Monday, June 27, 2011

Quiz nights: the best and the worst

THE BEST: When you know the answer.

THE WORST: When everyone else in your team also knows the answer and you wind up shaming yourself by saying it really loudly, just to prove you know it too.

THE BEST: When you know the answer to a kind of obscure question.

THE WORST: When it turns out that answer you "knew" was actually wrong and the answer your teammate suggested, which you mocked, was right.

THE BEST: Learning kind of cool - if trivial - facts.

THE WORST: When the questions relate to something you couldn't give two shits about, such as the AFL. I mean, sure it might be nice to be able to list the teams in order of where they're placed on the ladder but wouldn't you rather know which world city drinks the most booze per head of population?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This is water

I've been finding it hard to come up with blog topics lately. I'm not sure why. Probably it's just because, although I actually have loads of shit going on, very little of it is stuff that I can blog about. So instead I've reprinted here (an edited version of) a speech delivered by American essayist and novelist David Foster Wallace, widely regarded as a genius, who killed himself a little under three years ago. He delivered this speech to a graduating class at Kenyon College, Ohio and it's interesting stuff, much better than anything I could write here but with lots of ideas I agree with. I wish someone had busted out this stuff at MY graduation.
"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

If you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude - but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let's get concrete ...

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real - you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues". This is not a matter of virtue - it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centred, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

By way of example, let's say it's an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired, and you're stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home - you haven't had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job - and so now, after work, you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the workday, and the traffic's very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store's hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it's pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can't just get in and quickly out: you have to wander all over the huge, overlit store's crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough checkout lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can't take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.

Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your cheque or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn't fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etc, etc.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I've worked really hard all day and I'm starved and tired and I can't even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid goddamn people.

Or if I'm in a more socially conscious form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUVs and Hummers and V12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just 20 stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks ...

If I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do - except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default setting. It's the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: it's not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible car accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a much bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am - it is actually I who am in his way.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you're "supposed to" think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it's hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you're like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat-out won't want to. But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line - maybe she's not usually like this; maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who's dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible - it just depends on what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important - if you want to operate on your default setting - then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren't pointless and annoying. But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: the only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship - be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some intangible set of ethical principles - is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things - if they are where you tap real meaning in life - then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already - it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power - you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart - you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don't dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness - awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water.""

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"You can't respect somebody who kisses your arse."

I'm not going to talk about why Ferris Bueller's Day Off is not just an awesomely engaging and funny movie but a brilliant guide for how to live your life (although if you're interested, read this). All I know is that it's impossible to watch this parade scene and not feel just a teensy tiny bit happier.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Maybe someday, maybe not": the immortal lines of Dylan McKay

Look, either you were young enough and sad enough to fall madly in love with Dylan McKay in the seminal 90s teen drama Beverly Hills: 90210 or you were not.

If you were not then there's really nothing I can say that convince you that Luke Perry's portray of Dylan as 90210's disaffected rich bad boy made teen girls around the globe go week at the knees. I mean, I was one of those girls and looking at Perry's craggy face and remembering how he used to have this impossibly lame answerphone message ("This is Dylan, you know the drill... *beep*") even I have the decency to be embarassed.

That much said Hello Giggles has come up with a list of the Top Ten Best Things Dylan McKay Has Ever Said and it's almost enough to rekindle my love for the pretentious bastard.

Here's just a little taster of some of the bon mots he has to offer.
Brenda: “You want to take a walk on the beach or something?”
Dylan: “Yeah and check out the HOMELESS PEOPLE that would be GREAT.
Oh, Dylan, even when you're being a dick to some girl you're supposed to like you still know when to mix in a bit of social commentary to keep shit real.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pros and cons: the literary clutch

Pro: These clutch bags made up to look like famous books, by France's Olympia Le-Tan, may be the single cutest thing I have ever seen in my life.

Con: They will, however, make you look like you're simply carrying around a hardcover book to dinners, parties and the like. Which is to say that you will look like the world's biggest wanker.

Pro: But they're so purty. Plus Lolita is genuinely an awesome book and Moby Dick is... well I hear good things.

Con: 950 euros apiece. Which is quite a lot of money to have people think you might be a pretentious tosser.

Token Smokin' Hottie: Charlie Fink

It's a cliche to say that dudes start bands in order to get laid. And yet I can only imagine that it's working wonders for Charlie Fink, lead singer of delightful British band Noah and the Whale.

Sure it doesn't hurt that he's already got a certain something something with the hair, the eyes and a cheeky smile. (Of the denim shirt he is attempting to rock in the above photo I will not speak). It doubly doesn't hurt that both Charlie and the rest of the band seem completely fucking adorable, as evidenced by this delightful interview. ((Yes I am a complete sucker for anyone who professes to love the film Rushmore as much as I do but it's more than that: there is pretty much nothing sexier than a dude who can be spontaneously funny. Seriously, I think I'm in love with the entire band, particularly his super hot brother Doug who has sadly since left the band to save lives or something.)

But, really what it comes down to is that I've been listening to quite a bit of Noah and the Whale lately and I would give just about anything to be able to do what they do. And yet if it was a choice between waking up one day with a big fat bundle of musical talent or getting to spend a filthy weekend with Charlie, several bottles of wine and a big fuck off bed I can't say for sure I would do the right thing. I mean, seriously, getting to touch the hair alone would be totally worth it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Personal information I now know about the woman who waxes my Good China after one 20 minute appointment

1. She has never been to Bali
2. She never wants to go to Bali
3. She is happily coupled-up with an older man who is not very fit
4. She and her partner enjoy 4WD holidays in WA.
5. She and her partner have twice (twice?!) had to be rescued while on 4WD holidays in WA
6. She does not have kids
7. She could not recognise an expression of pure agony on a fellow human being's face to save her life.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I am, I have been told, a bit of a flirt. It is, I guess, kinda true although I prefer to characterise it as just being a big, big fan of boys.

Perhaps for this reason* I have taken a lot of interest in the media circus surrounding the hilariously-named Congressman Weiner who has, as it turns out, been taking photos of his junk and sending them to women who are not his wife. Classy guy. But one of the things that none of the commentators can seem to agree on is whether Weiner, who claims he never met any of the women face-to-face but 'met' them online, was technically cheating on his wife or not.

The Washington Post has a great article on this very issue, which looks at the tricky subject of the "e-ffair" and Weiner in particular. It also makes some good points about how easy it is in the modern day to fire to use technology to do something stupid that will later come back and bite you in the arse. A (coupled-up) friend of mine ran up against this very issue recently when, while drunkenly Facebook chatting with a colleague who had a crush on him got a bit carried away and wrote something along the lines of "I want to fuck you" before presumably passing out. The way he tells it he woke up the next morning horrified. But I meander from my point. To the Post...
"It was wrong, and it would have been wrong 20 years ago, and it would have been wrong 200 years before that. In previous millenniums, if a married caveman had carved a picture of his junk onto a bone and thrown it into another woman’s cave, that would have been similarly wrong. Private-part self-portraiture: gross in every eon.

"But 20 years ago, Weiner would have had to load his Nikon with film before pointing it at his crotch. He would have had to take this film to the Fotomat, wait 24 hours before picking it up, find an envelope, lick a stamp. In every preceding era, there were built-in checkpoints, moments in which one could ask oneself, “Is this a good idea? Does she want to see my dog in a sweater? Am I a congressman? Should that influence my decision?”"
You get the gist but the whole article is great and you can read it here.

* (AlthoughI hope I don't have to mention that my flirty behavious has never yet triggered me to take a photo of the good china to send to randoms).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nerd Appeal

It was suggested to me recently that I should write a post about The Appeal of the Nerd. Having pretty much exclusively gone out with nerds in my 28 years I thought that was a cracker of an idea but when I sat down to write the post I found I didn't know what to say. Why are nerds so appealing? What is it about a kinda dorky looking guy, ideally skinny and bespectacled, that makes me go a bit red around the edges? Why did I spend the first season of The OC lusting after Seth Cohen (before he became insanely annoying by about episode 1 of season 2)? I had no fucking idea.

Then I met Carol. Carol is not, I hasten to clarify, a nerd. Carol is a girl I happened to be sat next to at a recent work dinner. And after 10 minutes of talking to her I wanted to open my throat with the butter knife.

There was nothing ostensibly wrong with Carol: she was chatty and friendly enough. But she was also impossibly dull. Regardless of the topic - and we weren't talking about fucking peace in the Middle East - she had absolutely nothing of interest to say. She was also, from her long blonde hair and skinny body to her big boobs, pretty conventionally attractive (even if, in my opinion, a bit of a Monet).

Rightly or wrongly it occured to me, listening to the way she interacted with the people around us, that Carol had probably been hot her whole life and, as a result, had never bothered to develop much in the way of a personality, beyond a gormless smile and an ability to say "I totally agree" a lot.

This - it occured to me in something of a Lightbulb Moment - goes some way to explaining the nerd appeal. I wholeheartedly believe that people who aren't gorgeous and popular as kids and teenagers make for more interesting adults. (Yes I might be a little bit biased but shut up, this is my blog). Those of us who have had to struggle to fit have naturally had to work harder at making friends, being interesting, making people laugh. We had to do more than simply show up to make people like us.

Nerds take that a step further by also being smart. I don't mean just that they can fix your computer/phone/TV (although, seriously, thanks for that Andy). I mean they know things that you don't. They have read books you haven't, seen movies you haven't and ideally played computer games you never even knew existed. They have views on things, even if those things are on the utterly dorky side.

Then there is the vulnerability thing. Because, based on my experience, no matter how cute or successful a person may become in later life, nobody who has struggled through his or her early years entirely loses that sensitivity to what others think about them and their place in the world. And is there anything more appealing than a red hot cutie with low self esteem? No. No, there is not.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tits! On a fashion magazine!

Truth be told I'm often a little bit bored by the whole Plus Size debate. While I do think there are too many messages out there in the fashion world that very, very skinny is the only way for a girl to be desirable, I also think that by the time most of us get to a certain age we realise that actually plenty of boys still want to shag us even with our soft corners and excessively-generous tits and we stop worrying about it so much.

That much said this photo of the cover of Italian Vogue, passed on by the sumptuous Jayne, is a nice reminder of how good - and rare - it feels to see a girl who isn't model skinny made up to look super hot and sexy.

The only downside is that regardless of what I do to myself I know I will never ever look like that girl in the middle who, to my mind, is a dead ringer for a young Sophia Loren. At least when I stare at whippet thin models I can tell myself "I could look like that if I got really sick for a few months". With this girl... no, short of having a new face it's just not going to happen.

Token Smokin' Hottie: Michael Fassbender

What is wrong with me?

Once upon a time I knew what I liked and that was skinny boys, the scrawnier the better. Give me a jutting hipbone, a concave chest and, just for funsies, a pair of Buddy Holly glasses, and I'd be happy.

But, like the Pulp song goes, something changed. Obviously I still like skinny boys: they are still the ones that made me turn in the street and go a little bit weak in the knees when they serve me at Epic Espresso (oh yeah skinny barista with the adorable smile, you know who you are). But somewhere along the line I appear to have developed a taste for, um, I don't quite know how to say this... muscles.

No, I don't know how it happened either.

Anyway, the latest object of my lust is Michael Fassbender, the German-Irish hottie smoking up screens in X-Men: First Class. I first saw Fassbender in the delightful Inglorious Basterds but while he was fantastic in the role it didn't really occur to me that he was hot until his turn in X-Men. Obviously it helps that he gets to play a young Magneto: easily one of the cooler dudes in the X-Men universe. It also helps that he has sizzling chemistry with the quietly scrumptious James McAvoy (who plays a young Charles Xavier) to the point where I was actively waiting for an onscreen snog. But what also helps is, let me be frank, Fassbender's fairly sick body which is constantly lurking there beneath his clothes - out of sight but never out of mind.

Watching the movie I found McAvoy - on whom I have long nursed a quiet crush - boyishly charming. But it was Fassbender I was always watching onscreen, bemoaning the lack of shirtless scenes and wondering how a man with shoulders that broad could possibly have such narrow hips. Only time will tell whether I still find him hot in Jane Eyre as - of course - Mr Rochester, where presumably there are very few opportunities for him remove his clothes. Tragically.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Just in case anyone has the sheer cheek to be happy on a fucking shitty day like today

"Yes, I am sad, sad as a circus-lioness, sad as an eagle without wings, sad as a violin with only one string and that one broken, sad as a woman who is growing old. Sad, sad, sad."
(Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight)