Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mine, but not mine. Just now I was walking down the street when a stylishly dressed lady who looked to be in her sixties or seventies came out of the milk bar and crossed my path.

I was politely ignoring her as I do most people in the street – I've often mused how clever China Miéville's The City and the City is in broadening this common practice to enable two entire cultures to coexist in the same space, just because each 'unsees' the other.

But then she hailed me and said, "Your hair is a really lovely colour! Is it natural?"
"Sadly, no," I said. "But thank you!"

As I walked away I was thinking how silly it is to be ashamed and guilty of being praised for a hair colour that doesn't grow out of my head, but rather comes from sachets and bottles. After all, this hair colour is mine in a way that my natural blonde isn't, because I chose to look this way. I should be pleased when someone compliments me on it.

Instead, I feel like a fraud. In the past I've been proud to be a natural blonde, scorning all the people who have to achieve the same colour through peroxide. Hairdressers have told me how lucky I am, people have asked in an impressed tone, "Is that your natural hair colour?" and I've been chuffed to say, "Yes."

This is the dismal bird's eye view of my head. The parts where I look bald are actually my real hair growing back. The golden colour is from the henna-tinted shampoo I use to stave off the worst of the regrowth.

Recently I read Max Barry's new novel Machine Man, which I found really horrifying. You can read my review over at The Enthusiast. I feel that review is kind of shapeless and inarticulate, because so was my horror.

What I don't mention in the review is that from a very early age, I have been both fascinated and appalled by the nature of posthuman subjectivity, although when I was a kid I would have called it "being obsessed with Astro Boy and The Bionic Woman", and as a teenager "being obsessed with Terminator". Also, the Cybermen were always the Doctor Who villains I had nightmares about. Fuck the Daleks, they can't even use stairs, although I think it's telling that I found Davros the scariest Dalek because he was the least vestigial.

It has always given me a funny tingly feeling of terror to see an ostensibly human person peel back his or her skin to reveal a mess of electronics, mechanics and wires. Part of my horror at Machine Man is its suggestion that a person could feel that machine parts were theirs, were part of them. I shrink from that idea, I flee it… yet perhaps I would be more at peace with it if I'd read Donna Haraway's 'Cyborg Manifesto'.

Just now I am reminded of Annalee Newitz's Pretend We're Dead, which I reviewed for Media International Australia a while back. Newitz is interested in the horrors of capitalism, so she presents mad scientists as members of the professional class who are alienated from their own intellectual labours. In horror films, this can be literalised as disembodied brains in jars (or consciousnesses uploaded into cyberspace).

Since I make my living by the efforts of my brain, is my body of work more mine than my biological body? Is something I willed into existence myself – like my hair colour – more a product of my subjectivity than the biological heritage that makes me appear in the world in certain ways without much effort on my part?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hello, and welcome to Freelance Food, the TV series where I show you how to prepare authentic freelance cuisine at home. I'm your host, professional freelance writer Mel Campbell, and today we're going to be preparing a traditional freelance breakfast, Crazy Toast and Tea.

First things first: let's put the kettle on. While that's boiling, let's rinse out our signature tea mug. Freelancers prize these mugs. They choose them for their liquid volume capacity and their ugliness. Sometimes they think it's amusing to drink from a mug bearing the logo of a media organisation where they used to work. So today, we'll be making our tea in a News Limited 1Degree carbon neutrality initiative mug.

Traditionally, freelancers rarely wash their mugs between cups, and this one's built up a nice patina of tannins, but let's clean it by rinsing it out, adding a dash of baking soda and then rubbing it well in with the fingers. It really gets the inside of that mug white and sparkling again. My mum taught me that trick.

Now, let's get the loaf of bread out of the freezer, peel off two slices and pop them in the toaster. You can use whatever kind of bread you like, but today I'm using Home Brand multigrain bread. I chose multigrain for its fibre content, to reassure myself that I'm not going to die of colon cancer.

While that's toasting, grab a teabag and pop it in your mug, all ready for infusing. I like to mix things up, tea-wise, to maintain some interest in my day, but Dilmah is my favourite everyday tea. However, for a really authentic cuppa, choose Liptons, because that's what freelancers usually drink in offices where they're on contract.

If your kettle has boiled, now's the time to pour your cup of tea and let it infuse.

Your toast should be popped now, so it's time to start assembling your dish. It's called Crazy Toast because it was what they called it at Pushka, the cafe where I used to eat breakfast every day before starting work. But you don't have to be crazy to recognise these key flavours: Vegemite and avocado.

Grab your avocado and slice it in half vertically. Here's a little freelance kitchen tip: you don't need to use a sharp knife! A regular table knife will work just as well on a ripe avocado, plus it creates less washing up later, which is very important in freelance culture. Twist the two halves in opposite directions to separate your avocado.

Now here's where your knife starts doing some clever double duty. Dip it into your Vegemite jar and spread each piece of toast with a knob of Vegemite about the size of a 10c coin. Some freelancers like only a very thin scraping of Vegemite across their toast; but as I've grown more Australian over time, I like to spread it much more thickly. Also, it's very important to get your daily intake of vitamin B, because you have no sick days when you're a freelancer.

Take the avocado half without the stone and make thin vertical slices in the flesh, lifting out each slice onto the toast in turn. This means you never slice too much and waste any avocado, because those things are really expensive. When you eat avocado toast in cafés, they'll usually plate the avocado slices in a lovely fan-like configuration, but as you're at home you don't have to impress anyone. Just let them plop onto your toast until you judge there's enough.

Now, here's what I like to do: I hold each slice of toast in my hand and chop the avocado slices very finely in two directions with my knife, then use the side of the knife to smoosh the avocado into a delicious paste. Then I smooth it across the toast and it's done.

If I were having just plain avocado on toast, at this stage I might add some salt and pepper, or perhaps some hot sauce, because while avocado has that delicious creamy taste, it can be quite bland as well. But the great thing about Crazy Toast is that the Vegemite adds a delicious savoury quality to the avocado.

Now it's time to give that teabag one final jiggle and throw it in the bin. Some people like to squeeze it out first, but honestly that is too much work, so just make sure you stand right next to the bin when you lift it out of the mug, so you don't get any tea on the floor and have to clean it up later.

Some people have their tea black, but I take my tea with milk, not just because I like the taste but because milk is a great source of calcium, and since I'll be hunched over a computer for the next 12 hours my bones need all the help they can get.

The cleanup from this dish is really easy – just screw the lid back on the Vegemite and put it back on the shelf, and put your two avocado halves back together and put them in the fridge – it's like nature's cling wrap! Clean your knife with very hot water and leave it on the side of the sink for the mythical 'proper wash', but we all know you'll just use it again the next time you want to make toast.

The great thing about Crazy Toast is the number of variations you can create. Really let your imagination go, and you can come up with some delicious freelance cuisine. Substitute some tomato paste and hot sauce for the Vegemite to make Mexican Crazy Toast! And substitute some spreadable cream cheese for the avocado – we like La Vache Qui Rit triangles for their nostalgia value – to make Dirty Sanchez Crazy Toast!

As we always say here on Freelance Food, the wonderful thing about freelance cuisine is its ingenuity. You're only poor if you've got no story ideas! So bon appetit, and I'll see you next week.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Guess it ran out of ammo. RIP my faithful hairdryer of 20-odd years, Pistol Airo.

I can't even remember how long I've had this hairdryer, but it might be up to 20 years old. It was a Christmas present from my Auntie Libby; she had a great knack for giving presents that thrilled the recipients and this was no exception. I'd never had a hairdryer before – I don't even think I used one. I would just towel dry my hair and wait for it to dry.

I even used to sleep with my damp hair in lots of tiny little plaits so the next day I'd have crimped hair. It was a big deal when I got a crimping iron, which I think happened in early high school – perhaps even at the same time as the Pistol Airo.

So I was pretty excited, but Auntie Libby was mortified when she noticed that the box said: "Pistol Airo: the man's dryer". She had thought it was a nice travel-size dryer – or, alternatively, a small dryer for her young niece.

Personally, it has never bothered me that Pistol Airo is 'manly'. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that its name was some kind of macho gunslinger pun on 'pistolero'. I even paid tribute to Pistol Airo on Crikey, in the comments of a story I wrote about gendered consumer products.

You can see how much I have used it – the silver paint has largely worn off to reveal the grey plastic beneath. There is lint stuck behind the grille and hair wound around the fan – if I let the dryer too close to my head it sucked my hair painfully into the back. It is not very powerful and my hair is quite thick, so if I wanted to get a nice smooth result I had to section off my hair.

I had been thinking about getting rid of Pistol Airo and investing in a proper, powerful hairdryer – whenever I stayed at my parents' house and used my mother's hairdryer, I got lovely, shiny hair in half the time Pistol Airo took. But I couldn't bring myself to throw Pistol Airo away because of its sentimental value.

Here are some of the looks Pistol Airo helped me achieve:

June 2005: dressed as Marsha Queen of Diamonds for the Superheroes Ball.

March 2008: DJ dream team Plump'n'Rosie in action at Penny's 30th at Shit Town.

December 2008: New Year's Eve, with Leanne (left) and Tash (right).

February 2010: Perhaps time to get my fringe cut.

October 2010: Veronica Corningstone hair to go with nylon '70s frock.

July 2011: First time I cut my own fringe.

This morning, while drying my hair with my head tipped upside down, I heard a clunking noise, as if a part had come loose and was rattling around in the blades. The motor slowed down, there was a smell of burning and I could see something glowing red-hot inside the mechanism. I turned Pistol Airo off for the final time. Goodbye, old friend.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Separated At Birth: The Thin White Dick. I used to do my 'separated at birth' schtick on Facebook, but I can't be bothered logging in so you are getting to enjoy it without having to endure my electronic friendship.

Basically, don't you think Martin Amis looks a bit like David Bowie?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The depressing terrain of predictive ads. At best, you can find them funny or mystifying; at worst, they reveal the pathetic emptiness of your life. I'm talking, of course, about predictive online ads. Here are the ones I currently have.

My personal email: 6.69% Low Rate Home Loans - FoxSymesHomeLoans.com.au - Banks Said No? We have options for you, Refinance your home Today!

Oh dear. As if I will ever be in a position to own, let alone refinance, a home. To some extent I have been infected by my baby-boomer parents' obsession with property, so I brood on how absurdly unaffordable it is and how, perhaps if I were to live very far away, I could perhaps afford a small shipping container in a paddock somewhere. But first I would have to be able to afford a car. At least where I live, I can walk and catch public transport everywhere.

Enthusiast email: Learn Internet Marketing - www.MarketMotive.com - Online Internet Marketing Courses, Enroll in Courses Now at $299/Month

This is especially depressing as I have spent a large chunk of yesterday and today wrangling the new(ish) Enthusiast mailing list. I just don't know what to do to encourage people to check out our online magazine, apart from slaving my guts out trying to write interesting stories that people might like to read, and then posting about them on Facebook and Twitter, and then putting them in a weekly newsletter along with lots of interesting tidbits that we've come across during the week, and links to interesting stories from our archives. I am not a marketing person – I just don't know what people want, and in any case I feel like I am already at the limit of my resources to deliver what they want.

Professional email: Local Business Removalist - www.yourlocalmovers.com.au - Your Local Business Removalists. Quotes Online or Call 1800 004 065.

This is also hilarious, seeing as I work from home and can be my own removalist.

Right Angle email: Stop Paper Jams For Good - www.DoubleA.com.au - Transform your copier. Runs smoother. Less Paper Jams.

Because god knows that when working for an online network of city guides I am constantly plagued by paper jams. However I am plagued by a cat who loves to eat paper, and who re-enacts this video every time I try to use my printer. Also, he gnaws on the corners of paper and cardboard, so I have to be careful to keep important documents, student assignments, etc, out of his reach, but I have given up trying to stop him from biting cardboard boxes and the packaging that review books come in.


The "you deserve better" dating ads are the worst. There is also another dude in them who looks like a rapist from the Jersey Shore – all shiny walnut skin, threateningly slitted eyes and carefully tended facial hair. I think he might have a backwards baseball cap on, too.

I often get Facebook ads directing my romantic efforts towards single dads, which is basically admitting that most men have already bred with other, more attractive women than me, but that they're willing to settle for me now their previous relationship has broken down.

Also, I tend to get Facebook ads suggesting, preposterously, that an already waif-thin Hollywood star lost vast amounts of weight using "these simple tips".

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