Things My Brain Thinks About when It Should Be Thinking About Writing

Hello Boys

So, fat chicks. What does it mean to be a fat chick? Why does it have to mean anything, given that actually it doesn’t mean anything? When a car full of dickheads drives past an overweight man, do the passengers hang out the windows yelling “OI you FUCKIN’ FAT BASTARD!”? I don’t think so. I have to admit, I don’t often get this kind of thing. I think it’s because I don’t care. I have friends much smaller than me who cop it all the time. It shows when you are sensitive about something. Maybe, in that way, I carry myself more like a man.

So I’ve had this idea for a novel. It’s about this really dark thought I had the other day while I was doing the dishes. And I excitedly texted two of my insanely busy friends about it, painfully cognisant that I was probably being annoying but they were both too supportive and nice to say anything. They both kindly texted back agreeing that: Yes. That idea is really creepy and well worth disrupting my day for while I try to do twenty things at once. And so I wrote it down on a piece of paper in my mind, because somehow I couldn’t get around to picking up a pen and writing it down on a real piece of paper. Because that would be writing. And writing is hard.

So there probably are fat guys who get shouted at from passing cars. The guys who look like it might hit home, who left the house and scrambled up the street hunched into themselves trying to look as small as possible. You often see really tall people do this. They sort of duck below an imaginary beam that comes in at forehead level and squeeze into themselves, silently apologising for taking up so much space. The irony being that the rest of us would kill for that extra height; for an imposing and self-assured physical presence. A tall confident woman sails into a room with men trailing after her like enamored tug boats. They have dreamed of a gigantic feminine power just like this – the magnificent woman on a billboard come to life and to scale, Anita Eckberg as Fellini saw her, now stepping down into the world to pick them up and hold them to her breast and tell them that everything is going to be all right. The last time they had it they couldn’t see more than a blur, and groped toothlessly at a soft expanse guided by a gentle hand and the smell of milk. This time, though, they can see just fine.

Texting isn’t writing. Texting is chatting at people, with the idle expectation that they might chat back. Blogging isn’t writing. Blogging is ranting into the void, labouring under the delusion that it might rant back. Writing is sticking your head in a pot of boiling water, having done it before and knowing how fucking much it hurts. Chatting and ranting are forms of release. Pleasure doesn’t count.

When you are a woman, a lot of your life is spent being yelled at by dickheads hanging out of cars. This has almost nothing to do with you, and almost everything to do with the dynamics between the people in the car. The type of Australian man who yells stuff at the women he speeds past never does it when he is alone. It only happens when he is out with other men. It’s not because he has any interest in the female he is bellowing at; he hardly sees her. It is because he is terrified, and this fear necessitates some sort of a performance ritual to chase it away.

Another dark thought popped up a while ago that I got excited about. It came in a dream. I was so excited, I really did write that one down. I banged out a two-page treatment sort of a thing, recording the dream in full. Then in a frothing frenzy of enthusiasm I sent it to a friend, who encouragingly replied saying Yes, that idea is interesting and quite creepy and disturbing. Spurred on by a positive dream review and with rare access to a whiteboard, I covered said board with a brainstorming map in different colours linking characters and charting plot points and outlining central themes and story arcs. That took about a day. Sated, exhausted, I snapped pictures of the fragmented rainbow for my records (I told myself) and collapsed on the couch in the daze of the afterglow to watch Better Call Saul. The next day, I stared at a blinking cursor on a PC screen for half an hour not knowing where to start. And then I went for a walk.

Now I’m wondering if those two disturbing ideas – the original dream, and the thought I had while doing the dishes the other day (which come to think of it also came from a tangential train of thought following a dream) – might fit together somehow, if one is the complementing B story of the other. I think about it all the time. It seems to me that the second idea is more sinister in nature. It could serve as a sort of a bass note in a story that would otherwise just pose odd questions about social norms. I don’t know how they fit together, though, or if someone who is basically a comedy writer has the chops to descend into the necessary murkiness without resurfacing, without disturbing the text.

I’m pretty sure those hypermasculine guys who sort of accidentally get off with their male friends cope by redefining what sex is. I guess you tell yourself it didn’t really count because it only counts if there was kissing, or if you were the one who took it, or if you were the one dressed up as Margarita Paracatan, or whatever other criteria might apply. Which could well be true for you. Feeling horny is going to happen in whatever company you keep. The odd brojob is certainly not going to kill either of you. As an animal, humans are remarkably good at having sex. We are outpaced in this arena only by our closest relative, the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee. The intelligent, pansexual bonobos spend their whole lives avoiding conflict by happily screwing instead. They even initiate sexual contact as a form of communication. To us it looks like a monkey orgy, literally a swingers party in the trees. To the bonobos, they’re just saying “Pass the berries, dear.”

The difference between tragedy and comedy is timing. Well, and maybe soundtrack. I don’t know if it’s the same rule with whatever the fuck this is. The reason why romance novels are so hard to write, I’ve often heard, is that you as the author have to believe in the fantasy – which is nearly impossible for most people, who can’t suspend disbelief quite that far. And so you either end up with a wooden bonking-by-numbers oh-look-they-got-married recipe book, or a ribald quasi-parody that is only funny to you and a couple of your mates who get the in-jokes. I suspect the same rule applies here, in whatever genre this project might fit into. I don’t know if I have it in me to stay invested in the bleakness. It is not in my field, nor my personal experience. My psyche is clearly unflappable and curious enough to come up with nasty ideas and slosh around for a bit in humanity’s excrement. The rest of me is decidedly squeamish, and would prefer to have a nice sing-song around the pianoforte after a hard day’s embroidering.

I should turn the computer on, fire up Word, start writing something even if it’s shit. It will be shit, of course, and it will have to be discarded. There is an idea that you can somehow salvage bad writing and punch through the wall of pain like a long distance runner. Any number of how-to books will tell you to just sit down and write and if you write enough, something will be usable. Absolute bollocks. Increased output equaling better results is a pernicious notion that has seeped into the collective unconscious from the vestigial Puritanism of US writers. Sitting down and writing reams of polished, well-phrased crap is the easiest thing in the world to someone with an ear. This is craft. Writing something that’s actually worth writing – this is, to paraphrase Margaret Atwood, channeling the spirits. That’s why you really ought to do it every day. Not for the sake of producing pages, but to catch the spirits when they happen to be in.

Sadly you are not a bonobo and instead a neurotic human. A creature that is constantly drawn into conflict and yet ruled by a desire for the approval of others, which seems to be offered and withheld according to an arbitrary set of rules that is changing all the time. So now that you’ve stumbled across the threads of homoeroticism, and ill equipped for ambiguity, you’re not sure if you actually might be the thing you most fear: a gay man. The shadowy villain you both hate and obsess over, who you always thought (hoped?) might seduce you when no one is looking and turn you into himself. If it’s true, if that’s who you really are, can the other men smell it on you? And the mere thought terrifies you. And then the car slows down at a traffic light, and there is a woman or a girl anywhere between the ages of twelve to seventy walking up to cross at the pedestrian lights alongside you.

Clearly, the only solution to the problems of writing is to do the vacuuming. Yes. I will do the vacuuming. Then I will go for a walk.

It all needs some more thought.

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Posted in Anita Eckberg, Australia, creative writing, Fellini, feminism, GLBTIQ, literature, Margarita Paracatan, not writing, procrastinating, writing

NorMAC nastiness in Hobart

Wonderful. Humane. Fair.

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Trigger warning – the two links contain descriptions of sexual abuse

Last week I attended an event at the Tasmanian Parliament held by NorMAC – Nordic Model Australia Coalition. The Nordic, or Swedish Model, criminalises clients of sex workers, with the aim of abolishing sex work, and NorMAC’s agenda is to have the Nordic Model introduced in Australia. This is despite the fact that the UN, the WHO, the Kirby Institute, Amnesty International, the Lancet, and the majority of sex workers, agree that the Nordic Model would cause more harm than good.

NorMAC is notorious for its vicious attacks against sex workers who don’t agree with them. Why then would I, as a sex worker, choose to put myself in the traumatising environment of a NorMAC public meeting?

I wanted to know more about why they seem to hate us so much. By us I mean sex workers who don’t…

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Posted in Uncategorized

Gutted

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Milo Kossowski and his Ziggy Stardust poster, taken in St Kilda in 1999.

Used absolutely without permission of either subject, but I’m sure they won’t mind xoxoxo

Posted in David Bowie, David Jones, Goodbye to a hero who made life better for a lot of people, RIP Bowie, Sadness, Thank you David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust

The Real Big Issue (and How The Big Issue Seems To Have Missed It)

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I buy The Big Issue from time to time, if I can. I’m actually not someone who enjoys magazines at all, so in terms of content I don’t really know why. The writing used to be interesting, giving the views of young writers and people you wouldn’t normally hear from in a magazine. For a few years now, though, it seems to have turned to the same slick copy and quirky human interest stories that you’d find in my Nan’s Australian Women’s Weekly, no doubt in a bid for a broader market, and a disheartening focus on celebrity interviews. Lots of people like that sort of thing to help them relax after a horrible day of being a human being, and that’s absolutely fine. I like watching my favourite ladies punch it out on Mob Wives and reading Georgette Heyer, so it’s not like I’m a fan of highbrow gritty realism. It’s just that that particular form of tabloid escapism doesn’t work for me. Unless the celebrity is Big Ang Raiola and she’s promoting her new 100% saturated fat cooking show featuring Father Bob Maguire, I really don’t want to know about it.

So, as I said, I don’t know why I buy it exactly. It’s not as if I actually read it. I guess I just sort of feel like it’s the right thing to do.

That’s not entirely true. There is pleasure in buying this magazine, because despite all my solitary weirdness I am essentially a person who likes other people. It’s fun to have a bit of a chat with the vendors, faces I see in the street all the time. It’s fun to work out the money, share a joke, give a lift to the day (hopefully for both parties) and move on. It’s an attitude that seems to colour many social areas of my life, from sex to restaurant meals to job interviews – meet, exchange, joke a bit, feel slightly happier, keep moving. Your life is yours, not mine; but it’s nice to cross paths sometimes and exchange pleasantries, bodily fluids, job rejections or the occasional magazine.

There is a guilt attached to this particular transaction, however. Am I buying this item off someone who seems to be working a lot harder to sell it than I could ever be bothered doing, because: a) I want to do the right thing, or b) I’m a cretin stroking my own stupid middle-class ego? (Answer: Yes to both.) Is this act of buying a magazine I won’t read patronising and demeaning to the vendor, who has after all dignity as a fundamental human right? (Answer: Maybe, but who cares? Business is business, a dollar is a dollar.) And – most disturbingly – am I making some weird unconscious value judgement on the homeless, instilled in me by the Calvinist religious ethics at the root of late market Capitalism that dictate that only a working person is a worthy or redeemable person?

Answer: I sincerely fucking hope not.

I hope not, because in any situation that kind of thinking is lazy and stupid and cruel. It’s a mode of thinking that says it’s OK to treat one unemployed human being like garbage and another wealthy human like a king, even if that unemployed person is a sweetheart who would never hurt anyone and the king is an absolute bona fide ten tonne arsehole. It falls into all sorts of lazy traps as to what constitutes “work”, and eventually decides that activity is only “work” if the worker is financially remunerated, or at a stretch a volunteer in a position thought meretricious and preferably with a degree of social cachet  – a pattern of thought justifying the inhumane treatment of women, in particular, who do two thirds of the distinctly unglamorous unpaid labour on this planet (and that’s if we’re only talking about housework). It links money to merit in a completely creepy way that has nothing to do with the reality of market forces, which make billionaires out of people for not doing any activity of social worth at all and keep legal aid lawyers, kindergarten teachers and nurses searching for coins down the back of the couch.

Merit doesn’t make money. Money makes money. No judgement attached, that’s reality. If a person was ever to want money in significant amounts, they’d be best served by dumping the high-handed moral bullshit about hard work always leading to just financial rewards and making cannier choices. If on the other hand this insight were to disgust a person to the point that they decided they didn’t want anything to do with “work”, and would much rather lie on the couch thinking lovely thoughts and hurting nobody until finally slipping into the abyss that waits for us all, well, that’s totally fine too. There is absolutely nothing about that that takes anything away from anyone else, and that’s the biggest misconception about work and money exploded right there.

The latest Big Issue has been sitting on my coffee table for about a week. Russell Brand’s overexposed face on the cover has been glaring out at me for all that time, lips slightly parted and moistened, threatening to either punch me in the face or suck the tongue out of my head for my immoral, cosy attitudes towards life. Russell Brand is another name on the long list of famous people I really don’t know much about. He looks intelligent somehow. I know he was engaged to Katy Perry but it all went arse up, and was once quite enthusiastic about drugs (no more). I think someone once told me he was a friend of Simon Amstell, who is scary clever and funny and whom I like, so that makes me warm to the idea of him a bit if that’s right. I don’t know what he does, or why he’s famous, or why he looks like he wants to beat comfortably sedate people like me up before copulating with us passionately in a pool of our own haemoglobin.

Curiosity finally got the better of me today, so I broke tradition. I opened the magazine. The first thing I read was the editorial, entitled: “Help for Those Who’ve Earned It.”

The piece starts with the editor’s encounter with a lapsed Big Issue vendor; a man who we are told once slept in railway stations, and was once happy to be incarcerated as the prison provided food and shelter. The ex-vendor is described as being too ashamed to report to his former boss that he is now begging for money. The piece goes on to instruct people not to give money to homeless people begging and to buy The Big Issue instead, sounding much like a Park Ranger instructing tourists on the perils of feeding non-native birds:

“From what I see and hear, the number of beggars is increasing. There are myriad reasons for this; one is the fact that many people are prepared to part with some change on their way past. I see it most mornings – commuters ignoring a Big Issue vendor, with their small stash of magazines, and then pausing to give money to, or chat with, a beggar. As Julius Sumner Miller used to ask: why is it so? Why ignore a person trying to improve their circumstances, a person who is actually working, in favour of someone passively seeking change?” (Attwood, 2015: 4)

The editorial goes on to explain that people selling The Big Issue shouldn’t be “lumped in” (4) with other homeless people in the eyes of the public, (people shaking tins for charity are also mentioned unfavourably at this juncture), and to ask the reader to help clarify this difference in worth to their friends.

Um . . . What the fuck? I’m sorry, I’m confused. Is the editor of The Big Issue really telling me whom and whom not I can give my loose change to? Is he really claiming there are classes of the homeless, one deserving a better life and others not? Or that one person’s survival is more desirable than another’s? Or, most troubling perhaps to me, that he has the right to treat a former vendor as a high-handed bishop might treat a lapsed parishioner, to the point that that person is ashamed to share the details of his life with someone who should be a friend?

Surely not. Hang on, I’ll read it again . . .

Oh. Goodness. Yes. Yes, he is.

Well, allow me to retort.

  1. Displaced people are so fashionable right now. It must’ve escaped this fellow’s notice somehow; but basically if you’re an individual living on this planet at this point in human history, in terms of grouping people into categories of provenance, more likely than not you are displaced. On a large scale, this is probably due to war and attendant famine and sickness which are themselves the results of a destabilising world economy. On a domestic scale, this trend is mirrored by homelessness. This could be due to a complex range of issues – an abusive home environment; displacement due to a criminal record; factors to do with a mental illness or a personality disorder; racial inequality; addiction; transphobia; homophobia; just good old fashioned poverty; recent and sudden catastrophic loss, exacerbated disability or debilitating injury; reasons so personal another human can’t possibly understand them. Guess what. There’s no magic bullet.
  2. A job in sales is not for everyone. You need to have a pretty solid baseline of resilience to be a good salesperson, with a bit of chutzpah about you. I am someone living a fairly stable life, with a roof over my head, food in the fridge, clothes on my back, and a postgraduate education. I still don’t think I’d have it in me to sell The Big Issue to mugs on the street every day, (I have a resume full of failed sales positions – usually due to what I think is a highly ethical honesty about what a customer’s arse really looks like in those jeans – to prove it), and I’m sure many of the traumatised and desperate people living on our streets have even less “sell” in them. Demonising these people does not help them. It does not help anyone.
  3. Homeless people are unthinkably vulnerable. It’s only two years since a gentle, genial man known as “Mouse” Perry was brutally stabbed to death at his campsite by the Yarra, by a 19 year old graduate of Melbourne’s elite Melbourne Grammar School. The boy responsible claimed mental illness as his defence, purporting that he thought he was attacking werewolves. That is probably so, and if so that’s very sad. But whatever psychotic state this kid’s head was in, it sure picked an easy target as the werewolf. Around the same time, The Age was covering stories every week about homeless people being assaulted by gangs of thugs coming into the city from fairly affluent outer suburbs. People were being beaten up, robbed, and one woman who was chased down and bashed by a mob reported that she’d fully expected them to kill her. It seemed to me, at the time, that the same sorts of rage-filled young men who loved to go gay bashing when I was young had now found an even easier group of harmless people to terrorise – but according to the comments below the stories, many readers felt that the victims were parasites who gave nothing to society and took our money . . . Now, where did I just read that?
  4. I will give my money to whomever the fuck I want. I am not someone with a great deal of money to spare; in these cases, a sort of financial triage comes into play. Sometimes I might not have six dollars on me to buy a magazine, but I might have a dollar I can give to someone. Sometimes, I might see a homeless person begging with whom I have a passing acquaintanceship, and maybe I might want to give that person a few bucks to help them out. I am not an idiot, and for all I know this money is going straight up that person’s arm. It might equally go up the arm of the lady I bought a coffee from earlier, the ticket inspector who looked sad about having no one to fine on the train this morning, my GP, or (*gasp*!) a Big Issue vendor. It’s really none of my business, and addiction is not a problem that gets solved by increasing a person’s poverty. All that aside – What I do with my cash is my business. Not that of some magazine editor whom I’ve never even met. Giving the odd buck to a beggar might strike him as stupid, sure. But even if I were coating it in fois gras and feeding it to my tame leopard, that would still be none of his business.

It’s true that earning a wage through hard work can help people feel better about themselves, get them socialising, and potentially help them to lead a better, more stable life. That is a very good thing. But classifying those who don’t or can’t as little more than vermin shows a frankly lazy ignorance about how complex, and how different another person’s life is from one’s own (as well as an alarmingly lackadaisical approach to world economics). My struggles are not the struggles of the person next to me. Just because I’ve been through hard times, it doesn’t mean they’re the same as yours, or that you and I will respond to the same crisis in the same way. We are all made differently. We all break differently.

So, after all that, will I still be buying The Big Issue from time to time? Yes. Yes, because unlike its editor I believe that there is more than one part to the problems of homelessness and poverty and generational learned helplessness, and this is clearly an effective solution for many people. Good on them for having the courage and the drive to get up and out and onto the street corners, weathering rejection from all the marks going past and learning all sorts of skills in the process. Good on them for challenging stereotypes and helping to ease society from its endemic disease of lazy thinking. These are all very good things. But while we applaud these brave people, let’s not forget the other heads of the Hydra. Let’s not forget the poor bloke at the start of this strange editorial who couldn’t keep up his job selling the magazine, who was once glad to end up in jail where at least he got to eat every day. Let’s not forget the millions of displaced people around the globe, fleeing from atrocities in fear for their lives, many of them children, whether it’s from a war torn country or a suburban Melbourne home. Let’s not forget the vulnerable woman who, for no reason, was brutalised by a gang to the point of believing she was about to be murdered. Let’s not forget Mouse Perry.

Yes, too, because the people selling The Big Issue are not the people who wrote an editorial that I find so offensive on so many levels. I’ve had bosses, too.

Yes, finally, because I now have read the thing and know who Russell Brand is, which is kind of novel, although I equally know that I really didn’t need to know who Russell Brand is, even though he is possibly a very smart and nice man who would be fun to sit next to on a long plane trip.

I will now resume reading the excellent Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer, just as soon as I’ve emptied this bucket of coins out the window. Oh, there I go again . . .

REFERENCE: Attwood, A 2015, “Editorial: Help for Those Who’ve Earned It”, The Big Issue, No. 492, 28 Aug – 10 Sept, 4.

Posted in adventures in poverty, big ang, father bob maguire, georgette heyer, homelessness, marxist ratbaggery, Melbourne, opinion piece, politics, russell brand, social justice, The Big Issue

Confused? Bamboozled? Lost the Remote under a Pizza Box Tower, along with the Will to Live? You Need . . . Dr Palomo Pom-Pom’s Literal TV Guide!!

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Who doesn’t love drugs? I know I do!

Sadly, in today’s world, many people grow up without brain-numbing pills to make life look pretty and lend it a false air of meaning.

But don’t despair! Now there is Dr Palomo Pom-Pom’s Literal TV Guide (TM) – Guaranteed to mimic the best bits of acid, without the reflux!

Literal TV Guide for Sunday 18th January, 2015

6:30 am – 6:59 am: NEWS. Things Sandra Sully overheard on the tram, delivered as fact.

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In Today’s Breaking News: Adrian and Charlotte have a new kitchen splashback; a junkie chick needs five bucks to get to Geelong, and Carol Squinge got fingered at school camp but she’s still totally a virgin because she’s like frigid.

* * * * *

7:00 am – 7:59 am: SEX AND THE CITY. The usual: a bunch of white, rich, morally bankrupt, emotionally retarded, vacuous greedy fuckers sit around whining. In a shock twist, this time they’re women.

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Season 5 Billion, Ep. Interminable (Repeat): Samantha has an orgasm, but can’t remember where she put it. Carrie gets screwed in the armpit and wonders if this is the same thing as love.

* * * * *

8:00 am – 8:29 am: FRASIER. Lightly funny and soothing. Homage to Wodehouse, which is mostly fine but slightly irritating at times cos it ain’t.

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This Week: Frasier is confused. Niles still hasn’t realised he’s gay. Daphne does something English to a strawberry.

* * * * *

8:30 am – God knows: GAME OF THRONES aka “Blood and Boobs”. Classic nerdy fantasy B plot (hot chick with dragons) wrapped up in lots of thinly disguised gory British history (everything else) as an A plot, so that people don’t have to feel embarrassed about watching it. Very entertaining, until you get the feeling one of the writers is creepy and genuinely thinks that rape is a good idea. (Diana Rigg is cool though.)

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Season Finale: Director’s Cut. Almost every young and attractive woman in the Kingdom of Westros gets raped, in scenes that apparently aren’t in the books. Back in King’s Landing, Diana Rigg feels a bit peckish, eats an ice cream, makes a half smile of approval, and walks away with the whole show.

This director’s cut also includes extended long shots of an empty beach, a bored seagull, and a fork.

* * * * *

3:00 pm – 3:59 pm: JEEVES AND WOOSTER (Sci Fi/Fantasy). Set in some indefinite period between the World Wars, in a universe of infinite pleasantness. Harmless and beleaguered practising alcoholic Bertie Wooster trashes his flat and accidentally drinks all his ties. Upset, he prays very very hard to the Baby Jesus. In answer a young Stephen Fry travels back through time, moves in and does the ironing.

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This Week: Aunts Ahoy! Following a series of madcap events, Bertie gets completely sozzled, tries to plump a pillow and inadvertently invents the beanbag. Then he goes for a lovely walk. Meanwhile, Stephen Fry chops stuff up for dinner and gets cracking with the dusting. Everything is nice again.

* * * * *

4:00 pm – 4:59 pm: MOB WIVES. That Mr Shakespeare was one hell of a smart guy. One of his smartest moves was realising that, to a playwright, men are quite dull. All the really dramatic and interesting shit that goes on in the world, goes on between women. Here we have Shakespeare’s women at their best, without any cryptic Elizabethan pop culture references or dreary blokes moaning about fate and blocking the camera.

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Season 2, Episode 1. Big Ang. Big Ang. Oh my God. I love this woman. You have to watch this. Seriously. Big Ang!! BIG ANG!!!!!

* * * * *

5:00 pm – 5:59 pm: VIKINGS. Actually, I haven’t watched much of this so I’m just going to make it up.

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Episode 250: Inga Halfgolden the Lame makes mead for the boys to take as travellers on the longship. Honey is in short supply due to rationing, so she ingeniously eats lavender to sweeten the scent of her urine and pees in the beer. Inga is immediately hired by Heston Blumenthal and given her own cooking show. The Saxons retaliate with their own cooking show, ‘Ready, Steady, Dung!’, but it’s not that great and everyone is secretly downloading the other one. The Saxon King of Mercia or somewhere, Aethelrod the Sockpuppetless, finds out and has hurt feelings. Ripping stuff.

* * * * *

6:00 pm – Eternity: SOME OLD FILM. Every now and again, TV stations run out of money and have to whack old films on. Someone probably paid for them back in the 50s or 60s (possibly in contraband Cuban cigars), but we ask no questions.

THIS WEEK: From Here to Eternity

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Start is good, still not up to the ending. Turns out eternity is, like, FAR.

I think I’ll just watch this sexy bit:

Posted in Frasier, From Here to Eternity, Game of Thrones, Jeeves and Wooster, Lovely things, Mob Wives, News, Sex in the City, TV sort of sucks most of the time, Vikings, Wasting our remaining years on frip and nonsense

Goodnight Australia

My vagabond days are over. This was the unambiguous message from my world weary cat this morning, when the blue and white cage with the superhero stickers on it emerged from the cupboard and landed on the bed. With nimbleness surprising in an elderly animal, she stopped washing her tail, glared, yowled, leaped over my outstretched hands and got halfway to the door in a cat sprinting record before I had time to call “Fuck!” on the matter.

I got Sophia from the pound nine years ago. She was already six. Since then, she has crossed the country twice and lived in twenty houses. Most cats would’ve handed in their notice and walked out after a year of this nonsense, but there is something urbane about Sophia. On visits to houses with gardens, she will do a single circuit of the grounds, never leaving the pathway, and return satisfied. She knocks on doors to be let in. She will remind me when it’s time to take her thyroid treatment, and sit patiently while I don creepy gloves and rub medicated ointment (which must feel like worlds of nasty) into the tip of her ear. On vet trips, she will decide when she’s had enough of being poked and prodded and having thermometers shoved up her clacker, stomp back into her cage, lie down and loudly demand to be taken home. If she could slam the cage door behind her as a gesture, she would.

Travel, though, she is no longer prepared to be good about. Which is more than fair enough at her age. Outside of a highly specialised fetish club, you’d be pushed to find any nonagenarian willing to be put in a box and lugged around on public transport all morning. She is, however, a fatalistic and resigned animal. After fifteen minutes of sticking my head under the spare bed and reasoning that it was a fair cop, she saw there was no workable alternative. Reluctantly she emerged, vocalising her irritation, and walked into the cage with a stilted gait that grumbled even more loudly of disapproval.

Because of the morning’s interspecies negotiations, we were late for the vet. It didn’t matter, though, because the queue wasn’t moving. At the counter, a distressed woman with two small dogs cried to her partner down her phone. She had given the dogs breakfast, it seemed, and they would now be unable to get their teeth scaled. A kind gay receptionist, moved by her plight, was patting her hand and ringing every vet in the hospital looking for a solution. The more he tried to help, the more she cried.

While this desperate drama played out, there was nothing to do but watch the flickering television on the far wall as the broadcast dropped in and out. And so, I and a group of other harried pet owners learned of the death of Gough Whitlam.

Depending on serotonin levels and hormones I will cry in Sorbent ads; find happiness and joy in music, friends and champagne; intervene with thoughtless fury in domestics on the street, and then realise later what a totally fucking dumb thing that is to do; shout inventive combinations of scatological Anglo-Saxon words at the television when Christopher Pyne is on Q&A, and accidentally break things that don’t work (such as the ceramic cistern lid on the toilet – oops) by thumping them too angrily.

With big things, though, I am on some sort of emotional delay. I love rarely and slowly. Traumatic events only start to scar years later. I tend to start mourning people properly long after they have died.

Why was it, then, that dear old Gough popping off hit me so hard, and so instantly?

“It’ll be all right,” murmured the woman next to me, frantically patting her dog too hard. The dog, some sort of lovely sad-eyed Boxer cross, gazed at me forlornly, no doubt wondering what he had done wrong to make his owner hit him repeatedly like this. Another woman just sat looking at her shoes, ignoring the cat on the floor next to them mewing a hopeful song of freedom from its box.

“Sophia Loren Flattley to Consulting Room One,” blared the speaker. I stopped texting everyone I’d ever met about this news, picked up the cat carrier with its disgruntled passenger, took a moment to wonder at the wisdom of calling an animal’s name rather than a human’s – was the cat supposed to put her ancient magazine down with a thump and rush for the designated door, nervously smiling? – and walked to Consulting Room One.

“Sorry,” said the vet, coming in. By the look of him a nice man in his early sixties, a sensible face, something quiet about him. Probably normally taciturn in nature. “I just heard about Gough.” It was an unnecessary apology, given he hadn’t done anything yet, but I understood.

“So what is . . . Um. . . Sophia . . .” He took a second to sniff conspicuously. “Sorry. Right. How’s she been?”

He looked at the table, and we both realised there was no cat there. We’d totally forgotten to release the cat from her prison. I opened the cage and extracted her.

“Right. I’ll just . . . Um . . . I’ll be back.” He scooped the yowling cat over one arm and shuffled towards the door to the lab, as miserable as if it were he who was about to have blood taken.

The day had warmed up by the time we were back outside and walking towards the tram. A beautiful, clear, sunny day, with the clear heat I remember from my childhood – not the sticky, inescapable vortex of global warming. Images of early life, before the horror of school, hovered in front of me, with the comforting banality of the slide nights my auntie used to make us sit through after her mountain climbing trips to Nepal and Tibet (in particularly boring bits, someone would get up to shake the sheet for a bit of action). Summer, around dusk, the best part of the day when the earth is cooling. The adults laughing in my grandparents’ kitchen, everybody drinking. The smell of booze, cheese and pickles. Everybody arguing about politics. That peculiarly Australian bawdy humour that encompasses every phallic act known to the animal kingdom, but avoids human sexuality – too intimate, too vulnerable. My grandfather, as huge as a river gum and wonderfully gnarled; his unique sense of humour and energy, his gift for drinking vast amounts of pretty much any alcoholic beverage known to man with no ill effects. My grandmother, feminine, loyal, sharp in observation and arbitrary in her views and sudden pronouncements.

I am reading a compilation of Pickering cartoons, all featuring naked politicians. His favourite subject is Gough Whitlam, the legendary and heroic madman and still, well post-deposition, the undisputed king of the jungle. I’m not entirely sure on the details, but I know this man came to save the country and was fired by a malevolent figure called Kerr. This happened in the year I was born. I feel vaguely guilty about this. I have him slightly mixed up with King Arthur, but then at the time I also thought my mother and Barbra Streisand were the same person.

Another time. I am even younger, maybe two or three. My parents, young teachers, are having a party. I am fascinated by my father’s friends, the young men with long hair. They smell of malt and tobacco. Someone picks me up, I am being thrown in the air. For a moment, somewhere near the ceiling, I hover. I can see the wheat shaft insignia on the Carlton Draught label on my father’s beer. It fascinates me, the pale sheaf dissecting the label. Then my attention shifts, and I fall again, and am caught by a tangle of laughing arms.

Farming communities do not, as a rule, vote Labor. “I voted for Whitlam,” my grandfather told me in amazement once during a visit home, in one of the nightly sessions around a cask that always precedes dinner in my grandparents’ home. His surprise at himself was still fresh, still in his voice. “I thought his ideas made sense. He just seemed good.”

My great uncle Stan was not so taken with Gough. Soon after he came to office, Stan made a rare trip to the doctor to be treated for insomnia and anxiety. “It’s that blessed Gough Whitlam,” he blurted out to his somewhat perturbed GP.

Gough was the Australia that could compete on the world stage. The Australia that believed in equal rights, land rights, free education, free medical care, the end of the White Australia policy; a fair suck of the sauce bottle, as the saying goes. When it pulled the country out of the Vietnam War, his government saved the lives of those young men at my parents’ party. Things opened up for women, and for people who were still being put in jail for being gay. It wasn’t a love-in free for all – things still sucked for gay people in terms of police harassment, women still worked (and still work) for less pay, there was still (and still is) racism and intolerance. But it was a start. We had turned away from Menzies’ farcical dream of empire and had started to concentrate on what we, as one of the richest nations on earth, could do. We were, to quote Gillard, “moving forward”.

This forwards momentum continued through my childhood and, in spirit if not in finance, into adolescence. There was Hawke of course, and (a personal favourite) Keating. Even before then, though, we had Fraser: the man who began running the country soon after I came into it, the dastardly figure who ousted Whitlam. The poor man was hated, not only because of the manner of his ascension (why exactly was Gillard given a worse time?) but because he just wasn’t fun like his predecessor.

But what we wouldn’t give now to have Fraser back. A “wet” Liberal who welcomed boat people, who continued with Medicare, who had and continues to actively have human decency in his work with CARE Australia. What made a middle of the road Liberal back then would make a radical on the far left of Labor now.

Fraser happened, oddly, because Gough happened. A precedent had been set, one that wiped out the horrendous racial and cultural intolerance that went before it. We were, in simple terms, a much kinder country. It was normal to think of the welfare of refugees. It was normal to not let the sick get sicker. It was even normal, back in those troubled times, to at least try to understand as an outsider what the Indigenous experience might mean. It was normal to think we were capable and intelligent as a nation, that we could do big things. We hoped for something better than what we had.

We look at those times, and then we look at now. We look at the horrid, cruel little boys who think they’re running things better – the kinds of creepy, pencil monitory, smug people you wouldn’t sit next to in high school. Our nation now sends Tamil refugees back to Sri Lanka to be systematically gang raped, tortured and killed. We put innocent, desperate people – whole families – in prison camps, some of them located in  some of the poorest countries in the world, and hope they all die before we have to deal with them. We have gone, if anything, backwards in terms of reconciliation and rights for Indigenous Australians. We are a country that only allows the rich a tertiary education, in a system that now sells a meaningless degree to the highest bidder. Our Prime Minister thinks that international diplomacy involves “shirt-fronting” Vladimir Putin. (I think we all know who’d win that one.)

We all cheered, those of us who feel it, when our fellow countryman, Richard Flanagan, won the Mann Booker and said he was ashamed to be Australian. He wasn’t saying something that shocked us. We were relieved that someone was speaking for us.

What are we doing? What the hell have we become?

This is why the death of Gough has affected us all, and why we’ve all been crying all day. It’s not that some vapid well-meaning idiot in a nice dress has popped off, like Princess Di; it’s not, as much as we loved our funny and clever former PM, that a symbol of dignity and courage has left us, like Nelson Mandela. It’s not because a much-loved elderly gentleman has died, and with him his wit and his charisma and his knowledge.

It’s because with this old man, an entire version of Australia has died. The fun, young, optimistic country that voted in a brilliant, educated, cultured and well-intentioned Narcissist who believed in social justice. A Prime Minister who, like Wodehouse’s Psmith, addressed people as “Comrade”; a wonderful, genuine nut who inspired love and alarm in equal amounts (and sometimes in the one person). A nation that knew, that didn’t need to be reminded, what decency is and what an imagination is for.

My parents used to tell us a story from the time just after Gough was deposed. Sir John Kerr, the alcoholic and corrupt Governor-General responsible for the sacking, passed through our town on the way up to the Snowy Mountains. As per the Education Department’s directive, he was to be greeted by the local school children who would line the town’s main street. After a few boring formal words and the obligatory presentation of a bouquet, he would declare the day a local public holiday and continue on his journey.

At the allotted time, everyone trooped out and took their places.

Eventually, a big black car pulled into town. An old man with grey hair and a red nose lurched out.

“Good morning, children,” he slurred at the assembled audience.

“Good morning, Mr Whit-lam,” chanted the children dutifully.

Kerr stayed just long enough to grant the town a half day holiday instead of a full one.

Then the car swallowed him up. And then he was gone.

Posted in Australia, Australian politics, Childhood, End of an era, Gough Whitlam, Memory, Please God let us get rid of these fuckers before it's too late, Sadness | 2 Comments

Dear Vlad (An Open Letter)

484px-Putin_on_the_Ritz

Dr Palomo Pom-Pom
Headmistress
Saint Borstal’s School for Gays, Lezzies and Other Assorted Whoopsies
Werribee Plaza
WERRIBEE VIC 3030
justkeepflapping@hotmail.com

18/08/2014

Nice Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
The Kremlin
RUSSIA
THE WORLD

Dear Mr Putin,

How are you? I’m fine. It’s been a while since I last wrote an open letter to you – What a crazy year! I hope you don’t mind, just a short one today. Unfortunately, one of our senior drag instructors has fallen into the dry ice fountain in the cafeteria. It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but I’m told the feature needs emergency declogging before there’s a potentially lethel Rimmel explosion.

Anyway, I’m writing because all that fuss in Ukraine means people seem to have forgotten about some of the other odd things you’ve been up to lately. But not I!

I was reading the MX today as I darted through the school’s perpetual foam party to my office, as I do every morning. As I glided through the bubbles in my custom made Bob Mackie Buttoned-Up Schoolmarm Gliding Gown, I noticed a small item above Kim Kardashians’s boobs about you continuing to hate us queers.

As you can imagine – I hope you can forgive me – this made me rather cross. ‘Hello,’ I thought, ‘that can’t be right.’ But it was in the MX, you see, so it had to be true. Just like how the daily horoscope that tells me I will find love at the bottom of a coffee cup is always true, and all those little messages sent in from kind people who saw me on public transport and now want to have sex with me, although they seem to have mistaken me for a six foot five bloke with one leg, are always true.

Fortunately, just as I was about to climb the school’s Margaret Rutherford Monumental Memorial, rend my dress in two, smear myself in the blood of a slaughtered game show hostess and voice a full-throated battle cry, the sequin obscuring the rest of this piece of cutting edge investigative journalism was blown away in one of the delightful spring zephyrs we get around these parts (do you get them around your parts ever, I wonder?). I saw that the thing wasn’t that you hated gay people, precisely; it was more that you had concerns about gays teaching other people how to be gay.

Oh, how I laughed and clapped! I may even have gambolled. For a minute there, I’m afraid I’d written you off as the most appalling, senselessly cruel, barbaric red-necked idiot on the planet. What a relief to discover that brainless prejudice was not the issue! Here was a simple misapprehension, nothing to threaten our years of torrid, passionate, yet sadly one-sided correspondence at all.

Vlad, you are not alone in your confusion. As a leading light in the field of queer education, (or ‘Queducation’, as we like to call it), I have spent years pretending to listen as anxious parents discuss sending their child to gay school.

It is a big decision to make, obviously, and it’s not the right fit for everyone. Sadly, not every mother’s darling is born a bit ‘musical’. Here at St Borstal’s School for Gays, Lezzies and Other Assorted Whoopsies, however, we believe that heteronormativity need not be an impediment to a life fully lived.

Every child, no matter how cis gendered, lacking in rhythm, hygienically challenged or flat-out dull, can achieve a degree of the verve, acerbity, wit and creative neurosis that only a fully-rounded gay education can provide. Why, just last night I ran into a particularly challenged ex-student of mine – I won’t mention any names, but the words ‘Sam Newman’ might mean something to you – and he managed to hold an entire conversation without once salivating on my breasts, spitting tobacco on the ground, or talking about kitchen splashbacks. He even managed to avoid mentioning Midsomer Murders!

Think, too, of the wide variety of subjects available to students offered a gay curriculum. Only just now I was flicking through some timetables, searching for the Taylor-Burton Diamond I’d confiscated during morning eurythmics. I couldn’t help but comment to Annie Lennox, who was going by with the drinks trolley, on the richness and real-life applicability of Monday’s Year 10 syllabus:

SESSION 1: Witty Repartee

SESSION 2: Deportment – Grope Maze Etiquette

BREAK: Chain Smoking while Flapping/Shuffling* (*Depending on Orientation)

SESSION 3: Intro to Maggie Smith Anecdotes

SESSION 4: PRAC – PE Avoidance

LUNCH: Extended Déjeuner with Cocktails and Nibbles

SESSION 5-6: Double Donna Summer

Besides, let’s face it, our lot has been educating the world ever since the whole horrid mess kicked off. Sure, your lot has people like Stalin and boring old Norman Mailer and all those silly religious types. Well, we’ve got Oscar Wilde and Violet Trefusis; we’ve got Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin; we have Alexander the Great; WE HAVE DIVINE.

So you see, Vlad, a gay education is nothing to be afraid of. Imagine how many more people would like you if you’d had one! I’m sure all that nonsense about invading the Crimean peninsula would never have happened, for a start.

If you ever feel like becoming a nicer person and maybe making some friends before you drop dead, perhaps you might like to enrol? Do give us a tingle. Any time, dear. As you know, we’re always recruiting . . .

Lots of love and Have a Gay Day Today! (TM)

Palomo

Xoxoxo

where-the-gays-are-ft.-lauderdale

Posted in any other letters of the alphabet I might have missed, Bob Mackie, education, Gay Things for Gays, GLBTIQ, Human Rights, Smartarsery, teaching methods | 6 Comments