Wednesday, 6 February 2013

When it's time to unravel and run off into the distance...

One day on tour, my sister began to unravel. She was in the front seat of the van, we were going the wrong way out of Melbourne and had been travelling in the wrong direction for approximately half an hour.  We were on a freeway and there was nowhere to turn around. We couldn't quite work out whether we would get to where we wanted to go if we just kept going on the road we were on, or whether we were seriously going in the wrong direction.

Like Apollo 13 emerging from the dark side of the moon, we had been shot off the ring road in the wrong direction and we were finding it hard to change trajectory.

We were due in Bendigo for a show (see my post, What do you do?  for clarification of what I do with my sister) and we were already running late. It wasn't life threatening, but at that moment, to my sister the whole world order of things seemed to depend on getting there on time. In fact, getting there at all, suddenly seemed seriously doubtful. The chance that we were possibly headed back to Sydney by mistake was even to me, in my more sedate catatonic form of panic, suddenly a likely and alarming outcome.

  "Stop the car!" She cried. "STOP THE CAR!"
We pulled over to the nearly non-existent shoulder. We were in the middle of nowhere.  A vast flat field to the left. A vast flat field to the right. A highway in between, pointed.. where? East, west, north, south? We just did not know.

We sat in silence, three of us.  Glenn (the tour manager) and I  awaited her next instructions. She seemed to have something specific in mind. She opened the car door and stepped outside onto the shoulder. She wasn't looking at the road, she was gazing out into the open field.

What was she about to do?

"I think I was about to just run off into the field peeling off all my clothes."  She said later.

Oh the feeling. I know it well.  The moment when it all gets too much and you want to put your hand up and say:

"You know what? I'm out."

Make a day of it, I say. Run into the field and peel off all your clothes. Run until you can run no more. Run like the wind.

This is also known as, "unravelling," due to the scene in The Hours where Meryl says, "I think I am unravelling," and stumbles back into the kitchen bench with just the right nuance of drama.

(For this reason, my sister also refers to this as "Merylling.")

She didn't run into the field peeling off her clothes that day. We managed to talk her, still weeping and still fully clothed, back into the passenger seat.  We kept driving and mercifully the next intersection presented the magical sign to Bendigo.

(I say, "mercifully" because we're not the type of family who will run after each other dramatically shouting out names in a crisis.  We're more the "stand and see" types. If we'd had to pull over again she may have just run off into the field and I may have just stood at the fence watching as she disappeared, nude over the horizon, never to be seen again.) 

This afternoon at approximately 5.15, I "Merylled". 

It was a combination of things: the black mould stain on the ceiling that grows bigger with every fall of rain. The dodgy builder who will not come back to fix it, no matter what tactics I apply (shrill and persistent, friendly and dopey, stern and business-like, none of my personas seem to dent his lack of contrition at having built a leaky, dodgy, roof over my study four years ago.) The stupid fringe I had cut at the hairdressers that makes me look a right tit and will not grow out now for months.

But the thing that finally did it was the dishwasher.  That 'check water' light that haunts my after-dinner hours, lit up again.  Dishwasher, down and out for the count. Oh even as I write it, it sounds so lame. But at the time, with the sink still full of the morning's dishes and dinner still to come, it seemed so dire.

"That's it." I thought to myself. "I'm out."

The thought of stumbling out into the street and dramatically peeling off my clothes to signal my complete surrender was very appealing.

Instead, I surrendered the pretence of  dinner.  The kids kindly opted for toasted sandwiches. Then I began to weep majestically into the sandwich maker.

When my children asked me what was wrong, I could only sob, "The dishwasher... the dishwasher..."

I was now unravelling and there was no going back.

My children were surprisingly empathetic.  My eldest suggested wisely that it could be worse, it could be the fridge that was broken. This struck me as a surprisingly astute observation from a 13 year old boy.  A fridge on the blink is truly a slipperly slope into urban domestic decay.  (As is a failure to put out the garbage on garbage night but don't get me started on that.)

We got through dinner (me still clothed and still inside the house) and then we watched, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  About 45 minutes in, I found myself wanting to take that stupid tambourine and shove it up that little boy's arse.

That's when I knew I was back.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Show us yer spreadsheet!

Are you financially intimate with your friends?  I would say I am financially intimate with two of my friends. In fact, I am so financially intimate with one of them,  that our favourite activity is a game called, "Show me your spreadsheet."

During this game, we each detail to the other how much we earn per week and where it all goes. We are completely honest about this.  She is often horrified by how much I spend. I am often disgusted by how little she spends.

Sometimes we do the game with a yearly per annum salary. Sometimes we do it weekly.  Seldom monthly. I'm not sure why.

It all started because years back, she actually had a spreadsheet of all her incomings and outgoings and she willingly showed it to me.  Quite without shame.  It wasn't showing off, she's on an average professional sort of wage, has an average sized mortgage and she owns her own average sort of car. Her husband  earned less than she did and they were about to have their first child.  She was trying to figure out how they would manage on just his wage, hence the spreadsheet.

At the time, I was subsisting on an indecently low weekly wage and renting. I was newly married and my then-husband was working his way up.  We weren't high flyers, in fact I'd say we felt as though we were constantly struggling.  My friend was trying to show me that they weren't high flyers either.

I have to say, it's one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. It really put a lot of things into perspective. It made me feel better about the choices we made and the way we lived.

I found out amongst other things that they only allowed themselves to buy a family-size block of chocolate in the weekly grocery shop if their favourite brand was on special, her husband bought large bottles of Coke and decanted them into smaller portions for each day (instead of expensive can multipacks) and when they had takeaway (once a week) they ordered one entree and a main between them.

Talk about austerity measures.

When I compared this to the way we were living: extravagant dinners out whenever we felt flush with cash, ordering takeaway at least twice a week without caveats and renting in one of the most expensive suburbs of Sydney, I didn't feel so bad about our 'struggles'.

But the detail that caused my friend to gasp in horror at the sheer frivolity, was my husband's three multi-packs-of-mini-KitKats-a-week habit in the weekly shop.

"Those are $5 each!" She gasped. 

Oh extravagance thy name is mini-KitKats.

My other friend has a more lassez faire approach. She often blithely tells me how much her last grocery bill was. The other day it was upwards of $350.
"I nearly fell off me perch!" She said.
Again, it's not showing off, she's not comfortable with that giant bill, au contraire.  They are pretty standard Aussie battlers with two kids, an indecent-sized mortgage and two cars still to pay off.   Sometimes her grocery bill is just indecently huge and it helps to talk about it.

Another friend of mine has in the past not been as forthcoming about her spreadsheet. I've never asked to see it, but I sensed it was not a question that would be received comfortably.  She IS a high flyer and I think she doesn't want me to be embarrassed by the sheer indecency of her salary.

Recently though, she did offer, very discretely to show me her spreadsheet.  I declined her generous offer.  But I have to say, her willingness to lay bare somehow brought us closer.

Financial growth? In a manner of speaking.