Helen, who used to do our weeding for us, retired some months ago. She was eighty-one years old.
She started weeding because she wanted to earn a little extra money. She was worried her rent would increase. Not only that, she lived in an upstairs flat, so she didn’t have a garden of her own, and she enjoyed working.
She came once a week, sun, hail or shine. She was fantastic.
By the end of the day she was exhausted, and then she had to get home. It got too much for her, so she finally said she couldn’t do it any more.
Sherylyn was talking to her the other day.
A downstairs flat in the block she lives in had become vacant. Her landlord offered it to her for the same rent she has now. Not only that, he said he wouldn’t increase her rent while she lived in the unit. And that’s not all. He’s pulled up some of the concrete for her out the back, so she can have her own garden.
Helen, may your garden be as beautiful as you made ours.
Growing up, Halloween was a weird celebration other countries (US, and maybe Canada) celebrated. We didn’t.
Over the years, Halloween has become a thing, here, with parents buying scary costumes for their children and the kids going around to neighbors’ houses. Or some of them, anyway. It hasn’t really become a thing in our suburb yet—although I can see it will—because until recently this was mostly a renter’s area, full of students who went to the local TAFE. But that’s changing. We’re in a suburb where the families are moving in. Kids are starting to appear.
So much so that this year we actually bought sweets and had them set aside in case someone rang the doorbell. No one did, so I might add that we had lollies left over (which we’re slowly eating), but … I digress.
For a long time I thought trick or treat meant that you either gave the kids lollies or scared them witless by being really scary. I know better now, but my old version of trick or treat would have worked really well in this last week.
You see, I had an injection in my eye last Tuesday and, to quote my eye doctor, “What must have happened is that somewhere along the way they nicked a blood vessel.”
For the last few days I’ve been going around thinking I looked like a vampire. Believe me, it looked bad. The blood pooled around the eye, totally covering the white. I would have taken a photo, but it looked so bad, I didn’t even want to show it.
I tell you, if it had been Halloween, and my definition of ‘trick or treat’ was scaring kids witless, all I would have had to do was answer the door in the dark and shine a torch on my face. They’d have run, screaming, and probably had nightmares for years afterwards.
Fact number one. I wasn’t a vampire.
For the first few days, I swanned (can I call it that?) around thinking I looked like a vampire. But investigating photos for the blog I realised that the pupils in vampires are red, not the whites of their eyes. So, definitely not a vampire.
In fact, the closest I could come was the Aswang of the Phillipines. A shapeshifting witch who eats unborn foetuses. According to Wikipedia, they’re not harmed by sunlight, they can be befriended, and they talk to you like any normal human. In fact, they even protect their friends and neighbours. They have bloodshot eyes, which is the result of staying up all night searching for where wakes are being held, so they can steal the bodies.
Mind you, my eye isn’t bloodshot. It is absolutely, irrevocably, bloody. There is no white whatsoever. It is red.
Fact number two. You can’t see how bad it is.
Seriously, other people recoil, but you can’t see how awful it looks, unless you look in the mirror.
Fact number three. It makes the eye look smaller.
I have to say, when there’s no white around the eye, the eye looks so much smaller. So all those monsters you read about that have red–or black–eyes where the white should be. Either they’ve got tiny little eyes, or otherwise their eyes are so much bigger than humans.
Fact number four. It could be worse.
I was sitting in a shop today, having my nails done, and the nail technician asked about my eye. By now, I had the spiel down pat. “I had an injection in the eye, and they nicked a blood vessel, and …”
“You’re lucky,” said the lady having her nails done next to me. “My sister had both eyes done. She spent a week walking around, looking like her husband had bashed her.”
I am lucky. It is only one eye. But believe me, I’m holding out for the week to be over.
Life has been somewhat hectic lately. We weren’t sure if we’d get up to Brisbane for this weekend, but in the end we decided to come—admittedly, later than we planned—but here we are at GenreCon.
We chose a different hotel this time, as we didn’t plan on doing anything except go to the conference. This one is as close as we can get to State Library of Queensland without camping out at the library itself.
It’s an older hotel, a cheaper one, and it has this vibe that makes it feel like a motel in a country town. Part of that is because the road (bridge, actually) outside is so busy. Part of it is the old High Surf motel sign across the way. It isn’t actually a motel, it’s a sculpture for Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), but it took a while to work that out.
Nevertheless, all combined, it feels like one of those old towns, back before the freeways bypassed them, where there was a motel on either side of the highway.
With the continual traffic, it feels like one too.
GenreCon highlights, day one?
Claire Coleman, in the plenary session, “The Art and Business of Genre”, talking about editing.
“No one ever finishes editing, they just take it off you.”
Nalini Singh, same session, talking about squirrels as a way to stay engaged and enjoying writing, even when you’re writing to a deadline.
“Give yourself time after your writing day to write the squirrels. Don’t focus only on what you have to do … you have to keep them secret.”
At Conflux a few weeks back, at the ‘Starting Writing Later in Life’ panel, an older member of the audience asked something along the lines of, “You talk about how long it takes to write a book. What’s the point in someone my age starting now? I’ve likely only got one good book in me before I run out of time.”
I’ve thought about that question a lot, since. I can’t remember what was said at the time, but here’s what I think.
Don’t put off your dream because you think you’re too old.
While you may find some dreams harder to do as you get older, if you have the determination, you can do almost anything. Sure, it becomes more difficult. Yuichiro Miura was 80 years old when he climbed Mt Everest, and he probably did it harder than someone half, or even a quarter of his age, but he still did it.
True, too, most people wouldn’t bother.
But we’re not talking hard, physical exercise here, we’re talking writing a novel, which older people can do as well as younger people.
“Sure,” you may say. “But we’re not talking about writing a single novel. We know we can do that. We’re talking about making a writing career out of it.”
And it’s true, some of us might die or become incapacitated before we got any further than the first book. But we don’t have to get old to do that.
Would I go through the hassle of writing a book and having it published if I knew I was only going to have time to publish one book?
There’s something magical about having that first book published. It’s an experience worth having.
Sure, we’d all like to have it again and again, but don’t stop just because you think there might be only time to do it once.
Believe me, it’s worth it, even just for that once.