Friday, June 29, 2012

Not unique at all

I was hanging around my daughter’s classroom when I saw a large board with the statement ‘My family is unique because...’. Pasted around the statement were folded slips of paper. On the flap of each slip in wobbly letters was the reason a family was unique; unfolded, it revealed a child’s name. My curiosity piqued, I took a closer look.

In my daughter’s handwriting I saw ‘We have chickens (ones of our own)’, and smiled. Not unique in our suburb, but perhaps in her class it’s a contender.

Some kids felt unique because of the languages they speak at home: Somali, Maori, Hungarian, Bengali. Some felt it for sad reasons: ‘I live with my mum one week and my dad the next’ / ‘because we are separated’.

Others were unique because: ‘We wach TV in the middel of the day some times’ (shock horror); ‘We do not like foote’ (in the footy loving city of Melbourne, gasp); and ‘We like to walk everywhere’ (note the emphasis, poor kid!).

The prize for most left of field went to: ‘We go to the chiropractor on Saturdays.’ (every Saturday???).

And my favourite, although I’m not sure it makes the whole family unique: ‘I open the tapse. I ptend to have a shawa and I stand out of the bathroom.’

It got me to thinking. What makes my family unique? We eat a lot of wholegrains, but so do most people I know. I love red meat but my husband is vegetarian, like two other families in my choir. I write, my husband’s a lawyer: well, there are lots of lawyers and writers at our school. Our family laughs hysterically whenever someone falls down, but then Buster Keaton would never have been famous if it weren’t for people like us. We have too many books, like half our suburb. There is stuff about us on a blog, as for several other school families. We go to church with a bunch of other people. I couldn’t think of a single thing that made us unique.

On my way home, I visited a second hand bookshop and got talking to the owner. He’s a writer, as am I; and somehow it came out that we both grew up in the Baptist church. I glanced at the business card on his desk and realised I knew his father, a minister, who once worked with my mother, also a minister. Another customer joined the conversation; he was from the same milieu. ‘It’s like a Baptist revival meeting,’ I said, and came to the conclusion that we are not unique, not at all.

It felt like a heresy. We are barraged daily by advertising which suggests we are so terribly special that we are entitled to countless privileges; yet when I realised just how far we are from original I felt profoundly relieved. It means we have found a cohort in which we can be whoever it is we need to be. We can eat wholegrains and ride everywhere and have too many books and write about our lives and keep chickens and laugh ourselves silly when we see someone fall over, and nobody much will ever blink an eyelid. How liberating. The Genius of Buster Keaton

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mrs Brown and Olivia

Once, in a doodling around sort of conversation with a four-year-old, I asked where milk came from. ‘The supermarket,’ he said. ‘Before that,’ I prompted. ‘The supermarket,’ he said firmly. ‘Before that,’ I said, ‘milk comes from cows.’ ‘Oh, gross!’ he cried. ‘And I don't believe you. It comes from the supermarket, silly.’


To read more, click on the embedded link below and flick to page 53; or click here and follow the link to download the issue to your iPad.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Eat Poop You Cat

I recently held a night of parlour games to celebrate my birthday. A dozen friends came over, drank too many bubbles, and laughed solidly for three hours. We started with Word and Question, a game I picked up from What Katy Did at School. Each person writes a word at the top of a sheet of paper, then folds it down and throws it in the pool; takes a slip from the pool, writes a question on it, folds it down and returns it to the pool; then draws from the pool again, opens the slip, and writes a poem which answers the question and uses the word on that slip. We moved on to Eat Poop You Cat, which is a written form of Chinese whispers alternating words and drawings; and finished up with a few rounds of the old classic, Dictionary.

As we played, we concentrated, argued, postured, threw out false lures, groaned, and laughed ourselves silly. It was a memorable night, something that will be repeated well before my next birthday.

I thought about that night as I watched Andrew Denton’s new show, Randling. Randling is a tournament of parlour games played by intelligent and funny people. I’m sure I’m supposed to love the show, but I felt it missed something. As I watched, I began to realise that parlour games are not about the games themselves. Instead, they are about participation. Watching other people play on the telly taught me nothing about my friends, nothing about myself. It didn’t connect me with anyone; it gave me no joint memories; it kept my mask intact.

Playing parlour games, as opposed to watching them, is a different story. Every person in the room puts themself on the line at some stage or another, and the rest of us get to learn that this person is a bluffer, is witty, is a natural poet.

Games open us up to each other, revealing glimpses of ourselves that we often keep under wraps. To play well, we must relinquish our dignity and enter into the world of make believe; playing can be scary, confronting – and very very funny.

At my games night, many of us there recalled another night we had played ten years earlier; we remembered the Dictionary words, and the cunning strategy of one particular friend. We were reminded that our lives have been linked together for more than a decade, and even although most of us have had children, moved suburbs and become hyper busy, we can still get together from time to time to share drinks, games and old jokes, picking up where we left off. No tv show comes close to this.

So the next time you’re thinking of watching Randling or anything else, I invite you to put down the remote and take a good look around. Is there someone in the house who’s up for a spot of scrabble, gin rummy or fan tan? Could a friend pop over for an hour once the kids are in bed and share a cuppa and a round of backgammon? Could you pull out a jigsaw in solitude and enjoy the meditative click as each piece falls into place?

It really doesn’t matter if you’re any good at games. What matters is that you’re willing to play, because if you really throw yourself into the game you might just find yourself experiencing fullness of life, that sacred state of being in which you are no longer audience member or consumer, a passive person to whom things happen. Instead, for a few precious minutes, you are deeply alive, a fully creative participant.

What Katy Did at School Parlour Games for Modern Families

Saturday, June 2, 2012


What is this fomenting rebellion? I feel rebellious about the long term commitments I have made: church and marriage. While I love the people involved, I am sick of the stability, and fed up with being so reliable.

I don’t really know how to live straightforwardly. I spent my childhood and adolescence moving house and mourning the dead; my early twenties grieving new deaths and busting up with people, churches and workplaces; my late twenties and early thirties in a maelstrom of babies and very young children. Now my youngest has started kindergarten, not too many people have died recently, I don’t have to move house and everything feels under control.

It’s way too calm for me.

When everything in my life was falling apart, I needed the institutions of church and marriage; they held me together when nothing else could. I gladly ploughed myself into them, building solid foundations for a life that felt it was based on sand. But now that things have been straightforward for a few years, I find myself bucking at the traces.

I wonder whether bad girls have more fun, and whether the prodigal son had it right by refusing to settle down. There are times I resent being a good mother to my children and a good wife to my husband; I am bewildered that I have so many delightful friends. Where is the chaos, the hatred, the loneliness, the jealousy, the sheer obliterating grief that have been big parts of my life up til now?

This new-found happiness is very even-textured; one might even say it’s boring. I feel like stepping out of line and courting disaster just to see what will happen.

This feeling of wanting to walk to the edge of the precipice, and maybe, just maybe, jump is constant. And yet the reflective part of me knows that what I am feeling comes out of the losses I experienced so young, and which lead me even now to yearn for the known quantities of chaos and grief and blinding rage. Like old friends, I long for them, however unhappy they make me.

But these old friends do me no favours; they suck me dry and leave me hollow. They are not the sort of friends I want anymore; I have chosen life.

So, as dull as it seems, I will hold fast to the commitments which have so fundamentally re-shaped my behaviour; I will continue to write stories of my new friend, surging joy. And if I stick at this long enough, perhaps one day it too will become an old friend, something I am comfortable enough to invite in for a cuppa and a chat about the time when I wasn’t sure if we’d ever get along. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to live without glancing over my shoulder at raw grief and smouldering rage, those friends I have left behind.
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