Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tonight when I got home, there was a thrilling sheaf of junk mail in my letterbox. Rather than go through it specifically looking for bargains, I decided just to tweet the interesting things that occurred to me while reading the catalogues, which were for Ishka, Kmart, Woolworths, Coles and Big W.

I thought I'd try to embed my tweets here; if for some reason it doesn't work, you can read my ridiculous thoughts over at Storify.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Missing persons and runaways. Since Jill Meagher's murder, I have felt very unsettled every time the Victoria Police Twitter feed mentions a missing person. There seem to be two sorts of missing people: old people who go wandering off and are quickly found (except for a sad occasion when an old man was found dead – they thought he had 'had a fall' and cracked his head); and younger people who vanish in an out-of-character way that makes me suspect mental illness.

The younger people are more likely to turn up dead: murdered like Jill Meagher, or Sarah Cafferkey; or found dead by suicide. The police bulletins often mention that they have "a medical condition which requires daily medication", which I often interpret to mean that they are mentally ill and on psychiatric drugs.

But just as often, they turn up alive. Recently two Melbourne women went missing at much the same time, and both turned up shortly afterwards. Sandra Pevitt, 45, told her partner she was visiting her doctor and then never returned to her Werribee home. She made no contact with family or friends, and her car was also missing. But a week later, she was found in the Great Ocean Road resort town of Anglesea, seemingly "going about her business".

Similarly, playwright Katie Dircks, 30, went missing on a Friday night after leaving work at the Melbourne Theatre Company. She emailed a friend on Saturday morning, but made no other contact and missed a family birthday event. After a massive social media push from her friends, some of whom are my friends, she turned up safe and well on the Tuesday, in Tasmania

This week a young woman, Amelia 'Milly' McLeod, went missing from Parkville, where she was being treated at the Royal Melbourne hospital. The hollow-cheeked photo they used screamed 'eating disorder'. She was quickly found in the city, but it turns out this isn't the first time she's gone missing. In December 2010 she vanished from her Coburg share house and turned up in Kiama, NSW.

I feel so sad and helpless for the families of people with addictions and mental illnesses, who have to give them fresh start after fresh start, see them through cycles of medical treatment and relapse, and to balance protecting them from self-harmful impulses and being understanding and supportive of their autonomy to make their own decisions. It was a feeling I got strongly from Kate Holden's memoir of her heroin addiction, In My Skin.

Also, I have personal experience of these things, which I will not go into here.

But I am interested in how someone might feel so desperate that they would want to just press the eject button on their life and start up afresh elsewhere. I have regularly felt this way myself. Stupidly, the thing that stops me from abandoning my life is Graham. I couldn't leave him behind, but the idea of being on the run with a cat is ridiculous.

His carrying case is so heavy, and I have lost the wheelbase to the All Terrain Cat Vehicle (my theory is that I left it on the front porch and either someone stole it or my housemate thought it was rubbish and threw it away), and anyway, people would soon notice a woman toting a cat in a ridiculous contraption.

A few nights ago I actually had an anxious dream about how I was whitewater rafting with Graham. I had him tucked down the front of my shirt. I wanted to go to a festival/concert at a coastal swimming pool at the mouth of the river, but even though I got there, and the location looked great, I was afraid that once the loud music started, Graham would run away. So I went back. 

Anyway. I can't run away from life. Not as long as I have Graham. But at times I still yearn to do it. I actually have an essay in the forthcoming issue of Island (issue 131) about female writers and mini-breaks in the country, which are as far as I get to starting afresh.

For a while now on Facebook, I have been following the search for missing Geelong man Daniel O'Keeffe. Dan, who had a history of depression, walked out of the family home on 15 July 2011, and has never made himself known since, although there have been several 'sightings', much as you might sight Bigfoot.

I sympathise with the urgent efforts of Dan's family to find him, which have got more and more frantic as time has gone by. If one of my brothers went missing, I might just as easily allow the search for him to dominate my life. But if I were Dan, I might feel a little persecuted. Maybe Dan doesn't want to be found. Maybe he has pulled off the great eject-button stunt and is actually much happier now.

Earlier this year, in my role previewing feature film submissions for MIFF, I watched an Australian documentary called Missing in the Valley of the Gods. It's about a young Australian, Ryan Chambers, who went missing in India six years ago on a spiritual quest. Now his middle-aged parents head to India to search for him. It's a spiritual quest for them as well.

Some missing persons cases have an ending, but it's the open cases that remain hazy and blurred. At what point do you draw the distinction between a mental illness and a desire for another kind of life? And when does a parent, or a sister, give up hope… or put their hope in the hands of the universe?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Psychopathic romance. Last week I read a fascinating feature article about child psychopaths – or, more precisely, children with 'callous/unemotional' tendencies. There was also a story about it on Catalyst recently.

The theory is that these kids lack a connection to the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes social emotions including shame. They just don't feel bad when they disobey or transgress. (As an aside, I wonder if I have a hyperactive amygdala, since I live in a prison of humiliation.)

My first reaction was that we all owe Eva Khatchadourian a massive apology, because her son Kevin is a textbook example of a CU kid. We fear these children because of their calculation and knowingness that makes them seem much older. They don't behave badly on impulse; they judiciously do anything to get what they want, impervious to fear, compassion or shame. They're the 'evil kids' in films such as The Bad Seed and The Good Son who are more terrifying because there's no supernatural or demonic explanation for their actions.

I was especially chilled by some of the scenes described in the NYT article at a 'summer camp' where a dozen of these kids were being studied. Basically they behaved appallingly and egged each other on, ending up much worse at the end of the program than before.

There is a certain dreadful romance we associate with kids being experimented on. For example, the sinister Bolvangar research lab in Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights, or Return from Witch Mountain, a Disney movie that now strikes me as incredibly corny, but which fascinated and troubled me as a kid when I saw it at the Box Hill library. It was about siblings with paranormal powers imprisoned in a shadowy scientific research facility and subjected to a barrage of tests.

Another foundational childhood text for me was Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, filmed as the animation The Secret of Nimh, which was about rodent test subjects from the National Institute of Mental Health who had engineered their own escape.

Also, the image of Michael the child psychopath reminds me of books such as The Secret History and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, in which an intelligent outsider falls in with a group of hyper-intelligent, calculating peers. Surely it is a thousand times more dangerous to put a bunch of budding psychopaths in an environment where they bond and identify with each other.

Michael, the child who is the focal point of the article, was one of a number of participants who vied for the favour of a female participant, L.
Charming but volatile, L. quickly found ways to play different boys off one another. “Some manipulation by girls is typical,” [the researcher] Waschbusch said as the kids trooped inside. “The amount she does it, and the precision with which she does it — that’s unprecedented.” She had, for example, smuggled a number of small toys into camp, Waschbusch told me, then doled them out as prizes to kids who misbehaved at her command. That strategy seemed particularly effective with Michael, who would often go to detention screaming her name.
Another kind of romance – did Michael genuinely like L, or did he only do her bidding because it let him get power over the other, disfavoured children? Can a callous/unemotional kid love? The literature says psychopaths prefer dogs because, in the words of Jon Ronson, "that's the only kind of love they can handle."

It is dangerous for us to romanticise psychopathy, but that is our cultural response to the phenomenon. We like the idea of your Dexter Morgans and Hannibal Lecters and your Bond or Die Hard villains and so forth – either clever psychopaths whose ability to manipulate others is elegant, or spectacular, grandiose psychopaths whose callous ambitions are bold enough to admire.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I used to feel sorry for nuns. I always thought their commitment to God meant giving up 'life', the way we experience it. They couldn't get married. They didn't have jobs. They didn't have sex or love or children. They lived in poverty. Their lives were circumscribed by rules.

But now I realise, I am basically a secular nun. Think about it. I sit at home working most of the time. I don't have sex and am not married. Unless something changes radically for me in the next five years I will not have children. I am really poor and don't have a proper job. I live in a prison of humilation. I feel like a complete loser for having thought that nuns were missing out on 'life', when that's basically what I am doing.

I have thought this depressively for at least a year. But what has made me write this post was that I went to drinks at my work and there were all these young people there, heading out to some warehouse party or to the opening of Melbourne Music Week, and I realise how I have stopped even thinking that I am allowed to go to these things, or that they are meant for me. It made me feel old and withered and irrelevant.

But I don't even have the consolation of 'a baby at home' or 'a quiet night in after my stressful job'. I just sit at home doing my pointless work that falls unnoticed into a void, and then my 'break' is to sit at the dinner table or on the couch, as opposed to at my desk.

I am not happy being a nun. I want to be worldly, to be loved and to be respected. But I just don't see how that is going to happen from now on. I was talking to some dude at the drinks tonight who was a bit of all right and thinking, "He looks a bit like Adam from Girls," and then chastising myself for thinking that fucked-up character is a sex object to aspire to.

But really, what has made me realise that I am a nun is that I have stopped thinking of myself as someone that anyone would want to have sex with. Let's face it: all the dudes my age are taken. I am left with the weirdos and the broken single dads. I guess men probably see me similarly as a weird, broken last resort. Recently I saw a photo of myself on Facebook, taken in 1999:

That is me on the far right. And I realised that I have looked like this for the last 20 years. Sitting aside from everyone. Crossing my arms over myself because I'm worried about shielding my fat body from critical stares. The most tragic thing is that I have just got fatter and fatter over the years and I am actually quite thin in that picture.

Anyway it is silly to be blogging this stuff so I will stop now. The best thing about being a secular nun is that I don't have to be a fucking slave to the evil Catholic Church and the appalling men in it who seek to dominate women. I should maybe aspire to join the ranks of literary women who had what I think of as sad, empty personal lives but whose work survives and is revered. Jane Austen. Emily Dickinson. The Brontës. Christina Rossetti.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Junk Mail Bargains, vol 2. I really enjoyed doing volume 1 of this catalogue round-up but while I still like to sit down and read the junk mail at my kitchen table as if it were a proper magazine, I am always too busy to take the time to blog the bargains I find.

However! Even though it's still early November, the Christmas shopping assault has begun! Here are a few bargains I have observed:

If there is a baby or small child in your life that you'd like to dress up in a humiliating Christmas-themed outfit, there are entire Santa and elf outfits at Big W for $9.84, candy-striped baby rompers for $4, and also for $4, kids' T-shirts with Santas and reindeer saying things like "Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas" and "I Heart Christmas". There is also a men's T-shirt in the style of Keep Calm and Carry On that I would definitely wear.

Big Dubs also has a women's V-neck, 3/4 sleeve cardigan for $9.94. I'm not sure the colour range or the fabric but it looks quite light and summery. Since I currently own 20 cardigans I will be resisting this.

Similarly, there are some nice-looking men's striped V-neck T-shirts for $7.92 that sorely tempt me but I currently own 10 striped T-shirts.

If you somehow missed out on reading the JK Rowling Harry Potter novels, Big Dubs is selling the entire series as a box set for $75. That works out at around $10.71 per book.

And if you're looking for a small Christmas tree to add a seasonal token presence to your house – perhaps one you can put on a high shelf where your wicked cat cannot get it – then Big Dubs has a 30cm tinsel tree in purple, gold, blue and pink for $3, and a 60cm tinsel tree in silver, gold and purple for $6.

This Saturday, 10 November, Big Dubs is having a one-day sale that offers some tempting bargains. There is a polka-dot knee-length, scoop-neck ladies summer dress for $5 that looks seriously jaunty.

The Big Dubs sale also has hipster plimsolls for the whole family at just $4. They come in a rainbow of block colours: lime green; sky blue; pink; purple; orange, grey, black, navy, royal blue and hot pink.

They also have their own-brand kitchen appliances – mini food processor, juicer or stick mixer – for $12. They come in midcentury-ish citruses and blues, or white.

At Ray's Outdoors they are selling 26L plastic party drinks tubs for 2 for $10 – convenient for spring/summer/seasonal parties.

They also have 30% off gumboots – snap some up ahead of Meredith for $23.99. Patterns include bright red, grey paisley, grey and pink argyle, brown leopard, purple pink and blue circles and blue tartan.

And 1.8m beach umbrellas in jaunty stripes are just $6.95. I wonder if you could also use them on your outdoor table or balcony.

An outfit called Manchester and More, whose stores are all in outer-suburban bogan hotspots, has these incredibly tasteless doona covers for a mere $34.99 for QB and $39.99 for KB. Imagine the mighty feline power that will be unleashed in one of these beds:

They also have some more tasteful plain quilt cover sets in royal purple, crimson, white, beige, lavender and black for $35.99 DB, $40.50 QB and $49.50 KB.

They also have faux suede cushion covers featuring various kitschy animals: a leopard; a pair of running horses; a tabby kitten miaowing; a lion; a tiger; and wolf. They are $2.99 each, which I think you'll agree is a bargain for the epic effect these would have on your couch or bed.

For some time I have toyed with the idea of making my own puffy '50s organza petticoat out of one of those awful/amazing organza tab top curtains you see around. Well now I can; for only $7.99 a pair they have them in grey, lipstick pink, white, apple green, sky blue and purple.

And fulfilling all my trashy manchester fantasies, they have satin sheet sets in white, lilac, burgundy, beige, lipstick pink, red and gunmetal grey for $19.99 DB, $24.99 QB and $29.99 KB.

Food-wise, avocados are 2 for $4 at Woolworths and for those of you like me who are basically working around the clock, you can get eight 250ml cans of V for $10 from both Coles and Woolies. I lived on that stuff when I was finishing my MA.

Nutella is $6 for 750g at Coles, save $1.59. Also, Quorn 'Versatile Mince' is now at Coles for $5.50, save $1.40. Quorn sells fake meat for vegetarians and apparently their products are exclusive to Coles. The mince looks pretty meaty. No idea what it tastes like.

Tresemmé shampoo and conditioner is currently half price at Coles – $4.99. I use this brand and I like that it comes in giant bottles that last for ages.

And Mainland Buttersoft is on special for $4.50 at Woolies – save $1.19. I have recently got into this because apart from Lurpak, the El Expensivo brand, Buttersoft is the only spreadable butter that isn't adulterated with vegetable oil. (I checked all the other brands in the supermarket.) Plus it comes in a larger sized container than Lurpak. There is some bullshit scare campaign on TV at the moment saying margarine has less fat than butter, but if you knew how margarine was made you would never eat it. (In the interests of ABC-style 'balance' here's the margarine industry's rebuttal.)


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