Friday, January 27, 2017

Figuring it Out

I wonder if the best people have figured out what they are early, and are just that. Others of us take a long time thinking we're more something else, or other things, and try to be them too hard, until we look back and think - man, I was wasting all that time trying to be that, and I never actually could have been that. I always thought I was quite serious. But now today, just today, I realise, I never could have been. And all that time had been wasted trying to be serious. I watched a video, and in it I was trying so very hard to be serious. And it was just funny. I think of people I know, who are good at certain things, bad at others, and see at which point they figured it out. Some were only kids. Some have still not figured it out. We watch, patiently. Hopefully before it's too late they'll know. I don't want to wait until I'm old. I hope I know. 



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Once Upon a Time there was a Non-Allergenic Cat

Kiki wanted a story tonight about a lady who has three kids - two girls and a baby - and the two girls want a cat but the baby is allergic to cats. So they come to the pet shop and the pet shop owner - me - shows her a cat (the furry puppet Tigey) and the cat is non-allergenic. Or non-allergedic as she said. So we went through it - and I produced the non-allergenic cat which was great for kids with allergies because it had short hair and didn't mault too much, and all the family was happy including the baby, and lived happily ever after. 

Just as I was pronouncing the last syllable in 'ever after', Kiki made the baby let out the tiniest a-choo. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Just the Tip

I am thinking a lot about my need to be on the pavement - reading Vivian Gornick's book 'The Odd Woman and the City', and Lauren Elkin's 'Flaneuse' is not helping this. One thing I am liking in The Odd Woman is this idea that to being negative and miserable in a place (such as the city), does not necessarily mean you are not happy or in the wrong place. She may not have said this, but it is what I'm gleaning. I am also liking her un-attachment to objects and the home - and Leonard too, despite his affection for them. 

I am known for my indifference to acquisition... It isn't high-minded disinterest, it is rather that things have always sent me into a panic; a peasant-like discomfort with color, texture, abundance... All my life I've made do with less because 'stuff' makes me anxious. 
Leonard has developed a style of living that seems the direct obverse of my own, but, truth to tell, I think it the mirror image. Overflowing with Japanese prints, Indian rugs... his place feels like a set of museum rooms of which he is the curator. Yet he's never been at home in his apartment any more than I am in mine; he, too, needs to feel concrete beneath his feet. 

In 'Austerlitz' I'm sure I also read a passage about grand houses in the Belgian countryside or something - I must try to find it. I'm sure he said (and again I may be gleaning, or dreaming, or it was actually in I Love Dick) something about how in fact grand old houses, châteaux and the like, the ones that fill us with awe, is not for our wanting to actually to live in them, despite what we actually might believe, they fill us with horror which is what creates the awe. No man can be happy living in a vast space - we're not meant to live in such spaces. Which is why during the wars they were all full of weapons and turned into military bases, etc. I am thinking of this as a magnificent stately home here in Queenscliff is for sale - the place we spent our wedding night. It fills me with awe and admiration, all those French turrets and passages, the marble floors, the sun room. A couple live in there. I am remembering how the châteaux in France are often sold so cheap. A friend told me it's because nobody wants them! They're too hard and expensive to maintain. I wonder now if they're also too lonely. 

You never feel like you're going to be murdered in a chambre de bonne of 9m2. It's hard to feel scared or lonely when you can touch the walls around you with your four limbs outstretched.

Also I am thinking a lot about the iceberg effect of great art. How you may witness just the tip. I am reading like a crazy person. And watching. It's all I want to do. Like I just got my attention span back. It happened just before Christmas. I'm sure taking a break from copywriting is helping. 

Here are the things I've read and watched in the past few weeks, in order:
The Odd Woman and the City
Austerlitz
La La Land
Sophie Calle's 'Suite Vénétienne'
The Arrival
Search Party
Nan Goldin's 'Ballad of Sexual Dependency'
I Love Dick
Flaneuse
À La Recherche du Temps Perdu (but I'm only ten pages in, that sits near the can and will be ingested paragraph by paragraph (or according to bowel function) over the next however long it takes)

I am especially liking the things with just the tip out.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Old Photo used as a Bookmark

A summer night in La Villette, on our way to see a show at the Zenith, or maybe the Trabendo. It was an almost-full moon. We rode our bikes and chained them to a pole, to walk a bit. In the middle of the park was a still, quiet manège. The babysitter cost 10 euros an hour. We were running late, but we stopped for a second. 


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Still Lilies

When we arrived in this house there was a pot in the backyard with some green leafy stems in it, which looked nice. The previous owners had placed them there for the inspections, to make the yard look pretty, and had kindly left them for us when we moved in. I watered them for months not knowing what they were, imagining they were a kind of plant that had no flower and would just keep shooting its leafy stems up towards the sky, and perhaps fan out, before dying. But suddenly one day there was a large tight bud on the top of one of them, then another, then another. Kiki and I watched in curiosity. One hot day we came home and two of the buds had opened into glorious pink and white lilies. We were astonished - how did something so extraordinary just make itself, with so little input from us? The third lily bloomed, more compact but even more magnificent than its sisters.

I couldn't figure out why despite their beauty I felt repulsed. Were they too beautiful? Then a puff of breeze directed their scent into my nostrils and I saw it - a hundred vases on our childhood back lawn. That week after mum's death - the doorbells and the vases and so, so many lilies.

I had awoken one night with a start, stomach clenched. A strong scent was in my nose, in my soul. I was sleeping in the dining room with lots of cards and cakes and vases. I took the vases and put them in the kitchen, pulling the sliding door closed. But the scent was still there as I tried to sleep. It was the lilies, I realised, their powerful scent I normally loved so much. In concert the effect was nauseating. I tried to sleep. Couldn't. Eventually I got up and moved all the vases into the living room, past sleeping siblings, aunts, friends. On top of the harmonium, behind the big floral couch, beside the stereo.

Then I went back to the dining room couch and closed my eyes.

Still lilies.

It made me want to scream. I buried my face in the embroidered cushion. Tried suffocating my nose with the sheet. Still lilies. Lilies everywhere, up in me, all over me. Lovely lilies, cheery lilies, kind lilies, caring lilies, sweet lilies. My stomach turned, my head felt like it was going to explode.  

I couldn't take it any more. I went out and collected every single vase from all over the house - downstairs, upstairs, the bathrooms, the entranceway - and covered the back lawn with vases and vases and vases. It took an hour to collect every one, heavy ones, small ones, ceramic ones, glass ones. Even outdoors all I could smell was lilies.

I climbed up on the outdoor table and sat looking at what I had created, a landscape of tilting and toppling structures, castaways in the moonlight.

It is a year now since the surprise lilies burst open in our backyard, and today, despite being utterly neglected and forgotten, a brand new lily has appeared, boastful and defiant. 

And I'm back on the table in the moonlight. Madeleine de Proust.  



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Spark Joy

HBO bought the web series High Maintenance, which we loved, and they made 6 new episodes, which we watched, I think, in one sitting. It was good, especially the story told through the eyes of a dog. The characters in each episode kept referring to 'Sparking Joy' and we got so annoyed we googled it and found Marie Kondo's book 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up'. 

We giggled out loud as we devoured it, especially at lines like 'At school, while other kids were playing dodgeball or skipping, I'd slip away to rearrange the bookshelves in our classroom, or check the contents of the mop cupboard'. 

Then we threw out a lot of stuff from the house, and felt quite good.
From 'The Life Changing Magic of Decluttering in a Post-Apocalyptic World',
by Tom Gauld in the New Yorker 10/1/17

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hypernormalisation

We watched a documentary the other night called Hypernormalisation. It was so riveting and unsettling I got depressed and didn't write for two days, because - what's the point?

One of the aspects I can't stop thinking about is this idea of us all retreating from engagement with politics and the community into individualisation; building up our houses, our bodies, avoiding taking part in a system we've accepted as corrupt and unchangeable. Retreating into our caves, away from the depression that comes with hopelessness, the inability to change things, or even be heard. Jane Fonda, from social activist to aerobicist. Brexit. Trump...

Now we live in bubbles, getting our information from sources that tell us what we want to hear so we can rebroadcast it around our networks that see things exactly the same way we do. 

Last night, watching Sam Bee's Full Frontal, I turned to Mr Rabbit and said - 'What is the point of watching this? We're in a bubble echo chamber. Look at her passion for change, for truth. And yet - she's just exhausting herself, preaching to us, the choir. Nobody that needs to watch this will ever, ever watch it. So, what's the point?' 

We turned her off and watched When Harry Met Sally for the eighteenth time. God it felt good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bunny Stares at Stars

We forgot to put Fluffball in her hutch and I just ran out there to find her. Expecting to go on a search I found her instead smack bang in the middle of the lawn, looking up at the one twilight star. The small white ball of her body was dwarfed by the immensity of the sky and yet she looked quite empowered, back upright, ears down. As I walked towards her she didn't move, and for a moment we looked up at the star together. 

Then she sensed me and did a full 360 on the air, sprinting beneath the quince tree for cover. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Universalizing the Personal

Something else Hannah Wilke said:

If women have failed to make the 'universal' art because we're trapped within the 'personal', why not universalize the 'personal' and make it the subject of our art?

Just thinking about that.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Do The Shadow

In The Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels talk about this part of you called 'The Shadow' - something Carl Jung named. The Shadow is an intrinsic part of you, something you can't get rid of, which is hard, as it is the culmination of all the things you hate most about yourself. It's everything you desperately don't want to be, but fear that you are. We try to hide it, shame it away, especially in public, we're terrified it will come out and humiliate us in front of everyone. So we continue trying to be perfect, hiding that most embarrassing part of ourselves. In Brene Brown's talk about Shame she talks about exposing this icky, uncomfortable part of ourselves. She says, contrary to what we think, it's this part of us that everyone wants to see. 

Initially, I pictured my Shadow as this depressed, disgusting, swampy, reclusive, ugly, hopeless, lazy, flabby, weak, wasteful, flawed, dreadful blob of shit in the corner. In the book, they say you should try and picture the Shadow, draw it, try and really see it. And I sort of could, but the outlines were never really there. I figured that was because my Shadow was itself so lacking in definition. They say that when you connect with your Shadow and let its imperfections truly reveal themselves, it changes form and becomes a source of creativity and confidence. This seemed very far fetched. My Shadow couldn't get out of bed, let alone inspire confidence. She was in direct conflict with creativity: slothy, unmotivated, depressed. A squashed banana in the bottom of a bag. 

I forgot about The Shadow. This was months ago.

Then the other morning I woke up from this dream. I was standing in front of a mirror, arm slung around my big cousin BJ. We were giggling and staring at ourselves. I was the biggest Dork that had ever lived. My heart was full of joy as we stood there laughing our heads off at ourselves. The mirror was big and plain like the one on my dresser, and I can't remember what her face looked like, but mine was very ugly and contorted. My nose was big and sausagey and my eyes were way too close together. My face was long and weird. I had my hair pulled way back. I was a complete Idiot, and the thing was - I felt so so happy. My chest burned with it. The feeling stayed with me when I sat down at breakfast and told Kiki and Mr Rabbit about the dream. I could see the picture so clearly, and recreated it by pulling and contorting my face. The effect was bizarre, stupid, unexpected.

Wehhh! Mama! Look at mehh... I'm Mama! 

It's your Shadow!, said Mr Rabbit, eyes wide.

'Oh my God,' I said. 'No. I like her.'

I thought the Shadow was something you wanted to hide, something you hated. And then it dawned on me. That's exactly the part of me I do always hide - or at least want to hide. I just so badly wish it wasn't me. Even the fact that in the image it's me and BJ in the mirror, here at the beach - how I've been trying so hard to keep up my Paris life, never quite letting the true joy of the simple life down here in deep enough. That picture in the mirror is the absolute definition of the thing that I know I am, but never wanted to be.

Do the Shadow!, said Kiki.

This went on for days. And is still going.

Do the Shadow! 

Do the Shadow! 


Do the Shadow! 


Do the Shadow! 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Shut Up

As I arrive at that familiar place in this writing where I think - why and what for and for whom, I keep thinking of Chris Kraus and the idea of speaking anyway, even if (it feels like) everything and everyone around you is telling you to Shut Up (especially yourself). I really want myself to Shut Up today, and especially with regards to those Hannah Wilke photos, but I can feel this in-built little tick inside me saying It's when you want yourself to Shut Up that is the most important time to speak. Is this true? I dunno. Dick Hebdige asked Chris Kraus to Shut Up, but he didn't realise the book had nothing to do with him, and speaking up made him look like he thought it was about him and thus a real Dick. He should have Shut Up, ignored the tick. In the book he comes off fine, it's her spiralling, icky, ugly self-humiliation we see, she lets us glimpse into her soul. Her passages about Hannah Wilke, who like her allowed us to witness her ugly (and beautiful) truth, have entered my psyche and are making me feel sick, to a point I don't want to write about them or post them, and so I am, because the tick is telling me that means I should. I can't stop thinking about her, how brutal her career was - precursor to the revered and 'more impersonal impersonation' artists like Sophie Calle and Cindy Sherman. Her beauty holding her back, even when documenting her gut-wrenching demise from cancer. The wall of Shut Up she faced, people writing things in the Village Voice like 'Hannah's vagina is now as familiar to us as an old shoe.' Dismissing her work as narcissistic, exhibitionistic (while complimenting it at the same time):



Even her series of photographs self-documenting her cancer-ravaged body were described as: 'A deeply thrilling venture into narcissism.' As if the only possible reason for a woman to publically reveal herself could be self-therapeutic, says Chris Kraus. As if the point was not to reveal the circumstances of one's own objectification.





Friday, January 6, 2017

Nothing

I wanted to write more about Dick and a whole lot of smart things about Hannah Wilke, but I was too tired so I wrote a whole rant about people saying Fuck You 2016, good riddance, and all of that, but then I took it down because I didn't really believe what I was saying. So I am writing this, nothing. And though I hate myself for not writing something better, at least I will go to bed having fulfilled the brief of writing a post a day. And like Mr Rabbit says, self-esteem is created by making little agreements with yourself and fulfilling them.

Here are three lines from I Love Dick:

1.
When the form's in place, everything in it can be pure feeling.

2.

For years I tried to write but the compromises of my life made it impossible to inhabit a position. And 'who' 'am' 'I'? Embracing you & failure's changed all that 'cause now I know I'm no one. And there's a lot to say...

3.
I found the second story that I’d ever written, 20 years ago in Wellington. It was written in the third person, the person most girls use when they want to talk about themselves but don’t think anyone will listen.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Done with Dick

Thank GOD I've finally finished I Love Dick. It was infuriating, irritating, boring and ultimately excellent and I'm glad I read it. I have W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz inscribed by Ris waiting so patiently at my bedside, but I swore this year everything I began I'd finish so I slogged it out and now here I am finally laying Dick to rest. I really hated the experience of reading it, yet now I can't stop thinking about it. The book has changed me. There are bent-back pages all the way through, with paragraphs I want to reread such as:

Because I'm moved in writing to be irrepressible. Writing to you seems like some holy cause, 'cause there's not enough female irrepressibility written down. I've fused my silence and repression with the entire female gender's silence and repression. I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.

Public. Yes. This is what I love most about this book. She allows herself to be completely, uncompromisingly, seen. She is unafraid to show herself as irritating. Ugly. Over-intellectual. Base. Talks-too-much. In love. Over-emotional. Over-analytical. Tries-too-hard. Boring. Curious. Obsessive. 

I want to reread Dick entirely, but it was so painful. I have much more to say on the subject, but for now I'll just post this photo by/of Hannah Wilke with the little chewing gum vaginas stuck all over her face. Another of the great discoveries to have come from reading Dick. 

Sleep tight. 


Hannah Wilke, 'Curlers'

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Woman's Right to Mansplain

Once you're aware of Mansplaining you see it everywhere. In new situations, with new people, on TV, in books, but also in your history: your well-worn relationships, your family. Whomever coined the phrase should be awarded a medal for contribution to society, as naming the phenomenon has brought so many people, myself included, so much clarity and joy. That squeamy feeling of listening to someone explain something to you that you possibly already new without any regard for your education, attention span or facial expression was always something that created discomfort and confusion. I would often walk away feeling like a bad person - why am I having such bad feelings about that person right now? They were just explaining something to me. Why am I so arrogant as not to be able to simply sit and listen? What is wrong with me?

After an acute mansplain one can feel shivery and in need of a warm shower, a hug. The worst kind of mansplains leave one listless, disoriented, wondering what the point of life is.
Mansplaining is not particular to any demographic, though it is prevalent in middle-aged males. Let me point out there is a big difference between a mansplain and a good, long story. Mansplains may only last a minute or go on, seemingly, for hours. Not all long and winding stories by men are mansplains: some stories told by men can last hours and be riveting, engaging and inviting. Take Knaussgard's My Struggle, for example. Which leads me to the central tenet of mansplaining. Inviting. You can put the Knaussgard down, he’s ok with that. But you can't put Uncle Kenny down, he will never, ever give you the opportunity. A mansplain doesn't invite engagement - or anything on your behalf. You may as well not be there. A mansplain ignores your presence, your intelligence or your prior knowledge. You are a vessel, to be filled with splain. The splainer is only concerned with the sound of their own voice, their own piece of wisdom to impart. The splainer is unlikely to notice your eyes glaze over, you shifting from one foot to the other, and in extreme cases, even your wide-mouthed yawn.

Now, mansplaining, though definitely a male phenomenon, is not only practised by males. Females can deliver a good mansplain, particularly if they're politicians. Though one thing I have noticed recently as widely as I've noticed mansplaining, is a tendency in women towards the opposite. That is, an in-built over-awareness of mansplaining so profound, they are constantly checking themselves to make sure they're not doing it. Ie, they are so tired of being mansplained at, for centuries, that they have developed a skill to ensure they never do it to anyone. A woman may catch herself mansplaining and quickly 'wrap it up'. The 'wrap it up', and the 'come on, get to the point' are so present in the female consciousness, women have developed a succinctness and sharpness that makes men on panel shows seem like lumpy dinosaurs. One man the other night on an intellectual panel show was so good at mansplaining he had hoodwinked an entire culture into believing he knew what he was talking about. Surrounded by clever, quick-witted, precise and concise women, he was a dumb lump of dough but still mansplained so long and convincingly that the crowd applauded him. Even the women nodded graciously at his palaver. How did this muppet end up in such a position of authority? He'd mansplained his way to the top.

Women are just too aware of their audience. They are so aware of mansplaining, boring people, wasting their time, that when they have a story they really want to tell, their sentences often hop around and become choppy – you have trouble keeping up. What is she on about?  Look at her, apologising before she’s even begun the story, trying to justify the reason she thinks the story is relevant, why she’s taking up your precious time before she starts. Like now. Wrap it up. I am so concerned about mansplaining I'm sometimes mortified about speaking at all. But I want other women to talk more, so why wouldn't I?

This is why, as I sit down today there is a word in thick black texta written on a page above my computer.

MANSPLAIN.

Look out. Cover your ears.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Somewhere

So now we've been living Somewhere for a year. One sunny afternoon we were driving down the road and the House just materialized there in front of us, like it had always been there but we could only see it now, because we were ready. 

We found out that a lady lived here in the 70s named Beryl Tuttle, which is my grandmother's (very rare) name, and wasn't her. A letter arrived one day, addressed to her, which made me feel deeply strange. She died in the year 2000, and had never heard of Point Lonsdale, let alone lived here. Our neighbour who has lived next door for 50 years knew Beryl; she was a dear older lady who did a lot for the community and lived in here with her adult son.  

The next door neighbour also told us our house was originally brought here from the city on the back of a truck. This made me flip out almost as much as Beryl, as I never knew houses could be pulled on the back of trucks, and that is the recurring dream I have had all through my life: our childhood home being pulled away on the back of a truck, my family waving me goodbye from inside as I stand stuck on the empty lot.

The House is ugly from the outside. We like it like that, its inner beauty kept secret. Also that made it cheaper, along with the fact that it's on a main road. I sometimes see it as a portal to another plane: once you step inside you can go anywhere you like inside books and films and music and peace and the sound of birds. Perhaps the House is here, perhaps it isn't. It's like stepping on to a cloud - the top of the Faraway Tree - you could be anywhere, and you never know where you're going to go. There's even a white rabbit hopping around. Perhaps I'm making too much of it - we are just excited to have a home after so many years of transience. We were trying to explain this interminable joy to our Paris friends who came to stay the other night: why we don't want to go to the city and see stuff so much any more, why we feel we can access everything we need from right here, inside our house-portal. They looked at us a little strangely - was this how all people who bought houses away from cities behaved in order to make themselves feel ok about missing out on stuff? 

Perhaps it just feels good to be finally still so we can actually take in the things the world has to offer, rather than grabbing at them from the roller coaster we've been on for the past who-knows-how-long.   






Monday, January 2, 2017

The Fight with Form

Years ago I did this 'generative' writing workshop in a church hall and I complained to the teacher afterwards that I had too much writing and didn't know what to do with it. 'Just keep writing', she said. It was exasperating, as that was all well and good, but then what did you do with it all? How to form something from it? What I had didn't feel like a play, wasn't a book, wasn't anything really, just long passages of rambling writing. Cut to 2010 when I discovered a place I could house such ramblings, this blog. A blog, sneered a writer friend, is not a valid writing form. It, and social media, is for show-offs and hacks that don't know how to get published. I felt this was true, and loathed myself all the more, but still did it anyway. It felt good just to write for its own sake and nothing more, without having to ask for permission or please anyone in particular or fit any sort of criteria other than what you set yourself. And though the icky feeling was huge each time I published something, there was something satisfying in it I couldn't name. I made a pact to post something every day, even if it was a word, a sentence, a picture. There was something in the immediacy of that, the inability to protect myself from the armour of editing, the responsibility to perform regardless of the inevitable dryness and embarrassment that would come when I had nothing in particular to say. But it was those dry bits that were most interesting, like feeling naked on stage in an impro. The daily commitment meant having to find something even when the cupboard was bare, even if that was to explain the nothing feeling itself. 

Then, after a year or so I went back to doubting myself, and I was also more time-poor than ever, and thought: If I find a moment to write, I should be focusing on my book, or at least creating articles, short stories, publishable things, works of value, works of form. Work that is validated, valued. But I just stopped writing altogether. An idea would come and I would think of the form first, shape it, think of the audience... then get bored and leave the idea half-written, cursing my laziness. 

But then last week I started to wonder again about this idea of the un-destined writing, the daily deadline as form in itself. The pressure of having to find something, even when you're sitting up at midnight having just watched the final instalment of the OJ Simpson documentary and feeling dumbstruck and drained. I need to go to bed. And that is the way of this form. No magazine would ever publish this.