Monday, September 28, 2015

Medicare services review, and mixed feelings

On Sunday, the Australian Health Minister, Sussan Ley, announced a review of the 5800 services currently available for either full or partial funding under Medicare.

Ley says the review is targeted at weeding out procedures or practices that are unsafe, outdated, inefficient or unnecessary. The ALP says it's about cutting Australia's social healthcare system to ribbons by a stealthier method than the disastrous copay idea. The Greens, led by the increasingly centrist / right Richard DiNatale (himself a doctor), support the idea of the review, but not an outcome that leads to cutting any actual money out of the health budget. The Australian Medical Association has very hurt feelings over the apparently insulting idea that some doctors or specialists may be over-servicing or ordering unnecessary tests (even though Ley has been careful to not suggest that this is being done cynically, but rather through lack of awareness or habit).

It's unusual for me to feel so conflicted about a Liberal policy idea as I do about this one. Perhaps it's the Turnbull effect, but, on the face of it, the idea of reviewing health interventions and diagnostic tests to see if they are actually effective and helpful doesn't sound like such a dumb one. I do believe there are areas in which we are over-treated and certainly over-tested, and I don't think this ends well for patients, never mind the health system.

To cite one example - Australia currently has a Pap smear regime of 2-yearly Paps for people with cervixes, with colposcopies ordered following two abnormal smears in a row. This is a very expensive program, and one, I was surprised to learn after my own colposcopy experience in 2014, that gynaecologists generally don't think is a good use of public money.

Why? Well, let's put it this way: If you have a cervix, your lifetime risk of cervical cancer in Australia is 0.65%, but your lifetime risk of being referred for colposcopy / biopsy is a whopping 77%. Cervical abnormalities, as my gynae cheerfully informed me, are common. Everyone with a cervix gets them sometimes, and only very rarely are they cancer. Any way you cut it, biopsying 77% of people across their lifetime to catch less than 1% who actually have a cancer is a massive sledgehammer swatting a fly ... a fly, moreover, that is better and more accurately identified by the (much less expensive) testing for the presence of HPV and concentrating diagnostic regimes on people with active forms of the virus.

Indeed, so true is this that Australia will very soon be moving to a regime mirroring that of the Nordic countries, where HPV swab testing to done on a 5-yearly basis, and only cervix-havers with positive HPV AND relevant symptoms will be sent for Paps and colposcopies. Countries where this is the norm have equivalent or better catch-and-cure rates for cervical cancer -  and it costs a shitload less to run.

It's not only about the money, either. Unnecessary or medically inadvisable tests, especially invasive ones, are stressful, costly, sometimes frightening, and in some cases even traumatic for patients. (I certainly wasn't keen on my colposcopy!) I myself will resist ever being sent for another MRI (one of the big tests under question, given just how over-referred it is based on results, especially for backs and knees) unless it is completely and convincingly medically necessary. MRI is a classic example of a test that is at the very least psychologically uncomfortable for most people, and close to impossible for severe claustrophobes with anxiety issues; the cost of referring for it unnecessarily is not just financial by any means.

There are other areas where I can't see it as a bad thing that the overall menu of procedures and options might be capable of improvement. The utter stupidity of the "medical certificate for work sick leave" thing, for instance - if I had my way, such consultations would not be bulk billed, they would be billed at full whack to the EMPLOYER for requiring people with gastro, colds and flu to drag themselves to the local GP for a pointless certificate.

All of that said, however, the reality is that I *don't* trust the motives of the government in all this. I think the goal IS to reduce health spending, but more craftily, under the guise of efficiency and modernity. (Tellingly, the review has no scope to suggest new or improved procedures to be added to Medicare, only ones to be removed). I am sure Ley and Turnbull wouldn't object to better patient outrcomes if that is a consequence of knocking out ineffective tests, but I doubt very much that that's the core objective.

So, as I say ... conflicted. Is it a good idea to review all the tests, procedures and services covered under Medicare to see if they work properly and produce good outcomes for real people? Well yes, I think so. But not if any money saved is ripped out of healthcare for other, less socially useful, ends.

Man Booker Shortlist Review #4 (Longlist #8): Satin Island

I'm over at Global Comment today, reviewing Tom McCarthy's clever, infuriating Man Booker shortlisted Satin Island.

Other reviews from this year's Man Booker list are:

Shortlist
A Spool of Blue Thread
The Fishermen
The Year of the Runaways

Longlist
Lila
The Green Road
The Moor's Account
The Chimes

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday (Poem)

Saturday:
vague miasma of querulousness flavouring the air with acid
(pre-teens, don't get me started) -
the sky indifferent, palely blue, while the wattle sheds its lurid gold
now is the spring of our discontent -

hard to work, like walking in hot tar
it doesn't mean anything anyway, except paying for things
(which is the most pointed kind of meaning when the gas bill is due)
I bet Edward Snowden didn't feel like this, though, or Chelsea Manning
or even, I suppose, the Don:
meaning and mission hanging heavy in every moment, every small act
every word and movement part of a larger whole
consequence a real and weighty thing, that requires belief and full-heartedness

here is an interesting thing: futility tastes a little like sprouts
sulforaphane curdling on the tongue, pulling the lips back
it's no wonder that saudade looks a lot like contempt

Saturday:
children fretful, heart fluttering in butterfly tattoo
the sun shines on, coaxing tentative buds from the trees

I shrug off the pointlessness of all things, and drink tea.

- Kathy, 26/09/2015  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Grand Final Friday

Next Friday, Victoria will have its first outing of the new public holiday proclaimed by the Andrews Government - Grand Final Friday (the day before the AFL Grand Final).

I am generally a big Andrews ALP booster; I think this Labor state government is doing great things, is showing itself to be both progressive and measured, and they haven't put many feet wrong from my perspective. However, I have to say, I think this move is a bit foolish overall, and not one I would've made.

Why? Well, I highly doubt (based on the various projections and evidence I have read) that the economic benefits will outweigh or even go close to offsetting the costs, not just to businesses but to individuals, especially those in the precariat. Sure, some casuals will get holiday rates to work next Friday, but I've heard of far more just not getting shifts for the day, which is not good news for people for whom every shift counts in making ends meet. Small businesses close to the line might find it a strain too, and I am somewhat sympathetic to that, having been raised in a small business household. (I am not excessively troubled by the woes of larger businesses, frankly, who will cushion the costs as they always do).

Of course salaried workers get an extra day off, which is nice for them, and it hasn't any effect on freelancers / self-employed contractors like me - we'll either work (and bill) the day, at our normal rates, or we won't, which makes it just like any other day really. And there is this - at least it doesn't impose yet another school-free day in which working parents not in salaried jobs must scrabble to find childcare, because it falls in the school holidays anyway. Indeed, for us as a family, it's net gain, as my partner will get the day as a public holiday from his salaried job.

More than the economic costs, though, I just think it's a trifle silly. What's the basis for assessing that we need another public holiday, and even if we do, why the day before the Grand Final? (Had anyone asked ME, I would've suggested the Monday before Melbourne Cup Day, if another day off is required - much more practical for everyone!) I know it's meant to be compensation of a sort for our lost Show Day holiday, which got the arse under Jeff Kennett, but are we really so badly off that restoring a free day for some people is a grade-A priority?

I don't think this is a do-or-die issue - and my partner will enjoy the extra day! - but overall, I probably wouldn't have bothered if it was up to me, not least because I think it has become a handy stick for the right-wing to beat an otherwise astute and nimble left-wing government with.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A sevenling for the first day of the holidays

In the morning of this the first day:
Scissor-cold spring wind, laughter at the park,
The comfort of old friends.

Afternoon, inside, has different pleasures:
The sussuration of turning pages, the sillage of spice tea,
Chocolate chip cookies, melting-warm from the oven.

Gentled, the promise of the week stretches, like a cat on a sunny windowsill.

- Kathy, 21/9/15

Friday, September 18, 2015

School holidays: A holiday from school (Let me explain!)

Today is the last day of school term 3 for public primary school students here in Melbourne, Australia. It's been a long 11 weeks of mostly bad weather, only starting to shift to a more springlike temperature in the past 3 weeks or so. A lot of people seem to have copped fairly nasty viruses this term; our family has been lucky, suffering only an annoyingly protracted but relatively mild communal cold. In our household, all but the first two weeks of this term has overlapped with a large freelance project of mine, which has involved 4-5 days a week of work snuggled in among the school days, evenings and weekends as I can manage it.

Despite my kids being uber-fractious with each other this week, and the fact that I will be juggling work for the first 9 days of the school break (I'm taking Weds-Fri of week 2 off my projects), I am looking forward with a high degree of intensity to the holidays.

This isn't just because I think the kids are really, reeeeeeeally ready for some downtime, or because it'll be nice to have some family time (although both of those are true too). It's because of this: school is work, not just for students, but for their responsible adults.

I have friends who homeschool their children, and there's no doubt in my mind that that path involves both work in itself, and opportunity costs for caregiver potential lost income - indeed, I think few people would deny it.What I think sometimes gets a bit lost though is the fact that sending kids to school also entails work, and costs, and opportunity costs too.

Getting children to school on time, with lunches packed, is work. Picking them up on time is work, and after school care, should you use that, costs money. Every week, new notes come home - my record with three children in school was 19 notes in one week - all of them requiring money or effort, or sometimes both, to respond to properly. Indeed, the unceasing flood of monetary demands gets overwhelming in terms three and four - one memorable week early in the term, I handed over $1200 to the school for 3x excursions; 2x camps; new windcheaters for two kids; and three separate fundraising efforts. This is a public school, bear in mind. ($1200 in a week is unusual, and is of course largely derived from the two $400+ camp fees for the elder two kids, but nonetheless, you get the drift).

Helping and supporting children with homework and projects can be a lot of work, even if your kids are self-motivated. Supporting the plethora of special events at school can be an enormous amount of work, given how heavily schools rely on caregiver volunteers - between helping with school cooking, the Father's Day stall, attending and helping with Fun Run, Athletics, Book Week and Open Day events, my partner's role on school council, the garden working bees and the Open Night, this term we have clocked up about 10 days total volunteer time at school between us, and there are caregivers who do much more than we do.

I'm not saying any of this as a whinge - not exactly - but more, I'm just acknowledging the reality that schooling children is work, for the whole household, and sometimes a break is needed from that work, just as in any job. Of course a lot of the work of school is enjoyable work - I love helping with school cooking, for instance, and being there to see Athletics and Book Week fun - but two weeks off from the logistical, organisational and practical work of supporting three children at school is most welcome and most needed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Man Booker Longlist Reviews #6 and #7: The Moor's Account and The Year of the Runaways

As the Man Booker shortlist day grows close (it's being announced on Tuesday night, Melbourne time), I thought it would be a good idea to get at least basic reviews up on the two remaining books I have read from the longlist - Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account, and Sunjeev Sahota's The Year of the Runaways. I'm doing them together not because they are in any way alike - they really aren't - but because they have this is common: I didn't read either one with any great enjoyment, and I confess to skipping chunks in order to get to the end. I give you this information so you can take my reviews with the appropriate king-sized grains of salt!

The Moor's Account, Laila Lalami's fictionalisation of a real Spanish conquistidor's failed 1527 attempt to claim what would later be known as Florida for the Spanish crown, is best described as ... worthy.

Retelling the story from the viewpoint of de Narvaez's Moorish slave, Mustafa al-Zamori (known to the Spaniards as Estebianco), Lalami is meticulous in her adherence to the historical narrative - it would be impossible not to respect the sheer volume of historical research that has gone into this book, and I can't fault it on the grounds of accuracy of landscapes, events, and political climate.

She's also, it seems to me, working hard to capture some of the flavour of the explorer's narratives that form the backbone of modern interpretations of the conquest period; al-Zamori's careful, emotionally fraught sequentialisation of the journey reads very much like Columbus's voyage logs. (My Masters thesis, which focused on Puritan narratives of Indian captivity, opened with a scene-setting chapter looking at how non-English invaders had represented native people in the Americas, so I know at least a little of what I speak.)

However - and this is where it all fell down, frankly - Lalami applies a thick patina of contemporary moralising and values to a story that had the potential to be much more interesting without them. Her Spaniards are caricatures, mustache-twirling evil villains, and her Africans and Americans are good, kindly, pure, etc. She throws in a few flaws for al-Zamori himself - hard not to, in a narrator - but even there, she leaves her reader in no doubt that the story of American conquest is one that should be read without nuance, and without mercy for the Europeans and their part. Any attempt to understand the world view of the Spaniards is transitory and half-hearted, and quickly abandoned.

I guess, at that end, this is why I didn't grip to this book - the profound ahistoricity of its approach to questions of ethics and morality irritated me, and made the considerable virtues of the accuracy in setting and events feel wasted. Don't mistake me - judging the past with a contemporary lens is a temptation almost too strong to resist, for historians as well as novellists. But it doesn't make for good history, or for a well-rounded novel.

The Year of the Runaways, Sunjeev Sahota's second novel, is a contemporary novel, so the prohibition against applying present-day value judgements does not apply. Yet, in different ways, it is also a very worthy novel - depressing, grim, and often more concerned with making its undoubtedly powerful political points than with crafting the story.

This is the story of three young men and one young woman - the men are Indian, in the UK on various forms of borderline visas or illegally, working and living together in conditions very akin to indentured servitude, while the woman, Narindar, is a British Sikh struggling with questions of personal versus communal morality. Sahota uses the five as vehicles to explore, sometimes adroitly and sometimes with a heavy hand, various ideas about caste, modernity, migration, asylum, obligation and ethics - all very interesting themes, yet, somehow, not as interestingly explored as they might have been.

For me, it is the middle section that really let the novel down; saggy rambling middle bridges are not my favourite, and boy howdy does this novel have one. Sahota gives us the backstory of the characters, at considerable length in at least two cases, and seems to me to get carried away with expounding these mini-stories at the expense of building a larger coherent narrative. I'm always a trifle dubious about head-hopping, and this is a good example of why.

Some of the stories are, individually, compelling and heart-breaking - notably Tochi's, the Untouchable man whose experience in India was so brutal - but where I felt that the novel lost traction is that it didn't make the leap to knitting the tales together in a coherent way. Rather, it presents these four individuals as a self-evident prima facie case for the larger political points Sahota is trying to make, and I don't feel it carried.

All of that said, Sahota is a terrific writer stylistically - his prose is silky and compelling, and his ideas, fully realised or not, are powerful. I think this one will go far, because it is that rare thing - a genuinely political novel speaking to present political-ethical concerns. It isn't entirely successful, but it's a valiant attempt.

__________________________________________

So that's me done for the Man Booker longlist - I've read 7 of the 13 in total, and started 2 others (A Brief History of Seven Killings and Satin Island). The four I haven't touched are Sleeping on Jupiter, A Little Life, Did You Ever Have a Family, and The Illuminations. I am reliably informed that A Little Life is going to shortlist (every reviewer who's read it has been blown away), so I'll most likely be picking that one up in the shortlist race.

Other than that, what else will shortlist? Well, and bearing in mind the ones I haven't read might be spectacular, I'd be picking these five to round out the Big Six:
Lila 
The Fishermen
The Green Road
Satin Island
The Year of the Runaways

These aren't my favourites - indeed, I enjoyed both The Chimes and A Spool of Blue Thread much more than most of them - but they are my picks for Boookerish titles, based on what I have read or sampled. (Obviously with the caveat that any one or more than one of the four unread titles could gazump any of them).

I'll be doing a shortlist overview at Global Comment late this week, and after that, pressing on with the remaining shortlist books I haven't read. (I'm hoping it is four or preferably less - I'll be very annoyed if the shortlist is comprised entirely of the barely-started or unread titles!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Holidays are coming...

As of today, there's eight school days (10 actual days) remaining until the kids break for spring holidays, and 20 days until I finish my current big freelance project. It must be said, this is a good thing all round.
 
It's been / is still being a very full-on, tiring term. I've been working fulltime hours as a freelancer for all but the first two weeks of it, and the kids' schedules have been jam-packed - with good stuff, but stuff nonetheless.

Netball, swimming and music have all stepped up in intensity for the kids, which is great, but demands more of all of us in terms of time and energy. Both the older two have also been getting much more homework and doing independent / extracurricular projects, which also takes a toll.

The weekend coming up is crowded too - brunch, netball finals, guitar concert, friends sleepover - then the final week of term is filled up to the final minute. 
 
For me, things won't slacken much even with school holidays until week 2, when my big work project finishes (on 29 Sept). I do find it somewhat ironic that part of my objective in going back to freelancing was to be able to take school holidays off, yet because of the exigencies of this project, I actually will only get the final three days (Weds - Fri of the last week) really free of work. (Although I have advised the client that that I won't be doing any hours, or available to them, on both the Mondays, so the kids and I can plan friend catch-ups for at least those two days).
 
I think we are all looking forward immensely to the relative calm (at this stage) of October, which currently holds, for me: a small freelance booking (about 5 days over the whole month), two medical specialist appointments, one speaking engagement, one turn apiece at school cooking and teaching Sunday School, the school's night market, and a Halloween party. For the kids, it'll be a typical school / netball / swimming / music month, with nothing out of the ordinary other than the night market and the party. (That might sound like a lot, but weighed against the heftiness that is September, it's very modest indeed).

That said, at some point in October - looking like mid-late at this stage - our new kitchen will be installed, which is exciting +++ but will also make demands on us all in terms of energy and adaptation. (Aside from anything else, cleaning out all the junk is going to be a big effort). So  October will have its share of energy suckage too!

November holds the first of the many end-of-year and end-of-era events (my eldest finishes primary school this year), plus school camp for the big two, plus, I hope, NaNoWriMo for me. Ideally, I'm hoping for another modest month in terms of work bookings (5-8 days would be ideal), otherwise I don't know how we'll squeeze it all in. And December is always, always hyper, exacerbated this year by it being our turn to host the extended family Christmas Day lunch.

So, OK, perhaps a REAL rest is going to have to wait til ... Boxing Day?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A sevenling for my children's father

Three things he has bequeathed to them:
Wide-sewn eyes, chins that describe a point;
A stubborness for striving and for joy.

Three things he promised not to be:
Unjust, unkind;
Also unreasonable, in the way that children know.

The bed-borne tea steams gently in the quiet of soft embraces.

- Kathy, 6/9/15

Friday, September 4, 2015

Man Booker Longlist Review #4: The Green Road

Anne Enright's latest novel, The Green Road, is actually the sixth book on the Man Booker longlist that I have read, but the fourth to be reviewed.

Maybe this is because, unlike The Fishermen and The Year of the Runaways (reviews pending), I found this book not too difficult to either read or reach a conclusion about. That's not because it's lacking in complexity, but because the nature of its complexity is one that I can grip to more eaily than the mythic, scatological strangeness of The Fishermen or the mournful grimness of Runaways. Because, essentially, The Green Road is another story about family, and how it makes and breaks us - a slyer, more dysfunctional vision than Anne Tyler's gentle A Spool of Blue Thread, but nonetheless not a hopeless, helpless picture either.

The Green Road is the story of the Madigan family - to be more precise, it's the story of Rosaleen Considine Madigan and her four children, Constance, Dan, Emmet and Hanna. Rosaleen's husband, Pat, is present in the early part of the novel, but is never really a protagonist, and has died by about the quarter-way mark, thereafter only appearing as a symbolic figure in memory.

Rosaleen is a complicated, unlikeable, woman, with decided narcissistic tendencies and a parenting style that made me pale. Does she love her children? Yes. No. Some of them. Sometimes. Does she wound and damage them? Continually, and in ways that shape their adult lives. The book opens with her sustained hissy fit at Dan's announcement that he is going to train to be a priest - it literally is all about her, and her derailed expectations of favoured grandchildren from her favourite child, in her mind.

Dan's trajectory, which is taken up next in a beautifully described, achingly sad study of gay male New York culture in the 1980-90s era, both echoes and resiles against his mother's touch on his life, as Dan (who never did become a priest) finds his way painfully to his identity as a gay man. The context - of HIV diagnoses, illnesses and death - is never far from the forefront in this passage. Enright's unusual narrative decision to use not Dan himself, but one of his acquaintances, Greg, as the intimate third-person focus in this passage works extremely well.

Enright's consummate skill is on display as she head-hops from Dan's story back to Constance, the married-young, mother-of-three, carer-daughter left behind in Ireland. In many ways, Constance - in her late 30s / early 40s for most of the book's action - is the character that resonated most with me. Enright chooses a smaller, more intimate lens to unpick her story - one that's chillingly and ominously real for most people in their mid-life - as she follows Constance to a large public hospital to have testing done on a breast lump. Constance's fears and hopes are painfully present in this process, and at the very end of the book, Enright puts a nasty sting in the tail for poor put-upon Constance. (That's one of the reasons I describe this book as "sly" - it allows the reader to relax before sucker-punching you, more than once).

Emmet, the emotionally twisted, perennially enraged social justice warrior / aid worker, is probably the least accessible of the main characters, and I think this is by intent. I get a sense of faint amusement from the text, as if Enright is enjoying subverting what readers think they *should* feel - it feels weird that Emmet, who's actually dedicating his life to poverty relief and practical aid work in some of the poorest countries on earth, should be so much less sympathetic than hedontistic, selfish Dan, workaday Constance or even the feckless alcoholic Hanna. (He is not, however, less sympathetic than Rosaleen). His portion of the head-hop was the least engaging in many ways, and felt much more distant to me than did the other three.

Hanna, the family's baby, is an unmitigated mess, and in her the traces of maternal damage are easiest to see. Her untreated PPD and dangerous alcoholism both wracked me with sympathy and made my skin crawl for her care (or lack of) her infant son. Hanna's scars are out where everyone can see them, but that doesn't make her the only one carrying them.

At the end, though, this is only partially a story about individuals - it's really a story about a family, hairy and sometimes unpleasant and still bound, to their mother and each other, in ways none of them can really escape. It's staggeringly well-written - I would expect nothing less from Enright, one of the best Irish novellists of the last 50 years - and it's an insightful, lingering book, that stays with you in unexpected ways.

Is it a Booker winner? Maybe, maybe. It's certainly as good as any of the other six I've read, and better than at least two of them. I'll go out on a limb and say it will shortlist, but what happens past that is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Facing the unwelcome truth

For most of this year, I've been attending, and greatly enjoying, a writing class / group called Novel in a Year. The goal of the class is to help participants ... wait for it ... write a novel in a year. (I know, shocking!) The class meets about every 6 weeks or so for a half-day of skills-building and workshopping, and communicates in the gaps via a very useful Facebook group. The teacher delivers excellent and helpful learning materials and activities, and, all in all, it's been a great use of my time and headspace since commencing in February.

The novel that I've begun in this class is called The True Size of the Universe, and it is a science fiction story of a sort. It's set in middle-future, with humanity having cracked interstellar travel and now participating in a space-faring, largely regularised, but also under-tolerant, society. Most of the action of the book so far has taken place on the interstellar cruiser, the Queen Parysatis, and it is her crew, especially her captain, Ciro Grady, who are the chief protagonists of the story.

I started the novel with a picture in my head of just one thing: an intensely claustrophobic woman who's forced by circumstances to live her life on an enclosed, confining spaceship. This character, Tuy, is the astrogator on my ship, and she's a strange one, a character that I thought I knew but have discovered I cannot grip to in any real sense.

I also opted to go for what amounts to a Quest plot in reverse, with a kind of anti-Maguffin thrown in for interest. My crew get caught up, against their will, in something serious, and have to find the best way out of it.

The thing is, I've gotten myself hopelessly muddled along the way, and I've finally admitted to myself - yesterday - that it just isn't working at all as a story. There are some nicely-written passages, I think; I'm reasonably proficient with dialogue, and there have been some interesting ideas introduced. For all that,  my characters are paper-thin; my world-building is woefully undercooked; my description (always my weakest suit) is terrible; my plot is wildly out of control; and the overall point of it all has been completely obscured by the desperate urge to drive it forward to hit word count targets.

More importantly than all these, though, is that I've lost faith in this novel as a story that should be told, or perhaps a story that can be told by me. At 25,000 words - about a third of the expected final length - I've lost any interest in finishing it. By this, I don't mean that I'm blocked, or that it's hard going, or that I'm in a slump, or suffering from low writing self-esteem (well, not more than usual, anyway) - I mean, I have no fire in my belly to see this story through at all. I'm writing plenty - poetry, reviews and flash fiction mostly - but this? This thing ain't happening.

I was able to make this assessment after three weeks completely away from the novel. I've been extremely busy with work and family and reading for the Booker Prize longlist challenge, as well as being on reduced energy rations due to illness. I have not chosen to go near the novel since 10 August, using my writing time instead on poetry (which is flowing well), review pieces, and some really enjoyable (silly) flash fiction. Last night, though, I knew the time had come to address my uneasiness about it, so I sat down with a cuppa and to do a no-prejudice read through.

It's not that it's all junk - there are some ideas that I'd like to pull out and try again with in a different format, and my Captain, Ciro Grady, is a character that could stand a better setting (and more development love) than what I've currently given her. What it is, I think, is that a novel-length outing was never the right vehicle for this story, and it's now so completely snarled up with competing themes that it would be almost impossible to unwind it.

There's a fine line, always, between abandonment of a creative project because it is hard or you are lazy, and considered relinquishment of something that has petered out to a dead end. I *think* my (tentative) decision to let go of The True Size of the Universe is the latter, but there's always the possibility that it's the former. I am aware that being out of touch with the book for 3 weeks can create a distance that is not so much objective as difficult, and that might be influencing me too.

I'm obviously not going to throw out what I've done, and I will sit with my thinking on this a while longer before finally calling it. I'm also not going to stop attending my class, because I am learning very useful things from it that I can use in any project.

I just don't think the Queen Parysatis is going to reach journey's end in my hands, that's all.