January 19, 2015

Stupid, stupid night

So you're in Bali and you've had a wonderful time, and you feel really blessed that you're able to take an overseas holiday with the kids. But you have to come home, and the only way to come home is a night flight on Garuda, leaving at 10.30pm.

You are not excited.

The bus picks you all up at 7.30pm. You are already tired and anticipating the hideous night ahead, but you try to be brave. You arrive at the airport at 8pm and check-in. Your seats are in the back of the plane near the toilets and you try to be more brave. Toilets are good. You often use toilets.

You kill an hour at the airport looking at shops and buying water, then head to the gate. There is nowhere to sit, so you and the kids sit on the floor. The floor is hard. Your kids start whimpering. You laugh internally as they ain't got nothin' to whimper about yet. Just you wait, kids. Just you wait.

It's all fun and games until the passengers arrive

The plane is half an hour late to board and you feel yourself getting more and more tense and more and more agitated. You don't want to get on the plane. You are tired and you want to go to bed, not sit bolt upright for seven hours in a capsule near the toilets. But you have to get on the plane. You have no choice. Oh shut up kids, stop whimpering, I'm more cranky than you.

You board, hauling your kids along with you. You find your seats fairly easily. (They are near the toilets.) You all sit down. It is cramped and stupid. Your head is hurting. The 7 year old is white with exhaustion. The 13 year old's eyes are hideously bloodshot. The 15 year old takes out his Nintendo.

You put on your seatbelt and turn to buckle the 7 year old's seat belt. She is fast asleep in the chair.

You breathe a sigh of relief. That's one less to worry about. You wait impatiently as the stupid pilot takes hours and hours (okay 30 minutes) to get the stupid idiotic plane in the stupid air. You finally take off. You don't crash, which is good. Everything else is bad.

You get out your neck rest to try to sleep. The 13 year old is almost crying with tiredness. She is uncomfortable and can't find a good position to sit in. But at least the 7 year old is sleeping.

You stroke the 13 year old's leg and put your seat back in the reclining position, which is about 3 centimetre's more 'reclined' than the upright position. It is about as 'reclined' as a ladder. A stupid, stupid ladder. You try to be brave. It is hard, because everything is just so stupid.

You shift in your seat, this way, that way, the other way. You put your legs on your tray table and your legs under your bum. You wish you could cut your bloody legs off so you can fit in that stupid seat. You get delirious with exhaustion, and pray for release.

And finally, finally, it comes. You fall asleep.

And then there is a tiny little jab in your side. A finger. "Mummy, mummy, I'm awake! I'm going to watch movies now!" It is the 7 year old. You have been asleep for 8 minutes.

The rest of the flight passes in a blur, a stupid, horrible, sick, headachy, cramped, backbreaking blur. You drift in and out of consciousness, waking up with a dry mouth and the smell of airplane oozing from every pore. You hate this aeroplane and everything in it more than you've hated anything in your life. And when the flight attendant turns on the lights to give you breakfast... at 3am Bali time... and who eats breakfast at 3am anytime?... you hate her more than everything else put together. Stupid, stupid flight attendant.

You finally arrive at 5am Bali time, which is 8am Sydney time, which is just as bad. You head out, revolting, fetid and blinking in the light. You collect your bags, go through customs, declare that giant wooden python you bought for $5 at the markets. It passes. You're so pleased. Now you can go back and smack the stupid flight attendant over the head with it.

But you don't. You herd the revolting, fetid, blinking kids outside, and wait about a day for a taxi. And then you get in the taxi, and arrive home, and you all collapse on your beds and sleep for about a year.

And then you wake up and do laundry. The holiday is over. Real life, in all its stupid glory, begins anew.

January 4, 2015

When Your Writing Compromises Another

Yesterday I read ‘An Open Letter To My Ex-Wife’ on Huff Post. Apart from the fact that the writing itself was sappy, self-indulgent, and utterly manipulative (Have sympathy for me! My wife left me despite me loving her so, so much I wrote this beautiful love note! How awesome a husband must I have been to be so loving! And so brave, too, to rise from the devastation of the break-up and pen this letter!) it infuriated me that anyone – the man, the editors of Huff Post – could compromise another person’s privacy so fully.

These days, anyone with access to the internet can tell their life story, share every intimate detail of their interpersonal interactions with the entire world. And with such easy access to a readership comes a seeming lack of boundaries, a falling away of the moral codes which prevent us from sharing stories that compromise another person’s privacy and integrity.

I understand why the author of the Open Letter wished to communicate with his ex. I’ve written many emails to my ex partner, and him to me. But why an open letter? The recipient of an open letter is not the purported addressee, but rather the public. D’Ambrosio was not communicating with his ex; he was communicating directly with his readers. He was attempting to convey to the world what a wonderful, loving husband he was, presumably to garner sympathy and/or manipulate his ex into taking him back - or, more likely, to pull sympathy away from her and her decision. And it is not fair on his ex, who presumably did not consent to having his version of their joint narrative shared with the public. There is a line that exists between sharing one’s own stories and exploiting the other people in your life, and he crossed it.

And he’s not the only one. I am so dispirited by the myriad of pieces I read every day that ruthlessly and insensitively appropriate other people’s narratives. Mothers reveal their children’s deeply personal struggles, adult children write of their parents’ private lives, siblings write of old wrongdoings, without permission, without considering the extent to which it would compromise the other person.

Now, obviously our own narratives are shaped by our experiences in relation to the other people in our lives. Without sharing details of the way their lives impacted ours, we would have no stories. I am reading Dear Sugar’s brilliant book at the moment, and she writes of her husband’s infidelity (presumably with his consent) and her father’s abuse (presumably without). And in both cases, these stories are vital to the message she is conveying to the reader. In the first case, she is writing of the complexities of marriage, and how infidelity does not necessarily have to be a deal breaker. In the second, she is advising a girl who needs to cut off contact with her father, for reasons similar to her own.

Stories in contexts like these have meaning and purpose. They are not exploitive because they are fundamental to the story, and withhold the most personal of details. But when a story is there purely to titillate or garner hits, and it could compromise or embarrass the subject, then it is exploitation in its purest form.

Fiction writers often claim to write fiction to ‘tell the truth’, and that resonates strongly with me. If your writing could compromise other people in your life, then write it as fiction. Write it anonymously and change the names. Write it under your own name and change identifying details. And if you can’t do any of that, show some damn restraint. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Writers need a moral code too. And readers don’t like to be party to someone else’s impropriety.

December 10, 2014

Real Single Mothers of Sydney

From the makes of The Biggest Bully and Embarrassing Doctors comes a brand new reality TV series: The Real Single Mothers of Sydney.

Follow single mothers Kerri Duckbill, Nicki McDonkadonk, Sassy Bonercrusher and Lucy 'One Date' Levi as they navigate parenthood, dating, sex, careers and the 5/2 diet whilst warding off existential angst and the advances of that sleazy old guy down at the cafe.

Watch as they struggle with weight, go on bad dates, drink too much coffee, drink too much wine, drink too little water, and tend to their ailing parents. See them argue with their ex spouses, fight for child support, attend family court, and have sex with emotionally unavailable men who are excellent in bed.

Cry as their self esteem plummets and they question their ability to ever connect with anyone on an intimate level ever again. Laugh as they swipe left on Tinder and notice married men who are fathers at their children's school. Cheer them on as they squeeze into a mini and push up bra to go see a man they met on the internet. Nod as the man they met on the internet turns out to have the personality of a lightly seared chicken fillet, which, incidentally, is their son's favourite meal though their daughter won't eat anything 'juicy'.

Synopsis: Episode One

Nicki McDonkadonk is told by her doctor to lose five kilos and consoles herself with high calorie hi-jinx, and a surprising method of self-pleasure. Sassy Bonercrusher rejects an intriguing proposal from a younger man, and argues with her son about vegetables. Lucy 'One Date' Levi flirts with her family lawyer, who has a shocking revelation about Nicki McDonkadonk's sexual performance. Kerri Duckbill spends hours wandering around Westfield, goes to therapy, and sobs in a variety of locations around Sydney.

To interview the stars of Real Single Mothers of Sydney, leave a comment below, or go to the school gates this afternoon where they will all be congregating after 3.30pm.

November 26, 2014

An Open Letter to Westfield about a Thrilling Proposal

Anyone who knows me will be aware that Westfield Bondi Junction is my spiritual home. I spend hours there, either doing the grocery shopping, grabbing a coffee, getting my acrylic nails repaired after I bite them off, or just wandering aimlessly, absorbing the seething humanity.

But there is something missing from Westfield. It's got the shops and the cafes and the movie theatre and the supermarkets and the high end boutiques and the people who stop you and try to rub hand cream on you even though you're carrying bags in both hands and walking quickly towards the exit.... But it doesn't have a cultural centre.

It doesn't have Culture.

And this is where I come in.  I can be Westfield's Writer in Residence. I can bring Culture to the mall. I could be set up at a desk on a little platform in the middle of the centre - perhaps surrounded by a small picket fence - and write away on my laptop. People can stop and watch as I write, marvel at the creative process, breathe in my literary energy. They can ask questions and I will answer them, inspiring and supporting other writers to stretch their wings and let the words fly. And I, in turn, can be energised and nourished by their presence (and get free Wifi and coffee, and the occasional chocolate snowball from the cafe on Level 2).

Of course, it's not just Westfield Bondi Juntion that needs Culture. Every Westfield could have its own Resident Cultural Person. Other Writers in Residence, or perhaps Artists in Residence, Musicians in Residence, even Interpretive Dancers in Residence (in fact, I could probably double as an Interpretive Dancer in Residence when the writer's block kicks in).

Westfield would benefit from the injection of art (and from the hoards of people flocking to see us in action), and we would benefit from being around those who inspire us - The People. (Also, there are much better sandwiches at the Food Hall than there are at home.)

If you agree, or are interested in applying for your own position at Westfield, please comment below, or hit Westfield up at @westfieldau. Support the cause! Bring art to your local mall! And make sure I get my egg mayo sandwiches every day!

November 24, 2014

The Huge Flaw in Online Dating

One of the tough aspects of being single (apart from, well, the loneliness, the sexual deprivation, the having-no-one-to-go-to-the-movies-with, and the talking to myself at night) is to learn about other people finding partners. It's not that you begrudge anyone else a love interest; it's just that you think, how come they can find someone, and I can't?

Charles Manson, for example. He has found a fiancee and I don't have a date for Saturday night. Do you know what that does to my ego? He is a serial killer with a swastika carved into his forehead and a life sentence for murder! Clearly I am doing this all wrong.

In reality, however, I have decided to take a break from dating for a while. But taking a step back  has given me some valuable perspective, particularly about the online scene. 

It is very difficult to meet people organically if it is not through contacts. I don't meet people through work contacts because I work from home, and there aren't many people here.  (Hang on... I hear something in the kitchen.... No, no, it's just the cat.) And I don't meet many people through friends because very few of my friends know anyone single who is even remotely suitable for me. So if I do want to meet people, I have to either hang out at pubs (and seriously? I'd rather eat my own bedsocks) or go online.

But there is a serious problem with online dating: it is inextricably tied to appearance. Now, here's the irony - I am not someone to whom appearance is particularly important. I have been madly in love with men who are not at all conventionally attractive. But that's because I had time to get to know them, and fell in love with them for their personality, and the attraction followed.

When you are dating online, you simply don't get that opportunity. You cannot possibly date everyone, and so you have to be selective. And how do you select? Most men give only the briefest of bios, so all you know is their age, educational status, suburb, whether or not they have kids, and a short tag line. If there is Bob, who you find physically unappealing on initial look, Phil, who you find physically unappealing on initial look, and John, whose appearance appeals, who are you going to pick? You'll pick John. 

Hello, John! Is it me you're looking for?

Now, it's possible that you would find Bob or Phil attractive if you went out with them several times and got to know them, but that's a huge amout of time to invest on a complete stranger. And most of us just don't have that much time.

There are thousands of Bobs and Phils online. Maybe one of them could be my future partner. But the paradigm of online dating means that I probably won't find him, because I don't have time to spend getting to know thousands of men in the hope that one of them will become attractive to me after several dates. And so I'll stick with the Johns, which a) is incredibly limited, because there aren't that many Johns online, and b) is a ridiculous criteria for meeting people.

But how else do you do it? How would you do it? How do you do it? Is the man in the picture single? Do you think he's financially secure and is comfortable around children?

And has Charles Manson's fiancee ever tried RSVP? Do you think that's what pushed her over the edge??

November 17, 2014

So.... Last year I failed.

So. I have just finished writing my fourth book. I submitted it to my agent today. It is my first attempt at fiction. I enjoyed writing it. I just finished re-reading it and I was excited to find out what happened. Which was odd, because I knew. But I think it is a good sign.

Now, those of you who are familiar with my career might be scratching your heads. Hasn't she only written two books? When My Husband Does the Dishes and The Little Book of Anxiety?

Well, no. Those are the books that have been published. I wrote my third book last year. It is still sitting in my computer.

My third book was a memoir about grief. It was the story of my sister and I, intertwined with another painful episode in my life. The four publishers who saw it all said it was beautifully written. None of them would publish it. They said it was too sad and that they couldn't market a book about grief.

Getting that news was one of the lowest points of my life. Not the absolute lowest, obviously; I mean, hey, I've written a memoir about grief! I know what low moments look like! But it was pretty grim. I was fairly recently separated, and struggling to build a new life alone. I had taken a risk in writing a different kind of book, one which wasn't funny, or light, or easy to read. And I had taken time away from doing income-generating work, which was even more of an issue now that I was a single mum.

And I was used to success. My other two books were snapped up. I was always deeply grateful for my good fortune in being published, but I honestly never imagined that this third book wouldn't go the same way. I thought it would be a best seller. I thought it would soar. Instead I was told it wouldn't be published.

I was crushed. Crushed. I mean, temporarily broken. I sobbed non-stop for about thirty hours. I was beyond devastated. All that work, all that love, all that faith, gone to waste. It was a kick in the solar plexus. I was winded. I was inconsolable.

And then I finished crying, and I got up, and I got on with my life. And, once the dust had settled, I started another book.

I never mentioned my Grief Book (as I think of it) because I was ashamed. I was ashamed of the failure. But I'm not ashamed anymore. I'm not ashamed because I've picked myself up and tried again, and I'm happy with what I've written, and I'm hoping for good things.

And you know what? Maybe one day the Grief Book will be published. Maybe I'll self publish it and I'll sell a billion copies. Maybe I'll self publish it, and only one hundred people will read it, but out of those one hundred people, ten are deeply moved. I don't know. Life is long. There are many options ahead.

Keep trying, is what I'm saying. Keep pushing forward. You will have failures, you will have roadblocks, you will have bitter disappointments. But they fade, and you are left with the challenges and joys of today.

I hope my agent likes my new book. I hope it goes far. And if it doesn't, I will give it all up and get a job as a barista.

Or I'll write another book.

Yeah. Probably that.

November 10, 2014

Extroverts Have Problems Too

Recently I read a fascinating insight into How To Understand An Introvert. Not being an introvert myself, this was utterly revelatory to me.

I am an extrovert. Really, as extroverted an extrovert as one can be. And - whilst I am sure it can be challenging being an introvert - it is exceedingly challenging being someone like me.

Extroverts need interaction like other people need food. If I do not get my daily quota of meaningful interaction, I feel as spiritually hungry as you might without meals. I feel cranky, frustrated, empty, even a little depressed. And so I talk to everyone - and I mean everyone - to get my fill of conversation. I talk to taxi drivers, people at the grocery store, parents waiting at school, the barista who makes my coffee. I am one of those sad old ladies who talk to the bank teller when I'm depositing money, except that I'm not actually sad, and I'm not even all that old.

It was easy being an extrovert when I was younger and worked in an office environment. I would talk to people all day, and then come home and debrief with my husband.

Now I work alone, at my desk, writing words into a computer, and I live with my kids, without the company of another adult. My computer listens to me, but doesn't talk back, which makes getting my share of discussion immensely difficult to achieve. On the days I have places to go and people to see, I will talk incessantly to anyone who will listen. On the days I don't have anywhere particular to be, I will spend a great deal of time on social media, letting my fingers do the talking for me.

The thing is, despite being an extrovert, I am happy in my own company. I couldn't spend all this time alone if I wasn't able to entertain myself. And I can and do entertain myself. I read and I think and I write and I watch Girls on DVD and I keep myself occupied. But needing to find my daily fix of stimulation is a constant struggle.

As an extrovert, I don't much like travelling alone. And when I do travel, I prefer going to populated areas. I don't like huge crowds, but love being with small groups of people in which we can have meaningful interaction. And I find it difficult to rein in my conversation; I tend to get a little overexcited in the company of people I like.

Oh, and I tend to dance in my undies a lot. But I don't actually think that has anything to do with being an extrovert. I just think that has something to do with me.

Extroverts, like introverts, face challenges every day. We just need to talk about our challenges a whole lot more than you do. And we tend to hold up lines at supermarkets, because we're chatting to the cashier. I'm sorry about that. I'm happy to discuss it if you wish.

For challenges faced by extroverts, see here.

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