Sunday, January 06, 2013

Real Life

This blog has given me many things over the last eight years; feedback and friends being the most fulfilling.

Any kind of feedback has always astonished and humbled me, because I write and post mostly for myself, I don’t often remember my blog has an audience (small as it is) at all.


Revisiting some of my writing has reminded me that I have fond wishes for my writing to travel and change with each reader.

I would like just one line written by me to survive the apocalypse - although I hope it will be used by the right people!

I would like at least one of my articles to be so subversive that it is banned by someone who likes banning stuff - although I have had a very unsatisfactory partial experience of that also.

I would like to have someone disagree with me so violently that they need to write about it. Bear with A Head Cold (Reprise) is my most read blog post, and it has collected pretty much the only comment on the entire blog. I am incredibly proud that it has gone on to be used to debunk the email that inspired my ire and my writing.


No explanation needed

Make sure you include me!

It also attracted one of the only pieces of criticism from a stranger I have been fortunate enough to find.

Rather perversely I find his criticism to be very complimentary. I am particularly pleased that he thinks I diagram my sentences, as I had to look up diagramming to work out what he was talking about! He also accuses me of logical dissection, which is very charming of him. I just call it ranting, to be honest.

Much as I like the Corvette criticism however, my fondest piece of feedback was positive feedback. It is a piece of art forwarded to me by someone who read my American Politics writing through the Org, the artistic collective that sprung up around zeFrank’s The Show.

Here is John Green reminiscing about The Show at the 9 minute and 9 second mark: John Green Meets zeFrank, and some other excellent ideas.

a bomb nation entitled this image “let me out! - or - an explanation of why americans love clairemadeleine's blog"
I will never forget his explanation for the image:

He said that while he did not agree with my politics - he was a Republican and I most certainly was not - he found my spontaneous and untried analysis was free of the noise of the American Media, and gave him a clearer lines of discussion in the politics of his nation.

Now that is a beautiful compliment to receive; and it reminds me that providing a little bit of clarity is actually the number one thing that I want the reader to experience from my written opinions.


All three of my Blog Buddies came to me in the last few months of my two years in London.


Sarah found my review of one of her performances and emailed to thank me for it. I was slightly overwhelmed to have been thanked by someone who had given me such pleasure. We chatted over the years and I witnessed (sometimes, Facebook, I do love what you do) her fabulous career.

Tonight I watched the trailer of a movie Sarah stars in (Gaspard Ulliel everyone, right next to my Blog Buddy Sarah!), and it is a nice feeling to see how far from the National Portrait Gallery we have come.


My second and third Blog Buddies arrived a month after Sarah, and in truth, I found them. Our mutual admiration of each other’s writing led Carolyn, Celina and I to keep a casual and appreciative eye on each other’s work, although we never met in person.

When Celina left her job as a corporate lawyer in Singapore and moved to Perth to study Veterinary Science, it took a simply ridiculous three years for us to catch up. And I wish I had not been so stupid, because Celina was marvelous, and I had too little time with her before she died in a car accident mere weeks before her Graduation.

Carolyn moved to London last year, and we have still to meet, especially because of Celina.



I can still see the sunlight on the geraniums in the roof garden outside my window the day in London that I found your blog. For some reason I even remember walking down the wood-paneled hallway to my workmate Laura to laugh about the first post I read of yours that was so great it made me keep reading. It was the post about alerting the authorities to the drugs in the luggage of an ex-boyfriend? Anyway, I loved it and stayed to read. And a few days later I started reading Slinky Cat and the rest is cross-continental, blog-related friendship history.

As I drove away from Celina's house four weeks ago I was smiling, because I knew that I would go to Singapore next year with her and meet you finally. And after that, whenever we got our husbands delivered and had kids, or our nephews and nieces went travelling, they would be made to be friends because we were all friends. It seemed inevitable that such a great friendship would be felt into the next generation.

When Celina and I finally got our act together to meet (and that took a criminal three years) I immediately felt the loss of the years I was 'too busy' to meet someone in my own city. She was like her writing and beyond it - funny and fast and able to leap ahead with new ideas and new jokes. When we went to breakfast the second time we talked so much we lost about 30 minutes - Celina had to go at noon, we said goodbye, found another topic of conversation and suddenly it was 12.30! As we finally parted by means of simply stopping a full conversation in mid-flow, I knew that not being able to stop talking was the sign of a good friendship to come.

Then I had Celina to my parent's house for breakfast because I love to cook for my friends, and I wanted her to see the house I grew up in. As I get older I appreciate meeting my friend's families and seeing their childhood homes as it gives me a shape to their stories of growing up. Celina let me take her on the tour of the house to look at the photos of my brothers and sister, the view from my window and hear the stories of my family. She ate my famous mini-quiches and declared that it was a triumph of a breakfast. The funny thing was that we only half discussed all our topics of interest because we had only a few hours - we never really finished our conversations fully because of time restrictions - and we promised we would have more time next time to discuss everything in full.

And in order to fulfill this promise Celina cooked me lunch four weeks ago at her house and it was a wonderful day. She cooked soup and vegetables and pork belly that made me a little teary it was so good. We talked for hours and finally got to finish all our conversations. We talked at the top of our voices, laughed until we snorted and we very rude about a whole lot of people who should have known better than to mess with us. We discussed our various hapless men in full, looking at them from all angles and amused each other with cutting remarks. We discussed where Celina would go after she finished her degree and we discussed how hard it is to work doing what you love but getting paid a pittance for it. I was looking forward to seeing her in Singapore and going to see her wherever in Australia she decided to practice as a vet. Celina showed me a photo of you and Miss J that she had in her room and we inspected her bookcase and she lent me two books to read.

She finally had to kick me out so she could study, but I left with books, the recipe for pork belly and the glow of many conversations delighted in and plans made. I went home and spent almost two weeks telling all my friends about the feast Celina cooked me. That lunch was so lovely I got out my pen and paper and wrote to thank her for her generosity and time. When Tim sent me a message on Facebook that she was gone and I rang him in response, I was so shocked that I hadn't truly reacted until he mentioned my letter. I had only thought about the letter that morning as I tried to calculate if Celina's family had gone home yet so she would be free to catch up and chat about the visit. I was missing her. I asked Tim if my letter had been opened and he said yes - and I started crying. I had finally realised what had happened and I was pathetically grateful that I had thanked Celina for her wonderful gift of her time, cooking and conversation. At least she knew a little bit of how much I appreciated her place in my life.

Quite apart from what a pleasure she was in person (and I always felt as if meeting up with Celina for food was an event and I would get a bit excited about how much fun we would have), it was what she had DONE that made me so thrilled to know her. Whenever I told any of my other friends about her, I would say she was the Corporate Lawyer from Singapore who had Saved to come to Perth to be A Vet (and I met her through Her Blog). Celina had done things, hard things, long years of study and work so she could take the steps she needed to towards her goals. She had character and she was a character because she worked hard and she cared about things other than money and the trappings of success. And it made her someone with whom you knew you could take flights of fancy because she was a dreamer as well.

I cannot adequately thank you for being the woman through whom I met Celina. Thank you. She made an impact on my life from the first meeting. The second last time I saw her, we went to a bookshop after our breakfast and I bought a biography of my favourite poet, Emily Dickinson. I have enjoyed the book immensely, but today sat down and wrote in the front of the book:

Bought in the company of Celina Chau 18 July 2010. Celina died in a car accident on Friday 3 September 2010.

I have added a verse from Emily to that inscription as well, but it is one of Emily's other poems that I would like to write now. When I first read it I was a stranger to great grief, and I merely admired its clever imagery. But now that I am gathering my thoughts of a short but important friendship to allow me to grieve, I appreciate the dichotomy at the heart of thinking of those who are not around, for as Shakespeare, you and I know - as we love, we lose ...

If recollecting were forgetting,
Then I remember not,
And if forgetting, recollecting,
How near I had forgot,
And if to miss, were merry,
And to mourn, were gay,
How very blithe the fingers
That gathered this, today!


Celina first came into my life during my last summer in London, when I became a devoted reader of her blog. I enjoyed the sharpness of her observation and the emotional dexterity of her writing. When Celina entered my life in person we soon discovered that we never ran out of things to say, just the time to say it in. She was elegant and alive, her eyes were always open and her wit ready to do battle with new ideas. The last gift Celina gave to me was her generosity - she cooked me lunch on a Saturday, we talked and laughed for four hours and she wrote out for me the recipe for the dish I loved. I wish to thank her family and her friends for sharing this wonderful woman with me, because even a short friendship taken away too soon was worth every minute.

I find it extraordinary that such an ephemeral corner of the internet could have brought me such stories, such heartfelt connections, such real life from the virtual. It really is worth every pixel and every word.

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