Monday, April 30, 2012

I throw like a small child. Today I went down the road for lunch and was standing on the median strip on Rathdowne Street, waiting to cross, when I noticed three girls from the local primary school waving at me, trying to get my attention.

"Can you get our ball?" they called, pointing to a tennis ball that had come to rest on the road against the median strip, right within my reach.

I picked it up and was about to cross, but just then the traffic picked up, so I decided I would throw the ball back over the primary school fence. Sure, I'd been an embarrassingly weak thrower all the way through school and had assiduously avoided sport since then, but this was only two lanes of traffic, a footpath and a low fence.

The ball made it over the road, but hit the fence and bounced back almost to me. It was then run over by several passing cars and flipped a hundred metres down Rathdowne Street.

I felt a moral obligation to fetch it again, seeing as my poor throwing had caused the drama. So I did. To make matters worse, a hot young male teacher (who must've been on yard duty) took the ball from me, having evidently decided that I was too incompetent to retrieve it by myself.

The humiliation I felt was an almost perfect replica of the humiliation I'd endured all the way through school when it came to sport. Being picked last for teams and endured by the jocks with ill-concealed irritation. That annoyed sigh, "Erggghhhh…" or mocking cry, "Awww, nice one!" that I learned to expect every time the ball happened to come to me, and it was crucial that I catch it or throw it quickly to get an opposing player out or prevent opposing points being scored, but I would fumble the ball or weakly throw it a pitifully short distance or (worst of all) cringe away from it for fear of getting hit. The way I learned to position myself way in the outfield in order to minimise my participation.

Only this time it was worse, because I was still being judged by primary-schoolers as an adult.

Australia is a fucked country. We train small children to feel ashamed of themselves for not being good at sport, even into adulthood. Meanwhile, dickheads with no redeeming qualities apart from being good at sport are called 'heroes'.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Right about now – check it out now! Last week at some stage I had the obnoxious, Miranda July-esque idea to videotape myself dancing. I just went straight ahead and improvised a dance, in my study, in my pyjamas. If I had thought it through a little more, I might have put on a more flattering outfit, some makeup, or at least a bra.

Hipster doofuses who watched The Future have actually taken up the idea of July's character Sophie, who decides to take a month off work, during which time she will choreograph, perform and post online a different dance every day. Predictably, she gets stuck on the first day and never records any dances.

Then there are the Frankies who seek adorbz points by recording themselves dancing in public places.

Of course, Spike Jonze was the first of the lot, back in 1998, with the video to Fatboy Slim's 'Praise You'.

The song I danced to was also by Fatboy Slim, from the same album. It was 'The Rockafella Skank'. Fatboy Slim – that guy kicks ass! How tremendous is Fatboy Slim? The band of the '90s, if you wanna call it a band, because it's a one-man name.

However, I am not thin and pretty, so I am afraid to upload my video anywhere because when fat people record themselves performing, it doesn't matter how fierce, funny or talented they think they are – they become Mockery Memes, such as Star Wars Kid or Numa Numa. Although this fat kid has got some serious moves…

And this chick, despite not being fat, still provides the funniest dance fail I have ever seen.

Anyway, the purpose of this blog post was to at least salvage some coolsie points by reporting that I had done this, hence the screen shots. Because let's face it – I wanted people to find me funny. But it had to be on my terms, with me included in the joke, not as its object. I've blogged before about what a low humiliation threshold I have.

I can't remember if I blogged about it at the time – probably not, because it hurt even to think about it – but last year Penny started up a skipping club and I joined because I always loved skipping in primary school and thought it would be fun to do it again even though I am calamitously unfit. But then the skipping club quickly got mistaken for an all-star skipping team, and was being reported on as a hot new trend and booked as hipstertainment for various functions.

I was cool about it the first time – hey, I got a free pair of sneakers out of an event we did for Vice/Converse – but then we were booked to perform at the opening of the State of Design festival and I was shitting myself about my poor skipping ability and looking stupid in front of all these designers. I have always felt very intimidated by designers – this dates back to the Is Not Magazine days when the magazine made Stuart and Jeremy the kings of designland and I never felt welcome in that world.

The skipping routine (which I had never, ever nailed in practice) started off really well. Our ropes were all synchronised for the first minute or so, and I had a moment of feeling really excited and proud, then as I tried to skip through the big rope, it knocked my glasses off my face and they went flying across the floor and there was a little "ohh" of concern from the crowd and I had to grovel to get them back and couldn't even see very well where they were on the floor and someone in the audience had to hand them to me, and anyway I was just dying inside but I put a smile on my face and pretended I was having a great time during the rest of the routine, and then after it was over it was as if I were a balloon deflating until I was actually shrinking and withering and burning as if in a flame, I was in agony but the other skipping people assured me that they had made heaps of mistakes too, and Penny told me I was being narcissistic and oversensitive because nobody had even noticed or cared and none of the others minded having made a mistake, but I was so eaten up with humiliation I felt physically in shock and didn't want to speak to anyone, and after sitting alone on the top level of the Exhibition Building for a while I decided to leave but then I ran into Max and his girlfriend Rosie and they were so nice that I just started sobbing hysterically in front of them and their friends, and then I was just so utterly destroyed that I had to run away out of the Exhibition Building and through the Carlton Gardens sobbing and onto a train and to my parents' house and when I told them what had happened I started sobbing again, and for weeks afterwards I cried whenever I thought about it (I am crying now as I type this) and I never went back to skipping club ever again because even thinking about skipping was enough to bring back the same terrible feelings, and while there is a video of the event that apparently doesn't include my humiliation, I cannot bring myself to watch it.

You might be thinking what a silly thing that was to get upset about, and what a delicate little flower I am, but I do take even the smallest humiliations deeply to heart and that's basically why I can't upload that dance video I made to YouTube. I always assume people are laughing at me behind my back but there is no need to invite it. Also, the video isn't nearly as funny as I thought it was while I was doing it, and I feel depressed that this is what I must look like to other people when I dance.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Last night I dreamed an episode of Mad Men. Importantly for this episode, there is an orphanage in the next building to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and at one point Don has adopted two orphans, a boy and a girl. This early part of the dream was very detailed but I have forgotten it. But anyway, the orphans cause trouble in the agency (they are more disruptive than Sally Draper, especially the boy, who has a malevolent quality) and either Don kills them or just gives them back to the orphanage.

Don and Peggy are in Don's office arguing over a campaign. Pete comes in and is struck by the way his colleagues are behaving with a strange antagonism and belligerence. Not the usual kind of argument over work… they seem meaner, somehow… changed. They seem in the middle of a fight. Don shouts at Pete, then the arguing pair lock themselves into Don's ensuite executive bathroom.

Pete withdraws with a wounded bitchface to his own office. He tries to do his own work but something still strikes him as odd about the argument in Don's office. He stares out his office window, where he realises he can see across the courtyard into the window of Don's executive bathroom. Framed in the window is Peggy's face, with Don's leaning over her shoulder. Inexplicably, Don is now wearing a hat. To Pete they both look red-faced, puffing, almost as if… No, they couldn't be… could they?

Cut to the interior of Don's executive bathroom. It's really palatial in here, with white tiles and chrome fixtures, a large shower and a sink mounted in a huge marble bench. Don and Peggy stagger away from the bench, over which they have recently been bent. Don knocks the hat from his sweating brow. The hat was a trick to fool anyone who happened to peek in through the window, because otherwise he and Peggy are completely naked. It's just as Pete suspected – they have been fucking!

Now they are confused and bewildered – how did this happen? It's as if they've been possessed. In the dream it took the characters a long time to figure out that the discarded children from the orphanage have possessed them. I think it was because Don says a phrase that only the orphan boy was heard to say. Some crap like that. Also, there were more possessed hate-sex scenes in the executive bathroom, but I will spare you those. I forget how the possession plotline is resolved but somehow they exorcise the evil orphan spirits.

At one point there is a meeting. A Paul Kinsey-like character (but not actually Kinsey) is sitting at the table in a large overstuffed chesterfield armchair, which is how we know that he is an outmoded character who will soon be left behind by the attitudinal changes of history. The other characters are all sitting in sleek midcentury chairs with spindly legs.

Meanwhile, Betty has heard about the latest new craze – tiki bars! She sneaks into the city to visit one, wearing a trench coat, headscarf and sunglasses. Once inside she doffs her disguise to reveal a lipstick-pink two-piece swimsuit. She heads to the ladies' room to tie her sarong skirt, which is bottle green with pink hibiscus flowers. (In the dream I wonder why Janie Bryant has chosen these colours in particular.)

In front of the gilt mirror, Betty is having some trouble getting the skirt to look the way she wants. She's tucking and tying and tugging at the skirt – should it be short or long, look full or pencil-y, or have a daring side split? – when an older but glamorous woman comes into the ladies' room to adjust her own sarong. Betty surreptitiously copies the other lady, who notices and introduces herself.

Turns out the lady is the manager of tonight's band, a ukulele wunderkind who travels around America like a carnie, touring all the tiki bars. The wunderkind is her son. The lady is kind to Betty and offers to introduce her, insinuating it's a real honour and a big deal to meet such a legendary musician.

The bar is dimly lit with fairy lights and flaming torches. The bar itself is in a grass hut, and there are poles tricked out to look like palm trees. The manager lady leads Betty over to the stage, where a young man is setting up with a bunch of other musicians. He is stocky, with a sad, chubby face, but striking pale grey eyes. He seems pleased to meet Betty and says he can play any song she can think of, better than she has ever heard it before.

Betty flicks through some nearby sheet music and inexplicably chooses a Christmas carol, 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'. The ukulele man strums and sings a very simple, slow version of the carol that is very beautiful.

Betty is about to applaud, but he's not done… he softly counts in to his musicians and they tear away with a much faster, almost bluegrass-sounding version. There is clapping and foot-stamping. It manages to be joyous, but the singer's voice still sounds profoundly sad, like a guy standing alone at a party. Betty is blown away by his artistry and in the dream I am pretty damn impressed as well. When he finishes there is applause throughout the bar.

The ukulele man looks meaningfully at Betty and it is clear he recognises her, and has some previous relationship to her. But she hasn't sensed it herself. In the dream it wasn't clear. Were they lovers? Is he the son of someone she knows? (But she doesn't recognise his mother, the manager…) Is he her own secret love child?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Titanic Re-obsession 2012. Today, 15 April 2012, is the centenary of the sinking of RMS Titanic. Over the past few weeks I have been obsessed with the disaster and its surrounding myth-making and pop-cultural expressions, and documenting my obsession, in a self-loathing, ashamed way, on Twitter. A selection:

This New Yorker article by Daniel Mendelsohn is one of the best I've read about why Titanic still fascinates us, although this blog post by Chris O'Regan also has some intriguing ideas. O'Regan argues that the disaster appeals to us now because our own era-defining tragedies and errors are so diffuse, so out of our control. Perhaps our era is similar to the Edwardian one, he writes:
"Globalisation, new and strange philosophical and scientific thought, changing modes of production, boom-bust economics, new technologies, new media, geopolitical instability, and the ferment of upheaval taking place behind a facade of political and social institutions that seem so outwardly unchanging and old and stable."
The sight of the intact Titanic breaching the surface and being towed into New York in the 1980 movie Raise the Titanic is preposterous. We now know, in remorselessly forensic detail, that the ship languishes on the seabed, broken violently in half like a banana, in an odd tension between preservation and destruction. It is still a marvel of culture and engineering, with so much of its fitout still startlingly recognisable; yet it is also a fragile relic crushed and eroded by deep-sea pressures, currents and anaerobic bacteria. The wreck may not withstand another century.

But Raise the Titanic makes the ship uncanny and sublime. The New Yorker's Mendelsohn likens the maiden ship to a woman:
"Like Iphigenia, the Titanic is a beautiful 'maiden' sacrificed to the agendas of greedy men eager to set sail; the forty-six-thousand-ton liner is just the latest in a long line of lovely girl victims, an archetype of vulnerable femininity that stands at the core of the Western literary tradition."
Here, her otherworldly emergence, prow first, from the sea, carries a sublime, almost sexual pleasure. It is a spectacle for the male gaze, like Honey Rider in Dr No, or Ariel in The Little Mermaid:

(By the way, I can't watch the 'Part of Your World' scene from The Little Mermaid without imagining all the items salvaged from the Titanic wreck, exhibited and fetishised by the private company RMS Titanic, Inc.)

But the scene from Raise the Titanic in which the Titanic arrives in New York, while intended to be celebratory and triumphant, now seems deeply wrong and uncanny, especially as the Twin Towers are visible in the skyline. Again, I'm reminded of another film, this time Ghostbusters 2, in which the doomed vessel arrives as a ghost ship, spectral passengers disembarking through the iceberg's rent in the starboard side:

"Better late than never," the dock workers quip.

The reason I refer to my interest in Titanic as a 're-obsession' is that this is the latest cycle in a pre-existing obsession. I pored carefully over the National Geographic issue containing Robert Ballard's photos of the wreck. In 1997, I watched James Cameron's movie and was duly moved by its affective apparatus.

The thing about Cameron's Titanic is that it is so corny and obvious, from its treatment of class to its breathless protestations of love and beauty, and its gestures of tragedy and sacrifice. It is openly manipulative, yet there's also an innocent zest to it: a delight in both epic spectacle and small details and gestures.

Although many of these same themes can also be found in serious war epics and action movies, and indeed James Cameron's previous oeuvreTitanic is commonly infantilised and feminised, its audiences portrayed as a ship of fools: sentimental teenagers and silly women, some of whom didn't even realise the sinking actually happened IRL.

At Jezebel, Lindy West admits to having adored it the first time around, but now, no longer being a teenager, "cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to watch this movie—much less watch it in 3D."
"All of the characters are either 15-year-old girls in disguise ('Parents just don't understand!' 'Waaah, make the boat go faster!' 'I know we literally met 20 minutes ago, but I love you with a suicidal fervor!'), or the kind of goofy caricatures that 15-year-old girls would write if we let 15-year-old girls write our blockbuster screenplays."
But part of what has driven my Titanic Re-obsession 2012 is the pathos of individual lives versus the inexorable heft of history. The sinking of Titanic was the first major news story to hinge on communications technology. A potential rescue ship, the Californian, did not respond in time because its telegraph room was not manned overnight; meanwhile, news of the disaster reached New York via telegraph before the survivors did.

It's striking how similar the blanket media coverage was to the coverage of contemporary tragedies such as 9/11: first dwelling morbidly on eyewitness accounts, and moving from those immediately affected to the lesser but equally sentimental participants, such as the animals on board. In recent years, coverage of the tragedy has turned melancholy as the last living survivors have died, lost to the oceans of time even though they had cheated the icy Atlantic in 1912.

Now, all we have are artefacts and documents to remind us that the ship carried individuals: people who struggled to live or were resigned to die, who had fascinating lives. A gay Washington insider. An indefatigable genre novelist. An interior decorator turned intrepid lady Indiana Jones.

But as a headline in the Toronto Star bluntly puts it, "In Titanic's roll of the dead, dogs were named, servants were not." There are even disagreements over how many people died in the tragedy. Some sources claim the toll is 1514; others 1517… for ease of reference, it's often capped at 1500.

To me it is profoundly melancholy that some people, like Titanic's Jack Dawson, can exist only in memory, and if forgotten can vanish as profoundly as if they had never existed at all. This thought makes me want to fight to document my life, as if by writing and blogging and tweeting and emailing I am flailing to stay afloat in cold, dark water.

This headstone in a cemetery at Halifax, Nova Scotia, commemorates Joseph Dawson, who worked as a stoker on Titanic. His was the 227th body recovered from the site. Many headstones carry no names, but the stones are still tangible reminders of the disaster's human dimension.

Right now I'm also watching Mad Men, another story about the clash between individuals and the weight of history. Like Rose DeWitt Bukater, swimming free of her unwanted old life and surfacing as Rose Dawson, Dick Whitman used the Korean War to become Don Draper, who went on to sell the euphoria of self-transformation to the American public through the promises of advertising.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

My quest to pack light. Last weekend I went away on a much-anticipated seaside holiday from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon. I was determined to pack light. This is always my quest every time I travel, and every time I always pack too much.

What I wore on Friday:

1 x short-sleeved black, pale green and pale red floral top
1 x pale green handkerchief-hem mid-length skirt
1 x black T-shirt bra
1 x underpants
1 x silver pendant necklace
1 x contact lenses
1 x sunglasses
1 x black sandals

What I packed:

3 x underpants (Saturday, Sunday, Monday)
2 x black socks (1 anklets for wearing with skirts, 1 crew-length for wearing with pants)
1 x red canvas sneakers
1 x two-piece aqua swimsuit
1 x towel (pink and white stripes – chosen to look beachy on the beach but is actually a bath towel)
1 x black and white striped T-shirt
1 x grey and black spotted singlet
1 x red and black striped cap-sleeve T-shirt
1 x black cotton three-quarter-sleeve jumper
1 x coral cotton cardigan
1 x wide-leg black pants
1 x black and pink short-sleeved, knee-length floral dress
1 x grey and dark pink floral T-shirt-style pyjama top
1 x raspberry cotton jersey pyjama pants
1 x sleeping bag
1 x pillowcase
1 x hand towel
1 x toiletries bag containing: glasses, 2 pairs contact lenses, soap, face cleanser, deodorant, body moisturiser, sunscreen, tweezers, hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, moist wipes, hair clip, chewing gum (?!?)
1 x plastic bag for separating wet/dirty clothes in bag

What I wore on Saturday

When I woke up: pyjamas
To go to beach: aqua swimsuit, green skirt, sunglasses, sandals
After beach: underpants, bra, floral dress

What I wore on Sunday

When I woke up: pyjamas
To go to beach: aqua swimsuit, red and black T-shirt, green skirt, sunglasses, sandals
After beach: underpants, bra, black, green and red floral top, raspberry pyjama pants

What I wore on Monday

When I woke up: pyjamas under black jumper
After shower: underpants, bra, red and black T-shirt, green skirt, glasses, sunglasses, sandals

Yes, I put my sunglasses on over my glasses. Reviewing 3D films has taught me to be used to this. Also, you couldn't really see the glasses underneath the sunnies.

Items I did not wear:

Black and white striped T-shirt
Grey and black spotted singlet
Coral cardigan
Black pants
Either of the pairs of socks

Items I wish I had brought

Shampoo and conditioner
An extra pair of contact lenses
Cotton buds

The Best in Show items were clearly the pyjama pants and the green skirt. I recently bought the pants as 'freelance work pants' for $5 from Big W. The green skirt I have had for years; I remember wearing it to Rottnest Island in 2004 not realising we were going to cycle around the island, and having to tuck the pointed hem into the waistband so it wouldn't get caught in the bike chain.

I returned from my trip determined to learn from this experience and to pack only the bare minimum of items needed on future trips.

I have been fascinated with the travel packing informational writing genre ever since the 1980s when I would read Maggie Tabberer's tips to that effect in my mother's Australian Women's Weekly magazines. I would fantasise about a two-week resort trip requiring a black maillot (translation: black one-piece swimsuit), a sarong which could be tied several different ways from poolside to cocktail hour, and gold strappy sandals. Or a high-flying business trip in which I could remove my padded jacket and don a sparkly top to create a glamorous evening ensemble.

Here are some of the tips I have absorbed by osmosis:

– wear your bulkiest stuff en route, or layer several things, to save space
– stuff shoes with socks and underwear
– roll clothes rather than folding them
– collect the free shower caps from hotels and use them as shoe covers

Here are some more tips from a seasoned traveller.

A while ago I was obsessed with this slideshow about a flight attendant who packs for 10 days in a carry-on bag; however in my opinion, she packs too much clothing for 10 days. As I showed you above, even packing for three days I managed not to wear lots of the stuff I packed.

This guy packed for a month in a carry-on bag:

I like the way he layers his jeans and T-shirts and then folds the ends back in.

But I have to say that what I like best about my pack-light fantasies is figuring out how I can create the maximum number of outfits from the stuff I've brought, and be ready for various weather conditions and activities. I brought the sneakers and socks because I thought I might do some walking last weekend, but as it turns out the weather was good and I went to the beach every day. Also, I didn't bring makeup or accessories (except the necklace I wore on Friday) as I was just going to be hanging out with a group of friends in a house rather than going out.

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