30 March, 2011

New Book Draft, Chapter 1

(random notes: this section is supposed to tell you the basics about Eleni's home life and something of the culture she lives in. I am *really* quite curious to hear from readers how effective that is. If you would be kind enough to leave comments and tell me what kind of girl you think Eleni is, what her life might be like and what her relationships with the others are like, and especially what Eleni might be thinking, *please* *please* *please* do tell. I could have simply written exactly what Eleni thought about different things, but I have tried to help readers imagine for themselves and it's hard to tell if works.

Also - Naughty Word Warning. Contains explicit language. If you think you might be offended, skip this post.

Thanks!   -- Elisa)

Chapter 1

Eleni was happy.

The girl sat in front of the blaring tv, feet splayed wide on the dirty carpet, eyes glazed over at the cartoon in the glass. Her mother was cooking something in the sweltering kitchen, slamming cupboards and swearing, the whoosh of water in the sink, the fisssk of another beer can opening. A bedraggled man was pawing his way through the debris heaped on the coffee table, looking for a cigarette lighter and angrily kicking each item that fell from a precarious pile. Ting, clonk, objects hit the opposite wall, leaving small marks on the grubby wallpaper. Finally giving up, he strode into the kitchen. On the tv, credits rolled and the ad-break began, breaking Eleni's hypnotic gaze and making her more aware of the adults nearby.

She listened as the man foolishly entered her mother's domain. Seconds later her mother was yelling.

"WELL! Don't eat it then, ya silly cunt! Get your own feed! That other slut will look after ya, fuck off back to her place, deadshit!" Thud, cupboards slamming again, the jank of a stirring spoon hitting the saucepan. Muttered conversation too low for Eleni to hear. And then more forcefully, "Get out. Don't come back."

His steel-capped boots clomped out the front screen door, which swung closed again in his angry wake.

Eleni's mother placed a pink plastic bowl in front of her. Sausages, mashed potato, and baked beans enticed her, and they smelled delicious. Fridays were always the best. Mum got paid and dinner was the best!

Eleni was happy.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Within minutes of her mother hanging up the phone, a small blonde woman had arrived, three children in tow. They bounced around the living room, screaming, while Eleni continued to shovel potato into her mouth with a teaspoon. The blonde's swollen belly stuck out from beneath a cropped t-shirt emblazoned 'Grab My Ass'.

Eleni's mother raised her voice over the melee. The bedraggled kids found floorspace and accepted their plastic bowls, finally quieting enough for the adults to carry a conversation at normal volume. "So yeah Jade, I told him to get the fuck out of my house..."

Jade blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke and rested a beer on her belly with her other hand. "Good girl. God, wish I could tell my dumbshit to fuck off, but it's his house. And I've only got three weeks to go anyway so I'm not moving now. What are you gonna do about yours? You gonna try and get rid of it?"

From the floor beside her, Eleni looked up at her mother, who was nodding agreement. "I don't need another kid. And that dickhead's bloody useless. Bastard reckons he hasn't got any money for the appointment. I got half the money now, next pay I'll have enough. But I'm fucked, hey. Too many weeks. Cunt doctor said they won't do it by then, it'll be too late."

Eleni took her bowl out to the kitchen, thinking about the cunt doctors, and the bastards who wouldn't pay for abortions, and the dumbshits who wouldn't fuck off.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

In the morning Eleni woke up to her bed-mate's giggling. Both girls were covered in sweat, while the hum of insects and the smell of mown grass wafted in through the open window. They sat up, squinting in the bright sunlight and chatting to each other about playing under the garden hose. As they entered the kitchen, the two boys were squabbling over cereal.

Eleni poured some into the blue plastic bowl, sloshed milk in, and bent her ear closer, in order to hear the crackling.

From across the table, the smallest kid watched in fascination, taking in Eleni's look of excitement and wondering what she could hear. He leaned his head too close and got cold, wet cereal all over his ear and cheek. 

Three kids laughing, one crying, and Jade shuffling in hungover, with knots in her hair and a bleary expression on her face. The water gurgled into the kettle and she tossed a damp dishcloth in her son's direction. "Wipe your head, and then you little shits can get outside and play."

Chocolate cereal, hot days and getting wet in the sprinkler. That's what great weekends were made of.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

On Monday afternoon Jade's kids tumbled into the house. Eleni's mother set out a few hours' supply of junk food and told the four kids to stay inside until the adults got back at dinnertime. HA! Eleni knew that 'dinnertime' might be tomorrow morning. Cool! Staying up late was the best!

But when Jade's car finally arrived back in the driveway at 2am, two police cars followed and Eleni's mother was nowhere to be seen. The slamming of car doors had woken the children and they peered out the bedroom window at the flashing red and blue lights. Officers huddled with Jade for a moment and they whispered together. Eleni tried studying Jade's face in the glow from the streetlight, trying to figure out what was going on. Normal normal, mouth and eyes smeared after an ordinary night at the pub. Eleni guessed that Jade would take them all to school in the morning, like the last time her mother got locked up. Normal normal.

But nothing was normal.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** 

typety type type type

I have another blog which has sat around for a while as nothing else but a placeholder. It was used a few times for editorials and ads, but I suppose it should now be put to some use. I've been reading some of the works on Authonomy, and feeling guilty that I haven't made a proper effort myself to put some words together. In particular I read a very harrowing piece that touched on child abuse - its story is so captivating, even though it needed a lot of work. I've had a novel outline floating around for some time and struggled to see how a delicate subject matter would actually *not* scare readers off, but if that author's story can attract so many positive reviews (and not in a polished form) than perhaps my own effort might succeed at it. Perhaps.

The difficulty I'll have won't be in the storytelling. The problem will be in building the characters. Anyone can retell an event. It's harder to describe feelings. Ponder.

I may just post a few bits here, see if anyone's interested... Authonomy requires 10,000 words before I can even post it (ew).

Four corners of a 60-minute current affair today, tonight, tomorrow and next week

Oh how the answer could be so simple... or so dreadfully complicated, depending on whom you ask.

Let's get one thing straight: When it comes to commerical channels, the main reason these programs exist is to make you watch them. Advertising's big dollars rule the world. The shows on government-funded channels at least have a different reason for being: mainly, because viewers are interested to see them. Sure, someone will cry altruism. All those senationalist journalists pretend they're in the business because they want to do the best thing, that most noble of jobs, telling the people. From the goodness of their hearts. Oh please. This here is for them - it's the world's tiniest violin.

Watching current affairs programs makes me think of car accidents. Most of us don't actually want to look at twisted metal, the Jaws of Life, ambulances and bodies/belongings strewn across a highway in the wake of an unidentifiable people-mover. Those things are all scary and nasty. But we still rubberneck and stare every single time, don't we? Don't we? And for what?

So, are we doing the same when we glue our butts to the sofa and stare at the idiot box to mindlessly absorb Today Corners and oooh-aaaah at that stupid woman/grandfather/teacher/shop doing dumb things? Or are we just satisfying a lust for becoming a regular busybody Mrs Mangel?


Occasionally they have some program for a "good" cause. That (school/hospital/home) which (disappeared/burned down/fell apart) and how the (owner/criminal/government) won't (fix/replace/buy) it. And here's how you can help by donating: just phone 1-800-MAKE-EVERYTHING-BETTERER. In theory, raising awareness gets action happening, and sometimes it does. The problem is that the journos have that same, exact, imitiation sympathetic "sad tv" look on their faces whether they're talking about the horrible three cent price increase on bubblegum, or the five hundred people maimed by a murderous-crayon-wielder on a rampage.

It leaves me with an empty feeling. What was on 60-affairs-current-line last week? Last month? Can't bloody remember? Sounds about right. Vapid, meaningless "entertainment" that still holds our attention with as much pull as Aqua's Barbie Girl played on the radio (but without the humour).

I heart the bus

I just spent a very relaxing 20 minutes travelling across town, on the metro from Helsinki's central train station. The metro was a two minute walk from my train. I used the same ticket at no extra charge. Metros arrive every four minutes; they're clean, safe, quiet and on time. When I got out, I was at a large shopping centre and bus interchange (I'm in the library next door now, and when I leave here I'll go straight to my class, because the high school is just on the other side of the public car park).

I love public transport. Did I love it in Sydney? Yes and no... and I can understand why a lot of people there just find it too inconvenient to bother. Unfortunately changing services in Sydney isn't quite so seamless. But there are also a LOT of people in Sydney for whom public transport is practical, timely, and easy. So why are there still so few people using it?

Be honest, car users: you enjoy walking less than 20 metres in your day. Car in your driveway, and car at your workplace. Mmmm, car. Shiny car, shiny. Hey, it's fair enough. I loved driving when I owned a car in Australia. I loved the freedom it afforded - I could get in it, and I could go ANYWHERE. There are roads going everywhere. There's not a train station or a bus at every place that I wanted to go. Cars made it all easier.

But there's a cost. It's probably far more expensive than people realise. Have you heard this one before: "Well our family 'needs' two cars, and the train to work costs more than the petrol." Um yes... but you've left out a huge chunk of your car costs, honey. We could also add up the price of registration and insurance (now it's looking more like $70 a week, not $45). So every trip to work she drives is $15. Plus tolls. But wait, there's more. Oil, tyres, servicing, road service membership. Parking. Fines. And a car worth $25,000 is losing about $75 every week in value of the car itself.

Seriously? Did you ever think about it like that? Owning and driving your new car to work might be costing you $165 a week - or more. Now, does it still look more expensive than catching the train? If you had to physically pull thirty bucks out of your wallet every time you sat down in the driver's seat, would the train fare of $5.00 each way still seem like too much money?

But then there's the TIME. It takes too LONG. Waaaaah. Well yes. It might take a little longer to train it. But use your thinking caps: surely you've got something you could do. Use that hour to call your friends for your weekly phone catchup (instead of after dinner). Or use your smart phone to Facebook (instead of on the weekend). Or watch a movie on your iPad. Or read your work emails on your laptop (instead of staying late after work). Or write for our blog.

It takes organisation. Leaving on time; allowing enough time for connections; bringing your "homework" for the trip. Organisation clashes with our lazy instant lifestyles, doesn't it? But it's funny how fast you can adapt when you need to. You don't sit there and cry about the fact that you've run out of milk - you just do what needs to be done - you go get more. Now that I don't own car, I don't sit there and think, "I wish I had a car!" every time I need to go out somewhere. I just do what needs to be done. So these days when I go out, all I think about is what time the train or bus will arrive and what I need to take with me.

It's really not that hard. "Hard" isn't the reason more people don't use public transport. "Lazy" is.

I challenge you to try it for a week. Listen to your iPod, watch the scenery, or close your eyes and relax, and think about the extra coins in your wallet.

The Payment Rant...

In Australia I was "one of those" annoying smug bitches who didn't carry cash ANYWHERE. All my bills were paid online. AND I'll have you know they were scheduled IN ADVANCE whenever savings levels permitted. It was stupidly satisfying to log into my trusty Online Banking and see a nice tidy list of what was coming out next, how much, and when it would be automatically transferred. No stupid queues at the post office, no carrying around embarrassing phone bills or hideously high electricity accounts, no fiddling with cheques, stuffing of envelopes or traipsing to the post box, and definitely no licking of stamps (can you imagine if the stamp had someone disgustingly ugly on it? And you had to lick the backside? Ewwww....)

When it came time to pay my council rates in Australia, I was just furious. The stupid council was back in the dark ages and only allowed payment by cash in person, or by sending a cheque. Cheque - cheque - seriously? What is this, 1955? Who the hell uses such an antiquated system like handwriting and a signature, in this day and age? Isn't that just asking for forgery and emptying of bank account, via some enterprising thief with an eraser and a few extra zeroes?

I can't jam a 20 euro note into my disk drive to buy that new computer game that looks cool. I can't magic overnight presents to family in Australia via a few notes in my purse. There's no practical way to convert that huge jar of loose coins into becoming a mortgage repayment. But I can buy a drink from a machine, pay for a bus fare, grab a movie ticket, or check in for a flight, all using cards - indeed I could do all these things simply with an old and crappy mobile phone, if I wanted to. No smartphone required.

So why do so many of us still insist on whipping out cash, when we have had electronic payment systems a while now? The fact that some are so old shouldn't stop the newer ones from being used - if anything, the recent "skimming" events in Australia should serve to highlight just how many people, and businesses, have failed to keep up with new technologies like chip & pin, rather than the lame old magnetic swipe (now an ancient 51 years old!!!). We're consumers, people: stand up and demand these businesses give your money more respect. And I don't buy the "privacy" argument. They don't have the right to record your photo and personal details when you hand over cash. Why let them by card? There's a Privacy Act in Australia, people: apart from marketing trends such as how many hamburgers were sold in your suburb last Tuesday, they can't, and don't keep track of you without your permission. If you have objections to what they do track, then rather than switching to cash, stop handing over that "rewards" card before you pay. That's where they are recording personal info about your shopping habits.

These days, I really dislike it when I must carry cash for something. First I have to worry whether there's enough cash in my wallet. If there's enough, I worry it will be stolen or lost. I simply don't like carrying it - it feels "unsafe". If my wallet goes AWOL, I can cancel a card. I can't cancel a cash.

And my view has been strengthened by living amongst arguably the most tech-savvy population in the world (Finland). Finns of all ages learn do pay online as easily as sending email. Most of them pay by EFTPOS as the norm. I no longer find it amazing that cashless is normal, and I get a rude shock each time I remember that Australians often have no option. It's 2011. Almost every household in Australia has a computer; technology covers the entire globe. Isn't it time we moved away from silly old round tokens and bits of paper?

One last request: If public toilets here in Finland can't be made free, I'd like them to invent a fast and easy card system please. I don't wanna have to jangle just to jingle.

27 March, 2011

It's Sunday ALREADY.

Well technically we're only a few hours in, but anyway - as usual, my piece in the group blog is due in a day's time and I haven't a clue what to write. Funny, I had no problem putting together three fiction pieces for another blog today, just no dice having to write an essay.

Which brings me to another point. I was merrily reading this piece from Cracked.com and briefly, at the end of the article, it mentioned an author named Amanda Hocking. No need to look her up - she has sold several million dollars' worth of fiction as ebooks on Amazon, and now picked up a publisher deal.

I don't want a million dollars, particularly - I wouldn't turn it down, mind you, but I don't need it. I'd be happy just to make some sort of decent money out of what I write. I've said before that I occasionally turn out some vaguely good material, stuff that I conceitedly feel is good enough to publish (and in fact, the editors of several magazines have agreed with me, and not just on the Letters page of the Sydney Morning Herald, either). My writings earnings are currently well into the three figures in total, but the largest sum I have ever earned from a single piece was thirty-six bucks.

Is it greedy to wish that one day I'd crack the hundred dollar mark for a short story? I don't think so. Or the thousand mark, if I one day get the patience to finish a book? My current record holder is only an article, and only a few hours' work, but still fairly poorly paid, if we compare it with working on a checkout.

I have three-quarters of a book completed. It probably has enough content already, with some polish and editing required to finish the product. I wonder if anyone would buy it. I wonder how much self-promotion I'd need to do... I wonder if I could do justice to cover artwork, and formatting, and all manner of self-publishing minutiae. There must be a thousand web pages out there with step-by-step guides. But there also must be a thousand other writers who've learned about Amanda Hocking and want to get rich.


16 March, 2011

Wouldn't it be nice...

...to have a MEMORY, that is? I just *know* I used something very effective to force this page to dance with Google to get pages indexed (quickly, and effectively, I might add, since it's appearing third when I search for a whole sentence from this blog, without quotes). But for the life of me I can't remember how I did that. And it would be a very very handy thing to use on the group blog, since it doesn't seem to be appearing in Google searches.


13 March, 2011

Group Blogging

So it's my turn to choose the topic this week... and I'm absolutely flummoxed. There are things to write about (of course), but I'd quite like to come up with an idea that might elicit contributions on both sides of a debate. The first week was a brilliant subject - and I'm over the moon with the contributions we got, much to my surprise. However, they were all rather much on the same side of the fence, so to speak. Nobody actually thinks attraction is a choice akin to selecting the colour of your new iPod case in the dollar store.

Never mind that, but there's another deadline 24 hours earlier. Namely, I haven't written my piece for the cash vs card topic. My first reaction was only to approach it as a convenience thing; but there are security issues and privacy issues and argh. I'm in danger of turning it into a massively boring piece. Where's the fun in reading a massively long piece of facts?

I need to discover some sort of humour in the subject. Fast.

07 March, 2011

Sexuality - Choice or Hardwired?

One or the other. Is it actually this simple? I'm not so sure. There's evidence for both sides of the debate, and that's even if we think sexuality is that black and white.

Natural selection would seem to prove that it can't be hardwired. After all, wouldn't the homosexual "genes" have bred themselves out of existence? Gay couples don't produce children by natural means.

But what about bisexual people? And what about women and their careers? In many cultures, the only real work available for an unmarried woman was to become a prostitute. Perhaps then, bisexual people and lesbian prostitutes have passed down some "gay" gene.

If this were true, wouldn't it be a difficult gene to avoid? Yet most children of gay parents aren't gay. Nor the grandchildren... scientists surely would have identified a pattern of inheritance by now, if it existed. They have traced far more elusive "conditions".

There is another kind of hardwire to consider. Perhaps all gay people have a gene mutation. I'm sure a lot of gay people would get a good laugh out of that - but our knowledge of genes so far seems to suggest that being gay is far too common to be a mutation. And what of the people who bat for both teams? Are they just partial mutants? (And isn't that a "nice" concept...)

So, we're left with choice. But, really? Wouldn't we have somewhere along the way figured out why gay people choose to be gay? What sort of idiot would choose to be shunned by society, spat on, teased mercilessly, treated as an outcast, and so on? Gay people certainly aren't the dregs of the intelligence pool; I'm yet to see any evidence that they could all be so stupid.

Let's assume there are people who don't see any bad side to "choosing" homosexuality. Imagine you were walking down the street and saw the most perfect, attractive human being that ever graced this earth. Everything about them is exactly what you like; nothing is what you don't; a complete image of your wildest dreams come true. Do you think you could choose not to like them? To not find them attractive? Is there anything that anyone could say to you to change what you feel? Or does attraction usually just happen without much control? Who, seriously, can turn to the complete opposite, and convince themselves to drool? Anyone? If you hate anchovies, will they start to smell delicious if you sniff them long enough?

So maybe we're being too exact, and we should ask whether it's in the upbringing. Not so much a choice, but an influence. It's true that some gay people find it "easier" to embrace who they are, thanks to a supportive family. But it's a stretch to think that it could be upbringing alone. Especially considering there are twins in this world with different orientations. And there are enough of them out there to conclude that the parents probably aren't "turning" their kids gay.

What about morality? Well, morals change according to culture, too. There's nothing wrong with cannibalism in some cultures, after all. It's certainly true that the Christian bible denounces homosexuality, but it's also true that children raised Christian still sometimes turn out to be gay - did the parents fail in their teachings? Unlikely, when they usually have hetero children too.

It is such a complex discussion, and it branches in so many directions. Nobody can hope to cover every facet in one post, or we'd be here for a decade. And I've even left a glaring chunk completely out. There are some of us who wonder why anyone has to be defined by a gender in the first place. Who don't feel that any particular gender even matters. Inevitably we all have parts of us defined by our pants - since we all grew up in some kind of society - but why should we? I don't find people physically attractive based on gender. I married my husband because I love him, and I love him for his intellect. So what am I? I have to use the label "bisexual" because people understand it, but I daresay "omnisexual" is a better word - when it comes to whether people possess a Y chromosome, I simply don't care.

Personally - and not particularly scientifically - I believe it's a combination of All Of The Above. I think it's far too simplistic to make a one-or-the-other call. I can appreciate that a person's experiences of the world influence their attractions. And I can also appreciate that all of us are individuals with different tastes and desires which (who knows) might simply be differences in how our brains are structured. After all, none of us thinks in exactly the same way as the next person.


Image: Nikki Kaye

06 March, 2011

Tough Crowd.

I just wrote my first piece for a new group blog. Gotta say, it was really quite a challenge! And not merely because of the controversial subject matter, either. This weeks' topic is "Sexuality - Choice or Hardwired - Discuss". 

What I found difficult was to temper what I had to say. In this blog here, I answer to nobody. If you don't like what I have to say, well, you just click and move on elsewhere, don't you? I have creative freedom of expression.

I have that in the group blog, to a certain degree. But I'm far more conscious of other peoples' feelings. Mostly, I worry about the other contributors' feelings. So the piece I just wrote lacks a certain... hmm... it lacks the passion I might put into a no-apologies piece. It's a little too careful and politically-correct.

But I still think it was worth writing, and I still think it's worthwhile to write "polite" pieces. It's an exercise, and it was more difficult, so it should stretch me, shouldn't it? Shouldn't it? I don't know... I hope so...