And what a week it is! Friends from out of town will blow you away with how much they care about you, and there you were, wondering if anyone still remembered your hopeful face. Chocolate coated tulips are just the beginning of their imaginative ways of telling you that you are loved. By Wednesday, in your very own choose-your-own-adventure life, you can decide to either chew them and spit out the leaves, grumbling disconsolately about the freshness of flowers these days; or you can pluck the petals and throw them to the wind for others in greater need of grace to find them. Up to you, really. But I know you; I know your worth. Gardening may not be your strong point, but if loaves and fishes can feed five thousand, then one small petal of love can doubtless swing an army from hatred to kindness, and all it will take is a flick of your generous wrist.
I was just thinking…
If we don’t have to remember anything any more, because we can just google it, how much space does that free up in our brains for more important, patent-producing work? Like, I don’t know: nutting out all the calculations required to make a chaotic event predictable; or working out the gravitational force required to make the Universe stop expanding (actually, someone very smart, who doesn’t need google for anything except movie times, has probably already done that)?
You know the theories – we only use a measly tiny fraction of our brain as it is. But now that we don’t have to remember useless facts, like the year Napoleon was exiled to Elba (1814, and I spelt his name wrong the first time), or the distance to the nearest Solar system with an Earth-like planet (4.37 light years, although there is still nothing definitive), then let’s imagine what we might be able to turn our minds to? Not only us, but just think of the space saved in kids’ brains who have not even started the long, boring road of fact memorising; who will eventually only be tested on a far more useful power in the wireless world, of how quickly they can google an answer rather than laboriously and limitedly recall it?
The interweb is clearly the latest in a long list of how technology is supposed to have given us more leisure time (the washing machine beats banging clothes on rocks). But rather than give us more leisure time, it’s given us the leisure brain.
That’s right: I don’t think we’ll be using our additional brain capacity to find a cure for cancer. But we will get to use it to do a bit more mental lazing around. You know – day-dreaming, gossiping, rumour-mongering, and all round, time-doodling.
I have this picture in my own leisure brain, of a line of grey matter balls, reclining on li-lo’s, along the rim of a pool, idly staring at the grub on the inside of their beach umbrella, and wondering if someone is going to come and ask them if they want another pina colada, or of they are going to have to roll over to get it themselves.
I’m not criticising. I think it’s a nice thing. I wish my brain would turn its newfound additional leg-room to good, like harbouring the latest great ideas for eco-friendly, space-saving devices. But it won’t. And nor will yours, so there’s no point in looking like that. Here, have another pina colada. I used Coco Lopez coconut cream (drinksmixer.com), which will turn it from mediocre to awesome.
I just had a realisation. An epiphany? No, just a realisation. That will suffice as the noun of the moment.
Do you remember the first time you said to yourself, “I don’t actually like the [insert popular thing that everyone is supposed to like here]”?
For me, I remember the moment when I realised, “I don’t even like Jason Priestley. Or Matt Perry. His face is too thin.” I was thirteen. I made sure to only realise this in my head – too many of my friends had posters of Jason or Matt in their bedrooms for it to be politically safe for me to declare it outright. Still, it was a liberating moment: I could admit, at least to myself, in the privacy of my Beverley Hills 90210 free bedroom, that I just didn’t agree with what I was supposed to.
From then, it was a liberating series of moments: “I don’t like Coca Cola, or anything else fizzy, except maybe Sars. And Bundy ginger beer.” “Hey, I know I’m still a kid, but I don’t actually like lollies, so I’m not even going to pretend for your sake that that bribery is going to work.” “I don’t want to eat Hungry Jack’s hamburgers for dinner every Friday. I’d much prefer a home-cooked meal.” (I’m still ashamed of this last one, which I actually said to my mum, who, after seven kids, should have been allowed to have Fridays off cooking. But I was just starting to learn how to take her very own disapproving frown and, by God, turn it on her; and not just on her, but the rest of the required to-be-liked list.)
It turned into a right avalanche by the time I was eighteen, and not liking popular things became cool. Other things that joined the “I just don’t like it” list: anything pink, Christian Slater, and Klimt postcards; anything in the Top 40 list, dresses that might actually be flattering, and red meat.
But it was not until tonight that I realised there is a whole other world of things not to like that I didn’t know was allowed: beauty.
I like beauty, don’t get me wrong. But I guess, like anybody, there are certain people I think are hot with three t’s, and others I don’t find that much of a turn on. But, like many women, I always went along with the deal. Thin, tall, big boobs if possible but not essential, blonde if possible (but also not essential), pouty. That’s beautiful. Short, curvy, freckles, glasses – that’s just not.
Which is weird, right? For years, I have been training as a practised adept at not liking things, or fiercely adoring others. I have made major life choices not to work a regular job, but to pursue writing, because I like it. I am happy to go against the grain when it comes to capsicum (no), bacon (definitely no), soy milk (yes!) and Norah Jones (yes, OK? Yes!).
But for just as many years, I have blindly “ceded my power” (yes, that’s really what I have been doing, I have to say it) to the mainstream, taking it for granted that my opinion of what constitutes beautiful must, simply, be wrong.
Tonight, my husband and I were talking about people we know, and he mentioned a girl in a law office he once worked in, whom everyone (bar him) had voted the most “sexy” because she was blonde. My husband tends not to have mainstream tastes – hence the noun and possessive pronoun, “my husband”.
That reminded me of a story of my own. A couple of years ago, I was working with a tall, thin, blonde colleague whom I had to accompany to interviews with various high-flying CEOs around Australia. She was a great girl and we had heaps of fun. But I had never thought about her in terms of beauty. She was just top company.
Until we started meeting the CEOs. They were men in their forties and fifties, who did things like invite her for trips on their private yachts (with their families, so it was not totally sleazy), whilst totally ignoring me standing next to her. She seemed to take it all in her stride, and we had a very frank conversation after a few days over a few beers, when she said, without a trace of arrogance, but simply because it was true, “Basically, I have the body that most women in America want right now” (she was from the US). I looked at her, and it took me a while to understand what she was saying. She was right, of course, but she just wasn’t what I aspired to look like (luckily, because it would have taken a gene transplant) – of course she was attractive, but not to me. Just, it seemed, to everyone else on the planet.
I dismissed my own opinion though, because when it comes to female beauty, I always assumed, without even thinking about it, that I was wrong. The female beauty myths were that hard wired into my brain.
Until tonight, when I realised, recounting this story to my husband, that maybe I was not, immediately, wrong. If he could have his own tastes in women, then why couldn’t I? Maybe, just like lollies, soft drink, and Jason Priestley, I could make a valid preference call and it was OK. I was not wrong, and others were not right. I was merely saying, and sticking to, what I genuinely liked.
It’s embarrassing to say so, but I have made it into my thirties without embracing this fundamental truism of feminism – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, I always knew that, right? And I always said it. And of course, I know what I like, and what I think is attractive in men and women. But until now, I never really thought my view could be just as equal to anyone else’s (like the magazine editor of Cosmo. How could I be as right as her?) I just always assumed that my tastes (and my own personal look) did not come into the same room as the definition of beautiful.
Humbly, I have to admit that hanging out with my fella has started to make me see otherwise. If he thinks his tastes are valid, then why not mine? I’ve seen men behave irrationally towards women I have had no zing for at all. And I have been attracted to men and women who, in the usual way, would not be considered three t’s hot.
From now on, I guess I’m trying to say…I’m right too. Beauty is just like every other decision I have made in my life: I have a right to it.
In which I just say no….I think. Yes, that’s right. No.
It’s been some time since I updated you on Mr Middleton developments. This is probably because I have been hesitant, not wanting to disappoint, and not wanting to jinx future efforts.
This is what happened after the last post, at which point, Hoang and I were about to tackle the world of publishers.
The major publisher who was interested, was not interested in a stand-alone, illustrated book. They liked my writing, and they liked the drawings, but it was just not their mainstream fare. They said they would like to see a collection of short stories from me.
As my husband likes to tell people, I turned them down. It wasn’t really like that: there was no firm offer, just their interest. Still – why would I walk away from a major publisher? Having them interested at all was a coup. I told myself this, about one hundred and twelve times.
But the bottom line was, my heart was not in writing more short stories, not right now. I was very motivated to write a long-form story which I am working on now; and I was motivated to see Mr Middleton published with pictures; but I was not remotely motivated to do a short story collection. And I couldn’t force myself to do it. To do so would be to betray the process; and as every writer knows, to betray the process is to betray yourself.
So….my husband and I got busy with postage, packing tape and brown paper. We sent the package of illustrations,story and synopsis, all lovingly presented in a brown box wrapped in string, to ten publishers who seemed to have published like-books in the past.
And we waited.
To be continued.
This week, you will find the backbone you never knew you had as it transforms from spaghetti into kevlar in one, fell motion. Adversaries, believing until now that they had your number, fall back, confused and, suddenly, afraid. But you don’t need to wait around for them to re-group – you are on your way, donning the brash new colours of your courage and heading straight for the moral high ground. From up there, where mere mortals fear to tread, you might see someone who looks just like you, far, far below. Squint through your telescope – it’s not you, it’s (gasp) your mortal enemy, pushing against the same stone wall you used to prop up with your daily efforts, but from the other side. You used to wear the exact same pooh-brown shoes. Even your hair looks the same coffee colour from up here. Funny – down there, all you could see was how different you were; up here, all you can see are different shades of brown.