Saturday, 28 February 2009

Empty Nest

For work and because of the threat of fire where we live I spent the last couple of days in Melbourne, while PJ worked in Sydney. We picked up Z and now the three of us are home and happy.

Earlier in the week the worst sound in the world was the incessant sirens of the fire engines on their way to the nearby blaze. 

Today the worst sound in the world is my own voice, unanswered by our five chicks and two beautiful hens. When I left for the train station early on Thursday morning I made the executive decision not to lock the chooks up. In case there was a fire, I liked the idea that they would smell the smoke or feel the radiant heat and escape to some place safe.

I am sorry to say that my decision killed them. Not by fire, but by fox.

This morning before I met PJ at the airport shuttle bus, I went to see The Water Hole exhibition at ACCA, which I loved. I'm not sure you can see from this photo but the discarded plastic water bottles form a giant nest on which sit dozens of abandoned eggs. 

To these birds that were born into the leftovers of our consumerables, and to our seven birds that were consumed, I say I'm sorry.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Sweet Smell of Success

My mum's friend Andrew, who has a book coming out this year called The Greatest Blogger in the World, has just launched his blog.

After a recent trip to the perfume counter of a department store to buy a gift, Andrew returned home with an abundance of fragrant sample cards that "smelt like girls". Perfect for DIY business cards and plant labels.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

I'm Sorry, Sonja

I'm sorry Sonja Ridden, but I cannot read your book.

I really like its title: Hell...p! I'm a Stepmother, but unfortunately the appeal ends there.

Sonja works as a counsellor and psychotherapist specialising in assisting stepfamilies, she holds a Master of Counselling and is a stepmother, so she's got all the credentials, except the ability to hold my attention.

I was hoping for a personal journey story that was more philosophical, but this is more of a How To book for the lay person and includes chapters with headings such as Happiness is a Choice and It's All my Fault – important issues I'm interested in but not when they're written in such a simplistic way.

Apart from the title I liked the clarity of the writing (just not the content) and the bibliography, which I look forward to reading my way through.

As the role of stepmother is fraught with so many insecurities and doubts, I took some pleasure in making the firm decision not to read this book. It's just one book in a pile of hundreds, but one that feels good to put near the front door to return to the library in the morning and exchange for something else unknown.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009


I first heard our friend Geraldine mention the word solastalgia, which, according to TreeHugger means: 
"a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home," according to Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht; in essence, it's pining for a lost environment. It's the mashup of the roots solacium (comfort) and algia (pain), which, when combined, forms a term (and an idea) reminiscent of nostalgia.

Coined from responses from interviews Albrecht conducted over the past few years, the word describes Australians' deep (and growing) sense of loss as they watch the landscape around them change. "They no longer feel like they know the place they've lived for decades," he says.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Upside

I didn't learn anything at the town meeting today but I'm glad I went. The CFA, police and mayor discussed the position of the fires in our region and the hot, windy conditions expected on Friday. They talked about leaving early and not waiting until you can see flames, or having a damn good fire fighting strategy in place if you decide to stay.

My sister Kate's house is surrounded on four sides by beautiful bushland. Last night and this morning the fire gobbled the bush on one side, right up to their house, though their home is untouched.

Today's meeting brought the community together and brought out people's best sides – expressions of love and concern for my sister and her family, offers of meals and vegetables from people's gardens and a place to stay if people need safety or some company.

Thinking about the camaraderie and kinship, PJ and I marvelled that one of the upsides of global warming is social warming.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Ambush

My sister Kate and her family, who live ten minutes away, were evacuated this afternoon because of fires. We decided not to take any chances and joined them at a safe house in town, where we all still are.

The kids ate icy-poles, played and watched DVDs. The adults stood on the balcony in amazement at the smoke like monster's breath, not too far away. Z's mum came to join us, her house under threat.

Inside the radio is turned to the emergency fire station, outside sirens herald the presence of brave fighters.

We are all exhausted now, the kids picking up on our angst. 

The wind wants to carry us home.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Definitions of Now

Today over on Brand DNA, Stan Lee posted this photo and wrote about his recent experience at a conference where dozens of people sat and typed on their laptops.
It seems live blogging and twittering are obviously now an accepted part of conferences. Which is probably the conference equivalent of people taking mobile phone photos at concerts... But I can't help thinking that these people are not getting the most out of their conference experience because they're too focused on commenting on or recording what they're seeing.
As a blogger and constant camera carrier who loves to photograph daily details, this is something I struggle with. I want to be present in the moment as Meg Now but I also want to capture what I'm experiencing and encountering for Meg Later. Can a person do both in equal measure? In this ever-evolving digital age do I need to loosen my definition of now? Maybe Marshall McLuhan was right when he wrote "We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future."

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Wombats and Wires

Yesterday after work, PJ and I went up to the neighbourhood centre for the Wombat Awards ceremony – an award given in recognition and appreciation of a person's contributions to our local community.

This is Ken, the winner of the 2009 award. He is a shy man and as he spoke to the small casual crowd, his cheeks went pink with embarrasment at being the centre of attention.

I have recently been invited to sit on the board of the neighbourhood centre so for me last night was also an opportunity to meet the other board members in an informal setting.

After conversations with these and other interesting people, egg sandwiches and glasses of bubbly, PJ and I came home and watched Man on Wire, about the highwire walker, Philippe Petit.

Oh what beauty! What audacity and poetry! One individual holding onto the hearts and dreams of every individual, balanced, poised up in the sky like a breath personified.

Yet after he walked between the twin towers Petit alienated his girlfriend and the friends who had helped propel him to his height of fame. The grand performer composing poems with his body on a blank sky; his best work now behind him, his contribution to an economy of extravagance. He walks his wire at the end of the film, a man alone in his garden – a community of one.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


This happened a year ago to the day. We had moved into our house only six weeks earlier. These are the photos and words I emailed around to friends and family.

Neighbour's van. Handbrake failed. No one hurt. 

He's a builder and is doing the repair work himself. He was devastated and very shaken when it first happened.

The van took the electricity box off the house so we had no power all day.

PJ and I were under the house putting some insulation under the floor. We heard a crash when it went through the neighbour's fence and then saw it go up the ramp.

Crazy!! But no one was hurt, so that's good.

What a day!!


Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Spewsday Tuesday

From Spender:

Hey Peeps.

This is gross but I couldn’t resist. Curiosity always gets the better of humanoids.

So, 109 tram down vic parade. 11 am. busy tram. Went to sit at a (surprise) empty bunch of seats then realised some one had blown chunks on the floor. The funny bit was the 2 dollar coin in the middle.

1. Some one swallowed a coin by mistake and realised their error while on the tram

2. Some one spewed and thought they would leave a tip for the cleaner

3. Some dadaist created an installation and a social experiment to see how much it would cost for some one to fish around in a pile of vomit for a quick buck.

I leave you with these deep resounding questions...

Monday, 16 February 2009

Because I Said So

As part of my research on stepmothering, I put the prefix step – stepmother, stepfamily, stepchild – into our library's online database and borrowed or reserved every title that I found.

Although not just about stepmothering, I decided to borrow it anyway in hope that there would be one personal essay by a mother with inherited kids. And there was – there was one, the sole reason this book came up in the database search.

According to, over 50% of US families are remarried or re-coupled and 1300 new stepfamilies are formed every day. Considering the statistics, I was very surprised there was only 1 out of 33 essays written from the perspective of a stepparent.

Despite this prejudice or oversight or bias or whatever you'd like to call it, I really enjoyed this collection and would happily recommend it to anyone looking for a book that sticks its hands into the guts of life in the hope it will come out bloody. Some of the writers put a glove on first, some describe their hands, their chipped or manicured nails, their calloused fingers, their moisturised cuticles. Some mothers thrust their mitts right in, while one achingly describes her stump. Some of the mothers are solo, some are partnered, some are young, some old, some with babies, some with children older than me. Some write beautifully, others barely limp along. 

Although some of the pieces were more sentimental than others, and some engrossed me while others brought on the yawns, they all felt honest as each woman described the complexity, beauty, darkness, powerlessness and utter amazement of the daily expedition she pioneers.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Companion Planting

Our strawberries and plum tree are in love. Like any successful relationship, they bring out the best in the other.

I had a hard, distracted day today and had a lot on my mind. I was here but not here. I was so happy to be close to the ground but felt exposed, and so thankful for my companion for providing me with shade.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

My Valentine

From page 49 of The Language of Things:
Olivetti made the conceptual leap from manufacturers of business equipment to manufacturer of consumer products when Ettore Sottsass first put a handle on a mainframe computer, making it into an object rather than an accumulation of transistors and valves. In the same way, with design, he transformed the office typewriter for Olivetti by making a red-and-orange lightweight portable, the Valentine. As Sottsass memorably put it, the Valentine was designed to keep lonely poets company on weekends in the country. He had realized that technical equipment could be domesticated. A typewriter did not have to be treated as a piece of anonymous machinery, but could be understood as having a character of its own.

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Lucy Boot

Our town awoke inside a wintry mist this morning.

But when I opened the front door at 7am to go and let the chooks out of their coop, I realised that it wasn't fog at all but the frightening smell of smoke from the bushfires.

In the city on Wednesday my relationship to the fires was about the individual people who had died or were effected. Now I am back home it is about the people still, but in relation to their families, communities and to the land – the practicalities, not just the emotions.

O came over last night and we talked about fire behaviour and CFA recommendations and what we are going to do if our dry surrounding bush goes up in flames.

So many shops have charity tins for the bushfire appeal, so many local venues are having fundraisers. Momentous events such as this tend to bring out the best in people in the most surprising ways.

Since my grandmother died I have received emails and messages from people in similarly unexpected ways.

My friend Gil for example who runs a successful leather goods business came over with her man on Saturday. She reminded me that a few years ago she named a boot Lucy after my grandmother. At the time that range came out I knew, but didn't think twice about it. 

Now I see though that the individual ways people experience the world affect us all.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Writing on the Wall

Yesterday after dropping Z at school, PJ and I trained to Melbourne where he had the job of painting the names of forthplaying bands on the wall outside the Prince Bandroom where my sister Emily works. While he chalked and painted and chatted to inquisitive passers by, I read and journalled on a nearby step.

At lunchtime, PJ munched on a sandwich while I ate in a small café. I cried big dollopy tears as I read the paper filled with updates about the continuing fires, the damage caused and the lives forever changed or forever lost.

Today we watched a video clip of a young firefighter reviving a heat-struck koala by letting it drink from a bottle of water. I cried more plump tears as I watched. Because of PJ's water activism and because we limit what we buy that's packaged in plastic, and especially don't buy bottled water, it seemed too tragic and too ironic to be watching footage of this helpless little creature being nursed by the very thing that helped destroy its habitat. 

Trucks burn up the highways transporting resources that are then encased in petroleum-based plastic.

"How much can a koala bear?" We hear the voice of the man filming ask off screen.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Your Dog Dies

Yesterday's post about my name being sounded out reminds me of this Raymond Carver poem. It's one of my favourites.

Your Dog Dies
it gets run over by a van.
you find it at the side of the road
and bury it.
you feel bad about it.
you feel bad personally,
but you feel bad for your daughter
because it was her pet,
and she loved it so.
she used to croon to it
and let it sleep in her bed.
you write a poem about it.
you call it a poem for your daughter,
about the dog getting run over by a van
and how you looked after it,
took it out into the woods
and buried it deep, deep,
and that poem turns out so good
you're almost glad the little dog
was run over, or else you'd never
have written that good poem.
then you sit down to write
a poem about writing a poem
about the death of that dog,
but while you're writing you
hear a woman scream
your name, your first name,
both syllables,
and your heart stops.
after a minute, you continue writing.
she screams again.
you wonder how long this can go on.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Meg Meg, Meg Meg

This morning in an email from my mum about my writing she wrote:
You owe it to yourself and to others not to be swayed from your unique path by anyone else's views. It's your Megness that we hunger for from you, not anyone else's world view, however worthy.
When I was 24 I bought a one way ticket to South East Asia. I shaved my head and spent the next few years wandering and undoing and unlearning, and figuring out for myself what is important.

Now I have a family and a mortgage and I can't just up and leave on noisy days when I need to listen to the quiet.

Years ago my folks brought this stethoscope back for me from an overseas trip. Each time my sister K has been pregnant, I have heard my nieces growing under her skin. Sometimes after a big meal I like to lie on the couch and listen to my stomach play its gurgling overture. And on days like today I like to put it on my heart to hear the present tense sound out my name. 

Monday, 9 February 2009

On the Skids

On Saturday night, while half our state was on fire, PJ and I sat on the couch on the deck and watched Juno. We saw it a while ago and loved it, and loved it no less this time around.

I loved the dialogue, I loved the characterisation, I  loved the styling and I loved the plot. And watching it again, I especially loved the dynamics of Juno's family, most significantly, her relationship with her stepmum, played by Allison Janney, (pictured).

I spent the day today googling terms such as 'stepfamily ethnology' and 'stepfamily anthropology' as I researched the paper I'm giving at the Two Fires festival. I also spent time on an Australian stepfamily forum where I read posts and posts written by women about their stepkids, (which they referred to as skids). Women complaining about their skids, women complaining about having to deal with their skids' birth mums, women complaining that their partners leave all the parenting chores and decisions up to them, whether the kids are theirs or their partner's birth kids. Women of all shapes and pseudonyms complaining about skids of all ages and needs.

I have only spent time on travel forums before, where adventurers swap stories about dingy hotels and cheap campavan rentals. But this was something else. I guess this is what forums are for; an outlet for real life stories, in these cases filled with frustration and resentment. The more I read the worse it got. There was no moderator giving sensible advice, there was no kindness towards their skids and there was definitely no one as honourable or as kick-ass as Juno's stepmum.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Defusing a Bomb

From the New York Times:
Reinvent Wheel? Blue Room. Defusing a Bomb? Red Room.

Trying to improve your performance at work or write that novel? Maybe it’s time to consider the color of your walls or your computer screen.

If a new study is any guide, the color red can make people’s work more accurate, and blue can make people more creative.

In the study, published Thursday on the Web site of the journal Science, researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted tests with 600 people to determine whether cognitive performance varied when people saw red or blue. Participants performed tasks with words or images displayed against red, blue or neutral backgrounds on computer screens.

Red groups did better on tests of recall and attention to detail, like remembering words or checking spelling and punctuation. Blue groups did better on tests requiring imagination, like inventing creative uses for a brick or creating toys from shapes.

“If you’re talking about wanting enhanced memory for something like proofreading skills, then a red color should be used,” said Juliet Zhu, an assistant professor of marketing at the business school at the University of British Columbia, who conducted the study with Ravi Mehta, a doctoral student.

But for “a brainstorming session for a new product or coming up with a new solution to fight child obesity or teenage smoking,” Dr. Zhu said, “then you should get people into a blue room.”

The question of whether color can color performance or emotions has fascinated scientists, not to mention advertisers, sports teams and restaurateurs.
More here.

Friday, 6 February 2009

We Value the Useless

Pages 188 & 189 from The Language of Things:
Rietveld's Red Blue Chair, dating back to 1918, is hardly any less emotionally intense than Mondrian's contemporary canvasses. It's never been proved that Mondrian and Rietveld ever met, but their work clearly had much in common. Yet a chair that Rietveld made for himself will fetch no more than a fraction of the price of a Mondrian painting. Thorsten Veblen's perceptive book The Theory of the Leisure Class tells us why. We value the useless above the useful. Art is useless, and even a chair as transgressive as Rietveld's is still overshadowed by the taint of utility.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Language of Things

PJ and I had a disagreement while I was reading Outliers. When I told him what it was about he asked what Gladwell had to say about the environment. I told him it was a study in sociology and cultural anthropology not an eco book.

PJ thinks it's too late in history for writers to use up resources publishing books that aren't ecologically conscientious, either by subject or in material. I can definitely see what he's saying though I disagree when it comes to knowledge, but wholeheartedly agree when it comes to things like junk made from plastic and multi-million dollar blockbuster movies that endorse violence and the role of women as love interests only.

But now I see that PJ has a point.

I have just finished reading Deyan Sudjic's The Language of Things, given to me for my birthday by my dear friend, E. As the cover suggests, it is about objects and the things we consume and surround ourselves with. It was published in 2008 in the UK, where Sudjic lives and works as the Director of the Design Museum, London.

Now, can you imagine a book about design and consumerables published only last year that does not mention eco-design, sustainability or waste?

That's not entirely true. There is one mention, on page 14, in relation to Apple products:
Earnest Elmo Calkins coined the term 'consumer engineering'. In Consumer Engineering: A New Technique for Prosperity, published in 1932, he suggests that 'Goods fall into two classes: those which we use, such as motor cars, and safety razors, and those which we use up, such as toothpaste, or soda biscuits. Consumer engineering must see to it that we use up the kind of goods we now merely use.' Apple has made it happen, just at the moment that the world is beginning to understand that there are limits to its natural resources. It has given the relentless cycle of consumption a fashionable gloss, cynically endorsed by hipsters in black jeans and black T-shirts, rather than corporate suits.
And that's it. In the book's 223 pages only 116 words are dedicated to ecological purposes. What a wasted opportunity and what a waste of materials. Sudjic points the finger at Apple for producing products that use non-renewable resources, but he has done the same thing by printing his book on chlorine-bleached, non-recycled paper from non-sustainable forests.

I guess I would forgive Sudjic's environmental oversight, as I have Gladwell's, if I thought the book was worth it. But I don't. I found it stale. So why did I finish reading it? In one sense I felt like I should read it, not just because the book was a gift and came recommended, but because I thought it would be good for me, like I feel in museums reading the wall label next to each old artefact.

All those pages and all those words surrounding me like objects in a stuffy old design museum. I'm with Will, the narrator in Dave Eggers's You Shall Know Our Velocity who says he would rather give things away than endure "the slow suffocation of accumulation".

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Social Warming

Since we decided on the theme of social warming for our panel at the Two Fires festival, I have been thinking a lot about the kinds of things people do for, and say to, one another in social settings.

My grandmother who died recently was a gifted social warmer. She had an innate ability to know how to disarm people. Step one: Making people feel comfortable.

In Melbourne at the place I have been buying my sushi for lunch, there is a bowl of homegrown fruit that is there for the taking. Step two: Making people feel included.

In the kitchen at work this poster is stuck on the wall, listing how everybody takes their tea and coffee. Step three: Bringing people together.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Two Fires

This is the first image that came up when I did a google image search for 'two fires'.

After our successful panel at TINA last year, PJ, O and I thought we would submit a proposal to present another panel at another festival.

I am excited to announce that we have had our proposal accepted.

The festival is called Two Fires and it takes place in Braidwood, NSW at the end of March. 

The Two Fires Festival is a celebration of poet and activist Judith Wright’s impressive double legacy, and an opportunity to explore the ongoing relevance of that legacy in today’s world. It aims to stoke the two fires of arts & activism.
The theme for this year's festival is Coming Together and the theme for our panel is Social Warming. I'm not quite sure PJ and O have finalised what they're going to be talking about, but my paper is about my experience of becoming a stepmother. For just as charity begins at home, so does social warming. 

Monday, 2 February 2009


Like so many other parents today I am thinking and blogging about the first day back at school. Z is in Grade 1 this year and for some reason I was more excited for him this morning than I was last year on his first day of prep.

My niece J started prep today. That's her on the left being chaperoned by her big sister. I waited impatiently all morning for their mum to send some photos through of the two girls in their uniforms. 

I took some photos of Z but as he can wear what he pleases, the photos looked like everyday snaps and not a marking of this occasion.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Photo Tag

I have just seen that I have been tagged by The Doily, which this time around means I am supposed to post the fourth photo in my fourth photo folder for all to share.

This is PJ and me on my parents' property in Tasmania in August 2007.

And so, in the spirit of the exercise, I hereby tag:

Suitably Attired

Z recently heard a naked boy referred to as wearing his birthday suit.

Seeing me step out of the shower Z exclaimed, "Oh Meg, you're wearing your party clothes!"