The Two ‘M’s

Books

I have been an avid and somewhat precocious reader for as long as I can remember. To my fevered brow I lay a hand when I was home from kindergarten sick one day, as I struggled with the seemingly endless perk of Anne, who resided at Green Gables.

Not long after, I tackled The Hobbit, whose murky sentences and dense plot so challenged my young mind that to this day I have never been able to return to to the altar of Tolkien and to be brutally honest, I’m not certain I’m missing much. I am not one for such unproblematic sincerity.

Despite the rule that we had to choose one book a term from the local Angus & Robertson, I ran out of things to read, and into my hand my mother pressed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I was about 14. While it set me off on a particular literary bent for decades to follow, unbeknownst to Mum, I had another reading path I was pursuing in secret: around this time, I was also determined to hunt out the dirtiest passages in her impressively vast book collection.

It was tough going. Cold Comfort Farm has some frisky moments, but my speed reading meant I was always confused about whether the frisk was with outsiders or between family members (Wikipedia has confirmed my fear: it was between family members.), thus ruling out my interest in it.

There was another novel, which I think I incorrectly remember being titled Warm Hearts and Gentle People, which I thought suggested some tender lovin’ might have taken place within its pages, but it turned out to be nothing more than another in a long line of historic society and class pieces. Why did these gentle people not want to press their warm hearts against one another to fulfil my juvenile curiosity?

Just as I was about to give up, I hit the mother load, so to speak. Coverless, buried in a pile of lesser books, which were not even considered for a place in the lounge room bookcases was a novel by John Updike, called Couples. And so it was: my first explicit sex scenes in literature were penned by a hand of a man oft accused of being misogynist.

The basic plot centred around a group of swingers, who were under the spell of a dastardly man called Felix. Feel-ix. All sorts of sexual goings on go on, there were things I didn’t even know people did to other people and I’d read the rude parts of Mother & Child heaps of times before that.

When I was in my 20s I told my mum that I’d found a copy of Couples at a local second-hand book store and bought for a laugh and she was horrified that as a 20-something-year-old I knew what Couples was. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that as a 14-year-old I could probably have quoted page and paragraph references to her.

These days literature has long since returned to merely fulfilling my less base mental curiosities; however, I have recently noticed two disturbing trends in memoirs, trends I will call The Two ‘M’s: masturbation and menstruation.

Almost without fail, memoirs contain mention of one or the other, almost always mutually exclusive, depending on the sex of the author, within the first two chapters of the book.

Masturbation tends to fall within the realm of male-penned memoirs and is almost always discovered as follows: the protagonist has somehow reached puberty without ever hearing of the phenomenon of masturbation and alone in their room one day they realise that certain kinds of touch feel nice. So they do that, repeatedly, allegedly completely innocent to the consequences that they discover only after they have plastered their bedroom walls, an event which, unless they are Jonathan Ames, they immediately realise they must hide from their parents. They also realise this is the greatest discover they are ever likely to make, and they therefore must do it at every opportunity.

Such explosive moments are repeatedly frequently in the years that follow, until they find a willing partner for the two-backed beast, and then masturbation is rarely mentioned again until middle-age, where after a failed marriage, they return to their formative pastime only to discover now that they can’t perform without imagining how sad they look with their paunch and compulsive fantasies of much younger women and then they can’t perform at all.

Still. At least for a little while, masturbation is fun. Menstruation on the other hand, is not.

The female-penned memoir is follows a similar path when it comes to body fluids. Our heroines have somehow missed every sealed section of Dolly magazine and every sex ed class known to man and so when they discover they are having their first period, they assume they are dying, but they don’t tell anyone, which doesn’t seem like a particularly obvious response when you suspect you might be slowly bleeding out.

When they finally tell someone, the event is already steeped in shame. Everything that happens afterwards is conducted in hushed whispers and involves scary women’s only products, which are hidden at the back of underwear drawers and every month for the rest of their adolescence becomes a dreaded countdown to the reappearance of their period.

So consumed with fear are they, that there’s rarely a mention of the discovery of masturbation: the whole area between navel and knees is touched only in life or death situations … until they find a willing partner for the two-backed beast and suddenly focus shifts to the potential terror of a period which does not reappear.

The couples in Couples may have been morally void, but at least everyone seemed to know how to make themselves feel good, even if it were only for a few seconds. Just once, I would like to read a memoir where someone approaches at least one of The Two ‘M’s with a sense of weary wisdom, and devotes a mere paragraph to it, unless they have discovered a brilliant way to get off, in which case a chapter should definitely be devoted to it, possibly with diagrams.

Dust

boots

Today I opened a savings account for another American road trip in ’14.

I want to stand on five miles of straight road, boots half-laced, no place to be.

The Desk

The guy next to me is scratching his crotch through a pair of sand-coloured trousers in a slow way that tells me that the movement is unconscious, purely a physical response to a physical problem.

I can’t look over at him because I sit under a bright tube of neon light, so that every movement I make is captured and highlighted. He sits slightly in front of a matching tube, so perhaps he is less conscious of attracting the attention of the eyes around him.

My desk is messy, which I find irritating: to my left there is a pile of mail, none of it addressed to me, yet still it has found its way here and is taking up room. On top of it is a pile of my belongings that I dumped there this morning when I arrived just as a meeting began. My wallet lies on a tangle of purple headphones, connected to an old red iPod which itself sits next to a pair of sunglasses that I had hurriedly pushed on my face this morning walking through Chippendale.

Plastic figures litter my desk: a neon blue moose, five different coloured kewpie dolls and ten tiny rubber babies chasing and equally tiny rubber shark. Sometimes the rubber shark is chasing the babies, but given my mum’s statement on Mother’s Day that the human race is just a feral plague, it seems fitting to leave them in their current combination.

A sticker attached to my monitor announces that, “HELLO I AM VERY BUSY AND IMPORTANT”, while a photo holder instead displays a picture of doseone and a sticker for the Hail Mary Mallon album.

A lei of unknown origin hangs around my nameplate, all lowercase, in a snappy font that’s meant to impart the feeling that I am young and hip and happening in this here media organisation. All our nameplates are in the same font.  

An empty Red Bull can sits close by my left hand and for the past several hours I have been absentmindedly sipping from it every now and then, despite the fact that is has been empty since much earlier today. When my legs start to tingle and I’m sure I can’t last another moment at my desk, I’ll take the can to the recycling bin in the kitchen and toss it in with all the scraps of other people’s lunches because we all know that the garbage and recycling labels on the bins mean nothing: the cleaners put it all in the same trash bags at the end of each day.

In a circular office it’s hard to take a walk just to stretch your legs without feeling conspicuous, so a Red Bull can lends a sense of purpose to the situation. I like to keep one handy for this reason.

At the end of every day I promise myself to leave everything on my desk in order for the next day’s beginning.

This rarely happens.

 

This not working business could catch on…

On the weekend I enjoyed doing not very much. There was a substantial amount of time spent in my pyjamas, wandering around the house, setting up a few new things in the lounge room and cleaning, but there was also a lot of time spent in bed, playing BioShock (the first one, and I’m hurrying to finish it so I can play the third one with no spoilers) and watching Freaks & Geeks. I am a pretty big fan of Peter Alexander pyjama pants when I can justify the cost, and this year I bought the most hideous, but comfortable pair yet, the men’s drop crotch long johns:

palex

On Friday night I went and saw The Place Beyond the Pines, which was really tense and had some very unexpected and well executed plot twists. Last night I re-watched Drive and had salmon cooked on a salt plate. I’ve never seen a salt plate before and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a plate-sized slab of salt that you heat over a hotplate and then cook on. It was amazing. I always forget exactly how good salmon is and salmon on a salt plate is perfect. 7/7 to the chef.

This week I have a tonne of good things happening:

* The 12WBT has begun and I’m pumped to get into a more regular gym routine and try out some of the recipes now that I know exactly where I’m starting from and where I want to get to.

* I’m finishing up the first of six autobiographical novels by Karl Ove Knausgård, A Death in The Family. I’m not sure why, but I went into the book expecting to be unsympathetic to Karl Ove, instead I feel quite tender towards him. I think James Wood of The New Yorker sums the style of the novel quite well: “There is something ceaselessly compelling about Knausgaard’s book: even when I was bored, I was interested.”.

* I’m going to start The Pale King again afterwards. I had to put it down a few months ago because my head-space was doing it no justice. Foster Wallace is an all or nothing kind of read, I don’t find I can go in half-hearted. I have a nice, thick hardback copy with ragged page edges and it feels so good to hold, which is a reason I’ll never fully commit to e-reading.

* I’m going home for the weekend to the parental farm and have no plans other than wine bars, a visit to the local distillery for some gin and looking in antique shops. The added bonus is the train ride there: hours of nothing to do but read and watch the mountains pass by in the night.

Ashes & Fire

This time last year I has started to feel unwell. Initially I thought I was just very tired and then maybe just tired and stressed and then I stopped sleeping and started having day-long panic attacks and then they became week-long and then when I was right at the point where I’d run out of ideas about what to do, depression swept in and all I could do was sleep. One particularly bad night I came home, managed to take off the silver rings I was wearing, then climbed into bed fully clothed and slept for 16 hours, with the rings clutched so hard in my hand that the marks stayed for a day or so afterwards.

legs

During this time all I could listen to was Ryan Adams’s album Ashes & Fire because it wasn’t happy but it wasn’t sad either. It felt like an album about ups and downs. I couldn’t make any sense of my own life, but the idea that ebbs and flows did exist made me feel better and so I would listen to this album on crisp, sunny winter mornings as I walked to the train station. Listening to the album now just makes me feel happy, like life is a well-worn book. Nothing I can do can make mine pristine, some of the corners are folded down where things both good and bad have happened, and rather than struggling to fix it to look a certain way, instead I just enjoy how soft it feels from being lived.

wuz

At the start of the year I was chatting to my therapist about a list I was keeping: things I really wanted to do, but was too afraid to try and we discussed how I could go about exposing myself to those things. Then a month or so ago I realised suddenly it wasn’t a list of things I was too afraid to try anymore, it was a list of things I’m going to do. It’s a list of a bunch of fun things I just need to find time for.

me1

First I found a group of women who were also interested in learning to ice-skate and we’re signing up for a five week course starting at the end of the month. It’s on Monday nights and is nowhere near where I live, so I think it’ll be fun to adventure to a new place and hang out with people I don’t know that well yet. I’d like to get comfortable enough that I can go for a skate whenever I feel like it once the five weeks is up.

Yesterday a friend asked me if I’d be interested in joining a ukulele group in the Inner West with her and a few other women I know. They meet once a month and cater to all levels of uke shredders, so I am going to do that as well.

me

I also want to find out more about horse-riding in Sydney and maybe start that once ice-skating is finished and do some travelling to Melbourne and Tasmania during winter. It’s all kind of perfectly timed with suddenly having my weekends back.

Gah! Life ain’t bad.

 

The Worrisome Wuz

The Wuz has decided she likes Anna. Not just likes, but loves, in fact.

Anna has had the rather dubious pleasure of suffocating under the weight of The Wuz on her chest while The Wuz happily purred and drooled on her.

The Wuz also divides her time between sleeping with me and Anna, on some kind of schedule her tiny brain has come up with. While I feel bad for Anna, I am also relieved to have almost halved the number of mornings I wake up because a furry idiot has sneezed in my face.

Having lived with The Wuz for so many years now, I thought I knew all her tricks: running in front of you and suddenly stopping, pouncing on your feet when you’re in bed, attacking headphones and shoelaces, licking her own eyeballs. The list goes on.

However, The Wuz has once trick she saves especially for Anna.

Last night I was heading out the back to hang out some washing and The Wuz was meowing and I was trying to decipher if it was a, “I want to go outside” meow or a, “Feed me!” meow when Anna smiled and said, “Oh by the way, she’s still doing that weird thing where she meows until I come and watch her poop”.

wuz

“SHE’S STILL DOING THAT WEIRD THING WHERE SHE MEOWS UNTIL I COME AND WATCH HER POOP”.

Let that sink in for a bit, gentle readers.

The end of the world as I know it

I’ve been at my current job for almost five years and part of my role has always been weekend work, so for the past five years I’ve rarely had a weekend where I haven’t had a shift. One year I managed to work over 500 hours on weekends! I don’t know what it’s like to get to a Friday afternoon and feel a sense of relief, or to not have to make plans weeks in advance to make sure I wasn’t working.

I’ve set up more VPN connections than I care to remember. I’ve worked in pubs, on my parents’ farm, at parties, on trains, in bed, at restaurants. I’ve worked in the middle of a break up, in the middle of the night, on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day – no time was sacred.

I’ve had to change the tone on my phone numerous times because the sound of text message alerts became synonymous with work and stress and the blur between personal and work time. I’ve had more frustrating conversations with tech people than I care to remember, only forgotten to log on for one shift, and used up half a rain forest with timesheets

Last week I decided to work this month and get my finances in order and then cut back to one or two shifts a month because I have a lot of things I want to do this winter, including travel. I wondered if I’d go through with it, whether work might be too ingrained now, but today the decision was taken out of my hands because HR told me that as part of wider changes that have been happening, I’m no longer allowed to work weekends.

They kindly added an incentive, which I accepted and so as of today, I am strictly Monday to Friday and it feels amazing. I am going to take so many weekend roadtrips and visit my parents more and never have to leave the table during Christmas lunch to check an email.  

To weekends and teaching myself to relax again.  

Iron Man + Bolaño + Knausgård

I went and saw Iron Man 3 in Gold Class last week. Gold Class is basically a small theatre with La-Z-Boys and the option to have dinner delivered to you, all of which you pay through the nose for, but it’s fun, especially for big movies with EXPLOSIONS! I tend to forget I am in public and before I know it I’ve got legs going everywhere and I’m eating with my mouth open and wiping my greasy fingers on the carpet, just like I do at home.

Afterwards I proclaimed to everyone who would listen that Iron Man 3 my absolute favourite of the three. I even went so far as to talk about the pace and balance of humour and plot devices I thought were better executed.

Then a few nights later I watched the first two and realised I’d never actually seen them before.

I also finally finished 2666, Roberto Bolaño’s deeply disturbing opus. I loved it. I thought the fifth book was slightly weaker than the first four, but regardless, it’s all woven so tightly, despite the disparate nature of the plot book-to-book. It’s about literature, academia, murder, fear and the deceit of appearances and memories.

It had a similar impact on me to Infinite Jest in that it gets under your skin, signs and symbols in real life suddenly trigger flashbacks to events in the book, which were created with such detail that it takes a few seconds to untangle my memories to figure out if they’re real or not. A highly recommended, but very challenging read.

death

I’ve now started Karl Ove Knausgård’s A Death In The Family which is the first of six autobiographical novels and the first ten or so pages which ponder death and how humans live with the knowledge that it is inevitable, almost made my heart pop out of my chest. Don Bartlett translated from Knausgård’s Norwegian and in my humble (and obviously unreliable) opinion, he’s done an amazing job of keeping the warmth of the characters without losing the quirks and complexities of the story.

The moral of this story? Soak your brain in as much information as you can and see what it does to it.