Wait, did I just think that?

On Thursday night, I performed at ‘Velvet Tongue’, an erotic spoken word performance night run by the lovely folks at Little Raven Publishing. I’ve done open mic stuff before, and I’ve even done ‘Velvet Tongue’ before, but this time it felt different, this time the audience were different.

So let me be specific, the audience was much more vocal, and in particular a group at the front of the room, composed mainly of women, who would whoop, and phwoar, and generally express their pleasure and arousal as each performer spoke.

While I sat in the audience, up the front near them. before and after I did my little piece, I found myself uncomfortable with this level of enthusiasm. I thought unkind things – I felt like they should really stop making such a fuss, I felt like they were putting it on, I felt like it was off-putting for people both performing and listening.

I managed to restrain myself and did not glare, or otherwise chastise the group, nor did anyone else that I could see. But I’ve been thinking about it over the last couple of days. I wondered why I reacted the way I did, and I came up with a few uncomfortable reasons:

  1. People shouldn’t vocally enjoy erotica in public;
  2. Women shouldn’t enjoyment of sexy things.

The first is all about sex and shame. People shouldn’t enjoy sexy things, and therefore people should definitely not enjoy sexy things loudly, obviously or in the company of others. The second is more particularly about the invisibility of female desire; that women are/should be sexually passive, lacking agency, of denying women’s pleasure and expression thereof.

Realising that I think these things is really confronting for me, especially given how much digging I had to do to get to that point in myself. I don’t want to think of myself as sexist, or misogynist, or racist, or ableist, or homophobic or any other sort of unpleasantness, but clearly sometimes I am a bit. Sometimes I think things which are consistent with views I don’t want to hold, and that’s weird and hard. Sometimes I need someone, even if it’s myself, to gently call me out  on it.

It reminds me of a speech made by Panti Bliss about her own internalised homophobia, where she talks about how difficult it is to be completely accepting when you grow up and live in a society like ours. She concludes by suggesting we kind with ourselves because you’re doing really well if you’re only a little bit homophobic.

I’m not really sure what this post is trying to say, but I suppose it’s about seeing yourself, about knowing that sometimes when people irritate you, it’s because you’re wrong. Sometimes I find it really hard to articulate why things are sexist, but this experience demonstrates to me that we should think of ourselves, and our society, as a work in progress, rather than as a completely finished, perfect thing. I don’t know if anyone else ever thinks about the same things, but I do.

Quills – Review

On Friday night I took myself to see a production of ‘Quills’, by Doug Wright, performed by Mockingbird Theatre. Some of you may know that ‘Quills’ was made into a movie with Geoffrey Rush in 2000, which is an excellent film and I would encourage you all to see it at some point.

'Quills' poster, by Mockingbird Theatre

‘Quills’ poster, by Mockingbird Theatre

The question is how is one to review this production? I should probably start with stating this play made me uncomfortable, and that’s great. It’s an uncomfortable work, exploring lots of difficult subject matter – censorship, obscenity, moral responsibility, insanity – and I commend the entire cast for committing so completely to making the audience shift in their seats.

The cast was quite large, along with the main speaking parts, seven in all, there was a chorus of 21 lunatics who where always on stage or roaming the audience. Each lunatic had their own specific way of being, some were catatonic, some manic, some lewd, some withdrawn. The note from the director states that the lunatics were not written on the pages of the script but their presence certainly grounded the work in the very, very strange.

The play was performed in a space called the Meat Market, so named because it was the site of a meat market, in North Melbourne. It is a vast, empty warehouse of a space. The audience were in four blocks, with the stage set up in three sections in the middle. The use of space was very clever and I felt the line between on stage and off was blurred, adding to the uncomfortable feeling of being inside Charenton.

It seems appropriate now to discuss the protagonist, the Marquis De Sade, who was committed to the Charenton Asylum, for criminal and moral transgressions, where he died. Played here by Adrian Carr, the character of the Marquis is complex, stubborn, tender and vicious. He also spends more than half the play nude, having been stripped of his clothing for disobeying the asylum staff. The poster and tickets both warned of adult content and nudity, however I doubt the audience expected that much nudity! The Marquis, and of course by extension Carr, was regal in his nakedness, all of the mannerisms, the strut, the peacock-like pride, remained even when the costume was gone. That being said, one could argue that the costume was still on, emperors-new-clothes-style, that Carr was wearing the character of the Marquis as a costume.

Of the other leading actors I particularly enjoyed the Abbe de Coulmier, played by Dylan Watson, whose journey through the play is almost as remarkable as the Marquis’, although less nude (still a bit nude). Throughout the performance I felt like Watson was playing the role for himself, and I felt strangely voyeuristic, particularly towards the end, looking over his shoulder as he disintegrated.

It interested me that the ending of the play is quite different to the ending of the film, not so much in overall outcomes, but in the detail. I’m always fascinated by the way that people get around the difference in media – the things you can do with a live audience, because they’re so sucked into the world of the performance are often more extreme, more melodramatic, or just more, than the things you can get away with on screen (with a few exceptions).

If I had to give one criticism of ‘Quills’ it would be that it got a little bit shouty at the end. I acknowledge that it was the climax of the story and that the characters were becoming more and more desperate, but the variation of tone sort of slipped away a little, though this is a minor criticism.

Overall, I would rate this performance a 4.5 out of 5. Get out there and support your local independent theatre productions, you may be surprised how it turns out!

Oh India!

Part of me wants to open this post by saying I’m sorry for not posting. But I’m not going to. The reason I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet recently is because I went to India, then I moved house and started back full-time at uni as soon as I got back. I’ve been busy, I suppose you could say.

The first thing you might be wanting to know is why India? I suppose there were a few reasons. Firstly, I took a subject in the first half of the year which looked at European empires in the early modern period (that’s 1500-1800) a large portion of which was devoted to the British in India. I was interested to see some of the places where these fascinating, world altering things happened. Secondly, India is different. It’s one of the most different places I could think of to my home Australia and that sounded like a good reason to go. Thirdly, I’d never been to a country where you needed to get vaccinations – no Bali, or Thailand or Malaysia – I’d only been to Europe, the United States of America and New Zealand, and they’re not really that challenging, you know, culturally they’re similar, or at least familiar in certain ways. And lastly, it was cheap. I knew that I was leaving my permanent part-time job, and would be returning to full-time study, and therefore less income, on my return, so being able to get the experience of throwing myself into a completely different setting without spending too large a chunk of my savings was an important consideration.

Traditional dance demonstration in Udaipur, Rajastan.

Traditional dance demonstration in Udaipur, Rajastan.

The second thing people generally want to know when I say I’ve just been in India is where did I go? Well, I joined a prepackaged tour and we took in Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Pushkar, Bharatpur, Varanasi, and Kolkata in three weeks.

I went alone, but I was travelling with a group which had both advantages and drawbacks. The advantages were in having a local guide, who spoke excellent English and could translate for us where required, that the itinerary, bookings, travel etc. were all taken care of, and that I had travelling companions who I got to know quite well. The drawbacks were that the group, twelve in all, were all women, predominantly Australian with a couple of Brits (which says something I’m sure, but what I don’t know). This meant that any time we went out as a large group we were a spectacle. People stared. No, men stared.

Camel back safari into the desert near Jaisalmer, Rajastan.

Camel back safari into the desert near Jaisalmer, Rajastan.

I can say men stared because nine out of ten people we encountered were men. Men in shops, men in the street, men in trains and buses, men in restaurants. I suspect it has to do with purdah, the veiling/seclusion of women in both Hindu and Muslim cultures, but when asked our guide insisted that women are uncomfortable being in jobs where they are constantly coming into contact with strangers, and therefore chose not to be in those roles. Although I was in India for only a short time, I was continually aware of the very male nature of the general public I encountered.

India is beautiful. It has a long and rich culture and history. It has some gorgeous and diverse natural surroundings and environs, great temples and palaces, and a people who are proud to follow their traditions and to take pride in their way of life.

India is dirty. The streets are full of rubbish and stray animals – cows, dogs, goats, monkeys, squirrels – the water is polluted, the air is polluted, and there is a serious sewage issue. India is loud and intense. The colours are brighter, clothing is highly patterned and full of bold colour (particularly compared to grey old Melbourne fashion!) and the air is full of noise, from temples to car/bike/rickshaw horns (so many horns!), and people going about their business. 

Yep, that's me at the Taj Mahal.

Yep, that’s me at the Taj Mahal, Agra.

At the end of the trip I have a much better appreciation for what I consider normal. I had an understanding of what I expected, what made me stressed, what I could do to self-soothe, and what I ultimately needed and wanted to feel happy and calm. It’s amazing what you can deal with when you’re faced with a series of things which make you uncomfortable and you have to focus any reaction on the most salient thing and the other things just slide away. For me, the biggest thing I had to cope with was the cows, I just couldn’t get comfortable around them. I kept expecting them to lunge at me, even though they generally just stood there looking docile and not giving a single fuck about the chaos around them. 

Visiting India was one of the hardest, most rewarding, most exhausting, most exhilarating experiences in my life. I cannot begin to describe what it felt like to be in a place that’s so completely foreign, to be such an outsider. It feels like I’ve been able to redefine myself through comparison, but I also feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself and hopefully grown from the experience. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is).

Watching Movies: Death in the Outback

On Monday I took advantage of the cheap tickets at Cinema Nova in Carlton. Seriously, $6 for a movie before 4pm – if you’re not working, why wouldn’t you? I was tossing up between ‘Frank’ and ‘The Rover’, I chose the latter because it started sooner. I’d heard a bit about the film, I vaguely recalled Marc Fennel having talked about it on Triple J, and I like Guy Pierce so it seemed like a good plan.

The Rover theatrical poster

The Rover theatrical poster

I went into it with absolutely no expectations – I didn’t have much idea what the premise was, nor had I seen Animal Kingdom, the first film by the director David Michod. This may not have worked in my favour. My initial reaction to this is that it’s Mad Max but rewritten with George R. R. Martin’s penchant for death. It’s bleak, and I mean bleak. Walking out I felt quiet, a little overwhelmed, and with a feeling of ‘if this is where the world’s going, we may as well all kill ourselves now and save the bother.’ But let me deconstruct that a bit.

Firstly, the narrative. The opening of the film explains that we’re ten years after ‘the collapse’, no context is given for this. I becomes clear as we go along that there was some sort of serious global economic crisis thing, that law and order has fallen over, that Australia is a giant open cut mine, and that the money and work have run out. It’s a dystopian future scenario. The first thing that happens is Eric’s (Guy Pierce) car is stolen and the rest of the story is about getting the car back.

It is a slow moving film, with lots of atmosphere. This is built in part by the soundtrack, by Antony Partos, which felt very post-apocalyptic, all banging piano strings with hammers and bowing bits of metal. It was also very loud, which I expect was deliberate to create a sense of oppression of sound. At least it did for me. The rest of the atmosphere is developed by the lack of dialogue. As Fennel describes, it is not the words that matter here, but what is not said – the gaps between the characters, their PSTD-esque stares, in particular from Eric, who is a mysterious and hard-to-sympathise-with character. I suspect that this impression is heightened by the focus on listening – what I mean is how much of the film shows actors reacting to dialogue as opposed to acting dialogue. In particular a scene between Eric and Sgt Rick Rickoffersen in which Eric talks about how he got to this point and we watch Rickoffersen hear his story. The effect is powerful in a way that it wouldn’t be if we’d watched Eric talk.

Visually, this film is typical of the Australian outback film. These is a lot of dust, and sweat, and reds and browns and yellows. Everything is old and broken and dirty. I don’t know how well an international audience would relate to this, but I felt like it was very true to the tone of the outback, in this case filmed in South Australia – it’s hot, dry, brown and empty.

Still: The Rover

Still: The Rover

Finally to the acting. Eric and Rey (Robert Pattinson) are extremely different characters, and this was borne out very well in their physicality. Eric was still, almost zen-like in his demeaner, he stares straight ahead and barely seems to be affected by anything going on around him. Rey, on the other hand, is jittery, fidgety, scattered and potentially low in the intelligence stakes. Rey also has an almost unintelligible southern American drawl which is juxtaposed to Eric’s crisp Australian speech. I’ve always thought that silent acting is the hardest, being able to convey your whole character without words, and this film does really well in this regard.

So what didn’t I like? Well for one thing, this film has only two female characters who don’t meet, so it fails the Bechdel test miserably. Secondly, I’m not sure how well it will survive over time given that it leaves the viewer feeling absolutely defeated – I don’t know how many people will chose to rewatch a film that’s this intense. I felt similar about Nymphomaniac actually, it requires quite a lot from the viewer and doesn’t give much back.

In a nutshell, I’m going to give this 3.5 out of 5 stars, there are some excellent parts to this film but overall it was just a little bit much.

Watching Movies: Beautiful Vampires

I don’t think I got Jim Jarmusch until today. I saw ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ at the magnificent Astor Theatre earlier today and it was glorious. The central characters of the film, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires. They are impossibly old, they are reclusive – in the world but not of it, they are artistic, and they are so, so in love. If I had only two words for this film, they would be languid, and restrained.

Only Lovers Left Alive screenshot

Still: Only Lovers Left Alive

The film was beautifully realised in a number of ways, I will try to go each of them. Firstly, cinematographically, this film had some lovely themes. Adam, who lives in Detroit, is black – his clothes are black, his hair is black, his house is very dark, and all of the scenes in Detroit are dark. Eve on the other hand, who lives in Tangier, is white – her clothes are pale, her hair is pale, her house is pale, even the scenes in Tangier, which are at night, are much paler in comparison.

The characterisation is lovely too, Adam is a reclusive, musician who is pretty grumpy, fascinated by the world of science and weary of the zombies (humans). Eve is light, but thoughtful, she reads every language, she is fascinated by the world of humans and has a zest for existence. They are the quintessential yin and yang, and they were small charms of the other’s colours as a token of their difference and their love.

Thirdly, the acting by Swinton and Hiddleston is delightful, much of which is without dialogue. The whole film is quite minimalist in some ways, but the affection between the two leads is very real. I saw an interview with the two of them, along with Jarmusch and John Hurt (who plays Christopher Marlowe) and it was clear that the affection between them was not only on screen. Their ability to portray a love which is literally ageless but still just as potent was truly remarkable – their complete comfort with each others’ presence while still having a burning desire for the other were equally believable. Together, they achieve a level of sexiness that is rarely seen, and is heightened by their never consummating it on screen.

Music also plays a huge part in the effect of this film. I commented to a friend as soon as the credits were finished that I must get hold of the soundtrack immediately. Most of the soundtrack is by Sqürl, Jim Jarmusch’s band. It manages to be moody and atmospheric while also being able to drive the action – lots of wailing guitars and slow beats, giving the film a sort of timeless urgency.

Only Lovers Left Alive theatrical poster

Only Lovers Left Alive theatrical poster

I have to give big ups to Jarmusch for this film. Having seen ‘Dead Man’ and finding it beautiful but confusing, I was ready for this movie to be somewhat inaccessible, but I was pleasantly surprised as I let the film wash over me. The Marlowe as Shakespeare conspiracy theory is interesting, but probably not something I want to go in to here, I suspect it may have created some tension between Jarmusch and Hiddleston, who has very successfully performed Shakespeare (see also this post). I could be wrong, but the interview I mentioned before includes some interesting body language between them when the interviewer asks about the issue. It is a credit to everyone involved that with so much to work with and such talented people on hand the film is so restrained, so understated, and that this is one of the things which makes it so great.

Overall, it gave me some excellent food for thought. A poignant and thoughtful look at love, life, humanity, pleasure, despair and death. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

All this stuff

Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

 

For the final day of the Writing101 challenge the prompt is to tell the story of my most prized possession. But I’m not going to do that. I want to talk to you about material things. I’ve spent a bit of time over the last few days thinking about, no, obsessing over, the stuff I own and whether I actually need it. Now that I’ve quit my job and have a more uncertain income situation I’ve been considering whether it might be time to move house.

There are pros and cons to every living arrangement. The room I have now is pretty cheap and it’s in a great location. On the other hand, the room I have is weirdly shaped, cramped, and drafty and there are ants in summer and there are four people living here (not to mention with various overnight guests). So, pros and cons.

I looked online for other places that would be less expensive, just assessing my options, and I started thinking about what I would take with me if I moved. There are some things that I’ve been carrying around with me for years that I hardly use, but for whatever reason I’ve been hanging on to. Objects which are associated with memories, with times in my life.

Take my stereo for instance. It was a present for my fifteenth (or possibly sixteenth) birthday from my parents. My brother sourced the components from the second hand hi-fi place he was working in, it’s chunky and old and I love it. It also comes with the two speakers I got at fifteen and the two much bigger speakers I inherited from my second boyfriend (the gothy one from this post). I’ve taken this stereo with me every time I’ve moved house since I left home, and if I’m honest, it’s really awkward, because it’s massive and loud and analog and and and.

It feels like a betrayal to consider getting rid of it – I’ve had some really great times with it, listening to music on my own, or using it to blast the neighbours at parties, but not lately. I’m beginning to realise that I’m a pretty big nanna; I don’t like parties or late nights, and for the most part I’m happy to listen to music through my computer. Which means I don’t need, or use, the stereo.

What other stuff am I hanging on to ‘just in case’ I want to use it? How often do I catch myself buying stuff just because it seemed like a good idea? I feel myself being a mindless consumer, wanting something just because it’s there, and it’s shiny, and someone else has it.

I know that things can have a lot of significance based on where you got them, who you got them from, what memories you’ve created with them, but in the end everything is just stuff. We’ll remember the stuff that’s great without the thing to remind us, especially if it’s a good memory. We’ll remember the hard times that we’ve had, deep in our hearts, whether or not we have the objects there to remind us.

I want to be able cherish the things I have and use, but to be able to disconnect myself from them when it’s time. Stuff is just stuff. The more you have, the more you have to lose. The more you carry the heavier the burden. I don’t need stuff to be happy. Most of my memories are stored in digital form anyway – my writing, my journals, my photos, are all on hard drives (and some websites), I won’t get rid of those, but what else do I need? I just need something to eat, somewhere to sleep, something to do, and people to love and to love me.

I’m going to repeat that to myself that over and over until it’s true.

What if?

Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

 

I identify as a feminist. Usually I’m completely happy with this, but sometimes, I find myself wanting things that are decidedly unfeministy. Like a boyfriend and a baby and a house in the suburbs. I’ll turn 30 later this year. It keeps feeling like this should be a big deal, like I should have sorted my shit out by now, but it is pretty clear to me that I really, really haven’t got anything sorted out.

I’ve just left a perfectly good, if soul-crushing, permanent part time job for nothing. I haven’t really got another job to go into. I plan to study full-time next semester, but without Centrelink/welfare payments I’ll have to get a job of some sort to survive. I have been in a romantic relationship for a total of four weeks out of the last (nearly) three years. I’m generally not doing well in the ‘being a grown-up department’.

The difficulty for me with these conflicting desires is that I know, intellectually, that I’m capable of being happy without a husband, baby, house and white picket fence. I also know, intellectually, that having these things does not guarantee happiness, and that many people would look at my free, arty farty lifestyle with envy, but I still want them. I guess there’s that part of me, having grown up with all of those expectations of normality, that wants to fit in.

I always saw myself as a parent, a mother, and the idea that it might not be a reality for me is kind of hard to fathom. I’m not so invested in the idea for a baby that I would have one alone, I don’t mean any disrespect to single mothers/parents, but it seems like a lot of hard work, and I’m not up for that.

On the other hand women who don’t have kids are supposed to be focussed on their careers. In a lot of ways I am focussed on my career, my aims to be a writer, but that’s not usually what people mean by career. I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder. I don’t want to work really hard so I have lots of cash and no time. I often feel like a massive failure on lots of different societal measures of success, although I seem to be pretty good at academic pursuits which is supposed to be desirable, but usually only on the way to career or babies.

So how do I make peace with myself, with my path, if I won’t achieve ‘success’? Even if I don’t want to. How do I tell the part of my brain that wants money, husbands, babies and houses to be quiet so the other part, the part my heart knows is right for me, can guide me? And what if my chosen path is never ‘successful’? I might get a few things published here and there, but I might never be a full time writer. Maybe I’ll be working in admin a few days a week and churning out writing that no one will pay for and hardly anyone will read when I’m 75. I really want to be ok with this. I will always have ambition, and that’s great, but I want to be able to be happy without those things.

What if I’m a bad feminist because I want those things? What if I can’t achieve the things I want? What if the things I want aren’t socially acceptable? What if I’m a failure as a human being? What if I want things that won’t make me happy?What if… What if…

But what if I just stop worrying and start living? How about I try that and see how I go from there.