Sunday, March 25, 2012

Phew, man-shoe! Basically I just wanna crow about a bargain I got at a garage sale in Lennox Street Richmond today:

They were $5, are leather, and have never been worn! What I like about them is that they look quite formal but are slip-ons and have sneaker-style rubber soles. The garage sale proprietors were two middle-aged men who looked like a gay couple. The merch was hilariously of a certain refined masculine lifestyle: classical music CDs; a box of watches; a whole rack of men's business shirts. I was chuffed that the shoes fit me – they are a size 40, which is quite small for men's shoes.

I am starting to get into man-style dress shoes. When I was a kid I referred to such shoes as "lace-ups" (I still have my black school Docs in my dress-up box!), but there is an entire stylistic vocabulary of them, which I have summarised over at The Hipster Tipster.

Already in my overstuffed wardrobe is a pair of black patent-leather winklepickers. I bought them from Dimmey's after seeing them on Fashion Hayley's blog. They are extremely pointy and I have struggled to find a way to wear them, although I might try again this winter as mod style seems to be making a revival.

Also, recently I was at my parents' house and my dad was bagging up some old clothes for the op-shop. In the pile was a pair of tan wingtips (or, perhaps more accurately, longwings, now I look at them). They were Balenciaga – Dad was giving them away because they were slightly too small, but they fitted me! So I polished them up:

The colourful socks are important. But I don't really want to wear my man-shoes with pants, even though right now I am wearing my new ones with my harem pants because that's what I dragged on this morning to have breakfast at the unholy hour of 9am.

I'd rather wear them with tights and skirts; they have a certain 1930s or 1940s look to them. But it's not really cold enough yet to do that.

Anyway, now you know all about this important topic. In other ridiculous sartorial news, I dressed up as Phryne Fisher for Lorelei's birthday party, which included attaching a sheepskin collar to my orange overcoat. I liked the look so much that I am thinking of purchasing some fake fur so I can make several interchangeable fur collars for the coat this winter.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Everybody parfum tonight. I have a stupid habit of reading perfume reviews on the internet. It is ridiculous because obviously I have no way to judge what the perfume actually smells like. They are more ways to tell me if there is a critical mass around certain perfumes: if they are populist, or cult favourites, or acquired tastes, etc.

Basically my theory about perfumes is that there are a number of ways we choose them:

1. You were given the perfume as a gift, then keep buying it for yourself or getting more similar gifts.
2. Perfume was suggested to you by an authoritative source, including books, magazines, websites, retail staff.
3. Perfume has accumulated glamour of a pretty bottle and packaging, beautiful advertising, celebrity association, and/or a famous, storied history.
4. Perfume holds good memories, whether of a friend, lover or relative who wore it, or an association with a pleasant time in your own past.

My first perfume was Dewberry by the Body Shop, which for me is still sentimental. I got through an entire bottle of the essential oil, which came with a little plastic spatula in the lid to smear on your skin. I still have a bottle of the eau de toilette, which has surprising staying power, and I wear it to '90s theme parties as my 'method perfume'.

I used to believe strongly in the notion of a 'signature scent' because I strongly associate particular scents with particular people and enjoy the idea that people might recognise me by my own perfume. (I often wonder what I must smell like to other people, and worry that I smell bad.) But now I like the idea of having several different perfumes and changing them depending on my mood and the occasion.

My current taste in perfume tends towards the old-fashioned, and is also heavily shaped by the perfumes my mother wore in my childhood (especially when going on date nights). Sometimes I worry that I smell like a grandma. But I'm cool with that if the alternative is smelling like a cupcake, a bowl of fruit or a beaker of acrid, nostril-sizzling synthetic fluid (eg Thierry Mugler's Angel).

I am in no way an authority on perfume but my online research has led me to associate the perfumes I like with the descriptions "floral", "aldehyde", "powdery" and "chypre". What I tend to respond to is a sense of complexity: that it's not a single punchy, identifiable scent but something mysterious that's hard to associate with any one odour; instead it's perfectly itself. 

That said, I am fascinated by rose perfumes and always try them out when I come across them. Two that are trumpeted on the internet are Rose Essentielle by Bvlgari and Stella by Stella McCartney, but I found the former too sweet and cloying, and the second too synthetic and cheap-smelling. 

Here are the perfumes I wear:

Chanel No.5 Eau de Toilette: The eau de parfum is actually my favourite iteration of this, but the EDT smells delicious too. My favourite French teacher at school, Mrs Watson, wore this, and I love its warm, complex scent. I also like its weight of cultural history – I feel as though I'm part of a continuum of women who've loved this perfume over almost a century. I also have No.5 Eau Premiere, which I got for my last birthday, but I haven't even opened that yet. I should.

L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci: I think of this as my 'summer' perfume. Around 2006-7 it was my 'boost of confidence in social situations' perfume but I tend to use No.5 for that now. For me it smells very fresh and light, almost melony or soapy (see what I mean about the ridiculousness of trying to describe perfume?), but with a complexity you don't tend to find in recent perfumes (this was first released in 1948).

Estée by Estée Lauder: I came across this by accident in a perfume shop while buying a bottle of L'Air du Temps. To me it smelled like a sweeter, more powdery version of No.5. I wore it as my primary perfume throughout 2009-10 and got a lot of compliments on it. I've almost gone through the bottle, but I don't wear it much at the moment.

Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop: This is as cheap as chips – it's less than $20 from the chemist – but it has sentimental associations with my mother, who used to wear it back in the '80s. Unlike lots of sweet, vanilla-tinged rose perfumes, what I like about Tea Rose is that it smells fresh, almost green, as though it includes the smell of the rose leaves and stems as well as the blossoms. This is embarrassing to admit, but I tend to wear it with pink outfits. A little goes a long way and I worry that it can be an olfactory assault.

Lately I have been thinking I want to get another perfume, something spicier and more oriental than anything I already have. The frontrunners are Givenchy's Ysatis, Arpège by Lanvin and Shalimar by Guerlain. They are all very well-known perfumes and like a dirty hipster I can't help wishing I could stumble across some perfect but obscure perfume. 

I probably won't take the plunge, but it occupies my time pleasantly to browse perfume reviews on the internet and when I have a spare hour or so, to haunt department-store perfume counters.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Getting to the end of my faerie tether. So I've been reading the Meredith Gentry books by Laurell K Hamilton, aka "faerie pr0n". They follow pretty much all the writing conventions of terrible supernatural fiction, with the addition of really badly written sex scenes.

Meredith NicEssus, aka Merry Gentry, is a faerie princess who fled the royal court and is living in hiding as a private investigator in LA. Her evil aunt the Queen and her even more evil cousin the Prince want her dead because she's one-quarter human, one-quarter brownie and (worst of all) mortal.

But then, mysteriously, her aunt gives her this magic fertility ring and she has to have sex with anyone it 'speaks to' when she touches him. She has a circle of guards who are basically super-hott faeries with various outlandish skin/eye/hair combos, cool powwuhs and dreadful dress sense. If she gets pregnant she marries whoever knocked her up and her aunt will step down to make Meredith queen and her babydaddy king, because no faeries have been born in ages and they're worried they're dying out.

Well, look, let's be honest here – I quite liked the first couple of books. They showed Merry trying to balance the human world with the faerie world, royal court intrigue with her day job. And I liked the treatment of sex as powerfully generative and therapeutic, and as an expression of respect and honesty between the partners.

However, I'm now reading the seventh one, and Hamilton has dropped the whole PI subplot and set of characters, and I'm realising how heavily she's leaning on stock phrases. As the series goes on, the plotting and pace get looser and more nonsensical. Each book now takes place over the course of about one day, and will be a lurching combination of three basic plot elements:

– Meredith has sex (usually this also has magical elements).
– Meredith has really tedious, drawn-out conversations with people about forming and maintaining alliances, or whether this or that small action or revelation will anger one or more of her enemies.
– Meredith is attacked by one or more of her enemies and usually fends off the attack by having sex and awakening magical powers. One or more of her favourite guards will be injured and she will sook about oh no, what if he dies! Please, Goddess, don't let him die!

The book will then end on a really weird, abrupt note that isn't either a cliffhanger or a resolution, and anything that doesn't make sense can be conveniently forgotten or fixed with the rationale, "The Goddess did it!" or "Time works differently in Faerie!"

Spoiler alert: skip to the next paragraph if you actually intend to read these books. A major source of tension is which one of her guards will impregnate Meredith; after faeries are married they have to be strictly monogamous. But Hamilton solves that using the crappiest faerius ex machina of all time: turns out she's carrying twins, and each kid has three fathers, so everyone gets to be the babydaddy! None of her lovers seems bothered by the fact the kid will only carry 16.7 per cent of his DNA, and that Meredith is potentially gestating some insane mutant in her faerie uterus.

The sex scenes are becoming especially poorly written, which is bad news as they are the only reason to plough through the rest of the book. What bothers me is that Hamilton refuses to refer to genitals except in the most coy and allusive manner. If you weren't aware of basic sex acts, you would be utterly lost and confused. For instance:
I caressed my fingers down his body, wiggling lower so that I could cup the hard, swelling richness of his body in my hands. I wrapped one hand around that hardness, and put my other hand on the softness below so that I could cup him gently as I began to stroke him with my first hand.
What? How many hands has she got? What's she cupping? Where's she stroking? And what happened to the richness now she's all about the softness and the hardness?

But this next bit was what almost made me give up on the whole series:
He moved one hand to touch my shoulder. "Meredith, if you do not stop, I will go."
"I want you to go into my mouth," I said.
The correct verb would have been 'come'! As written, Hamilton makes it sound as if he will actually miniaturise himself and hop inside her mouth. Sillier things have happened in these books.

I only have one-and-a-half of these books left to read, so I will soldier on. Life's so tough! :-D

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Where the magic happens. Today I cleaned my desk. The entire right half of it was a giant pile of papers – bills, forms, invitations, newspapers, publishers' catalogues. Now it is neatly organised and I have plenty of room. Of course, I have not done anything with the left half, which has various empty drink bottles and metastasising piles of CDs.

I actually tried to sell them at Dixons back in December when I was super-poor; I took two green bags full of CDs and DVDs down there, but they only bought about a quarter of them. But while I was browsing the shop waiting for the snooty record-store nerd guy to go through them, I saw they had LMFAO's Sorry For Party Rocking. Unbelievable!

The impetus for the big clean was that desktop organiser you now see on my desk, which my mother gave to me because it was on her desk at work and she wasn't using it. Having a mother who is a primary-school teacher means I am constantly being offered stationery.

The organiser replaces the stack of books that was growing there.

I moved the stack of books to the floor in front of my bookshelf, which also got a massive cull back in Super-Poor December; I took two green bags of books to Searchers second-hand bookshop in Fitzroy. I had better luck offloading books than getting Dixons to take my CDs and DVDs. But since then I have managed to replenish the shelves. They are like Magic Pudding bookshelves.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Five-minute Photoshop. Also, I felt disappointed that I didn't get more play this week from this quick'n'dirty Photoshop I did of Julia 'Peppy' Gillard and Ban Ki-Moon in The Artist.

I did this in about five minutes after seeing the pic of JG and BKM actually striking this pose (I didn't 'shop two separate pics together). I wish I'd done a better job with the clone-stamp tool now.

I was hoping Dan would enjoy my Photoshop joke, seeing as he's currently interning at the UN. Here's another one I 'shopped for Dan after he said on Facebook that he sometimes confused 'Rebecca' and 'Chewbacca'. I posted it on his wall saying, "Hey Dan, I found a book at the op-shop that you might like".

Here's one I did after noticing they gave Sophie Cunningham a headset mic for her feminist keynote at last year's Melbourne Writers' Festival:

And here's one I sent to Melanie after she related that she had baked some sourdough bread that looked like Quasimodo. It is 'quasi-sourdough'!

I get such joy out of sweding these crappy pictures. I just wanted to collect a few of them here because they can be so ephemeral otherwise.

Forgive me Stanley, for I have sinned. It has been nine months since my last haircut, and I trimmed my own fringe twice in that time. This was basically a combination of procrastination and extreme poverty; by the time I figured I needed a haircut, I just didn't have the monies. I was really worried about what my hairdresser Stanley would say when I went back.

Here is what I looked like after the last haircut on 20 May 2011.

The reason I look so unhappy is not only because I have terrible ruddy skin, but also because I had had my hair dyed (I wanted a darker shade of red 'for winter'), but was angry that they had basically dyed it brown rather than red. Of course, my family and friends all thought I looked more 'natural' with the brown hair, but dammit I am not spending money on a salon dye job to end up with brown hair. The photo was after the redye appointment, which was done by someone else; my original colourist refused to speak to or look at me.

Nine months later, here I am first thing on Tuesday morning, 28 February 2012. I gave up the fringe trim thing, hoping to have grown it sufficiently that I could create a quiff from it for Lucy's wedding on 7 January. Then I thought what's the point in cutting it when I can just get Stanley to cut it. And then the weather was so gross and hot that I took to pinning it up out of the way and looking like some Exclusive Brethren teenager.

You can see how pale the ends of my hair look; this is called epic split ends.

This is how my hair looked on Tuesday afternoon after my haircut. Stanley cut up to three inches off it in places. I have wavy hair and Stanley loves to bring out the 'movement' in it. He always looks so pleased that it feels churlish to ask for a proper blow-dry. So I let his assistant mercilessly twist and scrunch my hair and I was well on my way to looking like Sarah Connor in The Terminator.

However, when blow-drying my own hair, my priority is to instil both smoothness and volume. I usually concentrate on the roots and then the ends will just do their own thing.

And whala! My hair, today, as photographed in a stiff breeze in my backyard. (I am also wearing Hulk Primer in this photo.) Stanley also let me know in a pitying way that he trims people's fringes for free. Thank you for reading this very important blog post about my hair.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Fresh goes better. I imagine that comedians get into comedy because they want gratification that the things they find amusing are also funny to other people. It is so disheartening when you've shared something you think is hilarious but other people just look at you as if you are insane. And then you write about it on your blog… boohoohoo…

Anyway, today I went into the IGA to buy some mints but they didn't have my favourite brand, so I had to buy Mentos. Then I walked out of the shop popping a Mentos in my mouth and laughed long and hard to myself in the street like a lunatic, because I realised that by solving a stupid everyday problem using Mentos, I had just created my very own Mentos ad!

Jaunty MUSIC swells with expectant doo-wop harmonies. Continues over 
A young, attractive WOMAN [what? this is my TVC] enters the supermarket, eagerly scanning the candy racks by the counter. 
MUSIC: "It doesn't matter what comes, fresh goes better in life…" 
Her face falls. There's a big empty space and a SOLD OUT sign in the rack.  
MUSIC: "…with Mentos fresh and full of life…" 
She gazes imploringly at the middle-aged male CASHIER, who shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. 
MUSIC: "…Nothing gets to you, staying fresh, staying cool, with Mentos fresh and full of life…" 
Her gaze turns to the Mentos rack, which is the only one full of delicious minty candy. A smile spreads over her face. She grabs a packet and, tilting her head back, squeezes a lozenge into her mouth. Instantly she looks more relaxed. The cashier looks alarmed and starts gesticulating – she hasn't paid yet! 
MUSIC: "…Fresh goes better, Mentos freshness…" 
The woman turns on her heel and happily marches out the door with her Mentos.  
MUSIC: "…Fresh goes better with Mentos, fresh and full of life!"

The agitated cashier appears in the doorway, rushing after the blithe shoplifter. We see his POV of the woman skipping down the street. She's so happy he can't bring himself to chase her. She winks at him, and he simply smiles indulgently and shakes his head. 
She turns and thrusts the pack of Mentos over her shoulder at the camera. Freeze frame, super appears under. 
SUPER and PACK SHOT: Mentos the Freshmaker 
V/O: Mentos – the freshmaker.

Don't worry – in real life I paid for the Mentos and they were $2! They are pretty crap as a 'freshening' product though – they're just a candy and I've never been sure whether it's best to chew or suck them.

How to write a terrible supernatural romance novel. God help me, I've been devouring really crappy supernatural romance (aka 'urban fantasy') fiction lately, to the point where I worry that I am inuring my critical faculties to a better calibre of literature. As Gabourey Sidibe says, "Once you go black Hitler, you never go back Hitler!"

Ahem. Anyway, I was thinking things have got so bad I am almost in the position to pen a how-to guide about writing really awful supernatural romance novels. Here are some of the tips I've picked up along the way:

Everyone always has a really striking eye-hair-skin colour combo. Nobody just has those slate-blue or poo-brown eyes. Oh no, they've got to have enormous piercing sapphire-blue orbs, or sparkling emerald flecked with gold, and hair like spun rubies or black silk or such. For sheer banality, the worst offender on this ground is probably a book called Haunting Violet where the heroine is named Violet and guess what colour her eyes are? GREEN no, fooled you – they're violet!

And the dudes always tend to have either really long silken hair like Tolkien elves, or unruly mops of curls that are always falling in their (extraordinary) eyes, just making you want to brush them back. And everyone has radiant skin – it is always porcelain, or ivory, or alabaster, or golden or honey-coloured or chocolate-coloured. If freckled, only ever a light dusting.

Mouths are cruel, sensual or both. Nobody ever has thin Kenneth Branagh Muppet lips. Everyone has luscious ruby lips that curve upwards in either a cruel way or a sensual way, or both, and they're always "grazing" or "crushing" these lips against people. Also, people have a weird way of speaking into each other's necks in the heat of passion.

People wear the trashiest clothes. You'll be reading a description of someone's outfit, which the author clearly intends to be unbelievably alluring, and you get this sinking feeling that the character looks terrible. It'll be like, "I dressed carefully in my favourite black lace thong, then slipped on a form-fitting burgundy crushed-velvet backless evening dress, held together in the sides with criss-crossed mustard-coloured silk thongs to offer a glimpse of my mother-of-pearl flanks. I slipped into my four-inch gold platform shoe-boots and applied burgundy eye shadow to bring out the sparkle in my violet eyes, and wine-coloured lipstick so dark it almost matched my hair, whose highlights shone navy like the Atlantic on a cold February night."

Nonetheless, all the other characters will goggle and instantly want to 'be on' these tasteless people. "He swaggered into the room in his dove-grey, double-breasted linen suit over an olive-green Spandex muscle shirt, with matching tan loafers worn without socks. The pants were pleated and baggy in front, yet somehow delectably fitted in back. His long spun-silver hair was braided with dozens of gleaming pearls, then wound into a sinuous rope that hung casually over one shoulder. When he saw me, he stopped cold and caught his breath raggedly…"

The heroine turns out to have hidden powwuhs. She has to be human (or at least more comfortable in the 'human world' than the supernatural one) so readers will empathise with her. But she finds out she's really part-human, part-faeriwolvampangel (but all woman), or she's a slayer of faeriwolvampangels, psychokinetelepathic, and/or possesses a personal charm that makes all the faeriwolvampangels lust crazily after her. Not her personality, silly! Some primal quality, like her blood, or her sparkling eyes, or just her general sex appeal.

The heroine loves reading. It's another way she's like you, the reader, who is reading this right now! She just loves to read. This trope is especially effective in period-set novels where even admitting to basic literacy is tantamount to shrivelling ballsacks for miles around. She'll never land a husband with a degenerate reading habit like that!

She is always very plucky and capable, but finds it hard to 'let people get close'. Either she's an obsessive workaholic, or she's worried people will reject her because of her powwuhs, or it's actually a cruel quirk of the powwuhs that she can't touch or be with people. There is usually at least one perfectly acceptable dude who admires and/or desires our heroine but has to pine after her from the margins because she either fails to notice him or he can't approach her, or maybe they've had a 'troubled history', which is usually code for 'he had a chance with me and fucked it up, and I'm too proud/emotionally scarred to allow him a do-over'. He usually hangs around brooding resentfully and cockblocking the hero.

Not everyone likes our heroine. There's usually an antagonist – often another woman, but sometimes a man – who bears a grudge against her for either no good reason at all, or a really unfair reason that she can't help. Often the antagonist considers the heroine a sexual threat, or sees her as an obstacle to getting what they want. They invariably despise the heroine as weak and pathetic, grossly underestimating her powwuhs and general pluck.

Immortals are both really bad and really great at cultural immersion. They still cling to many of the customs, technologies and habits that were around when they were alive, and use the corniest outdated language in implausibly broad original accents, despite having had centuries to get used to our world. Either that, or they instantly master our mortal gadgets like computers, cars and phones. When the heroine catches them in an anachronism, they always get misty and go, "I remember back in [insert really long time ago]…"

Look, there's probably heaps more but I'm sure I can return to this rich terrain in the inevitable 'volume 2' post.

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