Show notes

Episode 12: Water in the desert

References and resources

Read about the origin of The Beatles’ Yesterday on Udiscovermusic, and hear about it from Sir Paul himself in this sweet little clip on YouTube.

Read about the origins of The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction in this great article from American Songwriter.

Want to see some froggies? Of course you want to see some froggies! Check out this vid from the ABC.

What’s “Clang clang clang went the trolley, ding ding ding went the bell”? It’s a line from a song in Meet Me in St Louis, sung by the incomparable (though some have tried – looking at you Renee Zellweger!) Judy Garland: The Trolley Song.

And speaking of music, if you love the sound of this season’s episodes, you’ll want to hear the guy who’s responsible for it: musician and audio cognoscente extraordinaire, Marc Teamaker.

This episode’s stories

Parched by Anonymous

Sunrise Over The Dunes by Kay Lesley Reeves

A Little Touch by Matt McGee

Not Good Enough by Adrija Jana


First things first. I acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which I live, work, and record Pillow Talking. Here, in the land known as the Cardinia Shire, which was never ceded, it is the Bunurong and Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I recognise their connection to and care of this land, and as a migrant I thank them for the space I love and share with those I love. I invite you to do the same on the land on which you live. Maybe even find out a little more about it. I love that the name Cardinia comes from the Boonwurrung or Wadawurrung word ‘Kar-din-yarr’ meaning ‘look to the rising sun’ or ‘close to the sunrise’. 

I pay my respects to Elders past, present, and still to come, and extend that respect to all First Nations people who may be listening.

Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Please keep in mind that Pillow Talking contains adult themes and sometimes strong language, so use your discretion for where and how you listen, and who you listen with.

Close the door and dim the lights. Let’s talk. I’m Violeta Balhas and this is Season 2, Episode 20 of Pillow Talking – Stories about the stories we tell each other when there’s no one listening. In this episode, Water in the desert.

There are two stories I always tell to my writing students and in my talks on the Wisdom app – both about musicians.

The first one is about Paul McCartney, and how he woke up one day with the tune for Yesterday in his head. So fully formed was it, that he thought that it was a tune that already existed. He asked John, George, and Ringo if they knew it. They didn’t. For a month he asked everyone he knew in the music business if they knew it. They didn’t either. And so it was that he realised the tune that he’d been calling “Scrambled Eggs” was his – it had been served to him by his non-conscious brain in a dream.

The second story is about Keith Richards. He’d taken to keeping a tape recorder nearby. One of those modern ones with the newfangled compact cassettes. It just so happened that he had one on his bedside table when he woke up bleary eyed one morning in 1965. But the cassette was wound to the very end. So he rewound it to the start, and played it. And he heard himself mumble “Can’t get no satisfaction” and then a guitar riff – bow bow, bow bow bowwww bobobobo bow bow – followed by 29 minutes of snoring! Another classic, delivered in a dream.

One morning a few months ago I woke up with these words in my head: “There’s water in the desert, but it doesn’t make itself known”. It wasn’t just words. It was almost a voice in my ear. The words were so simple, so profound, that I nudged Shane awake and asked him if it was a saying he knew. He didn’t. I wrote it down in my writer’s journal so that I wouldn’t forget it. And later that day I Googled it. Nothing. I put quotation marks around the term to help Google find it. Nothing again.

It had happened to me this time. The saying was mine.

I’ve been mulling over these words that came to me in the world between asleep and awake, and come up with a different interpretation every time. But the fundamental meaning remains the same: that what looks most barren has life within. You just have to go looking for it.

The funny thing here is that whenever I tell the story of McCartney and Richards, my students are amazed. And while it is amazing, and what happened adds more legend to these legendary songs, there’s more, and it’s not that good. Because for them it confirms their belief that creativity is a kind of magic. That inspiration isn’t something you can nurture or replicate, it’s something that can strike without warning – if you’re a McCartney or a Richards, that is. Not if you’re a you or a me.

But I don’t believe in inspiration striking. I believe in creating. Creating creates inspiration, not the other way around. The more creating you do, the more inspired you are on a daily basis. The reason that Paul McCartney woke up with the tune for Yesterday ready-made in his head isn’t that he was visited by the grandmother of all muses overnight, but because he’s a highly prolific songwriter who spends time on his art every single day.

A dream analyst may tell me that I need to analyse the words that came to me to see how they apply in my life right now. Maybe. But you already know that I decided to parlay it into a Pillow Talking episode, right? Not because I was hard up for a theme, but because of what Pillow Talking has meant to me.

Have you ever bought into the idea of the hustle? Maybe you’re cleverer than me and didn’t. But I certainly did. It’s a toxic mentality, the offspring of a made-in-hell match of Puritanism and Capitalism, and fed gavage style by an entire positive thinking/self-development/business/success industry, that suggests your value is measured by your productivity. That tells you you can have it all if you do it all. Whatever it takes, 24/7. That’s what winners do!

Burnt out from that I entered the workforce once again and found myself in a toxic workplace or two that left zero emotional or psychic room when the working day was done. And the problem is that creativity needs room. It needs space to stretch and explore and play. So while all this was going on, my creative faculties pretty much dug a burrow, got in, said, “Call me when you’re done” and went into hibernation. No, not hibernation, isolation. Like frogs. Wait – stay with me. One of our most common species of frog here in Australia is a desert frog. It’s true – another weird Australian fauna factoid. You don’t see these frogs often because they spend most of their lives burrowed under the baking surface of the earth, keeping an ear out for the sound of the drumming rain. Which can be decades. Finally, when there’s been a big dump of rain and there’s literally water in the desert, they come out.

Creativity is our birthright. Luckily, you can’t kill creativity, it just goes underground. Whether it’s underground for weeks, months… or decades.

My froggy creativity went underground until I slapped myself out of the self-imposed trance of hustle and toxic workplaces. I started messing around with words and stories and music again. And within just a couple of weeks that neglected bit of brain presented me with a gift: the idea for Pillow Talking.

Pillow Talking was my water in the desert.

With all this talk of creativity, let’s not forget that relationships are creations too. We love the idea that the good ones are magic and the bad ones are just unfortunate – it’s an idea that’s powered songs, movies, songs… Clang clang clang went the trolley, ding ding ding went the bell, zing zing zing went my heartstrings, from the moment I saw him I fell. But that’s all that is: an idea. The reality is that we create relationships. And they can have their dry seasons. Their droughts. They may leave you high and dry. And where oh where is that life-giving water?

In these four stories, the pillow talkers cross deserts of emotional and sexual intimacy; of abuse; of neglect and resentment; and… an actual literal desert, not quite Lawrence of Arabia style.

These conversations all happened in the intimacy of the bedroom.

Sssh. Let’s listen.

Although this is a story about pillow talk, there are no specific conversations in this pillow talking story. Except of course the one I have with myself, every day. It goes like this:

“You are a disgusting, selfish, horrible person. You don’t deserve him.”

“But I love him. And I never meant to hurt him.”

“What did you mean to do, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then was it worth it for something you don’t know?”

And that’s when the pain goes from being in my soul to something I can feel physically, in my gut. It makes me put a fist on my belly, just below my solar plexus, and I press and press, and breathe and breathe, until it goes away.

I don’t know the answer to this question. Or maybe I’m afraid of answering either way because one way makes me careless, the other way makes me callous. Maybe I’m afraid I’m both.

My husband is the classic strong, silent type. Everyone has always said it’s a marriage of opposites but one of those that works, because it’s so obvious to anyone how we complement each other. I’m ten years younger. I brought him out of himself and brought him lightness, he gave me strength and reliability, which makes him sound un-sexy but not at all. His passion runs deep and even when we seemed opposites in every other way, in bed we were perfect together, just a perfect and harmonious unison.

After making love is when my quiet husband would talk. The rest of the time in our lives together he’s quiet, although we talk about the everyday stuff, this and that, but our pillow talk is when he opened up and we talked about the deep stuff, like feelings and thoughts. And of course he would tell me lovely things, about me. How beautiful I am, how much he loves me. He reserved that for the pillow talk. Many women complain that their men don’t talk about their feelings but I never did because we always had that.

It was like that for years, happily married.

Just like for women although no one talks about it is the fact that there comes a time in a man’s life when hormones will affect him and sex will stop to matter as much, or even not matter at all. The libido goes down and the times you have sex will become further and further apart until it barely happens. And that’s bad enough on its own because you miss the sex and the physical closeness and that feeling of being one despite, in our case, being so different. But on top of that, the talk-talk disappears because that’s the only time it happens, no more passionate kissing, and all the touchy-feely stuff.

He became an absolute mystery to me. And how he felt about me? I don’t know because he wouldn’t say. No words of love, telling me I’m beautiful, none of that. They say the grass is greener where you water it and I was getting no water. So after a couple of years of this, when that Friday night drinks rolled around I was absolutely parched.

There’s a group of us, the way there usually is, but this time this man I’ll call S and me got talking. And he was absolutely riveted to everything I had to say, and the conversation got deep – I forget about what it was exactly but I know we were sharing some stuff that was really important to us. Even though he’s a fair bit younger than me we had so much in common! Eventually our workmates started leaving in dribs and drabs, and then it was the two of us and I just didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want it to stop. We moved to a booth and sat closer and just kept talking. Eventually I had to leave because I had a train to catch and he offered to walk me to the station. We waited on the platform and it was really cold and windy. I remember the train was just pulling up and I was about to say goodnight when S just pulled me to him and kissed me, properly. The wind whipped up my hair and scarf around us and I can’t help it, but it was just so romantic.

I fell into it without a second thought. I still can’t believe how easy it was for me to give in and be unfaithful, and to keep it up for the six months I kept it going.

Was he great looking? No. Was he a great lover? He was good, but not particularly. Was it that he was younger and I was flattered? Maybe a bit but not really. All I know is that I was dying of thirst and he gave me water. The talk, the sharing, and the affection I drank up and I absolutely loved it, even if I didn’t exactly love him. Although he did fall in love with me. Maybe that was it. He fell in love with me, the silly boy, and since this new brand of masculinity doesn’t involve toxic silence about your feelings he told me exactly how he felt about me, so much and so often, and so beautifully, not just during our pillow talks but all the time, as often as possible in furtive meetings at work and text messages.

I admit I loved it. And I hated that I loved it and craved it and wanted it. Felt pathetic. And on top of that, the guilt. How could I do this to my husband? How could I? I loved him. I did, and I do.

And so here we are. I ended the extramarital affair but nothing is resolved. Not my feelings after having done it. Not my husband’s apparent lack of interest in either physical or emotional intimacy. Should I take us to therapy and see if we can work it out? Therapy might help us but I’m afraid that it would force my hand and I’d admit to the affair and that would hurt him so much. I’m stuck here hoping for a change, that one day my husband will want me again, or that one day I’ll be able to live with myself again.

I was not at all impressed by my camel ride. They hauled us out of bed at 4.30 a.m. and gave us a dry roll and a cup of something resembling coffee then herded us onto a coach.

My husband and I had the seat immediately over the heater. After half an hour of inhaling exhaust fumes I felt so ill we had to stop the coach. I sat dizzily on the roadside. Someone handed me a tablet of some sort and the guide kindly gave me his bottle of water.

We were on our way to watch the sunrise over the desert and I was holding the tour up. No pressure.

5 minutes later I was able to stagger to my feet. The heater was turned off and we carried on, me clutching a plastic bag, just in case.

At the petrol station we pulled in to fill up. There was an almighty crack as the driver reversed into a sign board and broke one of the coach windows. The unfortunate couple sat next to it were showered with glass but luckily unhurt.

The guide yelled at the driver who yelled back. A piece of card was taped over the hole and our journey resumed in a distinctly frosty atmosphere.

Through the coach windows we watched the sun rise.

Well, we still had the camel ride through the desert to look forward to. We finally stopped and were unloaded into a coach park where ranks of camels, each held by a gentleman in traditional attire.

The saddles did not look at all secure and the camels seemed intent on biting each other or us. The smell and flies were horrendous.
Was it too late to back out?

Encouraged by a hefty whack with a stick my camel knelt down and gave me an evil look. I climbed on and it stood up.

For 15 minutes we milled aimlessly in the blazing sun. Thank goodness I still clutched that bottle of water. I wished heartily it had been brandy. I was petrified  and at the point of yelling to be allowed to get down when we finally set off in a long caravan.

Once moving the camel felt safer although I was worried about the way the makeshift saddle slid from side to side. We eventually stopped at a sand dune  where we didn’t get to see the sun rise. We did get to get off the camels whereupon I fell flat on my back in the sand as my legs gave way.

After climbing a dune and looking at lots of sand we climbed back on the camels which were as eager to get back as we were. Halfway back, the rider behind me proved that my fears about the saddles were not totally unfounded… by falling off.

Back to the coach and a short trip to lunch. I am vegetarian but this didn’t faze the chef who produced a delicious dish of couscous, noodles and rice. I do love a balanced diet. The others weren’t so lucky. They had something that was definitely meat with their couscous.

At last we were driven back to our not very luxury hotel. We showered most of the sand off then crawled into bed.

“Well that was different” said my husband.

” A perfect day” I replied sarcastically.

” What did you enjoy most?”

“The free bottle of water” .

We both howled with laughter and fell asleep to dream that we were riding camels across endless sand dunes in the rays of the rising sun.

Around 3 in the morning there was an almighty crash. One of the bed legs had snapped. The language that ensued was certainly not romantic pillow talk.

“You know what I liked about last night?”

“I have a feeling I know,” Courtney said, “but go ahead. Tell me.”

We were lying on the bed in the master bedroom, fully clothed for the moment. The bed belonged to her mother’s side of the family, as did the house, planted beside the Pacific Coast Highway since 1974. Her grandfather had built the place with the kind of money only a chain of surfboard stores can buy.

“I liked all that other stuff too,” I said, “But there was this moment where we were lying in bed, just like now, fully clothed, and your hand slid up my chest.”

Her full head of curly hair was all I could see when I looked down at her, particularly the gray streak that she was supposed to have colored-in this afternoon. I’d heard her make the appointment yesterday, but this being the holiday season and her hairdresser’s busiest time of year, I’d also seen her face fall when the cancellation text came today.

“So my hand slid up your chest like this,” she demonstrated. “And that was your favorite part of the night? If I’d known that was all you needed I’d have stopped there.”

“I’m glad we didn’t,” I said.

“Mmm,” she purred, “me too. OK. So tell me more about this hand-to-chest thing.”

The breakers boomed outside the sliding glass door. I waited until the ocean settled again. “Well,” I said, “and maybe it’s just me, but when your hand slid up my chest it was like some sort of flood gate opened.”

“Yours or mine?” she asked.

“Maybe both? But for you, I know you’ve been with an abusive husband a while.”

She didn’t answer and the statement hung out there.

“And,” I continued, “I haven’t been able to trust a lot of people lately either, it seems. So when your hand slid up my chest, it was partly like you were telling me it was OK to come out of my shell.” I looked over my shoulder at the sliding glass door. “Like the hermit crabs down there on the beach.”

“You’re safe with me”

“I know. And when your hand slid up my chest it felt like you were saying the same thing. ‘I feel safe with you,’ you were saying, ‘I want to be here.’”

“I do want to be here,” Courtney said. “I’m here aren’t I? Back for second helpings.”

She slid her hand along my chest. “Like that?” she asked.

“Yep,” I said, “just like that. Except when you did it last night…”

My thoughts drifted away. The breakers boomed unusually loud once more outside the sliding glass door.

“When I did it last night…?” she led me along.

“It was like you were parched, and you were drinking me in through your hand.”

“That’s deep,” she said. “In a good way. Deep in a good way.”

We laid quietly for a bit.

“And maybe you’re right. After going so long without affection, like real physical affection from someone I’m genuinely attracted to, I can see how I might’ve reached out that way.”

“It felt great,” I said.

I could feel her head nod against my side. “Because you feel the same way?”

“Touch-starved?” I asked.


“Definitely,” I said. “I mean it’s been, what, over a year since I was in any kind of longer term relationship. You don’t get the same physical connection from just hugging your friends or the occasional make-out session.”

“Oh I don’t know,” I heard her smile, “I’ve had some pretty good make-out sessions in my lifetime.”

“Recently?” I asked.

“Oh no, not recently. This is the first real human contact I’ve had in a while.”

I let that hang out there a little while. Her hand was still petting my chest and my hand was behind her where it belonged. The ocean boomed once again, louder this time. The Pacific, it seemed, had a lot to say tonight.

“You know what movie I loved when I was young?”

“When we were young,” I corrected, “we’re the same age.”

“Right,” she said, “when we were young. Summer School. Remember, with Mark Harmon and Kirstie Alley?”

“Poor Kirstie,” I said, “she just died. And yes, I loved that movie. A Carl Reiner classic.”

“Totally a classic.”

“Mister Shoop, the English teacher, stuck teaching summer school. Literally every line in that film earns its keep.”

“OK fanboy,” she said. “You know my favorite part?”

“The part where he dips his finger in peanut butter then dips it in jelly?”

“No, but that’s hilarious! I totally remember that. No, my favorite part is when Kirstie Alley shows up unannounced at the house and finds one of his students living there.”

“Mr. Shoop wasn’t the greatest decision-maker,” I said.

“No, but he was sweet. And there’s that moment where he follows Kirstie Alley outside the side of the house and they have that little private talk.”

“With the wind blowing through the beach towels in the background,” I said.

“Yes! You remember! I assume a lot of the film was made elsewhere, but in that scene the ocean is crashing in the background. Like a third character in the scene. In a way it adds a certain amount of weight to the scene, like danger. It says Shoop is at a turning point. At least their relationship is.”

I didn’t speak. Courtney snuggled back into my side. “I love that movie.”

A moment of quiet continued between us. The ocean boomed outside the glass door again.

“Just like that,” she said. “It sounded just like that.”

“So,” I said, “does this mean we’re at a turning point in our relationship?”

Courtney said nothing. She laid perfectly still.

“Uh-oh,” I said.

We laid quietly for almost a full minute, which for us – two very talkative people – is a god-awfully long time.

“It may or may not be,” she finally said. “I know I’m not going back to my husband. I did marry Satan, after all.”

“I don’t need details,” I said.

“Good, because I’d rather not rehash them.”

Her hand stretched back up my chest, the way a shipwrecked sailor might paw his way up the beach after a long swim to shore. “For now,” she said, “I’m just happy to be here. With you.”

“Me too,” I said, and after a long pause, I added, “but don’t be surprised if I go to the kitchen and come back with a jar of peanut butter and jelly and a lot of naughty ideas.”

She laughed, the first deep-chested laugh I’d heard from her in months. Her laughter rose and fell, rose and fell with her breath. Her hand slid back up my chest, and the sound of her laughter-turned-giggle blended perfectly with the fall of the ocean. Both were happy sounds, mingled in a place we could share for just a moment.

My sister and I were very close when we were young. In the past few years, she distanced myself from me, but I could not understand why. Whenever I tried to approach her, I could feel animosity and irritation rolling off her. I started feeling that I had probably made a big mistake she could never forgive me for, but I had no way of making sure. During the lockdown, both of us were home all the time, so we had to spend more time in close proximity. Both of us share a room, and I could see that she was slowly opening up to me, though again I could not gauge the reason.

One night, when we were both in bed, I decided to broach the topic. I was surprised not only by what she said, but also by how blind I had been for so long. She told me that until very recently, she had been continuously competing with me. And how could one grow close with someone who had become a standard for them to be compared to at every turn?

Being the eldest child in an Indian family, all my upcoming responsibilities had been ingrained into me from a very young age, because of which I had worked extremely hard and done well in academics. My sister, on the other hand, was more playful and interesting in the performing arts and not so much in academics. On one hand, she told me, she had to keep hearing how she was unlucky because she was the second daughter and our parents had no son. On the other hand, she was constantly compared to me and found “not good enough,” no matter what she did or how hard she tried. The resentment had thus grown to a level where she even refused to touch anything of mine or share anything of hers, or hug me, and became angry at the mention of even my name. In the lockdown she said, she had had a lot of time to reflect and had realised that her happiness lay with her, within her, and not in living according to others’ expectations. Along this process, she was also thus finally willing to see my affection and care for her, which was always there, but which she hadn’t wanted to accept earlier.

I felt angry at our family and everyone around us whose words and actions had made such a deep negative impression on a young girls’ mind, and had almost estranged two sisters forever. By this point we were almost in tears, and she told me that she was willing to try and mend our relationship, to be the sisters we were meant to be.

Though I was speechless with shock most of the time, I did see a ray of hope at the end of our conversation. Instead of turning away from each other and falling asleep staring at our phone screens as we had done for years, that night, we turned towards each other, and fell asleep with a smile on our faces, and probably, more at peace.

Pillow Talking is produced, narrated and edited by me, Violeta Balhas, from stories by you, the listeners and pillow talkers. Music is by Radovan Jekic.

This episode’s stories were:

Sunrise Over The Dunes by Kay Lesley Reeves

Parched by Anonymous

A Little Touch by Matt McGee. You may remember Matt from his great story, Mmm-hmm, in Episode 13.


Not Good Enough by Adrija Jana

A special thanks in this episode for this episode and indeed all the Season 2 episodes so far, to my audio consigliere and cognoscente, the man with the best ear I know, Marc Teamaker. Other than making me sound good, being a dear friend and having written a wonderful story for Pillow Talking, also in Episode 13, , Marc is a brilliant musician and you really should check him out. He’s currently got a new single that’s unlike anything he’s done before, and I am, like he’d say, diggin it. You can check it out and more at

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And that’s it for tonight!

On the next episode of Pillow Talking, Odd. Stories about times when things – either situation or pillow talker – weren’t… erm… quite right.

Until then, please take care of yourselves. And each other.