Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jobs I have hated: 1

Working on an architecture magazine as an editorial assistant

This job made me realise that I have to do something that I can in some way be passionate about or intrigued by. I know that many, many fine people would see this as a great job, or at least a great industry, but it's just not me.

I was more intrigued by sewage treatment in my next job (corporate PR) than I was by high-end architecture. The houses were stunning, but they didn't make me feel anything. They were so detached from my life, and most people's lives.

Writing copy for an engineering magazine, at least no one expects you to find it fascinating. (And actually, translating extremely technical concepts into plain English and tangible outcomes is an immensely satisfying challenge.)

Editing pretentious, utterly humourless copy about buildings and their oh-so-stylish creators is not especially challenging.

Maybe I am being a little unfair. I also hated this job because I was unexpectedly bad at it. My copy about building materials and household appliances for the advertorial supplement was riddled with errors and inconsistencies (to my initial shock).

I was called into the director's office and told to be more careful, asked why my work was so much less than he'd expected from my interviews and sample work.

I was terrible at this job, at least partly, because I was deeply depressed and going through one of the worst times of my life. My personla life was a confusing mess and I wasn't coping. I was on antidepressants and I was messing with my doses and my mind was operating at 100kph. Erractically so.

I couldn't produce consistent work because my mind wasn't working consistently.

So I quit after a month, with no job to go to. I just couldn't face being so awful at a job I didn't even like. And I didn't know when I'd be any better.

I went to Adelaide instead, escaping my personal problems and (a little bit) the question of what to do next. I slept on my dad's couch, and I went to Adelaide Writers' Week every day, where I sunned on the lawns with a friend. And I cried right there on the grassy slopes, with big black sunglasses and a big black hat for shelter; because I was a f***-up and I had Blown It.

Then I heard an inspiring young writer I had never heard of talk about his life in an Israel-under-siege. He was funny and clever and eloquent and politically balanced (difficult in Israel) and I really wanted to write about him.

So, from the depths of my existential despair, I rang the editor of a magazine I liked, and asked if he would publish an interview with this author, if I could get one.

He said yes.

Slowly, from there, my life began to pick up again.

And I don't regret quitting that job at all.

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's a knockout

I have had concussion three times in my life that I can remember.

The first time, I was eight years old, showing off on the school playground. I was trying to impress my younger brother’s classmate (how sad was I?) with my never-before-tried trick of hanging upside-down WITH ONE LEG. When I unhooked one leg, I accidentally unhooked the other one too, and I fell on my head. I ended up in the sickroom, then confined to bed for the next day.

The second concussion was fifteen years later. I was 24, and I was drunk. Showing off again, really. I was walking home with an old friend I’d once had a mild crush on (which I had just confessed, and discovered it had been reciprocated). It was 3am, and we were on our way back to my flat, having nowhere left to drink. We had just left the truly awful Parkview Hotel (affectionately nicknamed ‘The Parkspew’) and were stumbling down St Georges Rd, North Fitzroy. There were no cars on the road, or almost none. Crossing Holden Street, I stopped in the middle of the road, put my arms around my friend’s neck, and hung there. Then I let go. And fell backwards onto the bitumen, pretty well on my head.
‘Oh my god, oh my god!’ yelled my friend. ‘Are you okay? Why did you do that?’
‘I thought you would catch me.’

A car cruised to a halt as he hauled me to my feet, with some difficulty. The window rolled down and a guy roughly our age stuck his head out.
‘Look after your f***ing girlfriend!’ he bawled. ‘Keep her off the f***ing road!’

We laughed and carried on up the road.

I woke up in the morning and felt the back of my head. My hair was sticky, matted. I looked at my fingers. They were smudged red with blood. So was the pillow.

‘Look!’ I said to my friend.
‘Yeah, I noticed last night,’ he said. ‘I thought you knew.’

Three days later, experiencing nausea, dizzy spells and more spaciness than usual, I went to the doctor. He said I should have come to him earlier for stitches, but it was too late for that now. The concussion seemed to be wearing off, and I’d be fine.

The third time I was concussed was Friday night, at F’s school concert.

It was the final number, all the kids singing as the Blues Brothers, dressed in black, with sunglasses and fedora hats. F wasn’t in it. (In fact, to my mild embarrassment, he was sitting in the front row with his head in a comic book.) But, the mother who had driven us had forgotten her camera, and I was taking photos on her behalf.

I suddenly decided this was too cute to miss, that if this was F, I would definitely want a photo. So, I ducked and ran back through the adoring crowd towards the bag and my camera. THUNK! I reeled backwards, cartoon-like, and steadied myself on the backs of my heels, trying to figure out what had happened. It took a few moments to realise that I had run into an iron bar that bordered the hall. Luckily, nobody had noticed. I grabbed my camera, straightened myself, and wove unsteadily back through the sea of plastic chairs.

My camera’s batteries, as it turned out, were irretrievably flat.

I emerged from the hall with a visible lump on my head and a slightly skewed sense of being. And a headache.

Today, after one in-between day of existing outside myself, I know that I felt decidedly abnormal yesterday, because now I’m feeling relatively normal.

Thinking back on past episodes of concussion, I realise how far I’ve come (or alternatively, how old I am). This time, I wasn’t showing off. I wasn’t drunk or trying to impress someone. I banged my head amidst the excitement of a school concert.

And I’m more of a hypochondriac than I was at 24, because I spent yesterday obsessed with how I was feeling. And there wasn’t even any blood …

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Talkin 'bout my generation

Generation X young adults who were born in the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, typically perceieved to be disaffected and directionless.

Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, fourth edition (2004)

I stumbled upon this gem in the course of a harried working day, and paused to savour it. The official definition of an entire generation. (Mine.)

So I rifled the office reference library (with the encouragement of my equally amused, equally harried boss) and found this:

Generation X Members of the generation of people born between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s who are highly educated and underemplyed, reject consumer culture, and have little hope for the future.

Collins Concise Dictionary, fifth Australian edition (2001)

and this:

Generation X the generation following the baby-boomers characterised in contrast with that group as being not as easily identifiable as a group and in particular as not being vocal on social issues but rather concerned with individual gain.

Macquarie ABC Dictionary (2003)

Wow. That's me, huh?

I can't wait until they come up with the definition for Generation Y.

But, chuckles aside, it led to a sobering thought: obviously, Generation Z is next. Then what?

If we weren't currently overwhelmed by the looming threats to our existence posed by climate change, dwindling water resources, peak oil, dwindling forests, escalating world conflict, and greedy governments too obsessed with their own immediate gratification to do anything about all of the above, maybe I wouldn't be wondering if there was something eerily prescient in this.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Suburban revolutionaries

I didn’t feel like attending the G20 protest at all today. I was going in the first place because a mother at school had asked me to, and it was such a novelty in that environment, I couldn’t refuse.

Last night, I was already regretting my decision. It was the end of an especially long working week and I was feeling, frankly, a little depressed. The last thing I wanted was to tear myself away from the house (let alone bed) and walk around the city, for any reason. Ditto talking to people. But I’d made the commitment and would feel shallow and self-involved if I pulled out.

This morning, after an uncharacteristic (these days) one drink too many, I eye the bedside clock with trepidation. The phone rings. My husband answers. It’s the Mother, relaying the message that she will be arriving early. She wants to make a banner, and she needs my help.

I’m barely dressed and out of the shower when she arrives. I haven’t brushed my hair. I’m not wearing shoes. Remnants of last night’s make up are smudged from my eyelids halfway down my cheek. (I won’t become aware of the latter until I glance in the mirror on my way out the door.) The Mother is dressed for protest in a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, sensibly armed with a backpack and water bottle. She also has two absolutely enormous slabs of white card (discarded advertisements that she has salvaged from Mitre Ten this morning) and three rolls of packing tape. She means action.

I sleepily and probably not-too-graciously lead her down the hallway and out the back door, wrestling with the placards, which are each roughly my size.

Do I have scissors? String? A lead pencil? A cloth to wipe down the cardboard? I obediently fetch the requisite tools. I have been to protests in the past, but didn’t prepare to this level. I think I kind of shambolically grabbed supplies for the day (water, camera, purse) and lurched out the door.

‘What do you think we should write?’ asks the Mother.
‘I don’t know,’ I say dumbly. I’m wishing we could forgo the banner in favour of breakfast along the way. Perhaps at a cafĂ© in the city. Perhaps Degraves. Poached eggs on toast, latte …
The Mother has a few ideas, she says. Her first one is pretty good: ‘Free Trade Makes Third World Into Fourth World’. I certainly don’t have anything better in mind. My mind is selfishly preoccupied with food and what I might have said over drinks last night. And whether my husband is planning to strip our lemon tree in its entirety. (He’s gathering lemons to donate to an anti-whaling boat this morning.)

I watch as the Mother carefully traces out the letters of her slogan on the newly clean cardboard.
‘I don’t meant to be rude,’ she says. ‘But do you think you could help?’
‘Oh. Sure.’
I get up from the Outdoor Couch and join her kneeling on the deck. We chat idly about school as we form letters using strips of tape. I begin to enjoy myself. It’s a bit like high school art class, or playing ‘making things’ with F. I wish he was here. He’d be having a wonderful time. (He’s at his dad’s for the weekend.)
‘Don’t you think,’ says the Mother, leaning back on her heels and frowning critically at my handiwork, ‘that you should be using three strips of tape for each stroke of your letters?’

My husband leaves for the anti-whaling boat in Port Melbourne with his three bags of lemons. The tree is still groaning under the weight of the remaining fruit.
The Mother glanced at her watch. ‘Shit,’ she says. ‘We’d better hurry.’

When we get to the State Library (half an hour late, but with a great banner), there is a crowd, but it’s not an overwhelming one. It’s far less than the 5000 figure estimated by the media, which we’d scoffed at as inadequate.
‘Oh,’ says the Mother. ‘I thought there’d be about 10,000.’
‘Yeah.’ I feel a wave of exhaustion already. I’m lightheaded, and glance hungrily across the road at Melbourne Central, where there must be some food. The Mother takes out a lunchbox and offers a shortbread biscuit. It’s a practice run for baking with the kids at school. I’m impressed, and wonder wearily where she gets all her energy. I’m vaguely aware of being a grump and a wet blanket.

The Mother talks animatedly about George Monbiot’s The Age of Consent and the notion that third world nations should withdraw from dealing with the first world and trade among themselves, have their own treaties. I don’t know what I think. I’m aware that my brain, my thinking and reasoning, is fuzzy. I say something about the fact that the corporations are in the third world now and it’s them who are shaping what’s happening. What can governments do? I wish I knew more. And that I could mount a coherent argument.

If only more stay-at-home mums used their free time reading Monbiot and the like and forming theories about global justice. After all, it’s the middle-class, home-owning, interest-rate-fearing mums and dads who drive politicians’ actions.

I realise that I see myself as a socially aware, politically informed person. A veteran of protests. A Greens voter, preferring Labor to Liberal of course. But somewhere along the way, thinking about jobs and overseas trips (and, let’s face it, before that, impending marriage and career), I’ve lost touch. I’ve been skimming the right papers and websites, watching Four Corners and occasionally Lateline (in bed, to fall asleep to). But I haven’t really been engaging with the ideas I find there: teasing them out, developing theories. The last protests I attended were the anti-war ones, just before and after we invaded Iraq. I read books on the situation. I organised forums on the topic for the bookstore I worked at. My co-workers and I took time off work to march under a banner bearing the name of our store. I was engaged. That was four years ago.

Today, I might look socialist-chic in my scruffy jeans, sensible sandals and Indian shirt (or I might not). I occasionally write (book reviews) for a right-on magazine. I know all about Tariq Ali, John Pilger and co. But the Mother is the one surfing this particular zeitgeist. I’m just paddling in the shallows.

A dreadlocked twentysomething in cargo pants gives up the thumbs-up. ‘Nice banner.’ A black-clad hipster with a white card at his belt reading ‘MEDIA’ snaps a photo, followed by another twentysomething, this time with a camera phone. He grins at us in solidarity.
‘She did most of it,’ I admit.

A diverse crowd lolls on the library lawns. Some listen intently to the speakers who stand, megaphone in hand, on the back of a ute parked in Swanston Street. Others talk excitedly amongst themselves. There are earnest-looking student types in jeans and slogan t-shirts (‘Capitalism makes me see red’). A couple of men with bandanas tied across their noses Zapatista-style amble past. Others seem to be making their political statements in a more abstract maner. One girl wears a hot pink tulle fairy skirt. A bearded young man flickers past her, also wearing a pink tulle skirt over tights. But there are also middle-aged mum and dad types – like us, I suppose – some of them with kids in tow. Drums play and clowns dart in and out of the crowd. It’s like a street fair. But that’s how I remember the S11 protests, too.

The carnival atmosphere is only made incongruous by the overwhelming presence of police, many of them wearing riot gear: plastic face masks, batons. A line of officers in reflective yellow vests (all men) stand behind the stage and line the kerb of Swanston Street. Clusters of them infiltrate the crowd, apprehensive, alert to any change in the mood. Watching them, my confidence erodes at the edges, just a little. I remember arriving home from the S11 protests flushed with the satisfaction of a good day out, then fielding phone calls from my mother and ex-boyfriend, both full of the sensational news reports. I’m pretty sure it will all be fine, but in the midst of the ‘war on terror’, I’m not 100 per cent convinced. Some of the police are on horseback, and I remember footage of baton-wielding police riding into crowds six years ago.

When it becomes clear that the march is finally starting, half an hour after we arrive, I make sure we’re not in the first few rows – just in case. Our banner takes up roughly one lane of the road. My shoulders ache as we bookend the banner, and start to walk. A young guy in a red Socialist Alliance t-shirt shouts chants through a megaphone at our backs. ‘Whose streets? Our streets. Whose war? Their war.’ I am happy to march, but too self-conscious to chant. I feel like I do at school assemblies when they sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Silly not joining in, but sillier still at the thought of doing so. The Mother chants in unison with the crowd. Megaphone man moves in front us, directly in front of us, and I decide to chant. ‘1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your racist war.’

The Saturday shoppers lining the streets have mostly stopped to watch. Many of them have brought out their cameras and mobile phones and are snapping away, waving and smiling.
‘See, all those people are on side,’ I say. ‘I think that counts.’
‘Why don’t they join in?’ replies the Mother.
We turn past the Nike store and up Bourke Street.
‘I’ve got a Nike bag, look,’ says the Mother. She does, too. ‘And shoes.’ I glance at her sneakers.
‘No one will notice.’
‘I thought about covering them with paper,’ she continues. ‘But I decided that was silly. They’re old. I’m not going to throw them out.’
‘No,’ I joke (badly). ‘You don’t want to waste the labour of those tiny hands that made them.’

We reach Collins Street, which is blocked off, and the crowd comes to a halt. The Socialist Alliance hand out red flags as if dispensing lollipops, and another red-shirted student leads another round of chants with the megaphone. A sea of flags wave in unison. Exotic birds perch in trees – men with cameras. One of them is definitely a professional. His enormous camera is trained on the barricades. Nothing seems to be happening. I can just see a row of police at the front, some of them on horses. I swing my camera towards them. One of the policemen has his own camera directed at the crowd. Overhead, helicopters circle the sky. I see more police on the roof of a nearby building. In another, media crowd an office window. Everyone is watching everyone else.

Down on street level, we are stuck in place, encumbered by our enormous banner. Toddlers sit on their parents’ shoulders. A Superman in drag, inexplicably slathered in blue face make-up, strides about purposefully. A grey-haired man in red suspender braces holds a sign high above his head: ‘Queer, straight, black, white, one struggle, one fight. RADICAL WOMEN!’ A hippy couple clutching an angelic bare-chested child weave through the crowd. Occasionally a chant goes up. I buy a magazine from a passing Big Issue vendor. We finish our water. I run into friends and we all talk about the absence of violence. A cheer goes up as a protester on the roof outside the media window brandishes a fire hose and turns it on the crowd below. I vaguely presume they are enjoying the relief from the heat.
‘It’s not like S11,’ says my friend. ‘People have lost their taste for violent protest after the other September 11.’
‘It’s good to see a bit of a scuffle, though,’ sighs his companion. ‘It’s nice to see a bit of passion.’

We decide it’s time to go. My friend suggests we leave our banner behind.
‘Yes!’ I agree, too eagerly. I want to give my arms a rest. And I want a coffee, maybe some food. ‘We’ll be gone,’ I say, trying to sound persuasive. ‘But our message will remain.’
‘Wouldn’t it be better to take our message out there, onto the streets?’ argues the Mother.
‘No!’ I say.
I photograph her with the banner and we farewell my friends.
‘Maybe we’ll get home and find out that it’s all happened after we left, or when we weren’t looking,’ I say, and we all laugh.
The Mother and I go for coffee and cake.

I check the Age website when I get home. Apparently, there was a scuffle when we weren’t looking. Plastic-clad protestors threw urine and safety barriers at police. I see photos of faceless bodies in anti-contamination suits, and remember seeing them dancing in the street.

Soon after, my husband arrives home from the anti-whaling ship. He had a great time; met the crew, including the founder of Greenpeace. They loved the lemons. ‘Look!’ he says, taking something out of his bag.
‘Oh,’ I drawl. ‘So you’ve been to the revolution and bought the t-shirt.’
He looks hurt, and I apologise. He’s passionate, not cynical.

What am I?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Smells like stupid

I knew the Age was dumbing down, but I didn't know it was becoming THIS dumb:

I'm sure, if we really admit it to ourselves, a lot of us would kill to smell like Kylie. OK, that may be a little strange, but when I discovered Agent Provocateur was Ms Minogue's favourite scent, I rushed out to buy a bottle ... I just had to know what the princess of pop wafted into a room wearing.

(From the blog 'Beauty Beat')

Yes, I know it's a blog - on beauty - written by a New Woman beauty writer, but COME ON.

And why do blogs have to be more vapid than the standard paper? Because it's 'what the young people are reading' and young people are shallow? The Guardian manages to run successful blogs without dumbing itself down. Why can't the Age?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Overheard on the tram

Young couple, (very) early twenties.

Her: So, which of my friends do you think are hot?
[He tells her]
Her: Oh, EVERYONE likes her. Of course you like her. She's got a great body.
Him: Her body's not so great.
Her: You always go for blondes, don't you? [She is brunette]
Him: Not really. [thinks] Oh yeah, I guess I do. Yeah, I do find blondes more attractive.
Her: It's just that there are more attractive blondes around than attractive brunettes. Don't you think?
Him: No. I 'm just more attracted to blondes.
Her: [sounding a little hysterical now] I can't help my hair colour, you know! That's how I was born!

Long pause, some murmuring. He gives her a reassuring hug.

Him: That dress you tried on back there was really unflattering, wasn't it?
Her: Yeah, I thought it was!

I tune out in despair. Somehow suppress overwhelming urge, which I've had ever since I sat down at the beginning of this conversation, to say to them both: 'Hey, this conversation will not end well either of you'.

Also fight equally powerful urge to say to girl, who is leaking insecurity from every pore: 'Hey, you're gorgeous. Don't worry about it.' (She is.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Doorstep musings

Opened the front door earlier this week and spotted this little fella hanging in the tree outside my door, just beyond a seven-year-old's arm reach.

My theory? F was throwing Spidey in the air and watching him 'parachute' to earth (home-made parachute fashioned from cut-up sandwich bag and blue wool). Spidey got stuck in the tree, F got distracted and forgot about him.

I'm leaving him there for now. (Bionicles trump Spidey easily at the moment - he won't be missed. Besides, F is at his dad's from this morning to Friday.)

It makes me smile every time I look at him.

And yes, I am procrastinating by writing this instead of completing work for tomorrow.

Oh well - what else are public holidays for? Apart from drinking, wearing silly hats (at least, this public holiday) and having BBQs or hanging at the pub.

Can't be arsed doing any of these festive things. Quitting one's job without having another one to go to (as I did last week) tends to make one feel sombre. And a tad unmotivated re. voluntary homework.

Surprise! You're a poledancer

Oh dear.

My sister is throwing her twin a surprise poledancing party for their 24th birthday. They and ten friends (or is that eight friends?) will learn poledancing routines, dress up in costumes, and basically drink and be merry.

I think I will get them each a copy of Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs as presents. My husband suggests I get them Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, his thriller about a poledancer who is mistaken for a terrorist.

Arrgh, I'm a sanctimonious old cow. Let them have their fun.

I'll worry if they come home with underwear stuffed with tips, or a job.

(For good-looking twins, it's not outside the realms of possibility.)

Hooray! I'm not a psychopath!

Bored and procrastinating, I came upon a little website that runs quick automated quizzes, ranging from the bizarre (What Kind of Meat Are You?) to the frankly disturbing (Are You Bipolar?).

Having been hooked on Dolly/Girlfriend/Cleo/Cosmo quizzes as a teenager, I found myself spending longer on the site than I meant to. Here's the results of Are You Abnormal? Apparently, I'm very unlikely to be a psychopath, obsessive compulsive or narcissistic (though I may have a borderline personality or a social phobia). Now I can sleep at night ...

You Are 24% Abnormal
You are at low risk for being a psychopath. It is unlikely that you have no soul.

You are at medium risk for having a borderline personality. It is somewhat likely that you are a chaotic mess.

You are at low risk for having a narcissistic personality. It is unlikely that you are in love with your own reflection.

You are at medium risk for having a social phobia. It is somewhat likely that you feel most comfortable in your mom's basement.

You are at low risk for obsessive compulsive disorder. It is unlikely that you are addicted to hand sanitizer.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bloody hell

After spending the morning in bed watching Scrubs on DVD, telling myself I'll get up after just one more episode ...

I finally dragged myself up, into the shower, out the door and on my bike. Down the road to the shops, where I prepared for the next few days by getting as many groceries as I could fit on the back of my bike. Including everything I need for a Sunday roast dinner.

Then I got home, unpacked the groceries ...

and realised I left the leg of lamb at the butchers.

Off I go back to the shops AGAIN on my bike AGAIN.

Bloody hell.