Archive for the Uncategorized Category

LadyRedJess moves to a new site

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2012 by ladyredjess

Dear Readers,

A few months ago H cobbled together a new website for me, to coincide with the launch of Entitlement.  In order to keep my profile together in one place, I have elected to move this blog there, and am in the process of importing my old posts.  For new posts, please click here.

Many thanks,

Jessica.

A Day in the Life of the Author

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12, 2011 by ladyredjess

I was woken too early by sunlight because my eye mask was lost in the sheets, and wished for another hour of sleep. I wrapped up my framed PhD certificate and took it to the JP offices in West End. In the fragment of mirror in the lift, I observed the bags beneath my eyes from tiredness, and figured that putting on blush had been a good idea because I was colourless again. The receptionist had bright pink lips and called me darling. I was to wait in the room next door. The JP lumbered in, slow and kind with a bowed back. She was a volunteer, rostered on Mondays, she said in reply to my questions, and took her stamps out of a thin plastic bag. The receptionist burst in. Samantha Stouser had won the tennis. I vaguely registered that this was important, and remembered Serena Williams in the news that morning. ‘She was playing against Williams?’ I asked. The receptionist nodded. ‘She just gave her acceptance speech. She was so humble.’ I smiled. The receptionist was friendly, but then she began scowling at the JP, until she noticed me still watching her, puzzled. She went out again. The JP asked about my degree and told me of Robert Menzies, who wrote letters to his daughter. He’d had time to think about his policies, she said, because it took so long to get from A to B. Not like these days where people were bombarded with technology all the time. She was a nice lady, and I thanked her for her help. Desperate for a coffee, I went across the road to a cafe down an alleyway I had often walked past but never had time to stop at. It was cute, with biscuits and sweets in clear compartments before the coffee machine. I contemplated the Turkish delight and decided against it. I stared at the barista too long because I was trying to work out what he was saying. He must have thought I fancied him, and offered me free shortbread with my coffee. I said I was allergic to dairy and that I couldn’t. The poor man was confused. I gave him a brilliant smile and told him, ‘You have a good day’ and went out, smiling, with my coffee. The blush was really working. Then I regretted the shortbread, and thought I should have at least taken it to make him feel better. At the traffic lights a well-dressed young man stared at a drain, then lay down in the gutter and stuck his hand into it. The lights changed. I was tempted to look back but that would have been bad manners. At the Cultural Centre busway I was so dazed with tiredness I missed my bus. The next came in ten minutes. I read some more of Nicholas Baker’s The Anthologist which was still beside my bed and which I dip into between books, as it has no plot but is amusing. At work I scanned the certified copy the degree certificate and sent it off with a postdoctoral application and wasted far too much time. A colleague told me to get some sleep. I said I would. At the bus stop, I watched the full moon rising. In the seat before me on the bus were a young Asian couple with thick black hair, comparing their open hands. A mother, father and their daughter boarded and sat behind me, speaking in a loud foreign accent which must have been European. One of them smelled of cigarettes. I turned off my hearing aid so I could read. I felt I could tell a man I loved him. The book made me laugh in places. At home, there was no mail in my mailbox. My neighbour had removed his outside furniture too because they are oiling the decks tomorrow. I ate fresh corn, and toast with Vegemite for dinner, and figured I should probably have more but the effort was beyond me. I played some Scrabble against my mother and brother on Facebook.  In both instances, I was winning. I wrote, and stared into space.

I looked up …

Posted in Uncategorized on June 5, 2011 by ladyredjess

and saw that somehow it was June. The time between my January post and this one had been sucked into a black hole. I can barely remember where those months went, though I know it was all English tutoring at the uni, sending Entitlement to the publishers for editing and struggling to and from my job at Autism Queensland in between classes. My stress levels shot through the roof, I went for nearly three months without a day off (except at the Easter break), my social life evaporated, I was irritable with exhaustion and felt as though I was reliving the days before I finished my thesis, only Saviour Brother wasn’t around to help with the cooking and cleaning. At least my laptop didn’t blow up this time.

But … it was worth it. I loved tutoring. I loved the contact with my students, trying to work out what would make them interested and trying to make them talk, which wasn’t always easy, not least because they had an FM microphone shoved in their faces so I could hear them. Once I resorted to tossing sweets at them as a reward, which didn’t really work, but at least it cheered them up. At first I had no idea what I was doing, but as Dad always said, “If you’re chucked in the deep end, you have to learn to swim” and I learnt fast. And once I relaxed, they began to as well.

In the midst of this was the wonderful sanctuary of Coolum, where A1 had booked a house for our friends. The weather was gorgeous and I was able to wear a new bikini on the beach, and another bikini which until this point had been under-utilised (though was not seaworthy, being white and insubstantial). I was put in B1’s room on account of his snoring, which kept those down the hall awake, but not yours truly. In the mornings I staggered out of bed and made a cup of tea and sat on the verandah with my book (Rose Tremain’s The Road Home), soaking up the sun and listening to the wind in the palms. Then, in order to render myself fit for communication with other holiday inhabitants, I swam in the pool and woke myself up.

Having found myself without a beach frock (I had been marking up until the lunchtime before we left, then did a tutorial, then packed in haste), I bought a Wish dress on sale in a boutique which had been marked down 80%. I was so excited I was still talking to Sister about it when I returned.

Oh my god,” she said, “we are so not related. I wore the same clothes four days straight.”

That’s disgusting,” I replied.

We also made a trip to Noosa, to which I had never been and which I found overpriced and crowded, with very unfriendly shop assistants. I also dragged my sorry arse out of bed at 5am to see the sunrise with A1. The last time I had seen the sun rise was when I was 9, camping with our friends the Coopers. I was in the habit (inconceivable to me now) of waking up before everyone else and was often bored to tears waiting for an adult to get up and give me something to do. At least then there had been the sun rising over the sea, viewed from the frame of a triangular tent flap. This time it was overcast, but it was still dramatic watching sharp gold prick the horizon line, before swelling and clinging to the bottoms of the clouds.

When I had shot enough photos, A1 suggested coffee, but I hadn’t brought my wallet.

I didn’t think anything would be open at this hour.”

You don’t get up this early very often, do you?” she said.

There was no answer to that.

All that sunshine, sea, pool and friendship was enough to recharge me to get through the last month of tutoring. Now, on my first weekend off, I have run (lengthily), had my first inline skating lesson by the river (excitement extreme) with J2, attended a Getup rally in favour of climate action with Sister and the kids, and picked up a pen for the first time in months. Life, it seems, is about to begin again at last.

On Stops and Starts

Posted in Uncategorized on November 7, 2010 by ladyredjess

Life seems to have been frustratingly disparate lately, at least for a girl who likes focus, direction and deadlines.  There have been galling stops and starts, weeks interrupted by socialising and faulty hearing aids, bicycles and laptops, and battles with endless procrastination as I push myself to write.

On the day we held the funeral service for my grandmother, I was made an offer for my second novel, Entitlement, but I was too depressed to even open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  I’m still waiting for the contract and the go-ahead, which is painful because until then I have no direction on the novel, and not being able to work on it makes me feel a little unwell.  Unlike with A Curious Intimacy, which I was sick of by the time it even made it to the publishers, and which I had to edit in the middle of writing a PhD, I’m desperate to be in the midst of this one.  It feels like it will be a more successful work: the characters are more real, the plot is tighter and more dramatic, and it has more relevance to contemporary politics.  I am already in love with it in a way I never was with ACI, which was a largely academic, feminist exercise, although the emotional aspects of it were drawn from experience.

In the interim I’ve been working on short stories, some of which have lain in my drawers for more than a decade.  Again, because of the nature of the work, this means more stopping and starting.  The worlds I’m writing about are smaller, the action briefer, and as it’s harder to get into the swing of it, I am easily distracted.  I’ve also dug out my thesis to rewrite it for publication, as once I begin work on Entitlement again it will take over my life and I won’t be able to concentrate on anything else.  However I’m struggling with one of the links between the chapters and so I keep walking away from it.  Things just don’t seem to be resolving themselves.

After the funeral I stayed at Parental Unit’s for a week, during which time their 7 month old whippet chewed up my hearing aid.  I had stupidly left it on the couch, having taken it out because the television was so loud (Parental Unit are also going deaf) and the subtitles were on.  When I saw the little bits of hearing aid scattered at my feet, my heart fell through the floor.  I extracted a final piece of the casing from the dog’s mouth and added it to the sorry collection of wire and microchip.  It’s still too horrifying to be funny yet, as the new hearing aid cost more than two grand, a rather expensive learning curve.

Mug shot of April, destroyer of hearing aids and ducks.

Then both my computer and bicycle decided to die on me, the former needing a new hard drive which, due to a total lack of communication by the IT nerds who replaced it (never use The Mac Doctors, people), wiped out my operating system and my applications.  It takes a lot to make me cry, but when I couldn’t get my laptop to go after several trips to Annerley, I burst into tears.  Not in front of said nerds, unfortunately, which might have helped them to register their incompetence and lack of clarity.  Meanwhile my bicycle, being an English brand little known in Australia, needs a new hub, which will be expensive.  However, as with my very pretty but largely uncomfortable and unwalkable shoes, I will endure whatever pain it takes to be able to keep on using it.

Despite all these literary and technological frustrations, summer is slowly creeping into being.  I have put away my boots and taken out my stiletto sandals; the flowering jacarandas make for a gorgeous ferry ride to the uni; H is coming home for good in two months and there is beach and holiday action scheduled for January.  And this weekend, the guilt and procrastination paid off as I belted out a wonderful and peculiar short story in two days, inspired by P1 and his mention of the aquatic ape theory.  When a story comes together this quickly, you know it’s working.  If only the rest of my life could do that.

A Letter to My Grandmother

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 by ladyredjess

When I think of you, the clearest image that comes to mind is that of a tall, lean woman laughing while your eight grandchildren cluster on the front steps, shouting at the ninth, who silently acts out their charade.  It’s a summer night and mosquitoes bite my ankles and moths cluster in the cone of light from the outside lamp.  A quiet girl born into a noisy and boisterous family, I hate charades, but I suffer through it because of your laugh.

At seven, I am the image of you when you were my age.

On winter nights, when we’re all there, we delve into the dress-up box which stretches the width of one room, adorning ourselves as kings, toads and cross-dressers.  There is raucous laughter and shouting.  We parade before you and our grandfather, amused and bemused in his armchair with a pipe, and enact our dramas.  Every time we get together, now, we act them still.

On quieter evenings, it’s just my brother and I sitting by the fire eating Vegemite and cheese on toast while the dachshund, stretched out on the rug, snores and farts.  Later, in one of our explorations of the creek, we found that dog — by then missing for several days — dead and bloated in the soft, grey gravel.

At night I crawl into my uncle’s old bed, my brother into the one opposite, and close my eyes.  You stroke your thumb between my eyebrows until I am almost asleep.

There were times you couldn’t understand the direction our lives had taken.  “All I ever wanted was a good mate,” you told me once, chiding me for workaholism and a seeming disinterest in men; and, on my brother’s sexuality: “Oh, is he one of those?”  You couldn’t traverse the generations, but instead gifted us with the best of yours: propriety, good manners, generosity and kindness.

One afternoon, no doubt to distract me from the boredom of an endless summer, you taught me to embroider on a piece of white linen.  Ever the perfectionist, I carefully copied your stem stitch in pale green thread.  Later, you gave me a sewing kit you made, with short, shiny scissors, a pouch in which to put one’s bauble of thread, and a booklet of felt through which to fasten one’s needles.  When I took it out ten years later, embroidering still, your delight was palpable.

In the nursing home you held my hands so tightly, and smiled at me with such ardent affection that, as I pulled away, it was impossible not to feel like a criminal.

There was prescience: a few days ago a friend called me by accident and I returned his call, joking that I was concerned it was an emergency, that his gran had died.  In those early hours that you lay dying I dreamed I was walking through the soft green grass of the farm, alone.  An hour before she knew of your death, my sister, unthinking, put on your engagement ring.

It was a trail, like drops of spilled water, to the knowledge of your death.  Then there was a gush of relief that your suffering and loneliness, and the grief of loss upon loss of your husband and friend after friend, was finally over.

As a girl who was never openly demonstrative, I could never tell you that I loved you, but I like to think that the letters I wrote you from Armidale, Wollongong, Sydney, Berkeley and London would have held some measure of my feeling for you.  And that in this, my last, you may understand that that rich childhood which you gave me will spill forever through my writing, and that I will always remember how hard you held me, how frail your shoulders were and how soft your cheek, as I hugged and kissed you goodbye.

On Charity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 30, 2010 by ladyredjess

For those of you who follow these posts and understand that I am not a morning person, you will appreciate the dedication it took to get out of bed at 4.45am, clothe myself and run in the darkness to the train station to catch the 5.45am to Murrarie to partake in the Bridge to Brisbane.  I sat very still and quietly in the carriage and was grateful that there were no loud noises.  However, as we passed more and more stops, and more and more eye candy got on, I perked up considerably.

I couldn’t believe the number of people at Murrarie.  Another train pulled in but a minute after the first drew away and the platforms were crammed.  Again at the starting line there were thousands and thousands more.  I couldn’t hear what the loudspeakers were saying so I had no idea what to do, and neither did lots of other lost folk milling around (who presumably did have their hearing).  However I found a queue, shuffled along to the starting line, and finally there was space to run.

The atmosphere was fantastic and I was so delighted to be surrounded by so many healthy people in a country with some of the worst obesity statistics in the world.  The sun came up, showing smokestacks against the dawn.  A man dressed as a dragon passed, holding his disintegrating, green plastic suit.  A truckie honked at us and a pack of girls cheered us on.  There was a tall man in only his multicoloured briefs and sneakers, his Facebook name texta-ed onto his bare back.  Various bands were stationed along the way, playing motivational music. I have a lot of respect for someone who can belt out an 80s tune at 7am in the morning.

By the 5km mark my thighs were starting to hurt but I remained pleasantly distracted by all the fit men.  By 7km even they couldn’t take my mind off my legs.  I stopped for a drink, worried by the waste of the plastic cups littering the ground, which sounded like ice crackling underfoot.  By 8km I was consumed with pain and by 9km I wished I had trained more.  But then we reached the showgrounds and I sprinted the rest of the way.  I found my t-shirt, delivered to me by a friend from work, and limped to the bus stop.  There were no buses from the Gabba for another half an hour so I had to walk home, feeling sorry for myself, but also elated that I had achieved a goal, however mediocre it had been.

There was also, of course, the fuzzy glow of doing something for something else, which is one of the reasons why I work for Autism Queensland.  Yet, since undertaking this venture and pestering people for donations, it has startled me how little people are willing to do to help others.  Last week I bought a Big Issue from a man sitting on his milk crate outside the post office.  I have never bothered with buying a Big Issue before, but he looked so pinched and pale with lack of nourishment that I gave him what was left in my wallet.  As I did so, I realised that even that small amount I gave him would have improved his life, however meagrely.

This post is a final, blatant request for donations to help Autism Queensland with their work in early intervention (fundraising closes tomorrow night).  For those of you who have all your faculties, are able to work, have a roof to live under and enough food and loose change to buy beer or coffee or a bunch of flowers, please spare a few dollars for kids who have a difficult life.  Trust me, you’ll feel better.

On Camping

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2010 by ladyredjess

It was with some consternation that Family received the news that I would be camping at Girraween National Park in the middle of winter, without a shower, and would have to carry my own pack and provisions up a hill.  Though I had been a rambunctious little girl who explored creeks, slashed my way through thistles higher than my head and chased sheep on our property, I was now a woman obsessed with frocks, handbags and skin products.  I hated dirt and couldn’t even kill a cockroach, though I had plenty of shoes with which to do so.

‘I like a challenge,’ I said to them all.

‘Maybe this is the new Jessica,’ they muttered.

I presented myself at J2 and P1’s apartment, and the latter drove us through the night to the national park.  It was black and disorientating when we arrived and set up the tents with some thirteen other people.  I couldn’t see their faces and, as having a conversation was impossible because I couldn’t lipread, I went to bed early.

There was a great deal of yelling.

‘Oh, that won’t wake Jess up,’ they told one another, ‘she can’t hear.’

Jess did hear.  The yelling kept her awake.  And then I was woken again by S groping above my head, his fingers following the seam of the tent fabric.  He was trying to get out for a wee, and in his inebriation had the wrong end of the tent.

Despite the lack of sleep, I was relatively alert the next morning, or perhaps it was just my good manners coming to the fore in unfamiliar company.  We scrambled up the granite pyramids.  There were swathes of eucalypts below us, the monochromatic landscape blasted by yellow wattle.  I had missed the wattle.  Although in London it flowered in our neighbour’s garden, it was out of place among the dank Victorian terraces of Stepney.

M found a hole in a rock and disappeared into it.  Everyone else followed, a la Picnic at Dripping Rock.  Being claustrophobic, I edged around the outside.  The boys climbed up another outcrop, the brilliant sunlight silhouetting them against the sky.

We went down again.  At the bottom of the hill we had lunch.  A kookaburra swooped and snatched J2’s baguette as he lifted it to his mouth.  I offered more home-baked banana loaf to compensate.

Then we shouldered our packs and set up a huge effing great hill, stopping en route to look at Castle Rock.

‘Not another fucking hill,’ I complained to P1, who had done the route before.  ‘How many more are there?’

‘Uhm,’ he equivocated, ‘I can’t really remember.’

How diplomatic, I thought to myself an hour-and-a-half later as I dragged myself up a near-vertical incline.

(Ahem.  I exaggerate.  But it felt vertical).

‘Jess!’ said S brightly, bouncing along beside me.  ‘Have you heard about how the rock formation was made?’

‘Did I sign up for a geography lesson as well?’ I returned a little sourly, not a happy camper by this stage.

However, when I made it to the rockfall at Mt Norman, I was jubilant, not least because I had done something new.  For while, academically, life is a breeze, with my bad balance and coordination I am never sure of my athletic capabilities.  I was relieved to find they were good enough to get me up a hill.

We set up the tents beneath the slab of rock and I pulled on thermals, jumpers and tights and my red possum fur beanie and gloves from New Zealand.  The boys got a roaring fire happening, then we messed around making dinner, and P1 produced a packet of marshmallows and became very popular indeed.

I slept unbelievably well.  It wasn’t as cold as I’d expected and I peeled off layer after layer during the night.  When I stuck my head out the tent the next morning I was positively cheery, which, as Family will testify, is almost unheard of.

‘Good morning,’ I said sunnily to P1.

‘Good morning,’ he replied, his face creased with sleep.

As I hadn’t been able to bring a hairdryer, nor found a sucker to carry one for me (as per Princess Vespa) with attendant generator, I hastily wrapped a silk scarf around my head and made myself presentable, then investigated breakfast.

We climbed further up Mt Norman and found an exercise book and some pens shoved into a tube under a rock.  I scribbled something for posterity.  We took photos.  I admired the wattle.  Then we picked up our packs and set off again.  Going down again was almost as hard as going up, according to my knees.  However, I gradually entered a state of pleasant dissociation due to lack of food (we skipped lunch), mild dehydration and exhaustion, and by the time we mounted the Sphinx and Turtle Rock I was not really present at all.  So I was very glad to get to the bottom, and as soon as we bundled into P1’s car to go home I curled up and went to sleep.

At work the next day my calves and knees were aching, and I suffered the ignominy of having to wear flat shoes for once.  A colleague was so amused she wanted to take a photo.  At lunch, the girls asked how everyone’s weekend had gone, and my boss piped up, ‘Jessica can hardly walk.’

‘Oooh,’ they whistled, ‘did you have a dirty weekend?’

‘No,’ I protested.  ‘I went camping.  In a cave.’

‘So you did have a dirty weekend—’

‘Can this cave be booked?’

‘It was all perfectly respectable!’ I insisted, but all the same I began blushing violently and hid my face in my hair.

Who would have thought that camping could be so exciting?