Sunday, November 27, 2016

This Juggling Life

It was your standard housemate interview question: what do you do with your spare time?  The answer is usually pretty rote – they’re either fitness freaks who unwind with a soft sand jog, or brunching besties who know where the superior hollandaise is kept.  Occasionally they own up to watching a lot of TV, and sometimes they admit they go home to their parents every weekend.

The two strangers across from me exchanged the briefest of glances, before one replied with only a hint of trepidation:

We juggle.

And that’s when I knew, I wasn’t in Sydney anymore.

It’s a point that was driven home even further when I began unpacking the boxes and bags dropped off by the removalist.  Me, being the anal-retentive control freak my friends have learned to side-step and tolerate, I instantly spotted a suitcase that wasn’t mine.

Either the removalists who’d arrived eight hours late, then tried to bail on me completely, had stuffed up or they’d decided this was a timely opportunity to dispose of a body.  Me, being the absurdly paranoid zombie apocalypse doomsday prepper my relatives have decided to ignore and/or humour, I could only assume it was the latter.

Not wanting the remains of whatever crime Dumb and Dumber were covering up to spend too long festering, I unzipped the aforementioned suitcase.  The Bearded Nephew and I looked down to see…

Bearded Nephew: Is that…?
Me: Wow, they were not joking.

Welcome to Melbourne, enjoy your stay.

Doing interviews for housemates is speed dating, but with vastly more commitment.  It’s filled with all the hurried introductions, oddly intimate revelations and frequent snap judgements you’d expect… but then at the end, instead of vague promises to catch up for a drink, you move in together.

When you make the leap, and choose to share a fridge, and a soundscape… and a wine rack (and, please god, a dishwasher) with someone you’ve just met, it’s important to choose for the right reasons.  Well, no, first it’s important that they choose you (if they have the house, and you simply have the need).  Then, when they choose you, you need to choose them back.  It’s The Bachelor, just with less people invested, and far fewer awkward group dates.

If housemate hunting is Tinder, swiping right means sharing a bathroom for the next 12 months.  It’s signing a contract before finding out what they really look like.  So when they say they’re recreational jugglers, you need to believe them, because it’s random enough that it’s unlikely they’re making that shit up.

That’s how I ended up living with Juggle Boss and Magneto.  Yes, my nicknames make them sound like supervillains with varying degrees of potential menace.

Juggle Boss actually works with circus acts.  Basically that means all her work crises are just better.  For example: “One of my performers took his sword in his hand luggage on to the plane”, and “the candy cane stilt walkers have been over-booked again”.

Magneto works with… engines/magnets/something.  It sounds cool when he describes it.  He’s the type of person who makes dessert by accident, and is known for waking up with a random pineapple after a big night out.  Magneto also admits he hasn’t “come out to his work” about his juggling yet.

I currently have the house to myself because they’re away for a juggling convention.  Because that’s a thing.  It’s not the first one this year, after all the EJC (European Juggling Convention) was only a few months ago.  But this weekend’s one is more specialized – it’s a passing juggling convention.  Because that is also a thing.  A niche, within a niche.

They’re practicing patterns with names such as ‘Funky bookends’, ‘Champy’, ‘Panda panda who’s got panda’ and of course that inimitable crowd favourite ‘8441841481441’.  You know you’re impressed.

Other people who are impressed?

Mother Painefull.  Actually, initially it was just relief - she misheard me the first time and thought I said they were ‘recreational drug users’.  Now she insists they perform every time she sees them.

Also my boss, Stanislavski, who somehow developed an unrelenting ambition for me to learn how to juggle.  Like ‘stage-an-office-wide-talent-show-in-which-I-am-required-to-juggle,-then-cancel-the-show-due-to-lack-of-other-talent-but-still-require-me-to-juggle-five-days-from-now’ unrelenting.  So, I’ll let you know how that goes*.

You know who’s unimpressed?  My housemates every time they get home from running their weekly juggle club, and I ask “How was le juggle (French for juggle**)?”  Apparently it’s a bit repetitive for their liking.  Unlike juggling.

It’s through conversations like that, that I’ve spent the past year and a half testing the patience of Juggle Boss and Magneto (even before the trip down Break-a-Leg Mountain turned them into my personal grocery shoppers and tea-makers).  I’m here to tell you that patience is as flexible and durable as those circus jocks who engage in the dangling arts.  As one surrogate teenage daughter accurately described them, they’re responsible… but fun.

Whether we like it or not, sometimes life throws us into the path of total strangers.  With any luck, they know how to catch.

Even better, they might know how to juggle.

Painefull Out

* = I jest.  I won’t let you know.  Assume it goes badly.

** = I learnt French from Joey Tribbiani.  It’s a reference that’s lost on Juggle Boss.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Third Thing

If modern audiences everywhere, presidential debate organisers in America, and the late great naysayer Judas Iscariot know anything, it’s that all things come in threes.  All things.  Whether they’re good, bad, or indifferently mediocre.  Should they be mortifying, hallucinatory, or stunningly death-defying.  If they are decadent, flatulent or just appallingly low key.

All things.

Yes, with ample food, steadfast canine companion and well-plumped cushions, mine was true suffering

People expect life to present itself in triplicate, which explains one of the most common questions I currently face.  After the obvious ‘What did you do to your leg?’, and the curious ‘How exactly?’, people familiar with my year thus far often conclude with the deeply disconcerting…

I wonder what the Third Thing will be?’

Most humans like a bit of structure to their world.  Some of us like a lot of it.  A system by which to assess what’s happened, and gauge what’s likely to come.  I guess the rules of storytelling are as good a system as any.

And yet… there’s something so utterly ominous about the insistence that there should be a Third Thing.  I understand wanting to give purpose to shitty timing, but… couldn’t we not?

Here’s my Thing, my plea if you will: can’t we count the small things?  Add them all together?  The accrued stuff that topped off recent events… like spending a month incapable of independently exiting a house filled with photos of your recently deceased father – can that not be the Third Thing?

All the focus on the BIG things seems to remove from the little moments, devaluing them like so much window dressing to melodramatic main events.  Here’s to the small stuff then, the minor interruptions to regular programming…

A sampling of my convalescence wardrobe

- To four weeks spent wearing Finding Dory t-shirts with ‘Adorkable’ writ large across them, because Mother Painefull knows you like comic book superhero branding, and figured a blue fish urging you to ‘Just Keep Swimming’ was pretty much the same thing.

- To your doctor awkwardly asking why you have glitter on your injured, stitched up knee… and having no reasonable explanation.

- To plucking the patches of hair on your leg that were left behind by Mother Painefull after the whole involuntary shaving incident.

- To finding distraction in the realisation that the nerve damage to your leg means you can pluck it and not feel a thing. 

- To discovering your formal referral letter from your surgeon calls you “This unfortunate 31 year old lady”.

- To the watch list I assume my housemates are now on after they failed to bat an eyelid to the request: “I need garbage bags, duct tape, and a container for used syringes.”

- To the kind hearts who sent flowers, the soul mates who brought chocolates, and the legends who posted books.

I know what you’re thinking – with the metal on the inside, and the lack of physical pain on the outside, I’m basically a Bond villain in waiting.  Or you’re thinking none of those things is technically the Third Thing.

I get it.  Packaging events into trio formation is a deeply human response – it’s attempting to assign logic to life’s random luck.  It’s noble.  Thoughtful.  A bit fucked.

But if none of those little moments are big enough, I’ve decided the Third Thing is all of them.  I’d like that.

And with one storytelling convention behind me, I can at long last move on to the next.

Get me to a Training Montage.

Painefull Out

P.S.  For realists playing at home, the Third Thing was also possibly when I arrived back in Melbourne 51 days later than planned… to discover my car wouldn’t start, then spent $300 getting it going, then over $800 getting it out of the carpark.  Then the engine cut out on the other side of the boom gate.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Painefull Patient

In the far and distant future… when space colonisation is accepted as our only option for survival, the great-great grandchildren of the Spice Girls are ready to go on their second reunion tour and Twitter is the lengthy telegram by which old people write their memoirs… someone, somewhere will dust off the 2016 census.

First they’ll giggle at the belief that any of the information was ever truly secure, then they’ll notice a preponderance children with aggressively misspelt names, and at some point they’ll wonder why gay people were choosing not to get married in Australia during this era.

Distracted by the discovery that a stage production of the latest Fast & Furious sequel is playing via hologram (with prologue delivered by Global President Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson*), they won’t get any further than that.  If they did, they probably still wouldn’t care about the strange fact that on the day of the census, I was being housed in a neurology ward in Canberra.

If that seemed like a lengthy way to get to the point of this post, consider it an analogy for how long it took me to get out of hospital after breaking my leg.

To be filed under 'Things That Make You Go: May require surgery'

Due to the rampant popularity of hospital food, patient overflow forced me to bunk down in neuro while I waited for the second operation to actually set my broken bones.  I wasn’t alone – a fellow ski accident victim shared my four person room, and remarked that we had pretty much the same injury.  He got out after three days.  When I was finally released two and a half weeks later, I came to the realisation that he was a cruel, cruel liar.

You know who didn’t leave me?  The amnesiac patient, and the elderly Croatian woman who didn’t speak a word of English.  If that’s not the start of an excellent conversation every day, it’s at least the beginning of a ‘walks into a bar’ joke.

That first week, with the metal pins sticking out of my leg, it took three people to take me to the bathroom.  The second week, with the metal plates inside the limb, it was merely two – with so few of us involved in the endeavour it began to feel downright private.

Undoubtedly the high point came with my first shower at Day 12.  Only a single nurse was needed to help me do that.  I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is: Yes, it was less satisfying to harmonize with just one other person.

At least I was truly alone at night.  Just me, the beeps and buzzes of medical equipment, and my brain doing its circuit – this hurts > don’t think I’d cope with childbirth > how come Olympic long jumpers don’t get injured when they fall? > falling > stupid skis > remember Dad taught you to love skiing > glad Dad didn’t end up in hospital > Dad > this hurts…

Halfway through August I realised I hadn’t seen the sky that month.

There are awards, of course:

Best helpers ever: a sister that brought me tea, an aunt that brought me berries, a mother that spent a lot of time driving backwards and forwards to Canberra.

Worst helper ever: the nurse who thought my leg looked crooked and tried to correct it without noticing the metal pins holding it in position.

Best overheard statement without context: “The doctor wants to know how many fingers I can fit in your mouth, so open up.”

Best phone call: my boss wanting my full name to help with a cleansing ritual at the office to try and lift the curse.

Best segue: the friend who, upon discovering I was in hospital with a severely broken leg, used it as an opportunity to tell me about his terrible cold.

Let me reassure you now – that friend’s cold… has passed.  I will let him know you’re thinking of him.

Everyone keeps reminding me this leg business will pass as well.  I know it will, but with another three weeks until I can put any weight on it, it sure is taking its sweet arse time.  Odd to think, in that far and distant future, the census might be the only evidence on record that it even happened.  That and the crippling arthritis my doctor now assures me is inevitable in the limb.

Like a lot that’s occurred this year, something so big will be reduced to a memory, and an ache.

Airport security comedy will surely ensue

On the upside, I’m further down the path of becoming the Bionic Woman.  I’m going to fight crime with my knee of steel, before the inevitable robopocalypse forces me to choose sides between humanity and our artificial intelligence overlords.  I’m still undecided on that one (pending the US Presidential election).

Full Metal Legging

Painefull Out

* = The Rock is ageless.  Go with it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s A Broken Leg

Sometimes you dress for the occasion, sometimes the occasion dresses you… and sometimes you start the day wearing a Superman t-shirt, and end it wearing an external frame drilled into your leg.
I think we can all agree that life is a series of choices.  From yes please, more parmesan, to no thanks, Trump belongs to the kind of dystopian future only Jennifer Lawrence could bring down – the consequences of these choices can be huge, obvious course alterations, but mostly the results are barely perceptible.

But there’s a third group – the things that pay off in truly unexpected ways.

When I was 6, I swapped writing hands to I could sit with my best friend.  When I was 19, I locked my keys in the car for the third time in a week.  When I was 30, I started buying superhero t-shirts because they made me feel oddly empowered.  And two days ago I opted to push through some slushy snow with a bit more speed, rather than slowing down.

Picture it now: I’m flying down the slopes of Thredbo, wind in my hair, trees whizzing by, vaguely visible grass patches cheering me on.  It’s as if the last 6 months of diligently working out have all led to this moment – fitness and confidence combining to take me down the mountain at a cracking pace.

Then slush.  Then a hard inside edge.  Then a lot of forward momentum dragging me away from a foot locked firmly into a boot that a ski refuses to release.

Then me lying face first in a twisted heap on a bank of muddy snow.  Season with screaming to taste.

OMG, how embarrassment, did you guys not get the memo that I was wearing red?

One pro to severely injuring yourself while skiing – you don’t have to immediately see how awful it is.  Your wounds are secure, helpfully hidden – all loose bone and jutting joints are pleasantly ensconced in a water proofed material package, topped with special footwear.

A big con – all that neat clothing and highly rigid footwear has to come the fuck off.  I can swear about that, because I’ve had a ski boot removed while sporting a spiral fracture to the tibia – I can swear about that fucker for days.

A fesh pro to the clothing removal process came when three unexpectedly strapping young men were charged with taking off my pants at the medical clinic.  An unexpected con arrived with the belated realisation that I was wearing Superman (well, technically, Supergirl) underwear, which matched my Superman t-shirt.  In case it’s not obvious, I’ll explain – I was feeling hella empowered that day, and I simply dressed to match.

The irony of the Superman logo was not lost on a single soul in any ambulance, x-ray booth, operating theatre or hospital ward that followed.  Combined with the last name Paine, I was a walking punchline.  I should’ve found it unbelievably irritating, but instead it felt like the perfect ice breaker.

Like dentists & other super heroes, I feel strapping medical staff need their identities protected

Despite the aftermath being a blur of snow sleds and kindly middle aged nurses urging me not to look at my elbow, I have a clear picture of how the whole thing went down.  Several clear pictures, actually.  Two friends were on the spot to help soothe me, taking charge of everything non-medical.  But they also understood that what a girl wants, nay, what a girl needs… is a sensitively taken photographic essay of her dramatic day on the snow fields.  Complete with an emergency selfie.

Only true friends can take on such tasks – the type that are found through random life events, like a bad habit of locking your keys inside your car.

On Sunday I was feeling kind of excellent about life.  Thoroughly at ease for the first time in about three months – high job satisfaction, fabulous friends, good food, and total freedom on the slopes.  Everything was coming up Painefull.  And then… everything came up painful.

No stunt doubles were used in the making of this leg photo

I could blame my ski bindings, or my age, or climate change (the last one is most tempting, because… it’s irrefutable science and all), but the choices I made were the dominant factors.  I didn’t run into anyone or anything – most of that bad boy is on me.

There's a Game of Thrones joke in here somewhere, about me facing off against The Mountain... still working on it...

But so was the decision to become left-handed so I could sit next to Kevin Durrington.  As I consider my right arm in all its battered, bionic woman brace glory, I remind myself that while the next few months may be hard, at least I will always be able to sign my name.  I have 6 year old me to thank for that.

Some choices really do pay off in the most unexpected of ways.

Painefull Out

P.S.  In the space of a minute, while seated by my hospital bed, Mother Painefull suggested I eat another Tim Tam, and declared she would buy me a fresh superman t-shirt, so I just thought you all deserved a warning – the apocalypse is nigh.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


One of my favourite photos of my father features him at the table, eating breakfast with one hand, while holding me upright with the other.  I’m about one in it, looking up at him in total adoration.  At the time the adoration was probably because he was letting me pick pieces of dried banana from his muesli.  I didn’t know it then, but John Paine was a man who took his breakfast routine very seriously… and the fact that he was willing to let me shove my podgy, grubby little hand in it was actually an early sign that I had his true and unconditional love.

From learning about the day’s most important meal, to learning how to drive, all through my life, my Dad has been one of the few constants I have known.  John Paine was a constant, in every sense of the word.  He collected the mail at the exact same time each day, always had a freshly ironed hankie in his pocket, and could be relied on to refer to every pair of socks he ever received as ‘Just what I always wanted’.

But he was more than a human clock you could set your watch to.  For me: If life was softball, he’d be the catcher.  If living was a tightrope walk, he seemed like the perfect net.  If growing up was a journey, he was my map.  Not one of those new-fangled, internet maps that totally baffled Dad mind you – a battered, well-thumbed, hard copy – the kind they just don’t seem to make anymore.

Of all the things Dad gave me - from a love of medieval history to an aversion to spicy food – his family was his greatest possible gift.

He raised five kids.  I don’t feel that qualifying that with any caveats about genetics is necessary – I know he never did. 

Dad loved us all.  Through childhood mini concerts, during dress-up Christmases, after tense front room talks.  While we were playing every variety of weekend sport, going through every moody teenage spasm of attitude… even when I repeatedly tried to hang upside down on his back machine when I was about 10, always getting stuck and having to call out till he came to rescue me.

Dad was steady as a rock – you always knew what to expect from him.  If he wanted to express enthusiasm, he’d punctuate the conversation with his patented “Wacky Doo!”  If he had one drink to many, his perfectly combed, wonderfully full head of hair would suddenly go askew.  When you were in need of comfort, he’d always be there to offer a double back-pat, a “there-there” and a firm suggestion – “Have a glass of water”.  Dad was making it clear he was there, and when he was there, it felt like nothing truly terrible could ever happen.  He was also making sure you stayed hydrated.

Of course, Dad was capable of mistakes.  Like the time he got experimental in the kitchen when mum was away, and decided to throw steamed zucchini into the dinner mix.  It was only when we sat down to eat that it became apparent that Dad wasn’t entirely clear on the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber.  And the time he bought mum that ornamental green umbrella for Christmas… that we never talk about and never saw again.

John Paine died how he enjoyed living – in Sunnybrae, surrounded by family, and with as little fuss as possible.  Just as I did in that old photo, I was still looking up at him in total adoration until the very end.  He lived the life he wanted.  He was a generous, gentle, honourable man.  An antique pocket watch in a digital world.

I’ll miss you Dad.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Not Defying Gravity… (because it’s gravity, it always wins)

You know what you look like when you limp slowly through a mall in exercise gear?  An inappropriately dressed dick.

That’s lesson number one from the school of ‘Get Just Fit Enough to Injure Yourself Properly’.  Catchy title, I know.  I’m getting t-shirts made.

If it no longer looks or acts like an ankle... does word 'ankle' really still apply?

Lesson number two is to remove all songs from your jogging playlist that talk about gravity winning in the end, or reference falling.  Because nobody likes an ironic soundtrack while they whimper and limp.  Next thing you know, you start muttering at your iPod shuffle: “Why would you play that?” and “Seriously, do you hate me?”… which when combined with the limping and deeply unflattering clothing just makes people give you side eye.

This is my tradition – first decide to get in shape, next force self to go to the gym despite finding it agonizingly boring (and also agonizing because, you know… effort), thirdly start to make headway and gain some level of fitness, then fourthly, injure self.  That’s what we in the business of weak ankles call a full stop.

The last thought to pass through my head before I went down like a sack of shit mid-run was:

‘Hey, I’m actually finally fit enough to enjoy this… I bet I don’t even look like I’m having an asthma attack while I do it now.’

That sentiment was basically the harbinger of my inevitable doom.  I should never, ever, under any circumstance, no matter the temptation allow myself to think that.  Not even after a year of being injury free, not even as a passing notion – Irony is a patient bitch, and she’s always watching.  Always.

Fitness has long been a safer bet for me when it’s happened by accident – like the time I hiked the Machu Picchu trail and the lack of oxygen just sucked the fat right out of me, or that year I spent sprinting after wayward special needs kids as a part time job.  Now those are reliable ways to get in good condition.  Some of those kids can really run.

But actually trying to become a person in possession of The Fitness really does seem like playing Russian roulette, except instead of a gun you’re pulling the trigger on gravity.  And it’s loaded with your own body weight, bad eyesight, and uneven pavement. And instead of death, the consequences could be a really long walk home, with added sobbing if you’re already feeling emotionally fragile.

Really ran with that analogy, didn’t I?  Ran with it, then sort of fell over and limped away from it at the end.  Because I’m consistent.

No stunt ankles were used in the making of this post.

In summation, consider this a public safety announcement: for the sake of your health, never exercise on purpose.  Down that path lies pain, irritation at self, and the stunning realisation that the Haim song ‘Falling’ is really a taunting missive from them to you.

Painefull Out