July and books

I tell people far too frequently that some places have a bad month. I’m in the middle of Canberra’ bad month. I can’t escape it, either, and have not been able to since COVID first hit. This is one of the charming side-effects of being one of those who are vulnerable. This July is particularly nasty. It just is. It’s not the wind from the snow or the cold nights. It’s not lack of sunlight, though it might be the weak excuse for bright sunshine. It’s only partly drafts and open doors and friends forgetting promises to help. In fact, two friends are actually helping later in the week and I shall be that much less uncomfortable and I shall see them and July won’t be nearly as bad, that one day. Other friends have, these last few years, responded to my July-depression with “I can do this thing and it will help” and two thirds of them have succumbed to July before they could. This is the nature of July in Canberra. (I strongly recommend that if you have any friends who are confined for all these years, don’t make promises. It’s better not to promise than to give someone hope and then not follow through.)

What gets me through July, every year, but this horrid year in particular, is story. Only I’m grumpy and don’t want to talk about what I’ve been reading. I don’t want to drag you into my morass. Instead of telling you what I’m reading, then, I’m going to give you the names of three books that make me smile when I think of them. I’ve read them so often and I suggest them to everyone all the time. Just talking about them pulls me out of the winter gloom.

Not everywhere in Australia has winter gloom, by the way. An hour and a bit from here and you have the best snowfields in the world in July, but I cannot reach them and I cannot ski. I don’t want to ski. I want to make snow angels and drink mulled wine and eat hot chips and talk half the night with friends. This is not something that’s achievable. What is achievable is to think of novels set in that part of Australia. Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series are those novels. They have been with me since I was a child, and one of the joys of moving to Canberra, 30+ years ago, was knowing that, if I looked carefully outside in a drive towards the deep mountains, past Cooma, I might see Thowra.

One of my favourite scenes in the Silver Brumby itself, has wattle, and the early, early wattle has just come out around the corner from me. A cold wattle, pale yellow and, just this once (because we missed autumn storms) concentrating wildly with the glowing leaves of the maple next to it. I wanted to take a picture, but it was dusk and it was the first time I’d walked anywhere in a month and I simply could not carry my camera. My phone doesn’t like pictures in the half-light. Still, the red maple and the pale golden wattle shone, and I thought of the Silver Brumby, and I smiled.

While I’m thinking of my childhood, let me dream of the Scotland of Peter Dickinson. I was supposed to be in Scotland this week, in Glasgow, attending a conference on fantasy. My paper had been accepted and I was wildly exciting. Then COVID had its say, and I’m stuck at home.

Dreaming of Emma Tupper’s Diary is not a bad way to think of Scotland. Submarines and dinosaurs and a girl who wrote a diary I wished I could have written, when I was her age.

My third novel is not as distant. I read it for the first time quite recently. Lisa Fuller’s Ghost Bird is for slightly older children. It has darkness and family culture and it’s dynamic and wonderful. Sometimes a dark novel takes one by the hand and offers a way out of despair. Lisa’s novel is that one. I know where she’s coming from for some of the novel, and we’ve talked about it and so, for me, it’s not the novel alone that makes me smile, it’s knowing that I have friends who are writers who write work that’s so moving. I start thinking of all my other writer-friends, including those who hang around this Treehouse. And I realise that it doesn’t matter how bleak Canberra is in July and how alone COVID can leave me (I haven’t seen my mother since January 2019, when the bushfires caused me to evacuate to her place), I live in a rich world.

How to vote, Australian-style

A tweet is going round to encourage people to enrol to vote. It suggests that if they don’t, they are fated to be gently mocked by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). This tweet suggests that maybe, just maybe, Australia might be a bit different to other countries. We’re only talking about a small portion of potential voters not enrolled, after all. 97% (and maybe a fraction more) of people who were eligible to vote were enrolled before the election was called. This is a higher % than usual, but not crazy high.

The thing is… Australians vote. It’s compulsory to vote, but, if we really wanted, we could return blank ballots. Nothing’s stopping us. We take an exceptional level of responsibility for government in this way, and the big question is, every election, whether the object of our vote has lived up to expectations. Accountability is that much higher when it’s not 30% of those who can vote, nor 60%, but nearly 100%.

What is at stake this election is whether we live up to our own responsibility and judge fairly. Last election enough people fell for promises (that didn’t eventuate) and trusted that nothing critical was being hidden (alleged rape by a politican turned out to be the thing that was hidden) that we voted in Scott Morrison. On May 21, nearly 100% of Australian voters will be deciding if this is worth doing again or if it’s time to vote differently. The LNP have, historically, been in power more often than any other party, which makes it their election to lose this year.

Given we almost all vote, a lot of the issues that apply in other countries are simply irrelevant. It means I can get straight to the nitty gritty of what we are voting for, how we vote, and how those votes are counted.

Australia is a federal government. The national elections rest, therefore on our regions. We fill in two ballots on election day. Let me walk you through them both.

Lower House: House of Representatives

The Members of Parliament (MPs) are chosen by a really straightforward ballot system. Australia is divided into electorates and those electorates are determined by the Australian Electoral Commission according to population (and to avoid gerrymandering). Candidates nominate for an electorate and try to persuade voters to put them high on the ballot.

The actual ballots contain all the names of the candidates, and we (the voters) have to number each and every box. We don’t chose our favourite person and walk away. We put all the candidates in our preferred order. Parties give out ‘How to Vote’ papers, that help their followers choose an order the party like.

I like to say that how the votes are counted is simple, but that’s because I’ve known it all my life. If a candidate gets over half the vote, then it really is simple: they’re elected. If no candidate gets over half the vote, then the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped from the list and the 2nd choices of those voters are added to the numbers of votes for the remaining candidates. The dropping of someone and reallocation of their votes continues until someone wins. In this system, first preferences are only reliable in some electorates. Quite a few MPs win their position from the distributed preferences of voters who had other first choices. What I love about this system is that more of our votes count, especially in an election like this one where many voters are reconsidering their traditional choices.

Some voters are not as enthusiastic as I am. They do a donkey vote or a reverse donkey vote. A donkey vote is when you start from the top with #1 and simply number down. Because donkey votes can change a very narrow result, the AEC has techniques in designing the ballot that will reduce this effect. (Donkey votes don’t work as well for Senate ballots.)

The leader of the party that wins the most votes in this House becomes Prime Minister (PM). They lead the country.

The Queen is technically the Head of Government and an appointed Governor-General acts on her behalf in the everyday technical things that must be done by the Head of Government, but the Prime Ministership is where the real power lies. The Governor-General can sack the PM, but that doesn’t happen often. Let me give you a video of an important moment in our history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXq056TJhU4&t=2s The moment where Whitlam declared his view of his sacking is now part of our deep cultural selves, and his statement beginning ‘Well may we say “May God save the Queen”…’ is one of the great one-liners in our history. You can buy mugs emblazoned with it, at the Museum of Australia.

Senate

The Senate is our upper house (like the US or Canadian Senate, in that way, and historically, a modified version of them) but its chief role is accountability. It’s very strong on research, on checking budget and on investigating propose legislation and how the practice of government is carried out.

Entirely irrelevantly, when I was a public servant I was never allowed to attend any of the Senate Estimate Committee sessions. Technically I was senior enough, but at that time there was a senator who went above and beyond the call of…something. She investigated private lives of key public servants and when they turned up to answer questions about the portfolio, asked them about their failed marriages. Way more senior people presented that material at that time, and answered those questions – the reasoning was that Sen. Bishop had already done her worst to them. This led to way less effective Senate Estimates than earlier or later, and to different career trajectories for public servants and less interchange between Parliament House and the public service. I watched from my safe desk and decided that ethics were practical as well as being good for all the philosophical reasons.

That’s enough detour!

How are Senators elected? Every State elects twelve senators, and the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (the ACT is mostly Canberra, the capital) each elect two. Other parts of Australia (we have so many islands!) vote with the appropriate State or Territory. Norfolk Island (which is where the descendants of the Bounty mutineers ended up) votes as part of the ACT, for example.

This is not proportional. Tasmania, with a population of around 540,000 elects twelve Senators and the ACT and its adjunct places, with around 430,000 people elect two Senatorss.

The Senate ballot is fun to fill in but painful to explain. I’m going to send you to the AEC, because they have pretty diagrams: https://aec.gov.au/Voting/How_to_Vote/Voting_Senate.htm

I always fill in below the line. I also fill in every single box even though I don’t have to. I begin at the bottom and put the people I never want to see in a position of responsibility right down the bottom and I work up from there. When I talk about deciding who will get my #1 and #2 for the Senate, it’s misleading, because I investigate all the candidates.

The votes are counted in a way that is just a tad confusing to anyone new to it. The AEC uses a formula to determine a Senate quota (Number of formal ballot papers / (Number of senators to be elected + 1)) rounded down + 1 = Senate quota)

If a candidate gets a quota or more of first preferences, then they are elected. The votes that are over the quota are theoretically transferred ie they will be counted again, towards another candidate. Except that this isn’t fair. It’s impossible to tell which votes to count for first and which to transfer. So everything is transferred… but a reduced rate ie each vote is worth a bit less, but all votes are counted for the #2 choice. Unsuccessful candidates are excluded, exhausted votes are dropped (an exhausted vote is when a ballot has run out of marked choices – they can’t be transferred down the line if there is no candidate to transfer them to). This system continues until the correct number of Senators is elected. If you want to fully understand this system (which I love, but which I admit is complex) then the best place to look is the AEC website: https://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/counting/senate_count.htm

Because we have compulsory voting, voter education is terribly, terribly important in Australia and an important part of the AEC’s role. The above-the-line and below-the-line options for voters for the Senate gives me the perfect excuse to show you how the AEC educates voters: https://aec.gov.au/Voting/How_to_Vote/Voting_Senate.htm

House of Representatives votes are usually counted by midnight on the night of the election. Not always. A complex result can take a few days longer, because some electorates need extra checking and recounting. The Senate always takes longer to count.

Now you know about counting. How about the elections themselves. Here’s a newspaper summary of things, so you can skip reading my undeniably strange prose if you want (this is a long post!): https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/politics/australian-politics/federal-election-2022/2022/04/10/election-called-what-net/

For those of you still with me, the House of Representatives has 3 year terms and the Senate 6 years for State Senators and 3 for Territory. Half the Senate is elected every three years. When there’s a Double Dissolution things are different. Here’s a short paper on Double Dissolutions: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/House_of_Representatives/Powers_practice_and_procedure/00_-_Infosheets/Infosheet_18_-_Double_dissolution The important thing right now is that 21 May 2022 is a normal election – there was no Double Dissolution. This means that the States are only voting for six Senators each. At a normal election, we vote for both Houses: the whole of the lower House and just over half the Upper. That’s what happens on 21 May.

Our elections are always on Saturdays (religious Jews have to do early votes) and are declared no fewer than 33 days before the election itself. There is no year-long campaign trail. It’s generally about six weeks.

21 May is the last possible day in this current electoral cycle: our Prime Minister was cutting it very fine. And he had until this coming Thursday to call it and called it on Sunday, so it’s not the shortest formal campaign, but it comes close.

We are now in caretaker mode, and the government can’t do anything new. The big thing this year is that the Prime Minister made a whole heap of appointments before he called the election. This isn’t typical of Australia (though it happens, it normally doesn’t happen on such a scale) – but Morrison is very influenced by the USA.

We have live vote counting from the moment the polls shut (6 pm) on the night of the election.

It’s a great spectator sport. We used to have tally rooms in Canberra and anyone local could just turn up and run into nervous politicians and stand around behind the ‘rooms’ the TV broadcasts used and read the autocues along with the presenters, then turn around and watch the numbers being manually put up on the big boards. That system no longer operates and I miss it, but you can still watch the whole thing on various free-to-air TV stations. On some stations it’s updates only, but on several the broadcast is from 6 pm until midnight or until the formal speeches are over, whichever comes first. Even on a landslide year, things aren’t over until at least 9 pm, because of the time differences between our east and west coast.

Not all Australians take the elections seriously, but enough do that any count dominates TV viewing on that Saturday night. Antony Green is the expert on the national broadcaster, and representatives of the major parties are called in to give commentary. In the right year and watching the right TV station, it’s possible to see the moment the commentators realise that they have lost their own seat.

Let me leave you with one last page from the AEC. This is the information they gave reporters for the last election. It covers some of the areas I didn’t talk about here. Why didn’t I talk about it here? This post is already 2,000 words long and it’s 2 am here and I am going to sleep!  https://www.aec.gov.au/media/files/aec-federal-election-reporting-guide-digital.pdf

Before My Brilliant Career

I escaped my flat some days ago, with help from a friend. Of course I thought of a book, and today I took it from my shelf so that it can talk to me while I write. Let me give you a single picture from my trip across the border into rural NSW, and then I shall introduce you to one of my favourite books about this region. There are many books written by local writers. This region has produced writers from the moment anyone who knew the alphabet lived here. This particular volume is by Miles Franklin who, according to her Sydney writer friends, was one of the most generous people imaginable, and had enviable hair.

Canberra region
picture: Gillian Polack Feb 2022

Canberra the city has mountains within it and mountains nearby. We’re so high above sea level – I’m typing from just below 650m above sea level right now, and I live at one of the lowest points – that the mountains look like hills. Before this region was decided upon as the capital of Australia, it was a place where several peoples me (today we call it Ngunawal land because the Ngunnawal are the traditional owners of more of the ACT than the other groups, but the Australian Capital Territory is more complicated than that. Our borders don’t follow the custodial boundaries. A map may help. (My favourite map is a Ngarigo map. It’s an extraordinarily lucid map that makes everything very clear– but I can’t find a copy of it online.) European settlement was mainly farms, with a church, a schoolhouse, and a couple of villages. Most of the people who lived on this land were, in fact, not European until this area became the national capital.

The Franklins were one of the local families in the nineteenth century. I have seen the old rose bushes from the Franklin property (they’re now quite wild) and been stared down by kangaroos in a part of the national park that Franklin would have known as a farm. I’ve been atop Mt Franklin (named after Miles’ family) and climbed (a little) of Mt Aggie (named after her aunt).

Miles Franklin, herself, lived in this region for the first ten years of her life. She was born in 1879, and the 54 years she lived elsewhere was mainly in cities.

Miles Franklin (actually Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin) was a fascinating person. My personal favourite of her noms de plume (for she had several) was Brent of Bin Bin. There’s so much in her life that’s not generally talked about: how she supported other writers, what she did with her life outside the most famous books. The edge has gone off the fame of the novels. Most people recognise the name because Franklin’s name is on one of Australia’s most important literary awards (we all dream of this award, but I’m the wrong kind of writer for it, so dreaming will have to suffice).

Neither My Brilliant Career (the famous novel that was turned into a movie) and My Career Goes Bung (its sequel) are on my desk right now, for Franklin used her post-childhood experiences to write them. The book on my desk is tiny, and full of colour. Childhood at Brindabella is my comfort-book and is not an autobiographical novel, but an actual autobiography. Franklin’s childhood at Brindabella Station is at its heart. This book is where I discovered that we are low in lyrebirds in this region because of the US trappers in the nineteenth century, who wanted to feathers for hats. It’s where I learned about how to transport sewing machines to places that still don’t have sealed roads.

I could tell you favourite bits of it until the cows come home. It’s under 160 pages long, however, so it’s better to read it yourself. Then come to me and I will tell you how this region has changed and find you recipes from Miles’ childhood. Despite all the changes, we still have more writers per capita than we ought. Miles Franklin will always be one of the best.

A Quiet Moment

So many people around me have found distractions help in dealing with the extraordinary times we’re living through. This post is my present to you. Big stuff happens in the US on 20 January. This is a breath. A break. A moment before everything changes.

For me this week is an anniversary. This time last year I had been evacuated to Melbourne because of the bushfires. The air in Canberra was dangerous for me. Tonight my windows are wide open and I’m up late, cooling everything down as much as I can, for we have an incoming heatwave. Earlier today, however, everything was shut, for the dust storms in NSW sent a bit of frazzled air our way. That reminded me that I’ve been mostly indoors since June 2019. Bushfires followed by pandemic. Every now and again I get out and do things and this reminds me that the world outside is real. These incidents come from that real world. I think this is also the moment to celebrate that.

The first story is from Sydney in 1956, for tonight someone reminded me about the torch carrying for the 1956 Olympics.

A group of university students didn’t like the link between the torch and Hitler. Also, they were Australian. Of course they were Australian.

They painted a chair leg silver and put a tin on the end. They filled the tin with a pair of men’s underpants and set it on fire. Two students carried that torch. One of them successfully handed it to the Lord Mayor of Sydney at the Town Hall. The Lord Mayor didn’t realise at first that this was a hoax, and the torchbearer had time to slip away into the crowd.

The second story is from Canberra, quite recently.

A writer-friend was telling us on Twitter tonight about a time… let me give you the story in her words:

“Was at a con sitting at the signing table under a poster with “K.J. TAYLOR” on it and behind a nameplate which also said “K.J. TAYLOR”. A guy came up to me and said “Is K.J. Taylor here?” I patted myself down and said “I’m pretty sure I’m here!” He looked so confused.”

My third tidbit is a bit older, and is from the US. I collect interesting stories about food history. How fast molasses can burst out of a factory on a cold day, for example, and where to buy meat pies in London in 1250. I didn’t know that, on 16 May 1902, there was a kosher beef war on the Lower East Side in New York. Some describe it as riots. Kosher beef riots. This one deserves a link.

I live in a city where there are 300 people who admit to being Jewish. I can’t see us rioting. We used to hold food fairs, where our numbers were drowned by the crowds who wanted to eat bagels and felafel and lokshen kugel and particularly tasty curry from Jewish India.

I used to cook Medieval Jewish dishes for my stall, and people would ask, “Were there really Jews in the Middle Ages?” I gave those asking morsels of history along with their plates of food. Other days I’d talk about the persecution and the murders, but not at the food fair. We all need times where we don’t bear the burdens of history. Take that time today. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Living in small spaces during big times

Every few months there are five Mondays in a month. Also, I posted last week because … magpies. This means you hear from me three Mondays running, and this is only Monday #2. Brace yourself…

I broke iso on Saturday. There was a medicine I urgently needed and I didn’t want to ask a friend when I also had to post a letter and get some money form the bank. I walked under falling blossom and realised that I’d chosen to go outdoors the first day of the new season. The actual change of season isn’t until 1 September, but Spring arrived on Saturday. The only shop I actually went into was the chemist. There, I could see why I am not supposed to go near people. For every nine people using common sense, there was one who wanted to make the queue move faster by creeping up behind me.

I break iso once every six weeks, on average.

Just sitting in the sunshine reminded me that the outside world is not defined by the internet and Netflix. This got me wondering why I don’t feel the need to break out more often. All kinds of other people cannot stay in their homes even if they have gardens. They have to buy milk or bread every day. I only reach that level of stir crazy every six weeks, despite living in an apartment.

I suspect it’s partly because I’ve worked mostly from home for years. I don’t have to go out at all now, though, and so I have more time to catch up on silly films I missed.

I shall not list the films, for they are all ones I would not have gone to the cinema to see, except Hamilton. Hamilton is not a silly film, even though I ran an inner argument with it the whole time.

That inner argument is the other thing. I’m watching movies with Italian subtitles or Spanish subtitles where I can, for my insufficient knowledge of both languages makes me restless. A few minutes ago I started telling my TV screen that I had not fully considered the effects that the choice of ‘guard’ and ‘watch’ and equivalent words had over the way we think about possessions and people. Then I moved onto ‘save’. Look them up in Spanish and Italian if you don’t already know them. Take your time. Tangents for thought are perfectly allowable when one looks up words.

I was watching the live action Aladdin and had to pause it to do work, for otherwise a whole new plot would have accompanied the film.

Not that I object to whole new plots accompanying films. Earlier today I was thinking that three of the Star Wars films would be massively improved with a dubbed version that turned them into comedy.

I like music, though, and needed to listen to it rather than let my mind play with historical linguistics. I often dance to musicals, mildly, for it hurts. Every time I do this, the next day is less difficult so it is worthy pain. My dancing feet remind me that they are musicals and that I really shouldn’t drift too much.

My time sense has warped beyond all logic since the bushfires and COVID-19, but my mind takes me into some wonderful explorations. I was bored for an hour earlier this year and I tweeted it. It astonished me, that, in over twelve months of things being so seriously challenging, I should only have been bored that one hour.

I rather suspect I made a decision in my childhood that no matter how alone I was, I was not going to be lonely. I know I worked hard in my teens to develop this skill. I’m still working on some elements of it. I wasn’t expecting this work to give me the pandemic experience some of my friends crave. I hope there are classes on this for people who had lives that didn’t push them to develop this skill. I can’t imagine how awful COVID-19 in an apartment would be without my arguments with the TV screen or my dreams while I wash dishes. (I hate washing dishes.)

I am not alone in this drift of time and the richness it embraces. Quite a few writers I know are experiencing something similar. What I wonder is the possible relationship between problematic childhoods, a determination to not be defeated by them and us becoming writers.

My sentences are growing complicated and I’ve been sitting down for too long. Time for more Aladdin.

Comfort zones

My home life revolves around food two days a week. I love cooking and for a year I’ve had almost no-one to cook for.

I discovered some months ago that when I don’t cook, I get more stressed. I’ve been nodding sympathetically at people’s stories of the joy of baking and their discovery of sourdough.

I have a very large repertoire of dishes and I love cooking and… I’m on a bit of a restricted diet. Also, I have deadlines on top of deadlines.

This is why I liberate myself twice a week. To be honest, it’s sometimes more than twice a week and sometimes less. This week it’s been fewer long sessions but more sessions, because someone gave me many tomatoes and I made a tomato base for almost any food. It was one that took four days, on and off, because it’s winter here and tomatoes are watery. Six kilograms of tomatoes gave me 1 ½ litres of my sauce. I instantly gave a half litre to a friend who is helping me get out of the internet nightmare this month has been (I haven’t lost my internet at any stage, but my landline has been missing in action for twenty days so far), so I have just enough for seven days of interesting food.

When that was done, I looked in my fridge. I have trouble putting out rubbish (the bins are tall and heavy and 100 metres away, and I’m working on my lifting muscles so that I can regain that truly exciting fragment of my life) so when friends come by, they often take a bag of rubbish out with them.

Since I know this friend will be drilling in my wall tomorrow to help solve one of the problems that has been bugging things around here, I spent an hour tonight chopping up everything that looked old or in need of finishing. I threw out the bruised mushrooms and cut the rest. I found so many shallots, getting sad and in need of love. That was really all I did tonight. I have several containers of vegetables, and I have all that passata, and I have 3 meals’ worth of salads made, so I don’t have to cook until Friday. I will probably do another bout on Wednesday, for cooking helps me think, then I’ll leave it to the weekend. All the scraps are ready to go out and my fridge looks much less crowded.

What am I going to cook with the tomatoes and vegetables? I’m so glad you asked.

One container is earmarked for shakshuka, because I have everything I need for that except cayenne and I can wing cayenne given I have seven other types of chili. The other is for a pasta sauce with those mushrooms, some of the shallots (or maybe an onion), kalamata olives, feta cheese and maybe, just maybe, some green capsicum. These are both easy and quick dishes once one has a good tomato base, and this week is furiously busy.

I’m not cooking any bread. I can cook bread. I’ve cooked bread since I was a pre-teen. It’s not good for me and I love it and everyone else is talking about it all the time, so I’m not even going to make a flatbread to eat with the shakshuka. Yes, I’m sulking. Bread is fun to make and kneading gives me time to think and my writing is the better for it… but it’s not good for me. I have a right to sulk.

When I’m past this deadline I get to explore some of the more interesting ingredients in my cupboard. Some of my friends (who know me all too well) send me little parcels of local food from their country or they send me chocolate and tea. Food. I get occasional hampers of food from wise friends. I love these hampers and I eat most of them fairly quickly, then stash some parts away for when I need to be cheered up. I have herbes de Provence from France and chocolate from Ireland and grits from Germany and more, hidden so that on bad days when I open the larder and stare in misery, memories of those hampers stare back and I’m forced to smile and totally and entirely forced to cook.

Some of my ingredients are a little old now. I’m still saving them. I predicted the disruption to international post and knew my presents from friends would be rare for a time and I refused to not have my friends make me smile, so I checked all the use by dates and put the must-eat at the friend of the larder, the must-eat within a few months within eyesight (but not at the front) and the will-;last-forever under everything.

What’s very odd is despite the fact that I’m not supposed to mix with people (iso is iso – so many of us have health issues) I make sure I have enough food to feed several friend sin case they drop round. Which they won’t. Which, in fact, they can’t. But it makes me happy to know I can feed people.

This post was brought to you by my favourite (Korean) instant noodles. They are one of my cheer-up foods and they are currently unobtainable. I ate my last packet tonight. Don’t worry – I still have chocolate.

Friends, brains and other things

Today I have no time but I’m having a long yarn with a friend anyhow. It’s such a bad year and friends matter. This friend sent me an unbirthday present, including a book edited by one friend and with a story by the friend who sent the parcel. Despite the fact that I’m avoiding giving their names to the world (they deserve privacy) the cockles of my heart warmed and I realised we’re all a bit more alone than we intend to be this year.

Oddly, I’m less alone than usual and fitting everything into the week is rather difficult. Part of this is because July is the month no-one goes out in Canberra, which means that single people with chronic illness and a bit of disability can be very isolated indeed. COVID isolation wasn’t as bad as a high pain week for me, for there were friends on Zoom. This doesn’t make my iso full of all the good things – it’s relative. It means that I don’t have to wait two weeks to hear from anyone other than my mother. It means I’m learning how to chat the way other people do, rather than to blurt out everything I’m thinking.

The torrent of words is because I spend so much time alone. What if I don’t see anyone for another two weeks? How will anyone know what’s going on in my life.

This is daft, because I’m active online every single day. My brain doesn’t see that as warm companionship unless someone sends me a parcel. My brain needs educating, obviously. Or more friends need to send me parcels. Maybe both.

I’ve been playing with the thought of what triggers torrents of words in different people and what pushes us into silence. I put it into the novel I just finished (of course I did) and I’m looking today at how culture can silence people. I’ll explore torrents and silence in the same person for a while, because I can and because I am one of those people who moves from extreme to extreme, and I want to know why other people do that when their lives are different to mine.

My days this week are full of administration, writing short pieces (like this and for Patreon) and writing at least 10,000 words of my non-fiction. At 5 pm every night I mysteriously become a Medievalist and attend the big international conference in Leeds. Housework fits in there somewhere and so does cooking and so do a bunch of other things and I’m wondering, “How do other people handle July?”

If you’re in that distant Northern Hemisphere it’s January. I don’t know if January is your bleak and impossible month, though. I know July is the worst month for people in my region. It used to be Canberra, but now it’s the whole region. Getting through July is a feat of my emotional strength. Some years I try to sleep through it.

This year I’m so busy that nearly a week has gone and I didn’t have time to feel threatened by the month.

‘Pfft,’ said my brain’, ‘who needs to fear July when the world is what it is?’

Brain, I love you a great deal, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a good July, for all of us?

Stay safe and well everyone. It’ll annoy my brain if you do, and this is a good thing and devoutly to be wished.

Winter Is Coming – Gillian Polack

Hi,

I’m Gillian, and I’ll be blogging about things that are everyday to me. I’ll change the title whenever I feel it needs changing, and I’ll put my name up top so that you know it’s me, playing with titles. I love playing with titles. My current draft novel is up to its sixth. I also like writing letters. This will be my letter to you.

I discovered (the peculiar way) that the combination of all the things in my life mean that my life is a bit different. I live in Australia (my family migrated here between the 1850s and 1920) and have had an exceptionally strange career. I’m not certain what my everyday is different to, not yet. We’ll explore that together.

Take my Sunday. You don’t have to take it very far, because I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon. Right now I’m downloading the Hugo packet for the WorldCon in New Zealand. I was so happy about going to a place a mere six hours travel from home and spending time with friends and… COVID-19 hit. At least I’ll have more time for reading my Hugo awards packet.

My corner of Australia (the national capital) has bad internet. This means that it has taken me 8 hours to download the Hugo packet. I live in deep commune with my computer. It thinks it’s my life partner and plays games with me. I think I need to get a new one. My computer is proud of the duct tape holding it together. Actually, it might be masking tape. It’s an old, grumpy computer. Continue reading “Winter Is Coming – Gillian Polack”