Hollywood’s great kookaburra con

Vivid lights on Sydney Harbour Bridge, blurred24 May 2018 [journal excerpts]
In the latest Jurassic Park, in the first establishing shot of the jungle, there’s the sound of a kookaburra call. We’re supposed to think it’s monkeys. I’ve noticed this in other US films as well. So I finally looked it up online and yes, this a Hollywood trope, the kookaburra call used for jungle scene setting. At some point, some Hollywood sound tech decided that kookaburras sounded more like monkeys than monkeys themselves do, and I was part of a generation raised with that lie.

Steve and I were sitting on the balcony discussing this today when a kookaburra flew right past, laughing! I’ve never seen a kookaburra fly that close to our apartment; usually they’re across the valley at least. But also, the timing.     

1 June 2018
Quite confident the bus driver this morning had never driven a bus before. Or any other vehicle. At one point before the last stop, he looked back, as if to check that everyone had gotten off. He gave me a really heavy look, then turned forward and continued with the route, as if my presence had foiled his plan to abscond with the bus.

4 June 2018
I feel down today. Not fatigued, just disengaged. I don’t know why. Self-doubt, maybe. Phoniness. So many useless feelings. Also there were weevils in my breakfast.

20 June 2018
I hate socks. Does anyone like them? Who wants cloth tubes twisting around their feet and crushing their ankles?

26 June 2018
Conversations about chronic fatigue
Me: It’s hard because I used to be very social and active.
Woman at social gathering: And that’s why you’ve got chronic fatigue.
Me: Uh …

At the pool, Steve swimming, me sitting on the edge.
Neighbour: What’s wrong?
Me: I can’t exercise, I’m sick.
Neighbour: Oh, I thought you’d broken your ankle or something.
Me: I wish.

Me: I’m not at the office much these days because I have chronic fatigue.
Man: Are you a vegetarian? Because I was a vegetarian for ten years and then I got chronic fatigue because I wasn’t getting the right balance of amino acids.
Me: Ah, no, my diet’s fine.
Man: So you’re not getting enough sleep?

I feel compelled to tell people I have a chronic illness because I need to justify to myself my dereliction of life. But it leaves me open to conversations like that. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, but now it seems like everything else is pinned there as well. My pancreas, my liver, my endocrine system. Everything. 


Surviving small talk with hairdressers

April 26 [journal excerpts]
When I finally decided that the broken, miserable tangle past my shoulders needed to go, I made an appointment with a new hairdresser. He’d been recommended as someone who knew how to deal with thick hair. I loved my long hair – pulling it up in a bun, braiding it – but it was exhausting to look after. So I made a special trip to Surry Hills.

1. The salon was very bright and the music loud. One staff person greeted me. Another brought me a cup of tea. A third, a scrawny guy with bleached hair circa 1999 washed my hair. When he towelled it off, he stuck his fingertips in my ears. They were inside a towel, but still.

2. The hairdresser had the shoulders and arms of a weightlifter and the beer belly of a devoted drinker. He was probably late fifties, with salt and pepper hair, a black v-neck t-shirt, jeans and a single silver earring. He cut me off every time I talked, so I stopped talking. The only time he listened was when he asked what type of cut I wanted. He described the sort of thick, wavy hair I happen to have as “one of the evils of the world” and I thought, he gets it.

3. Am I terrible at small talk? Or just terrible at small talk with hairdressers? If you love hair styling enough to devote your career to it, chances are you and I have very little in common to start with.

4. He cut me off even when I tried to tell him that he came highly recommended. It was like our dialogue was on separate soundtracks playing out of sync.

5. He was hesitant about the cut I wanted. “It’s a dramatic cut,” he kept repeating. Finally I managed to convince him I’d had it quite short before. “Some women are fine to get a dramatic cut. Others, you cut their hair a millimeter and they’re devastated. Your achilles heel is very thick.” (Yes, and so is my hair.)

6. “My housemate a while ago was a guy from Canada. He said he was from the US, from New York, I guessed he was ashamed to be from somewhere so cold. One time I asked him if he wanted a margarita. He gave me a funny look and said, ‘We don’t really know each other that well.’
“I asked him what he thought I’d said.
“‘Do you want to marry me?’
“I said ‘No, a margarita.’ He was laughing so hard he fell to the floor.”

7. He stepped away for a moment, and one of the many staff came over to sweep up the piles of discarded hair. When he came back, he said to her, “Oh no, you’ve ruined it.”
“I was just sweeping it into a pile,” she said, confused.
“I was going to Instagram it, but that’s fine, next time.”
“I could put it back, spread it out.”
“No, it was all about letting nature take its course, being organic.”
“Well, I could –”
“No, it’s fine.”
He wasn’t rude exactly, but he wasn’t friendly either.

8. The cut cost $145, and to maintain it, he said I’d have to get it trimmed every 12 weeks. I said I’d see him in a year.
Not out loud, of course. In my head.

2019 update: My new hairdresser has two dogs that hang out in his salon and sometimes I can pat them, and it turns out that’s all I’ve ever wanted from a hairdresser.


I am curious about your tattoos

Noosa beach, Australia

August 9 [journal excerpts]
Noosa, QLD

Shopkeeper referring to a whale-watching cruise: “The water out that way becomes chuck city.”
The same shopkeeper: “The best way to leave Noosa with a million dollars is to come with ten.”

August 10
The most Aussie sight: two teenage boys on the pavement, three surfboards between them. One rode a bike, a surfboard under his arm; the other pushed along on a skateboard, struggling with two surfboards at once.

August 11
On Noosa’s main beach: an older woman, maybe 60, with a single dreadlock starting at the base of her skull and hanging down past her knees. It swung as she walked, like a tail.

August 12
Tattoos spotted today:
1. a tiger face, full colour, the size of my entire hand, with a knife sunk between the eyes, the handle sticking out, on a man’s shin (he may has well have tattooed the words ‘creepy as’)
2. three slash marks with dripping blood, almost like the Zorro symbol, on a man’s chest
3. the word ‘serious’ in a cutesy font, not quite cursive, surrounded by little hearts, on a young man’s inner arm. Was he in love with someone named serious? The word wasn’t capitalised. Did he love being serious? Or did he take love seriously? Our burger order arrived, so I didn’t have to talk myself into asking him.

August 14
Waiting for burgers again, a skinny pale guy with shoulder-length hair came in. He had a tattoo that started at his wrist, and in huge cursive letters, ran toward his elbow, reading “Death before dis—”. I couldn’t read the rest, but he was running out of space, unless the third word wrapped right over his elbow. It might have been “Death before dishonour”, but he really didn’t have enough space, so I assume it read “Death before dishes”.

He also has a bunch of roses on his shin, and a cartoon cat face with a knife through the crown of its head, the blade coming out its mouth. What is it with dudes and tattoos of stabbed cat heads? Is it a secret code signalling membership in some sort of club? Obviously not one that actually stabs cats, that would be too obvious. So perhaps it’s men who refuse to do the dishes, and have sought solidarity in this via symbolic tattoos. When they spot each other on the street, they raise their eyebrows and exchange a slight nod of encouragement, maybe even tap two fingers against the centre of their chest if they do so slyly.

I can’t see any other potential explanation.


Thefting by finding

Sedaris Diaries vol 1When I was 14, my aunt gave me a purple journal with Garfield on the cover (the cat, not the president). This indicates how cool I was at 14. Having barely any friends gave me heaps of time to write in my journal. I’ve kept up that habit for more than two decades.

I sometimes wonder what will happen to the diaries when I die. I doubt someone will go back and read them. They’re incredibly boring. When I mentioned this online, author Annabel Smith described her own diaries as ‘right on the boring/excruciating boundary’. I thought that was the perfect description.

I’m a huge fan of American essayist David Sedaris, whose work is hilarious and illuminating. When he came out with Theft by Finding: Diaries Volume One in 2017, however, I thought ‘this feels like too much. Do I really need to read this guy’s diary excerpts?’

I was pretty certain the answer was no. But then I got sick for years and Theft by Finding was released as an audiobook, and I was desperate for entertainment I could consume while lying down with my eyes closed. I was surprised to discover I loved Theft by Finding. It’s become one of my all-time favourite books. Sedaris weaves in his own story, and it’s actually quite interesting (from working odd jobs straight out of high school in his home state of Carolina to art school in Chicago to huge success as an author in New York). But what really makes his diaries is his observations about the world around him. It seemed like a technique worth developing in my own diaries.

To be clear, I think Sedaris’ diary excerpts are brilliant and fascinating and reflect the sociopolitical issues of their times. Whereas mine are mostly things I found entertaining. I started posting a few excerpts. My journals still feature lots of boring/excruciating bits, but thanks to Sedaris, I think there’s a few good bits too.


May 14, 2018
Recently I was complaining about houses and dogs having people names like Gerald. Today, a friend mentioned that she’d met someone at work whose name is B’rit. ‘With the apostrophe,’ she said. That’s a bit strange, I replied. ‘My sister went to high school with a girl named Haloumi Sparkles,’ she added. I didn’t get a chance to ask if Sparkles was her middle name or her surname, because someone else cut in.
‘A girl from my high school named her kids Tiger and Sabre.’
A third woman among us topped even that. ‘My dad is a pediatrician and he has a set of twins as patients,’ she said. ‘One is called Bladeinjail, because his dad is in jail for stabbing someone. The other is called Captain Dangles.’

May 29, 2018
There’s a huge billboard advertising a space for lease, near my office. It features an image of a cat with a third eye photoshopped into the centre of its forehead. The cat is giant, the size of a car, and its three eyes stare down at you, as if trying to hypnotise you into leasing the building.  I have been looking for a large commercial and/or office space…

June 1, 2018
Saw a man wearing one red sock and one blue sock. Society is really falling to pieces, with our reliance on fossil fuels, the election of Trump, and now this.


The bear likes ice cream

A stack of journals, a writing project
April 24, 2018
Walking home on Saturday, I passed ten guys all dressed as Luigi. They had identical Luigi hats and big black moustaches, but also shorts and loafers without socks. They were trying to find a pub, and though it was only three pm, I got the impression that they’d just left a pub. I hope they were going to meet ten Marios, and perhaps get in a brawl with at least one guy dressed as Bowser.

April 26, 2018
Steve nominated me for Employee of the Month at Home!

April 27, 2018
The latest house names: Wiltshire and Elvira. Elvira! It seems one of the naming conventions is old-fashioned human names (Elvira, Elton, Shirley, Valerie, the two Ednas). I wish there was more imagination put into these things. Why should people, dogs and houses all have the same name? As if there’s a finite supply.

There’s a new shop called Cheer Tea. Their slogan is “the best cheese cake foam tea drinks”. Perhaps the world record for longest series of nouns strung together into a beverage? Still, I’m curious.

May 7, 2018
Are we drawn to confident people because we are awkward and hopeless, and we think these confident people have figured out how not to be awkward and hopeless, and perhaps we can learn from them?

May 9, 2018
In the park yesterday, an older man – fifties, balding, pot-bellied – shouting to a jack russell: “Heidi, get back here. Mate! Maa-aaaaate!”

May 11, 2018
A zookeeper in Alberta took a black bear from its enclosure, drove it to Dairy Queen, and bought it an ice cream for its birthday. The zoo was later fined, I guess for either endangering the welfare of the bear, or the welfare of the public. Maybe both. The bear reportedly enjoyed its ice cream though.


In other news
My Name Is Revenge has received a couple of new reviews. Monique Mulligan writes, “Reading Ashley’s tightly written narrative, and the following essays, opened my eyes to pages of history I was blind to. What I experienced was a compassionate but balanced re-imagining of real-life events in Sydney, and an education (or at least the beginning of one). Ashley’s writing is taut and assured – there’s an enviable economy of words that says so much. At the end, I was left to ponder questions of my own (why don’t we learn about this?) as well as those raised indirectly throughout this short collection.” Read her full review here.

Elaine Mead’s review for Feminartsy describes the book as “an exceptionally moving and informative collection of writing. More than its historical emphasis, it is a story of family, community, and the importance of telling the stories of those who have, and continue to be, denied a voice.”

And I shared some writing advice in a guest post for Louise Allan, and my first-ever Melbourne event was officially announced. If you’re in Melbourne, I’d love to see you there!