Odin, as seen by Arthur Rackham.
I’ve been through a few non-bloggable ups and downs in the last year, and it has been hard to attend to my writing. I hear this a lot from students I teach: they often stop writing when life gets a bit complex (as it always will at some stage) and then they fall out of their stories and can’t get back in. Absolutely, it is difficult to concentrate on your writing when there are so many distractions and demands on mental and emotional energy.
But I’ve found that if life gets hard and I stop writing, my melancholy deepens, my sense of hopelessness intensifies, my feelings of displacement echo more loudly. I am 70 000 words into Isabella’s Gift, the next Kimberley Freeman novel (you can read about it over there), but have temporarily put it on hold to attend to some heavy paperwork and sort out a bit of research. Because it’s bad for me to stop writing all together, I’m writing a short story that is quickly turning into a novella. It’s called, tentatively, “Dreams of Wild Blood”, and it’s about a girl who has grown up with supernatural strength and has learned to hide it, and she finds out on the eve of her wedding that Odin is her father. Adventure, drama, and cage-fighting with frost giants ensues. Dear Lord I am having a good time writing it. I’ve spent this morning in bed with lots of cups of tea, a copy of the Poetic Edda at my elbow, and my netbook on my lap, banging out a couple of thousand words. So. Much. Fun. It makes the mountain of legal forms waiting for me on my desk much less foreboding.
And that’s my point. Writing fixes everything. Instead of saying, “I’m too depressed to write”, you should say “I’m depressed: I must write.” Don’t make writing another chore, another heavy expectation, another unwanted obligation to fit into your miserable day. Make it the place you go to get away from all that shit, your rabbit-hole, your luxurious den of Viking mythology (or whatever it is you are writing about). There is so much pleasure in writing: why deny yourself of it in times that are bleak?
“Dreams of Wild Blood” will be published in a new e-journal called Australian Review of Fiction in February next year. I’ll let you know.
I’ve tried to put getting old off as long as I possibly can. Sometimes I knock the GST off when I tell people my age. I try to keep up with technology. I listen to new bands. I refuse to mutter darkly about Gen Y (without Gen Y, we’d haz no lolcats!). But today, I feel really really old. The reason? I’ve just found out that it’s been twenty years since the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind album.
Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.
Twenty frickin years.
I remember all the hype in the 80s, when the twenty year anniversary of Sgt Pepper’s happened: a bunch of (what I then considered) lunatic cashed-up boomer hippies grasping pathetically to their youths going around saying, “It was twenty years ago today.” I revelled in my twenties as though they were never going to run out. I was never going to be a lunatic cashed-up Gen-X grunger grasping pathetically to my youth going around saying, “Oh well whatever never mind.”
And yet, I do still listen to my 90s music. There’s plenty of Radiohead and Pumpkins on my fancy iPod in my luxury 4WD. I play Astrid videos of The Breeders and Sonic Youth on my giant flat screen TV. I often stream my Tori Amos and Kristin Hersh albums via my integrated wireless sound system. OH MY GOD, I AM BECOMING A GIANT CLICHE!
So much has happened in twenty years. I got me an educashun, I published 21 books, I had two children, I started and ended a marriage. I have lived such a lot of my life. Why, then, does Nevermind feel like it was just yesterday?
I recently listened to author Claire Corbett talk about the phrase “time flies”. In fact, as she pointed out, the original Latin (tempus fugit) means “time flees”. Time is a fugitive. It’s running away from you. I really feel that today. A special shout-out to my Mellon Collie Gen-X friends on this fine morning, here in the future.
It was my daughter’s fifth birthday this week, and she spent the day of her party running around dressed as a Viking. Astrid is as susceptible as any five-year-old girl to Disney princesses, and has plenty of pink princess outfits, pink high-heels with butterflies on, and pink strings of beads. The pinkalanche started early: she identifies strongly as a girl and is drawn to girly things. Being let loose in my make-up case is her idea of a perfect afternoon.
But it’s always been important to me and to her father to make sure that she’s given alternatives to that girliness. Pink high heels and make-up are fun, but they seem too often to encourage meekness, coquetry, submission, even stagnation (one can’t, after all, run very far in high heels). Early Disney princesses, for example, hope that “Some day my prince will come”; thank Walt for Rapunzel, who spends her movie barefoot and swinging around by her hair like an action hero.
From her earliest days on this planet, Vikings have been important to Astrid. Her name means, after all, “strength of the Aesir” (that’s right: nothing to do with stars; her name is Germanic, not Latin). When I was 33 weeks pregnant and nearly went into premature labour, I was given steroids to ensure her lungs developed quickly. Since birth, Astrid has always been fearsomely strong, making me to wonder on many occasions whether the steroids were responsible, rather like Obelix falling into the magic potion as an infant. Her early interest in Vikings—possibly because Mummy is interested in Vikings and has books lying about—was encouraged strongly. Playing Vikings gives her a way of letting out aggression (as she runs about the house with a plastic sword and a stuffed toy as a “war dog”); it gives her a type of female body to grow into (she’s going to be six feet one day by all estimations); it gives her a reason to see strength as desirable, rather than something to hide under her eyelashes (and, boy, does she have a lot of eyelashes!). Vikings let Astrid be fierce, and I love her fierceness, her brilliance, her fire.
Go out and conquer something for your birthday, my lovely girl. Forget about being a princess: become a queen.