Lovely Texas and other matters

A few things:

1) I got my intramanet back!! In my very own home. My excitement is beyond words: email! dictionaries! blogs! posts! The whole world at my fingertips!

2) Magic or Madness made its third best books of the year list, the Tayshas reading list put together by the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association. I’m particularly chuffed about this one on account of I got family in Texas—that’s where my in-laws hail from and my uncle-in-law is the principal of a high school in Houston. Also there are many very cool books on the list. Not just Scott’s Uglies, but the work of at least two other Aussies: Fiona McIntosh’s Myrren’s Gift and Marcus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger. Very pleasing.

3) In our new flat we can go out onto the balcony and watch the nightly exodus of flying foxes from the Tannie gardens. I love them.

4) The nothing changes convo continues (so fab to see the nattering continue without me—I love youse guys!) and is taken up by David Moles and a cast of thousands on his blog. All fascinating stuff. Oh, and Claire & Lauren? I’m so with you on Ghost World. I was double plus unthrilled by that movie. Especially cause the Bollywood music opening sequence was luverly.

The good side of jetlag

One of the best things about being jetlagged is getting to watch the sunrise. In my normal life I never see it. This morning though I watched my parent’s backyard go from pitch black to completely light. And because it’s spring their backyard is gorgeous. The jacaranda tree is covered in purple flowers. There are other plants in bloom with white and pink flowers. I just saw my first flock of rainbow lorikeets, chirruping back and forth at each other as they zoomed by. I should be up at this time more often.

The only noises I’m hearing are birds, the hum of the fridge from the kitchen, and various house creaking noises, but mostly birds. I’m so not in New York City anymore! It’s so wonderful to be home.

Oh my! Oh no! (updated)

I swore to myself that I wouldn’t do it, that I would resist, that to give in and look at the trailer for the latest version of Pride and Prejudice would just make me ropeable at worst, sad at best. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett? Ack! Yeah, I know there are worse actors out there, who’d be even more ludicrously miscast, but it doesn’t make her any less of a crap choice.

I’m not a Knightley fan. I know it’s not her fault, but I’ve never forgiven her for becoming the famous one after Bend it Like Beckham, when it was the luminous Parminder Nagra who stole that movie, not Knightley. Now Nagra’s on ER and Knightley’s everywhere. Where’s the justice?

And let’s just say I didn’t have high hopes that the folks what made Love, Actually were going to do right by Miss Austen. But watch the trailer I did, only to discover that it’s more shockingly awful than the one for the 1940 Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice. At least that one (and the film) can be excused because of its camp value. This one, well. Is the film a satire of bad historical adaptations? I really hope so. Throughout Darcy looks incapable of keeping his shirt on, Elizabeth Bennett is shrill, and in two of the scenes it looks like the two are about to go the tongue! Bloody hell! Did the film makers even read the book?

And you know what? Elizabeth Bennett was not a woman ahead of her time. She was very much of it, shocked by sex before marriage, with no ambitions for herself other than becoming the wife of a good man. I could go on but it’s been said much better here.

Still, seeing the trailer was a very good thing—my loins are now well girded against seeing the actual movie. The thought of it goes well beyond shudder territory.

Update: Just to make it clear—I am no Jane Austen purist. My favourite adaptions of her work are Amy Hackerling’s Clueless (1995), Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park (1999), and Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice (2004). Hah, all directed by women. I never noticed that before.

Move along, people

There are no pictures of Daniel Vettori posted on this blog, with or without his shirt on. So all you folks googling “Daniel Vettori no shirt” or “Daniel Vettori sexy” can just move along to say here. And really, people, Daniel Vettori is not sexy. Michael Holding or Keith Miller now that’s sexy.

Atlantic City? No, thanks. (updated)

I don’t want to rubbish a whole city, especially when I was only there for a few hours, but Atlantic City is an erky perky bleah of a place. Friends warned me it was a shithole—I had no idea they were being kind. It’s ugly, full of the most hideous buildings ever built and populated by zombie gamblers, who are served by an army of twelve-year-old incompetent staff. Once you’re inside one of the casinos it’s almost impossible to get out again. All signs lead to more gambling areas. I’m convinced that hell will be nothing but Atlantic City casinos.

This is heresy for an Australian, but, I hate gambling. I love cards and I’ll bet on them, but not with money. Never for money. Betting with money turns people into glassy-eyed zombies, and call me old-fasthioned, but I prefer my zombies in Romero films, thank you very much.

So why were we in Atlantic City? To attend the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers book fair, which other than its location in a hellspawn casino, was a lot of fun. We met the fabulous Penguin reps, Holly and Todd, who looked after us excellently well and told great publishing stories; we hung out with fellow YA writers, Maureen Johnson and Melissa Kantor; we both signed a bunch of our books, Peeps and Magic or Madness, and we snaffled up many free books. The gems of my pile—other than Maureen’s and Melissa’s books—were:

Small Steps by Louis Sachar, which is the sequel to Holes! Woo hoo! I have the sequel to Holes and you don’t! Ha! Ha! Ha!

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery. I adore Flannery. He’s frequently interviewed back home about science and enviromental issues and is the smartest, most interesting, and clearest explainers of such issues I’ve ever heard. He also writes really, really well. I can’t wait to read this one, not least because I know it’s going to help me understand what happened with hurricane Katrina.

Today, we go back to New Jersey:

Elizabeth Main Library
11 S. Broad St., Elizabeth
New Jersey

We’ll probably read and we’ll definitely chat and generally be our entertaining selves. We’ve only done one library event before but it was fabulous, so I’m really looking forward to this.

Oh, and if you’re from Atlantic City? My condolences.

Update: I am very stupid. I wrote a blog entry about casinos, but my spam filter is set to nuke any comments that contain the word “casino”. I apologise to anyone who had their comment nuked. You can post now. Though given the vast tide of casino spam I get your comment will go through to moderation, which I truly rooly honestly will check. Rooly soon.


We went out to San Miguel’s botanical gardens, a large and beautiful cactus preserve. There have been many changes since the last time we visited in February 2004. First up there are new dunnies. La Bond and Mr Rowe will appreciate the difference. Eighteen months ago there was just one: a tiny tin shed without dunny paper or the ability to flush convincingly. Now it is a thing of splendour. Behold:

Also it comes complete with lovely guardian dog.

Last time we visited it hadn’t rained in months. This time it was autumn after much rain.



And the cactus is in bloom:

Remind me why we’re leaving again?

hummingbird or hoax?

I finally did it. I finally got a photo of a hummingbird. Hell, I got two. What kind of a genius, am I? And it required no patience or planning at all. I just happened to be in the kitchen with the camera.

You see it? There in the centre right of the photo, just behind the pale purple flowers.

No? Well how about in this photo:

This time look just left of the pale purple flowers.

Okay then, here’s the first photo again, but this time cropped with the hummingbird dead centre:

And the second, also cropped and in the centre:

See it? Isn’t that cool? You don’t see it? Look closer, damn it! See the grey blur? See the wings? That’s the hummingbird. Bloody hell, those buggers move fast! More than a gazillion wing beats per minute, I reckon.

And you know what? I don’t care if you can’t see the hummingbird. I know it’s there. That’s all that matters. I have achieved the one thing I came to San Miguel to achieve: I have taken a photo of a hummingbird.

I loves them. I do.

P.S. Top of my current want list? A decent digi camera. You know, with a zoom and stuff.

Exercises in Futility

I decided it would be very cool to get a photograph of a hummingbird. And, indeed, it would be. But the gap between seeing the hummingbird, grabbing the camera, turning the crappy thing on, having it pointed in the right direction is so ridiculously long, that by then the hummingbird is five gardens over.

Apparently nature photography is tricky. Who knew?

Here’s one of my hummingbird shots. (I won’t bore you with all of them):

Notice the glaring absence of said humingbird.

I hereby give up. Stupid hummingbirds. I for one do not welcome our hummingbird overlords. I spit on their gravy.

San Miguel: End of Day 6

Word count: 15,000

Average word count: 2,500 a day1

We arrived in the middle of the anniversary of the first Mexican revolution. Many days of holidays in a row. We arrived to cars being shut out from the Jardin and centre of town (bliss!), to fireworks and rockets going off every night (pretty!), to so many mariachis we could hear them all the way out to our place (besame mucho!), to people dancing in the streets in period costume (pretty!). To quiet mornings and days (except for the occasional rocket blasts) and melodiously noisy nights. ¡Viva Mexico!

Until Monday morning 7AM, holidays over and the the builders go back to work next door. Eighteen months ago when we first rented this house, they were laying the foundations. They’re still not finished. They work on and off from 7AM until around 5PM. Sometimes there are many of them, sometimes just one forlorn guy with a hammer. The best thing is they use no jackhammers, no pneumatic drills, no nothing powered by electricity. The bad thing is if they had they might be finished by now . . . I just stick headphones on and turn the music up a little louder (right now, listening to songs with the word “don’t”; in the title—I’m psyching the builders out).

So far I’ve heard the first four chapters of Scott’s new novel. It rocks. Out loud! And, yes, it is set in the Peeps universe. Cool, eh?

Have I mentioned that I love San Miguel? So green, so many flowers, butterflies, hummingbirds—hummingbirds! I think they’re my favourite birds in all the world. We don’t have them back home, but here I see several every day, just outside the window. So little, so powerful, so elegant. Ahhh . . . Don’t think I ever want to leave.

The view from where I sit to write. Look close and see the wicker couch I rest my feet on and the top of my laptop.

The other view from where I write. Flowers! Pretty!

  1. Look, I know word counts are spectacularly boring to everyone accept the person counting the words, but, mate, I’m bloody screaming along! Normally, when I’m starting a book I can barely scrape a thousand words a day together. I can’t believe how the words are pouring out of me! I mean, it’s the final book of me trilogy, I thought it was going to be horrible agony. I thought I had no idea what was going to happen. And here the book is practically writing itself! Maaate! Fingers crossed that I have not spoken too soon. Not superstitious, me. []

Translating Magic or Madness (updated)

Israeli editor, Didi Canoch, just read Magic or Madness, and while he enjoyed it, thinks it’s untranslatable into Hebrew. Colour me disappointed, but I found his reasons why, and the enusing discussion in the comments fascinating.

So far, the book has sold to Taiwan, France and Thailand. I confess I have been wondering how those translations were going to get around the linguistic play in the book between Australian and USian English. Especially as I don’t speak any of those languages and don’t know much about them. Didi reckons a French translation could make use of Quebecois French.

Which got me wondering: wouldn’t using Quebecois French or, say, Mexican Spanish—were Magic or Madness ever to be translated into Spanish (fingers crossed)—raise different questions? There’s a particular set of relations between France and Quebec; between Spain and Mexico. Weird, mixed up colonial/motherland questions. But Australia and the US of A don’t have that kind of relationship. Neither country colonised the other, I mean, not in the way that England colonised them both. Am I overthinking this?

Obviously, translation is always about approximation, so you go for the best solution available. I’m dead curious about how they’ll deal with these problems. Or whether they’ll even bother. I can see a possible translation that would simply leave out the differences in the way the characters speak. Though I do think the translation would lose something if they went that way. But then most people reading it wouldn’t know the difference, would they?

The whole thing reminds me of Rome which just started on HBO in which everyone talks with an English accent so that it’s easy to figure out what class they are: toffee English accents for the upper classes etc. Yet it’s a USian production. US English has a huge variety of accents, many of which are marked for class. I wonder why they didn’t have posh Romans talking like Boston Brahmins (think Katherine Hepburn) and the lower classes talking like working class New Jerseyites (think Tony Soprano). Too close to home, maybe?

Rome, by the way, is a hoot. I, Claudius updated and with a bigger budget. Much camp fun. I can’t wait for the second episode. Maybe they picked English accents because they’re so much camper than the accents of any other English speaking nation?

Update: for those not familiar with the book, Magic or Madness is told from three different points of view. The two Australian characters have their chapters in Australian spelling and grammar, and the one US character has her chapters in US spelling and grammar.

This an’ that

Read this article in the New York Times about art by the stolen generation. Gorgeous, gorgeous work produced under the most appalling circumstances.

The Picker Art Gallery
“Down to Drink,” by Parnell Dempster.

Australian young adult writers are conquering the entire universe. I was dead proud that Magic or Madness had already sold in five countries (USA, Australia, Taiwan, France, and Thailand), now I see that I’m underachieving. This article by Rosemary Neill is also startling because it’s so well-researched. It’s refreshing to read something in a mainstream news source about publishing and actually learn something. Via Yoof Literature (thanks, Lili!).

Speaking of research . . . Did anyone else watch the NBC so-called “news” report on the shocking new content of teen novels which aired Monday night? I watched it because R. A. Nelson who wrote Teach Me was interviewed. He spoke for about six seconds. The report consisted of people saying, “Look at the cover of this YA book!” Cut to cover of Gossip Girl or the like. “This book has shocking content! Should we let our children read books with shocking content?” Cut to a parent. “I’m shocked that my children are reading books with shocking content!” Cut to some random other person who is also “Shocked! Shocked by teen books with shocking content!” The 2 minute report ended with an admonition to parents to be wary of the shocking, shocking, shocking content of teen books.

I hadn’t watched “news” on television for ages and I gotta tell you I was shocked, shocked, shocked by the “content” of that report too!

What I Learned Today

Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is, and I quote, “too scary! too scary! too scary!” for two year olds.

At first Marlowe was enchanted. Then it got dark, the parents turned into pigs, and demons started appearing out of nowhere. And that was the end of Spirited Away for Marlowe. “Too scary! Too scary! Too scary!”

Never give up on the Liberty. They always come back in the second half. (Unless they don’t.) Um, Coach Coyle? How come Erin Thorne got more minutes than Shameka Christon?

Never give up on the Australian men’s cricket team (not that I didn’t already know that). Yeah, yeah, England have declared. Yeah, yeah it would be a miracle to get four hundred on the final day of a test. But I have not given up! Just a flesh wound. The merest of grazes!

Rosé is the only thing to drink on a hot summer day. That and young coconut water. Or, you know, actual water. Or champagne. Or whatever drink you happen to like . . .

Thunderstorms rule! (Yeah, I already knew that one too.)

La La La (updated)

Stupid English weather with it’s stupid rain. The fourth day of the first Ashes test has yet to begin. And Australia with only 5 wickets to bag. Most annoying. Better not rain tomorrow. Better not end in a draw. Bloody English weather!

Getty Images

Especially as Scott after much diligent googling found a bar in NYC that shows the cricket! Thus earning my eternal gratitude and undying devotion (not that he didn’t have it already, mind). That’s right, yesterday we watched the last hour of play at Eight Mile Creek in Soho surrounded by Aussies. Most excellent. They’ll be showing all of the Ashes—every day of every test—from the 5AM start till the end of the day’s play around 1PM. Bonza! Strewth! Bewdy, mate!

Last day of the tour! Who will wear the green? Please, please, please let it be Stuart O’Grady! And please let there not be any horrible prangs. Will Rasmussen be happy with being king of the mountain after yesterday’s disaster? I hope so. Poor baby. Twas horrible to watch.

And there’ll be much jokeying around in the last few places of the top 10. There’s only seconds between the fifth, sixth, seventh and eight places. Vinokourov just grabbed himself extra seconds to draw (almost) even with Levi Leipheimer in fifth place. My boy, Cadel Evans, is in eighth spot. Be lovely if he could move up. But you know what? A top ten finish in your first Tour is pretty bloody awesome.

And Lance, of course, will take the yellow in his last tour. He’s had an incredible career and proved himself to be without doubt the best on the tour. I fell in love with the Tour during the Miguel Indurain era, he of the mighty lungs, at the time everyone said we would never see his like again. And then along came Lance.

And how about next year? Who’s gonna win once Lance is gone? Who will be the next Tour god? I’m kind of hoping it will be more in the nature of an intense two or three or more way rivalry between several amazing riders with a different one winning every year. I cannot wait!

Update: yup, Lance got the yellow, Cadel Evans kept his 8th spot, Thor Husvold got the green, with Stuart O’Grady second.

Cricket resumed and Australia won by 239 runs. Not saying anything more. Gloating is in very poor taste.

Bibs and Bobs

Working hard thus am not so bloggery as usual. Other than the novel I’m writing here’s what’s up in Justineland:

Daphne Lee has posted the unedited (and illustrated) version of her interview with me where I persist in getting the name of Samantha from Bewitched‘s grandmother wrong (got all that?). Daphne reports that Magic or Madness sold out in Kuala Lumpur the week the interview appeared in The Star. How stupendous is that?

Last night the New York Liberty beat the Houston Comets in overtime in Houston. Scott and me, we was screaming at the television like you wouldn’t believe. So happy! And as usual when the Liberty win everybody played their part. They are so teamy and ball-sharey and good. And now they’re better than 500 for the season. Being a Liberty fan is all about the ups and the downs. Thankfully they’re a bit more uppy at the moment. Next live game is Friday. Can’t wait! Season tickets make me happy.

The last two days of the Tour have been heart-stoppingly good. I don’t ever want it to end.

Many of my Oz sf friends are in Melbourne having a really good time. I am not even slightly jealous. Honest.

Write now. Many words.


My friend Justine (also an Australian) asked me the other day what colour puce is. I’ve read a tonne of Georgette Heyer where it’s a colour that pretty much no one looks any good in, so I had always imagined it was a kind of cacky yellow-brown (on a puce=puke or puce=poo etymological model). It had never occurred to me to look it up. But Justine did. And read that it was a non-saturated red (I forget the whole description), but it sounded like terracotta, which is a lovely colour.

Here’s what the OED says:

puce [pjus], a. (sb.) [a. Fr. puce sb.:-L. plex, -icem a flea; couleur puce flea-colour (17th c.).]
a. attrib. or as adj. (orig. puce colour): Of a flea-colour; purple brown, or brownish purple.

1787 Best Angling (ed. 2) 83 Dip a feather in aqua fortis, put it on the ash,..and it will make it a cinnamon, or rather a puce, or flea colour.
1791 Hamilton tr. Berthollet’s Dyeing I. i. i. ii. 32 Colours inclining to red on the one hand and black on the other, such as mordoré and puce colour.
1820 Chron. in Ann. Reg. 197/2 A rich twilled sarcenet pelisse, of a peuce colour.
1834 Mrs. Carlyle Lett. I. 10 The old black gown (which was dyed puce for me at Dumfries).
1893 J. Ashby Sterry Naughty Girl ix. 79 His puce silk suit, his muslin cravat.
b. As sb. = puce colour.

1882 Garden 16 Sept. 260/1 Blooms dark puce, suffused with maroon.
1897 Daily News 25 June 2/6 The mountains had all put on..the purple puce of twilight.
1900 F. H. O’F. in Lond. Let. 26 Jan. 133/1 Varying shades..from palest peach to deepest puce.
c. Comb. puce-coloured adj.

1812 Sir H. Davy Chem. Philos. 212 The puce-coloured oxide of lead.
1874 Garrod & Baxter Mat. Med. 410 Cochineal yields when crushed a puce-coloured powder.

That also sounds like a colour that’s all over my wardrobe. A gorgeous colour. Except for the bit about fleas. Flea-coloured? Huh?

Hollywood Drives Me Nuts, Again

I been seeing a bunch of filums lately. Well, okay, two: Batman Begins and Land of the Dead. The first was okay, definitely the best Batman movie thus far (but, frankly, that’s faint praise, and I will always prefer the campy tv show), the second was a most excellent zombie film and a perfect end to Romero’s zombie quartet (though, I admit it, I hope there’s more). I enjoyed it greatly.

However, no matter how far above Hollywood’s average these films are (and Land of the Dead really really is) they still had at least one thing that drove me crazy. In Batman Begins it was Batman’s whole I-will-not-kill thing, which seemed to only apply to direct killing. Indirect killing? No worries. He can blow up buildings, leaving only one survivor (not to mention all the innocent creatures housed therein) and drive his car like a maniac destroying many other vehicles, and people-populated structures with impunity. And back in the bat cave is there a tally on the wall listing all people killed in the course of his batman do-gooding versus those saved by his do-gooding? No, there is not. How does his head not explode from that contradiction?

In Land of the Dead it was money. So here we are in this future zombie-overrun world (it is, indeed, the end of the world as we know it) and the small pockets of survivors in electric-fenced enclosures still use paper money. What’s more they plot and scheme to take that money out of their small enclosure to other survivor populations that may or may not exist. What use would those people have for paper money? Or even for gold? Wouldn’t antibiotics, food, water, guns, alcohol (and other substances that take you away from the horrors of zombie world) be the real currency? It was particularly annoying because so many aspects of Romero’s zombie future made sense. And genre films that make sense are such a refreshing rarity.

Judging from Cherie Priest’s review, I will not be going to see Bewitched. This makes me sad (though Cherie’s review made me happy). I loved that show when I was a kid. I worshipped Elizabeth Montgomery. And, frankly, our Nicole? She is no Elizabeth Montgomery.

So how come characters always get a whole lot dumber when given the Hollywood treatment? Bridget Jones, Samantha and, um, I can’t think of any others, but I’m memory-challenged. I’m sure there are thousands of others. Anyone?

I go write now. About smart teenagers.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I loved Howl’s Moving Castle. I enjoyed all the liberties it took with the Diana Wynne Jones novel. I loved it for all the moves it made that Hollywood films don’t, like going in unexpected directions that make sense (unlike Hollywood’s much vaunted reversals which almost never do), and having a wonderfully charasmatic old woman as the heroine who was neither Hallmark cute nor a wicked witch, for being heartwarming without being chunderous, and for being genuinely magical.

Thank you. If it’s on where you live go see it. Now!

Firefly jealousy

I was once a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, but then along came season seven which I disliked so much I haven’t been able to watch it since. (Actually that’s a lie. I had to watch it a tonne immediately after the end, in order to wrap up essays on it for Roz Kaveney and Glenn Yeffeth. Talk about painful! Having to watch Buffy while I was in deep mourning for it. Like going to a wedding with your ex immediately after breaking up.)

Anyway, I was very reluctant to go near Firefly. I wasn’t ready for Joss Whedon to break my heart again. I didn’t watch for a very long time, not till it was out on DVD in fact. But once I finally gave in I liked what I saw. It’s uneven, but the very best episodes are amazing. The final one, “Objects in Space”, is one of the finest hours of TV I’ve ever seen. Incredible.

Now the movie version has been playing in sneak previews all over the USA despite the fact that its official release isn’t until September. Too, too cruel. What’s the big deal, anyway? Why torture people like me with this long drawn out preview fest in all parts of the country (except New York City! The bastards!)? And why do all those people who have seen it have to torment those who haven’t by writing about it endlessly (and spoilerishly) all over the web. Why?!

Okay, I go pack now. But I’m just warning everyone at WisCon–if someone tells me even so much as what the opening credits look like or what any of the characters are wearing in any given scene I will disembowel them. Nothing personal, that’s just how it is. Cause unlike certain other people I believe in the concept of spoilerage. I don’t even want to know whether people like it or not!


Deb Biancotti recently wrote about how much she loved the US movie, Sideways, while I don’t remotely agree with her about the film (love was not the emotion it roused in my breast), I did very much enjoy her thoughts about wine. She’s right: loving wine, appreciating wine, gets a very bad rap. It’s pretentious, it’s snobby, it’s blah blah blah. "That doesn’t really smell like passionfruit or taste of cat’s piss. You’re just making that up. Wanker."

Like Deb, I love wine. I love them, red, white, sticky sweet and dry as bone. I don’t care about the grape variety: pinot gris, malbec, cab sav, merlot (yes, merlot, I have no idea what that guy’s problem is), sav blanc, semillon, riesling, chardonnay, shiraz and so on. And I especially love wine with bubbles. Not just champagne, I’m also in love with heaps of Australian, New Zealand and Italian bubblies. What can I say? They tickle my nose and float across my tongue. What I care about is quality. Every grape variety can produce crap wine and they can all produce absolute glories.

I love the performance around tasting wine: checking out the wine’s colour in the glass, smelling it and trying to figure out what those smells are, what they remind you of, and then best of all, tasting it. Does the taste match the smell? Does it taste the same at the beginning as at the end of a sip, of a glass, of a bottle? (A bottle shared with others, obviously. Drink only in moderation.)

I totally agree with Deb: "It’s earthy and real. I think it’s a way to focus inwards on your body’s sensations and to feed those sensations through your brain and turn them into words. It’s sensual. Kinda—dare I say— sexy."

When we were in Buenos Aires recently we drank a lot of malbec, a red grape variety I’d never drunk before and this weird thing kept happening: the waiter would pour the taste, I’d sip, my mouth would pucker, and the first word that wanted to escape my mouth would be, "b’dna’gah!" or maybe "ack!" The waiter would smile and say, "Too much tannin?"

"Rather a lot, yes," I’d say, squeezing the words out of my shocked lips. The waiter would then assure me that it would taste fine in a few minutes. We just had to wait. So we did. Without fail the next sip would be smooth, almost creamy, yet still a big red, still with some astringency. I’ve never drunk wines before that changed so dramatically so quickly. Very very fabulous.

For my birthday last year, Scott gave me the most excellent present ever (except for all the other really great ones, like the watch I’m wearing, my silver wedding skirt, that tropical fruit basket, everything my sister and parents have given me ever, and all the stuff I’ve forgotten cause my memory is crap): Le Nez du Vin (yeah, yeah, it’s French and all about wine, colour it very prententious indeed, and no, he didn’t pay full retail price. Jeeze what do you think we are?). It’s a set of 54 wee bottles of the key essences found in wine: cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, cut hay, lychee, butter, mushroom and 43 other ones. Each essence is matched with a beautifully written and illustrated card that tells you its chemical components, history, and what wines it’s found in. And each essence smells exactly like what it says it smells like. The green pepper smells like green pepper (well, okay, it smells like green capsicum). Fresh, crisp and faintly like grass. The honey like a light, straw-coloured honey. Come on, you know the kind.

We’ve spent hours and hours learning to identify them all. (For extra kink value we’ve even done it blindfolded. Cor!) All our friends have been into it too (blindfolded and everything! Double cor!). It’s a tonne of fun and much much much harder than you imagine. Most people’s sense of smell doesn’t get the same kind of work out that sight and hearing do. None of the folk who’ve played with our kit has gotten even fifty per cent right first go. I kept finding myself holding the teeny bottle under my nose, going, "I know this! I know this! Tip of the tongue! It’s . . . it’s . . . Oh, oh, oh. Bugger. What is it?"

"That would be lemon."

"Aaargh! I knew that."

We’ve played with it so much we know the 54 smells off by heart. We’ve learned that after about the ninth one your nose packs it in and everything smells like cloves. The smell starts coating your mouth. You taste it. I started flashing back to my time in Jakarta and all those clove cigarettes (bloody kretek). Turns out Proust was on the money: memory and smell are intertwined. So many of the guesses began, "Oh, oh, oh! It smells like that summer at my aunt’s place and the ice cream factory down the streeet and the—vanilla. It’s vanilla!"

Both Scott and me have gotten a lot better at isolating different smells in wine, but not just in wine, in foods, in garbage (hmm, I believe that was once a stew flavoured with thyme), in pretty much everything. And our writing has changed—it’s a lot more pongy that it used to be. Used to be I’d go for pages and pages without hitting any odours. My characters would see, and see, and see, and also hear, touch, and taste, but rarely would they smell so much as their dog’s farts, and when they did they’d smell in familiar, unarresting ways. In similies, like clean hair, rosemary, vomit, whatever. I’d rarely take the smell apart, really describe it. There’s a reason for that. It’s really hard and using the chemical components rarely makes for evocative writing. Most people don’t know many beyond H2O and it doesn’t have much of a smell.

I’m still not very good at it, but the kit, and drinking and appreciating wine, has at least gotten me thinking about how to write smells better. Some day soon it should translate into words on the page.

Sydney, 28 January 2005

Different Worlds

One time Scott was taking his niece Renee for a ride through Times Square in a pedicab. They’d just seen a Broadway show. He leaned back in the rickshaw and stared at all the lights around him, the neon, huge TV screens, advertisements several stories high. Scott’s been a New Yorker a long time now, but living in the East Village he rarely does touristy things like Broadway shows or gaping at the electric splendour of Times Square, yet to his surprise he was loving it. From ground level, from the middle of the street, without having to crane his neck upwards, he could see how extraordinarily beautiful it was.

He sat in wonder staring, while Renee talked animatedly about the show and consulted her program. "Isn’t it gorgeous?" he asked her at last. She looked up, the briefest flick of her eyes, said "yeah," and continued to talk about the show. She was still caught in the wonder of the live show she’d just seen, unable to catch a glimpse of the sublime Scott had caught in the lights above them.

When I was fifteen my best friend, Emma Winley, and I would sometimes lie down in the middle of her floor to listen to music, closing our eyes, and then at the end of each song talking about what we saw. I’d lose myself in the lyrics, imagine who those people were, what was happening to them in that slice of life covered by the lyrics of the song, what happened afterwards. Emma was much more impressionistic, caught in the rhythms and melodies, hardly hearing the words at all. We never saw the same thing and it made us giggly happy.

Another friend of mine, Rebecca
, recently had a lovely
in the Times about a town in West Virginia
where she often goes to write. Here’s what she says about her favourite
restaurant in town:

"To call Baristas a restaurant would be a serious understatement. It is a restaurant, but it’s also a barbershop. And a coffeehouse. And, of course, a massage parlor. . . . You can eat in the basement pub, with its low oak ceiling and stone walls. You can eat on the patio overlooking the Ohio River, in the garden next to the hibiscus plants or in the café surrounded by walls of local art. You can get a haircut or a bona fide Swedish massage while you wait, then sit at a table covered in quotes from Camus or Malcom X."

According to Rebecca the food there is wonderful, made from all
local, fresh ingredients. The Baristas’ hamburger is the best she
has ever eaten. But the most popular restaurant in town is a Bob
Evans. There are 576 Bob Evanses in 21 states across the USA and
they all look exactly the same with identical menus and identical
methods of serving the food. The meal you have at the Bob Evans
in New Martinsville, West Virginia is exactly the same meal you’d
have in "Orlando, St Louis or Baltimore."

Rebecca ate at the New Martinsville Bob Evans several times, sampling a variety of dishes and being underwhelmed by them all. She simply didn’t get it. After talking to some of the folks who loved it so, she started to get an inkling. They valued its lack of surprises, its sameness. After a few days she retreated back to Baristas wondering what made her a Baristas person and the others pure Bob Evans?

I’m all for different perspectives, different ways of living, of seeing the world. One of the glories of being in other places is seeing how varied the world is. I’m so relieved Buenos Aires isn’t exactly like Sydney. That there are places where people don’t know who Elvis is. Spending time in the US I am thrilled every time I discover pop cultural memories the yankees have that I don’t. Growing up in Australia I always thought I knew all about the USA, I could name all the states, knew a tonne about its music and movies and literature, but I didn’t, not even close. I still don’t really know this country, I probably never will. That makes me happy.

But the gulfs. All those Bob Evans people and Baristas people living in the same towns, same cities, sometimes shopping in the same stores, or going to the same churches, who can’t talk to each other, or if they do, can’t make any sense of what the other says. Whose different worlds are so completely incompatible there’s no room for each other in them. That makes me sad.

New York City, 3 November 2004

(Updated: 18 Jan 06 to correct factual errors. Thanks, JKC for pointing them out.)

Ray Charles, Democracy and the US of A

I watched Scott vote today. Went into the polling booth with him, pulled the curtain behind us, and watched him pull the big lever at the bottom from right to left, which turns on a light outside the booth to say there’s a-votin’ going on. Then he flipped little levers in a long column to indicate his choices for president, senator, and a whole raft of other stuff. When he was done and had checked it and doublechecked it and then checked it again, he pulled the big lever down the bottom all the way back to the left to make his vote good and turn the light off, clearing the way for the next voter.

It was nothing like how we vote back home. We Australians are a primitive people who rely on paper ballots and pencils; not polling booths that look like a cross between the Tardis and some kind of high-faluting time machine from the 1930s.

The polling station was doing a steady business. There wasn’t much of the crying and laughing and general high spirited this-is-the-most-important-election-of-modern-US-history vibe I’ve been hearing about from my friends in other parts of the country and reading about all over the web. I mean this is the East Village in New York City where everything is a foregone conclusion, but, hey it was still pretty nice. One of the women working there—her job was to take your voter card thingie just before you go in the booth—she couldn’t stop smiling. She asked me if I was feeling it. I said sure, but I’m foreign and not voting so I’m feeling it for you. She laughed out loud. I wished her and her country luck. She grinned and said it was going to be just fine and luck had nothing to do with it.

Out on the street, Scott yelled, and I yelled too cause his exultation was contagious. I’ve never felt exultant about voting back home where it’s compulsory and if you don’t vote you get fined. But Scott voted and we both got tears in our eyes. How about that?

Then we went home and obsessively surfed and read hundreds of fabulous voter stories from all over the country. Of people who always get to the polls early so they can be first to vote and suddenly found themselves behind a queue of fifty people. Everywhere people were turning out in record numbers and dancing when they voted, declaring that voting had never felt so good.

It wasn’t all good news: I got an email from a friend who’d had their right to vote challenged in New Jersey and had to vote provisionally (provisional votes very often get thrown out on technicalities). This makes my head spin. Like I said, back home you have to vote.

Today all anyone can talk about is voting, the unprecedented turnout, the election, what it all means. No one can sit still. I sure as hell can’t. I didn’t even try. Instead I left my diligent hard-working husband and went to the movies.

I saw Ray the new biopic about Ray Charles. Unbelieveable. I cried pretty much the whole way through. It’s extraordinary. The movie summed up everything I adore about this country. There I said it: I love the US of A. It also hit everything I hate about it too. The racism, the myopia, the—well, you all know the list. Who cares? Today I’m seeing the creativity, the music, the strength, the blind black man refusing to play in front of a segregated audience and getting banned from ever playing in Georgia again (a ban not lifted until 1979!). I just see the people getting out and voting despite all the obstacles placed in their way, despite the fact that it’s raining, or that some other folks are trying to stop them. They’re just going about their business of getting out the vote.

I love this place.

New York City, 2 November 2004

Elvis Presley in the Northern Territory

When I was little my family lived for a time on two different Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory: Ngukurr in Arnhem Land and Djemberra (now called Jilkminggan) not far from the predominately white town of Mataranka.

Those times are the most vivid memories I have of childhood. I remember the hard red earth, the heat making everything in the distance shimmer, towering termite nests, brolgas, eating food that had been hunted or found that day: kangaroo, emu, goanna, crayfish, turtle eggs, wild honey, fruits and tubers I don’t remember the names of and have never seen or (more sadly) eaten since.

I remember being allowed to run wild with a pack of kids (and dogs) of assorted ages and skin colours (though none so pale as me), swimming in the Roper River, playing games like red rover for hours. I remember learning that I was white and what that could mean, and that the Aboriginal kinship system my family had been adopted into meant that I could have many more mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and grandparents than the bare handful I’d been born with. I became fluent in a whole other language, of which only two words remain: "baba" meaning brother or sister, and "gammon" meaning bullshit (sort of).

The Northern Territory is also where I first discovered Elvis Presley. My first Elvis memory is of the juke box in one of the pubs in Mataranka. There were only two pubs which in Australia means that it was a very, very small town—nearly microscopic. The jukebox had records by Slim Dusty and Elvis Presley and no-one else. When Slim Dusty played it caused the child-me physical pain. As far as I was concerned it was noise not music. But when Elvis played, well, that was heaven. The best music, the best voice I’d ever heard. For years I couldn’t stand Slim Dusty, but I’ve always loved Elvis.

I would beg money from my parents and play Elvis as much as possible in the short times we would stay there. I was frequently annoyed that they only ever had one beer each and never drank it slowly enough for me to hear more than one or two songs. My favourites back then were "Burning Love" (which I thought of as "Hunka Hunka") and "His Latest Flame".

My second memory is of watching the best Elvis movie ever made, Stay Away Joe, on the outdoor basketball court at Ngukurr. The screen was hung over the hoop. We all crowded onto the court, restless (the last few movies had been total busts) and excited (there was always the hope that this one wouldn’t suck), sitting in each others’ laps or on our haunches on the gravel. We’d pull each others’ hair, poke each other with fingers, elbows, feet and knees, throw handfuls of gravel at each other and the adults would laugh at us, or tell us to shut up.

This time the rowdiness only lasted through the opening credits. We settled down quick cause we all loved it. Stay Away Joe is set on an American Indian reservation. Elvis plays an Indian. Everyone on the basketball court recognised what they were seeing up on screen. Like the movie reservation, Ngukurr was full of crap cars, there were dogs everywhere, and almost everyone was unemployed. There was also a tonne of singing and dancing.

The film was such a hit that they played it every night for a week. We all sang along to the songs and when it got to the final scene—there’s a party which turns into a fight which results in the total destruction of the new government-issue cheap and shoddy housing—everyone would get up and yell and mock punch each other. And when Elvis said, "That was one hell of a fight!" we all said it along with him. Even after Stay Away Joe was long gone, doing its rounds of other communities, we’d sing songs and act out scenes from the movie.

Some of us kids really thought Elivs was Native American. I’m sure my parents disabused me of that notion pretty quickly, but for a long time I wasn’t quite sure who or what Elvis was. The way I discovered Elvis made him seem racially fluid.

Even now hearing "Burning Love" or "His Latest Flame" or any of his songs I first heard on that Mataranka juke box, I think of sitting with dozens of kids on that basketball court, bum itchy from the gravel, watching Elvis driving around in the car he was selling off piece by piece. I think of turtles and lily root and days that were either wet-hot or dry-hot and flies—more flies than I’ve ever seen before in my life. And kids who were smart, funny, gorgeous, generous and mean as hell. Kids I haven’t seen since I was eight years old, and already losing my innocence about the difference between being white or black in Australia. A world I haven’t known since I moved back to cities where the houses I live in never fall apart.

That’s my Elvis.

New York City, 19 July 2003

A Buffy Confession

I am a Buffy tragic. I have been an avid follower and, of late, scholar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since the first season. It’s the first television show I’ve ever been obsessed with, the first time I’ve found myself in the role of a fan. A particularly strange shift for me because I’ve spent a large part of my scholarly career writing about fans without actually being one. Now I am. I watch the show. A lot. I read and write about it online, in magazines, fanzines, journals, books. I’ve lectured about it. I’ve been interviewed about it for Australian TV, radio and print media.

There’s a long list of reasons why so many people love Buffy. Reasons that have been given by fans and scholars and reviewers and others consuming vast tracks of the internet and print in the form of articles and reviews, poems and stories. Buffy the Vampire Slayer captured me in the first place because it was a genre TV show that took the rules of the genre seriously, understood them, was metaphorically resonate, cared about continuity and consistency, engaged in fabulous world-building, was intelligently written and acted and had a sassy self-awareness that was not sly or annoying. It is both funny and sad, often at the same time.

My obsession involves watching the show repeatedly, devouring DVD and other commentary by the writers, particularly Joss Whedon, and thinking long and hard about the show. This intense engagement with a set of interlocked texts as complex and as well-executed as Buffy is extraordinarily pleasurable.

My increasing obsession and professional engagement with Buffy has found me frequently called upon to defend the show. Not to the large unwashed hordes out there who will never watch or understand the show (and frankly, who cares about them?) but to other Buffy fans. Ever since the fourth season, when Buffy and the Scoobies left Sunnydale High behind, there has been a vehement rain of Buffy fan backlash.

Like relationships with other human beings, fan relationships with TV shows sometimes thrive on a mix of love and hatred, none more so than Buffy. For the past few seasons, my role of defender has meant I haven’t always admitted to my own dissatisfactions with Buffy. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer more than I’ve ever loved a TV show (hell, more than quite a few people in my life) but there are times when I hate it too.

Defending Buffy The Vampire Slayer

. . . . I read occasionally that people haven’t been as happy with this year (actually, I hear that every year), show’s not the same… (Posted by: Joss Whedon May 22, 2002, 2:15 AM linear board)

I loathe defending Buffy to other fans. I feel like I’m defending a close relative. I want to tell them, "If you can’t say anything nice, then shut up." I am not rational about it. While defending the show I will say anything, no matter how illogical. I will frequently contradict myself. I don’t care. If a particular writer is attacked I will dredge the record for good episodes or lines they’ve written. I will airily wave aside complaints about plot holes as a clever play with the tropes of the genre. I’ll make stuff up: "That was not a crap line. It was a direct reference to Cansino’s last film, The Widow in the Shadows made for RKO just before he was blacklisted. Had a limited release in 1962. Nope, not available on DVD. Though apparently there’s a French bootleg video."

I cannot stand fans being so narkily and pickily critical of the show. Don’t they understand how tight the TV-land budget of time and money is? Don’t they understand that certain actors aren’t always available? Don’t they want to enjoy the show? Anyway, why does everything have to be about whether each episode or season was good or not? Don’t they realise that you can’t possibly decide that until you’ve watched it at least five or more (often way more) times? I wish they would embrace proper criticism, that mystical process whereby you can write thousands of words about the object you dissect without once revealing whether you like it or not.

Of course, I also can’t stand fans who (like myself) defend Buffy against all criticism no matter how just. Or who like it for the wrong reasons. The show is not perfect. There have been bad episodes. I know that. I just can’t stand to hear others say it.

The first murmurs of "They’ve lost it" and "Buffy‘s going down the toilet" began with Angel’s return at the beginning of Season Three. He was dead. How could they bring him back? What a cheap gimmick. Like some trashy afternoon soap opera. When a character’s dead they should stay dead. (Hmmm, I pointed out, you mean like Buffy’s death in "Prophecy Girl"?) His return from hell, the critics muttered, undermines the tragic arc of the second season. Of course, by the end there was far less murmuring about bringing Angel back, and many fans now believe Season Three is the best ever.

Buffy had been criticised by fans before, but only for less-than-great episodes. "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" 1.11, "Bad Eggs" 2.12 and "Beauty and the Beasts" 3.4 had all been slammed, but Season Four was the first time a sizeable number were trashing a whole season. What was it about Season Four? I have friends who say it was Angel’s departure. These same people prefer Angel to Buffy. As they are clearly insane, I’ll discount them. (They also think "Once More, With Feeling" 6.7 is the worst Buffy episode ever, so you can rest easy with my dismissal of their opinions.)

Most of the criticism boiled down to unhappiness with the Scoobies leaving high school. The show, many said, just doesn’t work once the central literalised metaphor—high school is hell—is lost. When the Scoobies are in college or working various odd jobs or unemployed, there’s no easy overarching metaphor that binds the show together. Being a young adult, trying to find yourself; life after high school is more complex. But it does resonate. The Scoobies’ search for adult lives and adult identities is certainly more emotionally real than any number of so-called realist shows about everyday life such as thirtysomething.

Another criticism aimed at Season Four is its preponderance of arc episodes. I have a friend who is convinced that more arc episodes than standalones means that a show is "decadent." Buffy, he says, has been irretrievably decadent since that dreaded fourth season. The references to previous incidents, once clever and witty, now overwhelm the show, making it an indulgent exercise playing to the in-crowd. Buffy is so dependent on internal references, this friend maintains, that it is now a soap opera.

I disagree. Strongly. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe it is a soap opera, but one screened in prime time with brilliant writing, fabulous acting and far less than sixty pages of script filmed a day.

Some other criticisms of the show I’ve had to deal with:
None of Buffy’s lovers since Angel have been worthy of her. He was her one true love. My response is to try not to roll my eyes. Angel is, in fact, my least favourite of Buffy’s partners. Even Riley is better (despite the writers apparently not knowing how dodgy it is for a T. A. to sleep with one of his freshman students). Their relationship was particularly interesting towards the end when Riley’s doing the whole vampire drug/sex thing. Ah, sweet tragedy. Buffy mooning after the wooden Angel was tedious, overdone (a big uggh to their theme music) and lasted way too long. It only became interesting after he became Angelus. The more compelling (with way better dialogue) Season Two relationships were between Spike & Drusilla and Cordelia & Xander.

They’ve neutered Spike. He hasn’t been a decent character since Season Two. Oh, how many ways can I disagree with this one? I love Spike with a chip. I love Spike with a soul. I adore him tragically in love with Buffy. "Fool For Love" 5.7 gives every Spike episode an extra layer—oh the fun of looking for William (I-may-be-a-bad-poet-but-I’m-a-good-man) in badass Spike.

All the villains have sucked ever since the Mayor was toasted. Why does no-one remember how lame the Master was? Worst villain ever. (And unfortunately he had the same name as the villain in Doctor Who who was way less lame.) The Initiative was a great idea. Glory is underrated. The Trio was mostly silly but had many interesting moments.

The writing has just gotten worse and worse (also known as the why-can’t-Joss-write-every-episode complaint). There are just as many shithouse, badly written episodes in the early seasons. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" anyone? Or "Inca Mummy Girl" 2.4? (Can’t help with the Joss complaint. I wish Joss wrote and directed every episode too, although with the proviso that I don’t think every episode he writes on his own is pure gold. "Lie To Me" 2.7, "Anne" 3.1 and "Family" 5.6 are nowhere near the level of "Prophecy Girl" 1.12 or "The Body" 5.16. One episode Whedon co-wrote is amongst the worst Buffy episodes ever: the aforementioned "Out of Mind, Out of Sight.")

Season Four was going to be hated even before it first aired. Buffy tragics (like me) sat down to watch the first broadcast of "The Freshman" 4.1 with a great deal of fear in their hearts. Would the show be as good as it used to be? Is it all over? That fan fear has remained. Can the best TV show of all time stay good after so many seasons? Every episode is watched with an eye for evidence of decline. And every Buffy fan I know has turned to me to prove to them that the end isn’t pretty seriously nigh.

The fear is in my heart too. In my position as defender of Buffy to the once faithful, I watch each new episode with mounting terror. Is it a crap episode? Is it a crap season? Should I be heckling along with everybody else? Is Buffy’s inability to kill Spike a sign of decadence? Is Willow’s evil turn amateurishly handled, and her recovery even more so? Are they lamely recycling villains? Am I ever going to be able to watch a new episode of the show and simply enjoy it?

Buffy Mini-Festivals, or, How DVDs Saved My Life

No, I will never again enjoy an episode the first time through. I’m too nervous, too absorbed with anticipating criticisms and how to respond to them. I’m not capable of enjoying an episode until I’ve watched it several times. And it doesn’t become pure pleasure until the DVD set comes out and I’ve watched said episode in the context of the whole season (including all the writer/director commentaries) in the space of two or three Buffy-packed days.

Oh the glories of DVDs. Episodes that I hated when I first saw them are transformed. "Ted" 2.11 turns out to be a chillingly good episode, not the dreaded movie-of-the-week number I remembered. Even less-than-great episodes like "Some Assembly Required" 2.2 with its spectacularly lame plot—boy reanimates dead sports-hero brother (with his high school science know-how) and then builds him a mate out of spare dead-girl parts—turns out to have wonderful arc development and priceless exchanges between the Scoobies. It’s a rare episode that doesn’t have at least a moment of fabulous dialogue or a gorgeous set up for events a season or more later.

Listening to Joss Whedon’s commentary over "The Body" confirms every worshipful thought you have ever indulged about the guy’s writing and his attitude to making the show. The creators think about what they’re doing:

Joss Whedon: "Buffy" is made by a bunch of writers who think very, very hard about what they are doing in terms of psychology and methodology. We take the show very seriously. We are perhaps the most pompous geeks of them all. When somebody says there is a philosophy behind "Buffy" that is the truth. When they say there is symbolism and meaning in what we’re doing, that’s true too.
(Joss Whedon AOL Chat, 10 November 2002

Although watching a whole season back to back is excellent, there are stomach-tightening moments when horrible suspicions about a given episode or story arc are confirmed. Yep, it is as bad as I feared. But there is a solution—a beautiful one which has salved the wounds suffered while watching and defending Buffy. I create my own Buffy mini-festivals! I recommend it as the very best way to ensure your Buffy viewing is stress- and anxiety-free.

All that’s required is some judicious episode selection. Start with the obvious, say a series of relationship festivals: Spike & Buffy (first "School Hard" 2.3, next "Halloween" 2.6 and so forth), or Cordelia & Xander ("What’s My Line Part 2" 2.10, "Ted" 2.11, "Bad Eggs" 2.12 and "Innocence" 2.14 etc.). Or you could have a Jonathan festival ("Inca Mummy Girl," "Reptile Boy" 2.5 etc.) Or a Ripper retrospective ("Halloween," "Band Candy" 3.6 etc). Then you can graduate to the less obvious: the Anya’s-afraid-of-bunny-rabbits festival, the conveniently-located-axe festival, and the slutty clothes festival.

Here are some of my favourites:

The Perfect Buffy Festival
There’s at least one perfect episode of Buffy every season. Watching them together gives me a happy. The following are my current choice of most perfect from Seasons One to Six:

" Prophecy Girl" 1.12: What is so fabulous about "Prophecy Girl" is not that Buffy beats the tedious arch-villain, but that she does it with the aid of the entire ensemble cast. The episode is the distilled essence of everything that had been keeping me watching the show up to that point: the fabulous sharp dialogue between the characters ("You’re looking at my neck," says Xander to Angel on the way to rescue Buffy), the rip-roaring plot that barely lets up, the beautifully drawn friendship between Buffy, Willow and Xander, the tragedy of sixteen-year old Buffy walking knowingly to her death. All the promise of the season comes to fruition. Before "Prophecy Girl" I thought Buffy was a pretty cool show with some great moments, way better than anything else on the box. In its wake I was an obsessive Buffyholic.

" Innocence" 2.14: the episode when the Buffy & Angel romance finally got interesting. I adore the moment when you really know Angel is bad: not simply because he bites into the woman’s neck, but because he blows out a plume of her cigarette smoke. Angel’s smoking. He’s a villain now. This is a perfect arc episode because it turns the action up to eleven.

"The Zeppo" 3.13: By Season Three the fans were completely familiar with the standard Buffy plot, so clearly it was past time for the creators to mess things up a bit. They did so delightfully. Buffy deconstructs itself by making the A plot into the B plot. Angel and Buffy snatch a moment alone together, the music swells up, Xander walks in, the music goes away. It’s the first time the writers really played around with the structure of a Buffy episode, and it’s, well, perfect.

The perfect episodes of Seasons Four through Six are, of course, a no-brainer: "Hush" 4.22, "The Body" 5.16 and "Once More, With Feeling" 6.7. Not just perfect Buffy but perfect television.

Willow & Tara Festival

Okay, this is a pretty obvious festival, but I adore these two, and their relationship illustrates one of the many things I love about Buffy the Vampire Slayer: it endlessly builds on itself. Casual dialogue from early seasons start to become more resonant in the light of later events. "Willow’s not looking to date you," Xander says to Buffy, "or if she is she’s playing it pretty close to her chest" ("Prophecy Girl" 1.12). Then two seasons later in "Dopplegangland" 3.16, Vamp Willow comes onto Willow with the traditional face-licking method. "I think I’m kinda gay," says Willow, somewhat perturbed by the whole experience.

Seeds are planted and then they grow. It’s glorious to watch. Especially when they grow into Tara & Willow having the best metaphoric sex ever shown on television. When these two women do spells together then whoosh. From the hand-holding vending-machine propelling of "Hush" 4.10 to the unbelievably sexy spell of "Who Are You?" 4.16: Tara’s thumb to Willow’s forehead, lips and sternum, they begin to chant, they start to breath heavily, their hands touch, their breathing becomes even heavier, they glisten with sweat, their eyes half-close, a magical circle rises around them, they stare into each others’ eyes, Willow falls back gasping. Oh my. But there’s more to come: the superlative "You Make Me Complete" scene from "Once More, With Feeling." Sigh.

All-Charming-Pretty-Boys-Who-Aren’t-Vampires-Are-Bad Festival

I always knew that, but thanks to Buffy for proving it over and over again. Watch Tom in "Reptile Boy" 2.5, Ford in "Lie to Me" 2.7 and Parker Abrams in "Living Conditions" 4.2, "Harsh Light of Day" 4.3 and "Beer Bad" 4.5. They’re all variations of the same guy and they’re all bastards. But cute bastards.

Dreaming Buffy Festival

I love the way the show uses dreams. Instead of the gorgeous though not especially informative Twin Peaks’ dream sequences (nicely referenced with the red curtains in "Restless" 4.22) Buffy’s dreams are not merely beautifully done, but provide acres of plot and character exposition. In fact, the very first time we see Buffy, she’s in bed dreaming about the season’s villain, the Master ("Welcome to the Hellmouth" 1.1). Turns out Buffy dreams a lot, and those dream sequences just get better and better. The moment when Giles suddenly turns to strangle Buffy while Willow and Xander sit by obliviously ("When She Was Bad" 2.1) startles the viewer and instantly conveys just how much Buffy has not recovered from her ordeal with the Master. The predictive dream sequences of "Surprise" 2.13 and "Graduation Day Part 2" 3.22, with its references to Dawn’s arrival in Sunnydale two seasons later, are the beautiful seeds that grows into the all-dream episode of "Restless" 4.22. How much do I love "Restless"? My love is bigger than the ocean. I cap off this festival with the mostly-delusional "Normal Again" 6.15. Delusions, dreams. Same thing.

Tragic Buffy Festival
I love the sheer heart-wrenching pleasure of tragedy, and Buffy is the most tragic show on television. Hours of joyous pain and many damp tissues. A single line of dialogue can set me off, from Buffy’s plaintive, "Giles, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t want to die" ("Prophecy Girl" 1.12) to Jonathan’s speech when he presents Buffy’s Class Protector Award, "Most of the people here have been saved by you" ("The Prom" 3.20). "The Prom" makes me tear up no matter how many times I see it. So does "Innocence," "I Only Have Eyes For You" 2.19, with its haunting use of an already creepily haunting song, and "Seeing Red" 6.19 with Tara’s death. Of course "The Body" and "The Gift" 5.22 ("Don’t do it Buffy, let the brat jump!") make me howl.

Buffy’s life (like those of Hamlet and Odysseus) is one continuing train wreck that affects everyone around her. At the end of Season Six, there’s not a cast member who is not in some way a tragic figure. I love it.

But as I’ve mentioned several times there are times when I hate Buffy. Here are two festivals that show why:

Actually, They’re All Stupid Festival

Unfortunately there are a handful of episodes where the Scoobies seem to have collectively or individually lost all claim to even the intelligence of a gnat. Most don’t involve some spell that explains the idiocy away. Buffy spends most of "Triangle" 5.11 crying in an unconvincing, vaudevillian, over-the-top way. What the hell was that about? I bought that kind of acting in "Something Blue" 4.9 cause, well, there was a spell.

Worse still are the episodes when the entire cast, director and writing team are rendered moronic. "The Inca Mummy Girl" 2.4 has an even lamer plot than "Some Assembly Required," with no cool Scooby dialogue or arc plotting to save it. It’s ineptly written, directed and, sad to say, acted. The story could have been lifted from a Goosebumps book. Kids go to museum, scary mummy comes to life. The plot holes are large enough to drive an eighteen-wheeler through. The South American exchange student is staying for two weeks with the hugest trunk you ever saw—conveniently big enough to stash a body in. Everyone keeps doing things purely for plot reasons. There’s dead time. When Xander picks up the Incan Mummy girl from Buffy’s place there’s an endless, pointless filler conversation between them and Joyce and Buffy. It’s like watching As the World Turns. The dialogue between the Scoobies is awful: "Do we have to speak Spanish?" asks Xander. "Cause I don’t know much besides ‘Doritos’ and ‘chihuahua’."

"A Very Special Buffy"

This is the worst of all possible festivals, suitable for viewing only by the very brave. I hate with a fiery burning passion when an episode of Buffy turns into "a very special Buffy," something Whedon has explicitly promised would never happen. In these episodes some kind of heart- (or rather stomach-) wrenching problem comes up and is dealt with and we learn a lesson. You know what kids? Domestic violence is wrong ("Beauty and the Beasts" 3.4). Sick kids are sweet ("Killed By Death" 2.18). Death is sad ("Help" 7.4) These episodes are vile. I have to pinch myself. Am I watching some horrible cross between Charmed and Seventh Heaven?

"Help" does appallingly badly everything that "The Body" did brilliantly. We’re supposed to care about some kid we’ve never seen before who talks in breathless meant-to-be-wise-beyond-her-years psychobabble. Die, already. The penultimate scene consists of the Scoobies sitting around discussing their tragic loss as heart-tugging music swells around them. (Whedon specifically didn’t use music in "The Body" because it’s too easy; he didn’t want to let the audience off the hook.) Buffy says she wished she’d saved the kid, "She was special." Yeah the kid’s horrendous teenage angst poetry sure was special. In the last scene Buffy is back in her counsellor’s office. Gee, kids, looks like even our superhero Buffy can’t save everyone. Though, hang on—isn’t that the lesson learnt from Joyce’s death? The last two scenes of "Help" are just like the wrap of some sitcom or Touched by an Angel. It was all I could do not to throw up.

But even worse is the "very special Buffy" arc of Season Six: Willow’s magic addiction. Or, gee, could it be a metaphor for drug addiction? Just in case you haven’t caught on, there’s a poster-boy drug dealer with hippy clothes and long hair called Rack who talks slow, and lots of scenes of Willow being all spaced and, ooh, kind of stoned-looking. The sight of Willow in "Wrecked" 6.10 (which gets my vote for worst Buffy episode ever) in the junkie waiting room causes me physical pain. Drugs are bad, man. Just say no. I wished I’d been stoned watching it, which would at least have eased my pain. Man, the Buffy metaphors used to be a tad more clever and emotionally resonant. As in, you sleep with your boyfriend and overnight he turns into a monster.

I hate Willow’s becoming Dark Magic Queen all the more because the writers blew it. The set up for Willow’s descent goes all the way back to her first tentative steps with magic in season one. They did not need to belabour the drug addiction metaphor with Rack and Amy, and Willow’s AA (or is that MA?) total abstinence. (Especially as Giles’ approach at the beginning of Season Seven seems far more sensible.) I have rewritten that arc in my head a hundred times. First I put together a mini-festival of Willow’s use of magic, which includes Giles’ angry remonstration with Willow after she brings Buffy back ("Flooded" 6.4), and Willow’s chilling speech to Dawn ("Two to Go" 6.21). In the versions in my head, Willow’s complete descent into blind grief, rage and madness does not turn her into an after-school special villain mouthing ludicrous lines like, "There’s no-one in the world who has the power to stop me now!"

Way More Love than Hate
Ultimately the brilliance of Buffy makes the occasional falls from grace that much harder to stand. Knowing that every episode of Buffy could be a work of genius of the level of "Who Are You?" 4.16 or "Restless" or "Once More, With Feeling" makes the occasional sub-Charmed-level hour a stab to the heart. Why can’t Buffy be produced like The Sopranos, with time and money to burn?

Buffy is both good and bad; wonderful and excremental. Even the very worst episodes have moments of gold (well, okay, almost all do). And, even a few good episodes have a cringe-worthy moment or two. A great deal of criticism and other writing about Buffy has gotten caught up in dichotomous thinking: it’s good or it’s bad, it’s feminist or it’s misogynist; it’s racist or it isn’t. Buffy is all of these.

Buffy is certainly obsession-inspiring. That’s why I fervently hope that Season Seven is the last season of Buffy. Frankly, I can’t take any more. I pray that the show will end. I want to watch television without a stomach full of knots. Seven seasons is plenty. More than enough to keep me happy with endless reprogramming of my Buffy festivals. If it all stops at the end of this season then I can rule out the possibility that there will ever be an entire bad season that is nothing but episodes like "Killed By Death" and "Wrecked" and "Help." I want a finished, no-longer-unfolding text. I don’t want there ever to be a set of Buffy DVDs that I can’t do anything with.

Coda: Way More Hate than Love

The balanced, temperate words above were written only a short way into Season Seven, before I realised how horrifically Buffy the Vampire Slayer had gone off the rails. It’s many months now since I have made any attempt to defend the show. Instead I have taken to bitterly muttering about how much better it would have been if they’d finished in the Sixth Season, making "Normal Again" the final episode. I’m now one of those people I used to defend the show against. There is no one more bitter than an ex-true believer. Color me narky and picky.

I’m writing this coda a week after the season finale and to be honest I’m still in shock. On the one hand, I’ve gotten my wish: Season Seven is the last season of Buffy. On the other hand, I’ve also gottten what I most feared: a set of Buffy DVDs I can’t do anything with.

Everything I write in this coda is flying in the face of my assertion that you really can’t have a coherent opinion about a Buffy season until it’s come out on DVD and you’ve seen it at least five times. I’m not saying I won’t change my mind, but right now I’m looking forward to watching Season Seven on DVD about as much as I look forward to a 24 hour plane ride in cattle class.

Season Seven was a nightmare. Only three episodes I would describe as good (forget about looking for any works of genius—a "Once More, With Feeling", a "Hush"—there weren’t any): "Selfless" 7.5, "Conversations With Dead People" 7.7 and "Chosen" 7.22. Each of these episodes had problems. "Selfless" added all sorts of resonances to Anya’s character, setting up exciting possibilities for future development. None of them went anywhere. The rest of the season trundled along as if "Selfless" had never happened. The rationale for Tara’s not appearing to Willow was lame in the extreme. Why would Willow be persuaded, even for a second, by the annoying ditz from "Help"? "Chosen" felt exactly like what it was: an episode butchered to fit its hour time slot. Everything except the tedious Spike & Buffy love story was short-changed (I sure wish Faith and Robin Wood had gotten a bit more of that screen time). Anya’s death, which should have been tragic (especially in light of the groundwork laid down in "Selfless"), managed to elicit little more than a "bummer, man" expression from Xander. Hardly anyone else even noticed.

No episode of Season Seven made me cry. Well, okay, except for tears of disbelief that the show could possibly have become so bad. The worst failing of Season Seven has been the writing. Overall it’s been shocking. The humor was forced, and the characters all developed multiple personalities, none of them believable. The Buffy and Spike relationship become as wet and annoying as that of Buffy and Angel. Since when was Buffy a humourless bitch? Had the Scoobies learned nothing that they would so easily turn against her yet again? Since when did these people speak in a series of tedious speeches:

Buffy to Faith: Don’t be afraid to lead them. Whether you wanted it or not, their lives are yours. It’s only gonna get harder. Protect them, but lead them ("Empty Places" 7.19).

And yet, after all, it is Buffy. This is the nasty divorce, but we may in a year or two become friends again. There’s always a chance that those DVDs will work their magic and I’ll be able to come up with a whole new set of Buffy mini-festivals. (I can’t help noticing that "Selfless" is the perfect end to the Anya’s-afraid-of-bunny-rabbits festival.) Right now, though, I’m just so relieved it’s over.


Thanks to Scott Westerfeld, L. Timmel Duchamp and Glenn Yeffeth for all their useful comments on this essay, which was first published in Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Discuss Their Favorite Television Show (Smart Pop series) edited by Glenn Yeffeth.

New York City, 30 May 2003