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

“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…

 

Goodnight, Mama

‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed.  There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.  I find it hard to take in what anyone says.  Or perhaps hard to want to take it in.

It is so uninteresting.  Yet I want the others to be about me.  I dread the moments when the house is empty.’

-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

She hated cut flowers.  She’d send them to other people to let them know she was thinking of them.  But it seemed to irritate her when people sent them to her.  A single stem, one perfect curvature of orchid, she could tolerate that.  But she was quite hard on an ostentatious armful of cut flowers.  I don’t think she could see the kind intention behind anything beautiful that would soon be dead.  Why don’t people just leave them in the garden, she once said.

Wandering about her house late at night while she slept, always on high alert, listening for anything unusual, feeling like a naughty child because she wouldn’t like me wandering around her house at night.  She’d think I was up to something.    Eyes burning from lack of sleep, rocking myself the way she once did, second guessing every decision made and unmade and made again.  Now still, vacillating between the yeas and the nays even though she’s dead and it won’t make a lick of difference.  Except it does.  Would she want that? Would she prefer this? Seeing that stutter in a sister’s eye and withering with the pain of believing you are not only ticking off the dead but irritating the living.

Folding up her clothes knowing she wouldn’t like the way I was folding this blouse and it shouldn’t be folded anyway, it should be on a hanger with soft arms that won’t ruin the fabric.  Only it doesn’t matter anymore.  But she’s like a hangover I can’t shake – “No, Di-dee, let me do that.” – and my fingers become brisker and all-business until I’m shoving stuff into plastic garbage bags and criticizing my sister for doing the same.  Dad tells me he’s leaving her books for the nursing home library, and he’s so fragile he’s almost translucent.  ‘We have to flick through them,’ someone says.  ‘She used to slip important photos inside her books.’  And I don’t stay for that in case there aren’t any of me.

I take her hairbrush and her glass nail file, which are still powdery with her, and brush my hair until my scalp hurts. I understand why people cut.  At the moment she stopped feeling anything I started feeling everything.  The air is a different colour, and those kind condolences seem to be coming from a long way away.  I respond the way I have been taught how, to comfort those kind voices.  I’ve always had good manners.

‘She’ll always be with you.’  ‘She’s in a better place.’  ‘You’ll see her again.’  I know it’s not true.  Mama knew it wasn’t true.  She’s gone.  She has ceased to exist.  I’m careful not to disillusion the god-botherers though.  No need to upset anyone.  I’ve always had good manners.

It’s a kind of madness, you know.  I have gone a little bit mad.  This isn’t grief – it’s a bomb-hole, a yawning pit girdled by jagged edges and you climb and climb and all the climbing in the world will do nothing but fill your mouth with dirt.  There’s nothing for it.  And I am completely alone.  We all are.

Why the Terror Teat keeps ’em Sweet…

“So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

This week children attending the two large Islamic schools in Perth, schools I visited regularly as a bookseller, were advised not to wear their uniforms on public transport.  The reason? – They were being emotionally and physically intimidated by members of the public.  Got to remember these kids probably also carry backpacks – that’s some scary shit right there.  They say they’re just carrying homework and a cut lunch but we don’t want to take any chances.    
 
During the same week, a man entered an Islamic school in Sydney swinging a machete and asking if this was indeed an Islamic school.  Kids hid under their desks, got all upset – bit alarmist really.  I mean, this bloke was clearly terrified.  He has a right to protect himself from little Johnny.
 
And then there’s the young New Zealander who was bailed up at traffic lights on the Gold Coast by a car full of patriots who threatened to behead him.  In their defense, the young man had a beard.  I’m sure Mr. Abbott is currently looking into some facial hair legislation to ensure we are at least threatening the right people.  Because we just can’t have bearded people with darker skin driving willy-nilly around the neighbourhood.  We have a right to feel safe.
 
Mr. Abbott’s War on Terror.  This is some of the best goddamn marketing I have ever seen.  The whole idea of marketing a weak product (and you are far more likely to die of Ebola right now than succumb to a terrorist wielding a cutlass) is to artificially inflate the need this product will satisfy.  Like the War on Mould in my shower: clearly the mould will kill me so I must buy ridiculously expensive industrial strength toxic products that burn my eyes and irritate my skin unless I’m wearing a full body condom while applying them.  Marketing convinces me that filling my house with poison will keep me safe.
 
These poisons are a great distraction too.  There’s lots of tiny, tiny print on the bottles, and websites you can visit that describe what Mould does to your respiratory tract.  I don’t want any of that microscopic shit controlling my life, except all of a sudden it is.  And I lose track of the fact that if I rescue one more cat I’m more likely to trip over one on the way to the toilet in the middle of the night, crack my head open, and bleed to death before morning.  And the Mould will end up living longer than I do.
 
It’s the same principle as showing something shiny to a screaming baby.
 
So climate change, the cost of education, the insidious threat to our personal freedoms, pensioner poverty, homelessness, welfare hysteria, our violation of human rights, the depersonalization of people who look and sound different to us, and every other nasty little right wing agenda-laden product peddled to us during the last 12 months will slip into the back of our consciousness because all of a sudden there’s something much bigger to worry about.  But Uncle Tony will protect us. 
 
Fear.  No matter how contradictory or boilerplate the origin, fear remains the one great controller and captivator of both individuals and entire populations.  And we’re all suckling now…

#6Degrees of Separation: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I have been invited to participate in the 6 Degrees of Separation Meme, an original blog tour created by Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith.  The rules are posted at the end of this Blog.  Before I get started I just have to say…Kevin Bacon.
We start this month with The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  Here is a picture of the lovely cover, which is as far as I have ventured:
Emma has specified that one does not have to have read the first book in the chain in order to participate and can I just say – thank fuck.  With a ‘must read’ pile that has left the town of Daunting and is now approaching the borders of Unachievable, I reserve the right to bypass a tome the size of a house brick which someone dear to me recently described as ‘like chewing cardboard’.  I have no doubt that Eleanor Catton is brilliant, and well-deserving of the Booker.  But I’m middle aged and no longer read things simply because I’ve been told I ‘should’.
Having said that, I bloody love the idea of The Luminaries.  The synopsis, the description of the intricacies of character and plot, the style – it should read like a chic, Victorian-esque cat’s-cradle of intrigue and people you forget aren’t real.  And I do love a wordy book.   Which brings me to the first book in my chain…
Ah, Wilkie Collins.  How many nights have we curled up together like cats.  The Woman in White (1859) is a wordy book, a Victorian epic, a chilling and picaresque melodrama, and a bit of a feminist shout-out.  Wilkie had an understanding of the Victorian Sisterhood.  It also deals with layers of reality and identity – and I love that.  He’s better than Charlie.  You heard it here first.  Which leads me to…
 
 
 
John Fowles.  Talk about your layers of reality and I’m talking The Magus (1965).  Big, fat wordy book about a narcissist having tea with a nihilist, psychological warfare dressed as salvation and manipulation just another mask to wear to the party.  Simply put.  The fact that a large part of the story involved Conchis’ story of his experiences during Nazi occupation leads me to…
 
 
Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Specifically, Shadows on the Hudson (English translation 1998).  Funny and bitter.  It’s dark, but again there are layers of reality – that search for balance between the parameters of orthodoxy, new prosperity and deep grief.  What I remember most about this book was being transported.  Lifting my head from the page and thinking ‘Where am I?’ Of really forgetting these people were not real.  Which brings me to…
Diary of a Young Girl (1947).  I read an abridged version of Anne Frank’s diary as a child, then read the unabridged later in life.  Singer never used the word ‘Holocaust’, but by the time I came to both of these books I was emotionally raw to the word.  This is also a book that deals with layers of reality – Anne’s loneliness and isolation pressed hard against the struggle for a sense of normality in extreme circumstances, where no one actually uses the words ‘I’m terrified’.  Which leads me to…
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003) by Lionel Shriver.  And can I just say ‘I’m terrified’Again, loneliness and isolation struggling to be understood. Fiction dressed as non-fiction (i.e. a collection of letters) – again the layering of reality.  We have the story of multiple people told through the reminiscences of one biased narrator/letter writer.  And that slow, torturous lifting of the veil, the realization of what’s really going on, the deliberately measured pace which is still too fast because as you’re reading you’re begging not to be taken where you’re obviously being taken.  Which brings me to the final book in my chain…
The Lucifer Effect (2007) by Philip Zimbardo.  I can’t believe I’ve ended up with non-fiction.  Is that allowed? Zimbardo is best known for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and the subtitle of this book Understanding How Good People Turn Evil sort of says it all.  We’re all born with a clean slate.  Sure, genetics may load the gun, but that begs the question – Who or what pulls the trigger?
So there’s my chain.  Please check out the chains of Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith, and everyone else who has taken part.  And have a go! – Here are the rules…

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Emma Chapman has a lot to answer for.   I stayed up well into the night reading How To Be A Good Wife regularly muttering “You won’t believe this!” to an increasingly confused dog.  She then gave me the worst book hangover I’ve had in years – I couldn’t think about anyone but Marta and Hector for weeks.  She screwed with my life and I love her for it.  I await her second novel in much the same way I anticipate my hip replacement: “Oh God I can’t wait!  Oh God the recovery time…”
Emma has invited me to participate in this Writing Process Blog Hop.  You can read Emma’s responses to the questions here.  My answers are as follows:
1.    What am I working on?
 
Who can say balls?  I’ve got a couple in the air.  First, I am busy editing my second novel due for publication with Allen & Unwin in February 2015.  It has one question at its heart: Does doing something monstrous make you a monster?  I refrain from answering this question myself as I refuse to judge my characters.  People do the best they can at any given time given their histories, hurts, and limitations.  And sometimes they mistake denial for strength.
Secondly, I am busy with the WIP which has a deadline of July 2014 (pause for maniacal laughter…my publisher isn’t reading this, right?)  This one is scheduled for publication with Allen & Unwin February 2016. This is a book which asks the question: What gives a person personhood? What defines us? Is it our ‘selves’ or our history, and what happens if our history is obliterated?
I have also had a sneak preview of the brand new German cover of Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012) from Königskinder Verlag (Carlsen) in Hamburg, due for release later this year.
2.       How does my work differ from others of its genre?
 
It’s not cautious in its representation of people and their foibles and never underestimates the strength or intelligence of young adults.  Which is a nice way of saying I have been known to make some gatekeepers uncomfortable.    And by uncomfortable I mean some place on the outskirts of anxious travelling towards appalled.  I suppose I never forgot what it was like to be a young adult.
3.      Why do I write what I do?
 
Because I have to.  Because little people have set up shop in my head and are constantly whispering stories at me (I think there’s a medication for that…).  Because the minute you condescend to young adults, or try to moralize their experience, you lose them.
4.      How does my writing process work?
 
Badly.  I am constantly distra…Oh look! – Something shiny!…
I don’t plan other than to hurriedly pause to scribble a post-it if something pops into my head mid-sentence which I think might be useful at a later point.  I then lose the post-its.  My desk looks like the inside of a skip bin colonized by cats.  When I sit down to write I set a word limit for myself which I really shouldn’t do because it annoys the shit out of me.  I don’t move on to a new sentence until the sentence I’m working on is completely finished, scrutinized, torn apart and reconstructed.  I must have two things: absolute quiet and time.  If the neighbour starts mowing the lawn during the limited time I have to sit down and write it can make me homicidal.
So that’s me.  And now I’d like to invite some other writers to share their processes:
Robert Schofield is the author of Heist (Allen & Unwin, 2013) and the upcoming sequel Marble Bar (Allen & Unwin, 2014).  He makes me laugh and listens to me whinge.  Sometimes he says philosophical stuff at me.
Vikki Wakefield is the award winning author of All I EverWanted (Text, 2011) and Friday Brown (Text, 2013).  I love her books and I love the way her head works.
Rebecca Raisin is the author of contemporary romance and adventure.  She is enjoying crazy success with digital publications Christmas At The Gingerbread Café (Carina, 2013), Chocolate Dreams At TheGingerbread Café (Carina, 2014), The Heart of Bali (Escape, 2014), and Mexican Kimono, under the pseudonym Billie Jones (Really Blue Books, 2013).
If you’d like to take part in this Blog Hop, get in touch with these wonderful people before they tag elsewhere!