Here’s my first attempt at a feature article. Turn to page 16 for “Hooking Up” by Kate Moriarty!
Here’s my first attempt at a feature article. Turn to page 16 for “Hooking Up” by Kate Moriarty!
So I’ve been doing a bit of writing lately. Apart from my Very Own Column at Australian Catholics magazine, I’ve also started to write features, as a freelancer, for Melbourne Catholic magazine. I often get confused looks when I try to explain this to people (and I often try to explain this to people, even if we weren’t, in fact, talking about it). Melbourne Catholic is a separate magazine, despite the similar name. It comes from the Archdiocese, rather than the Jesuits.
Features writing is fun and interesting, but my great love will always be in trying to make people laugh (which is why that first paragraph is such a side-splitter). I’m not the greatest at interviewing people (you actually have to stop and let them talk, I’m told), but I do like the feeling of having yet another Important Writing Job and more opportunities to talk loudly about expecting an email from MY EDITOR and looking around impressively whenever I’m in a crowded place. I think the staff at Aldi are a little over it, to be honest.
So far, I’ve written a feature on crochet and another one on grief. I’ll share them with you when they get published (the crochet feature is out, just not electronically yet). The most recent one I’ve been writing has been about the refugees in Eltham. It’s a topic I care about, but it’s been a real pain to write. I’ve had to interview no fewer than eight people. I don’t mind the talking-to-people part of interviewing; I can even do the listening-without-interrupting part if I concentrate hard enough. It’s the finding-ten-minutes-of-peace-to-make-a-phone-call that I’ve struggled with the most.
Now there was a particular person I’d been especially keen to talk to. Many of the other interviews had left me with important questions that this woman could answer for me. But I’d had a bit of trouble, first with tracking her down, then with finding a time I could talk with her. Many a time I’d put the TV on for the kids, locked myself in the bathroom with recording equipment all set up and made the all-important call, only to find that she was in a meeting or off-site. Getting information wrong on a crochet article would be one thing. I didn’t want to get it wrong on such an important topic. The deadline was looming and still we hadn’t spoken.
On Mondays, the kids and I go to a homeschooling co-op, held in one of those amazing mega-churches. It’s the best. On this particular Monday, I was upstairs in the cafe, sitting at a table and trying to get this article written. Christopher, Harry and Annie were in their various classes, run by the mums and dads. Daisy and Poppy (who are now two-and-a-half-can-you-believe-it) were in a cute little play area with a pool fence around it. I scratched my head as I looked at what I’d written so far. If I didn’t speak to this woman, there would be a lot of holes in the article.
Then my phone rang. It was her! It was totally her!
I knew these weren’t ideal interview conditions. The cafe was noisy and the twins were unpredictable. But I also knew if I let it go to voicemail and tried to call back later, I would find she was off working hard doing her actual job and not at her desk. This was my one window. I answered the phone smoothly, set it to speaker and set my iPad to record.
“So tell me, what is the history of this project?”
Of course I knew the history of the project. I’d done my homework. But I wanted a neat little ‘expert’ quote from her to put at the start of the article. It would frame things nicely. Interview Lady launched into a description of the situation in Eltham, sounding a little perplexed at my apparent ignorance (she later would recommend a series of fact sheets she had written) just as Daisy started to shriek piteously.
I looked across to the play area. Daisy stood wretchedly beside the toy oven as Poppy did a victory lap, holding several golden strands of her sister’s hair aloft as she strode along. I bustled silently into the pen, admonished Poppy with only my eyebrows and a very pointy finger, scooped up the whimpering Daisy with the arm that wasn’t holding my phone and iPad and brought her back to the table with me. “Mmm.” “Yes.” “Really?” I said calmly, taking the sugar and placing it on a different table.
Foiled in her sugar-eating attempt, Daisy picked up the pepper and began shaking it liberally onto the table. I took it from her. She let out an unearthly howl. I put it back. She continued in her redecorating.
“What would you say are the challenges facing refugees, given our current housing situation?” my voice didn’t waver. I don’t think Interview Lady could tell I was trying to wrestle my iPad out of Daisy’s grasp. But then that stupid free U2 song started playing at full volume. She must have bumped something.
Daisy lay down on the ground in (thankfully) mute protest as I desperately jabbed at buttons to make Bono shut up. “Tell me more about that,” I said (to Interview Lady, not Bono), as one of the security guards waved to get my attention.
I looked to where he was pointing. Poppy had pushed the toy washing machine up against the side of the play pen and had used it to clamber onto the quite-high fence. “Hi Mummy!” she cackled as I solemnly hoisted her onto my shoulder and brought her back to my table. Interview Lady was on a roll, telling me all sorts of things without pausing for breath. This allowed me to go into a silent panic without having to think up another question. Daisy was gone.
“Is there anything about the Eltham project you would consider applying to future projects?” I pulled Daisy out from under the table. She had run around the corner and was lying at the feet of some other cafe patron. I now held a twin under each arm and was balancing my phone and iPad under – actually, I’ve no idea how I did it. All I know is, when I put them down to try to organise myself, they ran for the stairs, shouting “SLIDE!”
I should explain. This particular very-large-church has a tunnel slide that children can take downstairs to their well-resourced kids’ ministries because of-course-they-do. I mean, I’ve tried suggesting to my parish that perhaps we could set up a small box of toys and a play rug for children to use after Mass when the grown ups are drinking (instant) coffee and it’s been all too hard to think about. Noooope we wouldn’t want to encourage children to come to Mass or anything. Heaven forbid.
What was I talking about? Oh yes, the dratted slide. A couple of little girls and their mums were already having a play on this contraption. One of the girls is a four-year-old I’m going to call Buttercup who is friends with the twins.
So Daisy makes a dash for the slide, pushes past Buttercup and dives straight down it. “MRS KATE! MRS KATE! IT WASN’T HER TURN! MRS KATE!” I know Buttercup said this because it’s right there on the recording, drowning out whatever salient point Interview Lady was making. I nodded expressively and sympathetically (and silently) at Buttercup and said “do go on” to Interview Lady.
“MRS KAAAAAAATE!” Poppy was jubilantly sitting at the top of the slide. This was her position of power. If she sat at the top of the slide, without actually going anywhere, all the children around her would go berserk. Poppy loved this. Buttercup gave Poppy a shove.
“What do you see as your plans for the future?” Poppy made it halfway down the slide tunnel, stopped herself, and began climbing back up (“THAT’S NOT ALLOWED! THAT’S NOT ALLOWED!!”). Daisy, meanwhile, was climbing back up the stairs for another turn. I gave the other mothers an apologetic smile. I was that mother: nattering away on her mobile phone whilst her children cause havoc.
“Do you have any final thoughts?”
“I HAVE A STINKY NAPPY MUMMY!” Daisy did have a stinky nappy. A real eye waterer. And Poppy had come out at the bottom of the slide and was not coming upstairs. I walked down the stairs with Daisy (“NO! NO! SLIDE! SLIDE!”) to fetch Poppy before she went running off down the corridor and out of sight. The interview was wrapping up. I thanked Interview Lady, saved the recording and emailed it to myself seven times. Then I apologised to the other mums and trudged upstairs with the twins to clean the peppered table.
While I might have relived the trauma of the afternoon when i transcribed the interview later, it did provide me with some very useful information and quotes. I’ve since written the article and am waiting to hear from MY EDITOR to see if she thinks its any good. I expect to hear from MY EDITOR any minute now and am checking my phone rather agitatedly. Of course, she’d need time to actually read it and then to formulate a response. Plus MY EDITOR would have other articles to read as well. I really mustn’t worry about it. I really must stop.
At least, that’s what the assistant manager at Aldi tells me.
OK, so here’s what happened.
I got a voicemail from the office of our local member of parliament. Now it just so happens that our local MP is friends with my husband. I mean, they’re not BFFs, but they get along well together. In the voicemail, Brad-the-Staffer said that our MP was going to be at a media event tomorrow and wanted to make sure he had enough people there to protest the closing of a police station. My first thought was “Thanks, but no thanks!”. But then I considered the following:
I had one argument in opposition:
But I could get around that one point. My makeup bag had been missing for a bit, but I’d recently found it at the bottom of the coat rack by the front door. Inside that makeup bag would be a tube of foundation. I didn’t often wear foundation, but I knew a light coating would do wonders to disguise my spots. I was all set.
The next morning (the day of the Media Event), after sorting out all the usual morning things (nappies, breakfast, clothes, nappies, coffee, dishes and nappies). I set to work. I tried to find something to wear that looked both “stylish and sophisticated” and “everyday casual”. Then I fished out my newfound makeup bag from its hiding spot and opened it up to get my foundation.
Except it wasn’t there.
I went on a crazy search rampage all over the house and the floor of the car making frantic strangled noises as I did so. But it was no good and I was out of time. I loaded the children into the car and headed off. I would stand near the back, preferably behind somebody in a large hat. I would help make up numbers. I would avoid all cameras.
We arrived late and out of breath. It looked like I was the only one who brought kids, so it was a good thing I had such an abundant supply. Somebody handed us posters to hold and I did my best to look unobtrusive and nondescript. I was a background artist. The more background the better.
Then the blandly handsome Man from the Network spoke to us. He looked vaguely familiar. As he talked us through the logistics of this media event, a few things became more clear to me:
Once we were arranged into our positions, it was time for us to be filmed. The Man from the Network asked us to chant “WE WON’T COP THIS” and “WHAT A COP OUT” loudly and without cringing. And we stood there and we shouted the words because The Man from the Network had some strange hypnotic charm that we were powerless to resist.
After our impassioned slogan chanting, it was time for The Man from the Network to film individual interviews with concerned residents. To my great relief, plenty of people were willing to go on camera and have their say. While this was happening, I monitored my children as they balanced on the police station’s brick fence and chatted to the Shadow Minister for Police, whom I discovered is an absolutely lovely man, who also has a young family.
It was just as I was thinking “I could probably leave now and nobody would notice” that I turned and saw Guy Smiley and his film crew standing right in front of me. “We would really like to hear from you,” he intoned. I shook my head and apologised and made polite excuses, but then he smiled. And he had SO MANY TEETH. And they were so white. I found myself nodding helplessly and the camera started rolling.
Now, as I was getting ready that morning, my mind did explore what I might say in the event I was interviewed. Let me tell you, the Kate in my mind was so eloquent, so articulate, so intelligent. The Kate in my mind spoke of “knock on effects”, “unintended consequences”, and “furthermore, what compounds this problem…”. Naturally, it follows that once the camera was on me and the Network Man twinkled sympathetically and asked “As a mother, do you feel fearful for your children’s future in a world without police?”, I responded glibly “Errr… duh… police are…goooood…”
And it only got worse from there. A goodly portion of my fifteen minutes of fame will be expended looking like a measles patient and blathering on like a bewildered four-year-old. Oh help.
As I stumbled away in the wake of the interview, I once again met with the Shadow Minister (incidentally, I think somebody should write a series of graphic novels about “Shadow Minister”. Legislator by day – vigilante by night!). I was still feeling a little dazed. “I had some really smart things to say on this issue, but once the camera was rolling, they all flew out of my head and I couldn’t think of what to say!”
The Shadow grinned ruefully, “Welcome to my life!” he said.
Later that day, I purchased foundation, BB cream, tinted moisturiser, and two types of concealer. I also discovered the missing foundation in my husband’s car. I’ve been watching the current affairs show every evening. On Monday night, there was a special event that took up most of the episode. One of the survivors of the 2006 Beaconsfield Mine Disaster’s marriage had failed. The current affairs show in question had managed to secure rights to interview this man and his soon-to-be-ex wife. This also gave them the opportunity to get more mileage out of the exclusive interviews of the miners they purchased eleven years ago.
On Tuesday night, there was an exposè, entitled “Butter Price SCANDAL”. “SCANDAL” was in red letters, stamped diagonally across the title. But, still, no “cop out” story.
Wednesday and Thursday were still bereft of slogan chanting locals concerned about law and order, but all was not lost. I did find out that one of the actors from a hospital drama in the 90s is going to jail. Half the article was spent explaining who exactly this man is, which was very helpful.
“Maybe it’s taking so long because they need a lot of time to photoshop the spots off your face,” was Christopher Robin’s helpful suggestion.
I’m nervous. All my friends are going to watch my debut television performance, because even though I meant to keep it a secret, I also can’t resist telling a funny story. I’m going to receive a lot of teasing over this.
But I’ll just have to cop it.
PS. It did air. On Friday. I’m barely in it at all! If you squint, you can see me in one of the group shots, but mostly it’s Kate-free. I can only assume they tried to photoshop the pimples away, but as I was more spot than woman, they erased me completely. You will be relieved to hear, however, that both slogans made the cut. If I were inventing this story, I wouldn’t have written it this way, but the real life version is a bit of an anticlimax!
Just wanted to boast:
It has its own cartoon and everything!
As you may know, if you’ve been reading my constant bragging, I’ve been doing a little work lately for Jesuit Publications (bear with me, I’m going somewhere here). One of the pieces I wrote a few months ago for Australian Catholics was a sort of how-to guide for taking children to Mass. Words can’t describe how smug I felt writing that article. I was the guru. I had all of the answers. I had finally made it and could now dispense wisdom for the masses (‘Masses’?).
I did not yet have twin toddlers.
Over the past several Sundays, my complacent words have been echoing in my ears as my husband and I have struggled to grapple with two rowdy little people who seem to have a liturgy allergy (sorry). They are so noisy. And they’re always making bids to escape. And they conspire against us.
Daisy and Poppy also have their own language that they’ve settled on between themselves. For example, they don’t call Christopher Robin by his actual name. Christopher spent so much time trying to get the girls to say ‘bum’, that they have decided that this is his name. We’re all kind of used to it. But when the altar servers process in to church and Daisy and Poppy see their brother solemnly carrying the candle, it gets a little awkward when they start shouting “BUM! BUM! BUUUUM!!”
Things were at their worst last Thursday. It was Holy Thursday Mass, which started at 7:30pm, which meant I had to get the children fed and dressed and into a crowded church at a time when everybody was tired and cranky, especially me. We were all squashed in together at a pew up the front, near the side door. The twins were fairly well behaved (though not completely silent) throughout the Blessing of the Holy Oils, and the Liturgy of the Word, and the special-edition homily, and the rather ponderous Washing of the Feet (since when was Holy Thursday Mass so LONG?). But when it got to the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, Poppy decided she’d had enough. For a while now, Poppy had been making bids to escape and I had been stopping her. I knew from experience that if I let her go, she would dash out of the church, or go dancing around the aisles, or dart into the sacristy and emerge, beaming, from the side door out onto the altar, like some special guest on This is Your Life. Poppy was making her indignation loudly known. It was time for me to scoop her up and take her out. As I stepped into the side room of the church, I noticed the neat, fortysomething man who had been sitting behind us at the beginning of Mass. Had he moved here to escape us? He did not return my rueful, apologetic smile. As I remonstrated with Poppy, I could hear Daisy’s loud proclamations from inside the church. I winced.
We managed to survive the rest of Mass, but it was a slog. Daisy also had a turn in the room next door. Neat Man was still there and still unsmiling. By some miracle, my husband and I managed to keep our faces straight when Annie constructed DJ headphones from her Alice-band and two Project Compassion boxes and pretended to spin discs. But it wasn’t until afterwards, that my husband filled me in on what happened when I was in the other room.
While I was having stern words with Poppy and sharing awkward space with Neat Man, Daisy was chattering loudly in her dad’s arms. Neat Man’s wife (who is also very neat and who looks like Sarah Palin) tapped my husband on the shoulder.
“You will have to take her out. I just can’t concentrate!”
My husband remained where he was. He wasn’t going to leave the other children by themselves and he knew that the Consecration happened by virtue of the Holy Spirit and not Sarah Palin’s brain power. Later, at the Sign of Peace, Sarah Palin turned her back abruptly on us and only shook the hands of the people behind her.
I must admit I felt a little heartbroken when I heard about this. I didn’t know Sarah Palin that well, but I had always imagined she was my ally. She was a mum, after all. Didn’t she know how hard it was to raise children in the faith? Did she think I brought my children to Mass on purpose just to mess with her? All of a sudden, I didn’t feel welcome at the Lord’s table. Perhaps Mass just wasn’t supposed to be for young families. Or perhaps it was only for families that had it all together. I decided in that moment that we wouldn’t go to the big Easter vigil Mass with the fire and the candles and the incense and the bells, but instead attend the more subdued Sunday morning Mass. I didn’t want another run-in with Neat Man and his Alaskan wife.
I might also mention here that we got through the Good Friday service without too much trouble, because the twins slept through most of it. The family behind us had small noisy children, however, and, while I felt deeply for them, I was also acutely aware that Neatman and Palin (who were sitting further away this time) probably assumed it was us making all that noise again.
Anyway, on Sunday morning, we tumbled into church, almost on time, though Poppy was still in her pyjamas. I was working so hard at focussing on all the nice parishioners who smile and look dotingly at the twins that I didn’t notice that NeatPalin were standing rigidly at the other side of the church. When Poppy let out a yelp towards the end of Mass, Neatman turned and looked right at us. EEK!
I’m feeling better now for telling you about it, my blog friend. And I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the family who was really upset by it. Mr Knightley takes all things in his stride. Daisy and Poppy continue to run things their way. Annie is stoked with her charity-box headphones. And as for Matilda, Bum and Harry, they couldn’t be happier. They’ve discovered a new recruit to work at the Barbara Feeney Shush Helpline!
Meanwhile, I think I need to contact the Australian Catholics editor. I want to add a footnote to my article: “Please note: if you have toddlers, none of these rules apply. All you can do is pray for God’s sweet mercy and wait for the storm to pass.”
This article is a bit of a departure from my usual style (I’m trying to be all serious and hard-hitting). I’m so excited – I got published in Eureka Street!
One of the reasons I haven’t been posting so often on this blog as I would like is because I got myself a paid job as a columnist for a really-truly magazine. It still thrills me to get an email from My Editor, describing the requirements and deadline for the next column; it gives me such a buzz to have an Important Reason to go off to the cafe to write and edit; and it sends me through the roof to send off the finished copy to be published.
Because everything is done via email and from home, it almost doesn’t seem real. If my life were a movie, there could easily be a twist halfway through in which the audience discovers that the important Editor Kate has been corresponding with and writing so feverishly for is, in fact, a mere psychological construct, a delusion, built to fulfil Kate’s desperate desire to have her writing taken seriously. What we have been witnessing has in fact been a young mother’s school-lunch-and-laundry-fuelled descent into madness. Gripping viewing.
But there is one day in all the year that reassures me that it’s not all made up and I am, in fact, a writer. An after-work Christmas Drinks at the offices of Jesuit Publications. A place to meet other writers and have proper adult conversations. I couldn’t wait.
You might remember me talking about this epic event last year, when I brought the twins with me. This year, I would be child-free. A proper, grown-up writer. And even though Wednesday was a crazy day with everything on, I was going to make it work if it killed me. I even put together a timeline to make sense of it all. It looked like this:
1. (9:00am) Mum takes Annie to kinder, morning jobs and schoolwork done
2. (11:00am) Early lunch
3. (12:00pm) Drop Harry at his atrium session.
4. (12:10pm) Go to the shops to buy ingredients for the salad the children would be bringing to the scout barbecue that evening. Also get birthday present for Matilda’s friend.
5. (1:30pm) Pick up Harry.
6. (1:40pm) Get dressed up. Make salad. Prep swimming gear.
7. (3:00pm) Pick Annie up.
8. (4:00pm) Swimming lessons
9. (5:00pm) Drive to husband’s work
10. (5:15pm) Swap cars with husband. Husband drives to scout BBQ. I drive to city.
11. (6:00pm) Arrive at party. Acquire glass of champagne and fashionably bored facial expression.
It all went pretty smoothly until Step 6 (get dressed up / make salad / prep swim gear). I had put Matilda in charge of the salad preparation. I needed to put a lot of work into getting ready. I was going for ‘Sophisticated Writer to be Taken Seriously’, not ‘Dowdy Matron’. I even went to the trouble of putting shimmery bronzing cream on my arms and (shaved!) legs. The stuff was hard to open as I haven’t used it in over a year. I was as I was wrestling myself into a pair of magic underpants, designed to stop people from congratulating me and asking when the baby is due, that Matilda called up the stairs.
“Mum . . . I think you might need to take a look at this”
The salad stuff we bought was pretty straightforward – cherry tomatoes, olives, avocado and a large bag of pre-washed ready-to-go lettuce mix. It would only take a few minutes to assemble. But we had hit a roadblock. The un-opened bag of pre-washed lettuce contained a very large, live insect.
I sighed, tossed the salad bag into the car and proceeded to step 7 (pick Annie up). The kinder assistant was curious to know why I wasn’t in my usual uniform of jeans, sneakers and banana-spattered science-fiction t-shirt. I swelled up and told her about my grown-up writer event. The assistant looked genuinely impressed. This woman has seen me bring four of my children through the kinder and has been privy to all of my organisational fails – turning up late, forgetting forms and money, failing to provide family photos, failing at book week. I don’t often feel like a grown up when I come to kinder. But today was different.
It was with a jaunty swagger that I hurtled towards step 7.1 (return defective salad). I got myself a salad upgrade and a refund. I ignored the uneasy feeling that I was merely replacing the salad with more from the same poorly washed batch – I had no time!
I applied my make up at the red lights on the way to swimming lessons and managed to achieve a convincing ‘smoky eye’ over the course of three backed-up intersections. Whilst the children were in the pool, I put together one page of ideas on how I could revolutionise the magazine, just in case the conversation tended in that direction.
After handing the car, children and salad over to my husband, I drove off to battle the traffic. The Google Maps lady kept cheerfully directing me through bewildering shortcuts. One time she asked me to turn right from a side street onto a busy road with no traffic lights. Then she made me cross three lanes of thick traffic in 500 metres. I got the sense she was enjoying herself.
As I waited in a stagnant river of cars and painted my nails, I realised in dismay that I’d forgotten to do my homework. I’d planned to bone up on back issues of the magazine and its sister publications. I’d wanted the work of the writers I’d be meeting to be fresh in my mind so I could pay them the compliment of being familiar with their work. Alas! I would have to wing it.
When I finally pulled into the carpark at Jesuit Publications, I took a few moments to recover. I pulled my hair out of its ponytail-knot. I had washed my hair in the morning and tied it up when it was still damp. If my plan worked, it would be all tumbling waves when I took it out. But it wouldn’t last long, which is why I waited until just now. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror. My hair looked AMAZING. I can’t remember the last time my hair looked that good. I wanted to take a selfie. I finally understood why people TOOK selfies. But no time! Must go be a grown up writer and impress people. I tucked my one page of revolutionary ideas into my bag. Just in case.
I must have been one of the first people to arrive, despite my fears of being late. There weren’t many cars about and the balcony seemed rather quiet. I slowed my step. I didn’t want to be too keen. I tried to open the door. It was locked. Strange. Slowly, very slowly, I pulled out my phone to check the date on the invitation.
Oh. What is WRONG with me?
You see, I had been telling everyone it was on Wednesday, I had made preparations for Wednesday, I had even emailed my editor and signed off with ‘see you Wednesday!’, I just hadn’t properly checked the date on the invitation. My “Wednesday” claim was not backed by solid evidence.
The drinks were scheduled for Thursday.
Tomorrow, my hair would be lank, my nail polish chipped and my dress would smell of day-old car sweat. I was never going to look as grown up and fabulous as I did in that moment, and there was nobody there to see it. I dragged my feet back to the car. If my life were a film, this would be the climax when the protagonist realises that there is no ‘Jesuit Publications’. She would rub her eyes and realise the office she was trying to access, was, in fact, an accountancy firm and the magazine had been a mere figment of her tortured mind.
I sat in the car, feeling rather bereft. I needed to find a bright side. In the end, I found four:
I felt a bit better as I drove back through all the traffic. When I got to the scout hall, I discovered another bright side:
5. I was totally the best-dressed mum at the scout BBQ!
Things weren’t so bad. I was still a grown-up writer. And if the kinder assistant asked me how things went, I could always lie through my teeth. She doesn’t need to know.
I smiled smugly and fixed myself a plate of insect salad.