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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Comedy perdition

I get invited by a friends’ dad to take part in the Dayelsford Words in Winter festival. It’s a small festival covering all forms of written and spoken word. There is no registration fee, they organize the venue and they even offer to put me up for the night in a motel. I go up, the show is in a pub, it’s packed.
The show I take up is called The Clean as you go Philosophy - a miss mash of all of my material to date, with a few site specific gags, to show that I get the lay of the land.

I have decided to let the audience decide the order of the show. I do this be getting audience members to pull one liners written on scraps of paper out of a bowl . The order that they are taken out of the hat is the order that the show will be performed. Instead of a biscuit reading, as in the prawn show, I offer up a chip reading.

 After the audience has taken 2 or 3 pieces of paper  out of the bowl, I get the feeling that I’m on a ship that is just out of kilter, and though I am meant to be the captain steering it , the show almost capsizes. I feel sea- sick looking out in to the packed pub in Dayeslford at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon on a cold winters day.

Before the show had begun, I was milling around the bar. I had chatted to this couple and their kids who are over on holiday from Echuca .The guy says he is sure he has seen me on the telly. I tell him that I’ve not been on telly, but he really wants to place me there, so I let it go. I can tell it makes him feel better the thought that I have been on telly.

Audience members take the bits of paper out of the hat. It seems to take for ever. While this is happening I can not casually ad lib with quick wit and reparté, because all of my material is associated with the word on the scraps of paper being pulled out of the bowl.

I look out, there is a sea of confused faces in front of me, all of them waiting for me to be funny. This is the biggest audience I have stood up in front of. 

The guy and his family from the Echuca without so much as a backwards glance, exit the pub. I can see him shaking his head, he is probably saying, ‘clearly I got the wrong person, no one that bad could get on telly.’

The idea that the audience would choose the order of the show by pulling lines out of a bowl, ran like a dream on my walks with the dog, but there in the pub it was just a joke with a cavernous empty space where the laughter,really should have been.

The whole thing is a shemozzle. By the time all the bits of paper have been pinned to the board, the audience have lost interest and are chatting amongst themselves. There are a few kids at the front who remain interested, I do the chip reading on them, they smile. I had put loads of work in to the show. I had even done a rekky up there one weekend to case the joint and find the funny.

But that winters day I was lost, dry mouthed, panicky and inept. A few times I speak into the mic with a semblance of confidence and get a murmer of  laughter, but because I’d lost so much ground in the beginning, all I could do was throw the odd line out there like a life raft for my self. But I was drowning, I wrapped the show up with a couple of jokes that I knew would work just to get off the stage.

I should have tried  all this out in a comedy room before hand, but the tension between wanting to do comedy everyday and my sense of obligation as mother and wife was draining. I had only given myself permission to do or see comedy once a week. More fool me.

The sensation of comedy gone wrong for me is is this:
It is wanting to be rid of my own skin.
It is a feeling of deep embarrassment.
It is excruciating.
It is a feeling of having failed not just publicly, but deeply and privately.
The comedy, the jokes the wanting to make people laugh is so separate from this sensation, it is perverse.
Having to face an audience afterwards is mortifying.
The looks from my friends and family range from pity, to scorn, to discomfort.  
Eyes are down cast.

The sensation is awkward, worse than if I have just farted in a long line at the post office and behind me in the principle of my child’s primary school is standing there sniffing awkwardly .
It is is worse than being blind drunk and being asked the next day, hey you were pretty pissed last night remember she you took off all your clothes off?

Comedy gone wrong is this: 
Stone cold sober, (I never drink pre gig) I tried to do something I thought I was good at, but actually I don’t have the skills to pull that shit off, shame on me for even trying.
The comments range from : ‘you’re brave,’ ‘I couldn’t do that’ ‘The venue was tricky.’
I want to say gawd that was really crap, let’s just get a beer and pretend it never happened.  But I am so deeply embarrassed that I can only nod and grimace in response.

 It is raw, it is numbing and though I have to cut my teeth somewhere on the comedy circuit, it’s just a shame that it’s go to be in full view of others.

There in lies the complexity of it, the conundrum. I’ve got to try material out  to see if it is funny , or just something that I think is funny, but have not yet been able to craft into a joke. It’s just a shame that people have to listen and watch and be part of the process, to be be the bit of litmus paper.

The sensation of comedy gone wrong makes me want to crawl out of my own skin and into a deep hole. Once I’m in the hole, I want to play and replay each word, each reaction, each pause over in my head, pick it like a sore, pour vinegar in to it and wince at just how bad it is.

I finish the gig in the pub to biggest audience I have had to date and I get out of there fast.
The festival has kindly put me up in a motel room over night. I so don't want to go out to dinner though, or walk down the main street of the town, the thought of having to justify bad comedy is just too much to bear.

Is the last gig I ever do going to be that bad? Is that my comedy legacy, a crowded room in a bar in Winter in Dayesford, sailing off course to comedy perdition?

It can’t be, I have no choice, I have to keep going: back to the rooms and back to spiral bound note pad to write some more material which may or may not be funny. The only way I will ever know it's funny though is if I get out there, hold the microphone, speak and hope for laughter.

August 2007

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Show me the funny

I tell James that I am going to a comedy room once a week every week.
What’s wrong with this?  he asks, his hands doing a sweeping gesture of the couch and the TV. Isn’t this enough for you ?

I had done many creative things in the past: calligraphy, poetry, lead lighting, painting, all consuming at the time, then all relegated to the too hard, or this doesn’t really challenge me basket. Comedy was just another one of these fads, I could see him thinking and maybe he was right.

My first gig is  on Brunswick Street, upstairs at the back of a pool room. The audience are nearly all comics, all waiting their turn, there is a sense of anxiety in the room and not much laughter. Most of the comics look just as nervous as me. They are going through their lines in their heads , barely able to concentrate on what anybody else is doing, let alone laugh at what is being said.

My set is about working in the not for profit sector and something about James and the kids. The adrenaline is out of control, I am agitated and almost shaking with it. I don’t really care how the audience respond, because I am mesmerized at my own physiological response: my voice is almost trapped in my throat. I feel so raw and exposed and yet powerful and invincible. It’s only a five minute set, so the sensation is fleeting, but once I’m off stage  I desperately want affirmation from someone, at the same time as wanting to be alone to go over the whole thing in my head but also wanting to get up on stage  immediately to give it another go.

On the appointed night I go to see or do comedy, I get an adrenaline rush doing the dishes. Soon I think, as the suds get murky from dinner plates, I will drive through the city to a dark room to listen or do comedy. It distances me from the domestic drudgery, I feel like I have been lifted to a higher plane. As I close the door each week and head to the car, Jessica cries because I have left the house, she is 18 months old. It’s non negotiable though, I have to do this.

I often go out with my mate Anna to comedy rooms, she has a very dry sense of humour. Usually after the first comics’ set we sit Waldorf and Statler like, arms folded, shaking our heads, as the parade of young men get on stage. Their schtick is: they are single, they masturbate a lot and eat MacDonald’s. We shake our heads, knowing that the next comic will be almost identical, but we return each week, always optimistic that someone funny will get on stage and make us laugh, but it rarely happens.

I assume that there is a comedy trajectory, like doing a diploma, then a degree, then masters, then a PHD. According to comedy folk law you need to do 100 gigs in comedy rooms before you are anyone, after that you get to headline or MC. Alternatively you can get lucky, win Raw or know someone in the industry.
The only way I know how to do comedy, is to do the rooms. I haunt them, stand at the bar watching the parade of people giving it a go, trying to be funny. I get up each time thinking that tonight I will crack the comedy nut. That I will make sense of it all, that it will become clear, that I will take this one step, a five minute gig in a room and then another and another and there will be people on the sidelines, willing me on, assisting in the journey, guiding me to the next step all the way to comedy nirvana. My own comedy nirvana is winning an award and being paid to go to Edinburgh Fringe. What tends to happen week after week though is I turn up at a room, do my set, listen to others and then go home. After a while I realize that here is no trajectory, just make shift stages, five minute sets and not much laughter.

When I tell people that I am doing stand up comedy, their reactions give me almost the same buzz as doing comedy. I see a renewed sense of respect, of awe, most ask: ‘but what if it goes wrong, what if people don’t laugh? 
Then I work out why people aren’t laughing and I get up and do it again  I reply.

Comedy makes me feel like I have just birthed. I am comedian, I am funny, I am legend. My marriage is just a backdrop, the mortgage, the habit and the children its’ glue. I say to anyone who will listen.

On the way to gigs, I recite my piece over and over. I can hear my voice on stage is nasally, as if I am trying to be Judith Lucy. I think that if I can just be a little bit like Judith Lucy then that will make me funnier. I am desperate for the response, for the laughter. When I rehearse I imagine where the laughter should go, if it doesn’t come on stage where I expect it to, I falter, loose my track and stall. It’s strangely terrifying to feel so exposed and yet have to remain absolutely in control in order for the comedy to work.

Our dog Holly is all waggy tail and up for another walk every night. I have become the crazy lady in the neighbourhood : talking to herself, sometimes smiling, sometimes laughing out loud, rehearsing comedy gold as I walk the dog.

I imagine deviating from the tightly written script and saying something ad lib, this terrifies me though, almost more than getting up on stage.
On stage, the words, the commas, the exclamation marks are my safety net.

Those early gigs, the nasal voice, the if I can only aspire to be more like Judith Lucy mindset, meant that my delivery was more like a recital than a relaxed - I’ve just thought of this, isn’t it hilarious, set up joke punch line effort.

After 18 months of haunting the comedy rooms I’ve amassed a few jokes that work : the birthing story, tales from my work in the not for profit trenches, jokes about the kids . I decide to register for Melbourne International Comedy Festival with a show called: It’s Not About the Prawns.

Myth busters 101: people think that that you get chosen to do comedy festival, that there is some kind of audition process and that once you get chosen the festival does everything for you.
Bah - bow! 
The reality is that anyone can go online, register, jump through the endless administrative hoops, upload their photograph, make up a show title, create a show blurb, book a venue, do a press release and pay the money and do the funnies.

I agonise over every word for the show blurb.
Justine Sless Presents It’s Not About the Prawns:
Ready for some capacity building? Accountability weary and sleep deprived community worker Justine Sless slips out of a meeting to reveal all about social engagement and the politics of biscuits. So never mind the strategy documents, pass those bloody Tim Tams before we all go mad.

I attend an information session: ‘so you want to do a show at Melbourne Comedy Festival?’
There is plenty of advice on marketing, on capturing an audience through Arts Access, the benefits of doing an Auslan Signed show, what your poster should look like, how to get on radio and in the news paper.

I decide to perform the show at a venue run by local government in an arts precinct in my neighborhood . It is clean and a lot more upmarket than a comedy room.
I have to take out public liability insurance, I’m really unclear why I need it, maybe it’s incase some one laughs so hard they sue me for replacement knickers.
The registration process for MICF goes on: upload reviews, upload you tube clips, pay registration fee of $400, write a press release.

I try and cover all bases, to make the show as accessible as possible: Auslan signed, cry baby day time show, wheelchair access, complimentary tickets to Arts Access clients. 

I have had a few gigs in comedy rooms, and have become oddly shameless about telling people that I do comedy. I am astounded at my level of hutzpah, I pitch and self promote continually.
I pitch to a new place every week, to large NGOs and welfare agencies.
Please let me add levity to your strategic planning day, let me come to your staff planning days and be funny.
I ring up VicHealth : Let me talk to your CEO and offer my service,s I am funny and comedy is the best health promotion tool there is, book me please I’m hilarious.

The returns on my calls and pitches are few and far between, but I keep going.

I have become unbearable, like I have joined a cult, found love for the first time, been to a foreign country and come back with 10,000 photos that I want everyone to see. But I can’t stop, if a mate asks :
How’s the comedy going? 
I tell  them about the intellectual challenge, how I try to find the funny in everything, that finding comedy is the best thing that has ever happened to me and on and on I drone.
I don’t even know if I’m good or not, I just want more more stage time, I’m desperate, this is a full blown addiction.

Through a work connection, I get invited to do a  set at a conference. There are cool mints in bowls and delegates everywhere. I am delirious; I am a comedian at a conference.
I rip the piss out of the not for profit sector,I have done this material in comedy rooms for a while now, but there aren't stunned mullet faces at the conference, there are 100’s of community workers lined up in front of me all sporting non threatening footwear. I do the routine where I am a prophet who can read people’s future via a crushed Tim Tam between meetings. There is much laughter. I have landed, I am home and the gig can only be described as in the pocket.
It’s all a million miles away from comedy rooms, badly lit with young chaps talking masturbation and comparing dick sizes.

People come up to me afterwards: Could you do exactly that for our AGM?  I have died and gone to comedy heaven. I stand awkwardly receiving compliments and nod yes I can ‘do’ your AGM. How much do I charge is the response.  I’ll ring you I say, I’ll ring you and we can talk details.

I try a few times to get a gig in The Local, a long standing room in St Kilda, I feel like I will have  made it if I can get a gig there. I go there week after week. I ask the woman who runs the room for a spot, she fobs me off again and again. Then one week she says as she pats my arm:
I don’t think that you are ready for a gig in my room yet.
Mortified I can barely look at her.
I have birthed 2 children for gods sake, how can I not  be ready for a five minute spot in your roomI think to myself as I slink out.

It’s not About the Prawns evolves every day, after work and deep into the night.  I write long tracts about the writing process in the show, how it is like birthing. I link the birthing bit to the birth of my second child. Explain that my home is run like a strict agenda and that everything is minuted during dinner conversations.
I had been doing comedy for nearly two years but I had no comedy mates. It was not like community work where you network, you share, there’s collegial support.

Parlty it was because I only did a room a week , many comics did a room a night, and drank together after wards. I felt like an awkward child trying to get attention at rooms. There was a hi how you going, kind of thing, and occasionally, nice set murmured in passing.  But on the whole things never progressed to friendship status. I was often the oldest there and the ratio was usually 6 boys/men to one woman and really I couldn’t stay after gigs because I had to get home, get to bed and usually be woken up by Jessica at 6am.

There was my friend Jenny though, who knew loads about performance techniques and gave me endless good advice. I would stand in her kitchen and go through the show and Jenny would say things like:

You need to know this script backwards, so that it rolls off your tongue.
You need to tell a joke, commit to it and believe that it will work.
If you look or sound like you don’t believe the material  the pitch of your voice goes down,  then it’s going to be so much harder to deliver the next joke, if you finished the last joke badly.
Own the stage: you need to look like you are in control, if the audience get a whiff that you aren’t in control, then you will loose them.

When you sell tickets for a show online, you can track sales, who has bought them, what date they are coming and so on. Everyday I would check sales. I would woop if one had been sold, I would woop  even harder if one had been sold to someone I didn’t know.

The way that publicity works for MICF is that you submit a press release during the registration process that goes to the MICF publicist team, they then distribute a publicity guide to print, radio and television stations, the media folk then read through it all and decide who and when they are going to give publicity to, reviews, radio interviews.
I get a slot on Triple R, on Joy Radio and 3CR, the local paper do a photo shoot of me holding a pile of cookies looking pensive for an article: Local Comedian reads biscuits.

I believe finally that I have got some traction, that after this show, after the reviews, after I receive an award ( the speech is already written)  that I will climb the comedy ladder and shout : move over Judith Lucy, Slessy has arrived.

James has shown no interest in the process of registering for  comedy festival and has declined to comment on the picture and 60 word blurb that is in the MICF guide.

When the guide comes out, I stare at my image and read my blurb and the other 400+ shows and wonder what the odds are of someone buying a ticket having seen my image and read those words.

I feel like I have over indulged financially on the family budget.  Maybe, it would be easier to justify a wardrobe full of Italian leather shoes, rather than a putting on a show during MICF.
Registration, venue hire public liability insurance, hire of microphone, payment of a light and sound technical guy, posters costs me $2,800.

The Age is saturated with all things comedy in the run up to the festival. There is an article about ‘how much money it takes to put on a  MICF show.' One guy in the article says his show will cost him over $20,000. James reads the article and murmurs his dissent, ‘better not be costing you this much, bloody hell’-  His only acknowledgment that I’m even doing a show.

I’m doing 7 shows across 5 days. It’s exhilarating: this is the most comedy I have ever done in one hit. At the rate I’m going : five minutes a week, the show equates to around ten years worth of 5 minutes gigs over 7 days.
Doing a MICF show allows me to be in control, I don’t have to suck up to comics who run rooms to get a five minute spot, then spend weeks waiting for a response only to be told I’m not ready yet. Doing a MICF show I can bang on about what I want to at the pace I want to. 

Many comics during the festival are doing 20 plus shows, but I don’t think that my bank balance or my family could handle any more than one week of it.

The venue seats 80, that’s a total of 560 tickets to sell out every night. I need to sell 215 concession tickets over 7 shows to break even. The ticketing company take a big cut from ticket sales.
I heavily comp the show and give tickets to :Deaf Victoria, local and federal politicians, not for profit organisations, friends, family, strangers in the street, neighbors any one who I think just might come along and sit in a seat.

Seven shows later, including 1 sold out show with 90 in the audience, extra chairs dragged in at the last moment, the audience made up of nearly every teacher at my daughters primary school, I feel euphoric, I am overwhelmed by the support of family and friends, I break even.
I have managed to veer off script by the end of the week, I ad lib and it’s often funnier than the script.

On the last night as I say the last line: It’s not about the prawns, this sensation of release come over me and I forgive James: for his apathy about the birth of our second child. He dealt with it in his way, I don’t understand why he dealt with it like that, but as the last line is uttered I know I can not hold onto the grudge.

I find out many years later that James was in fact terrified about the birth of our second child. He was terrified it would be like the first birth, a traumatic, 36 hours of blood filled exhaustion slipping into a near death experience.  He had, I think, the male version of  pre and post natal depression. He but  didn’t articulate his fear about the impending birth of Jessica, because his fear was too great.

James and the kids had come to see a show. James expression is like he is at the dentist: how long will this take, will it be painful and how much will this cost me? The kids laugh and afterwards ask if they can have their Tim Tam read too.

At times during the season, I ask myself why am I doing this? This is ridiculous, one night hardly anyone laughs, there are mates at every show, most are supportive, but some just look at me with  open pity.

I have put on a one woman show, done the publicity, sold the tickets, taken the applause, stood back stage almost shitting myself that I would have to go out there and make people laugh, but I had crossed a divide, I could deliver more than just a 5 minute set and I felt like a bloody legend.

The euphoria though, was tempered by the fact that no one from the MICF office came to see the show and that despite ticking every conceivable box ,no one from the MICF office said we must see this show, this woman is inclusive, community minded and above all funny.I don’t get  a review either. 

I wait  for the call from the MICF office saying that  in fact an ‘undercover person’ from the MICF office came to see your show and can you get to awards night to receive the best newcomer trophy.

A post show world is not a good place to be, the adrenaline has run out, the dishes are still there, the day job can’t be left, I am just a mum again, who stood up on a stage, banged on for an hour or so and got some people to pay for some tickets.

I slink back to the comedy rooms: to the badly lit spaces, the makeshift stages. There is no pay, there is little or no affirmation from other comics, but I can not stop. I am addicted, compelled,driven. I want to be drenched in comedy, to be sated by it, to understand it and to understand myself.

Monday, May 12, 2014

When I went into labour with my second child my husband gave me a look that could only mean one thing:

I’m too pissed you’ll have to drive your self to hospital.
I was shocked not so much by his response but by my waters, by the amount of water. It wasn’t a drip or a slow leak but a gush.
Within minutes I had exhausted the absorbency of a large bath towel. It was hard to waddle around the house gathering my stuff for the hospital with the towel bunged between my legs. When I’d rang the hospital and said my waters had broken shall I come in now, they asked if I was sure.
Sure I was sure, when the waters broke it had sounded like a champagne cork pop. I was squatting down, I couldn’t bend to gather the bedroom detritus into a pile of rather than a scatter, so I was squatting. I was in Ruby’s room, my six year old, she had long awaited the birth of her new sibling. Being an only child didn’t suit her, she would often be at parks ,or on beachside holidays or wake up in the mornings wondering if today she would make a new friend. Sometimes Ruby would have this distant look in her eyes, I took it as a look of  loneliness, or maybe she was just thinking about what was for dinner that night.
It had taken quite a while to get pregnant for the second time, for a short time we had considered adoption. But there I was finally about to birth. As I squatted and heard the champagne cork pop sound Ruby must have seen my colour change. What’s up mum? Ruby asked I’ll be off to hospital soon pet me waters have just broken. Leaving the detritus I shuffle sideways barely daring to move to the bathroom, gushing.

I make a cup of tea, true crisis response for an expat Brit and ring my sister who was to stay the night with Ruby until the baby had been born. I waddle around the house tidying up, making Ruby’s lunch for school the next day and patting the dog.

By the time we leave to go to the hospital it is after ten, Ruby is asleep and I am onto my third bath towel.
I put my stuff in the back of the car, James wordlessly goes to sit in the back seat.
It’s not chauffeur driven I say. He moves to the front seat, looking ahead, middle distance.
I push the towel firmly between my legs, getting ready to reverse out of the driveway.
The hospital is about a 30 minute drive away. As we hit the main arterial Hoddle Street the traffic goes into crawl mode.
I pull over into a bus lane suddenly.
What are you pulling over for? James asks
Because I’m having a contraction, I reply focusing on the downward pull of the ache now spreading from my lower abdomen into my lower back.
We arrive, I park, throw some coins into the parking meter, appalled that I need so many coins so late at night in front of a maternity hospital.
I gather my stuff, my steely reserve and head to the main entrance. I realize that though James is with me, I am clearly in this birthing business alone.

I’m admitted to hospital after evidence of broken waters has been produced. The plastic bound bracelet with all relevant details is clamped to my wrist and ankle.

I had gone to hospital a few weeks earlier convinced that I was going into labour then. It had felt like my insides were hanging out , my vagina was heavy, I thought maybe the baby’s head was protruding, that I was already 10 cms dilated, or maybe I was a freak and had dilated 20 cms and the baby head first was coming on down.
I rushed to the emergency ward. After a perfunctory examination I was told no I wasn’t in labour, and that the downward thrust I was experiencing was just vulval varicosisties. Back home and still not entirely convinced I had taken a quick peek in the mirror, it was like a piece of suppurating fruit, bluish purple, swollen.

My circulatory system had worked over time during this pregnancy, the supporrating fruit was complimented by the varicose veins on my legs which had grown to such proportions during the pregnancy that when I was swimming laps in the Reservoir pool one day a man comes up to me points at my legs and says:
Oh my god where did you get those 3d tattoos from? Because they are fully sick man, fully sick.
There is no such man, but it’s a great joke which I will use again and again. My varicosities at the time didn’t feel like a joke though they looked more like blue backed beans than veins.

Meanwhile it’s past mid night, I am in a cubicle with a bed, a chair, some magazines and an array of hospital paraphernalia. The contractions are coming in slow waves, radiating out from the pelvis region. The hospital noises, the beeps and monitors and rise and fall of James snoring is the sound track to the onset of labour.
I heave and rage against the pain, hands on the side of the hospital bed, leaning in to  each contraction and texting  UNGGHHH to my mum and sister who were in the Uk, so that they could get a sense of how the labor was progressing.

Intermittently midwifes poke their heads through the curtain and ask: how you going?  Fine I say waving them off. I don’t want intervention, the thought of a fetal monitor strapped to my midriff or worse still a hand touching me between the waves is too much to handle. So I press on, waiting for each role of pain to wash through me.
At 7am though the midwives say enough, they roll up their sleeves, transfer me from the cubicle and move me to a ‘birthing room,’
We are going on a break at 10am and want this baby outa here by then, so get on the bed and start pushing.
I glance over at James he is disconnected and slightly ashen faced.
I chew on a jelly snake take a suck of gas and promptly throw up. The mid wives urge me to bear down and push. I am happy now to be guided by them.

Before I had Ruby, I had read everything there was to read about the impending birth. I had a carefully written birth plan punctuated with lavender compresses, back rubs and lindt chocolate for energy.
A superfluous document in the scheme of things: Ruby’s birth was a 36 hour job and really like a rave party full of e’s: episiotomy, epidural, exhausting. The chord was prolapsed and Ruby was blue on arrival. Ruby was then swept away by a sea of midwives and doctors to be revived. The birth plan I had initially thrust towards midwives like the Bill of Rights, had flittered to the floor like a losers crumpled tats lotto ticket around the 15 hour mark.

After Rubys’ birth I had arrived home really sore. I had to sit on a rubber ring for days, wincing endlessly from the episiotomy.
I was overwhelmed by the flowers, so many in fact that there was almost a funereal, morbid air to the house. Despite the flowers, the cards and the welcome home, and Ruby, I felt I had failed in a big way, that my body had let me down.

At work I had thrown up a lot during the pregnancy, once in a dumpster just at the back entrance in view of customers. I had to sit down a lot too, only able to stand for about an hour or two at a time, what with the varicosities and all.
At 27 weeks my manager presented me with a bunch of flowers and said don’t come in again after this week, I took the floral arrangement wordlessly, wondering how a bunch of flowers would pay the mortgage.
I’d thrown up again that morning, when he told me not to return and gave me the flowers,  though mortified I had thought, fair enough , it’s not a good look, throwing up at work, I was a chef at the time.

I went home 27 weeks pregnant, sat on the couch and cried. What would I do now? I couldn’t possibly go back to being a chef. What other skills did I have? I began to eat, croissants, muffins, any thing with a high carb’ load and a sugary edge. James would come home from work each night and ask:
 Still crying?
Yeh I’d sniff and eat another muffin.
I pilled on 20kgs.
Then I birthed and my body didn’t do what I thought it would do. I felt weak, stupid and inept.
However when I arrived home with Ruby, there were streamers and balloons festooning the iron lace work on the outside of the house. Inside there were more balloons, the tiny crib that Ruby was to sleep in was bedecked with streamers. As I entered the living room of our tiny rented house in Moonee Ponds, James glided passed me, pressed play on the CD player and the Eagles ‘new kid in town’ played. His eyes filled with tears of joy he looked down in his first born and I had a let down.

Jessicas’ birth was a breeze in comparison with Ruby’s and it was accomplished sans birth plan and drug free, except for a quick suck of gas. Then when Jess she popped out it was a calm and beautiful moment, her shock of black hair curling slightly, her head gently to one side, her face so sweet and for sure there was a smile playing on her lips.  The midwives weighed her quickly, did all the testing things and handed her too me. It was 12 minutes past nine, they still had time to wash their hands, sign off on paper work and get to their tea break with another birth chalked up on their watch.
The afternoon of the birth of Jess, Ruby came to visit her new sister .Ruby lay next to Jessica, the look of contentment and bliss on her face  was magical and it casts such a spell on me that I don’t even call James on the snoring business, or the I’m too pissed to drive you to hospital line. It can, I decide all wait until I get home, where it can be discussed over a nice cup of tea and a home baked item.

Two days  after the birth: I find myself teeth clenched and white knuckled  at the entrance of the hospital having just been discharged. I am holding the new born Jessica, whilst fitting the baby seat into the back of the car. James stares at me blankly : I just didn’t have time to do it, he says.
Could you hold the baby maybe I say wrenching the nut and bolt into place securing the baby’s capsule to the anchor point.

As we pull up to the house my neck strains to get a glance of the streamers and balloons that I am sure will be wafting in the breeze at the entrance of the house.
I get home anticipating that along with the festoon of balloons and streamers  a lavish banquet of soft cheese, crustacians and a variety of carefully selected chocolate items to be laid out. I was gagging during the pregnancy for anything that would give me listeria or botchelism, tempted at times to lick the rubber seal on the fridge door.
But there are no streamers, no wafting in the wind of Wey Hey it’s a girl sign. I assume then that all the deco’s must be inside.
But all that is festooning the place are the weekend papers strewn over the dining table, unwashed dishes adorn the sink and kitchen bench, no decos, no welcome home you little bloody legend you sign and no food, not a scrap to be seen.
I lean heavily on the edge of the kitchen bench feeling a well of anger:
‘You could have tidied the house’ I say, ‘you could have put some food in the fridge.’
Prey let me continue:
‘Any thing’ I say ‘you could have bought any thing for lunch. I am starving, I have just fricken birthed, but please, shall I just pop down to the supermarket and get some fricken food in the house so that I can eat some something
But wait there’s more:
‘You could have bought some soft cheese, a slither would have been fine. You know I’ve been gagging for soft cheese for nine months. I’ve been gagging for prawns, you could have bought some prawns for lunch, made a salad, bought some bread.
I open the fridge again, waves of anger and disbelief rolling through my body, there’s not even any milk in the fridge. I have just birthed and there’s not even a bottle on milk in the fridge.
‘You could have tidied the house, you could have bought some food.’ I am shrill now and light headed, knowing soon that I will have to breast feed and that somehow I am going to have to remember how to breast feed away from the hospital ward, away from the press of a button and magically appearing lactation consultant who on command would do this strange kind of rolling folding movement with her arms by way of demonstrating how to feed a newborn. I am mesmerized by the lactation demonstration and at the same time bewildered. My coordination is not great, I’m no smooth mover on the dance floor. I high five myself when I have the opportunity to rub my head and pat my stomach. I look nonchalant when I m doing it, but I’m quietly rapt’ because I don’t do coordination well, but can make that movement look smooth.
Having the lactation consultant, a slim woman, straight blond hair, smelling slightly of Issy Miake perfume, doing the lactation demonstration is enthralling and terrifying at the same time.  There’s fat chance that I can replicate the moves, get the baby to latch on, not get cracked nipples and not drop the baby.

I am standing in the kitchen, a mounting sense of disbelief that there is nothing in the fridge to eat and that I am going to have to breast feed the baby without the lactation nurse on call.
‘I can’t even make a cup of tea, I have just birthed and I can’t even make a cup of tea’
The baby starts crying, I’m going to have to put the rant on hold, unclip my maternity bra, sit down and figure out how to breast feed on my own.
There’s not even any bread, my energy galvanized by anger is beginning to falter, ‘I have just birthed and I can’t even make a sandwich.’
James has that look on his face, it is slightly sour, but un flinching, he knows that he is in the wrong, but wont admit it, so he does this flip where somehow it becomes my fault.

‘Ok he says OK I’ll down to the market, I’ll go down there right now shall I right now and get some bloody prawns then shall I will that make you feel better?’  he says
I am defeated, the baby is crying, my breasts spring a leak. I look at him.

‘It’s about the prawns,’ I say quietly as I pick up the baby and retreat to the couch.

December 2004 and so began my comedy odyssey