Thursday, 28 March 2013

You Can't Roller Skate with a Toothpick in Your Mouth!

I woke up this morning at 4am. There is something about 4am that destroys me. It's as though no living creature should be awake at that time.

I felt an overwhelming rush of hopelessness. I couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't imagine how I would get through the next day, let alone the week, the month, the year, the ...

Life can become so complicated, so exhausting.

I was on the train this morning reading a short story by Somerset Maugham. The name of the story is The Fall of Edward Barnard. It's about a man who goes to Tahiti, probably in the 1920s, with the intention of making his fortune and then returning to Chicago to marry his fiancee. The plan falls apart, however, when the gentleman chooses a life of simplicity in Tahiti over a life of wealth and society in Chicago.

Maugham describes Tahiti as such:
Below them, coconut trees tumbled down steeply to the lagoon,
 and the lagoon in the evening light had the colour, tender and varied, of a dove's breast. 
On a creek, at a little distance, were the clustered huts of a native village, 
and towards the reef was a canoe, sharply silhouetted, 
in which were a couple of natives fishing. 
Then, beyond, you saw the vast calmness of the Pacific and twenty miles away, 
airy and unsubstantial like the fabric of a poet's fancy, 
the unimaginable beauty of the island which is called Murea.

As I've mentioned before, I am a city girl, through and through. But, even I could appreciate what Somerset Maugham was getting at. When the man in the story was asked to justify his decision to eschew a modern life, he responded:
Do you know that conversation is one of the greatest pleasures in life?
But it wants leisure. I'd always been too busy before. And gradually 
all the life that had seemed so important to me began to seem rather trivial and vulgar. 
What is the use of all this hustle and this constant striving? ... 
And what does all that activity amount to?

Later in the story, he quotes this famous line:
We know that it will profit a man little if he gain the whole world and lose his soul.

I realised, I am "soul weary". I long for simplicity, clarity, peace. I live in a largely self-induced chaos. I want to strip away the unessential, and figure out who and what gives me contentment.

My youngest son was roller skating in the house the other day. I was horrified to discover he had a toothpick in his mouth!

Today, it occurred to me that that is exactly how I feel about life. I feel like I'm roller skating with a toothpick in my mouth. Part of me is sailing around, experiencing the absolute joy of the moment, going as fast as I can, arms outstretched, embracing life ... but part of me is plagued by the terrible notion that, at any moment, I might stumble and fall, causing a toothpick to lodge in my trachea!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Tell Me What You Want ... What You Really, Really Want!

I was in an op shop, and I saw a pair of clogs! They were powder blue and the sweetest clogs. Instantly, I was transported back to my childhood!

My friends and I have spoken before about things we wanted as kids, but never got. Sometimes, we were given "versions" (probably cheaper!) of the things we actually wanted! My mom was so earnest in this, and I was so afraid of hurting her feelings, that I never showed the disappointment I felt.

My own children have no such concern for my feelings! They indicate their wants and needs with frightening alacrity. I'm on the fence about whether that is a good thing or not. Sometimes, I think what we didn't get as children helped define our sense of what we wanted as adults. Perhaps, it helped develop an understanding that we had to "work" for things we wanted, that we weren't just entitled to them because we wanted them! On the other hand, I think that sometimes getting exactly what you want as a child can be a good thing. It reinforces the positivity that comes with believing life does, on occasion, work out! That life can deliver the goods!

So, I wanted to write this blog as sort of a tribute to those childhood things I wanted, but didn't get. Which brings me back to the clogs! The ones I lusted after were leather and sleek and oh-so-stylish. Instead, my mom bought me a faux denim pair that were adorned with huge gaudy flowers and red laces! My toes used to hang over the edge and I could barely walk in them. I must have been a sight in my flares, my tube top and "clogs"!

I have to admit I was a bit of a tomboy as a kid, and I developed an enormous crush on a toy called a Big Wheel. This was an incredible piece of 70s' engineering ... a low-slung plastic tricycle, with a "hand break" you could pull to spin out! A bunch of kids in the neighbourhood had Big Wheels and I begged my mom for one. I didn't get a Big Wheel, but I did get an orange plastic skateboard! It might have been okay, except that all of our roads had gravel, and the wheels on the skateboard would get stuck, catapulting you off the skateboard and onto the asphalt!

Another item high on my wish list was a denim jacket. I really really wanted a denim jacket. This time, my mom bought me a mustard-coloured jacket in the "style" of a jean jacket! It went well with the two-tone shoes my dad had previously bought me because they were the only ones in the store that fit me, and he was too impatient to get me a proper pair of shoes. No word of a lie, these shoes were half-red and half-blue! They looked like bowling shoes. Even my mother looked horrified when she saw them. Perhaps, she imagined the mustard-coloured jacket would take the focus off the clown shoes.

Other coveted items included an Etch A Sketch, a Lite-Brite (which my cousins had!), and a proper Barbie doll. I have to say that I did get to use an Etch A Sketch much later on, as an adult, and was completely frustrated by how little I could actually "draw" using straight lines!! Architecture was clearly never going to be a career option for me. 

My mom, in her attempt to support her rather fluctuating feminist views, was completely opposed to buying me Barbie dolls. I wasn't a huge doll person myself, but ALL my friends had Barbies and ALL they did was play games involving Barbie. I had enough social issues, I NEEDED Barbie as currency. I thought my luck had changed when I went to a garage sale hosted by a friend of my mom's. This woman was an artist and apparently not concerned with how Barbie might warp her daughter's perspective on life. Her daughter was grown up now and she was prepared to sell me her whole collection ... kit and caboodle. You can't imagine my excitement at being presented with a mysterious leather case, apparently filled with Barbies and clothes. My mom relented. I was about to be initiated into social acceptance. I opened the case and could feel my face begin to burn, the tears pricking my eyes. These Barbies were ancient! They were practical, brown-haired dolls with conical breasts rivalling Madonna's infamous costume. The clothes they came with were tailored, conservative numbers, befitting secretaries and teachers. These Barbies were biding their time in offices until they could marry and have children, until they could become the housewives they were always meant to be. 

I accepted the case with as much grace as I could muster. I took my Barbies to my friends' houses, and tried to "modernise" them as best I could. Unfortunately, I couldn't dress my Barbies in any of the modern clothes. Nothing would fit over their very pointy breasts. My social currency was counterfeit!  

It wasn't all bad news, though. There were some toys I begged for and actually received! Two standouts were the pogo stick and the Easy-Bake Oven. Sadly, I bounced a few times on the much-anticipated pogo stick, only to discover that it promptly gave me a headache, and it was actually really boring! The Easy-Bake Oven was much more of a success. The only problem being that you cooked with a LIGHTBULB!! I can remember making my family eat the "cakes"! The fun really began when I ran out of the "official" cake mixes and started experimenting on my own. I loved my Easy-Bake Oven, but it didn't love me!
Generic child with her Easy-Bake Oven!

All of these experiences did teach me valuable lessons. They shaped me as a person! As long as my future career didn't involve straight lines, excessive bouncing, fashion, road racing, or cooking, I knew I would be on the right track!!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

I Fell in Love with a Polyester Nanna!

Recently, I went to a fundraiser for a hospital in East Timor. I knew absolutely nothing about East Timor.

Now, I know that East Timor is just over 600 kilometres off the coast of Darwin. I also know there is great diving there! And that the roads can be quite dangerous. I know that people get tapeworm because they keep pigs as pets and then kill them and eat them! Ok, that's all I really know about East Timor!

The fundraiser was for the Bairo Pite Hospital. The clinic is supported by Australia and is always in desperate need of funds and volunteers. It was confronting to eat and watch images of sick kids. I was left with that feeling of despair that there are so many needy people in the world, and so much injustice, but also with a positive feeling that on the flip side there are so many good people willing to help.

During dinner, I was looking around at the people in the room. People "give" for various reasons, some genuine, some self-serving. I felt an energy in the room that suggested these people were genuine. They were mostly an older crowd, with grownup children, many of whom were there, sitting at their own table.

I am really really bad at small talk, but I made an effort and muddled my way through. When dinner was over, however, that's when the real magic happened.

The event had a DJ, and, as I suspected, the music was of the "wedding" variety! My musical tastes are a little less mainstream. As soon as the music began playing, however, almost the entire crowd jumped up from their seats and swamped the dance floor. I sat in my chair completely gobsmacked! I've seen people run for buffets like that, but never a dance floor!! It's been a while since I've danced, so I wasn't sure if I was up to it. Then, a woman caught my eye. I can still picture her clearly.

She was wearing a safari-style outfit, pants and a jacket, with a nice blouse. Her hair had the "permed" look about it, but it suited her perfectly. She was immaculate. It was as though she'd stepped right out of the 70s, perfectly preserved. What caught my attention, more than her clothes even, was the smile on her face. She was having an absolute ball! She was dancing up a storm, and there was a look of happiness and joy on her face that made me feel so hopeful, so full of love. I dispensed with my dancing anxieties and took to the floor. I just had to be near her! I felt her energy, her passion. I fell in love with her style, her absolute grooviness!

This is what life is about, I thought. Loving when you can, dancing when you can, helping when you can, doing whatever you can ... but doing it with love and passion and joy!!!!

I don't know who my polyester nanna is, or where she lives, or even if she is a nice person! But I will never forget her smile. Rock on, Nanna, rock on!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Meditate on This!

The other day I actually wore a strapless bra to yoga. Yes, I do confess, it was in the name of vanity! Sometimes a girl's gotta do, what a girl's gotta do!

For Christmas, I bought myself a cool yoga top. Normally, I wear secondhand singlets that have seen better days. The cool top has a cool strappy thing at the back. I've admired the style on other women at yoga. Apparently, though, these women have REAL boobs!!

When I finally exchanged my maternity bras for real bras (which, I'm ashamed to admit, didn't happen until the need for said bras was long past), I discovered padded, push-up bras! I am so attached to my miracle bras that I honestly forget my boobs aren't real! These bras actually give me cleavage. Granted, I've never caught anyone, male or female, staring at that particular area of my anatomy, but, still ...!

I admit I was disappointed when I tried on my cool yoga top at home. You aren't supposed to wear ANY bra with this top. It has some elastic, extra fabric feature, which I imagine is supposed to give you support ... if you have something to support that is! In my case, it completely flattened out the little I have! OK, I know that yoga isn't about cleavage. And I know that vanity is really uncool and unspiritual and probably even unethical, and un-everything else. On top of that, I read an article in Sunday Life (yes, I know I said I would stop reading supplements!), entitled "I Use Botox and I'm a Feminist ... I've Come Clean". The article was written by ... wait for it ... Jessica Rowe!!! Jessica writes, and I quote: "My brand of feminism is about choice and supporting women and respecting the decisions they make for themselves ...". Of course, this article made me want to vomit.

And yet ... here am I, Madame Hypocrite, swanning off to yoga in her best black strapless ... without a tree pose leg to stand on! I spent the entire class worrying that my bra would end up around my waist, something that actually happened to me during a vigorous game of table tennis recently. I did, however, get several comments on my top!!!

The next day, though, it was back to a comfortable, daggy singlet. I haven't yet retired cool yoga top. Or made any resolution to go bra-less!! I had every intention of raising my daughter with a feminist sensibility, but I will admit, sadly, I can't say I have modelled that sensibility. All I've done, it seems, is pass on the confusion I learned from my mother! So, perhaps, as much as it pains me to admit it, Jessica and I are in the same "Rowe" boat! OK, that was a really bad pun, but I couldn't resist!

I don't know what the answer is. In fact, I'm quite sure I don't even know what the question is, either!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Me and My Brother

The other night I saw a Belgium movie called The Giants about three boys, two of whom were brothers. It was a simple film. The young teens had been left to fend for themselves and were trying to survive as best they could. This involved, among other things, lots of silliness, swearing, wrecking, ransacking, smoking, fighting and some farting. It was a very touching film.

The movie made me wonder what my three boys would be like, if left to their own devices. A terrifying thought! It also made me wonder about the complex relationship of siblings.

I have one brother who is five years older than me. We have a complicated relationship. There is no doubt that we both love each other, but we are very different people. Our parents' "dysfunctional" marriage meant that, like the boys in the movie, we were often left to figure things out for ourselves. We had to grow up fast. The legacy of those years, I believe, has affected our ability to be close now. Both of our parents are dead, so my brother is the only witness to my childhood.

I did a painting from a photograph I had of my brother and me, standing knee-deep in water at our grandmother's cottage. There was something about the way we were standing that made me want to paint it.

My brother is probably aged 10 in the photo, so I'm about 5. I am wearing a red two-piece bathing suit, with my back arched in that little girl way, tummy sticking out. I was no lightweight when I was little! I have a stunned mullet expression on my face. Very flattering! I think my mother must have been cutting my hair at the time. If she wasn't, she should have fired the hairdresser! I am pale and freckled. My brother is lean and brown. He is looking directly at the camera. His expression is confident, bemused. (I know he is just as insecure as I am, but doesn't show it. Still doesn't!) The angle of his body is what fascinates me the most. He is arching to the side, one hip thrust outward. It is such a boy pose, angular and athletic at the same time.

I sold the painting in a charity art show. The woman who bought it said there was something about the painting that reminded her of growing up and going to the beach. She said the painting brought back happy childhood memories! I was really thrilled that she bought the painting. And I was grateful she shared her story with me. I hope she has the painting on her wall somewhere. I like to think of it hanging in her house ... me and my brother!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

I'll Take My Feminism with a Dollop of Whipped Cream!

Have you ever had one of those awkward self-conscious moments when you just want the earth to swallow you whole? I had one the other day!

Here's the scenario. I was invited out for lunch with a group of women to celebrate International Women's Day. Yes ... I know ... that in itself can be problematic! But I am trying to say "yes" to things. Trying not to retreat into my usual place of safety.

I've never been relaxed about going out with people. To begin with, I'm never sure what to wear, and my anxiety has been heightened by a series of outfit blunders over the years. One of these disasters involved attending a feminist pot-luck supper when I was at university. This was a time when women's studies had emerged on the curriculum and there was a heightened sense of feminism. My mum had been a women's libber, so I was both drawn to and repelled by feminism!! I liked the aspects of female independence and choice, but I wasn't sure about the responsibility part! I still kind of liked the idea of being wooed by a guy and put on a pedestal. I still liked the idea of doors being held open and chairs pulled out! I wanted to be romantic and feminine but also kick-ass!

Things were a bit confusing in my house concerning women's rights. Firstly, my mother married a chauvinist, so she wasn't really off to a good start! Secondly, she proceeded to allow him to control her life and to rob her of what was left of her already low self-esteem. She would dutifully cook dinner for him, and then keep it warm in the oven while he was out drinking and spending the household money. Her main act of defiance was to play Helen Reddy's song "I Am Woman" at full volume.

On the flip side, however, my mother was largely responsible for establishing a lunch room at my primary school, so that women who worked wouldn't have to send their children home to an empty house at lunchtime. Ironically, my mother was a stay-at-home mum! She had strong feminist ideals and she would make them known, even if she couldn't follow through with them herself. I can remember her outrage at a Paul Anka song "(You're) Having My Baby"! My mother felt it was an affront to all women ... and, actually, listening to the song now, I think she may have had a point! YouTube it if you don't believe me! Here's the link:

To further add to my confusion, my mother also loved Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass! One of their album covers, called Whipped Cream and Other Delights, depicts a naked girl covered in whipped cream licking her finger! Not to mention, much of Herb's music sounds like stripper music! Is it any wonder I grew up confused?

So, back to my feminist pot-luck supper! My friends and I intended to go to the supper, after which we would kick on and see a band. We showed up at the poor host's house, dressed in our "going out" best. As I recall, I was wearing a red mini skirt and high heels. I had bright red lipstick, black eyeliner and my hair was teased and sprayed to within an inch of its life. Nothing says feminism like a mini skirt and high heels! The women were shocked at our appearance but had the decency not to make a big deal of it. I think they could see we were hungry undergraduates and despite our appearance our hearts were in the right place!

I wish I could say that my days of inappropriate dressing are far behind me, but alas not so. Only a couple of years ago I invited a friend to go to a cabaret style night out. I had it on good authority that everyone (and I mean everyone) dressed according to the theme of the event. On this occasion, the theme was based around the movie Caberet with Liza Minnelli. I donned my fishnets and hot pants with all the "divine decadence" I could muster. My friend did so as well. We arrived at the event to discover that everyone (and I mean everyone) was wearing normal clothes! To make matters worse, the event took place in a rather seedy district, making us look less like we were there for the entertainment and more like we WERE the entertainment!!

Now, back to my International Women's Day lunch. Are you still with me? I spent an uneasy afternoon trying to find something to wear! Something that said serious, but not too serious ... sophisticated but not too overstated. When I couldn't find anything in my wardrobe along those lines, I settled for op shop chic ... my favourite. I don't even have a proper going-out handbag. I have a backpack. It's a nice backpack, but it's still a backpack.

Things were going OK ... until I arrived, that is. I arrived right on time. Yes, right on time. Usually, I arrange to go to events with a friend, because I am so hopeless at entrances. I hate the awkwardness of arrivals. This time, however, I slipped up and went solo. I swanned confidently into the restaurant clutching my backpack, only to discover I was the first one there. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was a nice restaurant, with stuck up waitresses and lots of men in suits. The waitress sat me at a table for six, right in the middle! There I sat, like the proverbial sore thumb ... for half an hour!!! I was dressed appropriately, at least, but I still felt completely self-conscious. By the time the others finally arrived, avec swishy handbags, I might add, I was exhausted from trying to look relaxed and confident! I realised I had nothing left for the lunch. After placing my backpack surreptitiously under the table, I spent the rest of the lunch nodding and smiling. The conversation ranged from boob jobs to designer shoes to children's birthday parties!

As I sat there listening, one thought came to mind ... I'm still confused!