Fruit, Optimism & The Functioning-Sad-Person

There are bananas ripening in my mortar.  They’ll stay there until they’re blackening and the thought of making a banana bread will cross my mind.  No banana bread will be made.  Buying fruit is one of the last optimistic things I actually do.   From the checkout, to the kitchen, all the way into the bin, I actually believe on some level that I might eat it.  It’s the ultimate metaphor.  All that fruity promise, simple and beautiful, nourishing and satisfying, slowly turning the dial on the optimism/pessimism continuum all the way down to rancid.  And I don’t intervene.

I think there is something to be said for sad bananas, sad luck and sad writing.  Especially during these salad days of phone-filters, photo-shopping and puffed-up self-promotion.  I think there is something to be said for being sad.  Just fucking sad.  Without kicking ourselves for it and without being kicked by others.  Unfortunately, sad is often suspect to those who come in contact with it – something to be pitied, tolerated and moved away from as quickly as possible in case its inconvenience rubs off.  Scientific studies have revealed that even rodents get sad, both domestically and in the wild, which suggests sadness may be a natural state of being independent of a sense of self.  And given that most of our interactions with other mammals prove only that we bear little to no resemblance to the person we imagine we are, who are we to trust our sense of self anyway?

Sad is the scarlet letter in the age of selfies.  In the age of liars.  I receive emails from readers who admit they have become adept at window-dressing their Facebook pages to keep parents and friends unaware of their cutting, hair-pulling, drugging and risky sex lives.  In this age of instant communication, we have fewer meaningful communions than ever.  We have fucked ourselves so royally with this results-oriented culture that nobody learns how to be sad or how to be around sad people.   We are being over-run by a social media that specialises, specialises, in indoctrinating all of us with the belief that appearance is everything.  That the veneer is the only thing that matters.

Those of us who are sad deserve a better word for it.  Sad implies being bound by something as insubstantial as a mood.  Depressed suggests a transitory affliction that supports the sports car fetish of pharmaceutical company CEOs.  Clinically depressed implies a stopover on the way to Top-Yourself-Town.  God forbid we allow ourselves to be broken-hearted or melancholic.  There’s way too much humanity in words like that.

“I am my heart’s undertaker. Daily I go and retrieve its tattered remains, place them delicately into its little coffin, and bury it in the depths of my memory, only to have to do it all again tomorrow.” 

Emilie Autumn, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls

‘Martha, Martha, Martha!’

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

  • Luke 10:38-42

See, I always thought Martha got a bad rap here and has been receiving it ever since.  

Biblical teaching is such a part of my childhood that its tenets bother me regularly. ‘Bother’ may be too mild a word.  It has become more and more popular to espouse the benefits of seeking and protecting the satisfied, peaceful inner life.  What a wonderful endeavour.  But can we just take a minute to acknowledge the one who makes it possible for Mary to sit and contemplate, to learn and heal, to develop that well-balanced restfulness? It’s not Jesus.  It’s bloody Martha.

Of course, Jesus wants Mary sitting at his feet listening to every word that comes out of his mouth – he’s a bloke.  He’s a nice bloke.  He’s done well for himself – got himself quite a following.  And while he criticises Martha for wanting help in the kitchen you can bet your firstborn he’ll be enjoying the benefits of her labour.  He may even stop talking long enough to get some food in him.

Before the theologians start coming at me with a Barclay’s let me state that I do understand the meaning of the story.  It is better to rest, take time to consider, meditate, recharge, than to fill one’s life with busyness.  In fact it is healthier, laudable even, to develop and nurture that inner life rather than get on with the business of living surviving.  So, if Martha-ing is the lesser of the two occupations, if we’re all to aspire to be Mary, who the fuck is going to do all the donkey work? Martha’s burning out from compassion fatigue and emotional exhaustion but that’s only because she’s not looking after herself? Give me fucking strength.

I’m beginning to think that the normal brain idle for the average person sits at about 3000rpm and you can smell the fuel.  But we’re all lying about it.  We are so mired in pop-Buddhist, post-hippie, nobility-of-suffering rhetoric that no one dares raise their hand to say: ‘I try to meditate but can’t stop thinking about porn and macaroni cheese.’  You can’t tell me those things don’t cross Mary’s mind.

Maybe it’s time we started accepting that not only are desperation and living not mutually exclusive, they can and often have to coexist.  That all this emphasis on healthy bodies and healthy minds is detrimental to those who find getting out of bed every day their greatest achievement.  And remember, the next time you need something you can bet your troubled arse it will be a Martha loving and nursing your inner Mary.

Beauty…wait, what?

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring”. – Marilyn Monroe 1200

Dear Marilyn, by today’s standards, you would be considered unfuckable…

Today I went and had my moustache waxed. Women of a certain age will understand exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a sad day when you go to pick a hair off the front of your shirt and realize it’s connected to your chin. How long’s that been flapping in the bloody breeze? I could pluck this shit and sell it on ebay as fishing line. They tell me it’s hormonal. I’d like to know exactly where these hormones are considering I can barely manage to squeeze out a viable egg once a month. These same hormones are leaving little spots on the backs of my hands and changing my body shape – I look like a fucking fridge on toothpicks these days. Time to get rid of full length mirrors. And what is really annoying is that in some cultures hairy, full figured women are considered sexy so it seems all this extra middle age maintenance I’m forced to do is purely geographical. I may have to move to Eastern Europe, or find work in a circus.

What ticks me off even more is that as men age their greying hair, their paunch, their crow’s feet, their erectile dysfunction, all conspire to give them stature! These are the accoutrements of a male life well lived. Marlon Brando’s fat arse was lauded until the day he died (and continues to be so) while the internet posts pictures of female knee fat and pit hair as evidence of the decline of civilisation. article-0-139D48A7000005DC-851_634x590I recently had an overweight male tell me he wouldn’t fuck anything “Adele sized”.

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I have long refused to kowtow to the male pornography-inspired standards imposed upon normal female bodies, and yet am not immune to the insidious pressures we face in the game of attraction. I watch this new generation of girls coming up behind me with despairing compassion. I took my teenage beauty tips from the 1970’s ‘Women’s Weekly Book of Beauty’ which encouraged me to eat fresh fruit, drink water and cleanse my skin regularly. Too many of our young feminists are taking their beauty tips from analbleachingguide.com and the DIY guide to vagjazzling. Trust me, I’ve done the leg work on this. And ladies if you’re with a man who needs diamantes glued to your mons pubis to get it up, you’ve married a homosexual.tumblr_m6zsn24ZyU1qjnjex
Don’t misunderstand me – I believe in a certain level of personal maintenance. I brush my teeth and shampoo my hair (head, pubic, facial). I feel good when I feel as if I look good. We all do. But this week I had a beautiful young woman in my office who said she would use a portion of some money she was expecting to have her belly fat removed. A belly that grew two human beings. A belly that gives her the sensuous curves of a woman. A belly attached to a funny, intelligent, loving young woman. And all that is not enough?
Apparently not…
Excerpt from the obituary of Marlon Brando:
“Marlon Brando, 80, a film star whose blend of sensitivity and savagery brought him acclaim as the greatest actor of his generation and whose tumultuous personal life made him a fascinating spectacle in popular culture, died July 1 in a Los Angeles hospital, the actor’s lawyer said today”- Washington Post, July 2004

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Excerpt from the obituary of Colleen McCullough:
“COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.” – The Australian, January 2015.” (You can read my full thoughts on this obituary here).

I see this daily. Girls must stop using boys as their mirror.1422596159009

How Do You Do What You Do And Can You Teach Me To Do It Too?

“I don’t think anybody can teach anybody anything. I think that you learn it, but the young writer that is as I say demon-driven and wants to learn and has got to write, he don’t know why, he will learn from almost any source that he finds. He will learn from older people who are not writers, he will learn from writers, but he learns it — you can’t teach it.” – William Faulkner william-faulkner2

I recently received correspondence from a reader who desperately wants to be published and asked me how to make that happen.  He asked many technical questions.  Questions about process, inspiration, approach to writing time, what courses he should do, how to get the right contacts, should he get an agent, and how he should present himself.   He actually sounded more clued up about this writing thing than I am.  No surprise there – everyone’s more clued up about this writing thing than I am.  I started writing the appropriate, anticipated response – the sort of response I’d expected as a young writer obsessed with publication, and the sort of response I have written before.  And I felt like a fraud.  So I replied:

“Once upon a time I was an unpublished author with my very first publishing contract in front of me.  I remember the moment clearly.  I’d been pulled off a slush pile.  I was sitting at my kitchen table. It had one of those glass tops you can never polish fingerprints off of completely.  I was watching my knee bounce up and down beneath it. I remember thinking: This is it.  I’ve done it.  I’m here.

I had a few doubts but I’d pushed them aside.  It’s so difficult to get published, after all.  There had been a few phone calls back and forth.  The publisher was concerned I didn’t sound appealing enough.  They put a better spin on it than that, but that was the gist.  (Found out later they were pushing for Arts Council funding to fly this thing).  They pushed me for stories about my life, anecdotal evidence that I was more interesting/deserving than I actually am.  Have you done any writing courses? – No.  Do you have a degree? ­– Dropped out.  Do you volunteer at festivals? – What? Like, Mardi Gras?.  Have you applied for/been awarded any grants? – Dated one once.  There was increasing disappointment in my lack of a traditional artistic background.  I felt as if I was supposed to be a struggling post-graduate who goes to open mike poetry nights, has several cutting edge short stories published in reputable literary journals that no one reads and volunteers at orphanages reading picture books and slopping gruel.  My confidence was being subtly undermined by the not so subtle message that I was lacking as a product.  I was the date who would not be introduced to mates because no one wanted to be seen with me in public.

With my pen still hovering over the unsigned contract I received another call.  An editing call.  It was simple enough.  You can’t use the word ‘pubes’ on the first page of a YA novel.  I immediately began thinking about alternatives because they know, right? They’re going to publish me so I need to do what they say.   Pubic hair? – Too clinical.  Snatch thatch? – Character is male.  Short and curlies? Too old fashioned.  Bollock bush?  Good grief, Di!

To cut a very long story short (try to avoid such obvious clichés in your own writing) I never signed that contract and everyone said I was crazy.  They said I should do anything I was told to do in order to get a publishing deal.  But somewhere deep inside me I truly and completely believed in my pubes.

Two years later that very same manuscript was pulled off the slush pile by another publisher.  That manuscript became Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012).  And as you know, there are pubes all over the place.

My only advice to you is don’t trim your pubes.  Don’t write with the reader in mind, don’t write with the publisher in mind, don’t hobble yourself by thinking about your product before you fall in love with your story.  Don’t write from a position of seeking reward.  Write because it is the reward.  My process, my technique, my contacts, my inspiration will not help you.  I believe in your process, your technique, your contacts and your inspiration.  I recently wrote a dialogue based on something I overheard behind me in a supermarket.  Those people are my contacts.

This is probably not the response you expected to receive. But there is no difference between you and me.  We are writers.  So write.  Write, read, listen and write.  One day someone is going to contact you and ask you the same questions you asked of me.  Be honest and kind, and tell them you can’t really teach them anything.  You can just thank you them for reading you and celebrate them for every word they write in the future.”

You don’t need to do what anybody says.

 

“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when if feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” – Stephen Kingstephen-king_0

Hmmm, Baby, That’s Not Sexual…

“Hmm, that’s not sexual harassment, baby. When I decide to get sexual, trust me, you’ll know it.”
Author: Lora Leigh

I don’t like to queue.  Even on a good day I’ll drive right past the servo with the cheap fuel and the line of cars to the horizon and go back the following day when it’s 10 cents more expensive and the forecourt is clear.  It’s not that I’m particularly impatient.  I just don’t like being that close to people.  I had to stop at my servo today for fags.  The queue at the checkout snaked into an aisle because it was cheap fuel day.  Then someone stood behind me.  I felt them before I saw them because they were too bloody close to me.  I shuffled forward, he shuffled forwardiStock-image-for-Art-Breakfast-flyer.  I couldn’t keep shuffling forward without pressing myself into the back of the lass in front of me and whilst in that stationary, sweat coming out of my ears, panic rising position, I found myself in a frotting situation.  I could tell he had performed this manoeuvre before as it was accompanied by a leaning toward me to the right and down in order to pick something from the shelf parallel to me.  Could it have been an accident on his part? Is he carrying a brief case? That’s the first thing I thought.  We do, you know.  Even when suffering the most acute discomfort/fear, women will question their own perception before protecting themselves.

In a micro-second I was taken back to the time a man masturbated in a bus shelter we were sharing and then thanked me for being such a pretty picture; the time a guy grabbed my breast at a party and I went along with it, de-escalated it, because everyone else thought it was funny; the time my husband pushed me down a flight of stairs and then took me to hospital with a suspected broken knee and a story already in place; the time a work colleague grabbed my head and kissed me hard without my consent and I let it go because no one else in the office took it seriously and he apologised afterwards.

In a micro-second I was taken back to the training that informs me to always question myself before questioning anyone else.  Don’t raise your voice.  Don’t make a scene.  Be nice always.  Defer to authority.  Don’t over-react.  Don’t wear so much make-up.  Don’t wear short dresses.  Boys will be boys.  Don’t be bossy.  If you don’t have anything nice to say…don’t say anything at all.

And…don’t trust yourself.

Now, let me be clear.  No one actually said ‘Don’t trust yourself’ to me.  But those words are the subtext every time a girl is told that she must adjust her appearance, attitude, opinions or life style in order to be acceptable, safe and attractive.  It is the thing parents of girls never realise they are doing.  Desperate to protect them they begin to view them at a very early age in the same way they know the world will view them.  And rather than teach them to be fully realised, compassionate, powerful individuals who won’t stand for any shit they naturally, and understandably, teach them to shut the fuck up and not draw attention to themselves.  Oh, yes people, I have compassion for the parents too.

And the boys? Well, boys are taught not to take any shit and for fucks sake: ‘Don’t Be A Girl About It!’

It was only this year that a 4 year old girl in the US, hit so hard by a boy in her class she required stitches, was told by the attending (male) nurse: “He probably likes you.”

So back to my queue.  Could it have been an accident? Is he carrying a brief case? I brought the heel of my shoe down hard on his instep.   I was doing it blind so it wasn’t graceful and my foot slipped to his toes, so I repositioned and came down hard on his toes again.   And do you know what I thought? – I’m going to be arrested for assault on this poor man who is just waiting in line.

What did happen? – He quietly called me a cunt and took several steps backward.  He didn’t draw attention to himself.  He acquiesced to authority.  He didn’t make a scene.   He wasn’t bossy.  And in that moment…he didn’t trust himself.

I still don’t like to queue.

 

“I’ll Take A Bag Of Mixed Lollies, An Anti-Psychotic, And A Shot Of Vodka…”

“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.”   – Ayn Rand

Pain.  When we’re small our mothers slap our hand away from a stove top so we don’t burn, hold our hand when we’re going down the stairs so we don’t fall, tell us to squeeze our eyes shut while shampooing our hair so we don’t get soap in our eyes.  So from a very young age we are programmed to believe pain not only hurts, but is bad and must be avoided at all costs.

I’ve been wondering about the affect of this training?  When we are in pain we now not only have the pain but feel culpable for allowing ourselves to be in a situation capable of creating it.  I shouldn’t have been near the fire; I should have been holding someone’s hand; I should never have opened my eyee25626b72f688051a50164a0dd6d10d2s.  But I’m here to ask – what the hell is so wrong with being in pain?

Pain, as we all know, is the body’s mechanism of warning the brain of a credible threat.  This hurts – move now! And because buried beneath our higher-functioning, reasonable cortex is that primeval instinctual base that saved our ancestors from falling asleep on cave fires, our bodies can barely tell the difference these days between a broken heart and a broken leg.  Same pain function, same functional warning.

We live at a time when it’s just not okay to have anything wrong with you.  We seem to have whittled down the definition of “normal” to a goddamn toothpick.  They give out anti-depressants these days to “treat” menstruation, HRT to “treat” menopause, Rogaine to “treat” baldness, Viagra to treat willy-nillys, psychotherapy to “treat” sadness.  We’re even told we have to “Soldier On” if we’ve got a cold!  I’m not allowed to have a miserable cold?  No.  Soldier the fuck on.  (I know you all have that jingle as an ear worm now and I don’t care – why should I suffer alone).

When Rhett Butler challenges Scarlett on the existence of a hell, she assures him she knows there’s a hell because she was “raised on it”.  That’s powerful stuff right there.  It doesn’t matter whether hell has a postcode or not – it simply exists for anyone raised on it.  Much like the teachings we absorb about pain, it becomes more than the abstract possibility of paper-cuts and bruised hearts, and more of a real physical place that we wall up each time and promise ourselves never to return to.  Our bodies have no false-alarm system.  Even though you’re not going to die from emotional pain, our body behaves as if the threat were as credible as a knife wound.  You can’t fight pain and I suspect all the new-agey do-gooders telling me it’s a learning experience are just smart marketers profiting off of the fact that as a race we’ll do anything to avoid pain in the first place.

Emily Dickinson wrote: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.  The Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs”.  So is that the pay-off? That tomb/womb like peace that inhabits nerves exhausted raw? The necessary emptiness that is just a part of the body’s other remarkable management strategy – a type of anesthesia? ECT never cured anyone of anything – it just induces a post-seizure calm.  Band-aid anyone?

If happiness is the proof of moral integrity and loyalty to the achievement of goals we may all be screwed.  Watching the ship sail away…there it goes…going…going…

High time someone ‘fessed up and said it’s okay to take a pill, take a drink, and get on with it.

Bloody Ayn Rand…