Are you tired of political correctness?
That’s because you’re viewing treating others with respect and equality as something that’s politically-motivated.
It’s also because you don’t like being told to change how you think or what you call things, because change is scary. Your insecurity is so strong that you experience strong anxiety at the idea of learning New Rules because you’ve worked SO long and SO hard just to learn THESE rules and you’re not even sure that you’re getting those right! New Rules just mean more chances to get things wrong, and that might make you look bad, and that’s to be avoided at all costs.
That’s probably why you’re tired of Political Correctness.
Once you connect the changes in society with how we speak, act and regard others, and you really drill down into that until you get to the fact that “others” ARE actually people, just like you, then maybe that makes a difference. Maybe it’s not so tiring if you’d ask that others have a little patience for you too. Then maybe you’d feel better about you. Maybe you wouldn’t be so anxious, so insecure. Maybe if someone else was a bit easier on you, you would be easier on others.
But since you had it hard, do you think that means others should have to have it hard as well?
Is the whole point of all this… society stuff, to do better? To BE better?
Are YOU doing better? Are you BEING better?
No, seriously. I’m asking.
Me personally, I’d actually like to see this next generation, MY KIDS, have it easier. Have it better. I’d LOVE to see what they can do if they don’t have to have it as hard as I had it. If that means I have to learn new concepts about gender, and use pronouns, and get used to things that used to be weird or different or abnormal to me… I think that’s more than fair.
I’d like to think that if we give them room to grow and the space to feel safe in, they might have a better chance at being… happy.
That’s my goal, anyway. What’s yours?
This is a short story for the Australian Writer’s Centre Furious Fiction December 2022 Contest for which I was longlisted.
In addition to being limited to 500 words, the other rules were:
- Each story had to begin with a 12-word sentence.
- Each story had to include the sale of a second-hand item
- Each story had to include at least five (5) different words that end in the letters –ICE.
Curious, when the entirety of life’s endeavours is little more than junk. Curious and pathetic. A loose collection of knickknacks, collectable items, kitsch.
Annabel loved her crochet samplers, her porcelain miniatures, her creepily-staring dolls, but she worshipped her spoons. She bid them good night, every night, and she stopped and stared at them every single day, sometimes finishing a nice cup of tea whilst standing unsteadily in front of them.
Her life consisted of very few lasting things. No children, not a single loved one still alive. Those spoons were the only thing she cared about. For them to be here, in this shop, awaiting appraisal and an unfair amount of currency for them was an injustice. Annabel’s life should be worth more than that.
The shop owner regarded the spoons with slightly less disdain than he did the man presenting them. Both were of swarthy persuasion, older and greying, and had been granted citizenship many years ago. But their countries of origin had fundamental differences of policies, and now a prejudice against the other permeated their very cell structures.
Annabel’s spoons would never be here were she alive. The only way someone would get them off her and get them here, was if they knew she was dead.
The man presents a tea set, the shop owner shows even more disdain, pointing out that it hasn’t even been given a proper clean. The tea remnants stain the bottom and one of the saucers shows the striped imprint of a licorice Allsort that was unstuck from it at some point. They bicker, the shop owner doesn’t want it until I call out that I would like to purchase it.
“Fifty.” The shop owner didn’t waste even a heartbeat before turning to me with an outrageous price. The seller’s eyes light up until he looks into my eyes and there’s a flicker, but I don’t think he recognises me.
“Twenty.” It’s a stupid game to play, but play it I must.
“Thirty-five.” The shop owner goes instantly to split the difference but catches the look of excitement on the seller’s face, leans over to him with his hand held up and reminds him, “Fifteen to you.”
The man doesn’t like it, but relents. Perhaps bolstered by this early success, he then takes among the first offers for the spoons and hastily departs. He’s easy enough to follow home because he lives next door to Annabel. I’ve seen him several times, though I don’t believe he’s ever really gotten a good look at me. When he answers the door, his brow gives a crinkle that says he’s confused as to how I was at the shop earlier and now on his front porch.
“I don’t know why, but you got in there before I could finish cleaning up at Annabel’s.” I push into his house. “Now it looks like I’ve got a whole lot more to clean up than just the nightshade from the teapot.”
I pull the door closed behind me.
I’m not sure why I don’t put more in here about my writing, especially since it’s such a significant part of my life. I think I’ve wanted to try and balance my interactions with the world in a one-to-one sense (like emails) and a broader sense (like Facebook or blog posts).
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there’s a rather high level of anxiety associated with the latter. Posting to a broader audience feels like it’s too one-sided. Like you get to know this about me, but I don’t know what’s going on with you. It’s like you’re cheating.
But I can’t say that’s why. If I had to pick something it’s likely Imposter Syndrome. Like I’m not sure when I’m going to feel like a real writer. I had a short story published in an anthology magazine, The Stringybark Stories. So everybody reading this, go buy that and write a nice review for them. David’s an awesome guy and does some really good work with Stringybark, and more folks need to tell him that.
I entered a short story Crazy Witch Woman and while I didn’t get into the Top 3 prize winners, I did get a “Highly Commended” and included in the published book. So that’s pretty cool. Wifeage gave me a kiss and told me she was happy to be the first to call me a “Published Author”.
I rather liked that.
So I laboured over what to do with the book I’d written. It turns out it’s bloody hard to get people to read it and give you feedback. I sent it out to over 10 people and got actual feedback from 2. 20% is not a great rate. But I also worked really hard on my rewrites and after finishing the sequel, I went back and applied the knowledge I’d gained of the characters to the first book. I really felt like they’d come alive in the second novel and I wanted the love that had grown to be applied to them retroactively.
I think it worked. But I’m not sure. I’ve since gotten more feedback but it’s insanely disheartening when NOBODY* talks about how much they like the book and instead talk about it’s problems. And they’re all different problems. Some of them are even kind of genre-specific and I wonder if these people just don’t like reading thrillers.
* Not nobody. Family Matty really quite enjoyed it, and that was the very first draft. Which, to be fair, was not a very good book. But he helped me heaps with what could make it better and I’ll always have much love for him for that.
But my goal was to self-publish it by the end of the year. I’ve written these dystopian, sci-fi, speculative fiction thrillers under a pen name, one that I’ve built all of the online profiles for, and my plan was to finish the two other novels I’m working on (crime thriller and coming-of-age drama) and try and pitch those to publishers/agents and maybe get traditionally published.
Not that the plan was always to get The Council onto Amazon via self-publishing. I queried some agents, you betcha, but they all turned me down with either ignoring me or saying “Yeah, not really my thing.” Which is fair. I don’t know what’s wrong with it, I know it’s not for everybody, but it really seems to put some people off. Which is hard to hear, because *I* sure like it. I liked writing it, I liked reading it later.
So the plan evolved into just taking this one series and putting it on Amazon. Some brilliant advice I got from a great guy I know, one of those author-types, said start with the first book for sale, then tease the sequel, then when the sequel drops make the first book FREE to hook readers and tease the third one. I think it’s a goer, for sure. I’m just wondering if anybody will even purchase the book in the first place.
That will be something I’ll have to work on. Getting people to read it, then leave a review (a good one, preferably) to boost interest, and maybe I’ll get lucky and catch the algorithm in the right mood. Heh.
Anyway, the first book is up on Amazon, but it’s not finished yet so I’ve set it to “draft”. I’m still gathering feedback and some of it is so good that I can’t officially publish it until it’s ready. When your 15-yo daughter blazes through it and takes notes in the margins and draws pictures of the characters, you know ignoring that type of thing is for people with No Soul.
So if you want to read the 7th draft before the 8th (and hopefully FINAL) draft, and have your valuable insights calculated and most-definitely, not-at-all ignored, then drop me an email. Otherwise, just wait patiently, I’ll update here when it’s ready.
I am crippled. Broken. I have various bits of my body that don’t work well anymore. Some of them are my doing, living the life I did. Some of them are an accident of birth, genetics, fate. Neither of those differences ultimately matter though. What matters is pain.
Getting out of bed is pain. Getting into bed is nice, but still pain. Making the morning’s first hot drink, for me or Wifeage, is pain. Needing to sit on the toilet for an extended time is annoying for its base reasons, but it’s also pain. Doing nearly everything always involves a level of pain. And I am sick of it.
Except writing. Writing isn’t really painful. Not usually anyway. A new malady in my left arm has hampered things, but I’m learning to work with it. But if it meant giving up writing for the barest hope that this new pain would lessen, I would not. Fuck that. I’ll fight through the pain, and I’ll let the tears fall later when I am confronted that this, my last vestige of pain-free sanity, is now tainted with the same niggling electrical pulses that fuck with every other aspect of my day.
I’ve done The Right Things. I’ve seen the GPs enough that they’ve sent me to others who purport to want to help me. One of them plans to cut me open, fix or fuse or replace the bits that no longer work, and I remain hopeful this holds an answer to all this pain.
For now though, I have only the pain, and the hope. There are no answers yet. Writing is my only answer, and I plan to cling to it forever.
Riveting… is NOT a word I’d use, so why couldn’t I put the bloody thing down?!
Because it’s Just Good Writing. With a relatable and interesting main character and vibrantly colourful supporting cast. Holy cats, I guarantee you know somebody just like every character in this book, and you sometimes love them, sometimes they make you want to scream.
It wasn’t even that there’s this Unknown Mystery hanging over everything. I mean, there is, but that wasn’t what drove me to keep turning pages for a solid 6 hours. With Julia, you’re just drawn in and taken with on her journey. She’s flawed, she’s human, she’s mutable and best of all, she’s that perfect blend of humble/arrogant about her life decisions that nothing is a given because she (like all of us) is still figuring this all out as she goes. I don’t think I knew that was the biggest draw until I wrote it just now. Julia is All Of Us. So good.
After bravely donning masks, goinking our hands with “anitiser” at every entrance, and exit, for months. Nay, YEARS. We have finally fallen.
I have the younger one trained well, he dutifully puts his hands out when he sees me getting a goink from the hand sanitiser stations at the front of stores, and he always wears his mask unless we’re at the park. Alas, it was the teenager that was our undoing. Cooped up at home and longing for socialisation, contact, we thought we’d hit it for six when we found the Pride and Progress Ball going on in early November.
We got her dolled up, we went out for an evening of young people who were so incredibly FREE to just… be, that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. It was beautiful. But… they had free ice cream. And when the mask came off for that and she fled from Dad’s Protective Space to go out and make her own way like the Independent Teen that she is, the mask stayed off.
The very next day came the Pride Fair in the city. Same deal, really. When walking up, Dad said that since we’re outside, the mask wasn’t a 100% thing, but “when among other people” it goes back on. Instructions that were lost amongst the din of potential friends, freedom, and more ice cream.
A week later and she’s not feeling well, complaining of a sore throat, then lots and lots of headaches, the kind that panadol wasn’t touching. Then aches, and even though it’s insanely-difficult to tell with a fifteen-year-old, lethargy. Then a few days after that and I’m feeling coldy. I even whinge to Wifeage about how I’m coming down with something and she better not. But then she’s asking if my headaches were the same, and she’s a bit achy. Dammit, so she’s got the cold too, I’m thinking, poor dear.
Then she’s got aches in her legs, just above her knees, and she hasn’t gotten that sort of thing since… her 3rd Vaxx. Which got her thinking, and she takes a RAT. Now, I’d done a RAT already, standard practice these days, but I’d forgotten to give one to teen. So when Wifeage sends me a pic in Messenger and says that even though it’s only been 5 minutes, she’s SURE she can see a line.
I give me and teen another RAT.
My line’s still faint, but it IS there. Teen’s is as strong as Wifeage’s, who gives me another one from a different box, just in case.
Nup. We’ve all got the COOVE. Just like that, our fight is over. All our efforts, in vain.
Oh, and it sucks. Like it really sucks. We’re through the headaches and now just into body aches territory. Which, for two people that already battle that shit on a daily fucking basis, is fucking Turd City man. Bugger.
At least we’re not puking, shitting ourselves, or not breathing and dying. We’ve managed to avoid that, thus far. But I’ll keep you updated if we die.
When you’re trying to just find out if you can even afford to EVER purchase a house, the first thing you do is talk to your bank right?
Well after playing email tag a few times, divulging ALL of my life’s most interesting financial aspects, spending 12 minutes on the phone with chit-chat and bullshit T&C’s, I was told that the only income that Westpac would consider was my wife’s Disability Income, and NOT my Carer’s Pension.
Because… get this, “if something were to happen to that person, then there wouldn’t be that Carer’s income any more.”
That is FUCKING COLD.
Okay, so I tell them that we have a disabled child, who will be special needs his entire life. No go.
So I told them I also have a verified disability and whether or not there’s an income stream for somebody being disabled in this house shouldn’t be an issue.
She told me “It’s not whether or not I agree with our policy, but it’s my job to enforce it.”
Man, Bree Hamilton. I hope you’re second-guessing that career as a Barista or some shit, because having to do that kind of thing would EAT MY FUCKING SOUL. But maybe you’re safe and don’t have one, dunno.
The river doesn’t care.
It doesn’t care about the crystalline, perfect Spring day’s sunshine pouring down. It doesn’t care about me, or my older brother who is home from Uni, or my mother who has made a rare visit back as well and has taken us out fishing for the day. The river doesn’t care about any of that.
We haven’t been all together for a day’s fishing in years, though nothing’s changed. Not for them at least. For me, much has changed. I’ve had to learn how to navigate high school and my father’s moods all alone, just he and I in that big, empty house. She is still mostly-oblivious to the dynamics of her sons, the power struggles for her love. My brother is six years older and will do everything in his power to remain the centre of attention, trying his best to shine bright but belittling me if needed.
We stand on the gravel bank of a bend in the river, rods in hand. The sunshine and water are something out of a poem. They are perfect. She digs her camera out and tells us to pose, her boys. I have not been taciturn, but I have not been boisterous, obnoxious, or interruptive while he performs. I’ve been waiting for them to see anything that’s changed about me and when my brother goes to put his arm around my shoulders, always an act of domination rather than affection, he has to reach up for the first time ever.
Something has changed, and I wait for them to notice. I don’t want to dominate him, I never have. I don’t want to own or defeat him. I just want to be and I want to be seen. But I know his ego won’t allow that unless it’s suitably assuaged. She’s never realised this, and blurts out that by the next time we all get together I’ll have outgrown him. He stiffens next to me, and I brace myself for what he’ll need to do to bring the focus back to him.
He’s smart enough to know that conspicuously taking me down without elevating himself only brings him down too, he smiles as if all is well. Both of us stand there brandishing our fishing rods, posing. A split-second before the shutter snaps, he turns in a flash, grips my head and plants a cartoonishly sloppy kiss on my cheek. My mother roars with laughter and goes on about how funny he is.
The moment leaves smiles on all our faces as we hike up the river past the big bend, leading to whatever spot they think is best. They are the more experienced, more successful, fishers after all. For them, nothing has changed. I trail along behind them for a bit before I stop. I realise they’ll just continue on through the grass and brush without me, so I call out that I’ll be trying my luck at this particular spot.
Both look with confusion at me and then the water. It’s not a good spot, and he feels the need to tell me as such. I shrug and throw together some words that placate and show some river knowledge, anything that doesn’t betray my desire to be away from them. Something about working my way downstream toward the massive logjam at the bend. I turn to gesture to it to confirm but they are both already walking away.
I cast into the swift water, knowing nothing will happen but feeling the need to do something. I realise I need to be on the other side of the river for the best angle at the logjam, but the water here is hip-deep, and fast. I should try upstream for slower water. But they are up there, talking and laughing as they fish. I could go down, cross below the logjam and then walk back up, but there’s too much brush. I’ve forded the river before, so in I go.
The river is so strong that every step is a struggle, every solid footing its own success. I’m ever-aware of the river’s power, keeping my footing and my focus. As I near the middle where it’s fastest and deepest, I turn and look at them. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t have time to ponder though, as my foot slips and down I go.
At first, the river is gentle. Not too cold or rough. But I am moving fast, too fast. A strong swimmer, I’ve never been afraid of the water. But that logjam is dangerous, deadly, and I am headed straight for it. The river bends away from it and I expect the current to bend with it, like the letter “J”. I am not swimming hard yet as one hand still grips my fishing rod, until I realise that the river doesn’t bend gracefully, it rams into a corner before continuing on like the letter “L” instead.
I’m not aware of losing my pole or my favourite hat, I only know I am swimming as hard as I ever have in my life. I am fighting the power of the river, but I am losing. I don’t panic but my thoughts cease to be thoughts and are now pure reflex. I stop fighting and try to protect myself as I am slammed into the logjam, the immense mass of tangled and broken trees having any number of sharp, broken-off branches in it. Then I am under.
The force is the biggest shock. My body isn’t mine now. Like an amusement park ride or under a dogpile of enthusiastic teammates, I am helpless. I don’t even register relief at not being skewered as I am pinned against the underside of the logjam. My thoughts return as I look up at the water splashing around on the logs above and start thinking of something, anything, that I can do to get out.
Pushing out against the river isn’t an option, as I’m barely able to move my arms. I angle one forward into the current and my hand slides along the surface of a massive log above me. Bubbles dance along the underside of it as I reach for something on it to grab as I couldn’t wrap my arms halfway around it. I find a limb’s remnant that fits my hand perfectly and brace myself, knowing that I am strong enough to pull myself up and out, to fight against this river and win. I pull with all my strength and I can feel movement.
But it is the log moving, all I’ve done is roll it over, and now my handhold is underwater with me. The reward for my efforts is to be pinned helpless again. I watch more bubbles dancing up to the logs above and realise I am running out of options as well as time. There’s no room for more mistakes.
I stop fighting. Because this isn’t a battle. The river doesn’t care about me and my struggles. It’s not something to be battled, to be victorious over. The river doesn’t care about winning. It’s not something I can fight anyway, it is too powerful to be fought. I am pinned, helpless, but I can move my arms upward along the rough bank I am pinned against. I won’t fight the river any more, I will work with it.
If I was able to pull one of the logs over before, there’s a chance I can push up between them. Gradually, I force my fingers up through the mass of timber wedged above me. The logs are heavy and the river strong, but I push steady and I don’t stop. Suddenly my hand is through and then the rest of my arm as well.
The logs resist, the hammering of the current pressing them painfully against my arm and I worry that it will be crushed. Or worse, that I’ll get my head in-between them and the relentless force of the river will squish me. My hand finds purchase on the riverbank, my fingers grasping a clump of tough grass, and I push my other arm up to grab hold as well. Then I pull with all I am.
And I am free. I slither onto the bank, gasping and heaving. I stand unsteadily and walk from the trees onto the gravel bank to that perfect sunshine. I feel like something should be different, like I should feel triumphant over the river in the battle for my life. Like I should have seen a light in a tunnel or a showreel of my exploits roll by, but nothing has changed. The logjam sits innocuously, water lapping up and around the leafless branches of long-dead trees before it rolls out the side and smooths out into the slower, wider, riffly and less-deadly, gravel-banked shallows.
I am shaking but I don’t feel cold. I am calm but feel like I shouldn’t be. My mother bursts through the brush, her normally passive face panic-stricken, her mouth a worried half-cry. My brother is a step behind her, in a breathless hurry while his eyes scan coolly across me and the riverbank, assessing the situation. My mother pulls me forcefully into her arms and makes both panicked and relieved noises. I don’t feel the comfort in her grip that I wanted. She is grasping me like something that she has nearly lost.
My brother glibly comments on how they had both seen me crossing and worried until they realised I wasn’t there any more. He accidentally admits it was only when they saw me climbing free from the logjam that they came running. He’s absently smiling and nodding at me as if all is well now that he’s arrived. My mother still holds me firm. Though I am calm, I remember shaking moments before and I try to manufacture a shudder, something to give her to make her feel like she’s needed, like she’s calming me. Instead she steps back, holding me at arm’s length and commenting on how cold I must be before turning me fully into the sun.
We hear his footsteps on the gravel before seeing my brother splash roughly into the river, swimming with a rescue stride out into the easy water. For a split-second I am confused, thinking he’s trying to valiantly rescue me, and I wonder if I’ve actually died in that logjam and I am now watching him attempt to recover my body.
He comes back, his smirk never fading as he gracefully returns to shore, strutting back to me, dripping wet and smugly handing me my favourite fishing hat. He makes some comment about how he couldn’t let our favourite team’s hat go floating down the river and I stand there wondering how he’s missed that this hat is for an entirely different team, their colours a slightly lighter shade of red than his favourite team. I see it for what it is. He needed something to bring the spotlight back to himself, so I put my hand over the hat’s logo and nod at him, thanking him as if he swam like that to save me.
She goes on about how impressed she was that he threw himself into the dangerous water to rescue his younger brother’s favourite fishing hat, and I see both of them. I turn to look at the river, feeling like I should feel poetic, roused to some beautiful articulation about the contrast of the violence and unrelenting force of the water against the logjam that then peters out into a peaceful and gentle flow that meanders across the gravel. I’m sure there should be some sort of comparative reviewing of my own life, some sort of analogous duality I can draw from this moment following my own struggle against this power for my very survival.
But the river doesn’t care. The sun shines on me and I am drying out and warming and, in that moment, neither do I.
He was four days shy of turning fifty and Jack was running so hard he thought his heart would burst. The panting growl grew closer behind him even though he was running as fast as he ever had in his life. The huge German Shepard had burst through the brush and interrupted Jack’s evening jog before Jack snapped a dead branch from a tree for a weapon. When the wood snapped though, a splinter shot right into Jack’s eye and he was now running so fast that blood was trickling into his greying sideburns.
As Jack ran by the Thomas’s abandoned shack he veered off the road and made for the gap between the letterbox and the gate. The dog could easily vault the fence but Jack hoped to buy enough time to find a slat or board from the junk pile, something he could defend himself with. Jack misjudged the gap though, and his hip caught the jagged edge of the letterbox post. Pain jolted down his leg as he flew awkwardly through the air, landing hard on the packed dirt.
The dog was at the gate a second later, still growling viciously while assessing the best way to gain entry. It reared back, haunches coiled to vault the fence, when the Kelpie came from nowhere, bristling and black like it had been dripped straight from the night. It didn’t bark or growl at the German Shepard so much as it roared like a lion, sending the Shepard backward. Another roar and the Shepard ran back into the bush, and Jack wondered if the Kelpie only did that so it could kill him instead.
Jack pulled himself to his feet and the Kelpie turned to meet his eye. Jack knew nobody in the area had a dog other than that homicidal Shepard, and he stared in curiosity and relief as the Kelpie’s ears twitched expectantly and its tail wagged. Jack nodded thanks and then hobbled toward home, stopping intermittently to turn and try to convince the animal to return to its own, wherever that may be. Several painful kilometres later, Jack paused at his front door and turned to see that tail still wagging, those ears still expectant. He let himself in, but then held the door open and waited.
Less than an hour later, Jack’s only son would come through the door, footy shoes slung over his shoulders. He’d look curiously between Jack’s bleeding eye and his father’s hand scratching between a pair of expectant ears while a tail thumped happily on the floor. Jack would need a ride to Emergency but not before he’d smile at his son, gesture at the happy creature and say, “We have company.”
Jack would have Company for the next fifteen years before the night of his 65th birthday when Company would curl up near the tattered running shoes by the door and that tail would thump happily a final time.