Sarah Jane Doe

Home in away

hydrangeas in ubud

Every morning I wake up in away. Far, far away. Mornings are my favourite time of the day in Ubud. The light is brilliant, faceted, aquamarine. The air is always perfectly still, scented with the incense and petals arranged on thousands of tiny, banana-leaf-plate offerings made to The Gods Who Eat Flowers For Breakfast. Roosters are laughing, hens are chuckling, and doves with giant bells round their neck are humming softly. Dogs set off trotting on adventure, and on my way to second breakfast, I invariably pass a cat with the wind up its pants, whipping through a paddy chasing butterflies and trying not to get its feet wet.

My bright rubber thongs flap along past freshly washed doorways on quiet streets, and most stores are still sleeping with signs saying ‘we’re open when we’re open’. My spot at Bar Luna is always free, waiting for me under overhanging masses of passionflowers. Children walk past in adorable school uniforms, giggling and singing and disappearing into laneways. A little boy casually puts a wooden flute to his lips and produces an exotic tune so magical and deep that I want to snap every plastic recorder in the Australian primary school system and replace them. Immediately. Away gives home such a beating sometimes.

But coming to the end of my first month here in Ubud, I’ve found home sneaking in here and there. I have taken to buying bunches of hydrangeas at the morning fresh food markets. These giant pastel stems look as incongruous as I do next to all the bright oranges and reds of the tropical fruit and flowers. I had no idea they even grew here. They look like summer holidays at my Nan’s house, and my bedside at home in Alfred Cottage.  I put them in my Ubud bathroom and their big puffy faces never fail to make me smile.

I’ve ferreted out the only three coffee spots capable of producing a cup like Fitzroy’s finest (Bar Luna, F.R.E.A.K. and Seniman) and find I can no longer start my away day without a strong home latte. Piling two teaspoons of rough brown crystals (or lumps of sticky palm sugar at F.R.E.A.K) on to the heavy foam, I watch until my sugary Atlantis is swallowed with a plop. Stir. Sip. Repeat. Home*.

*Note: this description of ‘home’ as good strong coffee and hydrangeas is probably not a platonic ideal – what’s ‘home’ for you gentle readers?

Yogier than thou

sarahjanedoe at the Yoga Barn

This is a phrase I’ve come to hear often on chat sites and travel posts about Ubud. It’s also popularly modified as ‘more yoga than thou’ and ‘pretentious asshats’. I’ve been practising yoga for nearly four years. Let me tell you what’s wrong with that sentence o’mine. First up, everyone keeps telling me yoga means ‘practise’ so that’s just a terrible tautology right there. Also, I could count the times I’ve ‘done’ yoga during those years on my (splayed, energised and enlivened) fingers and toes, one go round only. I started doing it in 2009, stopped mid 2010, picked it up again early this year, sweated through it, quite love it. And this is significant because I’m allergic to exercise. In the literal sense, not in the bad 90s sitcom humour one. Exercise makes me cramp and want to be sick and run away (amble away).

But yoga? Yoga makes me feel great. Not in a self-deprivation/Nike commercial/wheat grass shot this-must-be-good-for-me-because-it’s-so-shit kind of way, but in a whole-cake-to-myself way.  It’s like Valium. With a lot of sweat. But still. Valium. If someone told you that on the other side of an hour and a half of some funny bending, stretching, a few oms and shanti-shantys (as far as I can tell these are  sacred Indian songs of the sea) and a bit of a group- nap that it would feel like a post-coital glow plus three Valium, you’d probably do it. Yeah, you would. If it was the only way to get caffeine, I’d do it (everyone would do it). It’s great. Great! It’s just a terrible damn shame about its press.

I’ve been hanging around Ubud for three weeks now, frequenting some stupendously good cafes and eateries that get reviews like ‘would not look out of place in L.A., New York or Sydney!’ which is crap because they would look wildly out of place; the food and juices are far better, more varied and so cheap you could just return the enormous menus and say ‘yes’ and still have change. So, you know, you do. Work your way through the tumeric, honey and lime cooler to the green tea, espresso, white chocolate and soy frappe, before ordering a cheesy burrito with a side of bacon (because you can). What does this have to do with yoga? Well, a lot of us are going to yoga. And then coming to these cafes (particularly Kafe), setting up with a laptop, the International Herald Tribune and saying ‘yes’ to the menu. And if you look at the internet chatter about Ubud, this equates to the kind of assault on the traditional tourist culture of Bali (Bintang singlets! Plaited hair! No chilli in my NARsee GOREing, and turn up Khe Sahn!) that deserves the pointy end of the scorn stick.

Punters report annoyance that ‘their’ cafes are overrun by yogier than thou types, typified by ‘yoga clothing’, and ‘smiling’ and general…’yoga-ness’. As far as I can tell, none of these people are trying to convert anyone to downward dog or doing much of anything except for smiling and eating their organic red rice in silence (the smiling is true, they keep getting us to smile in class – the Yoga Barn philosophy roughly equates to ‘soft eyes, soft face, soft throat – can’t lose!’) so I was surprised to hear this level of crank about it. Especially when many of the regular Yoga Barn attendees are, like me, stealth-yogis. We are the great untanned. We do not glisten and glow, we sweat and redden. We have no kundalini tattoos. We don’t have beautiful posture and Portuguese  accents or a sitar. Many of us have old injuries to get past or some serious Western weight to attend to, and – hey, we might not be hot but we aren’t stupid – a massive platform above a waterfall, rice paddies and expansive koi ponds with top teachers seems like a great place to get started.

So if you wander into Clear or Kafe or Bali Buddha to get a snack and you see some gorgeous, honey-limbed thing twisted into happy-pretzel on a cushion and this inexplicably GIVES YOU THE SHITS, just remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘No one can make you feel less-yogier without your consent.’*

*Note: I’m paraphrasing slightly, but everyone knows Eleanor was boss at yoga.

Living a fantasy

Now that my blood consists more of antibiotics and anti-mucoids than cold and flu germs, a walk past this little stationary shop here in Ubud filled me with heart and purpose: I’m here to write! Yeah! Fist-pump! Back to the room, dig out that manuscript, on with the show!

Many of you are writers so you’ll know that wonderful feeling when you pull out old work and look at it with fresh eyes and delight yourself. Hungry for this sensation, I put a tissue up each dripping nostril, turned the fan up to causing-the-woven-rattan-ceiling-to-tremble level and told the warring Asiatic squirrels in the coconut tree to keep it down, or else. Then I settled in to immerse myself in my own brilliance.

This is what I read. ‘Exposition, exposition, exposition, quip, exposition, exposition, cliché.’  Notes, notes, notes, ‘Filler, exposition, exposition, cliché, filler, exposition, exposition.’ And repeat.

In case you don’t believe me, here’s an example of just how bad things currently are. The names of my two chief evil-doers are Karl and Darius. I might as well have called them Cruel and Devious and been done with it. Our hero? Bastian. Last bastion of hope, freedom, and terrible punning nomenclature. I could cry (I may have cried).

For a life-long lover of quality fantasy fiction, this is pretty terrible news. After deciding I didn’t have the energy or implements to kill myself (I also like my housekeepers so much I hate troubling them for extra loo roll, so corpse removal would really be a whole new level of imposition) I read on to see if anything could be salvaged. Around page 87, one  of my appallingly named characters finally stops being a caricature and becomes a character. My sigh of sheer relief was fulsome enough to give the squirrels pause and this writer a glimmer of hope for the next few months of work.

Still – ouch. What happened? My only comfort is that the very first part of Game of Thrones wobbles in the same way. Lot of good versus evil, a direwolf for every child, exposition, exposition, cliché, exposition – and then good old George R.R. Martin seems to forget that that he’s setting things up for a ‘Fantasy Series’ and lets his characters run free. To, I would argue, the benefit of all mankind.

Shippey, my favourite Tolkien historian, writes that successful world building happens when the author stops giving us backstory and prescription and simply offers us a ‘corner of the eye glimpse’ of the world they’ve created – the kind that intimates that all sorts of complex events and histories have occurred; that fabulous cities exist, and people have loved and lived and died in them. For reals. It’s going to take some serious time for me to do this. Meanwhile, a little help from my fantasy-loving friends would be hugely appreciated. Names. Some masculine, some feminine. And it will be the last thing I beseech-th of thee-th*.

*Note: by ‘last’ I mean until I need help naming everything else and then move on to help with the religious-exclamations-occuring-in-slang-speech-of-the-currently-unnamed-eastern-most-city.

New moon party

I’ve been pestered for photos of the special Ubud party I tailed my brother to last Saturday night. Turns out the only publishable one I have is of the new moon, visible through the clouds hanging over the trees on our mysterious route there (complete with secret hand-drawn map).

This moon was the only light to reach into the absolute darkness of the jungle on what turned out to be just a short ride from my tiny new home in the heart of town. After much giggling and carry on, including several false starts, false arrivals, and me learning the bahasa Indonesia for ‘I’ve got a little problem in the back’ (my front-seated brother to the driver, often and unfairly) we finally hit the mark and turned with purpose onto a single lane cut straight across an inland ocean of floating rice crops.

Tiny fireflies turned into fields of ‘lampu’; little covered candles that numbered into the high hundreds. Our new Swiss friend Alejandro later described the end of his ride on his scooter through the same darkness to come upon the phalanx of gracious, uniformed attendants greeting us at the front of the huge main house as ‘beautiful…’ in an accent that serves the meaning much better than if you imagine mine.

Inside, one of the guest DJs played a particularly inspired swinghouse set and smiling staff refilled drinks in a whirl of iridescent limes and sparkling ice cubes. The pool glowed in the exact same shade of  blue as the Bombay Sapphire bottles clinking around it, but much more than high-quality liquor and fancy water features, the luxury of sheer space cannot be overstated. All around us the still, high water in the paddy fields reflected the new moon like endless tiny mirrors on an Indian cushion, and we were all we could see of the world until the darkest edges of the jungle. A glowing heart of music and pinwheeling limbs on a tiled platform high above radiating terraces, it seemed quite possible that we were all there was, and this was the only party on the planet. Yes, it was smugalicious.

And so it went on until one by one the littlest flowers begin to wilt, falling gently into tiny sparkling heaps of stardust and sequins on the cabana chairs and pool lounges dotting the large estate. Not one Cinderalla misplaced her Loubs, but Very Expensive bags overloaded with smart gadgetry and scented like duty-free counters lay abandoned all over the place, and I spend a good twenty minutes reuniting the soft, fleshy petals of quilted Chanel with the correct Sleeping Beauty after deciding I was clearly the Fairy Godmother of the piece.

Somewhere in all the excitable kissing and meeting and greeting and sloshing of drinks a (probably very limited edition, elite, single origin) flu virus was also passed around. So this Saturday night I’ll be enjoying my cocktail of antibiotics, distilled water, paracetamol and pseudoephedrine alone in my room, but if I turn the music up and close my eyes, I can still picture the new moon and the lampu, and that’s enough*. For now.

Note: by ‘enough’ I mean please-send-six-boxes-of-Nurophen-Plus-and-the-next-four-seasons-of-Friday-Night-Lights-terimah-kasih.

Truthiness

A dear friend emailed me here in Ubud to tell me she loves reading this blog, but that she wanted to make sure I was really A-OK and enjoying myself. At first I wondered what part of the delicate sub-text I’M HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE was failing to convey my heart-bursting joy. But she had good reasons for wondering, and I think they’re worth addressing. My friend is one of these clever selfless creatures who works with peoples’ minds when they become concerned about them. Or someone else does and you find yourself in flexi-cuffs. She sees a lot of pain and confusion (coming from younger people in particular) as the post-modern human juggles various online identities and personas, always scanning for likes and reassurance and struggling with their ‘status’ in more ways than the obvious. My friend knows that reality checks are important.

I’m going to leap now from all things social-networky and online and much written about, to the sticker families on the backs of cars. Where I live in inner city Melbourne these don’t exist because we are all way too not-Bogan-unless-it’s-ironic-or-actually-comfortable-like-Ugg-boots to do this (yes, I do understand the contradiction in all being cool in exactly the same way which renders it uncool, la la la, it’s a joke, but having said that – we’re wicked cool). I’m confident of this assertion because a quick trip to Sydney’s Northern Beaches revealed the opposite problem. I thought I enjoyed it when people expressed themselves. Turns out I want their cars to explode taking Perky Athletic Mum and BBQ Beer Dad with them.

What further depressed me when witnessing this suburban tidal wave of assery was the lack of joke stickers – no one had thought to put up even the basic stuff like six Fat Dads or some pets in compromising positions. I came home enraged by these homogenous white hetero stickers and once I finished my tirade the Boy only asked thoughtfully, ‘What happens if one of them dies?’ Mm.  How long do you drive around with Mr Snuffles on the back window before you have to scrape him off? Do you start with ears or tail? And what if it’s not your labradoodle? What if it’s Mum? What if Dad just leaves? When do you admit it publically? And do you start with a limb? What do you put in the hole left behind? Or do you just cross him off? Quite apart from these conundrums is the alarming disconnect you get when driving past Happy Skinny Yoga Mum and Smiley Pretty Girl to find two dumpy females of very different ages but unfortunately similar expressions, both hot and harried and yelling at each other in the car. If I’m uncomfortable with that distance from the truth, how do they feel?

Meanwhile it feels very natural to me to express; to overexpress, to hyperexpress, to throw sixty words in the air like clay pigeons and blast them with an AK47 of an idea. I can’t help it. I like doing it. I like reading it when other people do it. And as much as I understand there is no such thing as truth – and that everything I leave out by accident or design is another version of my life – what I’m looking for when I write in this way is an essential truthiness. The closer I get to it, to the essence of what I’m actually experiencing or wanting to share, the better I feel. I’m soothed by communication. And I feel a rising pressure inside when I don’t or can’t. Maybe that’s all the sticker family people are doing too but they’re thwarted by their materials. Maybe if there was a Chubby Gamer Girl Who Likes Gay Jap-Anime Porn and is Worried About Being Accepted and her Balding Overweight Dad Who Loves Classical Guitar and Longs To Kill His Floor Supervisor I’d feel better about it all. Truthiness*.

*Note: sarahjanedoe is as much a real live sarahjane as a janedoe. The level of anonymity is quite low. The pictures are all mine and taken by me or my family unless specifically credited. Ditto the thoughts, feelings and ideas.

The trouble with trouble in paradise

I’ve been dying to use the title ‘trouble in paradise’ for quite some time now. Exciting, isn’t it? The juxtaposition? Trouble! Egads man, where? Paradise! (dramatically sharp intake of breath) But by Jove, that’s the very last place you’d expect to find it! And just like the Twisty-and-Fanta shellacked readers of the Herald Sun, I still get a shiver every time I see ‘trouble in paradise’ writ large in Times New Roman.

I forget where I first read it. It was probably a re-issued Nancy Drew title, or perhaps the local paper in the Sydney seaside suburb where I spent my adolescence. It’s the kind of phrase the avid reader/junior writer regurgitates with ease and pleasure for use in a school assignment. I remember itching to pull it out during my first job as a journalist for a small newspaper in South West Florida. The paper was circulated amongst honeymooners and retirees on a beautiful barrier island, and contained a lot of earnest stories about the superior quality and affordability of holiday accommodation and eateries. Looking for real action, I ‘embedded’ myself for 24 hours with the emergency services at the local fire-station.

All kinds of unexpected things happened during each of those hours, and I went back to the office ready to pump out an authentically shiver-laden ‘trouble in paradise’ piece, only to discover that I wasn’t allowed to write any of the good bits (‘You want tourists and snow-birds to read this? Are you gosh-darn kidding me? Show it to advertising – those guys sure need a laugh today’) so it came out with a ridiculously long and bland title (slapped on by our roundly-despised acting editor) that went something like ’24 hours with people who are allowed to use sirens and can cut your car in half please drive carefully on our island home turn to page 11 for your Dairy Queen voucher’. Thwarted.

So here I am in paradise; real, proper Paradise™ with faultless weather, swaying palms and exotically beautiful inhabitants who smile all the time and wear colourful costumes and get about with a lot of things on their head like tropical fruit and monkeys. And where’s that editor now, mm? Hopefully not still correcting someone else’s film review from ‘on celluloid’ to ‘on cellulose’ and then claiming this to be the fault of her ‘Apple MacIntyre’s spellchecker’ when a hundred emails are received from nasty old Republicans with too much time on their hands joyfully denouncing the author’s apparent ineptitude at discerning between film and paperstock.  Nope, she’s nowhere to be found and it’s highly unlikely she’s even heard of Webby Logs, so here it is:

Trouble in Paradise.

I’m a big lover of both frogs and fireflies, and at first I was thrilled with sightings of each of these creatures in the dark, swaying paddy fields of Ubud at night. But now? Well, there are just so many of both that I fear I might tire of them, and nothing spells ‘trouble’ quite like ‘passé-firefly’.

One of my chief reading-over-coffee pleasures is a physical copy of The New York Times; a newspaper where they still have those super-fancy extras like sub-editors, and journalists who travel outside the tri-state area and stuff. I can’t find it anywhere in Melbourne so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover that I can get daily copies here in tiny Ubud for about $3 from a hawker up on the main street. However, what was a simple joy has now become fraught and complex – today my new friend Alejandro told me about a lovely bakery where I can get copies for free and spend my $3 on a smoked salmon sandwich with fresh sourdough while I do. So now every time I read it I have to feel guilty that the poor streetseller has probably lost my business for the next few months, while I ingest a totally non-macro-Zen-Ubud recipe of fluffy white bread and Philly. Thanks Bali. Way to make me feel disgusted with myself yet again.

Finally (because I’d hate to disturb you with any more outrages, gentle readers) the relief at having a kilo of my dirty clothes returned to my room washed and pressed for $2 evaporated when I ripped open the plastic to discover that the smell of a thousand colliding artificial fragrances did not. After a restless sleep last night in PJs that inspired a kind of olfactory claustrophobia akin to having my head stuck in a feedbag of laundry powder, I anticipated the showdown with the host of my domicile this morning when I’d have to try to explain that I wished my clothing to be less clean in future. After rehearsing various scenarios and fretting about the outcome, I presented the complaint using words from two languages plus a little dance and some rending of the fabric on my back and was told ‘OK, you want not so strong smell? OK, OK, so sorry, no problem!’ All that catastrophising for nothing! What, does he think I do that kind of worrying for free? Ubud – writers’ paradise? Maybe. But with trouble, I tell you. With a lot of trouble*.

*Note: the use of the word trouble in this instance may actually be limited to things that, outside Paradise™ would be labelled ‘minor annoyances’ or ‘petty grievances’ (abbreviated simply to ‘petty’).

I can haz party?

i-can-haz-party

I’m going to a party. A big party. The kind of house (luxury villa *cough*) party you see in the movies – hosted by DJs who’ve flown in to Ubud with their friends and followers and models and drivers and the models’ luggage and drivers for the models’ luggage. I’m not on the door per se, but my brother is (of course he is – from about three different directions) and I suppose I could pass for some kind of agency chaperone for one of the youngest beauties if there’s any trouble. Anyway, it’s great news because I LOVE PARTIES. Parties are boss.

I have been attending and enjoying parties my whole life. Ages three to ten were particularly hectic. My brother and I were on the exbrat scene, and we hit it pretty hard.  It was always tough to calm down during Monday nap-hour after Primary Colours 101 or Macaroni and Paste: Drying Times, when your head was still full of the action, the music, the sweets, the games. You gotta put a little distance between you and that Canadian kid, you’d tell yourself, his reading level is so not where it should be. Yes, he plays the tambourine like it’s Bowie to his Jagger, but that’s not enough. When the Korean twins celebrate their fifth, they aren’t gonna mess around with the guest list and you know this. Start saving your Great Work! stickers for them and hey, check out that Play-doh they’re always snacking on. Shared diet tips are a great in.

Sometimes I confuse how much I truly love going to parties with having a party, and I say things like ‘let’s have a party!’ and then I do things like invite people to have a party. Crazy, right? Because suddenly I’m having a party. And I can’t be allowed to have parties. This having-a-party thing attacks me so often you’d think I’d learn not to do it but, unfortunately, it’s still happening. If you are ever invited to one of my parties (if that’s not already all of you reading this, stick around a few days) here are some tips to help us both get through one.

Don’t arrive early. (Or on time. Or close to on time.) Startled and trying to cover it with false bonhomie, I will scream your name so loud that your family members in other states and countries will flinch and shiver and worry about you. I will then steer you around my house/other unlucky venue for the next hour while I apologise for everything in it; for its lameness and its poor lighting, for the cleanliness and quality of the substrate and garden tap, and I will insist you are going to have a shit time and I’ll apologise for this too. At the same time I will fixate on various guests you may know or have heard of who haven’t arrived yet and insist to you they are definitely coming, and perhaps we should call them every few minutes – call their friends, their boss, the police, check for downed bridges, whatever – to make sure they are seconds, seconds away from coming to your aid.

Don’t arrive late. I will believe I forgot to invite you and I’ll invite you another sixty times using all of your numbers and devices and a carrier pigeon with a razor sharp beak. I will also send the police to check for you and I will further torture the already-arrived guests by having them search the internet, emergency frequencies, and satellite imagery from weather monitoring stations to establish for certain that there are no downed bridges.

Don’t arrive. If you come to my party I will forever believe you had a terrible night filled with the kind of insufficient heating/cooling/ice/music/drinks/food/games/dancing/conversation/hook-ups/lighting and lolly-bags that will make you think I’m bad at parties and, ergo, a bad person. To save you the further awkwardness of ending things first, I’ll have to cut you loose the next day and we’ll never be friends again*.

*Note: in this case ‘again’ means until I forget I can’t have parties, which is usually such a short duration of time that you won’t have noticed we aren’t friends anymore. This is actually great because I like to have parties and I’d SO love you to come.

Room for coffee and deserve?

sarahjanedoe in Ubud

Room for coffee and deserve?

It’s been less than a week since I ran away from winter and started this blog in Bali. Each day that’s passed has seen a gradual loss of order, makeup and clothing. The thousand cords accompanying hyper-modern life (all my devices apparently need to talk to each other if not to the wall socket, and they require a career puppeteer’s worth of wires to do so) are now out of the careful figure-eights I learned at film school and into a mess of squid-ink linguine in my bag.  Day two saw the abandonment of perfume, day three concealer, and by day four using my duty-free mascara purchase seemed as ridiculous as applying any of these things and hopping into the shower. Even regular underwear has now migrated to the deep space in my luggage occupied by on-plane woollens and chic silk dresses designated optimistically as ‘For France’.

The gain column is much larger. Embarrassingly large. I think that adverb is why it’s been so hard to write about. And why the collective noun for riches is often ‘an embarrassment.’ Too many beautiful things are happening (and/or being eaten) over here in Bali. Sunshiney roads and vintage cars deliver us to suckling pig and lobster dumplings, sunsets and new friends, Baja fish tacos and fresh sugar cane spritzers, ceremonies, house parties, deep jungle pools and airy mountain-top retreats. Every hour of the day brings a new treasure more shiny than the last. And it’s been making me uncomfortable. Do you really want to know how perfect my tamarind and lemongrass juice was this morning? How wonderful Alejandro’s coffee was at Bar Luna? Or how many colours a simple frangipani can arrive on your doorstep in? Do I really want to write about it?

In the middle of happy baby pose at the incredibly beautiful Yoga Barn yesterday, our incredibly beautiful instructor asked the incredibly beautiful bodies in attendance to feel the incredible beauty of where we were; to feel the warmth and softness of the air, to see the lotus blooming on the water-ponds around us, to understand the blessing of living in Ubud and practising yoga. And my growing discomfort ratcheted up to stomach-ache level. Then she said something that gave me the name for it. ‘Feel the magic of this place,’ she said, ‘and know that you deserve to be here.’

I do. Feel the magic. Get that I deserve it. But doesn’t everyone? Deserve means to be worthy, to be entitled, not by chance or luck but work and merit. There were roughly thirty souls getting bent and blessed out in the Yoga Barn yesterday. It seemed like a lot at the time, but it’s pitifully few. It might not be everyone’s idea of the perfect afternoon, but it must be for many more than were there. Don’t most people deserve to feel limber and luxurious, loved and limitless in tropical paradise on a Tuesday afternoon? I worked hard for it, but I know that most people work much harder than I do. So when does everyone else get their great coffee and deserve? And is it wasteful of me not to enjoy it for this reason? Or do I turn into an unthinking lotus-eater* the second that I do?

*Note: deep-fried lotus-root is currently one of my favourite Bali bar snacks. It may be too late in the literal sense.

Getting away with it

sarahjanedoe wakes to the first morning in Bali

I woke up today and opened the windows to my new life for the next few months. There was a cool breeze bringing incense and bird calls in, and a surprising silence apart from the water in the fountain outside my room. And into that silence I said ‘Fuck. Yeah.’ And I had this tremendous full-body tidal wave of a particular feeling that I think is called Getting Away With It. It’s not  a snaked-the-last-good-car-space-at-Warringah-Mall-at-Christmas kind of getting away with it; not that kind of pedestrian fist pump we all know and love. This was big. This was grand.  This was I’m-a Russian-cyber-criminal-and-that-transaction-in-Bern-just-went-into-my-account level of getting away with it.

So I tried to make sure I wallowed in it, rubbed it all around, saved it for the inevitable morning I’ll wake up with that feeling I think is called Totally Shafted. Because when things are going this well, it’s good to know it. To really know it. And then order pancakes for breakfast.

Sibling revelry

sarahjanedoe and brother

I don’t know too many people who didn’t hate their sibling. Hate them with the kind of deliberate intensity of a chemical burn. Who didn’t dream fondly of their sibling’s annihilation, preferably under circumstances in which the remaining child could be cast as some kind of brave, forlorn hero, treated to a sympathetic over-supply of ice-cream by misty-eyed adults who might also forget about maths homework for awhile. This is perfectly natural. Honestly, what kind of idiot would stand for the peculiar torture of having a pre-verbal arranged-marriage foisted upon them? And not just any arranged marriage, but a kind of polygamist, fundamentalist LDS culty mash-up in which you are forced to love this stranger in the same household with the actual Biggest Love of Your Life? (Yes, that’s Mum or Dad, but you’re young, you don’t get out much).

So who could blame you for fixing a laser-gaze on this little love rival and trying to straighten out the requirement – to feign undying devotion to your beloved’s younger mistress? Seriously? Or to their bogan, layabout bit on the side? And not just love this person, but share all your meagre possessions with them; your friends, your lolly-stash, your treasured pets, perhaps even your own goddamned bed? You are encouraged to swear oaths of protection to them, to present them with humiliating gifts chosen by your true love on your behalf at the certain times of year when these odious pricks are feted, and to spend more time with them – these usurpers, these rat bastards – than anyone else you might choose to know. Love them? You’d have to be particularly stupid to accept this preposterous attempt at physcological reprogramming. But you aren’t stupid. You’re in love with their protector – and that’s all that’s standing between them and a good drowning.

So what to do? You learn fast that resistance is futile. Reports of various outrages, lies, hurts and wrongdoings are never met with justice only punishment to your own person for ‘dobbing’. The whole situation is Orwellian in its operational language, Stalinist in its acts of bleak suppression and Dancing With The Starist in its hopeless duration.  Other – wiser – mammals know this. When the one-too-many polar bear cub turns from runt to popsicle his siblings don’t wail with grief. They don’t even look backwards as they head off down the tundra behind Mum with some added spring in their fluffy little footfalls. In the battle for the love and resources of a parent, they know the bleeding obvious – that less is more.

Did I hate my brother? I can’t remember it, but I must have. Why? Because I was a clever child and adored both my parents. Added to that he had already committed the twin sins of being both younger (therefore severely developmentally delayed to my reading of the situation) and a boy. You know, a boy? Has a weird, rude hose for a front bottom? Likes dumb toys? No dresses of his own? That kind of shit. Love this creature? The best you can hope for in these situations is probably what we achieved. A kind of passive-aggressive emotional cocktail of Stockholm Syndrome blended with a highly dysfunctional workplace relationship. It’s not exactly a nurturing foundation, but it’ll prevent someone from getting shot.

My sibling developed type 1 diabetes when he was four. This disease has all kinds of implications, but the only parts of meaningful concern to a child is that they are going to have to deal with the single most hideous scourge of the youngster – needles, injections, syringes – on a twice daily basis (this kind of horror has no adult equivalent, I’m not even going to reach for one), as well as the absolute denial of what for children is the direct adult equivalent of the best top-shelf porn, booze, cocaine, live music and hot sex experience you’ll ever have rolled into one neon-pulsing kernel of desire – candy. Gone overnight. Verboten. The Dutch have an expression which translates roughly to ‘the devil always shits in the same pile’ and I’d say the evidence in the case of infant acquired diabetes bears it out. Punished enough for me, do you think? My love rival? Was the usurper fittingly crushed? Nay, the tale darkens.

With anything he might ever actually want to snack on off the menu entirely, from cake or grilled cheese to a bag of lollies or a humble breakfast pancake at McDonalds, treats for my brother were now pretty much restricted to pickles.  Yup. Pickled cucumbers. Zero calories yet naughtily salty with a somewhat exciting crunch. Here you are, poor bruised, pale pin-cushion of a darling boy, eat as many pickles as you like! There’s more where that came from! And tiny soldier that he was, my brother even learned to like them. Hell, even I like pickles. Love them in fact. But did that stop me from using my two and a half year head start in linguistics and court politics to turn his one safe snack into a source of derision and contempt? Did it prevent me from carefully scribing the crude missive ‘Pikel Breth’ and pinning it to his door so that yea, all men who pass this house shall know that he who inhabits it is unclean and has the odour of dill and brine upon his toddler-sized tongue? No. No it did not. I did this thing and many others that, with the help of wine and sedatives I can’t remember, because he was my sibling and so I had no choice.

And now? Well, sonny, pull up a chair. Funny thing happened on the way to adulthood. We became adults. And an adult, if you’re lucky (and if you didn’t kill them before you knew they’d be so useful), can have no greater, longer, truer love in life than their sibling. The day came many years ago when I hailed Pikel Breth and kneeled before his mightiness. When I raised a glass to this superior human being and was struck dumb by the realisation that I had once shared a womb with such an utterly magnificent person, and  it was as magical a moment as finding out that David Attenborough, Johnny Depp, Bill Bryson and Ira Glass all put you as number one on their ‘people you’d most like to get stuck next to on a plane ‘  list.  (Note: this did not happen, but thanks to earning  the love of my brother, I know what it would feel like).

Because it’s when shit goes truly, terribly wrong and you realise you’re dialling your own personal Pikel Breth first – despite the resources of say, two amazing parents, a trusted step-parent, some highly skilled BFFs and one incredible super-lover such as the Boy – that no one else on your version of Earth can handle that kind of call without some kind of damage or blowback to themselves. Some kind of judgement. Some kind of this-will-haunt-you-forever, some kind of ‘where did I/we go wrong? What could we have done? What should I have noticed? Did I do this? How can I fix this into the future? Is it me? Is it us?’ devolving into a Joss Whedon ‘Where do we go from here?’ Buffy medly.

Your sibling – ironically after being told they’re responsible for you for their entire childhood – understands they aren’t fucking responsible for you. They alone have this version of love for you. They continue to love you with that same perfect, molecular certainty that used to be hatred.   If you screwed up, if you want to die, if you caused someone else to screw up or want to die – hey, they get it, they love you, they’ll fix it, but they know they didn’t make it. And that these calls will probably keep coming for the rest of their lives. So they’ll deal with it and roll over. Call you next week to ask for a recipe or how to best remove cat poo from something odd. Your adult sibling is just like the Ghostbusters, yes, all of them, rolled into one. They understand that ghosts are just…there. Needing containment. Slime eradication. Possibly a secure vault. Whatever, but the Ghostbusters aren’t losing sleep on how the ghosts got in or what this might mean.  They’re just here to help. Why? Because it’s what they do. They were made for it.  Turns out so were you.

And so if my fellow cub should falter and slow in the snow, I’d hunker down beside him and wait to freeze too. No hesitation*.

 

*I should point out that I just flew him to Bali to hang out with me instead – it’s less noble but also much warmer.