21 May 2015

Salad days

While I love the push for social change towards a healthier lifestyle – eating better, getting more exercise, developing greater awareness of fat, sugar and insulin interactions, and so forth – I can’t help but feel that with every two steps forward, we take one step back.

Recently I ordered a regular-size chicken pesto salad from SumoSalad, which I chose because it was touted as 'low-carb' (3.4g carbs). It was delicious ... a little too delicious, it turns out, as when I got home, I got quite the shock when I logged it into my Fitbit diary and discovered it had 638 calories.

Let’s give this a point of reference: a Big Mac is 492 calories. 

Here's what confuses me: if you’re passionate enough about healthy eating to start up an international salad bar chain, surely you'd aspire to create individual menu items that stay within the general caloric perimeters of a standard healthy meal, right? – which is 300 for women and 450 for men. At least, this is what one would expect.

Of course, those following low-calorie diets aren’t always concerned with carbs, and those following low-carbohydrate diets aren’t always concerned with calories, but 638 calories for a 280 gram bowl of salad seems a little extreme. That’s 73.4 grams of fat – a quarter of the total content. Even if you had no interest in losing weight (although I’m sure most people who make this food selection do), those figures are still pretty chunky.

Checking out the figures for other salads on the menu, it's clear there are lower-calorie options, such as the roasted pumpkin and chickpea (408 calories) and the balsamic beetroot (328 calories) – certainly better caloric choices than the chicken pesto that I chose – yet their carb counts are through the roof (at 52.5 grams and 37.6 grams, respectively). This is baffling, as sugars, breads and pastas are usually the carb culprits. Salad – meat and vegetables – seems like the perfect opportunity to post the 'Keep Out' sign for carbs.

(And I won't even mention the Thai Chicken Noodle salad, which is 1020 calories and 197.6 grams of carbs – more than a Big Mac meal with fries and a Coke.)

Of course, SumoSalad isn’t the only salad-selling potential calorie-cloaker. Popularly, Subway is the healthy alternative and many think that if you choose it over, say, Maccas, it gives you a carte blanche to order whatever you like, guilt free … and double the serve. While a 6” sub with chicken and no dressing is a pretty good choice calorie-wise, with 306 calories (yet 43.7 grams of carbs), not everyone orders so conscientiously, especially adolescents.

A foot-long chicken, bacon and ranch sub with cheese, for instance, is over 1000 calories (76 carbs), which is around the same as a KFC Ultimate Meal Box at 955 calories and 101 carbs (which includes a chicken burger, a piece of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, chips and a can of soft drink!).

It’s all about choices, of course. But the choices become cloudy and convoluted when you’re ordering from a salad bar – salad bar, people – and trying to make the right choices without frantically calculating calories and carbs, adding and subtracting, allowing for bigger or smaller serves, or add-ons like avocado, cheese and dressing, often with a handful of kids and shopping bags hanging off your arms.

Don't get me wrong: these healthy fast-food outlets are definitely a plus. But just because they're advertised as the healthy alternative doesn’t mean that you can order anything off the menu with blind confidence and reckless abandon. 

... At least, not without accidentally ordering a salad with more calories than a Big Mac.

02 May 2012

My Sweet Obsession

© Bree DeRoche 2012 

I have a stowaway. It clings to me … all day … all night. It follows me from room to room. It runs with me, showers with me, jumps into bed with me.

At night when I try to sleep, it demands my attention. Liquid warm and honey-smooth, it entwines itself around me. It whispers to me. It makes me promises.

It chases away my demons. It keeps me safe.

It chases away my slumber. I can't sleep.

I can't eat. I can't think. I can't focus.

It elates my every cell … sweet reverie … sweet anticipation … sweet addiction. It fills my fantasies with helium, tugging playfully, threatening to take flight, long curly ribbons fluttering. 

It takes herculean strength to keep myself anchored, to not soar off into the abyss. Sometimes the abyss pulls me from the other direction. I have no hope.

Sleep is no escape. My stowaway is there too … in dreams set on endless oceans. Lolling buoyantly on our backs, we float, in a warm azure sea. Me and my stowaway. Just you and me. Drowning in the sea of love.

And in the morning, when I wake, my stowaway leaps into bed with me, before I’ve even opened my eyes. A warm sweet rush, kissing my face, demanding my attention. Making me love it. I have no hope.

My stowaway is my thoughts … and all of my thoughts are of you.

It’s a constant distraction. It’s impossible to focus. My work takes twice as long. I read the same lines over and over. I get stuck writing sentences, grasping for words beyond the Lexicon of Love. "Soft", "sweet", "heart", "kiss" … these words don't fit in articles I'm hired to write, on automobiles and robotics. I doodle lovehearts on my tax invoices. I accidentally sign-off business memos with kisses …

Focus, dammit, focus!

I check my email obsessively for contact … from you. You're too far away during the day. I yearn for your messages from cyberspace. I covet your X’s and O’s. I feed off your words, your adoration. I giggle at your plight, the daily commute, your observations from the train. I live in your inbox. I want to crawl into your heart, drag in my sofa, fluff the pillows, make chai.

I count the hours, the minutes, the seconds, until you’re back and I can submerge myself in the nape of your neck. Your sweet pheromones that make my skin sweat and prickle in goosesbumps, all at the same time.

My sweet obsession.

02 April 2012

Drowning in the Sea of Love

© Bree DeRoche 2012 

Have you ever dived headfirst off a cliff? Taken the plunge with full faith, in full flight, off a towering, rock-encrusted precipice, hoping – trusting – that the warm, lapping azure ocean below will receive you and absorb you into it’s watery embrace ... before transporting you weightlessly across the Sea of Love?

It seems like madness, of course, diving from a cliff top with no guarantee of anything to break the fall (other than potentially rocky crags). It’s something we’d never contemplate with a rational mind. Yet love, with her coiling tendrils, has a way of entwining herself gently around our otherwise completely sensible minds, stitching up neurological pathways while infusing her seductive hormonal cocktail of oxytocin and dopamine – altering brain chemistry – until she has such a firm grip on the so-called rational mind that she’s then able to effortlessly pop it out like a coconut, leaving nothing but an empty, furry husk.

After all, what place do logic and practicalities have when it comes to the utterly irrational cosmic phenomenon of falling in love? WARNING: Love Ahead (All Braincells Confiscated at the Gate).

And by the time we realise, it’s always too late. We gain semi-lucid consciousness one day only to find ourselves in so deep that we’re drowning, blissfully, in a deliciously frothy swell of hopes, dreams and expectations – the rough sketches of a joined future mapped out, with total disregard for coastlines and hidden reefs – while safe, dry land seems to be drifting further and further away into the distance, too far to swim to … even if we still had the inkling to do so.

I’ve been drowning in the Sea of Love. I’m intoxicated on salt water; tickled by the chop. And while I thought I knew what I was doing, I was controlling the pace and the destination, what I didn’t realise is: I’m not.

Our joined total seems somehow to have inflated, and it’s greater than the sum of our parts. As such, our journey is on its own trajectory, controlled by a force beyond us: God? Cupid? Chaos theory? The Fox Network? – it’s all one and the same.

I’m doing things I never imagine I’d be doing – like two-hour workouts, living on grapes, shaving my legs more than once a week … and picturing some kind of future domestic bliss I’d never thought possible. I’m overflowing with the need to shout it from cyberspace, yet deliberately constraining myself for fear of inadvertently bursting my own shiny pink bubble.

Plus, I hate to wax lovey-dovey. I have an uncontrollable desire to call it McLovin’ in order to trivialise and hilarify it. It’s much easier to tell of self-deprecating, disastrous anecdotes about love, dating and other catastrophes – about men who take me out for dinner then tell me that they would love to try on my shoes, or that there’s a warrant out for their arrest, or that they are just dating me because they've been in love with my sister since high school.

But my love – my McLove – asked me to write something about love … so what choice did I have? He owns me.

Life has been sublime on the Sea of Love, floating buoyantly with the warm currents, anticipating the white-sand, palm-thronged desert-island paradise just over the horizon to accommodate my eternal cup-runneth-over love-madness.

Until I encountered a shark.

Sharks, I’ve discovered, can come in all shapes and sizes. It’s a well-known fact that they always sink their teeth into oblivious sets of pegs innocently treading water and yank the unsuspecting victims into the cold dark depths of the ocean for fast, frenzied flesh savagings.

Last night, while my empty-husk brain floated weightlessly, intoxicated on love, my McLove asked to see my photo albums, lined up on the shelf in front of us. I hesitated, as they’re loaded with pictures of the ex, the father of my children, things he doesn’t need to see (nor I), things I really should have got around to putting in a box long ago. So I carefully selected my travel albums – adventures lived in my 20s, backpacking and working café jobs, bumming around the world for close to a decade, pre-kids, pre-matrimony – thinking I was on relatively safe ground showing him these.

What I had forgotten is the photos of the English boyfriend I had as I travelled around the States for five years. And the German boyfriend that came shortly while after in Europe. And the Danish boyfriend I bummed around Asia with – all nothing but souvenirs, snapshots of moments in time, pasted in beside my train-ticket stubs and international boarding passes. Then there was the string of emails I’d also included, correspondence from India to yet another boyfriend … the ‘boy’ who would later become my husband (and then, later still, my ex-husband).

Oblivious was I as my McLove was devoured in a shark feeding frenzy, there in my living room, next to his cup of tea, and I didn’t even realise until I saw the blood and body parts start floating to the surface.

I knew, only then … I wasn’t the only one drowning in the Sea of Love.

21 March 2012

Folie à deux

© Bree DeRoche 2012 

I'm in the midst of a folie à deux – a shared delusion that occurs between two people when in the same psychosis at the same time.

The fact that this is a well-known condition occurring in people living in isolation strangely isn’t ringing any alarm bells for me, even though I work online, am paid online, shop online and even buy my groceries online. The guy who’s delivered my bananas for the past two years has never even seen my face. Isolate much?

Such tinderbox conditions of seclusion can be a veritable furnace of explosive delusional thinking, one in which you’re forming romantic attachments to kitchen appliances and killing mice and dressing them in home-sewn party frocks.

I know I should be worried about my own mental state at this point. I’m a deeply contemplative thinker with detached indifference and preschool wit. I’ll admit, it’s confusing for even me to be around at times. I quote Shakespeare and South Park in the same anecdotes and I use the Homers interchangeably.

Yet I’ve met another soul – at least in theory – who’s actually on my wavelength. Is this even possible? He’s two-dimensional, mostly text-based and speaks in comic contrived sentences generally delivered at two-hourly intervals via my wireless broadband connection. He’s a disembodied soul that exists exclusively (for all I know) in my laptop.

I’ll admit, when I set out in pursuit of a soul mate, I didn’t realise I intended to cage one. But it’s working for me nicely. It’s panning out to be the best relationship I’ve had in the last decade. After endless dates with so-called ‘real’ men (as opposed to ‘cyber’ men) who came teaming with throngs of hilarious provisos – from rippling biceps and criminal records to palaeontology doctorates and nervous twitches – enough material to give a rom-com writer fodder for a year, I seemed to have culled back my List of Requirements to the barebones, and apparently ‘Must actually exist’ is no longer in the top 10.

Because, of course, let’s be frank, I’m not without my own emotional baggage. But I came to realise the more emotional baggage you carry, the more likely you are to get left behind in the airport of love and I was sick of waiting in transit. Yet while waiting for my flight to Loveville, I must admit to forming a possibly unnatural attachment to the keyboard. After all, there’s a certain amount of control that comes with cyber-romancing, keeping a comfortable distance of, say, 20,000 miles and a motherboard.

I can barely remember, back in the day, when I used to meet potential love interests in the real world, like parties and pubs. No matter how well we seemed to hit it off, it seemed like I then waited by the phone for months before they called, if they’d call at all. Was that the phone ringing? Shhhh, was that the phone ringing when I just said ‘Is that the phone ringing?’? Perhaps he rang when I was out? Perhaps my phone’s broken? Perhaps he rang when I was just checking to see if my phone’s broken? Why isn’t he answering?! Can’t he see all my missed calls?!!!

Yet the object of my digital folie à deux indulges my neurotic impulses. He’s at my beck and call day and night – because he lives in my MacBook. I keep him safe and nurture him, I feed him with double entendres and flirtatious repartee, and when I get tired of him, I snap my laptop shut, so he can’t escape and he’s still there in the morning.

This may be a folie à deux – hell, it may even be a folie à un, a total figment of my own imagination – but whatever distracts me from buying more shoes on Amazon.com is surely worth it’s weight in megabytes?

25 March 2011

Catching Zzz’s With Mr Buzz

© Bree DeRoche 2011 
Everyone knows that sitting in the dental chair is scary business. There’s the metal probes with sharp pointy ends, the creepy little mirrors on sticks, cords and hoses leading in and out of mysterious holes in the floor, sprays and weird medical smells … and let’s not forget: the dreaded drill. Or, as my son’s dentist likes to call it, ‘Mr Buzz’.
Recently we went for a little visit to Mr Buzz after my son complained of a tooth ache – one so extreme, in fact, that he was awake the entire night beforehand, crying and complaining of the pain, despite several rounds of Panadol.
The dentist, a young Kiwi fresh off the boat, was sensational. Full of kiddie lingo, delivered in rhythmic, musical inflections, emphasising words like, “sweetpea!” and “you ARE a big boy!”, she had us hypnotised the second we walked in the door, like she’d just stepped off the set of The Wiggles. Her clipped New Zealand accent only added to the appeal, as my son – utterly familiar with the American and English accents, of course – had never heard a heavy Kiwi accent in full flight and I could see the delighted twinkle in his eye as she said, “Can you open your mouth rooolly beg for me?”, as though she were deliberately goofing around for his private amusement. Coupled with her bright yellow skivvy under her medical scrubs, it was a winning combination.
However, her intoxicating enthusiasm flickered and things turned overcast after an X-ray revealed the cause of the tooth ache. A deep cavity had eaten its way through his tiny molar, all the way down to the roots, concealed under a previous filling for a cavity that hadn’t been drilled out effectively enough. Hence, the excruciating pain it was causing. My six-year-old was going to require a semi-root canal.
I was happy they’d found the source of the pain and completely trusting of Dr Kiwi’s dental competency, basing her skill with the drill upon her skill for eliciting giggles from my son. Yet it rapidly became clear that the prospect of administering a local anaesthetic to a small boy via an enormous needle, followed by clamping open his face with a mouth guard and using a large drill bit to bore deep into his molar, all the way down to the roots, wasn’t a procedure she'd necessarily been faced with before in her young career. I could see Dr Kiwi was a little shaken up, which only raised the melody of her inflections and added more “sweetpeas” to her monologue.
My son was asked to recline in the chair, put on the sunnies then wiggle his fingers and toes as Dr Kiwi secreted an enormous needle off the tray. “Wiggle! Wiggle! Wiggle!” she said, trying to distract him, as she inserted the long hypodermic into his mouth. “Wiggle! Wiggle! Wiggle!” she repeated, as I saw her arms shake as she tried to balance her position in mid-air for the extended period of time it took to slowly inject the local anaesthetic. My son wiggled his fingers and wiggled his toes under his sneakers – oblivious to the ruse.
Then out came Mr Buzz and the water hose and the suction. The dental nurse, dressed in a blue skivvy, scooted in close. As Mr Buzz exploded into action, my son lay calm and still until the probing became so deep that he raised his hand, as instructed, to indicate the pain. Mr Buzz stopped and Mr Needle reappeared. “Wiggle! Wiggle! Wiggle, sweetpea!” And my son wiggled, as more anaesthetic was administered, deeper, at different angles in the gums. Mr Buzz was fired up again and, almost instantly, my son’s hand rose again. “It hurts,” he garbled through a mouthful off tools.
She called in the big guns – Dr Spock, the boss man – and they consulted. A close examination and some hushed discussion between the doctors and then Mr Needle was replaced with Mr Second Dose. As Dr Spock, dressed in purple scrubs, said, “Get ready to wiggle!”, I could barely contain my sniggers – despite the sobriety of the situation. Once again, my son wiggled his fingers and wiggled his toes, and Dr Spock’s more powerful arm delivered additional shots of local anaesthetic.
Mr Buzz reappeared, but this time requiring an adjustment, as the small drill bit was replaced with a borer the likes of which I’m sure they use for mining in Outback Australia. Dr Spock fired up the machine then after a couple of uncomfortable adjustments with his arms and elbows, looking for the right angle, he switched off the drill and fired, instead, a bunch of instructions to the dental nurse.
I had no clue what he was talking about, but quickly my son’s open mouth was prepped and transformed, like the chest cavity of a middle-age man undergoing coronary bypass surgery. They clamped his mouth open with a large mouth guard, leaving him in a perpetual, unnaturally-wide yawn. They inserted a “raincoat”, a large square sheath of blue plastic, clipped into place and held in position by a huge metal clip that covering his entire jaw, from nose to chin. They poked a hole in the raincoat, through which his molar was exposed, and clamped on a small metal “bracelet” around the tooth. My son was nothing by a wide open mouth, covered in plastic, with the tiny molar peeping through.
Finally, with everything clamped and clipped, we were ready for the show to begin and I realised everything that had transpired beforehand was merely the opening act. “Get ready to wiggle!” chimed Dr Spock again and Mr Buzz was fired up to full speed and the doctor commenced to drill my son’s tooth, as though mining for uranium.
There’s some germs, Doctor!” squealed Dr Kiwi, delighted.
“Got ’em!” said Dr Spock.
“What about the pink one, Doctor?!”
“Ah, I see!” he said and changed his drilling angle and probed deeper.
“There’s a green one, Doctor!”
“Ah! A nasty one,” he said, “got it!”
“Oh no,” said Dr Kiwi, “I see a pink one with purple dots!”
“I’ll get him!” said Dr Spock.
And so it went on, their comedy routine, as they worked tirelessly to extract the decay all the way down to the roots and entertain my son on the chair. At one point, after Dr Spock asked my son if he knew about Mr Fire Engine Hose, showing him the spray nozzle for rinsing, I had to resist all temptation to say, “Look, guys, he’s nearly seven, not two,” but by this stage it had become apparent that the performance was not just for my son’s benefit, but also for their own. It could have been the anxiety of working on such a small patient, or perhaps just a way to keep themselves entertained, but as the drilling continued, which took the better part of an hour, the comedy never missed a beat, as the good doctors drilled out pink germs, red germs, green germs, spotty germs, boy germs and girl germs.
My son didn’t make a peep. He didn’t raise his hand to indicate any pain. In fact, he didn’t move a muscle.
He fell fast asleep.
Yep, right there in the dental chair with a face clamped open and a full raincoat and clips, with a huge drill in his sore molar and a Wiggle-fest comedy routine taking place over his head … he dozed off into a restful slumber.
When his snoring broadcasted his siesta, the room burst into a round of laughter. “I guess he didn’t get much sleep last night!” said Dr Kiwi, and I nodded confirmation. “Oh well, let’s let him sleep.” And he slept, as Dr Spock let Dr Kiwi finalise the procedure, finish the drilling and rinsing and suctioning, then fill the clean dental cavity. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the slight air of disappointment, as, having put the audience to sleep, Dr Spock had left the room and the performance was over.
With his molar tightly filled, the bracelet and raincoat removed, my son finally stirred from his snooze and looked around the room, a little embarrassed, as Dr Kiwi asked him if he enjoyed his nanna nap. He yawned, drowsy and disorientated and asked, “Where’s Jeff?”

24 March 2011

A City On Fire

© Bree DeRoche 2011 
As with any great adventure, it began with a carefully orchestrated plan. Funds carefully procured and squirreled away, third-world-travel immunisation shots and pills carefully administered, maps carefully studied and marked up, travel guides carefully dog-eared and underlined, dates carefully selected.
My carefully selected date, at least six months in the planning, to fly into Jakarta was: 14 May 1998. A perfect day. A blue-sky day. A day hostile riots erupted throughout the city after four students were shot dead by police at Trisakti University during a demonstration two days prior.
Oblivious to current events, I soared blissfully overhead in Indonesian airspace, the sky a dazzling shade of azure. I noticed the heavy shroud of cloud cover as we approached the verdant, volcanic island of Java. There was a great deal of buzz in-cabin, staff zipped back and forth up the isles, there were several announcements over the intercom, but as we were flying into Jakarta, not Bali, the announcements were in Indonesian, so I didn’t catch what was going on. It didn’t help, either, that I was off my head on opiates.
Having been horrendously sick with the flu for days pre-departure, with sweats and fevers, yet had no flexibility on my inflexible Super Saver ticket to change my flights, Mum had given me the strongest pain killers she could find in the medicine cabinet to help ease the aches and nausea until I could check into a nice quiet hotel in Jakarta and recuperate for a couple days before hitting the open road with my backpack. I think they’d been prescribed to my sister after she had had her wisdom teeth out and the heavy narcotic base had me in feeling as though my head, soft and fluffy, was floating comfortably in mid-air a few centimetres above my shoulders.
It wasn’t until we started our decent that I noticed the ‘clouds’ covering the capital seemed to be emanating from little funnels coming from the ground and in my opiate daze – calm and serene, far from the madding crowd – I realised that the city of Jakarta was on fire.
It was the beginning of the Fall of Suharto. There was rampant unemployment across Indonesia, food shortages and the rupiah had taken a nose dive, causing costs to skyrocket. Students had taken to the streets in protest of Suharto. The riots rapidly turned into a pogrom, a violet mob attack directed against the ethnic-Chinese, who were made into scapegoats. Rioters were attacking homes and businesses of Chinese-Indonesians, in mob-like clusters, killing innocent people and destroying property.
The Arrival gates were manic. Passengers, staff, air crew, and police and soldiers with enormous semi-automatic weaponry darted back and forth in a state of absolute hysteria. I approached the bus terminal to buy a ticket into Jakarta and the counter attendant screamed over the hubbub, “Big riots! No Jakarta! You go Bogor!” – and with that, I was shuffled onto the first bus leaving the city, which departed 11 minutes later.
On the bus, as we approached the smoking city, heading towards the main arterial that would take us out of the city, the traffic slowed. Bumper to bumper we inched along. I could hear screams in the distance and see individual little infernos licking up between houses. Then the bus came to a complete standstill and armed bandits ran out into the road, targeting the vehicle directly in front of us, and in a mob of six or so, rocked it back and forth, back and forth, until they rolled it on its back like a beetle, doused it in fuel and set it alight.
There were screams and hysteria aboard the bus. Mothers smothered children into their bodies, old women cried. The men grabbed me, the only Australian among the 30 or so terrified Indonesians, and the two other westerners, Dutch backpacking brothers, and stuffed us down the back of the bus, out of sight, to prevent our big white moon faces from peering out the windows and drawing attention to the vehicle.
More screams and the bus was boarded by several gun-flailing bandits. “Kami adalah siswa! Kami adalah siswa!” bleated the terrified bus driver. We’re students. The bandits scanned the rows of passengers and I felt a firm hand pushed my head deeper into the vinyl seats, keeping me out of sight, to avoid any possible reason for aggravating the hostile pack on this wild rampage of terror. I was thankful for my lingering opiate high, which seemed to create a buffer between me and the terror, almost like I was watching the whole thing from a distance ... like on a television set. Yet I was also regretting the fact that, in my semi-doped state, I'd zippered by money belt, containing passport and cash, into a side pocket in my backpack, which was now stuffed in a locker over head. All I kept thinking was, When they open fire, do I try to grab my backpack or just run for my life?
What seemed like an eternity later, but was probably only seconds, the rioters nodded and retreated, and I felt the collective sign as they leapt off the bus. Not only that, the bandits then directed our bus through the traffic, past the flaming vehicle they’d just ignited in front of us, carving out a narrow passage between the cars and debris for us to squeeze through – and the metal bus literally scraped and squealled against the sides of other vehicles – to get to the turn off to Bogor, 100 metres down the road. We passed dozens of overturned vehicles, women screaming and covered in soot, children wandering aimlessly on the road, shops and houses in flames. Gun-toting madmen crawled over the scene, pushing civilians, throwing kerosene bombs, but we were “siswa”, students, so we were allowed to pass.
As we made the turn off, driving under the swinging overhead sign reading ‘Bogor’, I can’t say what I felt was a sense of relief, as the fury continued to rage behind us: trucks being overturned, fireballs flying, children screaming, but I felt an all-consuming feeling of divine intervention – or possibly blind dumb luck – to have stumbled onto that bus, with those good people who risked their own safety to keep me safe. One kindly old gent on the bus even went so far, once we reached the safety of Bogor, to walk me by hand to a tourist hotel and make sure I checked in safety.
It was only later that I heard the devastating statistics. As many as 5000 people were killed and 500 women were mass gang-raped. There were rumours that elements of the Indonesia military special forces (Kopassus) were involved. To the people on that bus, I owe a debt of gratitude for having made it out of the city alive ... because, holy sh*t, I thought I was going to die.

23 March 2011

Born to Be Free?

© Bree DeRoche 2011 

I grew up in a household where, as I got up for school in the morning, my dad sat contentedly at the breakfast table, slowly peeling back each sheet of The Age, sipping his freshly brewed coffee. As I tore through the laundry looking for a clean school uniform, Dad popped a slice of raisin bread in the toaster, wearing faded Levis, an old surfer T-shirt and bare feet … or thongs if he was feeling fancy. As I propelled myself out the front door, three minutes before the school bell chimed – as other dads inched along the freeway in rush-hour traffic, cursing the fact that they were going to be late again – my dad casually rose from the breakfast table, neatly folded the newspaper, picked up his mug of coffee, slid open the backdoor, went out to his backyard office and was seated at his desk by the stroke of 9am.

I use the world ‘office’ loosely, as this was a true writer’s nook, a haven from the outside world, a sanctuary that he built himself in among the creeping ivy and staggering gums in the backyard of the family home. Hexagonal in shape, it was a bohemian masterpiece, complete with high ceiling, exposed beams, French doors and an enormous ‘sunshine’ stained-glass window – which he also crafted himself – through which a kaleidyscope of colours were projected onto his desk, dancing, twisting and contorting over his papers as the sun shifted throughout the day.

For decades my dad has worked in that hexagonal office (and still does), avoiding the traffic and fumes, the suits and politics, the stuffy offices and fluoro lights of inner-city employment. Yet he’s carved out for himself a pretty respectable living, keeping six daughters in Diet Coke and lip-gloss. Clocking in at 9am and finishing whenever he damn-well pleased, as a freelancer, he had the complete freedom to set his own hours, establish his own goals, nurture his own projects and only take on the jobs that suited him.

Some days I’d spy Dad through the stained-glass window rocking out on his bass guitar or manning the controls to Flight Stimulator. For other periods, I wouldn’t see him for days at a time as he got a story idea and worked obsessively, burning the midnight oil, as the inspiration flowed and he wanted to get it all tapped out into his keyboard before the moment passed.

This lifestyle didn’t seem like an unreasonable or exotic proposition to me, as a kid. I had zero grasp of the absolute luxury that this type of working lifestyle afforded, and the fact that it was a luxury that most people only dreamt of. 

Your dad works at Capt'n Snooze? Wow! That’s so cool! My dad’s job’s boring. He writes movies in an office in the backyard.

It was probably this complete lack of awareness of the exoticness of my dad’s career and work life that lead me to placing very few limitations on my own career–lifestyle choices. In Year 9, I remember my teacher asking, “What do you want to do when you leave school, Bree?”

“Well, I don’t really see myself working full-time in some office job,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“Don’t sell yourself short!” she said encouragingly, as though what I was suggesting was a reflection of low self-esteem. On the contrary. The idea of working for an advertising agency, chained to a desk on Collins Street, seemed like a life of servitude too dismal to even contemplate.

I had other plans. I did what my bohemian parents told me to do: Do what you LIKE. I liked to write, so I studied writing. I needed a part-time uni job, so I worked as a proofreader, which paid a couple bucks more than Safeway. After uni finished, I wanted to travel Asia, so I worked as a copyeditor in an ad agency on Collins Street (god forbid!). All the while swinging from one dangling vine to the next, not, in fact, realising, I was accidently – yet rather poetically – swinging into my own life of a freelancer.

Now, each morning, as my kids rush their breakfast and clamber around under the couch for their school shoes, I don yoga pants and a hoodie. As the throngs crawl up Eastlink in suffocating suits and petrol-guzzling vehicles, I log-on from the serenity of my home office, with incense burning and Jack Johnson playing, a balmy breeze wafting in from the open backdoor.

Sometimes, of course, I work at an hysterical pace, juggling five contracts at once – trying to keep each topic, each publisher, each author separate in my mind – working until the midnight hours in a cold sweat, with no support network, wondering if I’ll make deadline.

Other times I have dead calm, a clean slate, bills paid and money in the bank. Yet without a single job on the horizon. Like today. Even as I sit here in my backyard, at the Moroccan table, the sunshine on my back, the last balmy breezes of the season caressing my cheek, I can’t help but think, in all this decadent downtime, of my rapidly dwindling bank account and suffer the pure terror of wondering if anyone will ever contract me again.

It makes me wonder, of course, if my dad – in all his freedom and thong-wearing and bass-playing and office-building and Flight-Simulatoring – ever had the same fears over his many years as a freelancer. And I realise, yes, of course he did – although times by three, since he had triple the number of kids that I have. As, with all the luxurious freedom that comes from being a freelancer comes almost equal amounts of terrifying uncertainly about where the next pay cheque is coming from.

My inclination is to send out hundreds of résumés, cold-canvas every old contact in my address book ... scratch my eyeballs out of their sockets. But, perhaps for now, at least, I should just kick off my thongs and turn up the bass.