The Year of the Tattoo…

‘Dieses madchen, das ich liebe, kann die sonne lenken und ihren vater achten und mit einem lipenstift ih seele malen.’

– Zwischen zwei Fenstern, Dianne Touchell

I’m not sentimental about the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one.  I’m not a great celebrator of individual days.  I’ve had enough shit happen to me to make me more interested in celebrating every day in some way, rather than getting caught up in the overvalued anticipation of one day which is immediately followed by a sense of anti-climax and guilt, in my case, about the awful excess and accompanying waste that has become a part of Christmas.  We even actively seek debt to create this illusion of affluence.  And meanwhile Telstra offers free public phone box calls because some of us don’t even have the fifty cents necessary to phone mum.  Ho ho ho.

Every year is a good year in some way, but this year being invited to present at the International Literature Festival in Berlin in September was my highlight.  It began with being greeted at the airport by my English-speaking PA, Lisa Breitsameter, who looked after me so well during my stay I wanted to bring her home with me.  Seriously.  I told her that, too.  They had to peel me off of her at the airport departure gate.

The Festival for me was four days of tearing about from event to event, speaking and reading to packed theatres of extraordinary young adults and children.  Some events in English, some in German (with amazing interpreter Gabrijela Leovic), and actor Matthias Scherwernikas providing the readings in German.  I was also a guest at De Gelbe Villa, an inspiring educational initiative to expand children’s experience of the arts, and GRIPS Theatre in Hansaplatz, to be presented with dance, visual art and theatre workshops created around the themes and characters in my books.  I got a bit teary at those.

And signings, signings, signings where I met wonderful young people and their wonderful teachers.

 

So, thank you to Festival Director, Ulrich Schreiber, and Head of Children’s and Young Adult Program, Christoph Rieger, for the great time!  I’m free most Septembers…

I was also able to squeeze in dinner with my German publisher, Ulrike Dick from Carlsen and my first tattoo (not on the same night).  I had to turn down an invitation to lunch at the Australian Embassy because it clashed with festival obligations, but thanks anyway to Lauren Bain, Deputy Ambassador.

Other stuff of note from this year: I finished one manuscript and started another, started a new job, quit smoking, and racked up $300 in speeding fines.

Now I’m ready for all the days in 2019.

Don’t Worry – Everyone Is Bullshitting…

“Hallo, Rabbit,” he said, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.” 
― A.A. Milne

In preparation for my trip to Berlin in a couple of weeks I purchased a couple of outbound travel adaptors to facilitate the operation of my electrical appliances within a foreign grid.  It got me thinking about how much preparation we all put into the feat of plugging ourselves into the foreign grids we dance with daily, and how little time and inclination we have to dance these steps with any authenticity.  Not that I’m saying faking is a bad thing – I believe we all owe each other the odd ‘fake’ in situations where we just can’t get it up for someone else’s situation or news.  That’s just good manners.  But I do sometimes fantasise about how exciting it would be to have someone look me in the eye and say: ‘Don’t worry.  I’m exhausted and disillusioned too and will be bullshitting my way through this entire day.’

I think we might be hard-wired for a certain amount of the aloofness with which we hold ourselves, and I believe we do need to be smart about who we give ourselves up to (and for how long).  In evolutionary terms it was essential that we scan and compare, size up the competition, put on a bit of a show, in order to secure our survival.  But now that we’re no longer tackling each other for a dinosaur knuckle to chew on it’d be nice to be a bit gentler with each other occasionally.  Wouldn’t it?

One of my favourite philosophers, George Carlin, spoke of becoming a spectator, of the freedom that comes with disengaging from the fray, pulling your dog from the fight.  I don’t think this means not caring.  Ironically, I think it takes a great deal of courage to detach – to authentically interact whilst maintaining strict personal boundaries.  Imagine the revolution that would occur if we taught our young people to maintain their personal boundaries, to value their privacy, to choose authenticity over photoshop.  The possibilities for our species would be extraordinary.

In the meantime, it might be just as powerful on an individual level to just not worry, because everyone is bullshitting to some degree.  And that’s okay.

Compliance or Exile?

“That is, to be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.” 
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves

In 2004, an employee of a MacDonald’s in the US state of Kentucky was detained, stripped and sexually assaulted by her manager, and the manager’s fiancé.  Why? – because an unknown male called the store, said he was a police officer and this was a necessary procedure given the employee had been accused of theft by a customer.  All instructions were given over the phone, with enough authority and intimidation, to score compliance in the manager who in turn effectuated compliance in the employee.

Events at my own place of employment this week led me to think on the phenomenon of compliance.  Of course, the MacDonald’s event in 2004 is an extreme example and I must say first and foremost that nothing led me to take any clothes off at work – this isn’t about to turn into a vomit-worthy middle-aged porn story.  But the dynamics of compliance are always the same and it was a shock for me to learn that my hard-nosed, practical little self could silence all my inner ‘No’s!’ in the face of an authority figure.

There is a difference between compliance and coercion.  Coercion implies consent is not given but that an individual takes part in the act due to an imminent threat.  Compliance is much subtler – consent is given, against better judgment, for fear of a negative outcome should you refuse the direction.  Coercion is an instrument of force, compliance is an instrument of obedience.  Both screw with our consent compass.

We all want to be accepted by other people.  Even the deepest chasms of anti-social behaviour contain the indicators of someone misguidedly coping with rejection.  And there are times when compliance is the lesser of two evils in the workplace – I am a great believer in the ‘pick your battles’ mantra because, well, I’m middle-aged and my battling for the sake of battling days are well and truly over.  But I think there is a certain warning system, quieted by years of social conditioning, that shouldn’t be ignored.  That little prick of hesitation that sticks you when you are told to do something you know you shouldn’t do.  No matter how insignificant the request.

I think women are particularly vulnerable to the siren song of compliance.  We want to ‘get-along’, we don’t want to cause a problem, we don’t want to be viewed as a princess or a trouble-maker.  Our strength is too often dismissed as insubordination and our noncompliance too often disciplined as antipathy.  So, we keep our mouths shut and carry on.  Exile indeed.

If we teach children to know their boundaries in all situations we’re likely to have more grown-ups willing and capable of reading their hesitation and negotiating better outcomes.  In business, in relationships, in life.  Etiquette be damned.

I thought I was well over this lesson.  This week I needed a refresher.

Compliance: noun [U] /kəmˈplaɪ.əns/:

formal the act of obeying an order, rule, or request:

​mainly disapproving the state of being too willing to do what other people want you to do:

  • Cambridge Dictionary

 

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