Loup Garou

So, Halloween has just passed–a time I really enjoy, but which remains somewhat controversial in Australia.

One of the things that annoys me most is the annual whinge on Facebook about how “American” it all is.

It is true that the popularisation of Halloween trick or treating has largely made its way to our Southern shores courtesy of American television and movies. It is patently not true that Americans invented Halloween itself. Nor is it accurate to say that Halloween didn’t exist in Australia until very recently. Trick or treating was not a thing; true. But All Souls’ Day (or All Hallows’ Eve) has always been a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic church, as is the following day, All Saints’ Day. Growing up, our priest was quite insistent that we were expected to attend Mass at least three times in that particular week, so it’s not the kind of thing I’d forget.

I also love to point out the Holy Day of Obligation thing to people who think that Halloween is somehow Satanic. It’s a better argument for that particular audience than my all time favourite one, which comes from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. In that particular strain of pop culture lore, Halloween is actually the least scary day of the year, since the in-story “real” supernatural beings find the human performativity of spookiness so very cliche as to render the day “like, dead, for the undead;” a potential night off for vamps and slayers alike.

Samhain, the pagan version of what would become Halloween, is actually of Celtic origin. Turnips were carved in the shape of a face, and lit from within, to attract Jack, a will’o the wisp now better known as Jack o’ the Lantern for reasons that will soon become apparent; a disembodied soul who roamed looking for a new body each year. He did this on the day when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was thinnest (observed on October 31). Jack got fooled into going into the lanterns rather than humans or their homes. Kids wore disguises to discombobulate him further.

When folks moved to the American colonies, they switched to pumpkins which were more plentiful and a lot easier to carve.

Carving pumpkins are available via Coles Delivery, these days

So it ain’t an American idea. And I also wonder why, on this one day of the year, it’s suddenly acceptable to throw around “American” as an insult. “Oh, it’s so American” folks sneer, as they hop in their Ford to do a Maccas run, before settling in to binge-watch Netflix for the evening.

The other Facebook cohort who get under my skin are the people who ask which day they should go trick or treating. (I am, for now, going to ignore the “trickatreat” crowd–yes, people actually spell it like that–and the fact that practically nobody seems to understand that “trick or treat?” is an actual question with a couple of possible answers). Halloween is like Christmas, folks; it is not a moveable feast. If you decide to celebrate on another day because it’s more convenient for your family, you can’t reasonably expect other families to know that you made that call.

All that aside, I love the idea of the thin veil; of our loved ones being close(r) at hand. I find it a loving, comforting concept, rather than a scary one. Maybe we can blame my time in Japan where there was an altar to deceased family members, and we left offerings like mandarins in Summer when families went back to their hometowns to visit. When I explained it to my Australian Mum, she said it sounded kind of like Santa, but with relatives you missed.

And what’s not to love about that?

At this time of year, I am occasionally contacted by people looking at running a “Halloween story” and this year, I heard from Virginie Nussbaum at the Swiss newspaper, Le Temps.

You can find that article here, but it is behind a paywall. I don’t read French, but with the help of Google Translate I could get the gist of it! Here’s the cover image and the title: “The werewolf, this Other who haunts our nightmares.”

A New Normal (again)

This morning I received an email asking if I knew how to find one Dr Roslyn Weaver. Well, yes, as a matter of fact; I’d just been chatting with her over Messenger a few hours earlier. Oh yes, and I saw her a bit over a week ago, right before she went on her honeymoon and then moved to the UK (again–she moved there several years ago, and then to Canada, but now she’s back in England with her freshly minted husband, who resides there). And so we’re back to the future, still on different continents and in different time zones, but it’s somehow also very familiar.

The author of the email is trying to get in touch with Ros to send a copy of a publication that in her words, has been a long time in the making. This was also apropos because we’d been commiserating over publications that have disappeared into thin air once all the work was done. Notably we once both wrote chapters for an edited collection on Glee that has never seen the light of day and now, twelve years in, we figure the content is pretty well out of date!

But, just 24 hours before the aforementioned email, I received another one, saying that a co-edited collection on which I’ve been working has passed peer review.

My chapter within it was first written nine years ago. Then in 2019 one of the other contributors reached out to ask if the publication had ever happened, and after some sleuthing and checking that the original publisher was no longer interested in the long (un)dead project, we decided to take it on ourselves.

This was my motivational screensaver for quite a time, there.

And so, just like that, I go from not having any research projects on the go, to really needing to prioritise reading and acting on the feedback and getting it back to the publisher in as timely a manner as is humanly possible.

To add to the timeline crunch, we have another (our last!) SAL period coming up and I’ve also been asked to “reduce my leave liability,” which means effectively heading to regional Victoria in a few weeks to hang out with one of my favourite adopted siblings and my faux-niblings, only this time I won’t have to log on remotely and work while I’m there.

And I also decided to take a small step towards something we’ve been planning since April of 2021. For the first time in my life, I’ve worked somewhere long enough (and not as a casual!) to qualify for Long Service Leave. I’d pretty much ignored that milestone for a couple of years, because COVID hasn’t been conducive to travel and we had our bonus unpaid three weeks each year to use up as well as annual leave. But, luck permitting, next Easter we will head Up Over for what I am officially calling baseball leave.

Anaheim,CA/Los Angeles. Oct 29 2016, The main entrance of Angel Stadium, a major league baseball team in Anaheim,CA.

Apparently it will be a new manager at the helm after the canning of Joe Madden overnight. It was only a matter of hours between me putting in the paperwork and his shock dismissal.

All I can think is, my boys Jared Walsh, Shoei Ohtani and Raisel Iglesias had better still be there in Season 2023.

I blinked and now it’s December …

In some ways, not much has changed since I last blogged. My oven, for example, is still dodgy.

In other ways, lots has changed. A manager of one of the campuses I oversee has retired, under the Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme offered by the Uni as a response to the fiscal emergency we’re facing as a result of COVID. Others have also left, and there are further redundancies coming early next year. And my boss is leaving to take up options outside of academia. So the sense of impending mass and ugly change hangs heavy around the place, and off-colour jokes about The Hunger Games abound.

On the home front, we’ve got the Christmas lights up with only minimal mutterings about other family members and weight-pulling.

At work, had a bit of a red letter day on Monday when my PhD student submitted her thesis.

As for the book project: well, I’m behind, but the contributors’ chapters are filtering through, so that’s nice motivation and a bit exciting to see the stack of papers grow steadily more book-like.

Gratuitous sexy vampire shot

In the current maelstrom, celebrating these sorts of wins is difficult. But I think maybe that partaking in Christmas traditions and trying to be suitably “festive” is one of the few things we can do to avoid succumbing to the 2020 malaise more fully.

At least, I hope so.

I’m late, I’m late

… for WordPress Wednesday. Clearly I need to update my calendar and pop my blogging spots back in there so that I can chase them around the page as other meetings pop up!

I have managed to put “writing sprint” times in there for about a fortnight, so there’s that. The “Writing Sprint” idea comes from Academic Writing Coach Cathy Mazak. Basically, you block out an hour or two (or in my case, 1.5) each workday for a fortnight, just to focus on one writing project. I popped this in to my diary at the start of last week, because I felt I had hit a COVID-wall and my motivation was lacking and my writing wheels spinning. My original plan was to use it to get somewhere with our Vampire Diaries project. Which I did, in fact, start (well, I rounded up my notes into one spot–they were previously in numerous folders on internal and external hard drives, and a rogue thumb drive). But then a week ago I received a list of further suggested revisions from the Revise and Resubmit I was so happy to get off my desk earlier. So I changed gear, which is probably not really what the Writing Sprint is about. I was pretty cranky that I only had a week to do the extra revisions, but then I got some advice from another academic, got over myself and did it in three days.

So for the last two, I’ve been back to focussing on Tyler Lockwood.

He never looks this cool and calm in the show.

For this book project, I originally wrote a chapter about masculinity and the adolescent/lycanthropic transformation of high school jock Tyler Lockwood in The Vampire Diaries television series. (In the books, he was called Tyler Smallwood, but apparently that would have been *ahem* unpalatable for contemporary YA TV!). Thing is, it’s been a record-breaking number of years since that piece was accepted, so now it needs some pretty major revisions prior to publication. Back then, The Originals sequel, in which Tyler featured, wasn’t even an idea! I’m currently reviewing scenes from a decade ago to remind myself of the finer details of his origins storyline, but the bulk of the update will come in tracking how his character developed after the original time of writing (hint: significantly).

When I’m working on any piece, I use a wallpaper of the cast or character as a means of silently nagging myself. The image above is what is currently on my homescreens. Believe me when I say that after a while you just want to finish the writing project in order to be able to change the screen to something less guilt-inducing.

On the home project front, things are going much slower, but deliberately so. With just the main bedroom left to paint and only a couple of days of the school tern left, we’ve agreed that I’ll leave my husband alone to limp through to the end of the week with his room undisturbed. Then I’ll attack and finish it in the school holidays, when he’s rebooting. Depending on how my work juggle goes and if I can sneak in a day or two of leave myself, we might even be able to get in some gardening time after that.

In the meantime, I’m trying to “redo” some of the chaotic areas of my home. After six months of nothing being in quite the right place, I’m ready to do a major Spring clean, I think.

If it seems as though I’ve been renovating forever, then prepare yourselves for these “on this day” memories from NINE years ago. Nine!

Basically, we’d agreed that the whole new kitchen thing would happen–you guessed it–in the September holidays. Tony was taking the kids to QLD to see his parents (those were the days!) and I was going to supervise the project. To save money, I was going to do my own demolition and I thought I’d get a head start on it the last few days of term.

So he came home late one night and the pantry, rangehood, and cupboard doors were gone. Our fridge was already outside on the verandah where it had lived since we move in, in March of 2007–because it didn’t fit in our tiny kitchen.

The next day, the kids (then in Primary school) wanted to do more. I unhooked the oven and we wrestled it outside to sit on the front lawn, awaiting the rubbish removal folks. Then they asked wasn’t the wall coming down, too?

None of this cutting whole sheets out for us, oh no. Armed with a domestic hammer, we started taking it out, each piece about the size of a twenty cent piece.

Tony came home from work and found Rob delightedly swinging a hammer at the wall. He looked at me, stunned. “I thought you were getting a bloke in to do that?” he asked.

Ten-year-old-Rob turned to him with a big grin and announced with perfect comic timing: “I AM the bloke!”

Tony helped me get the washing machine outside before they headed North. And then various hijinks ensued with some tradies not turning up when they were supposed to, and others saying they couldn’t proceed until the missing ones did their bit, and me sitting here by myself in a shell, surviving on BBQed food and takeaway, with all my loungeroom furniture on the back patio and no water in the centre of the house. My dear mate Jody called and heard the distress in my voice over the phone, and said, “I can be there in two hours.” She drove down from Sydney, helped me wrestle the washing machine back into the house so I could at least do laundry, and camped here with me.

By the time Tony and the kids got home, it was all done and I had all the furniture back in place. I don’t think I’d be physically capable of the latter feat now. The muscle aches and back pain alone have meant it’s taken me this long just to paint, with no demo. Recovering after each room takes longer than recovering from minor surgery would have when I was younger!

So, I am very much looking forward to finishing this all up, and then not doing any more work inside the house this year. We’ve still got some longer term plans and there’s plenty to do in the yard, but for now: the end is in sight.

And a good thing, too, because I’ve got writing to do!

Broken Run

I missed WordPress Wednesday next week, after six (?) weeks of being good. I took last Wednesday as an annual leave day. Since we can no longer travel anywhere on “proper” holidays, I’ve taken to nabbing a mid-week stay-at-home-and-potter day when the odd day pops up that’s not back-to-back online videoconferenced meetings.

My exciting news for the day is that I have submitted a Revise and Resubmit that has been looming over my head for some time. I had told the editor I needed a month, which would have been up on Monday. Despite my best intentions, I stayed at work until 6pm the last two nights to try to finish it up, and it still took until 3pm today. There should have been dancing on the tables, but instead I headed off to another online meeting.

This week has already been endlessly long, and going to the office and staying until teatime hasn’t really helped. It’s also meant that when I get home, I can barely manage to sort out some dinner and make it to the couch, where mindless television hums along in the background. With a very few exceptions, I wouldn’t even say that what I do is watching TV. It’s more passive than that.

I’ll always make an exception for this.

So, very little more has happened on the reno front. Rob and I made an attempt at clearing his room when he was home last weekend, and I’ve been in a few times to remove mold and cobwebs and try desperately to make it all look and smell cleaner before I really attack it with the Sugar Soap. I hope he wasn’t expecting it to be finished and ready for him to move back in this weekend!

I also haven’t worked on the ScoMo memorial jigsaw puzzle for a bit, but that may be just because it’s getting hard.

Rookie error: thinking a night time image featuring reflections is “pretty.” It’s hard, is what it is.

One thing I did manage to do was to encourage a regional colleague to not be scared of blogging. Erin, our admin assistant at UOW Southern Highlands and a proud recent addition to the ranks of UOW alumni, has started a personal blog where she tells the story behind some of the photos in her Instagram account (an account which sometimes makes me envious, right before I remember I’m older and more sedentary and apparently too lazy to even persist with a jigsaw puzzle when it gets a bit hard!). You can check it out here.

On Not Travelling

**Content warning: Suicidality, bushfires

Today was the worst Coronavirus day on record in Victoria. Again. The NSW Premier announced tougher border restrictions (anyone coming in from Vic now has to go into supervised hotel quarantine at their own expense), and the QLD Premier announced tougher border restrictions heading North, as well. Apparently the whole of NSW is now a “hot spot.” Which is kind of darkly humorous, because while places like Bunnings and Maccas are masking up, the State government is still taking a “meh … if you feel like it … you can” approach to face coverings.

Now, I had no intentions of taking a wee trip at all, but with one best mate in Vancouver, two in Vic, and one in Tassie, as well as elderly and frequently hospitalised in-laws in Queensland, the thought of not being able to pull some cash from the Emergency Fund and get myself to a place of usefulness should I need to, is not at all pleasant.

Apart from not physically being able to travel, I’m also “not travelling well” at the moment. This morning we had a very long meeting of all the folks who have been awarded Global Challenges funding relating the the rolling crises on the South Coast, and began to figure out how the researchers and regional campuses will work together on these projects. Now, this is generally a very good thing, and it’s very exciting to hear people who really care trying to make a positive difference to our people and communities. But lots of talk about being careful not to re-traumatise community members impacted by the bushfires can be a little re-traumatising in and of itself, if you were in fact one of the community members impacted.

This coalesced with a couple of other thing with which I sometimes struggle- and here’s where the content warning really kicks in, so if you need to protect yourself, please do a better job than I unwittingly have the last few days.

So a while back I got a revise and resubmit on a pop culture/disability paper where I got “Reviewer 2ed”–and one of their criticisms was that I argued that multi-(mental illness) diagnosis households are rare onscreen. And so they cited Please Like Me as also having one. So I dutifully over-compensated and watched the series in its entirety. And it does, for quite a small fraction of time, have two housemates who met as in-patients in a private facility. Rose is played by Debra Lawrance (known to many Australians as the second Pippa from Home and Away) and Netflix breakout star Hannah Gadsby plays her roomie, also named Hannah. And (Spoiler Alert – in case you’re like me and haven’t yet seen it, and are, like me, silly enough to watch it without first Googling it) despite the character of Rose having multiple suicide attempts as a major part of her narrative, I was blindsided when her son found her body in one of the very final episodes.

I watched it yesterday.

Suicide onscreen upsets me enormously and my family are all very aware of how much it unsettles me, and why. They are also aware that I am more sensitive at two distinct times of the year: around Australia Day, and right around now. And sometimes we forget why I’m grumpy and unsettled and then look at the calendar and realise. You see, today would have been my better-than-best friend’s 48th birthday, and he died at his own hand in late January when we were both 23.

The “better than best” is an old in-joke of ours. It started when I went to Japan on student exchange, back in 1990. You see, I’m so old that back when I went on student exchange, we had to communicate by mail. And people who’d been through the experience before us would always warn that you’d have a very special letter-writing friend, and it wouldn’t be your “best” friend. And so it was that my “best” friend wrote like twice the whole year I was away, but this very quiet guy who used to hang with our group sometimes and whom I sat next to in roll call, surprised and delighted me by writing hilarious and detailed letters at least once a fortnight. I still have them. His name was Jamie, and he’s the reason our daughter is named Jamie.

I still miss him terribly, and I worry about sharing the story. I try to be careful to only tell my bit, and not encroach on the grief of his family (who have been absolutely wonderful to both our Jamie and her brother alike). But today, as always, he is very much loved and remembered. And I’m going to try show myself some kindness and compassion over the next day or two — the way he did.

Still going …

For the third Wednesday in a row, there are tradies here. The time we made up in the middle there we kind of lost again between the East Coast Low (I think the builders were diverting to working on an ark) and a few of the pieces we were trying to recycle have protested violently at the idea of being recycled.

This is actually where my kids used to play soccer; not where they learned to swim. Lyrebird Park. Photo: Greg Lawrence/South Coast Register

Jamie and I took advantage of the lull over the weekend to get in there and paint the ceiling and walls in that glorious period post-tiling and pre-fittings going in. Painting bathrooms is the painting I hate most of all, because there are so many fixtures and fittings to work around, and it’s really hard to get a painting platform over a toilet or half into a shower or into a bath. So to be able to sneak in while it was essentially a tiled shell was just about perfect. And Jamie deciding that she needed a weekend at home with her family- and being OK with once again jumping on the end of a roller!– certainly made everything faster and more pleasant.


I think today will be the final day, and then we have twenty-four hours of waiting for the silicone to set. Twenty-four hours where I can clean up and repack the vanity, which will mean a good clean-out and we’ll once again have a functional bath (which is what we are currently using to store that which normally lives in the vanity cabinet). We don’t use the bath much, but having it off limits has perversely made me wish I could.

In other news, the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) variation at work has been agreed by staff, so we’re off to Fair Work to ask for our pay to be reduced over the next couple of years. Against this backdrop, we’re all trying to come up with additional efficiencies. I feel sorely disadvantaged in this respect, because there’s not much accountancy in Arts or Education programs. I know I’m mathematically capable, I know I can (and do) manage a household budget, I listen to a lot of finance podcasts where people like Dave Ramsey throw around terms like “profit and loss statement” or “retained earnings” and I’m pretty sure I understand what they are on about, but inevitably I still feel I’m missing stuff.

So far, the readings are making sense but my confidence is not shifting much. We had our first (of four) virtual workshops today. I remain mildly terrified but I’ve paid my money and done 30% of the coursework, so I guess I’m committed!

Back to more “core” business: today I read the final draft of an application the University is putting forward to get some recognition for our staff and the amazing job they did during the bushfires. This is timely in a way, because our thoughts on how to plan, based on what happened over New Year, is due at the end of this week. So in between looking at columns of numbers, I’m looking at columns of recommendations I made earlier, and trying to prioritise them.

In the background, I have two writing projects on the go. Yes, we’re still looking for submissions about The Vampire Diaries! I’m also working on a Revise & Resubmit for a paper about mental illness on television. It was written more than a year ago, and bits and pieces of it have, of course, been adapted into our latest book, but it’s now about shiny-ing up a particular bit in a particular length for a particular audience.

So there it is: a pretty typical week in the life of a pretty typical academic, in many ways: researching, writing, doing admin. With a small side of mid-pandemic bathroom renovation project and local flood warnings thrown in, just to add to the degree of difficulty!

New Leaves

This is the third week in a row that I’ve actually blogged during my dedicated blogging time. I think that might be a record.

This is just one of a number of renewals going on around here. First and foremost, I am sitting here wrapped in a blanket and cursing my lack of foresight because I have been so desperate to be able to use our completely non-functional ensuite again one day, that I inadvertently agreed to have it torn out in what is the coldest week of the Australian winter, each and every year. I know it is the coldest week of the year because where I grew up, it snowed about one day per year, and that day was always just before mid-July. So while my husband is happily reading his book in a gas-heated room, I’m in the room near the wide-open front door, watching my fingers turn blue as I type, because this is where the computer monitors are.

Because I’m apparently incapable of this “taking it easy” thing of which I hear people speak, I decided that I really “needed” to “finish” the interior painting before this all took place. Following on from painting the peeling bedroom as a coronovirus project back in late March, I’ve been slowly but surely deconstructing, painting and then reconstructing the rest of the house. (There was a forced break in there in May, when I took a tumble while trying to peel off masking tape, and smashed my leg up pretty well). So this past weekend I took a couple of extra days, inveigled my long-suffering daughter to give up her extra days, and we did another three rooms, just in time to still be putting one back together this morning when the builders arrived to tear the ensuite out.

This will leave me with the two kids’ bedrooms, the ensuite and the master to deal with post-renovation, and then we will be done. As in, I’m too old to suit up for this task again. Save pennies and pay someone next time. Done.

We also hit a bit of a milestone in my quest for backyard contentment and moves towards self-sufficiency. During the bushfire crisis earlier this year, we had to evacuate to our kids’ flat in Wollongong and bunker down for close to a fortnight. We took the cats with us, but our nine feathered babies had to be boarded out with a friend of a friend (now an actual, first-degree friend) in Corrimal. Jane and her family took beautiful care of our girls, who all came home mid-January.

Unfortunately, we had a number of horrendously hot days after that, and lost the bulk of our flock to the heat. One particularly horrendous morning we lost five girls by mid-morning. Our response was to bring the survivors into the air-conditioned loungeroom and hope for the best.

Poor girls were confused, as were our (indoor) cats. But it worked. And the three companions have been doing OK ever since, but me – notsomuch. “Three is not a flock” has become something of a mantra around here.

And so on Sunday, Jamie and I took a break from painting and headed out to adopt our newest companions; Ruth, Romana and Leela. All three are quite cuddly personalities so far, and have found themselves a spot as far away from the olders girls as they could possibly manage within the confines of our coop. All three have taken up residence inside my late Pop’s mower catcher. It’s pretty snug.

We dusted everyone for mites and gave all six pedicures (ie an oil coating on their legs, which both moisturises and repels nasties). They are all in the coop and run for today with all the activity going on around here, but once the builders go, I’ll let them free range during whatever sunlight is left.

So that’s the home front. But to circle back to the writing stuff, I do have a call for abstracts out. So if you are a fan of The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and/or Legacies, I have an opportunity for you.

You can read the Call for Abstracts here – which is the also a new project. Presenting my website, https://www.kimberleymcmahoncoleman.com/. Essentially, this is a landing page out to the three blogs, and also a spot to list for sale the books Ros and I have published; together, alone, or with others. Hopefully in 2021, Critically Reading The Vampire Diaries will be listed there, too.

50/50 of 2020

Today I’m celebrating that 2020 is half over. It’s been an accursed year, starting with bushfires, and traversing coronavirus, race-based violence overseas and closer to home, an international recession, and massive challenges in the higher education sector. And here in Australia we’ve only just passed midwinter, so the weather feels as bleak as the nightly news. It makes it hard to want to get out of bed and do the voluntary stuff that you know makes you feel better–going for a walk, writing. So it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. “WordPress Wednesday” time is blocked out on my calendar each week. And each week, I move it down, around, and eventually delete it in favour of other projects.

This is life in the time or corona. Plans are not things that are easily followed. Every Facebook memory reminds you of happy times, travelling and visiting people. Incidentally, this time of year is usually PopCAANZ season, so there are a lot of (academic) travel memories at the moment!

Since I last posted, a few things have happened. I spoke to the local St John’s Ambulance division about working with patients on the Autism spectrum. Which I probably should have written about on our autism blog. I’ve been working from home, and working on the home, and stressing over looming changes in the higher education sector, which might have been good fodder for this blog, a la my previous post that included musings on painting and productivity. And the book Ros and I have been working on for ages went through its final corrections and was published, which we’ll no doubt soon mention over on our shared blog.

Gratuitous Plug

Which prompted me to reconsider the messiness of my writing life, such as it is, up until now.

Earlier in the year I was visiting friends in Victoria (back when we could do that without fear of being quarantined or fined). I was chatting with a tech-savvy teen and wishing I could somehow link all the blogs, without having to move them. And we came to the conclusion that it might not be as big a deal as it felt in my Gen-X mind.

So this week, I ponied up and set up a new website, which will serve as a launch pad for all three blogs, as well as housing an online shop where you can purchase any of my publications, as well as Ros’ first book. (I’ve been “fostering” her copies since she up and left the country!)

It kind of feels like turning over a new leaf for the new financial year.

Here’s to a less messy second half of the year. We could all use the restart.

Mea Culpa, and #theafseffect

Forgive me, Readers, for it is WordPress Wednesday, and it has been six weeks since my last post. SIX! Does that make me a lapsed WordPresser?

So, what’s my excuse? Well, the excuses are plentiful and varied. June was something of a blur, as Roslyn and I from Shapeshifters in Popular Culture have been working very hard on finishing off our latest book, which is all about how mental illness is represented (or misrepresented, or just ignored) on TV. And it’s very nearly done. Ros is putting the finishing touches to the chapter on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but it has otherwise all been collated into one document and I’m sorting out referencing and so on (the joys!). As soon as we’re both happy with it, it’s off to the person we very much hope will agree to write the Foreword, and then it will be winging its way through cyberspace to our wonderful publishers at McFarland. 

Mcfarland logo

So I was working on that until June 30, and then from July 2, I was in Melbourne for the tenth annual PopCAANZ conference.  I presented some of our work from the book at this year’s event; specifically, looking at the representation of clinical depression in You’re the Worst. This series is not very well known in Australia–literally no one in the audience had watched it!–but it is well worth the effort. I’ve talked my husband into watching it, and he’s really enjoying the quirky, non-traditional characters. As well as being quite unlikeable in the conventional sense, two of the four leads have diagnosed mental illness, and are living under the same roof.

inauspicious meeting
Gretchen (Aya Cash) meets Jimmy (Chris Geere) in the pilot of You’re the Worst.

Now, hold on to your hats for this “spoiler”- the show actually does a pretty realistic depiction of clinical depression, including periods where Gretchen is asymptomatic, and periods where she lies in bed. The latter is really significant; despite being the single most prevalent mental health disorder in the word, we haven’t really seen much depression in screen because people lying in bed doesn’t move narratives forward. In fact, I would argue that we didn’t really see it at all until as recently as 2015.

Ian and Gretchen
Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan), Shameless (US); Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash), You’re the Worst.

So, in the ten days since Melbourne, what have I been up to? Well, lots of meetings, and lots of driving between Wollongong, Nowra and the Southern Highlands. The pace has been pretty intense, because I’m about to head off on some much-anticipated leave, so there are a lot of loose ends that are frantically being tied (or at least, we are trying to tie them).

My daughter is currently in Buenos Aires, doing a subject for her University course. And she invited me to join her for a few days at the end of her course, so that we can go and visit my “bonus children” who live in South America.

You see, once upon a time many, many years ago, I was fortunate enough to go to Japan for a year on a high school exchange with the AFS International, on a scholarship generously provided by the Tokyo Municipal Government. It was an amazing experience, and I met some of my very best friends there (and in fact, recently caught up with one in Melbourne!). I expanded my horizons, my language abilities, my family and yes, my waistline (we used to joke that AFS stood for ‘another fat student.’) And while there are some ancient photos from that time, they are all analogue and not with me.

I remained involved in the organisation for a few years, and then when we moved to Nowra and I knew absolutely nobody bar my (working) husband and own (infant) child, I got in touch with the local branch and introduced myself. Here, I met another really special friend, Sue. Sue’s job in this volunteer organisation was to find host families for incoming students; mine was to prepare the outgoing ones. And every year she would see me start to waver and want to host a student and she would remind me that no, our little family couldn’t really afford the time or financial commitment for six months or a year. But I became her go-to as a support mum (another person outside the host-family; a kind of counsellor, who has typically also been on exchange), temporary mum (when students were moving between placements); or billet mum (if a student was coming to a regional event in the Shoalhaven). And so that’s why, if you know me, you know I have two biological children, even though Facebook shows me as having five. And that’s why three of those kids are in their thirties when I am only in my forties myself, and why I have four grandchildren (and a fifth coming next month), despite the just-turned-adult nature of my two bio-kids.

So, the upshot of all that is that on Saturday, these two “sisters” will see each other in person for the first time in 18 years.

grace and Jamie
Jamie & Grace, December 2001

Grace  is now married with a daughter of her own, who is almost exactly the same age as Jamie in this photo.

After our whistle-stop tour of Chile, we’re off to Paraguay to see my son Dany and meet his lovely wife and two kids. His daughter is very thoughtfully having her sixth birthday while we are there, so we get to go to a party!

And when we get home, there’s about a week until my other international child has her second baby. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to catch up with Ellyn (and indeed, her entire family) a few times over the years, both in the US and here. And Jamie and I  managed to get to the US to meet her little first little one, so I’m pretty determined to get over there and witness firsthand the new big sister/little brother dynamic.

ellyn bride
The AFS Effect in Action: Bride Ellyn flanked by her Australian “brother” and “mother,” and her actual parents, Marsha and Mike, whom we also love and consider family.

And as for my bio-daughter, my current golden child because she invited me to tag along on her South American adventures? Well, her love of travel might date back to being “impressed” like a chick by these well-travelled older siblings, who came into her life when she was two or three years old. She too became an exchange student via AFS when she was just 15. She had an amazing time in the beautiful Matera region in the South of Italy. You can see the ancient Sassi region, one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world, from the town centre.


Pretty special.

This past (Australian) Summer, she and her brother headed to Europe for nigh on three months. Tony and I joined them for a month over Christmas and New Year, and were  very privileged to spend Christmas with her Italian family.

family in Italy
L, Front to back: Imma (aunt), Luisa (sister), Mariangela (mum), Michele (dad), Cecilia (cousin), Carlo (brother), Pierluca (uncle).
R, Front to back: Anna (sister), Jamie, Robert, Ester (cousin), Kimberley, Tony.

All this to say– there won’t be a post next Wednesday, either. But I will have the very best of excuses!