03 September 2011

All chocolate Labradors are equal

But some chocolate Labradors are more equal than others.


Yes, that is the light that shines out of the baby Jesus's arse illuminating her face.

23 August 2011

Monogamy

I wrote this ages ago for The Big Issue, but it's not online anymore and I wanted to show someone. So I'm posting it here.

Monogamy

Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
Dorothy Parker

There’s a school of thought that says a man begins his reproductive years young, dumb and full of cum. A woman, on the other hand, will road test a few men to get a sense of her options, then wind up with Mr Good As It Gets. At first, these two lovebirds are all over each other, but eventually – after a couple of years – it all gets a bit samey. She’s happy enough – sex is better when you really know each other, she tells her friends – while he’s either boning a compliant colleague or wishing he were. As the father of modern psychology William James put it: Higamous, hogamous, woman monogamous / Hogamous, higamous, man is polygamous. 

Unfortunately, Dr James didn’t expect a development that was to, among other things, make the CSI franchise the televisual success story it is today – DNA testing.


    You want monogamy? Marry a swan.
    Nora Ephron, Heartburn

To work out what makes humans monogamous – and unfaithful – scientists have long observed the behaviour of other monogamous animal species. As it turns out, monogamy is pretty rare among mammals – there’s us, and few dozen others species – but common in the bird word. And birds are perfect for observational purposes – they don’t indulge in such experiment-skewing practices as popping a morning-after pill or opening several separate internet accounts.

What the swab-swiping biologists discovered was nothing short of a revolution. Yes, males are just as likely to seek sex outside their primary relationship as we’d thought. But – and here’s the surprise – females are also frequently unfaithful to their partners. With many bird species at least, the truth is not that males are polygamous and females monogamous, but that both genders are socially monogamous – they live and rear children within couples – and both are happy to avail themselves of extra-pair sex when opportunity presents.

There were clues, even before DNA testing. In their 2001 bestseller, The Myth of Monogamy, biologist David Barash and psychiatrist Judith Lipton describe a 1975 experiment where an American research team sterilized a number of male red-wing blackbirds to see whether this would help control their expanding population. It didn’t. In fact, a large proportion of the female partners of the infertile males miraculously managed to produce chicks anyway. Barash and Lipton speculate that male biologists may not have fully explored the ramifications of this research because of their own “unspoken anxiety” about female infidelity. 

But DNA testing showed us that the bird species scientists thought were models of monogamy were in fact fully-fledged swingers. One study, amongst Australian fairy wrens, found that a staggering 95 per cent of all nest contained at least one chick sired by fathers from outside the immediate flock. Female fairy wrens are generally the initiators in these extra-pair matings. Now you can see where those unspoken anxieties are coming from.

Wives in their husbands' absences grow subtler,
And daughters sometimes run off with the butler.

Lord Byron

There are many reasons why males have a strong desire for sexual variety, but most of them stem from the idea that sperm is more plentiful and biologically cheaper to produce than eggs, and hence a less valuable resource. So while males can afford to splash it about and hope for the best as far as reproduction goes, the ladies need to be choosy. (Unsettlingly, in the month is takes me to release one egg, my partner can produce billions of sperm.)

What we now know is that it is also in the biological interests of females to seek extra-pair sex as males. Sperm may be plentiful, but that’s because a female needs plenty of it. If a male has only twenty million sperm per ejaculate he’s generally considered infertile. Having sex with more than one mate during fertile periods increases the chances of conception, and of the best stuff reaching the egg.

Sperm quality and difference are the aphrodisiacs here. Females need the social security of a pair-bond, but they can generally get a higher class of fellow from extra-pair sex – as we’ve already seen, males will do it with pretty much anybody, so a male may mate casually with a female that he wouldn’t necessarily pursue as a partner. Females also have a “strange male” preference – a desire to mate with newcomers or males from different localities over the local boys.

Studies also show that females of many socially monogamous species will seek out extra-pair sex with a male who has nothing more to offer than that he is popular with other females – a chick magnet. Think Sandy Freckle in Kath and Kim. He was thin-lipped and frankly revolting, but somehow the fact that he’d seduced all Kel’s other fianc├ęs made Kath feel like her head was “screwed on backwards”.

The interesting thing is that humans are not the only species to believe males are by far the more unfaithful gender. Among many socially monogamous species, males don’t always bother to disguise extra-pair sex, but females will go to great lengths to keep it hush-hush. According to Barash and Lipton, a female macaque monkey (another monogamous mammal) deserves an Oscar for the nonchalance she affects after a quick extra-pair romp in the underbrush. Meanwhile, her male lover will immediately cover his still erect penis with his hand. Being caught in the act can be damaging for males, but it is generally disastrous for females – in the animal world, no one wants to be a single mum.

So for your face I have exchanged all faces
Philip Larkin

What does this all bird biology mean, then, for us? About a year ago, I found myself staring at my partner and thinking: I may never have sex with anyone else ever again. There’s a lot of hope and horror in that; a lot of comfort and doubt. What if I get bored? What if I fall for someone else? What if he does? Is it really love, I wonder, to demand such sacrifice of each other? Or is it just a pact with fear – I’ll promise if you promise, because while frankly I’d love to, I couldn’t bear it if you did.

And why, given the instinctive desire to be unfaithful, do people persist with monogamy in the first place? Like birds, humans instinctively want to shag, and we want to shag a variety of people. But, for some reason, right when we’re at our most shaggable, we give it all up and cleave to one person until we’re creaky and crinkly and no longer attractive. What’s more, monogamy requires ignoring culture’s deafening cues to do whatever feels right, and be mature in a world that no longer values maturity.

One answer to the mystery of monogamy is that there aren’t particularly great alternatives. Communes and other movements that advocate sexual freedom frequently crumble because, faced with freedom, men and women still persist in falling in love. Open marriages have never really taken off – there is no antidote to jealousy, it seems. Men sometimes advocate a harem approach – forgetting that that would probably mean that Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch would have hundreds of partners, while most ordinary blokes would have none.

Even serial monogamy doesn’t really work. Falling in love or into sexual obsession with someone floods are bodies with hormones. They’re the “going crazy” hormones – the ones that send you staring into space for hours at a time and absentmindedly putting the kettle in the fridge. Sure, it feels fantastic, but eventually you’ll need to find the kettle again.

Infidelity is such a problem because we take monogamy for granted; we treat it as the norm. Perhaps we should take infidelity for granted, assume it with unharassed ease. Then we would be able to think about monogamy.
Adam Phillips

Unlike birds, homo sapiens have the balls to argue with biology. The human experience of monogamy and infidelity is where instinct and consciousness collide. The truth is we want socially monogamous, sexually slack relationships for no other reason than it is our biological interests. But that being the case, we have built up around this system uniquely human constructions – marriage and mortgages and Jennifer Aniston movies. And we’ve tried to contain our lusts with virtues like restraint, fidelity and commitment.

These qualities have gone out a fashion, and frankly, that’s been a good thing. Historically, men have built invisible chastity belts out of virtues like restraint and used them to control women. But perhaps with our new knowledge of bird life we can revamp the old-fashioned idea of being good. We know now that monogamy is difficult for both sexes, but rather than get stuck in a hole where infidelity is sinful and fidelity impossible, we can build new structures that accept the former while striving for the later.

Many of the people I spoke to while writing this article – both male and female – posited that infidelity only happens when the core relationship is unhappy. That’s not entirely untrue – people in unhappy couples do seem more likely to commit adultery, and those more happily mated are more likely to resist temptation for fear of upsetting their union. But it’s not entirely true either – many people are unfaithful purely for sexual variety.

Infidelity happens. “It’s really hard to pin down what percentage of people have affairs,” says Rosalie Pattenden, a psychologist at Relationships Australia, “but there’s a general acceptance that it happens in around 30 to 40 per cent of long term relationships.” But this doesn’t mean monogamy isn’t a worthwhile goal. To understand what drives infidelity, and – perhaps hardest of all – to not take it personally if it does happen, can only strengthen and deepen one’s experience of being in a relationship.

There’s another answer to the mystery of monogamy – it does us good. As well as writing The Myth of Monogamy and several other books together, Lipton and Barash have also been married 30 years. It’s with some experience, then, that they tell us “the fruits of shared imagination may be beautiful”.

Monogamy may make sex less sexy, but it can make it more meaningful. It makes us – and our children – feel safe, secure, known and loved. And it means we can take time out from the relentless routine of getting laid and focus us on the making and doing and creating stuff. If love is a battlefield, then monogamy is our grand old warhorse. There are chinks in its breastplate, but it’s still our best chance of getting across that field alive.


10 March 2011

All the Single Ladies

In being single-related news, my friend Aristotle suggested I ask a man out. Why did you make this odd suggestion, Aristotle? It is a suggestion that preferences something that I’m not good at (i.e. asking dudes out) over other things I’m very good at (i.e. looking things up on Wikipedia; teaching my Labrador Martha to cuddle me with her front legs; remembering all the characters’ names in The Wire). As I said to Aristotle, “Aristotle,” I said, “If I see someone suitable (which I won’t), I’ll do it, if only because when said dude rejects me I can retort: ‘Hey, wasn’t my idea.’” Then I’ll do the thing my friend The Comedian’s (note that The Comedian is not to be confused with The Cobbler. I call The Comedian “The Comedian” because that’s what she is. Makes jokes, innit?) 13-year-old daughter taught me. Three fingers up, three fingers sideways, three fingers down, L on forehead. What. Ever. Major. Loser.

What happened next? Good bloody question — I've completely forgotten. To read the full article, go to The Pluck!

08 February 2011

Things that shit me

Why don't they make boots with heels like this anymore?






26 January 2011

"Here's you bacon for breakfast."

At the dog park, a friend tells me this story. Over the holiday, her partner, Polly, got very sick and they had to go to emergency.

Nurse: "What's your religion."
Polly: "Jewish."
Nurse: (Looks at computer for a long while) "No, it's not here. Would it be called anything else?"

25 January 2011

If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it



Oh traveler, please do wander over to Caitlin Crowley's famous website magazine The Pluck, wherein you can read the first of a rumoured series of articles about being fortysomething and single, written be me.

05 November 2010

Things my dog does that would be creepy if she was my boyfriend.

  1. Sits across the coffee table and stare at me for hours while I watch TV. 
  2. Sticks her nose in my crotch so I can waggle her ears. 
  3. Sits on my bed for god knows how long in the morning, willing me to wake up and give her breakfast. 
  4. Goes to sleep on the bathmat while I have a shower. 
  5. Obsessively licks my friends.
  6. Requires me to pick up her poo.
See? Dog = cute. Boyfriend = creepy.
 I am now using facebook status updates as blogs to keep my blog functional. It's a bit sad. 

25 September 2010

Scoff. Cuss. Loathe.

Somewhat of an argument over the intellectual merits of Elizabeth Gilbert lately with close friends. I was on the side of non-corniness. So somewhat of a relief to read this review of the movie in the Guardian latterly.

Sit, watch, groan. Yawn, fidget, stretch. Eat Snickers, pray for end of dire film about Julia Roberts's emotional growth, love the fact it can't last for ever. Wince, daydream, frown. Resent script, resent acting, resent dinky tripartite structure. Grit teeth, clench fists, focus on plot. Troubled traveller Julia finds fulfilment through exotic foreign cuisine, exotic foreign religion, sex with exotic foreign Javier Bardem. Film patronises Italians, Indians, Indonesians. Julia finds spirituality, rejects rat race, gives Balinese therapist 16 grand to buy house. Balinese therapist is grateful, thankful, humble. Sigh, blink, sniff. Check watch, groan, slump.

Film continues, persists, drags on. Wonder about Julia Roberts's hair, wonder about Julia Roberts's teeth, wonder about permanence of Julia Roberts's reported conversion to Hinduism. Click light-pen on, click light-pen off, click light-pen on. Eat crisps noisily, pray for more crisps, love crisps. Munch, munch, munch. Munch, munch, suddenly stop munching when fellow critic hisses "Sshhh!" Eat crisps by sucking them, pray that this will be quiet, love the salty tang. This, incidentally, makes me plump, heavy, fat. Yet Julia's life-affirming pasta somehow makes her slim, slender, svelte. She is emoting, sobbing, empathising. She has encounters, meetings, learning-experiences. Meets wise old Texan, sweet Indian girl, dynamic Italian-speaking Swede who thinks "Vaffanculo" means "screw you".

Roberts eats up the oxygen, preys on credulous cinemagoers, loves what she sees in the mirror. Julia shags Billy Crudup, James Franco, Javier Bardem. Ex-husband, rebound lover, true romance. Crudup is shallow'n'callow, Franco is goofy'n'flaky, Bardem is hunky'n'saintly. We hate Crudup, like Franco, love Bardem. Divorced Javier is gorgeous, sexy, emotionally giving. About his ex-wife we are indifferent, incurious, uninterested. She is absent, off the scene, unnamed. That's how Julia likes it, needs it, prefers it.

Movie passes two-hour mark, unfinished, not over yet. Whimper, moan, grimace. Wriggle, writhe, squirm. Seethe, growl, rage. Eat own fist, pray for death, love the rushing sense of imminent darkness. Scream, topple forward, have to be carried out of cinema. Reach life crisis, form resolution, ask editor for paid year's leave to go travelling. Editor stands up, shakes head, silently mouths the word: "No". Nod, turn, return to work. Personal growth, spiritual journeys, emotional enrichment? Not as easy as 1-2-3.

 

21 September 2010

Tony Martin on Lee Child

Wilcox (we're still friends — in fact, when he moved out, he really just moved round the corner) alerted me to this rather old — in technology terms — article Tony Martin wrote on The Scrivener's Fancy about popular fiction and the author Lee Child.

I rofled like a maniac rofler who was kicked out of Rofling University for being too damn good at rofling. In a sea of favourite bits, here's my favourite bit:

So, hang on, these literary cunts, they’re…what? Lazy? Slacking off? Leaving the reader to ‘do all the work’? I assume he’s referring to that half-arsed concept ‘ambiguity’, a concept that is, according to Child, completely devoid of enjoyment. Actually, I remember reading a lot of books where you didn’t have to ‘figure anything out’ and where ‘the work’ was already done for you. I used to love those books…when I was fucking five!

P.S. I inspired myself and got Less Than Zero from Blockbuster. I'm sick, so I got five movies to watch in bed after I finish a chunk of work I have to do. Review will follow. (Of the movie, not of the chunk of work.) 

20 September 2010

Blogged down.

Does anyone blog anymore? All Twitter now, innit?

Sadly, I'm not quippy enough for Twitter. My real strength lies in long strings of various muddled strands of psychotherapy — Freudian, Jungian, Gestalt, psychodynamic, narrative, expressive, integrative — intertwined with my own beastly sadness (well, whose else is there?) and an unrelenting need — a need I've never not known — to unburden myself in writing of My Terrible Secrets. All swinging underneath a soundtrack of nose blowing, Labrador snores and Harry Neilsson.

But apparently people do still blog. In fact, three of my dearest have just produced blogs. Which made me miss this freaking nuthouse.

But then I have this inherent problem with my blog in that I want to tell the truth, and yet so many of the things I do are really quite against the law. Or, at the very least, morally ambiguous. I deleted a lot of, well, startlingly moving and ... jeez, I don't want to sound like a wanker, but what the hell ... life-changing writing on this blog already, because it was about drug use. But I'd still quite like to talk about [things that were probably too personal. Sorry, but I've deleted what I wrote here earlier. Because it was too personal.]

So I continuously ravel and unravel my security settings, stewing over whether my employers could possibly find me, which could in turn lead to a shameful cautionary tale on Snopes.com about employees and TMI on the internet. You know, stuff like this. Blerk!

If I could just be me it would be ok. If I was a proper writer, if my publisher wasn't giving me the "How about never? Is never good for you?" treatment, if I was a little less nutty and, more pertinently, if I got of my arse and wrote more stuff, then I could be me. (Although reflecting on the blog so far, I may have to thesaurus my way out of the words "shit" and "stuff".) But I'm a jobbing writer, and editor, and an occassional trainer in writing and editing. (An example of my training: "Listen up people! Don't do fancy nouns. Most nouns can be replaced by 'stuff' or 'shit'.") I write copy and I copy-edit clever books written by Important People.

[More deleted bits. That's why this post doesn't flow.]

My parents gave me a book my 26th birthday. I was not in a good state then — it was 1994; I was depressed, saving to go overseas in a McJob, drinking, shagging, experimenting, using my abandoned box of the pill (I switched to condoms) as a morning after pill, full to the brim with delayed adolescent defiance in, simultaneously, the uselessness and the importance of every object in the world, in opposition to what "the man" thought.

The book was The Penguin Book of Women's Lives, given, poignantly and hopefully, from my desperately worried parents. It is an excellent book full of extracts of women's autobiographies — I still have it.

My favourite extract was Emily Hahn's. It began:

Though I had always wanted to be an opium addict, I can't claim that as the reason I went to China. The opium addiction dates back to that obscure period of childhood when I wanted to be a lot of other things, too — the greatest expert on ghosts, the word's best ice skater, the champion lion tamer, you know the kind of thing. But by the time I went to China I was grown up, and all those dreams were forgotten.

[You guessed it! Gone. It was juicy too.]

But all I have is my stories. I don't want to give them up; I want to write them down. Shall I say, "Fuck employers! I have made steps to anonymise myself. I've tried. What the fuck more? Hey? What the fuck more?" Shall I?

This blog helped me once when I was very, very sad. The fact it's been so long between posts is because that sadness then became depression. A nice, old-fashioned breakdown. Wilcox left me — an effect of the breakdown rather than the cause, but the cause of a deeper breakdown.

Slowly, slowly, with therapy, and the unexpected love of dear friends, the low fog is rising. I want to move again. I want to adventure again. Emily Hahn did.
"Chances are, your grandmother didn't smoke cigars and let you hold wild role-playing parties in her apartment," said her granddaughter Alfia Vecchio Wallace in her affectionate eulogy of Hahn. "Chances are that she didn't teach you Swahili obscenities. Chances are that when she took you to the zoo, she didn't start whooping passionately at the top her lungs as you passed the gibbon cage. Sadly for you, your grandmother was not Emily Hahn." 
I will never be someone's grandmother.

Enough of all this. Back to my mates, and their new blogs. Zigsma has produced Ope Shope Hope, a brilliant ode to her op-shopping, a pantheon for super-duper discarded stuff. Zigsma has impeccable, pitch-perfect taste, which I envy and admire.

George McEncroe is my funny friend. I know she's funny because she has a job at being a comedian. She's just started her blog and is promoting  her new show, which everyone in the whole world should see.


It's on at Trades Hall from 28 Setember to 2 October. That's FOUR NIGHTS ONLY. Book here.

Then there's my friend Erica's new website  and blog. She's an artist who does complicated things with mathematics and x-rays and plastic toys.

Hey, that felt good. I might come back here. Even if no one reads it. In fact it's better if no one reads it.

09 August 2009

Blasts from one's own past

Randomly, I started reading my old blog from years ago, and found this story. Wilcox was so sweet. This is from back in the thick of IVF — I was, admittedly, pretty nutty.

Don’t shoot anyone

The other day the guy in my local FoodWorks asked me what I was listening to on my iPod, then before I could answer he said, “I always get the feeling that you’re listening to someone saying, ‘Keep it together. Just don’t go crazy. Don’t shoot anyone.’”

I am aware I can look like a bit of a nutter sometimes – my iPod is basically stapled to my head, and I’ve a tendency to giggle and sing under my breath when I hear David Essex’s Hold Me Close – but I don’t think I fully realised the extent of it. It’s cause my brothers were so much older than me that I basically grew up as an only child, and I lived, and still do live, in My Own Little World. (See the spotty house description, below.) I notice everyone on the street, but I sometimes feel they can’t see me. I don’t like running in to people – I may be very distant, so far, far away, and it’s difficult to suddenly drop back in.

That’s sometimes. Other times I walk around so convinced of my own freckle-faced glamour that I’m surprised anyone can tear their eyes away. Although that’s not so often.

Anyway, I was premenstrual at the time (of the FoodWorks incident) so when I came home and told Wilcox I started crying. Then we stood in the kitchen while he patted my head and said, “You’re not a nutter. No one thinks you’re a nutter.”

19 May 2009

52 Poems

30 March 2009

Three recipes I've convinced myself that I "invented"

1. Mince Fried Rice!

Boil up some Jasmine rice. Right at the end, add yummy vegies such as cauliflower and/or broccoli and/or peas.

In a wok, fry up garlic, ginger, chilli, onion and/or shallots, mushies, zucchini and some beef or pork mince.

Cook it.

Add cooked rice and vegies.

Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, or whatever.

Cook it a bit more.

You're done! Turn off wok and enjoy!

2. Cauliflower Mushy!

Boil up cauliflower until it's mushy.

Drain.

Add salt and butter and garlic chives. Fuck it, add some parmesan if you want. Am I telling anyone? Am I your keeper?

You're done! Turn on So You Think You Can Dance and enjoy!

3. Anchovie and Caper Surprise!

Begin making tomato-based sauce.

At the initial fry-the-onions stage, add lots of anchovies and capers.

Finish making tomato-based sauce.

Add it to pasta or meat.

You're done! Watch The Bill on ABC2 because you missed it on Saturday and enjoy!


You're welcome!

20 March 2009

Perkler!

Wilcox's old schoolbuddy Justin has set up this awesome website called Perkler.

You sign up, you list all the loyalty cards in your wallet (no disclosure of identifying details involved) and they collate all the perks you're entitled to but forgotten about, plus several others you might like to take advantage of but never heard of. It's kind of like LibraryThing, but for your wallet instead of your bookshelf, AND WITH MORE FREE SHIT.

Totally super.

18 March 2009

Death of a Bird

An excerpt from the poem by A.D. Hope

She feels it close now, the appointed season:
The invisible thread is broken as she flies;
Suddenly, without warning, without reason,
The guiding spark of instinct winks and dies.

Try as she will the trackless world delivers
No way, the wilderness of light no sign,
The immense and complex map of hills and rivers
Mocks her small wisdom with its vast design.

And darkness rises from the eastern valleys,
And the winds buffet her with their hungry breath,
And the great earth, with neither grief not malice,
Receives the tiny burden of her death.