Looking tired? Try joie de vivre.

While driving past a clinic in Albion last week, I saw a sign out front that read “Looking tired? Try botox.” I can’t begin to enumerate how many things are wrong with this kind of shit, but let’s start with: why pay some shyster hundreds of dollars to inject muscle- and nerve-paralysing toxins in your face just because you’re looking like you’ve lived a little? An appearance of beauty has little to do with smooth skin, and much more to do with vivacity, passion, exultation of spirit.

When I was in England, I watched a fabulous show about Rome hosted by this awesome woman on my right. Her name is Mary Beard, and she’s a professor of classics at Cambridge university, and she’s full of life and light and intelligence and fun. And yet, some limp-dick TV critic  had a crack at her for being “too ugly for TV”. Professor Beard took him down in this restrained and smart riposte, but a few other people have leapt to his defence. Women in the public eye, they say, should take more care with their apperance.

You know what? This obsession with looking “perfect” has simply got to stop. It’s so. Fucking. Stupid. Judging others’ appearance, worrying that you’re butt’s too big, fiddling with your expression: it would only make sense if we lived life in 2D. But we live in 3D. More importantly, we love people in 3D. We love people for smell and heat and texture and sound and energy. All the people I know who are beautiful are full of laughter and energy. We, in turn, are loved in 3D, not for how photogenic we are. I really believe the answer is to get the fuck out of this limited 2D mindset. Stop buying magazines and poring over celeb photos. Stop taking photos of yourself on your iphone and being horrified by how jowly you look or how big your nose seems or any of those UTTERLY MEANINGLESS 2D concerns. Apprehend the world in 3D. Be in the world, don’t be a flat shape in the margins with a frozen smile and your head held at the perfect angle. Live, for chrissake. That’s beautiful.

Politicks and Ladies (swear warning)

I’ve hesitated to write this post, because there’s an old-fashioned part of me that warns me never to speak about politics (or money or religion) in polite company. But I figure this isn’t polite company necessarily, and I do so want to say a few things.

I’m an ALP voter. I like their whole social justice, spend-money-on-education ethos, even if sometimes they are a bit dodgy about holding strong on those things. I hate the Coalition, like, with a passion. Rich people moaning, that’s what they are to me. (By the way, I’m not going to publish any comments from Coalition supporters, so don’t bother posting them. It’s my blog and I’ll do as I damn well please).

So then we had this election and WTF? W? T? F?

I know there was a lot of shit going down, but I have a horrible sinking feeling that gender played a big part in the WTF-ness that was Saturday’s election. First, when J-Gill took over, everyone was all like, “oh the union heavies put her in there”. Implication: women are always men’s pawns. Then, the media were all like, “this is what she’ll look like old!”, “this is what she looks like glamorous!”, “she has red hair!” Or, if they weren’t talking about her appearance, they were all like, “she’s going to move her boyfriend into the Lodge!”, “she’s setting a bad example for women on marriage!”, “she’s only got one piece of fruit in her fruit bowl!” I mean, FFS, people. F. F. S.

And then, because she knew she was already pushing shit uphill with a pointed stick cos she is a lady, she took such a conservative line on everything. Boat people? Really, Julia? Those 1500 or so poor, sad bastards that struggle into our country every year because they would rather spend weeks on a leaky stinking boat than stay where they live because shit is THAT BAD for them? And gay marriage? Really, Julia? As a defacto-living aetheist, like you give a shit about marriage-is-an-institution and God and whatever. I reckon she knew these were dumb, conservative things to say. But when you’re trying to get elected while in the possession of a vajayjay, I guess you try to appear as unthreatening as possible.

And then there’s Tony Abbott with his misogynist bullshit about virginity being a “gift” for the right guy. When do the ladies get their gift in the bedroom, Tones? Oh, by the way, I don’t want my gift from you. Unsexiest man EVER. (And yes, I can say that cos it’s MY FRICKIN BLOG).

And amongst it all “working families” “working families” “working families”. I work. I have a family. Is that me? Cos I don’t recognise myself in your anti-boat, anti-gay, let’s-just-wait-and-see-on-climate-change bumwank.

So now we’ve got what they deserved, a hung parliament. I kinda think WE deserved better. We deserved a viable alternative to the Tweedledee/Tweedledum BS that is the two-party lockdown. If God had meant for us to vote, he would’ve given us candidates.

Why I hate sports

I’m just going to come right out and say it. I hate all sports. Even the ones I sometimes like. Now this is, of course, downright unAustralian of me so I’m going to try to defend my position.

First of all, you need to know that I am not opposed to physical activity. I’m a relatively fit and healthy individual. My cholesterol is freakishly low, as is my blood pressure. I go for walks pretty regularly and take the stairs instead of the lift most of the time. So this isn’t about me feeling all threatened by people with hard bodies (I tend to think women look better with soft bodies anyway).

What I hate most of all is the brittle rhetoric that surrounds almost all sporting endeavour. The bullshit about “teamwork” and “sportsmanship” and “giving it your best”. Everybody knows that sport is all about winning. Even when they say, “it’s not about winning” it’s about winning. The forum I in which I resent this rhetoric the most is children’s sports.

Imagine, if you will, an eight-year-old who reads poorly. Nothing stupid about her: just a combination of sluggish genetics and indifferent parents and she’s behind the rest of the class. Now, let’s give her a book and make her read in front of the whole school community. “Come on,” they’ll say, “give it a go. It’s not about being the best.” Her vision tunnels, her ears start to ring, she struggles through aware everyone is looking at her. How do you think she’d feel? I tend to think her self-esteem would be crushed and she’d probably develop hard feelings towards reading for life.

So why the hell do we make children who aren’t naturally good at sport race their classmates in front of huge audiences? “It’s not whether you win or lose,” they say. But it is. Because the kid who comes last, she doesn’t get a trophy on parade, she sits in the great silent stillness of the non-winner. Because she lost and everyone saw it. And if she’s the best reader in her class, there’s no trophy.

Luckily, though, there’s the wonderful consolation of a lifetime of books.

Read What You Damn Well Please

Okay, so while it may look as though this post is in defence of Dan Brown–an author who has sold a bazillion books and could probably buy a gold-plated helicopter–in fact it’s in defence of democratic principles. You may be aware that Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol is out in the US today, about six years since he published The Da Vinci Code. This book is the very definition of “long-awaited”: both by readers and by snarky reviewers.

So it was with yawn-inducing predictability that this article warned readers not to be the kind of semi-literature lemmings who are “tempted” to buy it as there are so many books by “better writers” out there. The article then goes on to suggest a number of alternatives. Some of them look good; some of them, I’m certain, Dan Brown readers will have already found (Stieg Larsson’s for example). But some of them belong to the School of Wha…? Imagine this exchange in a book store:

CUSTOMER: Excuse me, I am looking for the new Dan Brown novel.
SALES ASSISTANT: I’m sorry, but we’re fresh out. However, I do have many copies of Paradise Lost still in stock.
CUSTOMER: Wonderful. I will take a copy as I am sure they will provide a similar reading experience.

Seriously: opinionated tosspots need to stop (a) bagging the common reader’s tastes, (b) assuming incorrectly that they know why the common reader reads the books they do, and (c) suggesting that the common reader read something a little less common as it would be Improving. I am reminded of the shoutline that appears on Umberto Eco’s official website regarding his book Foucualt’s Pendulum: it’s “a thinking man’s Da Vinci Code.” G’on admit it: you’re an unthinking woman aren’t you? You haven’t a clue what the Foucault a “Foucault” is and you quite like Dan Brown. For shame!

My point is this: read what you like and have your own opinions. And let’s take the guilt out of “guilty pleasures”.

Postscript, or, Some Journalists can’t be Trusted*

Those of you who recall my angry, swear-filled post on PIRs may remember that I was interviewed for The Australian that week, then the interview wasn’t used. Interesting, then, to see this piece in The Weekend Australian by the very same journalist:

But one of the most depressing moments in the past few weeks was supplied by an agent who, when approached to contact one of her authors (a woman whose three novels have done so well she has international status), said she did not think it was appropriate for the author to comment. The author was too young even to understand what was going on (she’s 30-odd), according to the agent; besides, she was in the middle of writing a book, so was probably unable to think about anything else. Pathetic.

That “pathetic” agent was somebody very close to me, and this journalist whom I won’t name (let’s call her Ms Sorensen… no, that gives too much away; let’s call her Rosemary S) has only told half the truth. Yes, The Agent did turn down her request to contact The Author, but that’s what agents do: they know where their authors are at, what other demands are being made of them, how close their deadlines are, and they decide what’s best for them. For the record, my understanding is that The Agent didn’t say The Author was too young; rather, she said that The Author hadn’t been in the industry very long. (Also, basic fact check issue: The Author has only published 2 books, not 3).

The other thing that Rosemary S hasn’t said is that The Agent–who is a passionate advocate of Australian books–gave her the number of another author who might be able to help: somebody she had already had a number of long and detailed conversations with about PIRs, and whom The Agent thought might be able to offer useful commentary.That author was me, dear reader, and we all know how that turned out.

As an aside, Rosemary S was somebody with whom I’ve had a friendly professional relationship over the years. We’ve had a few drinks together in the past, she’s slung a bit of work my way, etc. So this is all the more dismaying to me. The two people of whom she wrote are very much in my inner circle, a favourite aunty and a sister-figure, if you will. Am I taking this personally? Well, yes, I am; there is simply no other way for me to take it.

Now, I’m not going to call anyone a fucking liar or even an unprofessional hack. That would be harsh. But I am going to look a bit closer at this word “pathetic”. Tossed off like that in a column, it only has its common meaning: limp, weak, not good enough. In fact, the word means, according to the OED, “exciting pity, sympathy, or sadness”. I certainly feel sad for a professional relationship lost; I certainly feel sympathy for the two good women so unfairly maligned in Rosemary S’s bitter dummy-spit; and, yes, I feel more pity than scorn for the journalist. The whole situation is pathetic, isn’t it?

* of course, some journalists are very nice 🙂

Really, really angry (be warned: swears)

I am so fucking pissed off right now, and I’ve spent the last couple of days writing polite and considered letters, so here is my chance to say what I really think.

Yesterday, the productivity commission, in its infinite bullheaded ignorance, recommended lifting the restrictions on parallel importation that protect the Australian publishing industry. What does that mean in simple terms? Well, if an edition of one of my books comes out at the same time in the US, and the US copy is a nasty cheap version with no “u”s in the word “colour”, bookstores over here are free to import the nasty cheap version instead of selling the Australian (correctly spelled) version. The profit will leave the country and go to a US publisher, I will be paid less because (1) it’s a cheap version and (2) US publishers offer lower royalty rates.

The Australian publishing industry is a beautiful, yet delicately balanced eco-system. It operates on the slimmest of margins, and once those margins disappear, the whole shebang is put at risk. Where do they get the money to pay the printers, the sales reps, the transport workers, and so on and so on? Who’s going to lose their jobs first? (Hint: it’s the writers, both published and yet-to-be published. Imagine the voices we might never hear). What is now a thriving and wonderful business will become a cottage industry: publishers will become glorified distributors for overseas product. Oh, by the way, the US and the UK are smart enough NOT to have an open market. But they’re going to totally love ours; they will be in here like fucking wolves.

The most vociferous supporters of this unholy mess are, of course, the ugly greedy corporations. Dymocks, for example, who bang on about how it’s going to make books “cheaper for everyone”. Well they are big fat fucking liars, because they could make books “cheaper for everyone” if they immediately stopped the practice of charging more than the recommended retail price for books whenever they fancied. Do not listen to them: they are not interested in promoting literacy, they are interested in putting gold flakes in their water coolers.

One of the things that pisses me off the most is the way that authors are being frowned upon for talking about how the changes will affect their incomes. That hoary old romantic chestnut about real art not concerning itself with commerce gets an airing. “Artists aren’t supposed to want money!” (blanches). Well, you can’t buy your groceries at Coles with artistic integrity. Doesn’t fucking work. Tried it. Why shouldn’t I care if I lose money? Should everybody who likes their job be happy just to do it for free?

Yesterday The Australian hauled me out of my office to take my photo looking cranky in an independent bookshop and interviewed me about what I thought, for today’s paper. I’m not in today’s paper, and nor is my photo. There is a photo of a teenager with gigantic tits (in a Dymocks: they’re getting shitloads of free advertising this week) who is happy that she will be able to buy cheap books now. She can’t even vote. Why did I waste my fucking time and breath?  The media likes the issue because it has two very clearly opposed sides and they’re getting top page-filling mileage out of it. They don’t give a fuck who wins (tits may win), cos they’re still going to have jobs when the publishing industry shrivels up.

And plenty of journos are bitter, scorned, unpublished novelists anyway. Just saying.

So the productivity commission suggests to offset any loss of income for writers (note: by saying this they show that they do believe writers will lose income) the government should look at increasing funding for writers. I’m sorry, but that’s just a leeetle too vague for my liking. Does that mean the government, rather than the readers, are going to decide what constitutes suitable Australian literature? Am I the only person who can see the looming disaster here? “We asked around at some universities and have decided on more contemporaryrealistliteraryfiction for everyone!” “Excuse me, Mr Government, can I have some money for my book with dragons in it?” “Dragons!” (blanches AND faints).

If you want to do something, write to Peter Garrett. Write to the PM. Write to your local member. It still has to get through parliament. Write them letters, not emails. And shop at independent bookstores. Give Dymocks a big swerve. Google the issue. Mark Seymour did a great article on it, comparing it to the nightmare that was the deregulation of the music industry.

And bring on the digital revolution.

Say your farewellz…

Best piece of news for the New Year, imho, is that those vile Slutz… er… Bratz* dolls have to be pulled from shelves as of February. I would love to be able to tell you that the reason for this welcome measure is that toy sellers finally realised that it was wrong to sell dolls that (a) are marketed to little girls but look like pornstars, or (b) are made by Chinese workers on US51 cents an hour working 77 hours plus a week. But, in fact, it was a jealous Barbie who got them in the end (pictures dolly scrag fight: Barbie would win, she’s gristly). Mattel sued the makers, claiming that the genius who designed them was working for them at the time.

The Bratz legacy, sadly, will live on. In the last few years, little girls have been marketed to in a way that naturalises early sexualisation. Last time I went into Target, for instance, they were selling bras for 7-year-old girls. WTF? Then there’s all those toys and film characters aimed at little girls that just look slutty. Case in point, the young ladies below: Tinkerbell and her besties. Is it just me, or do they all look like they’re gagging for it?

Come on, boys!

Come on, boyz!

Now, I’m not an expert on this stuff (please don’t ask me to comment on Bill Henson… all right, I will: “euw, creepy”). But I do have a beautiful little daughter and I’m really feeling the weight of responsibility in having to help her negotiate her way through this world. I’d love her to think that what matters is her fierce cleverness, but I feel like one little fish swimming against a tsunami. And I think about my son, too, and what warped ideas he’ll get about girls and women and what they do and don’t want.

The solution might be to go live in a commune somewhere with no television and lots of hemp clothes. But that wouldn’t prepare children for life either. I am telling you, being a parent is hard enough (tonight, Astrid realised she was tall enough to turn her bedroom light back on; when I turned it off and told her to go back to be she said, “No, Mummy, I don’t want to go to bed.” She is both too tall and too articulate for a 2 year old). How am I supposed to make her eat her greens, teach her to read & write, and help her identify and deconstruct cynical marketing strategies at a hundred paces? Easy answer: corporations who see children as their market should just get frigging consciences. Is that too much to ask?

* Why isn’t there a law against mis-spelling words on children’s products? Why, why, why?

My poor sad feminist heart

This might only concern those of you who are Queenslanders, but our Premier, Anna Bligh, has admitted to using Botox. It’s “no big deal” she says: it’s just like colouring your hair.

Except it’s not. For starters, colouring your hair involves buying a box from the supermarket and whacking it on at home. Biggest danger: dripping it on an expensive bath mat (I suspect she has expensive bath mats; I certainly don’t). Botoxing thyself involves paying a professional to inject small amounts of muscle- and nerve-paralysing toxins into your face. No comparison.

But more importantly, Ms Erstwhile-hero-of-mine Bligh, it’s a “big deal” because you are telling us all that what we fear is true: even if you are a woman of incredible strength, intelligence, and power, you have to be worried about wrinkles. When men in power get older, society thinks of them as wise and experienced. When women do, they’d better cover it up in case somebody says they’re a tired old dog. Anna Bligh knows this, I am sure, as she is an ex-crazy-leftie-feminist, so her “big deal” stance is totally disingenuous.

Don’t get Botox, people. It makes your face look weird. Let life leave its tracks on you: it proves that you did stuff.

I’m sorry, I realise this has nothing to do with writing, but that’s why I created the “necessary vent” category. Also, covering up the fact that I’ve not written anything yet.

And now, for some Botox-related laffs, check out “Target Women: Botox”.

First Class B-Grade

Hands up anyone else who thinks Germaine Greer oughta just STFU. I wish she’d stop pretending she’s some kind of expert on Australian culcha when she hasn’t lived here since… what… 1915? Her latest target is the film Australia and I shan’t even bother to link to her nonsense as she doesn’t really deserve the time of day. But this film has divided the people around me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I loved Australia. It was fantastic, good-ol’, craptacular cinema at its very best. It was first class b-grade art, which, I’ve come to realise, is my favourite kind of art.

In fact, I reckon my books are first class b-grade. At least, that’s what I intend for them and I kinda think that, most of the time, I hit the mark. I do get ribbed by those around me from time to time about my populist tastes and how I’m not interested in Tim Winton, and have taken a few accusations of being a philistine on the chin. But I’m not a philistine. I’ve read a lot, and very widely. For instance, when I was researching Angel of Ruin, I read Milton’s Paradise Lost three times. Hell, I even read his Areopagitica. But  I also read a lot of Stephen King. Hence: first class b-grade.

Better by far than being second class a-grade, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Anyway, I digress. Germaine Greer FTL. She spent a lot of time in her youth banging on about how everyone’s equal, but consumers of popular narrative clearly aren’t in her opinion. She has a crack at Australia for being a “Mills & Boon” romance. Excuse me, Prof. Greer, what do you mean specifically given that, last time I checked, M&B had nearly 30 subtly different imprints? That’s the problem with looking at everything from up on high, you tend to lose sight of the detail.

Still, Germaine’s not going to listen to me.  When Tolkien was voted author of the century she described it as a “nightmare”. If that’s what you have bad dreams about when you’re a cashed-up fully-tenured honorary adjunct professorial somethink-or-other, then life must be very nice indeed.  She’s gone so far left she’s come all the way around to the right. Elitists think they know everything. Let’s not tell them the truth.