Today I feel like gardening.

It’s Monday morning here in sunny south-east Queensland and I’ve been awake since 6.15am. The new food plants have survived the possums for two nights although maybe not forever because the possums are hungry like raccoons without the smarts to get into rubbish bins:

IMG_2926_2

I planted sweet basil, rosemary, parsley, oregano, thyme, chilli, Vietnamese mint, and common mint. I wish I had bought some coriander but it usually goes to seed before I’ve harvested the leaves. The one plant that has survived ALL attempts to kill it was a wedding gift from the in-laws and sits on the chair. It’s super happy right now because I’m watering it regularly and feeding it. The petunia plant on the right of the stand is looking a bit sad but it’s not mine. I just rescued it from my daughter who had forgotten to water it.

When my brain finally clocks this as a good thing I’m going to move the old concrete laundry tub closer to the kitchen door and plant lemongrass and sage and lemon verbena and dill and stuff. And if I stay in this state rather than moving to another state such as NSW (because job), then I’m getting chickens and a veggie garden. We don’t have any (decent) food trees in our back yard. This makes me sad. Subtropical Brisbane can grow just about any tropical fruit, including avocado and guava and paw paw and bananas and mangoes, but I’m told mango trees are invasive because they seek water, and I’m just no good at picking (or eating) fruit. Nevetheless, I’m going to plant an avocado tree and a lemon and a lime tree because we inhale avocados and use a lot of lemons and limes in our cooking.

We DO have a compost bin but it’s ages since I’ve fed it and I never know quite what to do with it once I’ve composted stuff. I tell you what, though, when I finally move the bin the compost inside will be amazing. It’s been fermenting for 4 years!

The better half at 8.00am decided he wanted to Karcher (water-pressure-clean) the front fence in preparation for its second coat of paint. The first coat is already 3 years old, and is starting to come away from the palings, despite a great undercoat and primer job back in the day. Today is MONDAY. He should be at work. I’m not sure why he’s doing this now but the fence looks a lot cleaner. Not sure when we’ll get to paint the fence though. It’s hot out there in Brisbane land and the fence gets full sunlight all day. Yesterday DH created a rustic (read didn’t prepare the ground or lay sand or anything because why) brick patio by the fence for the rubbish bins. The lawn (it used to be called the weed) is looking really gorgeous, neat and green, and DH bought with his gift voucher a new petrol line trimmer, which works a treat.

We’re both a bit bored, I think. Yesterday we went to see Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Which was hilarious, as you’d expect.

This year, if I don’t get any permanent work, I will spend the year gardening, and chook farming, and painting, and exercising, and getting my monograph published and NOT worrying about money.

Happy gardening to you!

PS here’s a picture of the dear little injured possum with a big gash on the head (old injury), who has come to the porch for a wee rest because it’s not coping in the sun. I’ve called the wildlife rescue and left a message but I’m not sure they will ring back.

possum

 

 

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Reasons to hang out in my writing room

I’ve had a lovely week this week. No longer in a depressed and angry mind-frame, I’m feeling positive about life possibilities, some of which do not include any music or music teaching at all. I’m even investigating administration positions. Not that I have any experience in those but dammit I have a PhD! I’m sure I can construct letters for signing, organise a calendar, plan meetings and events, work on excel spreadsheets, field inquiries, chase errant paperwork, that sort of thing. Actually, I’m not sure I have any of those skills, but I reckon it would take me 2 months to learn all the ins and outs and 6 months to feel like I know what I’m doing.

I’m on holidays as of today – no teaching singing for 2 weeks, and there’s a conference trip to Hobart I’m looking forward to. I lived in Tasmania for a few years when I was a young woman, and I loved the people, climate and the artisanal lifestyle some Tassie residents followed.

I think some of my contentedness stems from finally having a room of our own right next to our bedroom. It makes such a difference to our outlook, and I get to look over the city through the lovely greenery of my neighbours’ gardens. Which are mostly shrubbery, but you get the picture:

writing room view

I can see right over to the city buildings, which when lit up at night are absolutely gorgeous. It’s bright and cheerful in the room, and slightly less noisy than my former workspace. A lovely room for most of the day, it only gets really hot in the afternoon as it’s due West. But in the morning: wow. What a great space to be. I’m actually wanting to write more and develop ideas in this space. Amazing how a small change to one’s environment can make such a difference to one’s outlook. We’ll see how I feel in the height of summer without an air-conditioning unit, when temperatures can daily hit 35 degrees Celsius and 90% humidity or more.

I’m applying for an entry-level lecturer position at my local uni – tenure track. I think I have Buckley’s chance of getting an interview (there’s an Australian colloquialism for you – it means I have no chance – but don’t ask me the etymology of the phrase as there are several possibilities), but I possess many of the attributes required for such a role and I believe that I am a decent contender for the position. Anyway, that’s 2 jobs I’m going for, including the post-doc. However, I’m in such a cheery mood at present I don’t really care if I don’t get the job because right now working sounds like a horrible idea. I just like hanging in my beautiful writing room (shared, better still, with DH, which is awesome because we like working together). I feel like I’m having my very own writing retreat here in my house. Now isn’t THAT a great thought!

Do you have a favourite workspace or creative space? A room to call your own?

Hoarder disorder. A tale of spring cleaning.

Folks, this is a rather long post about hoarder disorder and spring cleaning. Grab a cuppa.

I had a little brain snap over the weekend. I’ve been angstified about my stepson using as his bedroom the verandah space RIGHT NEXT to our bedroom, which is accessible from our bedroom via a set of ill-closing French doors, the only thing between us and computer games when he visits. It has been like this for 4 years, which is long enough in my opinion for a regime change. He’s now 17 years old, needing some privacy. He has also had to share his space with the Oh Jesus* room, a euphemism for the office space DH uses, which also serves as a storage area.

Sunday morning I woke up with the niggling feeling that THINGS NEEDED TO CHANGE. After I nagged gently suggested DH mow the lawn because forest, I started thinking. What if, instead of Waiting for Godot** we created our own dressing room and study right here, right now, in the West Wing? And that’s what we did. On the very weekend anniversary of our move to our house 4 years ago, DH and I changed some rooms around. It took more and less time than I expected. More time because OMG the crap, but less time because the crap could have been worse. Stepson has been moved into my old teaching space, rattly louvre windows and all. DH and I now share a study – WITH A VIEW – and we finally have a private dressing room/wardrobe in the west wing. Huzzah!

Our house is partially made up of uninsulated but enclosed verandahs (with linings and all, fully electrified – they’re not THAT crappy), and it’s there where the stepkids sleep and where our stuff goes. The verandahs are each 2.6 metres wide by 8/9 metres long, so they’re a useful space, if somewhat long and thin, with cracks between the floorboards. There’s an East Wing and a West Wing. Originally, stepson lived in the west wing while stepdaughter lived in the other bedroom. Then my youngest child moved north to live with us and we had to move everything around. We’ve been living in the house rather uncomfortably for 18 months now, and it’s awkward with three permanent adults and 2 visiting stepkids trying to squeeze into a small 3 bedroom house containing a teaching studio.

I taught singing in the east wing for three years, and it’s the detritus from this phase which is the saddest turning of the tide moment. There is no longer anywhere to put the music gear. I’ve been teaching at the local conservatoire for the year, and the study wasn’t being used. If I am still teaching singing in 2016 I will be hiring an external space. Anyway, the keyboard is now skulking in the space next to the bathroom, an entirely unsuitable spot for electronic equipment. But there’s nowhere else to put it. Also, as with all good music teachers, I have a raft of gifts from ex-students and my old pre-school teaching days. There’s certainly nowhere to put all THAT stuff. I’m talking about picture frames and fun music toys and music mugs and my rainbow flag, that sort of thing. I also have decorating items from my former selves. Little knick-knacks which are adding to my sense of desperate overcrowdedness.

Yes, folks. Time to admit it. I am a bit of a hoarder. Not the reality-TV kind. More the kind that would prefer a little more storage. Just a bit.

DH is always impressed when I do a clean out. He would much prefer to live with a lot less. I’m not untidy, but I do collect stuff. We have no real storage solutions in our hundred-year-old weatherboard home, with 2 households of stuff to make room for (and we have already gotten rid of SO MUCH JUNK). The things we buy for the house now tend to be storage solutions. New coat hangers or pantry containers, that sort of thing. Yesterday we bought a third portable wardrobe, one of those sturdy if industrial-looking chrome storage units. Very retro/trendy. DH can’t believe it. He finally has somewhere to hang his shirts and get his shoes off the floor. A moment of quiet jubilation for him.

DH gets antsy when I bring a new thing home. He asks me – only partly joking-: “what are you now going to throw out?” Looking at the STUFF, I finally see how he is feeling. It’s too much. I regularly clean out my closet, removing old, mouldy or long-unworn shoes and outfits that are out of fashion, tired or ill-fitting. I began this habit a few years ago, and I’m now trying to extend it to other areas in the house, but it’s hard. My worst hoarding habit, I think, is book buying. I rarely throw out old books, as I often re-read them. I’m looking at one of our bookcases as I write this. It’s double stacked. All of our bookcases are. We have 10 large free-standing bookcases, including one in the toilet. Each bookcase holds about 300 books. So we have about 3000 books, texts, academic books, magazines, recipe books, CDs, photo albums, and music books in our little house. No wonder DH is overwhelmed! I also buy art glass, pottery and porcelain things. Usually from overseas trips, they are almost always small, but where to store them? We have stacks of little decorative bowls in our kitchen cupboards, although I now throw out any old glassware and china that’s chipped.

Another of our equally serious problems is the paper trail dogging our heels. We have lots of the stuff. Every six months or so I have a bit of a clean up and manage to partially empty my in and out trays, but almost immediately they fill again. DH is the same. He can’t keep a clean desk at home (given that his desk is bright pink – an old pine desk from years ago that we painted for my stepdaughter, it could be worse), and nor can I. He collects playbills and concert programs and receipts and things. I collect bills and invoices and decorating magazines and receipts and things. I am a hoarder of old electronic equipment and pretty paper things. In my desk drawers are about 100 old computer wires. No idea of their purpose, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need most of them.

In the master bedroom I have a lot of cute little decorative boxes (many of them gifted to me) in which I put all my mostly cheap paste jewellery, which then sit on my tall boy making a visual mess. This stuff is horrible to keep clean and dusted. I even have a white and gold porcelain heart-shaped box WITH A BROKEN LID in which I put my single earrings and jewels THAT ARE BROKEN. Why?! (I just threw it out, with sorrow because it was a gift from my daughter from about 1998. It has been broken since 1998).

We went away for a holiday a while back and to ensure our housesitters felt comfortable sleeping in our bedroom I cleared out all of our bric-a-brac. I liked it so much when we returned I haven’t put it back. This includes my perfume bottles, jewellery boxes and decorative items – things from a former design look (girly romantic, if you must know). It’s getting annoying now, but I loved the streamlined look. It also made me realise I can live with much less than I thought. I’ve worn the same 2 bracelets for months, and rotated the same three pairs of earrings. I’ve worn the one perfume. Now I want to expand a little, but I can do this without the jewellery boxes that hold earrings I haven’t worn in 25 years. While I’ve been writing this post I’ve been quietly going through these old boxes, throwing out broken pieces and empty perfume bottles. I’ve popped all the earrings I’m never likely to wear again but are a reflection of my past in one of the boxes, which I’ve taped shut and stuck in the bottom of my tall boy. A memory of me. Not important to anyone but my grandchildren, perhaps.

Now, the master bedroom is looking roomy, clean and tidy, although long overdue for a dust. The dirty laundry basket has been removed to the “dressing room”, and an old comfy armchair has likewise moved into the west wing. DH’s shoes have gone from under the bed, and we removed the French doors from the doorway. I’ve cleaned out one of the Oh Jesus* boxes and the other is now full of unused picture frames, postcards and some scrap-booking things (scrap-booking: one of my little projects for when I have a project room. Why scrap booking? Because STATIONERY, folks. I have a thing for it).

The next area to tackle will be the paperwork, my desk drawers and the music stuff. I’m not looking forward to it. But already I feel so much better. And I’ve been writing this post from my new study area, which overlooks a view of the city and greenery from my neighbour’s garden. Beautiful.

 

*Oh Jesus rooms were labelled as such by my mother. They are rooms so full of crap that when you look inside the room, you think “Oh Jesus”, and close the door again. Not intended to be blasphemous.

**Waiting for Godot. Things that will never arrive. In our case, builders’ quotes and renovation commencement.

 

 

Things we think might be a little bit b*llsh*t

There are mutterings afoot here in Australia regarding the future of the Yarts. It’s pretty terrifying to the Australian performing artist. The first is the decimation of the Australia Council by the Senator George Brandis, who instead of creating his own little arts fiefdom with his own pocket money has decided to take it (the money) away from the AC instead – disabling the capacity of the AC to run its programs for independent artists, and schools programs, and development of shows and the list goes on. So angry I could spit.

The second is the proposed changes to one of our university’s classical voice program. InDaily’s reporter Suzie Keen reported the following on 13 May:

Adelaide University provided a statement saying it “has no intention of closing classical voice studies in the Elder Conservatorium of Music, and these rumours have no basis in fact”.

A university spokesperson said proposals for changes to the way the Conservatorium music courses are taught were still under consultation with staff, but that the bachelor of music (classical performance), including the classical voice major, would continue to be offered.

“It is proposed that some of the modes of teaching may be changed to give students exposure to national and international expertise and greater opportunities.” 

A media release issued last week by Adelaide University stated that changes to the music curriculum were planned to strengthen ties with the music industry and help students apply their skills to multiple career opportunities across different industries.

“Our new teaching and learning model will include greater crossover of skills in areas such as popular music, classical, jazz, performance, teaching, media and multimedia,” Professor Jennie Shaw, executive dean of the university’s Faculty of Arts, said in the release.

“As a result, the music curriculum will become as flexible and diverse as possible, representing the interests of students across a wide range of genres.

“Rather than being known for one specialisation such as voice, composition or violin, they will receive a portfolio of skills that are relevant to the challenges and opportunities in the industry in the 21st century.”

Right. So, what this means, in effect, is that students will be unable to specialise under the new model. Singing teachers will be “let go” and students will not be given the opportunity to develop elite skills or expertise in their chosen domain. Now, some (university heads) would argue that this is the way of the future for musicians. That in fact musicians need to show flexibility in their career and have a variety of skills in music that transcends expertise on one instrument.

That’s actually pretty true. Most musicians DO need to be flexible. They DO need a variety of skills and they DO need to prepare for a “Portfolio career” in the Yarts. All music institutions are painfully aware of this need, because we all know that carving out a living-wage performing career is difficult. Most performers are able to maintain performing careers over a range of musical styles; they perform, they teach, they create entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves through writing for Cabaret, Musical Theatre and the like. They collaborate and network with arts councils (sic) and write grant applications and play in bands and, well, they find ways to survive. Many universities and music institutions now offer courses that discuss how to make it as a portfolio musician, and most Bachelor music courses seem to offer electives that will expand the student experience across domains. In just one example, back in the deep dark 90s I arrived at Melbourne Uni just as they changed aspects of the BMus. They opened up about 30-40 credit points to study courses outside the faculty. I jumped at the chance and did some English and Drama courses. Useful and fun. Now, of course, I’d study introduction to Psychology and probably some creative writing courses, and perhaps a business module or two. However, back then it was hard to find out anything about the Arts courses so I just took what looked most like the career I was then trying to build.

However. And you knew there was always going to be a however. Without high levels of expertise in at least one instrument all you are going to get are bad musicians without the level of skill required to do anything more than busk. And that’s the sorry truth. So, really, what Adelaide Uni are saying is “we don’t want to support the expensive one-to-one teaching approach characteristic of most conservatoires and which has a track record of success over the last – say – 800 years (I’m lumping in Apprenticeships and European guilds in that model for all their strengths and weaknesses), so we’re pretending that a breadth degree will be just as good, and that students will somehow through an amazing osmosis-like development get the expert training they need.” Badow.

It will not happen. What you will get will be poorly trained musicians with poor skills across a range of instruments. Classical singers will not have language or stage craft skills, therefore will be unable to compete in the market IN ANY WAY. Here’s a thought. Without any – ANY – empirical evidence that what Adelaide Uni is doing will be beneficial for classical singers, I offer some anecdotes of my own as evidence to the contrary.

Kate Miller-Heidke. She is one of Australia’s leading women performers, with a successful career spanning more than 10 years (she’s only 30ish). Can sing opera really really well, but is also an award winning song writer and performer across a range of genres. She trained at Qld Con in classical voice. Huh. Here’s the thing. When she graduated, she chose not to sing opera. She chose to pursue a highly successful career in pop. She has written a truckload of albums, won a truckload of awards, was the world’s best song-writer one year, and has appeared on TV innumerable times singing everything from a totally crazy rendition of Psycho Killer to her own amazing work. And then something happened. Now she is singing Opera again. At the Met, no less. She would not have had this amazing career without the thorough training she received from one of our finest Conservatoires. One-to-one classical voice lessons set her up to be expert in that field, WHICH THEN TRANSLATED TO EVERYTHING SHE SUBSEQUENTLY DID.

Training for expertise in one thing does not automatically mean you are going to be bad at everything else. What it means, more likely, is that you are going to have the know how to develop expertise across a raft of skills WHEN AND IF THEY ARE REQUIRED. Well, ok, I was never going to be any good at Maths, but my own training in Classical voice enabled me to apply the LEVEL of skill required to master just about anything else I needed in my career, including teaching, singing pop and jazz, and writing. The discipline I developed in my vocal training has held me in great stead for my PhD studies (that old thing about excellence etc). Developing elite skills in one thing just means that I’m elite at that one thing, not that I’m unable to be good at anything else.

I totally get that musicians need to be flexible and have a range of skills across a range of domains. We are already doing this, people. Let’s look at Babushka Cabaret, another anecdotal example. I saw them just recently and was blown away by this Brisbane-based group’s skill, flexibility and talent. The women performing all trained as classical voice specialists. Here is a bio of this fabulous group, which I found on Pozible http://www.pozible.com/project/4771;

About Babushka

Babushka was born in 2011 when four of Brisbane’s most vivacious and dangerously different divas bonded over a shared case of Soprano Identity Crisis Syndrome at the Queensland Conservatorium. Premiering their wares as a cabaret four-piece at Queensland’s own Woodford Folk Festival, these quirky young sopranos created the collective to indulge their love of operatic prima donnas (mostly themselves) and cabaret femme fatales. Pushing the boundaries of traditional opera through their unique crossover arrangements, mash-ups and musical sketches, the girls have won the hearts of classical music buffs and indie music nerds alike. Their repertoire explores the spectrum of theatrical music from full-blown operatic arias, cabaret tearjerkers and pop gems set to luscious 4-part harmony. 
As individuals, the girls have performed with Opera Queensland, OzOpera, Alpha Crucis Ensemble (The Southern Cross Soloists II), The Sounding Out Collective, Oscar Theatre Company, The Qld Conservatorium Opera Department, ChiChi Delux, The National Youth Choir of Australia and more.

The prevailing societal culture of pop and rock means that these women already know that stuff. They hear it every day. They probably sing it in the shower. But their training in elite opera styles enabled this group to develop an extremely high level of skill in their cabaret endeavour. Their conservatoire training, which included everything from stage craft to languages to vocal pedagogy to music theory, was in-depth. Breadth was a by-product of their own desire to break out of the mold. So their amazing vocal arrangements of pop tunes and classical standards, set within a cabaret formula, was borne of their elite training.

Do I have to give more examples of successful “cross-over” artists in the absence of ANY research that indicates what Adelaide Uni is doing there will have a POSITIVE effect on Australian artists? There is no evidence that this is a great move by Adelaide. Call it out for what it is: lack of money to support this conservatoire and its attempts to maintain excellence in a time of increasing austerity about the Yarts. Don’t attempt to placate us with nonsense about breadth and crossover skill. And there it is, folks. Things we think might be a little bit bullshit.

Netflix v Stan

For non-Americans (aka Australians), streaming TV is somewhat new. We’ve had free-to-air streaming tv for ages, and those with VPN have been able to access Hulu and Netflix from the U.S. for more than 5 years. In my household we’ve had an Apple TV for about 2 years, and plenty of access to iTunes shows. Until 2 days ago we made do with DVDs and iTunes and unlimited internet data usage bundled with our home phone. Life was ok. Oh! And by the way, we’re Apple users. Not exclusively, but nearly. Begrudgingly. Because beautiful shiny, good for dummies. 2 iMacs, 1 MacBook Pro, 1 MacBook Air, 2nd generation iPad, 1 iPad mini, Apple TV, 2 iPhone 6 plus. Plus a bunch of derelict Apple phones (3,4) and touches and stuff.

Then Netflix and Stan and Presto and Quickflix arrived. Actually, Quickflix has been around for years but I never cared before.

I’m here to report on Netflix and Stan. I’m taking advantage of the 30 day free membership to assess each provider and their libraries. I’m excited!!

So far here’s the thing. At $8.99 per month Netflix offers SD streaming on one device. Handily already added to Apple TV, all it took was a neatly synchronised iTunes account to join up, and we were away. What a great, convenient approach. Love it. I’ve chosen an SD stream because our TV is 6 years old, so there are limits to what it can show. Also, streaming in Australia can be crap. There is no point getting a higher def stream, it’s too data hungry. Yes, we have unlimited usage but there’s a limit to what our network can manage.

Netflix currently have about 1000 movies and TV series in its library. This includes about a third children’s programs. This leaves adults with a surprisingly small library of shows. Our first day on the site started well. We caught up with the latest Superman (Henry Cavill with the most adorable underbite), then the following day I caught up with old favourites Serenity, Enchanted, The Matrix and Frozen. Plus some TV things I’d not seen. But then that was it. It was like looking at the old video hire store and being sad and bored by the crap offerings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s lots and I’ve just not seen it yet. There IS the entire seven seasons of Dr Who (modern version), so hello holidays, and I’m pretty sure The Good Wife and some other shows I’ve been holding off watching due to mismatching timetables will be just the ticket for a jaded palate. But I think the small offerings are poor thus far. No West Wing!!! *News just to hand as of 25/06/15 – STILL NO WEST WING but at least I can now buy the series (expensively) on Apple iTunes.

No problems with streaming yet. The video is great, smooth and not at all laggy.

Stan is a peculiarly Australian offering, via Fairfax and Nine Entertainment, and StreamCo. At a clean $10 per month, it’s got some nice features.

It has secured some pretty impressive British and American shows already and with lots of Australian content it makes me happy. One of my favourite shows already is the US show Transparent. Every time Maura tries to come out to her children I cry. Stan’s interface on our devices is awesome, and we can stream onto 3 devices at once. Stan’s interface with our Apple TV has not been a happy experience as my Apple TV won’t talk to any of my devices through AirPlay. I think the only way we can watch Stan on the big TV is if I hook up my HDMI cable to my laptop and stream through the Internet page. So I’m watching Janet King (an amazing Australian court house procedural)  through my iPad mini, which is old and laggy. (It shouldn’t be; it’s 2 years old, but it acts like it’s ancient).  *NEWS just to hand as of 25/06/15 – Apple and Stan talked to each other and now Stan has the same great Apple App on Apple TV that Netflix does. This has made the whole process SO MUCH EASIER.

A few bugs to fix up, mainly streaming issues, but I think it’s because of the device, not the provider. I wrote to Stan to check an audio issue and they responded in 30 minutes with a real life email from a human. Take that, Apple!

At the moment I’m kinda siding with Stan. As an Australian provider, it understands its market very well. It has fast acting personal service. And I like the Australian content. Because Janet King is as good as, if not better than, The Good Wife. From the DPP angle, of course!

So, for Netflix 9/10 for ease of use, 6/10 for content. Stan 8/10 for ease of use, 8/10 for content. Price being the same, these are bargain prices for the benefit of watching shows without ads.

I’m thinking I might just buy both subscriptions anyway. At $20 per month it’s less than I was spending on iTunes anyway. And that’s the benefit right there.

 

 

Review: Skylights, by Luther M. Siler

I’m writing this review for a fellow blogger – Luther M. Siler – who has recently published a sci-fi space opera/crime-fic/robot wars novel. It’s very good. He blogs at infinitefreetime.com and is a teacher-educator-administrator somewhere in the USA. Probably middle America. He is an Apple fan-boi, so we have something in common.

The stars are shining for Skylights!

Luther M. Siler is a prolific blogger I stumbled upon last year and I’ve always enjoyed his small stories about his work life. He writes well, with a keen eye for detail and life’s absurdities. He gratifyingly rarely makes prose errors or spelling mistakes. His style is modern POV, and deeply, deeply funny – and at times surprisingly poignant. Being a sci-fi mini-fanboi, when I read about his new space opera novel Skylights I knew I was destined to read it. I even bought the Kindle edition. Now, given I’m not normally impressed by self-published novels as they can often be appallingly written tripe, I was enjoyably surprised by the quality of Skylights. Siler began this novel by entering the popular and growing NaNoWriMo, winning it in 2008 with this novel.

Let’s begin with the pace and prose. This novel is well written. Laconic, ironic humour laced with some brilliant one-liners and great dialogue, Siler walks a nice line between descriptive writing and action writing. His writing style is unobtrusive and well-edited. Good writing often is; you know it’s good when you’ve finished the novel and you can’t remember when you started reading. I’m a fast reader and Siler’s fast-paced silken prose suits my style. I didn’t get caught up over awkward phrases or phony lines. It just worked.

To the plot. Well, ok, this is always going to be hard. It’s Sci-fi, you know? Therefore a reasonable suspending of disbelief is required when reading the stuff. But it’s fine here. The plot in this space opera is pretty good and mostly believable. The plot is a straight forward chronology, tightly focused on a single team of astronauts travelling to Mars on a recon and rescue mission, and the surprise they fly into. Siler’s understanding of pace and climax, plot twists, cliff-hanger chapter endings, and climactic battle scenes are all fine. The exposition is a little long in comparison with the remainder of the novel, but not tiresomely so – it’s just when you get to the end you realise how much exposition there was. From my perspective this makes the novel just a little unbalanced.

Siler sticks to what he knows about current science and this serves him well. A light touch of the absurd includes tech objects such as i-lids (I’m not explaining this, you’ll have to read the book), BLINKS (hilarious, Siler), and auto-cars, all based on readily available technology, and scarily prescient, I suspect. He also reveals a healthy skepticism about wireless networking, reminding me somewhat of the 2003 Battlestar Galactica series premise. I hear you, Luther.

Characters are well drawn, and I particularly like Gabe and Ezekiel’s cheeky x- and y-gen personas, if for no other reason than they seem authentic. Zvi is an hilariously over the top rendition of a typical stern soldier type, and intended to be a nice foil for his mad-scientist gen-y nephew Zub (Ezekiel). Siler’s writing of women is a little more problematic, given a slight gamer preference for ridiculously GOOD-looking curvy doctors, however at least they are not pneumatic in the way Huxley’s Brave New World paints women. The two women – Kathryn and Celeste, apart from their ridiculously GOOD-looking exteriors, seem like normal, sensible, clever humans who have as much air time as the other characters. Whew, that’s a relief. It’s apparent from Siler’s writing that he has been influenced by a generation of well-written modern sci-fi in which women are, well, fine, if somewhat ridiculously GOOD-looking.

Finally, it’s clear from Siler’s writing style that he is a problem solver. Much of his writing style revolves around fixing stuff, making stuff, wondering how and why stuff works the way it does. He’s a bit of a McGyver, and this is appealing, because sci-fi fans want to know how stuff might work. At the same time I’d like a couple more things from Siler. The first is: more about the living conditions aboard Johannes. I know it falls under the realm of exposition, but with all the problem solving about what’s needed for all the living, we then didn’t get to live it. The second is, dammit Siler, you finished this novel on a cliff-hanger! I need the next novel NOW!

This is a most enjoyable novel, and well worth the tiny $5.00 for an easy day’s read. If you love sci-fi space opera, crime-fic and robot-wars, you will love this novel. 4 stars. You can find the book on Kindle Australian Amazon here.

I must be feeling better: I’m filing.

I must be feeling better – I’m having a paperwork clean up. And clean out. I’m getting rid of 5 years of PhD stuff that’s either already replicated online or old obsolete drafts; I’m cleaning up my single sheet downloaded song scores to take with me to work; I’m FILING, people. I hate filing. But today I’m doing it. Maybe to avoid leaving the house because it’s stinking hot out there, but maybe too because I needed to get it done. Ah, the joys of working from home. Not.

paperwork

I’ve had to move my home teaching to my DH’s workplace this year because we’re about to renovate the house and the room will be torn apart at some stage. Therefore I had to move stuff out of it and find another place to teach from. Momentarily I’m already feeling better about the home office. I’m taking the opportunity – now that I’ve removed a bookcase and some of my MT scores – to rearrange the room slightly, so that it feels more spacious to work in. I’ve stored my piano keyboard to one side and underneath it I’ve popped a bunch of my old gig gear. Because let me disabuse of you of a typical urban myth about musos: I never play piano at home. I never sing at home. I never play any music at home except the occasional Plainchant (Hildegard of Bingen for studying); Baroque instrumental music (I love you Bach), OR Jenny Morris’ Honeychild (when I’m cleaning the house). Because as a musician who teaches ALL THE TIME I get sick of music, especially vocal music. And besides, I have music in my head all day. Earworms. I don’t want to be blind but I won’t mind going deaf. I got the music in me!

I have two in/out trays that have been full for a while, so I’m taking the plunge to see what’s in them. I’m clearing off my desk, which usually gets filled up with bits and pieces of not-quite-junk, like hair ribbons and makeup and pens and flash drives and receipts and bills and stuff. I’ve even rung some of my superannuation providers to find some missing money! I found the money, there’s quite a bit – not enough to retire on though.

I keep thinking I only work 4 days a week, but it’s not true. I do really work 5 – but I forget that my business and the accounts and the paperwork all count as administrative work. And that ALWAYS happens on the non-teaching day.

So my new office space has to double up as a spare room. It’s going to have its own ensuite (but on a landing so it doesn’t feel creepy), it will be 3.5 metres wide by at least 5.3 metres long (not including the ensuite). It will have doors and windows at the front and windows along the side. Under the side windows will be several Ikea bookcases (because cheap) and at the rear of the room will be a built in bookcase and desk. It won’t look like the image below but it will have a skillion ceiling. And a Persian rug. And bookcases. And a desk. And windows. I’m so excited I could spit.

Going Facebook cold turkey – the ramifications one year on

About 18 months ago I left Facebook. It was getting in the way of my study, and, frankly, I was beginning to dislike its tentacles creeping through every aspect of my life.

Today I reflect on what it has been like living without a ubiquitous, and, some might say, compulsory social media requirement of the modern world.

For the first few weeks it was awful. I missed hearing about my friends’ events and special moments, and I missed the nonsensical cat gifs and funny stories and news about art events. I missed being part of an FB tribe that literally seemed to know EVERYTHING. It is still hard sometimes to not feel that sense of community, even though it was ephemeral at best.

But I could breathe. My life was mine again. And I lost much of that compulsive desire to SHARE. Not that I don’t like sharing. But really, do I need to show you my awesome lunch?

The sad aspects of leaving Facebook (and I left cold turkey, without any fanfare at all), is that when I have something really good to share, such as my long-sought-after Doctorhood, I can’t. Well, my DH can post about it, but I can’t. And yet, even now I’ve finished my PhD and I have no known impediments to rejoining FB (it takes a small reactivation as I’ve not deleted my account), I don’t think I’ll rejoin.

Every few weeks I read about FB having a stranglehold on our social media interactions and information – the things we share, like, want, desire. They can link to websites you’ve been and target ads to you that they think you might want – I know it’s an algorithm but get out of my cache! I’m not really interested in being a consumer like that. If I want something I’ll buy it, I know when I’m being manipulated, and I’m okay with that. But I don’t need every known website to have my address, DOB, likes, dislikes and private or personal information. Actually, I hate it.

And it’s not changing any time soon. I’ve had to sprinkle important information right across the web. Such an invasion of privacy. Why do websites – with the exception of financial institutions looking after my money – require my DOB? Any website in which this information is purely and obviously for their market research, I give them a false DOB. Often I’m 22 or 102. I have ADBLOCK plus on all my devices that support it (bless you Adblock people), and I regularly clear my cache. Distressingly, though, the email account I’ve had for 10 years is linked to an internet search engine that is clearly moving into the “you want too much information” behemoth. I love this account. I love the ease of having an online mail account I can access anywhere in the world. But I dislike the tentacles that are again creeping out at me.

Yet, here I am, exposing my thoughts to all the world, and I don’t mind this. Why? Because it’s my CHOICE. And obviously algorithms and Big Brother aren’t that clever that they can link my blog to my other social media stuff. Or maybe it’s because I don’t have other social media stuff. But I do. I have Etsy, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and an ongoing online presence. But somehow it hasn’t caught up with me yet. Or maybe it has…

I think the most distressing aspect of all this is that to FB I am only a consumer, not a commentator. For example, I would like a decent dialogue about my transgender daughter, but that will not happen with these big companies. What does it get them? Sweet FA. They are actually not interested in the social interaction possible and the way humans work with other humans. They actively diminish posts from people who rarely post, and INCREASE posts from people who post multiple times per day. Isn’t that a little bit wrong? A bit skewiff?

Anyway, if I want to know what’s happening to my friends (those who are on FB but with whom I interact outside FB) I call them. On that new-fangled device – the telephone. And that, in the end, is why I chose to leave FB. Because no matter how many FB friends I might have, the people who are most precious to me are those whose phone numbers are in my address book. If I have your phone number, you matter to me.

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.