November 26, 2014

An Open Letter to Westfield about a Thrilling Proposal

Anyone who knows me will be aware that Westfield Bondi Junction is my spiritual home. I spend hours there, either doing the grocery shopping, grabbing a coffee, getting my acrylic nails repaired after I bite them off, or just wandering aimlessly, absorbing the seething humanity.

But there is something missing from Westfield. It's got the shops and the cafes and the movie theatre and the supermarkets and the high end boutiques and the people who stop you and try to rub hand cream on you even though you're carrying bags in both hands and walking quickly towards the exit.... But it doesn't have a cultural centre.

It doesn't have Culture.

And this is where I come in.  I can be Westfield's Writer in Residence. I can bring Culture to the mall. I could be set up at a desk on a little platform in the middle of the centre - perhaps surrounded by a small picket fence - and write away on my laptop. People can stop and watch as I write, marvel at the creative process, breathe in my literary energy. They can ask questions and I will answer them, inspiring and supporting other writers to stretch their wings and let the words fly. And I, in turn, can be energised and nourished by their presence (and get free Wifi and coffee, and the occasional chocolate snowball from the cafe on Level 2).

Of course, it's not just Westfield Bondi Juntion that needs Culture. Every Westfield could have its own Resident Cultural Person. Other Writers in Residence, or perhaps Artists in Residence, Musicians in Residence, even Interpretive Dancers in Residence (in fact, I could probably double as an Interpretive Dancer in Residence when the writer's block kicks in).

Westfield would benefit from the injection of art (and from the hoards of people flocking to see us in action), and we would benefit from being around those who inspire us - The People. (Also, there are much better sandwiches at the Food Hall than there are at home.)

If you agree, or are interested in applying for your own position at Westfield, please comment below, or hit Westfield up at @westfieldau. Support the cause! Bring art to your local mall! And make sure I get my egg mayo sandwiches every day!

November 24, 2014

The Huge Flaw in Online Dating

One of the tough aspects of being single (apart from, well, the loneliness, the sexual deprivation, the having-no-one-to-go-to-the-movies-with, and the talking to myself at night) is to learn about other people finding partners. It's not that you begrudge anyone else a love interest; it's just that you think, how come they can find someone, and I can't?

Charles Manson, for example. He has found a fiancee and I don't have a date for Saturday night. Do you know what that does to my ego? He is a serial killer with a swastika carved into his forehead and a life sentence for murder! Clearly I am doing this all wrong.

In reality, however, I have decided to take a break from dating for a while. But taking a step back  has given me some valuable perspective, particularly about the online scene. 

It is very difficult to meet people organically if it is not through contacts. I don't meet people through work contacts because I work from home, and there aren't many people here.  (Hang on... I hear something in the kitchen.... No, no, it's just the cat.) And I don't meet many people through friends because very few of my friends know anyone single who is even remotely suitable for me. So if I do want to meet people, I have to either hang out at pubs (and seriously? I'd rather eat my own bedsocks) or go online.

But there is a serious problem with online dating: it is inextricably tied to appearance. Now, here's the irony - I am not someone to whom appearance is particularly important. I have been madly in love with men who are not at all conventionally attractive. But that's because I had time to get to know them, and fell in love with them for their personality, and the attraction followed.

When you are dating online, you simply don't get that opportunity. You cannot possibly date everyone, and so you have to be selective. And how do you select? Most men give only the briefest of bios, so all you know is their age, educational status, suburb, whether or not they have kids, and a short tag line. If there is Bob, who you find physically unappealing on initial look, Phil, who you find physically unappealing on initial look, and John, whose appearance appeals, who are you going to pick? You'll pick John. 

Hello, John! Is it me you're looking for?

Now, it's possible that you would find Bob or Phil attractive if you went out with them several times and got to know them, but that's a huge amout of time to invest on a complete stranger. And most of us just don't have that much time.

There are thousands of Bobs and Phils online. Maybe one of them could be my future partner. But the paradigm of online dating means that I probably won't find him, because I don't have time to spend getting to know thousands of men in the hope that one of them will become attractive to me after several dates. And so I'll stick with the Johns, which a) is incredibly limited, because there aren't that many Johns online, and b) is a ridiculous criteria for meeting people.

But how else do you do it? How would you do it? How do you do it? Is the man in the picture single? Do you think he's financially secure and is comfortable around children?

And has Charles Manson's fiancee ever tried RSVP? Do you think that's what pushed her over the edge??

November 17, 2014

So.... Last year I failed.

So. I have just finished writing my fourth book. I submitted it to my agent today. It is my first attempt at fiction. I enjoyed writing it. I just finished re-reading it and I was excited to find out what happened. Which was odd, because I knew. But I think it is a good sign.

Now, those of you who are familiar with my career might be scratching your heads. Hasn't she only written two books? When My Husband Does the Dishes and The Little Book of Anxiety?

Well, no. Those are the books that have been published. I wrote my third book last year. It is still sitting in my computer.

My third book was a memoir about grief. It was the story of my sister and I, intertwined with another painful episode in my life. The four publishers who saw it all said it was beautifully written. None of them would publish it. They said it was too sad and that they couldn't market a book about grief.

Getting that news was one of the lowest points of my life. Not the absolute lowest, obviously; I mean, hey, I've written a memoir about grief! I know what low moments look like! But it was pretty grim. I was fairly recently separated, and struggling to build a new life alone. I had taken a risk in writing a different kind of book, one which wasn't funny, or light, or easy to read. And I had taken time away from doing income-generating work, which was even more of an issue now that I was a single mum.

And I was used to success. My other two books were snapped up. I was always deeply grateful for my good fortune in being published, but I honestly never imagined that this third book wouldn't go the same way. I thought it would be a best seller. I thought it would soar. Instead I was told it wouldn't be published.

I was crushed. Crushed. I mean, temporarily broken. I sobbed non-stop for about thirty hours. I was beyond devastated. All that work, all that love, all that faith, gone to waste. It was a kick in the solar plexus. I was winded. I was inconsolable.

And then I finished crying, and I got up, and I got on with my life. And, once the dust had settled, I started another book.

I never mentioned my Grief Book (as I think of it) because I was ashamed. I was ashamed of the failure. But I'm not ashamed anymore. I'm not ashamed because I've picked myself up and tried again, and I'm happy with what I've written, and I'm hoping for good things.

And you know what? Maybe one day the Grief Book will be published. Maybe I'll self publish it and I'll sell a billion copies. Maybe I'll self publish it, and only one hundred people will read it, but out of those one hundred people, ten are deeply moved. I don't know. Life is long. There are many options ahead.

Keep trying, is what I'm saying. Keep pushing forward. You will have failures, you will have roadblocks, you will have bitter disappointments. But they fade, and you are left with the challenges and joys of today.

I hope my agent likes my new book. I hope it goes far. And if it doesn't, I will give it all up and get a job as a barista.

Or I'll write another book.

Yeah. Probably that.

November 10, 2014

Extroverts Have Problems Too

Recently I read a fascinating insight into How To Understand An Introvert. Not being an introvert myself, this was utterly revelatory to me.

I am an extrovert. Really, as extroverted an extrovert as one can be. And - whilst I am sure it can be challenging being an introvert - it is exceedingly challenging being someone like me.

Extroverts need interaction like other people need food. If I do not get my daily quota of meaningful interaction, I feel as spiritually hungry as you might without meals. I feel cranky, frustrated, empty, even a little depressed. And so I talk to everyone - and I mean everyone - to get my fill of conversation. I talk to taxi drivers, people at the grocery store, parents waiting at school, the barista who makes my coffee. I am one of those sad old ladies who talk to the bank teller when I'm depositing money, except that I'm not actually sad, and I'm not even all that old.

It was easy being an extrovert when I was younger and worked in an office environment. I would talk to people all day, and then come home and debrief with my husband.

Now I work alone, at my desk, writing words into a computer, and I live with my kids, without the company of another adult. My computer listens to me, but doesn't talk back, which makes getting my share of discussion immensely difficult to achieve. On the days I have places to go and people to see, I will talk incessantly to anyone who will listen. On the days I don't have anywhere particular to be, I will spend a great deal of time on social media, letting my fingers do the talking for me.

The thing is, despite being an extrovert, I am happy in my own company. I couldn't spend all this time alone if I wasn't able to entertain myself. And I can and do entertain myself. I read and I think and I write and I watch Girls on DVD and I keep myself occupied. But needing to find my daily fix of stimulation is a constant struggle.

As an extrovert, I don't much like travelling alone. And when I do travel, I prefer going to populated areas. I don't like huge crowds, but love being with small groups of people in which we can have meaningful interaction. And I find it difficult to rein in my conversation; I tend to get a little overexcited in the company of people I like.

Oh, and I tend to dance in my undies a lot. But I don't actually think that has anything to do with being an extrovert. I just think that has something to do with me.

Extroverts, like introverts, face challenges every day. We just need to talk about our challenges a whole lot more than you do. And we tend to hold up lines at supermarkets, because we're chatting to the cashier. I'm sorry about that. I'm happy to discuss it if you wish.

For challenges faced by extroverts, see here.

October 20, 2014

And just like that.... I was gone.

Last week I disappeared. I had a general anesthetic on Tuesday morning, was home by Tuesday afternoon, and was completely stoned on Endone until Thursday evening. I lay in bed for forty eight hours, dozing and staring at the ceiling and doing absolutely nothing else.

Endone is a morphine derivative and even the tiny doses I took had a profound effect on me. I couldn't think. I didn't want to think. I didn't want to do anything but stare at the ceiling. I had no interest in watching TV or reading a magazine or eating or chatting to a loved one. I was perfectly content to lay on my back and just BE. It was probably the first time in my life I have experienced that kind of serenity, and - if I stay healthy - hopefully the last.

It is a weird thing, not thinking. Can you imagine not thinking? I don't stop thinking for a moment. Even now, writing this post, I have worried about the article I just wrote and whether my editor will like it, the piece of toast I just ate and how I'd really like another, how the makeup I'm still wearing after my TV appearance  is making my skin crawl and I need to take it off, and that I can't keep on procrastinating with my taxes. I hate doing my taxes. I was thinking that, too.

Since finishing that sentence I thought of the party I was at last night, and how I told one of my close friends that his daughter used to be 'funny looking'. I was a little drunk at the time, but it's really no excuse and I am quite mortified by my behaviour. I am thinking about a chart on introverts I saw this morning, and how it was a revelation because I am not at all introverted. I am thinking about my best friend and why she hasn't returned my message. I am thinking about the mess in my apartment and how I plan to clean it soon. And I am really thinking about that second piece of toast.

"We become what we think about all day long," wrote Emerson, and he has to be right, because really, what else could we be? We are not our bodies, we are not our jobs, we are not our status; we are our thoughts, and our thoughts dictate who we are. I am me because I worry about the things I worry about, because I care about the things I care about, and because I contemplate the things I contemplate. No-one else has my thoughts, hence, I am unique in this world.

Last week I was nothing. I had no thoughts, so I wasn't me. I was a generic body, lying in a bed, staring at the ceiling. I occasionally rallied enough strength to be a simulacrum of me. When my children came in to kiss me goodnight I said the things I knew Real Kerri would have said. But I didn't feel it. I felt nothing. Just air and ceiling and a deep, deep peace.

Now I'm back to me. And with all the worries and petty concerns and ruminations, I wouldn't go back to the serenity. Without my thoughts I am nothing. Without your thoughts, neither are you.

September 20, 2014

Are You A Fussy Dresser?

This morning I had nothing to wear. Seriously. Nothing. Annette Sharp would have had a field day if she'd seen me out at Westfield because I looked like a friggin' hobo. I was wearing jeans, old black boots, a baggy, misshapen top over a slightly longer baggy, white top over an even longer hundred-year-old slip thing whose colour can only be described as 'puce'.

I went out in search of winter tops because a) all my winter tops are hideous, and b) I was cold. I have no problem shopping for summer clothes - I love shift dresses and will wear them happily every day for three months - but I hate winter wear. Hate it. I inevitably spend the winter months poorly dressed and freezing cold, because I just can't find clothes I like. It's not that there aren't nice things out there, it's just that they're not for me. I am a fussy dresser (think fussy eater, but with clothes) and the list of things I don't wear runs a mile long.

Orange, Tight, Polo Neck. I Am Hyperventilating

My Will Not Wear List

  1. Heavy winter knits. They scratch and make me too hot.
  2. Shirts. I cannot wear clothes with collars. I hate really structured clothes and the collars make me feel like I'm choking.
  3. Crisp fabrics such as linen. They make my skin crawl.
  4. Cowl necks. They are horrible.
  5. Polo necks. I am way too claustrophobic. I can't even dress my kids in polo necks; seriously, the very idea makes my neck constrict.
  6. Scarves. Probably the claustrophobia thing; also I feel like they're wearing me instead of the other way around.
  7. Polyester. Any man-made fabrics make me sweat.
  8. Anything tight fitting from the hips up. I wear skinny jeans and leggings, but my top half needs to be in loose clothing. It's not a weight thing - I wear bikinis in summer, I have no issue with my body - I just feel hideously uncomfortable in body hugging clothes.
  9. Orange, green, yellow, purple. I wear black, white, neutrals, navy, pink and silver. That's it. Other colours are for Wiggles or Teletubbies.
  10. Applique, beading, lace, leather patches. Just.... no.
  11. Belts. I would rather wear a bandage around my waist.
  12. Anything 'tricky' or hard to wear. If the sales assistant has to teach me how to wear it, or it can be worn in several different ways, or it needs to be draped, or belted, or tucked, or anything other than 'slipped over the head' I am out.
  13. Anything too voluminous. I like loose fitting, but not enormous.
  14. Anything too long. I am about two foot tall. If I wear long coats or skirts I look like one of the Olsen twins.
  15. Baggy pants. They make me look like an Oompa Loompa.
  16. Anything that needs dry cleaning or ironing. Because BusyWorkingMum.

So it is a little limiting. Today, however, I did well. I found a plain black fine knit top, and loved it so much I bought it in cream as well. (Okay, so my mum paid for the cream one. THANK YOU MUM.) I will wear one of them every day and feel well dressed until summer. And then next winter will roll around, and I'll have absolutely nothing to wear again.....

What about you? Are you a fussy dresser?

September 11, 2014

Why Arianna Huffington is Wrong

Arianna Huffington is an impressive woman. She is an impressive woman who continues to make money from her website, the Huffington Post, which does not pay its bloggers. Though she has staff on the payroll, she does not pay the people whose blog posts appear on her site and generate page impressions and, therefore, income.

Last night at Carriageworks Annabel Crabb asked Ms Huff why she did not pay bloggers. She responded that she didn't need to. She believes that people want to write, and they will write anyway, and she offers them a platform - much like Tumblr or Facebook - on which to express themselves. They gain valuable exposure, which is payment enough. And besides, why should she pay them? They are willing to write for free!

She also (very cleverly) pointed out that Annabel's guests on her TV show are not paid. So that's pretty much the same thing, right?

Well, let's take that point by point.

  • The Huff Post is a platform, but it is not a site like Tumblr or Facebook. The latter are free-for-alls. Anyone can post, anyone can write. But the Huff Post is not a public platform. Only a select few get to write for the Huff Post. They are chosen specifically so that their words will earn income for the company. So the comparison is invalid.
  •  Yes, many people want to write. Many people enjoy expressing themselves creatively. And yes, as Ms Huff states, they will write anyway. But writing for yourself is like painting for yourself. It's lovely to express yourself in a painting or work of art. You can't expect to be paid for that. But if someone wishes to take your painting and hang it in their own environment, so that other people will be lured into that environment and spend money, they should damn well pay for it.
  • Not paying guests on a TV show is not the same thing as not paying a guest writer. A guest on a TV show is an interview subject, and it is anathema to journalism to pay for interviews. Whether or not Annabel pays her interviewees is utterly irrelevant. I can guarantee, however, that her producers pay the writers, the camera operators, the makeup artists, the directors, the lighting people, and everyone else involved in the making of the show. And that is the only appropriate comparison.
  • Underpayment or non-payment of particular professions is a serious problem from a feminist perspective. Traditionally, women have engaged in roles which are performed for love, rather than money. Teaching, nursing, social work etc have been underpaid for years because the people performing those roles - usually women - will do them anyway. This does not make it right. These people who are working in fields they are passionate about deserve payment as much as people working purely for money.
  • Yes, there are thousands of people willing to work for the Huff Post unpaid. They are willing to work unpaid because they feel they don't have a choice, because the systems in place - the systems maintained and perpetrated by the Huff Post, among others - give them no choice. And this is the very definition of exploitation: taking advantage of people who feel they have no choice.
Arianna Huffington is an impressive woman. But until she pays all her writers, she will not be the inspiration I am looking for.

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