colombian cocaine available to the casual buyer.”

I had to question, how did she know this so accurately?

However I had to remind myself of the funny fact I had once read, that writers become a neuro-blah expert on whatever they have set out to research, often overnight! It is just the life of a writer, to be as real as you can be about a subject matter… whether from living it, or studying it like hell.

In the story Habit, I found myself rooting for the protagonist to get through customs with their drugs, even before I knew they were dying, and needed the drugs! How does she do that? And when all became even clearer at the end, without giving too much away, suddenly all the Godly mentions and phrases had a double meaning that shone with heavenly clarity 🙂 I absolutely loved it, and it was probably the first ‘kinda’ happy ending that hit me, right there.

But many times, there was no ending. The story was just a window into another person’s world, their often difficult, uncertain life. There was the woman in Soundtrack, who suddenly had a child many years after having her first daughter, and how the ambulance couldn’t get there in time, so her teenage daughter helped deliver her child. And then life kept on going, to the soundtrack of life in the background. Then there was the story The Correct Names of Things, where Ellen worked in a Chinese shop in the 80s paying her way through uni. Another piece on how life is lived, and how you learn and attach names to things, where I had absolutely no idea where the story was going – it seemed, nowhere in particular, since it appeared to be more an explorative piece.

In Kill or Cure, the description of farm life was so meticulous, that I recalled Kennedy mentioning her own life on the farm many times, and suddenly it all made sense. The story of a woman moving to a farm with her farm husband, trying to adjust to the land, the life, and be accepted by him, the town, and his best friend, the dog… it was all so melancholy and lonely, I also had to wonder again, how much of it was fiction. Even without a proper ending here, you couldn’t not feel.

But for many of these stories, it didn’t appear to matter whether they had a purpose or ‘real’ ending, or not. They served their purpose by just providing a snapshot into another’s life, and I realised without my usual necessary closure need, that I kind of enjoyed it. The journey, and not the destination.

It was common to feel achy, sad and despondent when going through the book, like in the short story Angel, where the assault of a young child is hinted at and made definite by the direct retribution that happens after, and also Cold Snap, where a young boy is ridiculed and made to feel inferior. Here the boy is laughed at, with others saying in his earshot “it looks like the light’s on but there’s no one home,” so when those same few get what they deserve, you smile menacingly, while still feeling a pang of longing for a boy who doesn’t exist, and yet somehow, you know somewhere, he does.

Kennedy’s pace is fast, as suddenly you are here, then you are there, but it all happens in such continuous fluid motion that you didn’t even know you moved until you realised the sun was on your face as opposed to the bed you were just sleeping in. I felt like I could learn a thing or two from her genius. But I guess this is the way that short stories have to be, and when they are like this, they work brilliantly.

Her language is telling and cheeky too… like in the story Resizing, ‘lubricate’ is used in the context of getting a car started again, and yet it means so much more in a steamy car of a formerly fighting couple on the verge of reuniting. In The Testosterone Club, a house wife concocts some comedic revenge on her untrusting husband and his friends in the form of slowly curing pickles, which says so much about manhood and the ‘flaccid’ nature that it can fall into. Here, the routine and mediocrity of a boring housewife existence was captured well, recorded as so monotonous and regular, and yet so unexpected in its satisfying final outcome.

But, I found as I read, and continued to look back on my notes for Dark Roots, that there was Hope. Both in the form of me finding a short story that I really liked, and then the realisation that I might too, want to dabble in and try my own hand at short stories. I found my inspiration brewing in her story The Light of Coincidence. Not only did my home town and its landmarks feature prominently, but so did an area of speculation and great interest to me: Coincidence, fate, and how they play together. From the middle:

“Let me tell you a story, a connoisseur story of coincidence. There I was trundling down the ‘down’ escalator at Flinders Street Station, jammed into crowds of people, when who should I see but an old girlfriend I hadn’t seen in ten years going up the escalator across the way. She was in blue. Oblivious to my calling and waving, she disappeared up the moving stairwell. I was seized with an overwhelming urge to say hello, and at the bottom I turned and raced back up her escalator and was deposited in the whirlpool of commuters on the ground floor. No sign of her. I raced outside and saw her blue jumper, sixty or so metres up Swanston Street, so I barrelled across the road and caught up. Tender greetings followed.

‘What a coincidence,’ I said. ‘I just looked up at the right time to see you on the escalator in the station.’ A puzzled frown crossed her face.

‘I wasn’t in the station,’ she said.”

Chills, or what? The goosebumps I got from reading that grabbed my attention, and kept it more firmly for a good while after. Because when a writer develops in you some kind of emotion, whether that be sadness, grief, or more happily, belief and Hope, that is when one tends to turn up more often, and listen.

And after reading this book, I am listening.

There is Hope (and coincidence) for me just yet.

Kennedy’s short story title accurately portrays the content which you will find inside. Surface level will show you the every day, whereas when you go beyond this, and to the roots of the matter, you will find that in the character’s thoughts, lives, and ideas, some darkness lives. In doing this, she helps us teeter on the thread of human existence, where on one side it is sunny and well, and the other shows the motivations, fears and hopes that drive us, with the overwhelming blackness that can sometimes unify and occupy us all.

I see short stories in a different light now. Much lighter than the Dark Roots they came from, and I have Kennedy to thank for that. I am now looking forward to reading her other short story collection, ‘Like a House On Fire,’ waiting for me on my bookshelf.

I guess it takes time, but often things will work themselves out like that. Like the closing sentence in my favourite story, The Light of Coincidence:

“I slide it out and fit it into place, feeling the whole configuration resist, and move slightly out of skew. I move it back with the flat of my hand, feeling it shift. Strengthen. Interlock.”

Please let me know your thoughts on Dark Roots in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you 🙂

 

Dead on Time

Unlike my previous estimation, in the past week and a half I’ve attended 3 funerals. Not really a record I wanna be making, or breaking.

Death has been not only a present factor in my life, but in the lives of my family and friends. Two functions this month have been cancelled because of said Deaths, with one notably being scaled-down due to a family members passing.

Throw in some other bad news from the media, also of a ‘Grim’ nature, and it just feels like the start of what’s meant to be a very festive month, has started off very, very sad. I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s been affecting everyone. It has to be planetary, it’s too much of a coincidence.

Something occurred to me while I was at the most recent funeral (and which I’m hoping was my last). I had entered the service only a few minutes after the start time, but the Italian priest was already well underway into his piece. He was speaking with such conviction, that I wished I could understand what he was saying. It sounded important, and like it might just change my life. Nevertheless I kept listening, trying to remember what I could of the language I’d dabbled in at high school when I was 13.

Sitting there, I suddenly realised that with all 3 funerals, I’d been, we’d been, late. Not by much, only a few minutes past the hour for the commencement of the service, but still. Few minutes past, and we were late.

I thought of other occasions held in churches, not of a sad nature. Weddings never started on time. Christenings, you could bet your life they’d be running late, babies being surely unpredictable and all. These joyous, happy, memorable occasions never ran to schedule. Arriving as a guest, LATE, you would be forgiven for not being on time… because the guest-of-honour would most likely not even be there yet.

Life. Death. The living are late… and the Dead don’t wait. They don’t wait for no one.

These thoughts kept circling in my head. The living are late: we have all the time in the world, yet really, it’s the one thing we all complain about – lack of time. And the deceased have no where to go, yet they are punctual. On time. For what? The afterlife?

So maybe, we should keep complaining. Keep running late. Running late, we have somewhere to go, someplace happy to be. Someone to see, and company to laugh with.

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock.