Monday, July 25, 2005

It's my birthday

And I'm wearing my new perfume, watching my new fishies dart around their tank, next to my new bookcase - thank you Keith! Dinner is cooking in my new slow cooker - thank you Mother! (And I still have a book voucher and some spending money - thank you again.) Yesterday I read my new knitting book, ogled my new sock yarn and thought about my new stitch markers - thank you Pauline and Tim. Tonight my daughter is baking her first cake-from-scratch. I'm about to set the table and then take the dogs to the shops to buy flowers and champagne - my traditional birthday present to myself.

Celebrations and rituals tell us who we are. When I teach novel writing, I talk a lot about celebrations and rituals. I ask people to write about their sixteenth birthday - sixteenth because that is often a memorable year, but they can choose seventeen or fifteen if those years were more significant. I ask them to write about what they wore, what they ate, who was there, what presents they received and how they felt. Sometimes I get them to also write about their last birthday and think about the differences. One student cried when she read her sixteenth birthday piece aloud to the group. She'd had a rotten birthday so she rewrote the way she would have liked it have been and said how healing she found this.

When I was about seventeen, we started this strange family ritual which lasted for about five or so years. Bob, my mother's late partner wouldn't eat out during those years - he was against wasting money in restaurants, thought the food was bad for you anyway and didn't 'need' it. But he enjoyed going to movies. Ann, my step-grandmother who was sometimes in Brisbane at the time, wouldn't see the kind of movies we went to see. Movies were for entertainment, she said, not to make you feel more miserable when you walked out than you felt when you walked in.

So, Mother, Ann, whatever boyfriend I had and I would go out for dinner. Then Ann would peel off and go home and Bob would meet us at the movies. We seemed to see Bergman films, but there must have been others, too.

I wouldn't want to rewrite any of my birthdays, even the most miserable one, two years ago, was okay in the end - with a beautiful dinner cooked by Helen and me (she still talks about the bruschetta) and eaten by both of us and Pauline. Then the next day I drove to Southbank with Mother and the kids and we bought my lotus flower pendant to remind me about harmony.

From where I sit to write this, I can see into Stan next-door's back verandah where a huge sulphur crested cockatoo is swinging from a hanging flower pot. On my right, there is huge activity in my little aquarium - even the coolie loaches are out, eeling around the bottom of the tank.

If you're looking for a writing activity, write about your sixteenth birthday, making sure you remember - or invent - all the details - what kind of cake did you have, what paper were your presents wrapped in, who gave you the best card, what music was playing, did someone say, sweet sixteen and never been kissed?

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