Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
Jaclyn Moriarty is a wonderful Sydney writer who used to be a lawyer and is responsible for some of my favourite Aussie novels of the last few years, especially The Betrayal of Bindy McKenzie and Dreaming of Amelia. But, trust me, all her books are amazing. Be careful though they seem to have different titles in every territory they’re published in. I also love her blog. It’s as gorgeously written and thoughtful as this post. Though her notion that blogging ever day as anything to do with precision is kind of hilarious. It has a lot more to do with a different word beginning with p: procrastination.
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Jaclyn Moriarty is the author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments. She grew up in Sydney, lived in the the US, the UK and Canada, and now lives in Sydney again. Her latest book, Dreaming of Amelia, will be published in North America as The Ghosts of Ashbury High in June.
Every time I drive on Shellcove Road I have this thought: Blogging is leaves blowing backwards.
I don’t want to think that. I’ve got other things to think. But it’s there, every time, along with an image of a man in a coat, leaning forward, hunched into a storm, leaves blowing back into his face.
Then I turn the corner and a voice in the backseat says, ‘Where did Santa Claus go?’
He means the giant inflateable Santa Claus that was standing on the front porch of a house on Shellcove Road last December. They took him down in January.
‘Where’s he gone?’ Charlie asks, every time we pass that house.
‘The north pole,’ I explain.
Sometimes I add something educational: ‘They’ve got snow there, you know, in the north pole. And polar bears. And elves.’
Then I glance in the rear view mirror, to see if he’s impressed, and that’s when he says, with weary resignation, ‘I’m not in the mirror. I’m here. See? Look around. I’m sitting back here.’
I have a blog, but I don’t do it properly. Months go by, years even, without me writing. Then suddenly I write a lot. Other people—I’m thinking of Justine, for example—other people blog properly.
Also, when I do blog, I mostly just write about my kid. How cute he is, three years old, sitting in the backseat, telling me he’s not in the rear view mirror, and it must drive people mad. (There’s the issue of his privacy, too. I once wrote a thesis on the Privacy Rights of the Child.)
The other day I subscribed to the Herald, so I could start collecting other things to talk about on my blog. And I’m thinking I should get a dog. The dog can shred the Herald, and I can take photographs and post them—cute, apologetic dog, paper in pieces at its feet. I never wrote a thesis on the Privacy Rights of the Dog.
But I haven’t got the Herald or the dog yet, so there’s the kid. Last week, I took him for a haircut. Charlie in the big black cape, little face in the mirror, blonde curls. The hairdresser asked me what his starsign was.
‘Virgo,’ I said.
‘Huh.’ She raised her eyebrows, looking thoughtful.
‘What does that mean?’ I said. ‘Him being a Virgo?’
‘I haven’t got a clue,’ she said. ‘I was just making conversation.’
She snipped for a while and we were all quiet. Then she added, ‘He could be a Leo. I’m half-Leo.’
‘But he’s not a Leo,’ I said, and we were quiet again.
So, you see, there’s episodes like that. The little episodes.
And there’s the questions he asks. They make you think. Questions like:
‘What’s the fridge doing?’ and, ‘Mummy, what does this word mean? Are you ready? Here’s the word: why.’
Also, he collapses time and identity: ‘Last night, when I was a baby’, or: ‘Next week, when I grow up, and I’m you.’
I have child-safety gates around the house that I don’t use any more. I leave them open. But Charlie uses them. Wherever he goes in the house, he turns around and carefully shuts the gate behind him. Then he’s stuck. He shuts the gate, turns around, and is instantly outraged: ‘Let me out! The gate is closed! Somebody rescue me!’ In other ways, he seems very bright.
Partly, I write about Charlie because that’s my days—me and the kid. There’s also writing books of course, but what is there to say about that except, here I am, you know, writing? And I never take my book to get its haircut. But I think that the real reason I write about my child so much is this: before he was born, there was a single image in my mind of what it would be like to be a mother. In this image, it is night time, maybe a fireplace, and somebody small in pyjamas is coming down a flight of steps. I look up at the child in pyjamas on the staircase, then I look across at the child’s father. It crosses back and forth between us for a moment: the sweetness of the child.
As it turns out, I’m on my own with my child. And one thing I now know is this—that the small and remarkable fact of a child is something that has to be shared. That’s what the image was saying, I think. So my typing fingers are always spilling with words about my child that have not been shared.
People sometimes talk about the moment when you first get glasses, and you realise you’re supposed to see the leaves. All along you thought that trees were a green blur, but no, there they are, separate leaves. (A doctor on Grey’s Anatomy spoke very movingly about this experience in an episode last season.) Anyway, it happened to me when I was nineteen years old, and angry with professors for writing in such tiny, blurred print on the board up the front. They needed to get crisper chalk, I thought.
The optometrist who checked my eyes said, ‘Do you drive?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘You’re driving home today?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘You mind if I call my wife and tell her to stay off the roads?’
The next week, when I picked up my glasses, I saw the leaves on the trees, and the road signs painted neatly, and the professors using crisp white lines.
The reason I don’t blog every day is because I am slow. New Yorkers find me indescribably so. I’ve always been slow at figuring things out—school, university, driving, conversations, the fact that I am practically blind—it’s not quick, snapped fingers for me, it’s a slow awareness rising. I figure things out in the end. Afterwards, I look back and think: aaaah. And I remember what was said and who said what, and I think: ‘Now I get it.’ In the end, I am actually so confident that I’m judgmental.
But until I’ve figured things out, I’m lost. Life for me is leaves blowing backwards. If I try to blog about it, I’m just snatching from the air. I have to wait until I’m clear of the leaves. Then I can look back and see what pattern they’ve been making, and their colours, and the fineness of their outlines.
Other people are not lost at all. The precision of people who can blog all the time. It startles me, that clarity of leaves.
I felt exactly like this when I got glasses – previous to that, I’d thought my Dalmatian was grey…
Dear Jaclyn: please do not feel slow because you do not blog all the time. You have a three year old boy. I have a three year old boy. I also have a husband to help out (theoretically). I am amazed that you are able to WRITE ANYTHING AT ALL! How DO you do it?
I never had the seeing-the-leaves properly experience, because my dad’s best friend from high school is an optometrist who made sure everyone got regular exams. I never had a chance to notice anything blurry.
You might not blog often but your blog was beautifully written and familiar and friendly in the best of ways. I’m thinking your books are probably at least as wonderful which means I’lll have to go out and buy them immediately.
I got my glasses when I was 11. It was a disappointment to see the streetlights at night all crisp. I’d enjoyed the blurry pathways of light they made. But I also remember watching the Nutcracker ballet in the nosebleed seats and having to pull the corners of my eyelids tight to make out the dancers.
I also have kids and write about them as often as I write about writing and reading. I am ashamed to say that I never considered my son’s right to privacy until you mentioned it, and of course I should have. Relieved I never figured out how to post the photo of him pretending to be Captain Underpants.
I loved this post so much that I just accidently ordered a couple of your books. 😉
I admire your slowness. I feel like I live life on fast forward, and could learn a lot about letting the leaves blow backward for a while.
Aw, thanks, Justine! I post a comment saying how much I love Jaclyn Moriarty’s books and–lo!–she’s your next guest blogger. I love the internet.
I think I maybe need glasses
Eep, that’s such weird timing, Dreaming of Amelia arrived from Amazon yesterday. I was busy all evening, so I stayed up til 4AM to finish it. It was fantastic. I think today will be devoted to rereading Feeling Sorry For Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy and Becoming Bindy Mackenzie. (Do we have different titles in the UK than in Australia? I’m not sure how I feel about that given the irritation I felt when Northern Lights/Philosopher’s stone were changed in America…)
Lucy, I certainly know some books have had their names changed for publication in the UK. I remember that Kate Morton’s book ‘The Shifting Fog’ was released there as ‘The House at Riverton’. Weird, huh? I agree with you that it can be irritating, particularly in the cases of ‘Northern Lights’ and ‘HP and the Philosopher’s Stone’. Hello! It’s an alethiometer not a compass, and alchemists -real ones – laboured for centuries to discover the legendary philosopher’s stone not a ‘sorcerer’s stone’!
Justine, I have to thank you again for asking me to do a guest post because the comments here are just lovely. And I would like to thank the people making the comments too. I loved the bit about never getting a chance to see the world blurry, and the loss of the pathways of light (I had exactly the same sadness about lights), and I’m still laughing at the grey dalmation.