June 26, 2011 in Dag

Joyously dumb: My writing and pop music

If you’ve taken some time to look at my “What is dag-lit?” page, you may have noticed that one of the ways I used to describe dag-lit was “joyously dumb. But what on earth is that meant to mean? It’s a bit tricky to explain but I’ll try.

Believe it or not, it actually has more to do with music than pure writing. Pop music to be specific. I’m a big fan off pop music. And this is where it gets a bit tricky, because there are lot’s of different definitions of what pop music actually is.

When I’m referring to pop music, I’m talking generally about music that’s not classical or jazz. It might be rock’n’roll or reggae or have a blues or country sort of edge to it. I tend not to put things into categories so much. I usually refer to it all as pop music.

I suppose that like anything, musical appreciation is subjective. Not everybody likes the same sort of things. And I certainly don’t like all “pop music”. I’m especially not fond of a lot of the production line, machine-like stuff that seems to be all over the radio these days (then again I might just be showing my age).

Pop music isn’t clever like classical or jazz. It doesn’t have lots of fancy chords or tricky time changes or all those other complicated things that can be picked apart by music scholars. As a form of music, it’s pretty dumb. But to me that’s part of its appeal. And when it’s done well, it has a kind of magic to it that just takes you away into another world completely. Makes you tap your feet and hum away, and leaves you in a good mood for hours. And that’s what I mean when I refer to the joyously dumb.

But there are certain musical artists who (to me at least) are able to achieve even more. These are the writers and performers who can marry pop music with great ideas, themes and lyrics. One of my personal favourites is R.E.M. A couple of great Australian (New Zealand?) examples are the wonderful Crowded House and a more recent Melbourne-based band called Augie March. These bands write really intelligent and intriguing lyrics to music that has all the joyous dumbness of the greatest pop music.

So, at last, getting back to the subject of my writing. What I’ve just described is exactly what I want to achieve as a writer. I don’t want to write sophisticated literature that will be picked apart by academics at universities. I want to write stuff that moves people, and takes them away to a joyous place, like the best pop music. But I want to do more than that as well. I want to be just that little bit smart, to leave my readers thinking a bit as well as feeling good.

But I guess that that, just like music, is totally subjective. I’ll leave it to my readers to let me know if I’ve succeeded.

June 5, 2011 in Dag

Goldilocks and the Fashion Police

Once upon a time, there was a lovely little girl named Goldilocks.  She had long hair of gold and a kindly heart.  Goldilocks was always trying to help her friends.  Whenever it rained, she made sure to carry a spare umbrella, just in case someone else had forgotten theirs.  And if anybody accidentally bought too much food at the grocery store, she was happy to carry some of their bags home for them.  Yes, everybody in the town loved Goldilocks.  There was only one thing wrong with her.  She had no fashion sense.

Every time Goldilocks went out, the townspeople gasped at what she was wearing.  Stripes mixed with flowers.  Knee length socks under boots.  The townspeople could not believe the atrocities against fashion which Goldilocks was committing.  They tried to drop hints to her, left copies of Cleo and Cosmo under her doorway while she was out, but it was to no avail.  Goldilocks continued to wear short skirts over denim overalls and green stockings with orange shoes.

Finally the people could take no more.  They organised a town meeting to discuss the situation.

“This cannot go on,” cried the mayor.  “We can’t let her continue flaunting the rules of fashion while we try to go about our daily business.”

The rest of the townspeople all agreed, but no one could come up with a plan of action.  They all loved Goldilocks too much and didn’t want to offend her.

Then one man stepped forward.  A small man, dressed all in black, that nobody had ever seen before.  He stood up on the podium and said, “what we need to do is call in the fashion police.”

“Who are the fashion police?” asked the townspeople eagerly.

“The fashion police enforce the rules of fashion,” replied the man.  “If they ever see anyone breaking those rules, they put them up against the wall and shoot them.”

At first, the townspeople were somewhat dismayed by this.  Without Goldilocks, who would be there to help them rebuild their homes when the cold winter winds blew them over?  And who would give food to the orphans when there was no one else to provide for them?  But the man said there was no other alternative.

“Think of the effect she must be having on your children,” he insisted.  “How would you feel if they all began to dress like her?”

The townspeople knew he was right.  Without any delay, they called in the fashion police.  Goldilocks was tried, convicted of crimes against fashion, and shot, all in the same afternoon.

Now things are very different in that little town.  Whenever it rains, nobody will let you share their umbrella. And if you’ve done too much shopping, you’ll just have to carry those bags home yourself.  But these seem like a small price to pay.  Because since the fashion police came to town, nobody has ever been out of fashion again.

Note: I wrote this story for a short story class after sitting in a train listening to a group of girls criticising the clothes other travellers were wearing. Some of the quotes were taken direct.

May 27, 2011 in Dag

Blog Tour De Troops

Welcome to the next stop in the blog tour de troops. I’m welcoming you from down under – Melbourne Australia.

Before I begin, I just want to make sure that you’ve already checked out Jennifer Provost’s post. And when you’re done here, pop over to Kat Lively.

We Aussies have a lot in common with Americans. We both value a lot of the same things. So when I’m offering thanks to the American troops, I’d like to add a special note to any Australian troops out there as well.

I’d also like to talk a bit about the book, Doodling I’m offering up today. It’s a humorous fantasy about a different kind of freedom. The freedom to get away from the hustle and bustle of our fast moving world and live life at a nice, relaxing pace. At least that’s what the hero of the story, Neville, wants to do when he stops trying to keep up and decides to let go and fall off the world.

As the story progresses, Neville discovers that it’s not so easy to escape from the world. Maybe there’s a message in there about taking responsibility, and the fact that we are grateful for people who are prepared to make sacrifices.

Then again, maybe it’s just a funny kind of story. I’ll leave it up to you to decide. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, check out the review at Eulana.

While I’m in gratitude mode, I also want to thank the fine folk at the Indie Book Collective for making this fantastic event possible, and for the rest of the great work they do.

But don’t just sit there. Please post a comment and I’ll get a copy of Doodling out to you. And don’t stop here – make sure you head off to visit Kat Lively next. And then keep on going. There’s lots more free books available, plus a chance to win a kindle for yourself and a troop as well.

One final note to any commenters – please excuse any delays I have responding as I’m most likely in a totally different time zone. And please leave your email so I can pass on the book details to you.

Thank you to all commenters for supporting me and the troops. As this event has now officially closed, I won’t be responding to any further comments.

May 22, 2011 in Dag

The Strange Case of Arthur Fribble.

Arthur Fribble’s strange condition began to become apparent while he was in primary school.

His grade one teacher was the first to notice it.  She had asked the class the simple question, “what colour is the sky?” and Arthur had correctly replied, “blue.”  After being congratulated for this response, young Arthur sneezed.  Just one little short sharp sneeze, the teacher recalled when questioned about it many years later.

As the condition developed, it soon manifested itself in many of Arthur’s activities, both in the classroom and the playground.  Successfully completing a short spelling test was enough to cause the boy to break out in spots, while if he ever kicked a goal during a lunchtime football game, his eyes would begin to water, his cheeks would puff up, and he would burst into a series of urgent, uncontrollable sneezes.

The high school years were difficult ones for Arthur.  Teenagers can be cruel, and Arthur’s classmates could not resist ridiculing him at every opportunity.  But curiously enough, after these sessions of teasing, Arthur’s condition always seemed to clear up.  It was only after the other kids had left him alone for a while, and his self confidence had begun to return, that it would reemerge.  He might perform well on an exam, or summon up the courage to talk to a girl he had a bit of a crush on, and instantly all the symptoms, the rashes, the runny noses, the bloodshot eyes, would reappear.

As poor Arthur left school and headed out into the big, bad world, things were not looking bright for him.  After failing his final exams, he struggled to hold onto a job and soon found himself friendless and miserable.  It seemed that there was no hope left.  But thanks to a chance encounter with the famed immunologist, Dr Rheinstrom Bergstrom, things began to change for him.  It was Dr Bergstrom who recognised the strange pattern of Arthur’s condition.  As long as Arthur’s life was going nowhere and he was achieving nothing, just getting by from day to day, then he was alright.  But as soon as things started to pick up, and Arthur began to get back on his feet and move forward with his life, then the condition would reassert itself.  From these observations, Dr Bergstrom was able to make his extraordinary diagnosis:

Arthur Fribble was allergic to success.

I last saw Arthur about six months ago.  Although things still weren’t easy for him, I was glad to hear that he was doing a lot better.  He had begun a university degree and he proudly informed me, while only sneezing six times, that he had managed to pass all exams so far.  But I was most pleased to discover that he had actually begun going out with women.  He told me that every time he went on a date, he made sure to bring cortisone cream, anti-histamines, and a couple of condoms.

Just in case he got lucky.

May 7, 2011 in Dag

The House Call

It was the first house call I’d made in a very long time.

I’d been in general practice for fifteen years but things had gotten a little slow. Changes in demographics, people said. A new generation of young folk moving into the area, with a preference for big faceless medical clinics rather than a small, friendly local practice. I didn’t know much about that. But I did know that for the first time ever I was starting to have trouble making my ends meet.

A good friend had suggested locum-ing as the solution. “Hours aren’t great but it’s good money,” he advised. “If you do it for a couple of months, you might not have a life but you’ll clear up those debts, no problem.”

So here I was, knocking on a strange door in a strange block of flats in a suburb I didn’t often find myself, particularly not at eleven o’clock at night. As I waited for a response, I tried to prepare for this novel experience. Practising my bedtime manner. Repeating over and over in my head the different ways I could introduce myself. Introductions had long since ceased being a requirement of my regular work. Every one of the small roster of patients I saw had been on my books for over ten years. Obviously this was part of the problem.

As there was no reply from inside, I knocked again. Eventually I heard a faint voice coming from somewhere on the other side of the door:

“It’s open. Just come in.”

I turned the handle, pressed open the door and stepped into the flat. I could see straight away that it was a male’s apartment. The floor was littered with old newspapers, football magazines and empty beer cans. I made a mental note of this to myself. The name of the patient I was here to see was Pat, an epithet that was highly non gender-specific. Now I had a better idea of whom I was to be treating.

But when I arrived in the only bedroom within the flat, I was surprised to find the occupant of the bed was in fact a woman. She would have been somewhere in her late forties or early fifties, with shoulder-length brown hair and a friendly, although rather worn-out, face. However the most striking thing about this woman was her size. Lying flat on the bed, her sheets rose almost two metres above the level of the mattress, giving the appearance of a head sticking out the entrance of a brightly coloured igloo.

Stepping into the room, I tried to appear relaxed. “I’m here to see Pat,” I said cautiously.

She nodded and then opened her mouth to speak, but before any words could come out she sneezed loudly.

Relaxing at her affirmation, I pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed. I introduced myself and then opened my briefcase to take out my consulting pad and pen.

I checked my notes. “And you’ve had a problem with a lingering cold?” It was half question, half statement.

She nodded again. “For almost a month now. It just won’t go away.”

“I see.” I quickly considered the best way to take this further. Most likely the underlying problem wasn’t the cold itself. But how to break it diplomatically? It had become such a sensitive issue in these politically-correct times. I decided to follow my instincts; something about her told me she was an open sort of person and direct was the best way to go. Besides, in her condition she’d probably heard it many times before.

“I’ll see what I can do. I’m afraid your weight is probably a factor in the difficulty you’re having trying to throw off this infection.”

I paused, waiting to see whether I’d caused any offence. Fortunately my first impressions were correct. Far from being upset, she actually grinned. It was the reply that followed that threw me for a six.

“I’m not overweight.”

“You’re not?” I tried to make my response more of a polite comment than the exclamation it probably turned out to be.

“No,” she chuckled. “It’s okay, everybody makes that mistake. I’m definitely not overweight. I’m actually pregnant.”

Pregnant! That changed everything.

“This is a real concern,” I said. “It may be best to get you to a hospital for some proper checks. When are you due?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t know.”

“But you must have some idea. How long have you been pregnant for?”

“Twenty-seven years,” she replied casually.

“Twenty-seven years?” I repeated. “But that’s ridiculous, Pat.”

“I’m not Pat,” she said. “I’m Julie.”

“But I’m here to see Pat. Has there been a mistake?”

“No. No mistake. You are here to see Pat.”

“Who is Pat then?”

“He’s my son.”

“Well where is he?”

She pointed at her stomach. “Right here.”

At that point, I was just about ready to get up and leave. As far as I could tell, she needed a psychiatrist, not a doctor. It was only her beseeching and imploring, coupled with some fairly serious sniffing and coughing, that convinced me to stay. And that’s how I got to hear the extraordinary story of Julie and her twenty-seven year-old unborn son, Pat.

Pat was not Julie’s first child. Her daughter, Emily, had just turned three when she received the joyous news that baby number two was on the way.

At first, everything seemed to be going as per normal. She went through the regular battery of tests and ultrasounds, all of which showed that the baby was developing quite naturally. She did suffer from a slight case of morning sickness but that had cleared up by the end of the first trimester. Therefore she was not at all concerned when she hadn’t felt even the slightest twinge of labour three weeks after the due date had passed. After all Emily had been late as well. So although her obstetrician strongly recommended that she be immediately induced, she strenuously opposed any such interventions.

“The baby will come when the baby is ready,” she had said in response to anybody who offered her advice or opinions.

After another month, with the obstetrician now reduced to a nervous wreck, she finally consented to another ultrasound. To everyone’s great relief, this revealed a perfectly healthy, though somewhat cramped, two month-old baby. And although she had originally planned to defer on finding out the gender of the child until after the birth, she figured that she’d waited long enough. As a result, she was delighted to discover that her second child was almost certainly a boy.

By the end of the first year, and with no further sign that the child had any inclination towards coming out, Julie decided it was time to bestow a name. She choose Patrick as it had been the name of her much beloved paternal grandfather. She even approached the local church about having the boy baptized, but to her great disappointment they would not agree to performing the ceremony on an unborn child, even one who was now over a year old. In disgust, she cut off all ties with the church, the first, but unfortunately not the last, schism her unusual condition would precipitate.

As Pat grew, Julie tried to give him as normal an upbringing as possible. A good education was particularly important to her, but finding the right institution did turn out to be problematic. He was briefly enrolled in a number of different schools, both within the public and private systems, but unfortunately none of them met his very special needs. By around the middle of grade two, she finally gave up and Pat spent the rest of his childhood in home schooling. This seemed to suit him well and he showed a particular aptitude for mathematics, although his reading skills were never better than average.

While educationally things were going well, the situation began to take its toll on Julie’s family. Both her husband and daughter began to become impatient and to harangue Julie at every opportunity, insisting that it was time Pat finally be born. To this, Julie always maintained the same reply:

“He’ll come when he’s ready.”

This definitely did not mollify her husband. He claimed that Julie was babying the child, not allowing him to grow up and become a man.

“You keep treating him like this, and he’ll end up like some sooky little mummy’s boy,” he complained.

Stung by this criticism, Julie did everything she could to ensure that Pat had suitable ‘masculine’ influences. Although trying out for any local sporting teams was obviously not an option, she made sure to take him to the cricket and football at every opportunity. Still, that was not good enough and the two divorced over ten years ago, although the settlement turned out to be quite amicable and her ex-husband regularly came over to watch action movies on DVD and play video games with his son.

More hurtful to her were the conflicts with Emily, who for years whined and moaned that Pat was the favoured one and that Julie was always putting herself out to look after him at the expense of her elder child. Regrettably, the rift that developed between mother and daughter was never mended and to this day the two do not speak.

At around this stage in her recollections, Julie lit up a cigarette and began to draw deeply on it. I indicated that in her current condition, I did not think that smoking was advised. She nodded in agreement.

“You’re right. It’s a disgusting habit. I’ve been trying for ages to get him to quit. But he tells me he can’t. He just doesn’t have the willpower.”

I was surprised to hear this because otherwise willpower did not seem to be something Pat was lacking in. Despite all the setbacks and complications described previous, he was able to do well enough in his final exams to gain a place at university, where he completed a degree in computer science and information technology. Since then he had never had any problems with gaining employment, mostly via extremely well paid, short-term appointments.

Julie has, quite rightly, derived much satisfaction from Pat’s unconventional path through life.

“The greatest day of my life was when he moved out of home and found his own place to live,” she said proudly. “They say so many kids of his generation are still living at their parents’ houses when they’re thirty. But Pat moved out when he was only twenty-three.”

Since then he’s been able to build up quite a social life, even establishing relationships with a number of girls, although he has struggled to maintain these in the long-term. In fact his last girlfriend only just walked out a couple of months ago. Julie had done her best to convince her to stay but unfortunately, the young woman was deeply unsatisfied with the direction the relationship was heading.

“It’s just not good enough,” she had said. “He keeps saying that yes, one day he will be born, but he never tells me when. I feel like he’s just not prepared to make a commitment to me.”

“He’ll come when he’s ready,” was the advice Julie had given to her. It wasn’t enough to convince her to stay.

“But what about you?” I asked when Julie had finished telling me her story. “You seem to have given up a lot for Pat. Don’t you feel like you deserve to have a life for yourself?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “What’s a mother meant to do except look after her children the best she can. I know there are a lot of aspects of his life I have to put up with. The rowdy boy’s nights I don’t care for at all, especially all that drinking. I never could stand the taste of beer. And the filthy state he always leaves this place in. I’m constantly telling him, why should I have to clean up after you? You made the mess, you clean it up. But it never seems to sink in.”

There didn’t seem to be much left to say. Julie and Pat obviously had a relationship they were both comfortable with. Some might suggest it was unhealthily co-dependent but it seemed to work for them. I prescribed a mild antibiotic for Pat, after checking with Julie whether he had any problems with allergies or sensitivities. I also advised her on some over-the-counter medication that might be useful to help reduce his symptoms.

“Don’t forget to make sure Pat takes it easy and drinks lots of liquids. I would strongly suggest you take him to see his regular doctor if this cold has not cleared up by the end of the week. And probably best to make an appointment for you to see an obstetrician as well, just in case.”

“I see him every month. Have done for the last twenty-seven years,” she replied. “Still demands that I have Pat induced but I’ll have nothing of it.”

“You do what’s right for you. Just make sure you take care of yourself. And tell Pat he should be taking better care of himself as well. Easy on the beer and ciggies.” I packed up my things and stood up. I had been here far longer then I’d anticipated and there were numerous other patients I was required to see that night. Still, before I turned to walk out of the bedroom, I found I just couldn’t stop myself asking one more question.

“If you don’t mind me asking, do you think Pat will ever be born?”

Julie didn’t seem to mind. She smiled a long-practised smile and gave a world-weary shrug of her shoulders.

“He’ll come when he’s ready.”