Category Archives: rant

the piracy question

Illegal downloading is a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for ages. It’s very murky – it’s emotional and ethical/unethical and no one has a clue how to start untangling it (or rather, everyone has an opinion about how to start). But it’s an important topic.

David Lowery, a musician and lecturer in economics, wrote a public letter on Monday to an intern at NPR (national public radio). She had written on NPR’s music blog: “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” In his letter Lowery breaks down some of the misconceptions about file-sharing and actively calls on our generation to think about the ethics of our actions.

His letter is passionate and articulate, but there were a couple of key points that I felt he either didn’t address, or which didn’t satisfy me. I want to outline them here in full knowledge that they’re not definitive answers to the digital media conundrum – but that I would like to begin challenging, discussing and rethinking them.

1) Consumers are not philanthropists.

There’s an image of the artist that pervades Lowery’s letter – the poor, struggling artist. He gives anecdotes of the ways artists have suffered – deeply – from losing their income. It’s tragic, the way thousands of people losing their jobs when a factory closes is tragic. But I don’t know that playing on peoples’ pity will change consumer choices – not on a scale large enough to affect the market.

He ends his letter with a call to action to donate money to various charities that help artists. That seems really odd to me.

On the one hand, yes, artists need a lot of financial help, and anyone who’s prepared to give it – thank you!

But artists who are serious about making money from what they do – the artists who would suffer from losing their livelihoods – are not charity cases. They’re business people. (Serious question: do business people in other industries also have access to charities?)

So: consumers are not philanthropists – and artists are not charity cases.

2) Artists are business people.

Lowery talks about the hidden costs of file-sharing. He points out that you might be able to download stuff for free, but the money is being exchanged somewhere. Internet providers get your money, the people who own the file-sharing sites get your money and the people who advertise (as well as the people who sell them the advertising) get your money.

So people are definitely making money off this – large corporations, mostly, not artists.

What Lowery fails to point out is: PEOPLE ARE DEFINITELY MAKING MONEY OFF THIS. There’s income to be made. Artists and artistic studios/companies/organisations just haven’t figured out how to get a piece of it yet.

3) Digital objects don’t have the same value as physical objects.

This is confounding, because just as much love and labour goes into, for example, an ebook as a paper book. It is the same object. But the simple fact that you can’t hold it devalues it in a consumer’s eyes. The simple fact that you can jump on the internet and have it almost right away devalues it. Probably it shouldn’t. But the fact is that it does.

I suspect bemoaning this undervaluing isn’t going to change what’s happening. Artists can’t browbeat their consumers into sharing their views – consumers feel the way they feel, irrational or not (and hasn’t consumer desire always been irrational?). I can only assume value has to be found elsewhere for digital objects, like Amazon have done with the Kindle.

We see this in other markets where a product is intangible. Public transport systems have to police commuters. Cinemas have been redesigned to have one door in, and one door out. And they charge $12 for a bucket of what is essentially the cheapest grain on earth and hot air. Notice, though, how people choose to buy popcorn? It’s all part of the experience and they don’t mind paying for it.

4) It’s not a matter of “not wanting to pay” – it’s a matter of lifestyle.

Lowery points out that consumers have already spent $1,000 on their laptop before they can get any “free” files. It’s kinda off-point, because no one buys a laptop just to illegally download stuff. (Okay. The world’s a big, populated place. Probably someone does.) They buy it because it’s one of the necessary lynchpins of their lifestyle.

No one denies that the internet has changed the way we conduct almost every daily transaction – so it makes sense that it also changes the lifestyle we expect. Actually, expect is the wrong word. It’s more like simple experience. We don’t question it. We rely on it, we breathe it. We know it’s there when we reach out.

TorrentFreak recently collated all their illegal download data and found Australia topped the Game of Thrones ranking. (The comments, by the way, are enlightening.) There’s this phenomenal tv show that every online community you belong to is talking about. Every day you see the images, hear spoilers. There’s buzz, because HBO wants you to watch it – so you want to watch it.

And you can.

The internet turns geographical restrictions into an abstract concept – because Game of Thrones isn’t on the other side of the world in America, it’s right here, where you are, at your fingertips. I should point out that it airs in Australia one week (I think) after its US airing, but only on Foxtel. I couldn’t find any exact figures on their website, but let’s say $50-$80 per month?

I was chatting with Jo Bourne on twitter about the geographical restrictions problem, and she said, “But isn’t there value in preserving local communities?” Well, yes. But just look who said that to me – Joanna Bourne, an American writer, who is part of my everyday community. Because of the internet.

Many of my localised communities are not geographical.

And yes: sharing files that don’t belong to you is an illegal act. There’s no getting around that. I can’t explain why our generation is taking to it anyway. It’s a full-blown ethical question, and I enjoyed how Lowery’s letter engaged with it. We have responsibilities to each other as human beings that are more complicated than just what we want right now.

But I do not see this trend reversing itself. And I want to make it very clear that when I say trend I don’t mean taking things illegally, I mean the systems people use to consume their media. This is also what I mean by lifestyle. Not some odious sense of privilege – but the day-to-day, lived experience of life. The way people consume media has changed – the market has changed.

Which isn’t to say artists won’t figure out how to make it profitable. I have every faith in human inventiveness.

Lowery shakes his head at a generation who doesn’t use their morality and principles to guide them through technological change, but rather lets technological change dictate their morality and principles. I’m researching the industrial revolution at the moment. Technology (which comes from people, not the Jules Verne nightmare Lowery points to) has always felt beyond us, pushing us into the future despite ourselves, from the first train engines – which were named after gods and dragons – to the internet.

But the wonderful thing about people is – just as quickly as technology changes on us, we change on it. We’re so adaptable – so ready to put what we have to good use.

Take Pioneer One, a crowd-funded tv show that’s released on the sites where people download their tv. The creative team fundraised enough for the first two episodes – and then relied on its fans wanting to see what happened next. It’s absolute proof that people aren’t scared to shell out. People want to contribute to the culture they belong to. The Nazi-spoof Iron Sky that was recently on at the cinema? Crowd-sourced.

I can only imagine the visceral rage artists feel seeing their hard work up on file-sharing sites. What downloaders are doing is illegal – but I don’t know that anyone’s going to change their minds. Those people artists rage against? They are the market. I said earlier that the value of a digital object has to be found elsewhere, and when it comes to ebooks I suspect the value is somewhere in community, tied to media systems that work with consumer habits.

I greatly respect Courtney Milan for blazing the way with self-publishing – but even more so for her generous approach to her community. In the back of her novella The Governess Affair she doesn’t sternly remind the reader that this is her property, she writes: Thanks for reading The Governess Affair! I hope you enjoyed it. Did you know you can lend this book? Please consider sharing it with a friend. And: Where such permission is sufficient, the author grants the right to strip any DRM which may be applied to this work.

Here’s what I’m facing: All things going well, people will be pirating my books in the next couple of years. That’s going to be my reality.

It’s natural to expect that when that happens my neat little aphorisms about “lifestyle” and “philanthropy” will be chucked to the wayside while I chase down my titles and remove them from illegal download sites.

Right now – I don’t want that to happen. I want to put my money where my mouth is. I believe there’s a market out there – bigger than there’s ever been – it’s just a new market, and no one quite knows how to access it yet.

I’m a writer, not a marketer. I don’t know how to look at this mess and create something from it. But then, three months ago I didn’t know how to write a business plan, either. Actually, it was worse than that. I was sure I couldn’t write one. I was so confronted by trying to do it, when I had no clue how to even begin, that I felt physically sick. But I kept at it, and now I have one – and boy is that a useful document!

So I’m going to approach this whole new-market thing the same way. Something I can’t do. A lot of hard work. Necessary, if I want to make it. As Philip Pullman writes*:

You don’t win races by wishing, you win them by running faster than everyone else. And to do that you have to strive your utmost, and sometimes even that isn’t enough, because another runner just might be more talented than you are. Here’s the truth: If you want something, you can have it, but only if you want everything that goes with it, including all the hard work and despair, and only if you’re willing to risk failure.

* from Clockwork

on female body hair

I made the decision a little while ago that my heroine has underarm hair. Then I spent a couple of months thinking I’d probably change my mind; there’s such a strong aesthetic against body hair.

The first time in my life that I saw underarm hair as not only acceptable but sexy as all hell was when I was eighteen years old and working on a farm in Germany. (I should at this point note: the misconception that German women are hirsute is a hangover from the 20s and not at all accurate.) These two twenty-something-year-old women who worked on the farm were taking a break by the side of a tractor shed. They were tanned, grimy and muscular, and their arms were flung casually out. They had armpit hair and it looked strong. It made them animal and vital. I thought, “Oh, so I don’t have to hide it.”

Ever since then I’ve been happy to have underarm hair, so yes, some of my decision to give my heroine the same is me writing myself, as writers do.

But what does that mean, writing myself? In this case, there’s an aesthetic standard I don’t agree with. I express my disagreement in life, and I express it in fiction.

This brings me to a question I’ve been avoiding for a while: Do my politics belong in my writing? And possibly more to the point: Do I have an obligation to express my politics in my writing?

As soon as I think it in those terms, “politics”, my reaction is a violent No. I’m not writing issues books. I don’t want characters parading through my books trying to teach my readers important life lessons, or giving long speeches about how things should be.

But when I take the word politics out of it, and when I think of it as entering a discussion about femalehood, my reaction is a pretty clear Yes.

Special k and I got into a great discussion the other night (while, irony of ironies, I was doing the dishes and he was standing about not helping) about the way pop culture reflects cultural values, and to what extent pop culture has a responsibility to engage with cultural critique.

Or to put it less obliquely: We were disagreeing about the extent to which people should criticise Beyonce for wearing no clothes and high heels in her amazing “All the single ladies” video. (By the way, some absolutely brilliant trivia: one of those dancers is her male choreographer. My cross-dressing duke approves.)

I started to talk about the cultural responsibility of romance writers, and it brought home to me again what a powerful genre I write in. When I started reading romance I felt empowered by the portrayal of female sexuality as a purely positive thing. I cautiously opened myself to the idea that sex should be all about pleasure, with no shame attached. It allowed me to think about my sexuality in purely heterosexual terms, without attaching shame to that either.

When I read heroines who learn to deal with conflict, I feel encouraged to learn to deal with conflict. When I see heroines who learn to ask for what they want even when it feels uncomfortable, that becomes a possibility to me.

Romance speaks powerfully to women about what it means to be a woman.

So when I wrote the first sex scene between my hero and heroine I thought very carefully about what I believe about sex – and about the ways I would like to see women empowered.

I’m only just beginning to understand all the ways our sexuality is constructed for us, our whole lives. It’s impossible to get the whole picture, because we’re trying to make visible the invisible structure through which we view the world.

One specific idea I’ve been talking and thinking about (and, if I’m honest, confronted by)  is the idea that women are taught to be the object of desire, not the person who desires. (See Beyonce and her high heels.) Men are taught to see us this way, and we’re taught to see ourselves this way. Good sex = turning a man on because we succeed at striking the right poses and making the right noises. It’s not about feeling and chasing pleasure, or desiring and taking what we desire.

Of course, I have put this in hopelessly simple terms, so please forgive me that.

When my heroine and my hero first have sex, he is described in the language of desire, not she, and she pushes for what she wants from him. It’s still a very “female” want; she demands emotion, as well as sex. But she doesn’t ever doubt that she knows herself and her desires, and she doesn’t doubt her entitlement to feeling them.

I hope that women will read it and think, I can do that too.

So when it comes to body hair – and is there anything worse than that word “pube” – I didn’t want to back down either. I didn’t want to assume that women have bought so fully into the no-hair aesthetic that it wouldn’t intrigue them to see a hero stroke his thumbs up into the dark, warm fur and for it to be right, and without commentary.

I recently watched a documentary about the great French brothels of the 1920s, which was rather creepily told through the memories of a bunch of old men. One of them spoke about how the prostitutes would grow their body hair, and they would only have to raise an arm for the men to go animal, wild. (Have I just contradicted myself by turning body hair into another object of desire? Er. Hold on.)

Here’s a good place to stress that I’m not saying we should all go about hairy. I’m not even saying you’re betraying your womanhood if you shave. God, no. But I do think the no-hair aesthetic is learnt, and that there’s room to transform it.

Because my body grows hair, and every time I hate my body for it – stare helplessly at myself and think I did something wrong – it’s exhausting.

I’ve never really become comfortable with leg hair. It makes me feel like a footballer, or, I dunno, a lumberjack. But recently I really can’t be bothered getting my legs waxed. And because of that, I’ve been noticing a lot of women walking about with hairy legs: The girl in front of the state library; the schoolgirl on the tram, standing with her friends; the waitress at my local cafe.

Every time I see another woman walking around with hair on her legs as though it just doesn’t matter, it matters to me less.

My heroine is poor and she works all day long. When it comes to pure, historical fact, she wouldn’t have had the time or resources to shave (or whatever they did back then – I’ve been having trouble getting any solid info, so if you know anything about 19th century depilatory habits, please speak up!).

I made the decision not to change the facts just to suit a modern aesthetic that I don’t agree with anyway.

the season-five apocalypse

okay, here it is: The one mistake How I Met Your Mother made that was so damn disappointing I almost stopped watching.

Dear lord it’s bad.

It makes me angry.

I will try and be coherent.

Season four is this amazing thing that I just gobbled up whole. We get to watch Barney – the most commitment-phobic man in the universe – fall in love. The scene in episode one where he’s calling Robin to try and ask her on a date is just heartbreaking. You can see every part of it on his face, and hear it in his voice – how impossible those simple words are for him to say, because they undo every single defence he has. And that’s a man with a lot of defences.

That scene does what great writing should do – watching him, I know that feeling. I know that impossible moment when you’re trying to break your world apart without feeling like you’ll die in the process.

Throughout the season we watch Barney struggle against his own nature. We see him clean Robin and Ted’s flat, because they’ve decided to have sex instead of arguing about things like who didn’t take out the garbage. We see him declare himself to Robin and be misunderstood and not find it in himself to try again. We see him vulnerable.

In my post about Barney I touched on the fact that Barney Stinson is always playing Barney Stinson. In the moments when he’s being vulnerable, we see the real Barney Stinson – and that is narrative gold. It was eagerness for those breadcrumb moments that pulled me through the season.

And then you start to wonder: What would the real Barney look like incandescent with happiness? Okay, maybe not everyone would wonder that, but I certainly do. First there’s vulnerable, and then there’s risking feeling something genuine on the other side of vulnerable.

This is a fantastic character arc, but it’s also an incredibly courageous route for the writers to take. Barney, as I’ve said before, makes the show. And his character is a very definite thing: a philandering, apparently heartless, purposeful idiot. It’s a bold move to let a character like that develop.

And that’s where season five comes in. Where the writers, apparently, choked on the idea of Barney Stinson growing up.

Where to begin?

*** Okay, I have to break in to my own post here, because I’ve just watched the most recent episode and it’s sort of eclipsed my season-five pain. They got Robin and Barney so, so right, and they broke my heart. In the good way this time. So my rage is a little less…focussed now. End interruption. ***

Sitcoms take place in these alternate universes that are slightly grotesque, and more than slightly dysfunctional. We go along with it, without breaking our suspension of disbelief, because real life never intrudes. Something I love about HIMYM is that they’re not afraid of using real life as a measuring stick against which to say, “These people are pretty messed up.”

The best example of this is in the current season when an ex-girlfriend of Ted’s tells him straight up why he hasn’t found the woman he’s going to marry yet: he still hangs out every night at the bar with his ex, and his best friend who is also her ex. That doesn’t work. Ted still doesn’t see it, but the whole presumed world of the show is shifted.

So what they completely fail to do when Robin and Barney finally get together, is to judge it in light of the real world and real feeling. Instead, it becomes a ridiculous, farcical pantomime of itself and we are never invited into the world of Robin and Barney. We just get to see the train-wreck antics of them sending themselves up at exactly the wrong moment.

Seriously, the writers had set up the perfect scenario: two messed-up, commitment-phobic people who might just be in love with each other. It makes sense that it doesn’t work out between them – but watching it not work out between them could have been amazing television, instead of a stupid waste of four seasons’ work.

All I wanted to see was how the most banal daily situations were navigated, now that the world had changed. I wanted to see them do the dishes together. Make each other laugh. Attempt and ultimately fail the moments that were new to them both.

Instead, we get this:

The most obviously bad episode, first: “Rough Patch”. Barney’s put on relationship weight and Robin’s let herself go. They finally see themselves clearly, realise that they’re killing each other, and part amicably. Seriously. After a whole season of coming to realise what they feel for each other, the best reason we get for their break-up is a fat-suit and some bad make-up.

But actually, the episode that makes me angriest is “The Sexless Innkeeper”. It plays out a joke about couples needing other couples to survive; basically, we’re watching the same “single in New York” bit play out, but this time with couples. Everywhere you look, there are double-couples; if you go to brunch as a single-couple you get looked at weird; there are good and bad double-dates, etc. It’s kinda cute, whatever.

And here’s what makes me so mad: We haven’t been let inside Barney and Robin as a couple yet – we don’t even know the smallest details about how they are together – and instead we get them as a presupposed couple thrown into a relationship with Marshall and Lily. Who cares about the double-couple? It’s never going to play beyond this one episode. Yet here we have a couple we’ve shipped for a whole year, and we don’t get anything?

There’s a scene where they’re lying in bed together eating ice-cream, lamenting their relationship with Marshall and Lily – a play on the single woman crying and eating ice-cream – and all I could think was, “Are they even comfortable lying in bed together? Have they eaten ice-cream together before? Isn’t it too early for them to let themselves go in front of each other?”

And that might seem like I’m taking a sitcom too seriously, but even with – especially with? – comedy (especially character-based comedy, like HIMYM), you cannot sacrifice character for a one-liner. You just can’t. You enrage your viewers, which leads to long rambly blog posts.

One final thought.

The obviously fail here was that the writers weren’t committed to Barney’s growth yet, so they re-set him as the broad-strokes character we all knew and loved. Only, this show is about growing up, and Barney had grown out of himself. His antics took on this new, unsavoury aspect.

Since season five they have really committed to it, and we’ve seen Barney go through amazing development.

But I suspect that back when they were writing season five they were scared of bringing the real-world to bear, because there was no way for Barney to get out of a relationship with Robin without looking kind of awful. The play he makes for another girl the episode after they’ve broken up is truly cruel: he manipulates an emotional moment with Robin in order to get the other girl to go out with him. But because it’s all played as farce, you almost miss the impact of that.

If they’d been brave enough to make his flaws clear, they would have given him a much stronger arc to bring him back to Robin.

the eyes have it

ah, my attempt at a witty, punful heading!

My latest pet-hate with my writing is this: my characters are always, always looking. At each other, not at each other, out the window, across the room, up from the book, etc.

Of course, we do live eyes-first, so I can see why this problem has arisen. When you write in very close third, as I do (third person narrative, but glued so tight to the perspective of one character that their internal world is inextricable from the external), the narrative unfolds through a character’s gaze. The world only exists as they are looking at it/not looking at it.

A look indicates interest: open, suppressed, lack of.

The eyes are the window to the soul. I’ve thought often about this, because eyes are not the endless portal they seem to be, but are covered in a particularly slimy, shiny variety of skin. They are as closed off as the rest of us, except that they relay a sensory experience right to the brain – an experience that is no more true than sound or smell or touch, but that we allow to invade us all the same. The world enters our flesh through the eyes.

(I’m also using the word “flesh” far too much.)

Possible solutions to my problem: If the eyes allow the invasion of the world, then my characters can relate that experience, rather than simply looking. Or react to that experience. Seeing is an assumed state, if something is being described by a seeing character.

Maybe I can use my eyes, look around me at the other ways people give themselves away than simply by looking.

Maybe I can close my eyes and find the ways I do the same.

I am too naive to be a writer

I’ve just spent way too much of my evening watching documentaries on the ABC. I feel…horrified. Like I was an innocent until now.

I have just realised documentaries are a smoke screen – the dry, scientific “we don’t have a bias these are just the facts” style conceals their true function. Documentaries are the freakshows of the modern day. They’re where we go to marvel at the extremities of the human.

And if you’re looking for deeply passionate, emotionally conflicted characters, it’s an eye opener.

A short asian man considers having his leg bones drilled, broken and screwed back together to add a couple of inches to his height. When he concluded his interview, and he said that the dream of changing his height was over but the dream of being strong and resilient and successful had just begun, I wanted to cheer.

A middle-aged white teacher goes into a racial experiment and comes out saying “I had nothing to learn going in – my opinions didn’t change at all. I am passionate about these things already.” In the tea break she’s telling another woman about the black, white and half-caste children she teaches. “One girl,” she says, “stunning girl – she fell down and grazed her cheek in the playground, and I have to admit I was a bit surprised that the skin was pink underneath. I suppose I thought it would be black.”

And then – hear my heart break – the mothers who enter their daughters in beauty pageants. Who fill their daughters’ mouths with words and claim, with all the goodwill in the world, that God has gifted their daughters with a beautiful face and modelling talent so it would be wasteful not to pursue this. Without a word for their child’s inner qualities, or any sense that they are enough just as they are – that they are learning and growing and will become things you couldn’t even dream of yet. All this in the child’s hearing, mind you.

And you watch the child disappear right before their parents’ adoring gaze, because they simply aren’t being seen at all.

Then you scrape the surface of the parents’ stories…

And you realise how little you really know about people, and what drives them, and what they’re capable of. And what they inflict on each other, in the name of love.

And then you realise it’s time for bed.

men are lovely

the other night me and special k got into one of those arguments. You know, the ones about gender that neither of you can win, that hit a deep, defensive, emotional vein that almost has nothing to do with you at all. I pointed out that the statistics about what women earn and the kinds of positions they hold in organisations is mirrored in miniature in his shop. He quoted “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice. What are little boys made of? Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs tails” at me.

It didn’t seem to be going anywhere very good, and it seemed to be going there very fast. And then I realised there was something I’d never told him.

“You know what I love about romance novels?” I said. “Yes, they’re about women and what women can do, and want for themselves. But they absolutely adore men. They fight for what men can expect, who they can be without reprimand. You’ll often see a heroine manipulating her way around a hero, until the hero says Look at what you’re doing. That’s not okay.”

He was surprised. It brought the “discussion” to a friendly close.

There is a fine line here, between a father-figure man who is reprimanding a woman for acting outside of her role, and one human being calling another to account. But of course there’s a line. This is how real human relationships operate as well – in a series of contexts that we are reinventing all the time.

books and Brad Pitt

two things about my Easter weekend away:

1. My godmother, who we were staying with, also reads romance. A lot of romance. She let me rifle through the boxes of books she’s finished with, and take whatever I fancied. She is, officially, a champion.

The books:

I took home 32 books. But seriously, what would you have done?

There were many I’ve already read and wanted for my collection but couldn’t justify buying right now. I got the whole of Eloisa James‘s Essex Sisters quartet, and Meredith Duran‘s entire backlist.

I also picked up a few I’ve been meaning to try, but haven’t gotten around to reading, like Nalini Singh‘s Psy/Changeling series and Anne Stuart‘s House of Rohan trilogy.

2. Then there was Legends of the Fall. It was revoltingly appropriate that we rewatched this Brad Pitt classic, because we watched it together too many times to be healthy as teens. This is Brad back in the day when he still had more than a whiff of tv soap about him and his grin was of the cocky “I’m hot and I know it” variety.

I had the same sensation watching it as I had last year when I listened to Alanis Morisette’s album Jagged Little Pill and realised I knew the words to every song.

I had a groundless sense of fear or premonition at apparently harmless moments, just before tragedy fell. Certain images were so familiar to my senses, that I must have stared for hours at posters of them, freeze-framed on my bedroom wall.

My memory was correct at least in this: Julia Ormond cries more or less the whole way through the film.

It also clicked that this was why all my heroes used to be called Tristan.

Here’s the funny thing, though: Watching this movie as an adult, I couldn’t help thinking that Tristan (Brad Pitt) is exactly the kind of character who incites my rage – and the last person you would want to fall in love with.

He is, as per the voice-over, the rock that all the people who love him break themselves against.

He is the man who would leave those who love and depend on him to answer the call of his inner beast. He is unhaveable and wild and wildly selfish.

He’s a flake.

I couldn’t help thinking, as well, that Susannah (Julia Ormond) is the antithesis of a romantic heroine. The tragedy of that appealed to my teen sensibilities and just irritates the hell out of my adult ones.

the sleepover

In a book I read recently, a middle-aged novelist who’d let herself go a bit was nervous and excited about a potential friendship. She commented that new friends made her feel as excited these days as new boyfriends used to.

It made me chuckle (I’m allowed, it’s just fictional people who aren’t) and think, How true!

During school, friendships are a fact of life; five days of your week are spent relentlessly in the company of your peers. Once you grow up a bit, as I discovered to my horror when I returned to Melbourne in 2009, you become much more insular. You form smaller family units, you depend on fewer people, your work and aspirations now take more head-space than your latest emotional drama.

Mostly, this makes sense. But I miss the sleepover. Spending a minimum of 24 hours living in the same space as your mates. It’s just not an activity that fits easily into grown-up life – but it’s worth fighting for.

Tomorrow I’m flying to Sydney to spend the weekend with two of my oldest friends. I cannot wait.

wedding vows in action

We wrote our own wedding vows. Contrary to what you might expect, mine were full of well-considered guidelines of behaviour for our future, and special k vowed to love me beneath a mountain, by a forest, under a moon.

One of my vows was this:

I will not mistake success or failure in our lives for the success or failure of our marriage.

Today I went for an interview at the Big Issue for a part-time editorial position. I didn’t get the job.

When special k came home, he cuddled me for a while. He told me that it isn’t nice to have someone say, “No. Not you.” Then we cooked dinner together. We carefully planned how we would stuff the zucchini flowers with mozzarella then dip them in beer batter and deep fry them. I watched with admiration as he added the pasta to mushrooms and tomato cooked in shallots and garlic, and he cheered me on as I fried the prawns.

We were closed in the kitchen in the kind of warm camaraderie that autumn brings. I tentatively allowed myself to think, “At least I still have this,” which was when I remembered my wedding vow.

It’s an odd feeling, an odd equation that the human heart makes. I did not succeed today, it says. Therefore I do not deserve the unreserved comfort and enjoyment of home.

I knew, when I wrote that vow, that it would be a hard one to live by. But today I did, and I feel triumphant.