I keep waking up happy

I keep waking up happy. It’s spooky. It’s as if someone has been doing a nightly operation on me, someone like Elijah Wood in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Instead of messing with my memories, my night gnome takes my DNA and examines the anxiety gene very, very closely. She turns it over, considering it. She assesses its long-term utility to the common good of the other amino acids in the chain. Will it help the group survive? Or has the balance turned against it; has it outserved its calculus of usefulness?

She is a scientist, my night gnome. She is conducting an experiment.

Every day, I wake up happy. But I go to bed worrying about little things, like, will I be able to cope with looking after my baby all day by myself? And throughout the morning, I might wonder, is this going OK? Should I be playing with her more? Should I be doing something else, something that members of the capable mums club know to do? Should I close that door, get her a drink of water, try to get something else done, be more productive?

Then I snaggle my worries on her little face, turned to me with a wide grin. I don’t need to close the door. I don’t need to be or do anything else right now. Things seem to be going quite fine.

Something has happened in the pits of my brain where the self-esteem lives. Someone gave it flowers. Someone said to it, you are actually doing pretty well, but thanks for asking.

An instance of the experiment: we are currently hiring a babysitter. I resisted the temptation to tidy up, or do anything out of the ordinary routine. This is how we do it, I was saying. And it’s OK. That gave me a warm feeling inside and the white hairs on my head seem to bristle with pride, thinking, finally, she is growing into her own wisdom.

I think the fact that I am doing this PhD in writing is one of the experimental catalysts. Someone believing in me and my writing is like someone saying that my way of going about the world is valid.

Another, far more serious part of life right now: my sister is in hospital, and things are not going well. But I feel good about my sisters and brother, all of whom are caring, concerned and actively helping her. At other times, I would have felt completely alone with this. Now I feel like she is supported, and therefore so am I.

Hope is strange; it has a strange effect on your brain, like sun after a night so long you hardly dared believe it would ever, ever end. You reach out as if you could touch the light, but you are afraid that by doing so you will find out it is nothing more than an illusion of your encroaching mind.

Continue the experiment. I am.

9 and a half months

Bubba has now been street side of the belly for longer than she was inside. Still, I told her the other day, “I invented you.” But I could never have invented everything about her. It’s more than I could have imagined.

We have been through a lot of changes in the last month.

Bubba’s head is bigger

Bubba has gone through another “wonder weeks” transition, which rocked her world, literally. Her brain got bigger and changed the way it metabolises glucose. Apparently now she can understand “categories,” and is busy comprehending that a picture of a dog and our neighbour’s poodles are part of the same group. She has also started to comprehend her own power, and has been using it to get what she wants from her gullible parents (I reckon she wins that game 80% of the time in the first round, and 100% of the time in the second. We are featherweights to her championship, 0-sized belt).

My sister is leaving home

I feel like my soul has been through the wringer – you know, that battered feeling you get in your chest after a hard, emotional pummelling. It has to do with moving house – always stressful – and the changes in our lives. It has to do with bubba getting bigger and starting family day care later this week – so soon, too soon! It has to do with my heart turning over with another thud, as my sister transitions to supported disability care. Her move is getting very mixed up in my head with my bubba’s care, and so I overreact to any wish bubba might have, as if I could somehow make my sister’s life a little happier that way. It makes no sense. It makes total sense.

I remembered that I was not alone

My husband suggested that I take a few hours of downtime, and so I went for a drive on the weekend, alone. It breathed air into my self. I gathered myself with more confidence; I recalled that I was not only on the planet to fulfil other people’s needs. I had a chat with a friend who could advise me about this, and I made a pact to let go of some control – I had seized it, and then complained about how heavy it was. I carry around this load on my back, like a Nepalese grandmother, except she carries far more useful things like aluminium sheets and bundles of blankets, whereas my bundle is a load of ideas and strictures about pleasing others, taking care of others, and not being worthy of others’ love unless I do so. It has backfired if you find yourself dizzy with the absence of weight when you do step out, alone. It is time to make some changes, to the words in your head and the baseball bat you have been using to beat yourself with.

And then you find that your partner doesn’t mind at all; in fact, he was just waiting for you to say the word (and in my case, saying many of them for me so all I had to do was say, “Yes.”)

Take the weather with you

Nothing brings home the fact that you are moving house so well as checking the weather forecast for the place you are going to. This coming week in Wollongong, it will be a bit cloudy with some rain, and cooler than Sydney. Which I had forgotten. Here I am, in a room full of boxes, which Paul Dempsey of Something For Kate once sang was not quite as bad as waiting, but pretty bad (or something to that effect. For Kate, presumably).

I am feeling it. I guess it has only taken more than a dozen moves over less than a dozen years (I have lost count, to be honest; doing a passport application or a security check is a real test of my memory these days) for me to pick up the tell-tale of signs of house-moving-anxiety. I read somewhere that it is in the top, five most stressful things you can do in life (after losing someone you love, and divorce).

One thing that is making moving easier is the way that most of my bills and other contact with the outside world are delivered to me online these days. I realise, each time I make a move, that I have kept my email address and my mobile phone number longer than any physical address since I was a kid of 16, when the relentless moving began.

I have also not got sick this time as I have the past few goes. I think it might be because this time around, I allocated a whole week to doing the packing, rather than trying to do it in and around work. I have been working this week, but I have not had any pressing deadlines to attend to (well, apart from a few tender responses, but somehow they got done.) I have also not got as stressed as I usually do – trying to pack everything in one day, and worrying the whole week about the things yet to get done. Finally, after so many moves, I have learned that: it will all get done; and slow and steady will get us across the line.

I have also learned to buy as many boxes as it takes to make the move one of streamlined cardboard rather than messy, laundry baskets of knick knacks; and to pay for as many hours as are required of a reliable, word of mouth referred, removalist. Too many times have I been burnt by dodgy guys with a truck, dragging out the time it takes to do the move, making me eat my fingernails as I watch my money and my possessions roll away. Last time we moved (about 12 months ago), Sydney City Removalists actually accused me of burning through removalists and then complaining about them on purpose. I was six months pregnant and teary, and my husband was irate. We tried to post a review on True Local, but it was not accepted by the website – another reminder that the Internet is not so much objective as it is monetised. Rather amusingly, the company kept me on their mailing list and we have received a number of emails recently, asking us to recommend them to friends. Not Going To Happen.

I wonder if bubba will take to the move badly. I wonder how someone her age (almost 9 months!) can find closure. When she walks out the door with me of this place, her only home, how will I explain to her that it is for the last time? Will she occasionally remember the grey carpet as she slides along our floorboards back in Wollongong, with a sense memory that makes her look around, startled, wondering where she is? Thankfully I am too tired to speculate too much about this. And also thankfully, wherever I and my husband are, that is where she feels most at home.

And that is the truth of it. When I first moved to NSW, five years ago or so, there was a moment when I crested North Bondi hill aboard a bus, and I looked at the ocean, and homelessness welled in me like the waves below. Not long enough here to have spread roots; not long enough in the previous town to miss it like a home; too long away from Queensland to really regard it as mine. Now I have this little family, these two other people, this baby and this man. And wherever they are, that’s my home. Hat or no hat. Boxes or no boxes. Rather than think about the possibility of them ever not being there, I will snap them in this moment in time with a few words as markers:

Bubba is in bed; I heard her cry out once, then subside, into sleep. My husband is in the kitchen, cooking me dinner with the last of the fridge offerings. And here am I, sitting in a room full of boxes; shoulder muscles too tired to rise very far; heart bleakened at the prospect of moving; encircled, emboldened, imprinted with love.

Post-Catholic communities

I have been mulling over this post for ages now (hmm – probably since I was 12?) The topic always seemed too big to deal with in one feel swoop. But here goes!

I just read this article courtesy of my buddy Lance. It’s about the ways in which modern Americans (and I suppose, modern Westerners) develop ceremonies to replace those lost when we lose religion or ethnicity. The article gives the example of the “gender-reveal party” at which friends gather to watch expectant parents cut into a bakery cake, which will tell them the sex of their unborn child by the colour of its crumbs, based on the results which have been sent direct from the Ultrasound office. The author notes that the flaw in such ceremonies is that they focus on the individual, rather than family or community. In short, these new ceremonies fail to connect us with something bigger than ourselves, which used to be the point of rituals.

This has troubled me or interested me for many years. As a post-Catholic, I have long missed the rituals that used to come with my religion. I do wonder about where the species of humanity is headed. In evolutionary terms, we cohered together in groups, not because we particularly liked everyone in the tribe, but because it gave an otherwise unpromising species an edge. Our brains developed the “god-spot,” which I think is not because there necessarily is a god, but there is a need for humans to rally around something bigger than themselves from time to time, for the sake of the group’s survival. Otherwise no one would ever agree to fight, or die for a cause greater than themselves. The “god-spot” in our brains is the biological manifestation of the evolutionary importance of the group, and with it, the deities and the rituals that once connected us to them.

So what happens when we don’t need to be part of a group any more for survival?

We ditch god, that’s one thing. And we throw out the rituals, the candles, the incense and the gatherings of my childhood. And there is good in that, for we also rid ourselves of didactic, faith- rather than evidence-based rules; and we unchain ourselves from the sexism, nepotism, and power mongering of some of the world’s, once, most bloated institutions.

For me personally, however, it presents a challenge. I want my baby to grow up with a set of values that are Christian values. I do think I can handle that with my husband. But I also want her to know the feeling of community which I knew (without knowing I knew it) as a child. The old ladies who were kind to me and my sister, for no reason other than that it was the way they had been brought up; it was what Jesus would do. The lesson that sometimes you have to be good to others, even if you don’t like them and there is nothing in it for you. The occasional importance of the group rather than the individual. The setting aside of personal gain for the good of others.

And of course, the rituals. It is important to have stuff that binds us – and I mean, stuff. The fire that we lit on Easter Vigil night, and the familiar sound of Luke’s gospel. “In the beginning, there was the Word.” I still think that is some of the finest poetry around; but more than that, it was a shared story. It was our story; and it was my story, not as an article of my faith but as a thread in my autobiography, in that it was part of the tale of how I lived and how I grew up and where I came from. The cross we venerated on Good Friday, and looking for a spot on the wood to kiss that no one else had. The water we dipped our hands into on the way into the church, floating with the grease of other hands. The genuflection we kept up even when the Eucharist was not on the altar, because we liked it, because it said something about how long we had been going to church and who we belonged to. The ash on my forehead, left on all day to say, I am part of something bigger than you or I (and I got up early to do it.)

So much of it I did not like. So much of it I rebelled against, and so much of it made me feel like an outsider, living with a group of people who did not know who I was. But how to capture this without having to embrace things we do not believe in, not any more? Can we have the group without the god? Can we have the hope without the faith? Can we come together and give for something beyond ourselves, with eyes wide open?

Where is it we are headed? More people are living alone than ever before according to the ABS, and I used to be one of them and I loved it. We don’t need each other, any more. Not at a fundamental level. We are optional to each other.

Because we are optional, this means choices. I wonder if we will rise to the challenge and create a new way of communing. That is what it means to be in a community: we commune with each other, and with the shared spirit that arises, that is bigger than us, that is somehow more important than us. We give us ourselves over to it. That was a beautiful thing about god – the idea that we could surrender our burdens and simply rest back in someone else’s arms. Jesus said that “where there are 2 or more of you, I will be there.” He was talking about the group. Maybe that’s what god is. The spirit of the group; the spirit of something you are part of.

I guess we can join sports clubs. And there is still Christmas and Easter, even in the secular world. And new year’s fireworks and ANZAC day. I know I can create family traditions for the three of us.

I am thinking though, that maybe it would be nice to have a group of people, not necessarily friends, but just people who might want to get together on a regular basis. Not for yoga. Not for a class about anything at all.

A friend of mine who is also a priest once said, the Catholic have faith that after darkness there is always hope. I do not want to go to mass and hear gospel from a man any more. But I would still like to share my hopes, and hear those of others, and hope for them also. I would like to hold myself in a room with people and close my eyes, and it not be about me. I would like to stand quietly and share the mystery of this life, and hope out loud and silently too, that we will be all right. I want to let go into the grace of a group standing quietly and alone. I want to bow my head with people who are also bowing their heads, and pray.

Losing weight continued

20 days ago, I wrote the post “Losing weight.” Since then, I have been on the waggon, off the waggon and now in the last two days, back on again. It appears I have lost about 2 kilos so far. 15 to go.

In that time, I fell off the waggon when I got tired. Getting up and going for a walk is just not the incentive it used to be ;-). I also fell off the waggon in terms of diet when I started mainlining chocolate last week as a work deadline loomed. I don’t drink tea or coffee, because it just makes me more distracted, so chocolate / sugar has always been my drug of choice.

Basically what I have decided to do is to go on an actual diet. I have been decreasing my portion sizes over the last few weeks, trying to stick to an amount which sates me rather than over-fills me. It’s sort of like asking myself consciously: Are you actually hungry, or are you eating because you are cold, or bored, or tired, or because it tastes nice?

But now I am going on a diet-diet. It has all going a bit too slowly for me. I know the research says that crash diets don’t have lasting impacts, and I don’t intend a crash diet. But I do want to lose weight at a slightly quicker pace.

The last time I lost weight was when I was on an anti-candida diet, trying to work out what was wrong with me – it turned out I was gluten intolerant. So the anti-candida diet requires you to go off sugar and complex carbs almost completely, sticking to protein, low GI vegies and fruit. You also replace breakfast with a protein shake plus a mix of seeds and berries (that’s your fruit for the day). It’s kind of like those no carb diets, but a bit more hard core because you are also eliminating as much sugar as you can from your diet.

I am not going to go all out hard core. I do need to concentrate, and take care of bubba. I don’t want to be cantankerous and weak for the next few months. But I am going to substitute my breakfast of GF muesli, which has always irritated me anyway as being high in sugar and low in sustenance, with the above protein and berry shake. And I am going to replace sugary snacks with almonds and fruit and low fat yoghurt. And keep an eye on portions.

I don’t want to do all of this. Just writing about it makes me annoyed. But the way I am framing it is this: do I want diabetes when I am older? (No.) Do I want to be able to take bubba bushwalking? (Yes).

I suppose this is the core of delayed gratification. You have to focus on the long-term benefits rather than the short-term irritation.

At the same time, I am trying to turn down the volume on the voice in my head which keeps up its low self-esteem patter about being “fat” and so on. I don’t need to elaborate. You probably have all heard it at some point in your own heads. It’s unhelpful, it’s damaging, and it’s the worst motivator I have ever had when it comes to trying to be healthy. Instead, when those thoughts come up, I want to hug myself on the inside. I want to think: You’re beautiful. You’re seriously hot. You’re so good-looking right now. Check you out. You’re an attractive woman. You are doing this walking because you want to be fit and less stressed. And you are doing this diet because you want to take bubba along bush trails.

I have a friend (Rachie) who always focuses on the positive in people. She’ll say something to them and you see their shoulders go back, their head straighten. You see them think, maybe I am OK. Maybe I can do this. Anyhow, not long after bubba came along and I was feeling a bit dumpy in the dumps, she told me that I had great calves. She took a photo to show me and prove it.

Here I go, walking up my hill for the fifth time. Check me out. I have awesome calves.

The importance of taking a day off together

My husband was just reading on Business Spectator, about the anachronism of government regulated, public holidays. The author, Caleb Samson, makes the point that, workers can make the choice for themselves if they want to work on a public holiday like Good Friday, for example in return for more pay or an extra day of leave.

This is a fair point. My husband and I work on public holidays regularly because we are self-employed, to the point where often we don’t even realise a public holiday is looming unless a client tells us that they can’t meet with us on such and such a day. But I still advocate public holidays, not for reasons of saving workers from meanie, profit-driven bosses (although there is probably still a place for this in some industries), but for social and communal reasons.

I have always liked Good Friday and, in the past before shops were open, Boxing Day too, for the very reason that they are, as the term says, “public holidays.” I love that everyone downs tools (well, everyone except emergency workers) and as a community, is sharing the same experience of a day off. Good Friday is so much better than a weekend because even the shops are closed, so we, as a community, are forced to take a break even from consuming, buying and shopping. I love the way that on Holy Thursday people stock up for the next day, thinking ahead in a way we just don’t really need to do any more. There is something really basic and simple about it. It’s like driving an old VW Beetle and hearing the gears actually crunch and shift each time you pull the handle – you are reminded that this thing you are operating is a machine with moving parts, not just a smooth, computerised system which divorces you from the experience of being alive.

I think it is good for us as a community to take a breath together. There is so little we have in common these days, and so much of what used to be locally driven, like support for new mothers, or helping old people with groceries, or aiding a disabled person, is now taken care of by state infrastructure. And that is good, and takes advantage of economies of scale, and guards against any one person’s lack of support. And it’s not that people don’t still help each other out – they do – but to me it feels like the glue that binds us together is just a little less sticky these days, as we go about our individual lives at times that suit us rather than times that suit the populus.

Sometimes it is just nice to know that everyone out there, beyond the walls of your own apartment, is having the same experience as you are.

It’s good to take time off, collectively. It’s good to be reminded that there are things to do with our spare time other than shop or eat out. It’s good that everyone is doing the same thing, maybe not together, but simultaneously and in a very physical, not just metaphysical sense – everyone is going to the park, or having a drink with friends, or cooking a pizza in the oven rather than over the phone. As we do these things on Good Friday, we know subconsciously that everyone else is too. That reinforces something that gave us humans the advantage over other species in the first place – that we are all members of a group.

We may not need to share the same religion, or know all our neighbours, or watch the same movies. But public holidays, the Masterchef Finale, and voting day, are what we have left.

Something hard and something good

This morning I had a realisation. It was a bit late in coming, and for all my intelligence, there are some things that I am pretty slow on. I watched bubba play on her mat, and I thought about my own mum. I can be cynical about the world, and right now, various of my fears are on the up. Change will do that, and this change is pressing quite a few buttons I have skilfully avoided for the last 35 years. So anyway, I was thinking about my mum, and about how many times I had felt unloved, or unwanted, or ignored, or loved on condition of various objects in return. I was thinking about her and it came to me at last to see beneath those behaviours of hers which made me feel that way. And I saw that I was one of the lucky ones because I really am loved.

Love is a doing word. It comes to you in acts. If you don’t behave lovingly, then the person you love won’t know that you love them, until they are 35 and have worked it out for themselves, watching their own baby squeal and smile and thinking of all the ways in which she wants to make sure, and will inevitably fail, but will keep trying to make it known to her bubba that she is loved.

I realised something hard and something else that was good. My mum has always loved me in her own fashion. Her own demons sometimes make her behave unlovingly, without knowing it, perhaps sometimes knowing it but ignoring it because her needs can be so great. I can keep questioning it or I can use my intelligence to see beneath those behaviours and know that the underlying river of love that I have floated on all my life is real. I didn’t realise it about my dad until he was gone. So I am glad I have finally figured it out about my mum before it is too late to let go of some of my own personal baggage and reach out to those I love, in actions as well as thoughts.

The hard thing I realised was this. As a mother, I can make mistakes. Sometimes I will not do the right thing for my bubba. Sometimes my own personal stuff, or my lack of awareness, or my inexperience, or my being human, is going to mean that she will sometimes feel that I don’t love her. All I can do is try to make sure that the times she feels loved are more than the times she does not. I know there is no such thing as a perfect mother and worrying about it is only going to put up a barrier between us. I am reassured to know, even though it might have taken me 35 years to figure out, that there are many ways to heal something that seems broken. In my own chance at loving, I hope I can keep my broken heart to myself and reach out with the heart that renews itself in giving – including, maybe especially, in giving to those who may have broken it without realising.

Monday stream of consciousness

This morning, my husband and I started the first day of the rest of our lives together. Which is what we do every morning, of course. But today, we started officially working together. My husband got up at 7.00 and went for a walk while I fed and played with bubba. Then I went for a walk. I took my nano, but I prefer to listen to the sound of the world when I walk, so just listened to a few tracks as they came, then switched it off to listen to the birds and the cars and the trains.

I crossed a footbridge over a ravine which on one side, looks like you are in the bush, miles from the city, and on the other looks towards a block of 1980s era units built in the cascading style which reminds you exactly where you are. But I don’t mind; this morning I quite liked the juxtaposition. A man with a biker beard and an expensive t-shirt pushed a pram across the footbridge, so I had to step to one side to let him pass, but I smiled, because I belong to that club too. He didn’t smile back and I wondered if he was trying to prove a point. I said good-morning to a pot-bellied road worker, who looked up from smashing the bitumen into manageable pieces and said, “Morning,” back. He was a 40-something year old, with blond-brown hair and blue eyes, and was better looking than I had expected. As I came into the home stretch, I crossed the road towards an elderly Asian woman who walks at the pace of every second second hand. She smokes a stinky, cigar-like thing every time I see her as she paces slowly. The word “cheroot” floated into my brain and it sounded right even if it is not. She inhales, then waves the cigar away from her in a lazy, exaggerated gesture. She does not dress expensively. She smokes like a worker.

I looked at her in order to smile but she looked at my feet only and let me speed ahead of her so I couldn’t form my community with her, verbally, anyway, although she is part of it now, on this page, because I have written her into my story. I thought about writing about her on my way home, the last eight minutes of my walk, and that made me feel better about the construction workers, on the block across the street, whose name I will never know.

At home, Ellie napped and then woke. I tried feeding her and she made a funny, new expression, all pursed lips, scrunched nose and big, puffed out cheeks. What is she thinking? “This is my muma. She is warm and smells like milk and I am safe. I want to eat the world today, and maybe I am doing that right now. What’s that sound? It’s me! It’s coming right from my very own throat. And that person who leaps, that’s my dada, and he is also always there, my reliable. I blink, because there is light. Muma wants me to go to bed now and I don’t want to, but there it is and I am safe and warm again and all is well, she is part of the door as it closes, and here is the darkness and the familiar. I ate the whole world today and tomorrow I will eat a whole new one and my muma will hold me up to it and my dada will shield my eyes from the light.”

Something like that. Maybe not so many words.

I like first days. I am tired and I am a little, niggly worried. Mostly though, I am free.

The future of bookstores

Yen and I just read this article in Business Spectator, about the future of the publishing industry.  It has some interesting information about the way the current revenue is structured in publishing, and the kinds of risk which publishers are exposed to with the existing retail model.  At the moment, retailers get about half of proceeds, but get to send books back to publishers if they don’t sell.  So publishers are in the risk-bearers seats when it comes to investing in books.

The author of the article, Josh Dowse, eventually makes the point that, like the music sector, the book industry will need to integrate vertically.  So a retail presence will ultimately just be a shopfront for online or e-book sales, with display copies rather than loads of unsellable print stock in the back room.

I reckon that this is the start of a fair point.  At the moment, Amazon gets away with not investing in these sorts of shopfronts because I can go into Gleebooks, for example, work out what books are good, and then go buy them online from the Kindle store.  The online Kindle and Amazon stores are pretty rubbish when it comes to helping you find books you might like.  They have not had to shape up their game because they have such a major price advantage, and because shops like Gleebooks are still fulfilling this role for them.  Amazon has its rusty old recommendation engine, but it doesn’t have links to opinion leaders I trust, or lists of recent Orange Book Prize winners (for example) – another way that readers work out if they want to take a punt on a book.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Amazon will need to suddenly open retail shopfronts full of display books once regular bookstores start closing.  And it won’t necessarily save bookstores from closing, as many of these display and taste-setting functions can actually be fulfilled online.

So who will fulfil the functions of current bookstores, outside of the actual sale of books?  And what will happen to bookstores – will there be many, any or none at all?  To answer this, we have to understand the functions of bookstores, beyond just selling books: taste setting, try-before-you-buy, selling books as objects and bookstores as cool places.  Then we can start to see how these roles will be fulfilled, and by whom.

Taste setting:

As bookstores close, the online booksellers will probably have to ramp up their rather hopeless taste-setting functions, as noted above.  But there is also a role for existing, trusted independent booksellers to fulfil this role online.

For example: I trust certain independent booksellers because I share their preferences.  I like their staff picks, and I like that when I walk into their stores, I am probably going to see a book or three that I would like to read.  The bookstores I am talking about are stores like Brunswick St Bookshop or Gleebooks, or perhaps Ariel or Berkelouw bookstores.  Some of these stores already allow you to buy books online from them – but not e-books (as far as I can tell – I might be wrong though!)

If I were running one of those stores, I would think about selling my lease.  I would start building or changing my website to get ready for e-books, and cash in on my role as a trusted brand and taste-leader.  I would say to my web consultant: please set me up a website that does not look like Amazon, but looks more like the personal blog of a trusted writer and, more importantly, reader.  Set something up that lets me expound my (and my other trusted staff/friends) opinions about what to read at the moment, right across the categories of books I am knowledgeable about.  Make the front page of my website show featured books, top picks, and recommendations in response to frequently made requests.  Let people respond to my posts and ask me for recommendations.

And then, rather than try to get people to buy the books from me online, when probably what people will do is say, thank you for the recommendation, and now I will go to Booktopia or the Book Depository or Amazon/Kindle or iTunes, and buy that for half what you are selling it for: I would provide links directly to any or all of those websites.

I would say to these websites: look at the kind of taste leader I am.  Give me some money.  If they were not interested, I would go ahead and set up my website, and then use as proof the volume of my clickthrough traffic to their sites.

And if that didn’t work, and other methods of monetising my site didn’t work (eg advertising from publishers), I would shrink my store to a small size, and focus my business operations on books as objects or my bookstore as a cool place to be (see below).

Try-before-you-buy:

Bookstores also allow you to try before you buy.  But this function will be easily replaced by online bookstores.  Kindle allows you to download a sample section of a book to peruse.  And the price of online or e-books is so good as to make the risk much easier to take.  And as bookstores close, the online functions will probably become more sophisticated, as they will for taste-setting.

The only possible issue may be around trying books as objects (see below) – eg what will this pop-up book about dinosaurs really be like?  But this could partly be addressed by providing a simple video example of a child opening the book, and a mag app style of representation, where you can flick through an online catalogue or “book.”

Books as objects:

This is where bookstores may continue to have a role as physical shopfronts, and books a physical, print existence in the future.  Beautiful art books, graphic novels, children’s books, collectibles and illustrated books are the only types of books people will want to physically buy in the future.  Because these types of books are physical experiences, they are also the type of books people will want to handle, feel, smell and admire before they actually purchase.  And so they are the type of books where bookstores have an edge over online stores.

This may also be eroded if the book can be viewed in a bookstore and then bought online later.  In which case, it will be in the bookstore’s interests to focus on handcrafted books; limited runs; local artists; rare and collectibles – basically, a sense that this is the time and place to purchase this book.  Bookstores may also, in part, need to accept that they may start trends, and cash in at the outset, but not finish them.  To compensate, bookstores may want to branch out to include other unique objects – including other, carefully chosen objets’d’art in their retail offering.  If they went this route, they would need to scrupulously avoid becoming a generic gift store – this would destroy their core remaining asset – their trusted taste and curatorship.

Berkelouw’s has the edge on rare collectibles already, and Ariel and Kinokuniya on large art, design and foreign language (Kinok.) books.  There may be more of a market for illustrated books as objects than publishers currently realise, as these books become the only ones that are actually printed and purchased.

I know I am biased here, as I am trying to publish my illustrated Mr Middleton’s Teleporter. But honestly, I can’t understand why publishers haven’t twigged – people already buy books because they are pretty; unique; they say something about who they are as gift givers; and statements about their personal taste  and identity.  As books go electr(on)ic, books as objects will have some big shoes to fill in people’s personal space as indicators of how very cool/chic/geeky/smart/interesting/whimsical they are.

And also, more to the point – books are lovely objects.  And the lovelier they are as objects, the more attractive they will be to buyers.

Bookstores as cool places:

Bookstores – the nice, independent ones with cluttered shelves and comfy seats, the ones that remind me of coming home and being safe amongst all that sound absorbent, stilling paper – are cool places to hang out.  They are little oases on busy roads, and the best ones are the ones that are open late, unexpectedly surprising you with the chance to wander in after a show or a dinner with friends and reclaim some part of your less social self on your way back to being alone and OK with that.  They are even better again when you can buy a cuppa and a muffin, or a glass of red wine, and be surrounded by words.  They say: it’s snug in here.  Don’t hurry away.  The music will always be something you don’t mind, and the people will be the unobtrusive, real type.

So bookstores as cafe/bar/hang outs will, I hope, continue to have a role.  But their core business will be in selling coffee, not books (except maybe books as objects, or books on a whim, books as nostalgia, and maybe books as gifts).  The books’ real role here is atmosphere, giving urban passersby a feeling of homecoming, a rare sense of belonging in a place which can be sometimes forgetful of who you are.  Without the books, there would be no reason to stay.

Weddings

This is the Year of the Wedding (or at least, the Q3 10/11 of the wedding).  Not mine – been there, done that. My two dearest friends are tying the knot with their two dearest friends, and my husband’s dearest friend is tying the knot with his dearest friend.

How does one stay supportive through friends’ wedding preparations?  (Or as one of the wedded-to-be calls it, “wedmin”?)

Naturally, seeing these are two best friends’ weddings, I am going to try for best wedding friend.  And puns are only the beginning.

Unfortunately (or actually, fortunately), they have set a rather high bar.  Before I got married last year, I received a whole lot of free counselling and enabling when it came to ice cream or chocolate.  One of them actually came from London for the week leading up, to basically sort me out.  And I did need some sorting.

Weddings are incredible things to organise.  You go from being excited about this amazing thing – someone wants to marry you and you want to marry them right back – and then you are planning an event.  You have spreadsheets and lists, none of which distract you from the emotional rollercoaster of wondering: if they will still love you afterwards, or if you will; if they will finally realise that you are not what they think you are, or you will and it will be too late to call it off because what a waste of cake!

And yet, although I can’t remember much of my wedding except for great, dazzling moments of total clarity, like seeing life through a fisheye lens with the colour amped to full saturation, those moments made the preceding months of anxiety and exploding brain worthwhile.

I want my friends to have a Day of it.  Their Day.  Not ‘Their Special Day” in a corn syrup way – more of a “Day of Love, Bravery and Very Good Cake.”

If I achieve nothing else as best wedding friend, I commit to achieving this: they will get some of their own Cake.  That was my personal goal at my own reception, and when I got some, I thought it had indeed, all been worthwhile, for when else do you get to spend hundreds of dollars on cake?

I will also make sure to have a hand-bag the size of a small sheep dog, to fit in the necessary accoutrements of Love and Bravery.  My role there is going to be one of support, as they take that very deep breath for themselves.  In my bag: tissues, pain killers, emergency chocolate, remembrances, and maybe a couple of rings.