I spent five days in Sydney last week. It started out with two days at a major conference -- most of which was spent freaking out that I'd have to give my boss' speech, with all of two days to prepare. For me, preparation means memorising the whole speech. There's no way I can hope to read fluently and keep my place without having a sheet of paper up to my nose and that's not viable, as options go.

The speech seemed to go okay, which is a Good Thing given the prestige of the conference, which had keynotes from very prominent politicans, public servants and academics. The plenary sessions, where I spoke, were reserved for mere CEOs. I did not go into the foetal position. I did not swear. I did not resort to interpretive dance. GO ME.



Over the weekend I met up with Mum. We haven't seen each other for about six months. That's actually a short interlude for us; the big issue is that the last time I saw her was (a) at my sister's place with much child-lassooing to be done, and (b) just after Dad's death, so it was never going to be a fun time even without playing 'Catch the Five Year Old BEFORE She Runs Out to the Street' on a regular basis. I booked us into a serviced apartment in the CBD so we could Do Stuff with ease if we wanted (...she won't drive in Sydney, for which I do not blame her) and yet we'd have the option to Not Do Stuff but still be together. We have the sort of relationship where both of us being in the same room reading is an acceptable way to spend time together, so I could see either thing happening.

We had a pretty awesome time, if I do say so myself. On Saturday we made our way to Circular Quay to see an arthouse movie only to find that everything on Bennelong Point had fallen to the latest blackout, and people were coming out of all the cinemas. Oddly, the Rocks side seemed to be okay so we headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art where the definite highlight was the Yayoi Kusama exhibit. I really liked it - very playful and whimsical, and I loved all the shiny silver balls and mirrors. It was especially good to go with Mum; I don't go to art exhbitions very often because it requires someone who knows what I can and can't see to point out the details I'd otherwise miss.

I'd never heard of Kusama before, but apparently she checked herself into a mental institution in Japan in the late 70's and has been working out of a studio across the road every day and going back to the institution each night ever since. We had an interesting conversation with some family friends the next day about that; one of them is a psychotherapist so we talked about how the lines between art and therapy get drawn (pun not intended - woeful groans gratefully accepted) and how much art is created by intent versus instinct.

Then we headed to the planned art fix: the Archibald, Wynne and Suleman Prize exhibitions. All good, especially seeing lots of different perspectives of famous people and familiar landscapes. None of it left quite the same impression as Kusama though.

After that we decided to try our chances at the movies, so we headed to the George Street cinemas. Whereupon we found that The Reader (Mum's preference) wasn't showing for another one and a half hours, but my choice - Watchmen was due to start in about twenty minutes. There are a couple of things I learned from the ensuing three-hour superhero fest:

1. That movie is awesome. Yet Another Thing making me wish I could read comic books easily.
2. My mother really, really, really hates on-screen violence.

The next day was spent catching up with aforementioned family friends, namely two of the City Mouse Clan. The City Mouse Clan have been family friends of ours since the eldest child in the two families was a baby nearly forty years ago. I'm the youngest of all the children, and the catch up was with Mama Mouse and her youngest daughter who is several years older than me and now has a husband, a fourteen month old daughter and a place in the leafy inner Eastern suburbs. Watching Baby Mouse play with her husband and daughter made me feel... well, the usual odd feeling I get when I'm around her. She's beautiful and has a family life I would love to have. So I should envy her, and when I look at her I do feel wistful. But envy isn't the right word for it; she's too nice a person and someone I've known and loved for too long to be really envious of her. She and her older sister are people I idolise and love all at once.

Her little daughter was sick, so we didn't get much time to catch up. But we said the important things about where we're at, and we played in a peaceful park with birds and dogs. I don't think I've had such a relaxing time in a while even with Mama Mouse's driving, which tends towards the speedy and chaotic with very sudden stops. I've never felt unsafe in her car, but I've certainly never felt bored either.

After that, Mum and I went back to the cinema and finally caught The Reader. Really worth seeing, though it's not a light movie and definitely not something to watch if you're already in a dour mood and prone to being affected by media.

I loved spending time with my Mum. The operative part of it for both of us was just being together, not so much what we did. Because we live so far apart there have been very few times where we've just caught up for enjoyment's sake. I'm really glad to have done it. Although she's still as fit and active as ever, there are health and attitude related things which make me realise that she really is getting old, and that even if she has another twenty years left they may not all be active ones. I see more of a distance between our lives than I ever have. To wit:

Mum: Are you sure you're not still hungry? We could get something else before we go up to the apartment.
Me: No, it's fine. I can always come out to the shops nearby if I need something later.
Mum: What, in the dark? On your own?
Me: *stares*
Me: Yes, in the dark and on my own. How do you think I do things in Melbourne?
Mum: Oh, I try not to think about how you do things in Melbourne.

*grin* Hopefully she'll decide to do something for her 70th later this year and we'll get to have another catch up then.
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