The Christmas special

This might be the last blog I write in 2014, as my time gets taken up with a ROAD TRIP south and Christmas celebrations with the family. I take a moment now to reflect on all the stuff that I have been through this year, and my plans for 2015. Take heed: it’s a long post. Grab a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Firstly, my beautiful daughter M. After coming out as transgender in September 2013, she moved unwillingly up north to Brisvegas in January of this year, to be cared for and supported by me and her step-father. This was a traumatic move for her, given her dislike of the hot humid state generally. She has been through a lot. So have we all as a family, now. M’s experiences as a transgender mtf woman have been typical of this marginalised group. She has been misgendered, she has suffered discrimination and abuse from trolls in Logan (a bogan suburb now proven beyond doubt), and despite help from health care professionals and a truck load of pills, she has suffered mightily from her own demons. These demons were the hardest to manage.

Before she found peace in her appearance with a stonking great new haircut and gorgeous red dye job, she was seriously depressed about it. Her male-pattern hair growth and male looks cause her great heartache, and she often thinks about suicide. My daughter is tall, model slender, and, to my mind, absolutely beautiful as a trans woman. As the female hormones kick in and the testosterone blockers do their work, she is becoming more feminine-looking, softer, and smoother, with clear, fine white skin and beautiful grey-green eyes. But she doesn’t yet see herself that way. She started hurting herself. It was a low point for me as a mother to see my beautiful girl cut into herself and hate herself so much.

It has taken quite a bit of encouragement to get her to see her health-care providers and manage her condition. She is not out of the woods yet. But already her increased medication is improving her well-being, and she is in contact with her health-care providers who have been very supportive. And of course, she talks to me, and I to her. Talking helps, and we are starting to see the triggers for her unhealthy behaviours. One of them is mis-gendering by strangers. She needs to call them out for it. Another trigger is her appearance and hair style. She needs to feel in control of that, and have enough funds to cover her look. I’m sure there are other triggers, and I’m sure one of them is me, when out of fear and concern I say things that might inadvertently hurt her.

But my daughter, despite living in the margins and interstices of life, can be incredibly black and white, and tends to stubbornness. Actually, she has always been as stubborn as a mule. Nothing there has changed since she was 2. And, bless her, she sometimes fails to give a little. We parents have to do all the compromising, and most of the time it’s fine. But there are some minor moments when we also need that compromise from her, and this is when the problems arise. Mostly it’s about the condition of her room, or her sporadic contribution to the housework, or the people she invites to stay over without asking us, or her clothing when she is going out with us. Stupid things. Adolescent things. Things that mean nothing in the grand scheme of life, but that mean a lot in the day-to-day living.

I finally snapped a few weeks ago and realised I needed support from others in a similar situation. I’ve contacted PFLAG in Brisvegas and already have had the most wonderful outpouring of support from parents with transgender adult children, who, like me, need someone to talk with and to share stories with.

But, more importantly, I’ve received the most wonderful support from my friends and family and work colleagues. They have been understanding, quiet, and caring. After all, there’s very little they can say or advise me on – they do not have the experience of this. Instead, they have listened, silently offered their friendship and love, and for that I am truly grateful. One great woman is Deb. Deb is M’s employer. M, with help from me, my boss and Deb, was given work near my work’s local coffee shop. M is fast becoming a great employee, given up to 25 hours work a week at the moment while another employee is on maternity leave. Deb has been a marvel of patience and love and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Second on my list of 2014 happenings, I finally submitted my PhD. Today is the day when the reports are due back. As if. (Actually, I just checked online – one is already back. And now my stomach is churning.) But who knows? I certainly know I will be a Dr by this time next year, and with any luck I can call myself Dr by March next year, when it actually counts. In the end, the last gasp to the finish line wasn’t nearly so horrible as others make out. I took small vacation breaks to write in: 3 days here, a week there. And at the end, it was 2 hours here, a day there. After shrinking from my Lit review for most of the 5 years, I finally sat down to do it in July and found a way through. It was a rewarding, engrossing time of discovery and, once again, epiphany. The last 3 months of my PhD weren’t hard, as I have previously reported. On the advice of a friend, I compiled my entire thesis into one working document, formatted it early, got most of the frontispieces done (although obviously missed something as I had to keep going back and revising it for stupid bureaucratic reasons), and organised the appendices early too. That way, I was just adding to the lit review and the reference list as I went. My final weeks were about me reading the whole document through, finding tiny edits and enormous sentences and fixing both. In the end, I was writing as if I was dancing. It felt joyful.

But I didn’t really count on the grief I felt at finishing this big thing, and not having something else to work towards in the future. My job is peripatetic, without security, and I have no way of knowing what income I will receive next year. As someone who has struggled to get by for so long, I am rather sick of it. I have teaching at university since 2008, I’ve published and will continue to do so, I’m researching, I’m doing everything a good girl entering academia should do, but am struggling to convert all this work into a full-time gig. And I’m angry at the people who take the system for a ride and refuse to contribute while people like me are on the sidelines waving their arms about saying “pick me, pick me!” Anyway, grief and anger have been my friends the last month or two. Not helped by M’s emotional turmoil, of course.

Thirdly, work. Work has been engrossing, rewarding, at times frustrating and also heartbreaking, when the people you teach, care about and care for, sometimes reward you with insensitivity and thoughtlessness. But at the same time my expertise is getting ever better, my approach more thorough, my interactions with work colleagues more relaxed. It has been a good year. I teach too much and it is exhausting work, and it is certainly not something I would have wanted for myself when I began my performing career, but I’m pretty good at it. But there’s no denying I would like to balance my teaching work with research and more performance. All to come, I guess.

Fourth, travel. This year has mostly been about me escaping home for anywhere else. Noosa in QLD, Aireys Inlet in Victoria, Montville; all these places I have stayed at to finish my PhD. And of course, there’s NYC. A big trip but not a perfect one. Note to self – leave DH to his own devices so I can shop without him being all grumpy guts in the corner.

Fifth, house and home. We’ve been planning our renovations and we have money actually sitting in the bank gathering dust (certainly not gathering interest, FFS). But it’s not quite enough to do all we want to do, and the plans have stalled and my designer, who has great ideas, is very bad at staying in touch. DH and I are both annoyed, but I am particularly annoyed because I cannot keep teaching in my studio space – it’s just not good enough or quiet enough for the money my students are spending on me to educate them. The waiting around has become a pain in the butt.

Sixth, Poppy love. I love her, she loves me, nuff said. Oh! And I’ve finally worked out how to artfully clip her poodle fur using the right equipment, so it should be easier and cheaper now on to clip her ourselves. Huzzah.

Seventh, shows. Lots and lots of shows. So many shows. Many, many shows. Am I showed out? Nah. Love it. Bring it. My experiences make me more critical, but this is a good thing. Always aim for perfection, even if it’s impossible to reach. Highlights? Desh at the Brisbane Festival, Honeymoon in Vegas on Broadway, and It’s Only a Play, also on Broadway. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Into the Woods at our place. Rigoletto at Opera Queensland and Frizstch’s last conducting gig with QLD Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler’s 3rd. Lowlights? Old, outdated and overblown: Aida at the Met, The New York Theatre Ballet with a turkey of a Swan Lake.

Eighth, DH and me. It has been a huge year. He has taken on the top job at our workplace, and I have been finishing my PhD, and my trans daughter has been living with us. It has been a bit of a rocky time, and at times we have struggled to maintain our connection to each other. It’s there, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes other commitments get in the way of a strong, loving connection with one’s life partner. But he is coming on a road trip with me, and we have to spend 3 days in a car together. That’s a good thing! And when we head to the beach house (my folk’s place at Aireys Inlet) I think he really will relax. Even his work colleagues are beginning to complain that there’s no evidence of tapering off at his work! In other words, he came dashing into the top job and everyone has been frantically dashing about ever since, trying to keep up. I think they want him to go away on holiday. For a long time. Me? Well, I long since stopped trying to keep up with my workaholic hubby. We pull together pretty well, and I bully him into stopping work every now and then.

I’m sure there’s more. But now I have to go shower, get ready and lunch with a fabulous friend. Happy Christmas, everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Anniversary me!

Today marks 5 years since I began this blog. Wow. This blog reflects on my life in milestones over the last 9 years.

Why 9 years? Actually, it’s 9 years 3 months. Since I met my DH (Darling Husband). So much has happened since that time!

7 years 9 months since I was proposed to. 7 years and one month since I moved to Queensland. 7 years since we married.

7 years since I met some wonderful friends in QLD, forgoing my usual diffidence to make some lovely, ongoing connections.

7 years and 1 month since I began my singing teaching and consulting business. And 7 years since I’ve successfully maintained it. 7 years since I met our accountant. Who is awesome.

6 years since I started working as a sessional lecturer.

6 years since my son began dating his current girlfriend.

It’s 5 years 9 months since I began my PhD. 22 months since I went part-time. 1 month, 5 days since I submitted it and 10 days until assessors’ reports are due back (nervous, much?).

5 years, 9 months since I made 2 dear friends (RD and LG), sharing an office and solving the world’s music and education problems together.

3 years, 3 months since DH and I bought our first home together.

3 years since I started 1-2-1 singing teaching in Musical Theatre at the Qld Con.

2 years, 6 months since Boots the Beagle was killed outside our busy road.

2 years, 2 months since I went on a health jag and lost a truck load of weight. 1 year since I started copping out and putting it all back on again!

2 years since Poppy the Groodle was born and we adopted her into our lives.

18 months since I bought my new car.

1 year 3 months since my daughter came out to me as transgender.

1 year since I left Facebook.

10 months since my daughter came to live with us.

8 months since we decided to try and improve our house.

2 months since we got the money to do something about our house.

5 years of writing my thoughts in this blog. 19402 views, 192 comments, 122 followers. I curate my thoughts, you know. There’s plenty I don’t tell you, can’t tell and won’t ever tell you. But to my followers and friends who read this, thank you for your lovely words and gentle encouragement over the years as I wrangled my way through my PhD and many life issues throwing up the usual bum steers. You’ve been a wonderful audience.

 

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NYC is a noisy place part 2.

Megan Washington said an interesting thing about NYC in an article published by Fairfax yesterday when she called it “the most vampiric city on the planet”. I agree. Native New Yorkans are bred to survive and thrive in that environment, which makes their energy outside NYC seem all the more shrill and hard. It’s gratuitously noisy. Unnecessarily so. Aggressive? Perhaps. I didn’t get that sense. It was more that New York believes its own hype about being noisy and busy and bustling. It’s no more busy than any other large city, and occasionally less so. It’s just a lot noisier than your average city and the aural assault is too much after a while. There’s a thrum to the city that was really evident in the peace of Central Park. It’s a tough town to survive for those people who are emotionally and spiritually depleted. I knew I was going to find it noisy and busy and indeed I did.

What I did not really expect was the New York condescension to the Outlier or Other. Friendly folk: absolutely! Don’t get me wrong. New Yorkans were cheerful, loud people and I liked them a lot. But there is a readily observable sense of superiority of the native New Yorkan that is present in all their transactions with people not from the city. I kept feeling during personal interactions a kind of “oh, hello you nice little naive person from the Antipodes. How sweet of you to come here and oh, by the way, all nations of the earth are represented in our restaurants, we’re known for it”. Huh. Maybe a long time ago. Now, not so much. Also, the quality and variety of the food is desperately overrated. There’s a reason Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame went to Melbourne with his restaurant pop up rather than go to NYC or other big city.

Like all cities, there is a cultural overlay that defines and shapes the relationships of people and groups to place. NYC has held the planetary Number One spot for a hundred years for being the vanguard of intellectual creativity and ideas, from Dorothy Parker to Warhol to Seinfeld (well…). The zeitgeist of this place is huge. But this historical mountain over the course of the 20th century seems to be stifling the vanguard now. While there DH and I went to a bunch of art stuff. MOMA, Guggenheim, The Met, Broadway. Was I missing something? I didn’t get excited by the stuff. I fear NYC is now too afraid to attempt to be truly creative, in the big art houses, at least. They seem content to rest on the laurels of their admittedly impressive cultural heritage.

One such example was Aida (Verdi), at the Met. A terrible, horrible production. Singing was pretty good except the tenor, who was past it. Orchestra lovely, but conducting out of time at times. Found myself conducting from my seat in frustration. Acting by the leads non-existent, particularly the main soprano, whose performance was horrible even while her singing was lovely. The horses in the procession scene were the highlight of the show. The director should have been shot. In slow motion. Much like the production, which had 2 very long intervals of 40 minutes each. OMG. I have never been so bored in my life, and I LIKE opera. And I love Verdi. Some truly terrible reviews, sadly, that rather unfairly targeted the singers when actually it was mostly the ghastly direction at fault. But we booked months ago and I expected so much more from this NYC company. Not this hideous heritage piece playing like something out of the 1950s.

Sure, our Broadway experiences were supposed to be about spirit fingers and jazz hands, and they certainly were. We saw all new productions: Kinky Boots, If/Then, Honeymoon in Vegas, Pippin (ok, this one was old but new again), It’s Only A Play. Some nice work going on but no really exciting fresh ideas. It’s Only A Play could have been written by Noel Coward or Neil Simon! In fact, I’m sure it was in parts. The old conceit about a new play and its players,  playwright, director and producer all waiting in the producer’s glamorous bedroom for the opening night reviews from The NY Times (a trumped up nonsense of a broadsheet if ever I’ve read one). Very funny play, but hardly original. But I liked the honesty of live performance. I liked that I could see the faces of the performers (at Honeymoon we were 2 rows from the front in the central orchestra), that one guy’s hands were shaking (he opened Honeymoon in Vegas and it was first night of the previews, for goodness’ sake). I liked that mistakes were made, that the “polish” in shows like Jersey Boys wasn’t always evident in these productions. Gosh, that made it lovely and real. And not that much better than anywhere else, actually. Which made it even better to be a part of. Broadway is NOT inaccessible for our young performers and wanna-be musical theatre peeps. Just highly competitive.

BTW Honeymoon in Vegas is a triumph. Go. Just go. If you want an unabashed, exuberant musical with jazz hands, spirit fingers and dancing show girls, you will not be disappointed. A triumph. The book by originator Andrew Bergman was perfect, the music by Jason Robert Brown was perfect, the Sondheimesque-lyrics by JRB were also perfect. The production was a little patchy, but that’s because it was previews and the tech wasn’t quite finished I think. (I’ve seen worse and we expected worse things to occur!) The performers were fantastic. All really solid – the 2 leads in Rob McClure and Brynn O’Malley were lovely (sidebar, who thinks that Brynn O’Malley in a blond wig is a dead ringer for Taylor Schilling?). Nancy Opel was perfectly cast. David Josefsberg as the Vegas star stole the show and Tony Danza was surprisingly great. There’s even a tap number followed by a soft shoe shuffle duet. Performed by Tony Danza in front of the curtain. 4th wall conventions thrown splendidly away. Dancing Elvis impersonators. Dancing Elvis impersonators SKYDIVING. Quick changes. Oh, it was joyful.

For all my complaints, I don’t think I got to know New York the way I want to. I will be back. But I will be armed with a good Fiji holiday prior, and prepared for the NY assault on the senses. And I will escape from time to time to quieter places, just like so many New Yorkans do for some respite from the noise. It has been said that Americans are noisy people who don’t listen to others. Now I know why.

 

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NYC is a noisy place. Part 1

And that’s coming from someone who lives on a main road. NY is noisier than Hong Kong or London or Paris, three major world cities I’ve frequently visited.

So, I’m not sure I like NY very much. There’s no place for quiet. There’s a song by Adam Gwon called “Calm” which explains the frenetic nature of NY very well.

It’s not that NY has lots of people – it does, but so does Paris and London and HK. In fact I’ve stayed in Mong Kok in Kowloon, apparently the most densely populated area on Earth. I don’t mind people. But NY is just so much noisier than these other cities and I’m not sure how I feel about it. And it’s not the people, either. They’re perfectly normal. (Except the tourists from middle America, weirdly, who are noisy and have really loud, rather ugly voices.) It’s the noise of the traffic, the subterranean subway rumbles, the overbearing use of music everywhere. The blaring. All combining to make the city a noisy, loud, seemingly frenetic place. But it’s the noise, nothing else.

It’s also an interior city. For me, coming from Antipodean Australia with its outdoor cafes and laid back lifestyle, all the interior spaces of NY were again – well – noisy. Nowhere to be quiet. Except at 8.00am on a Sunday morning. Or the Highline. Or down at South St, Seaport, where there are lovely open spaces and fewer highrises, and, bluntly, fewer people.

That being said, NY is very beautiful, and I loved Central Park, the Highline, the Guggenheim, MOMA, the Empire State Building at night, the Rockefeller Center. Broadway, oh my! Broadway. And the subway. OMG what a fabulous subway. I love the subway. I love the frequency of trains, the friendly people (yes, strange hey, that people on the subway can be friendly?), and Grand Central Station.

There are overrated places where the collective imagination and valorising of such spaces render the visitor rather disappointed with the reality. Soho and Greenwich village are two such places. The thing about Soho and the Village is not that they are different from other spaces in other world cities (think Soho in both London and HK), but that the architecture is such a relief from the high rise of the Midtown. And of course it was in Soho and the Village that dangerous creativity and ideas and social activism and social conscience and difference were and continue to be most celebrated. I think I expected more from this area and I was disappointed not to find an open square or meeting place – Washington Square too cold and wet this trip – I had foolishly expected a gathering place such as found in villages of old. Not to be, here. Manhattan is characterised by a grid of roads. There is nowhere really to escape the roads.

I’m looking forward to going back again, though. Manhattan/NYC is a fascinating place. I’ve not yet even scratched the surface, and I suspect travelling with more people or at least meeting up with Manhattanites who live in the city might make my future experiences richer and more evocative than the rushed tourist version I experienced last week.

p.s. We really liked Seattle.

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The NaNoWriMo experience

Nah, don’t be daft. There’s no way I’m doing this little exercise when I’ve just handed in my PhD. I’m exhausted and in no way ready to embrace the challenge of fiction just yet. But it got me to thinking. The National Novel Writing Month seems like a great opportunity to plan a future novel. Not this year, but certainly next year. I reckon if I plan my plot and my characters with enough detail, then next year will be a great writing opportunity. 50,000 words in a month? Sure. That’s less than 2000 words a day. And if a picture tells a thousand words, then what does a song count for? Cabaret, here I come.

Currently I’m resetting my brain to enjoy being quiet for a bit. Frankly, I’m so thoroughly depleted that I’m turning every day into a holiday when I can. If I’m not teaching in the afternoon I come home and veg out on the couch. I’ve been watching True Detective. A brilliant bit of work if ever I’ve seen it. Loving the great acting, scripts, cinematography, plot. Loving the way the writer creates tension and develops his characters. Wonderful, layered stuff. Anyway, I’ll enjoy being creative again in a year, I suspect.

But in the meantime, I’m creating a couple of book proposals for some big academic publishers. I’m keen to get on with this bit. There are a couple of days free in the next little while that look like possible prep days for my proposals, and then, New York.  !!!!

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New York, New York: here I come!!

My gift to myself for successfully submitting the PhD – a trip to New York City! DH and I are leaving in a week, my precious Poppy and Lucy the Cat being cared for by my daughter in our absence. There will be home parties and fun times, I’m sure. (And then we’re going to Seattle for a couple of days too, and it’s great as well because I’ve been there – I know.)

My DH mentioned a story about a colleague of his, whose partner had recently submitted her thesis. He romantically asked of her: “where would you like to go as a GIFT for completing and submitting your PhD?” They’re in Spain right now. Clearly, her choice of gift.

My DH felt he wasn’t being very romantic because he hadn’t done the same. Nonsense, quoth I, we’re going to New York City!! (I just removed some exclamation points because it looks uncouth. Despite Elaine from Seinfeld thinking the lack of exclamation points lacks appropriate joie de vivre.). New York, New York, what a wonderful town. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will love that crazy, noisy, loud city. I have a sneaking suspicion that once I go once, I will need to go again and again. And again. Maybe for a month at a time. Maybe to write. There. I have plotted the perfect scenario to visit NY every year in the height of our summer (which is horrible, by the way – all steamy and hot – too darn hot), and spend a month writing. And yay. Or maybe I will hate the frenetic pace, and the Americans. Man, they can be LOUD. This is coming from a noisy blond Australian soprano, BTW.

I’m still anxious, though. When does the anxiety of doing a PhD end? Does it ever end? Has it now morphed into a generalised anxiety about life? Will I ever feel – just – DONE? Calm? Relaxed? FINISHED? I’m trying to self-medicate, but it’s not working.

I’m on my second gin and tonic (ok, it’s November but I swear Monsoon season has begun early this year), and I’m too old and tired to get really hammered. Besides which, getting drunk doesn’t really affect me the way it used to. My gums ache from dehydration (I’ve still not got the hang of drinking 3 litres of water a day during the wet season) and I get an early onset headache when I’ve not eaten enough food when drunk. Man, I sound old!

But next week I’m going to New York! And tomorrow I’m going to Melbourne for the weekend. My home town. Which I miss. And later on I’m going to New Zealand for a wedding, and in the June break, the whole famn damily are staying for 2 weeks at a rather nice Chateau in Bordeaux, thank you very much. I think we’re ok for the travel.

New York, New York! Hellooooo!!!!

 

 

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Should I rejoin Facebook?

I’m done with the PhD. I’ve nearly finished teaching. Should I rejoin Facebook or is it all a waste of time, and potentially a bit Big Brother-y?

I’m not sure I really want to go back to that life. I’m doing okay without it. But I have slightly addictive tendencies with the thing should I choose to return.

Hmm. Thoughts welcomed.

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