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A Mormon Apostate goes to see The Testament Of Mary

In all my time growing up in the Mormon faith, going to church and listening to intensely friendly and faithful grown ups tell me how wonderfully lucky we are to be living in ”the last days” I never heard much talk about any of the women in the bible or in The Book Of Mormon. Women were very important as back round support to the men doing all the exciting and dangerous stuff. It was a women who was so unfaithful that she wanted to see concrete proof of these golden plates that her husband claimed to be translating.  Because of her demand a section of the golden plates was lost. She was meant to simply believe all her husband told her. How annoying of her and her critical mind.  There was the woman who was turned to salt because she could not resist looking behind her one last time and catching a final glimpse of her home burning.  Women were special and a requirement of gods great plan. It was a shame they never got more than a word in edge ways. I could not count how many times I was shown the  Church Of Jesus Christ  Of Latter Day Saint’s version of the crucifiction of christ on VHS.  With very little talk of Mary as anything more than ever faithful and subservient.

It was with excitement and a little trepidation that I sat down in the front row a few moments before the show started. I was not scared that I would be offended. It was more just anxious excitement that this time I was ready to experience this sort of story without the pressure to believe it as a fact. I could watch this play and react to it as I chose or as I was moved to by emotion or intellect or both. This could be enjoyed as fiction. You do not need to believe a novel is true in order to enjoy it on a deep and meaningful level. It can feel as though it shines a light on an aspect of your soul you did not previously acknowledge or have the language for.

The older women sitting on my left with perfectly done make up and hair asked me to watch out for her cup of water. She was quite excited to see this play as well. Have you seen the Book Of Mormon Musical? I ask her. She says she has and loved it. I tell her I think that this production is going to be more serious. I tell her I was raised Mormon and her face lights up with interest and curiosity. The house lights dim and we turn to the stage.

There are 9,312 words spoken in this production and Jesus is not one of them. This could very well be one of the reasons this play spoke so much to the little girl inside of  me that was thirsting for stories about strong female characters in my religious education. Unlike the crying Mary I saw so often in my Sunday school teachings and family night scripture readings, this Mary was fiercely intelligent, poetic and dry humoured. Pamela Rabe does a brilliant job of creating a Mary that is able to hold your attention for the entire one hour and fifteen minutes. You do not even feel that time has past. She is able to weave the past trauma of her sons death with the anger and impatience of a women who is forced to tell her story to men with very strong self interest. They tell her this story will change the world, the whole world. They want to make a god of her son. While she is simply mourning the loss of someone very dear to her. According to this mary, the fact that her son will change the world is not worth what it cost him, and what it took from her.

This play is set a couple of years after Jesus was killed and it is unexpectedly moving to hear Mary describe watching her son struggle to move or dislodge the crown of thorns from the top of his head. You can feel the sharp thorns and the weight just by the description and tone of Rabe’s voice as she embodies the pain of a mother forced to watch thier child suffer and know they can do nothing to help.  It made me wonder how many women in the audience were thinking about a time in which they had to do a similar thing: watch a child show pain or anguish and know they could be there but not take the pain away at all.  It is trite but it did make me think of my own mother. All those times she had to watch me hooked up to things in hospital. At least she could trust the people looking after me. If Mary had called out to her son, she would have been taken away.

 

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The stage is set up like a room but modern with blue lighting and there is a feeling of the type of room where criminals are kept for questioning, that same unforgiving office room lighting.  We are told that it is here that the men come who want to writer her story down for the benefit of mankind. They dont like how she tells it though. We are told that these men do not care to hear her poetic asides about the wind or stars. As a person who was forced to read the bible and hear it read aloud as well as read The Book Of Mormon, this part of the play spoke to my boredom of these two texts. They are not literature, Perhaps if more women were aloud to have their say, these books would be more interesting. Regardless it is through this production that we the audience are given the gift of what the ancient bible stories lack: the truth as told by Mary herself. She is telling us her most precious truth and it is tinged with understandable rage. She is not unquestioning or subservient. She is a mother mourning the loss of her boy. She is grappling with the guilt that she could not save him.

Has his death changed the world? You could argue that it has and not in a good way. So many institutions have twisted and manipulated this story for personal and political gain. Believing in jesus does not make you more empathic or sensitive. Some of my most painful memories have been cemented by people who believe in a certain kind of jesus. While some of my happiest memories  involve people and activities I was raised to view as impure or sinful or simply ”frowned upon by The man upstairs/” I am done living a life for  that man or any other. .

When Mary is pleading for strength she is not doing so in the name of the Heavenly Father and her son she is calling on Athena the goddesses of wisdom, Nike the goddess of strength. The goddess Minerva of intellect and may other ancient and strong diety that are not mentioned in the Bible or The Book Of Mormon. I feel I would have read more intently if they were.

When The play ends I feel disoriented and foggy as if waking from a dream. As it is opening night my companion and I get some finger food and free sparkling wine. As we are leaving my companion pulls me to a bench that is shrouded in shadow. There I meet Pamela Rabe who is sitting there smoking a cigarette like she is a regular person and not the mother of Jesus.  I tell her she was wonderful. My friend tells her that I was raised Mormon. Pamela raises her face to mine in interest. ”You didn’t find it blasphemous? She asks. I shake my head enthusiastically. We chat and it come up that myself and my friend are in a program to write plays of our own. ”I am terrified.” I tell this amazing actress who responds that the fear is a good thing. I say how I would like to maybe write a play from the perspective of a young mormon woman or an old one who have lived a live by all the rules stipulated to them by the man upstairs and the large group of men here on the lower level. The Book Of Mormon is a great musical but it says nothing of the women in the church and how they feel. ”I think you might have a play right there.” Pamela says. I leave the theatre that night feeling inspired and wishing my mother lived in Melbourne so I could take her to see this play.

 

 

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Not your imaginary friend. Go-Go Sapien at The Tote 5/11/2017

 

The band G0-Go Sapien has been around for six years. They were formally called The Great Apes until another band with the same name contacted them. I showed up to this gig because my friend has recently started dating the younger brother of band member  Emily Jarret. I would just like to state here and now how in awe I am of siblings that are so creative and supportive of each other. It makes my heart all gooey and slightly envious. I mean, whats that kind of sibling relationship like? Also these two particular siblings are quite attractive in that they seem to have brilliant chromosome alignment.

I had no idea what I am in for and am quite excited. No research into the band prior to arriving at the tote had been undertaken. Save for finding the band’s facebook page and quickly pressing like.  This is one of the great things about living in Melbourne and retaining a love of the local music scene and maintaining  your live music curiosity.

This particular gig was special as it was the launch of their third album Love In Other Dimensions 

They performed the entire album on stage for the crowd. I was enthralled from the very first moment. There was amazing lighting decisions and a sense of anticipation. It felt like something from a sixties science fiction film. The band member appeared on stage all wearing white outfits. This was to be the first of many costume changes.

Will Hindmarsh even had a spider costume that he wore while performing the song Victorian Spiders whose lyrics could have been from a HP Lovecroft story. The sense that the band members were in thier element up there is an understatement.  Thier joy was infectious and its been ages since smiling idiotically with joy has been a impulse of the mouth muscles. This band is fun and this band if dramatic and theatrical without taking themselves too seriously. They reminded me of what my drama teacher said in our first year twelve class, ”If you want to succeed here, you need to leave your inhibitions at the door.”  It would be very surprising if some of their inspiration came from the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its song Don’t dream it be it.  Emily Jarret’s red sparkly get up was the epitome of a living dream.

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Sexy Kiss, the second last song on the album is performed with extra surreal zeal. Will and Emily perform the song wearing home made masks of giant lips.

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It is when I hear the song Winona that I realize I have heard the song played on Triple R and loved it from the first driven beat. It is an even better song played live. In fact the whole new album is brilliant fun to witness live. But not so scared that I wont do it. You should buy the album as it is quite beautiful. You can get an ear taste of what they sound like by going to band camp: https://gogosapien.bandcamp.com/album/love-in-other-dimensions

As my friend says:  G0_Go Sapien are the perfect love child of Ween and the B52s – an eclectic bundle of joy wrapped in spandex ready to infect you with dance and solubiouse metaphor.

 

Behold the mind-blowingly SUMPTUOUS cover art for our new album, designed by visual genius and great-mate Kashka Hardy!!!
New album ‘Love in Other Dimensions’ available for digital download + Vinyl & CD preorders
 — Go-Go Sapien is  Kal SalterEmily Jarrett,Callan James WalkerWill Hindmarsh and Iain Wilson.

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Being born is an accident of chance.

Imagine being told that You decided to be born. In the pre existence. You were given the opportunity to be born into a human body. You were one of the ones who jumped for joy at the prospect of living in fallible human skin and bone. You chose this. Be grateful. You knew what you were getting into.

The day I was born was exciting, so I am told. Being the first born is pretty great. You are the one born before all the others. You parents are not distracted by the needs of other offspring. I am one  who was told they were wanted from the very start.

When I turn seventeen, my best friend throws me a party in her parents garage. There is alcohol but I’m mormon so dont partake. It is my first party with friends and no annoying little sisters to keep away from my friends. I am drunk on freedom and the beauty of my best friend. A boy tries to trick me into drinking lemonade with vodka in it. My best friend intervenes and gets very pissed off at the boy. I simply watch her give him a piece of her beautiful mind. Its at that party that she tells me I might might like a band called The Sashing Pumkins. By the time I turn eighteen she will not be my best friend. She wont even be a friend. The heart ache is all consuming.

On the birthday I turn eighteen it is the day I take my final English exam. The plan is to have a small party with my family that evening. Instead i end up in the front seat of my parents Nissen while my mother lays in the back quiet and falling asleep. My father drives her to St Vincents hospital in Melbourne. The day I turned eighteen almost became the birthday my mother died. If she had fallen asleep in the car, she would not have woken up.  She receives life saving brain surgery on the day I turn eighteen.

When I turn twenty – one I am no longer a good mormon girl. I drink. The second time a boy spikes my non alcoholic beverage, there is no best friend to intervene. Just a large group of accomplices. I have two parties. A family one and one at university. The family one involves a giant ice cream sundae served in a brand new and unused pig trough. My cake is in the shape of a flying saucer, a cheeky nod to mu childhood fear of extra terrestrials.  My fathers speech includes words about not being overly thrilled with some of my decisions. There is uncondional love there still.  The uni one is pretty rubbish. I was only doing what I thought you were expected to do when you turned twenty-one. I did enjoy being free to get drunk with my friends though. There was no booze at my family party.

when I turn twenty 4, it is the first birthday spent with a boyfriend. I get a music festival ticket. Having a boyfriend seems cool after five months. I think. The friendship group has changed. There are no friends from high school or uni. It seems that I am quite good at reinventing myself. And burning bridges. My share house where the party is held, is falling apart. It is near Brunswick St. Im starting to know about how my body works and what feels good. My boyfriend does not want to spend the night and this makes me sad. There is a fight and he ends up staying.  It makes no sense to me at the time.

When I turn twenty-five I still have the same boyfriend. I get a pile of gifts including books, voucher for my favorite clothing store: Vicious Venus. I am young, in love and spend my birthday drinking and dancing at The Rochester Castle. Two days later I will be hit by a depressive episode so bad and for so long that I finally seek mental health help.

Twenty six. I am single again and live in a house with a guy who smokes inside and stays up drinking scotch until they pass out on the couch every night. I throw a party and make all sorts of treats for my guests. A throw back to childhood parties. I make fairy bread and rum balls and chocolate crackles.  It is a good party but in all the photos, I look sick and skinny and sad. My eyes do not lie. You can see in my face that I know the truth: I have been replaced so easily. This is the birthday I decide I can sleep with other people and I do.

Twenty seven is spent in London. I get a package containing three illustrations from a beautiful boy in Melbourne. They arrive on my birthday and I take it as a sign that we are meant to be together. He misses me as much I miss him, I am sure of it. I put the three framed drawings in the centre of the mantle piece in the room I share with a friend. She agrees this is all pointing to true love.  We get drunk in our room and I let a Spanish girl cut my fringe for me so I can kiss British boys while out in Camden. She nips my right eyelid a bit accidentally. Its not until  Im on the train with my friend that she notices my eye lid is bleeding a little bit. I wipe the blood away while laughing and take a swig from the bottle of vodka. I was wrong. Drawings were a red herring. I end up destroying them when I get home to Melbourne. Im not one who takes being played with with poise or grace.

I share my birthday with Sylvia Plath and John Cleese. Which could explain how I walk the line between humour and poetic emotional extremes. Im so self involved I cannot remember any of my siblings being born. Should I have two birthdays since I died for four minutes that day in july? Or is that just a death day that didnt stick technically speaking?  My most recent birthday was rife with existential dread and anxiety.  When I voiced this to a friend they sent me the following message.

Its great that your in the world for another year. You’re such a ray of sunshine, cheeky mischievousness and I love your contempt for men. 

This cheered me. As did having a small dinner party with friends and being lucky enough to have a double birthday cake birthday.  Cake is great and being alive is greatly varied.

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The day before my birthday

I saw some art today. It was an impulse decision made as I got ready to leave the house for my first hair cut in months and months. I had cut my own fringe a week ago and been very pleased with the result. I am not sure why the last hair dresser I had told me to never do that again.. I suppose it was to make me feel like I had to go back there every time I needed a trim. They played the wrong woman. I have a history of cutting my own hair and clothes.

The exhibition is at Daine Singer gallery on Flinders Lane. I heard about the show on the radio.  So I decide to go. The artist is a woman named Katherine Hattam who has been exhibiting since 1978.  Her current exhibition is called Seeing Through. I love the works as soon as I step inside the gallery and see the bright vivid colours and feel the world of each painting pulling me towards it. I can only go to look at one at a time. There is so much intricacy and intertextuality within these art works. There is colour pallet that perfectly coincide with the colours of different genres in the Penguin Classics series. There are penguin classic excerpts and coveres and spines worked into the paintings. It is so amazing o me how very different a painting or collage of everyday mess and clutter, can look so beautiful, intellectually rich in meaning and whimsy when filtered through the mind and skill of a visual artist. It is like a wonderful form of magic to me. It makes me both sad and happy that I never went to art school. Happy because I like not knowing all the tricks and language. Sad because I hate not knowing all the tricks and language. The art work from the exhibition I have used for the feature image of this blog post is called Ring Of Bright Water, 2017 mixed media on linen 49 x 62 cm. It is my birthday so if you have 3000 dollars to spare and want my undying gratitude…

Before I left the house today, I listened to The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance. The songs had even more interesting meaning and contextual poignancy now than it did when I fell in love with it 11 years ago. I made my brother buy it for me for christmas. I had my first fit of depression that year. I was a husk. Who knows why an album that references death, cancer, blood, the futility of life in general, how scary teenagers can seem, could be such a comfort then and now. I know why. It is because it is a relief to know you are not the only one silently trying to stamp out that constant shiver of fear and sadness humming away constantly inside. As I pulled on my beloved dark green t shirt, I sang along to the song about joining the black parade,

I was called an emo before I even knew what one was.  He was one of those middle class suburban boy punks who listened to Gutter Mouth and Drop Kick Murphys.  Who was impressed when he found that I knew the meanings of the big words I used sometimes.

Now, here I am no longer 22 and feeling closer to death even though the closest I have been to death is actually being dead so… This current near death stance is more emotional and existential.  There has been some great references and acknowledgements of the futility of life in the shows I have been binge watching on Netflix recently. The animated series about puberty Big Mouth has a brilliant song  that all the characters sing while at The girl Jessie’s bar mitzva. There is something oddly life affirming in the way they sing the chorus:

Life is a fucked up mess! Life’s a fucked up mess. Yeah, its a shit show!

Its really hard not be feel cheered as you find yourself singing along to that morbid yet up tempo refrain.

The good place starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell is another brilliant show that manages to mix moral ethics, psychology, death and the afterlife with humour and scathing wit. Ted Danson plays Michael who is a demi god type being that designs and builds worlds for the dead. Kristen Bell is a dead person who was not such a great human while alive, not evil, just a bit of an ass hole. When Michael finally comprehends the concept of him not existing anymore, when he suddenly understands that death is entirely possible, he freaks out and has an existential crises. He curls up on the couch and its all too much to even bare thinking about. Yet, as we all know who have had an existential crises, the thinking is hard to pull back or dial down.  It is hard to be upbeat when you have ”eaten a huge bowl of enui” to quote Kristen Bell’s character Elinore.

For me getting a hair cut was a good way of attempting to distract myself, for a couple of hours, from the enui I was drowning in in relation to my birthday.  I know I have things to look forward to: The Junket unconferencein Canberra on sunday till tuesday, A Besen fellowship with The Malthouse Theatre.  This is my last day of being 34, I keep thinking.

In my desk drawer is a photo of my parents. They are lying together on a pier in the sunshine. My Dad is 22 and my mother is 23. On the back of the photo my mother has written Robert and I April 1981. My father proposed that afternoon. I love that photo.

At the age I am now, my mother had birthed 5 children while working on a farm with my father. Here I am excited about going to stay in a fancy hotel for free with free food and drinks for three days.  I am excited that my writing was published in Meanjin ( on the blog, still exciting). I am proud that my leather jacket has lasted 11 years and I still love it. Surely there are parallels that can be drawn between child rearing and leather jacket up keep? I want to write a book. I feel it simmering away inside my bones and through my nervous system. You don’t need to be young and sexy to write a book. Theres still time for that.

At the hair dressers I am served chai tea and fake chicken salt pop corn. I get my hair washed and a head massage as the hairdresser and I talk about religion, politics and feminism. She asks me to read a story in a free press magazine. She wants me to read it as a writer and see if I understand. She cant figure it out and wants to know if ts because she is a ”ditzy hair dresser.” She is not that at all. I read the story and feel nothing for it. It is alright. There is a bike ride, some police brutality.  I am told that the author of this story is my hair dressers boyfriend. He has out of the blue decided he wants to be a writer and makes her read his stuff after she has been working on her feet for over 12 hours.  ”The last thing this world needs.” I tell her. ”Is another white guy trying to be a writer.” So, he shouldn’t give up his day job? She asks. I shake my head. I immediately feel awful.  I have been too honest again.  But the thought of him making her read his stuff every night and her feeling stupid for not ”getting” his writing, made me feel so sad for her. It made me hate this guy who I have never met. My opinion was not improved when I learned that he read lots of books at home but didn’t do any housework.

My hair is cut and blow dried. The beautiful and skilled hairdresser styles my hair so it has a bit of soft curl with a touch of mussed up rock goddess. She didnt even mind that I cut my own fringe. She loved it.

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http://www.dainesinger.com/

 

THE HEARTENING GENIUS AND HUMOUR OF OUT OF SHAPE: DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT FASHION AND FIT   WRITTEN BY MEL CAMPBELL (Affirm Press)

 

When I visited to Japan, I was sure it would be so easy to find clothes that fit me. I listened to friends tell of terrible experiences they had, trying to find cute clothes that fit them. I was excited: I am small, after all. I took a practically empty suitcase to fill with a whole new wardrobe from Japan but ended up filled with escalating self-loathing from store to store, trying on item after item that looked great on the rack, but took on a weird and unflattering shape when put on my body. This should have been have fun! The pressure to come home with a whole new collection of clothes that fit and felt good, wasn’t helping. My fifth, sixth day in Tokyo, 8pm.  I’m sitting on the steps leading to a huge UNIQLO and burst into stressed, ugly tears. It wasn’t until I started reading Mel Campbell’s Out Of Shape Debunking Myths About Fashion And Fit (Affirm Press, 2013) that I began to understand exactly where this very intense tearful outburst in the centre of Tokyo had come from. This book would have been a great deal better at comforting me as a teenager with scoliosis than the Bible, or being told I was being prayed for.

 

In Campbell’s introduction we’re told that much of the angst about size and fit comes from the idea that to be socially successful we need to constantly tend to and revise our appearance. She has ingeniously coined a term to explain this philosophy which is ‘orthovestia’ – created from the Latin words for ‘correct’ and ‘clothing’.

 

She explains that ‘orthovestia’ does not solve the problem of finding well fitting clothes, it simply fools us into thinking that when they don’t fit, it’s our fault. It makes us think we need expert help to guide and correct us. Campbell shows us that what seems like helpful advice is really social control and moral policing. Imagine if we could study this book, these concepts, in high school – I have this utopian vision of this book being read in social studies, or physical education. Excerpts could be handed out to youths, who are so vulnerable to feeling like utter garbage about their rapidly changing bodies because it is heartfelt and candid, as well as fascinating in the scope and breadth of information it covers. I found myself repeatedly rereading paragraphs and placing scraps of paper in pages that held particularly interesting nuggets of information and comfort. Though it’s difficult to choose, I’ll share five of my most loved nuggets of information gleaned from this literary hug and galvanizing pat on the back.

 

  1. TIGHT PANTS ARE FOR REBELS AND HEROES at least that’s what cool dudes in skinny jeans hope. Trousers or ‘pantaloons’ after the commedia dell’arte character Pantalone – were once literally revolutionary an emblem of the militant working class, sans-culottes (without knee breeches), who had acted as French revolution foot soldiers came to epitomise wholesome Republican masculinity. The decadent royalist effeminacy of breeches that were cut so slimly they almost resembled leggings, they were sometimes worn with a stirrup strap under the foot to assist in achieving the ‘classical’ tautness.

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s bobbed hair, jersey knit fabrics and man style blazers and trousers are said to have been inspired by the sartorial sensibilities of her lover and early financier, English polo player Arthur ‘boy’ Capel. The square, beveled lines of her No. 5 perfume recalled the shapes of his toiletry bottles and whiskey decanters. Chanel rejected the dainty froufrou femininity that prevailed in Edwardian fashion.

Like Chanel regency- era socialite George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell was a self made social climber in deliberate simple clothing. He was a middle class lad who became close to the prince regent, the future George IV. Brummell stood out from and fascinated the Georgian aristocracy with his fastidious hygiene and taste for unadorned, fitted dark coats, pale buckskin trousers, crisp white shirts, carefully knotted cravats and shiny boots that Brummell recommended champagne for polishing purposes. He did not actually have the wealth to back up his lifestyle and died in poverty in France 1840. Mel cambpell theorizes a reason for the incredibly tight dandies pants being the celebration of physical beauty.

This preoccupation with tight pants made me think of one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows. It is with whimsy and humor in an episode of The Mighty Boosh that tight pant obsession is explored. In the episode where Vince is so desperate to perform lead singer duties with one of his favorite bands that he agrees to their stipulation. They give him a pair of incredibly skinny jeans that are so tight they would cause damage. Vince has to be able to fit into and wear them by the time the gig starts. It is funny but also a comment on how the fashion of the original Dandies is still quite popular here in the 21st century via the fashion of skinny British boys in indie bands.

 

2. THE BERLEI SERVEY AKA THE NATIONAL CENSUS OF WOMENS MEASUREMENTS surveyed 6000 women aged 15 to 65 Australia wide over the summer of 1926-1927. It remains the basis of Australian women’s apparel sizing to this day. Brothers Frederick and Authur Burley adopted scientifically precise fit and public showmanship as core company values. Doctor Grace Fairley Boelke was employed by the brothers as Berlei’s medical director to ensure its corsets were ‘anatomically correct’, and urged willowy flappers to ‘corset for the future’ in order to prevent irreparable damage to ‘muscles and vital organs’. Berlei’s 1920s marketing reflected pop cultures prevailing worship of youthful sporty silhouettes; the implied athleticism of its wrap-on ‘Dance Girdle’ was continued in the 1924 promotional musical revue, titled Youth Triumph

 

  1. IN 2004 JANET JACKSON had one of her breasts revealed by Justin Timberlake on national television and it caused a huge sensation. What was meant to happen was that Timberlake would remove the topmost layer of material covering a red lace bra. What ended up happening was that Timberlake accidentally removed both layers of fabric and thus her breast and nipple was shown to the world for mere seconds. The term ‘wardrobe malfunction’ was never illustrated to well. The reaction to this and other celebrity gossip may make you think that celebrity gossip has gotten more mean spirited. However in eighteenth century England, cruel caricatures of the rich and fashionable were similar to todays fashion blogs.

The cartoonist Isaac Cruikshank (1764-1811) was not a fan of the light, diaphanous drapery of empire silhouettes of women’s fashion in the 1790s. In his1794 cartoon ‘The Rage , Or Shepards I Have Lost My Waist’, a woman in a fashionable empire-waisted gown is watched by a shorter fatter lady- who wears the same fashions to much less flattering effect- as she appears to declaim a comic poem about the absurdity of the prevailing silhouette. ‘A woman’s only top and tail/the body’s banished God knows where.’

Cruickshank died of alcohol poisoning at 55 after winning a drinking competition. His two sons followed in his footsteps and became cartoonists. Robert inherited his father’s obsession with wardrobe malfunctions. He scornfully depicted fashionably dressed young men – dandies, or ‘exquisites’ as they were mockingly called – as either scrawny and effeminate or grotesquely fat with thick, shiny lips, with faces always half hidden by preposterously high winged collars and swathed cravats.

The Cruickshank family did not at all agree with the idea that Iris Apfel would discuss over 100 years later. Apfel the now 94 year-old style icon who has recently had a documentary made about her life. In the documentary she has said that it is more important to be happy than dressed appropriately. I think Iris would love Mel Campbell’s book. Somebody should send the woman a copy.

 

  1. ‘FIT’ BEGAN TO MEAN ‘BEAUTIFUL’ AND ‘SEXY’ IN THE 1890’S, AS THE WESTERN world nestled into creature comforts. Charismatic exercise impresarios exploited the widespread anxieties that urban affluence would start an epidemic of feeble masculinity and hysterical femininity.

 

Born Fredrich Wilhelm Muller in what is now Russia, Prussian circus strongman Eugen Sandow made his debut on the London music hall stage in 1889. Sandow set out to epitomize ideal manhood. He studied classical Greek and Roman sculptures and trained his own physique to the same proportions. He published Sandow’s System Of Physical Training followed by Strength And How To Obtain It in 1897.

 

  1. MEETING SANDOW AT THE 1893 WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION IN CHOCAGO made a big impression on Bernarr Macfadden, a wiry little man from Missouri, who would become future physical culture publishing magnate. Macfadden’s personal motto was , ‘weakness is a crime – don’t be a criminal.’

He maintained a punishing health regime that included week long fasts and obsessive exercising. The man showed signs of straight up eating disorder coupled with a warped understanding of his own body. He died of a urinary blockage. He refused medical attention and attempted to treat the ailment by fasting. Macfadden did not agree with crafty shortcuts to a woman making herself beautiful. He did not believe in make up and hair products. Only diet and exercise were, he thought, believed to make woman look good. And if she looked bad, she could only blame herself. Another of his charming mottos was ‘Health is beauty. Ugliness is sin.’

 

As far as I can understand it, Mister Macfadden is one of the original dude bros that helped launch them all. I will think of him every time I read a horrible comment under a feminist piece of writing and go to stalk the commenter. It seems that there is a common profile photo style to these guys. They can be found posing topless showing their gym junkie physique.

 

The greatest gift a book can bestow to its reader is the expanding of understanding and knowledge about the world we live in and the many nuanced places we can hold within it. This book is not some silly book about fashion and the ways in which we can make ourselves more pleasing to the eyes. It is deconstruction of the why we feel perpetually bad about our bodies. This book does not fix anything but, it provides ways in which to think our selves out of the self esteem quagmire that is clothes shopping and finding the perfect fit. Less Macfaddens and more intelligent and witty writers like Mel Campbell please.

 

 

Free Drinks On A Spring Saturday

I am not my feature image. That is not something I can constantly be. Saturday proved this in hyper colour and surround sound. At least thats how it seems in my anxiety filled over thinking and reliving every wrong word. Why wasn’t I just chill about it all?

 

It was a rare day where I was to make an appearance at more than one event. I felt pretty good about this. It is sunny and waiting for my friend to pick me up, I stood and marvelled at the beauty of my tree lined street. The sun dappled through branches and leaves. Dappled sunlight is my preferred way to enjoy sun. Anything extra is too much and makes me want to punch people.

My friend and I go to a book launch in Yarraville. I have never been to a more crowded book launch in my life. It was taking place in a hall and it was full. There was a long table filled with delicious food: cheese, cracker, mini scones with strawberry jam and whipped cream, chicken sandwiches, chocolate chip biscuits and craft beer, sparkling wine, white and red whine. It was like church dance food from my teen years, only so much better as there was booz and we were celebrating creation of literature not creationism. I ate as much brie and fancy cracker as I could without seeming greedy. I think. And drank a couple of cups of ice cold sparkling.

As I was standing in a circle of friends a tall generically too handsome for his own good man came up and stood beside me with the kind of confidence that comes from existing in the skin sack version of winning the genetic  lottery looks wise. He is staring at me when I turn my head and look at him. ”I know you.” He says.  He is smiling as if we are friends and I am filled with the distinct impression of an opposite emotion. He has the swagger of many annoying young men of my past. ”I do not know you.” I say. ”But Im not wearing my glasses so hang on.” I phish my glasses out of my anarack pocket and place them on my face. I look at him blankly. ”nope, still no idea who you are.” I say.

Turns out we went to uni together in Ballarat. We both stayed in the double story student housing estate called Bella Guiran. We had not ever been in the same unit though. I had no memory of him and after speaking to him for too long than was probably required, I understood why. He was boring. He had enjoyed his drunken three years on college accommadation. He studied management and was now a city planner. When he asked me about what I do now. I tell him excitedly about the National Young Writers Festival and how it was such a honour to be a part of it. He responds with basic bastard crap about how we are in out thirties and couldn’t possibly be considered young. Being creative is not like management I retort. You dont simply graduate and step into a job and then slowly start to die one boring day at a time. You start the slog when ever if hits you and then you die slowly one day at a time, while creating as much as you can. There is no one way to be a writer, there is no hard and fast timeline. God I hate you. I think as we continue talking.

I rant about how living on student halls of residence was a cultural and intellectual wasteland for me. How the rape culture was rampant and toxic, with drink spiking incredibly prevalent. How the pick up charts in every unit made you feel like a loser if you didn’t do any of the things ( sleep over for sexy times, vomit from too much alcohol, shower with someone)For him it was just fun going to uni and binge drinking. He never had to make certain plans every time he went out on the town like the young women did.

He never had to deal with little things that ate away at your autonomy. Like when I got my drink spiked with alcohol by a trusted male friend. I had never drank alcohole before then due to my religion.  I never got to choose to drink alcohole on my own terms. I do of course tell this guy that as well.

”Im so glad I never had sex with any of those idiots. I declare. He tells me he goes back to ballarat four to five times a year to see mates. I never go back. I tell him.  What annoyed me the most was how he introduced himself as knowing me. The absolute gal of it. He does not have any idea who I am. Seeing me around uni and speaking to me a few times while he was wasted is not knowing me. The person he spoke to while drunk all those years ago no longer exists.  I tell him that since no longer caring what men think of me, I have become so much happier and confident. It is obvious by the way he starts looking away from me and staring out at the crowded hall, looking for an escape, that he did not envision his interaction with me going to such intense levels so quickly. I don’t do small talk. He was only at the launch because he had a high school connection to the author. Lucky for him my friend comes to get me as this guy is saying that he seems to have brought out a lot of bad memories. She has so many. My friend declares as she drags me away. I stop and get one last question out while gesturing at me face with my hands. Have I changed much since then? He shakes his head. I laugh as I walk away with my friend. He is so wrong.

The next scene takes place at a friends home on a stunning street in an area I am unfamiliar with. It is a birthday gathering that will contain me into the late hours of evening.  On entering the house I am already happy tipsy but probably also a bit rattled from the previous encounter.  I told him too much about myself, I stress inwardly. He did not need all that information. You should have just blanked him after saying you dont remember him and avoided him in the crowd for the rest of the launch. I should have simply said that it was a grand time of growth and independence surrounded by amazing and inspiring people. I should have mixed some of the truth with a portion of pretty. I loved how cold it was there. I loved the friendly goths.

As soon as I entered the home of my friend she hugged me and hugged my companion. I was going to follow her through to the kitchen when a young girl locked eyes with me. She was very nearly as tall as me. She came up to me and asked how old I was. I tell her. she took in this information without changing her expression. ”Do you suffer from Drawfism?”  I say that I don’t. Then why are you smaller than everyone hear? She asks. I fight the very strong urge to kick her in the shins and burst into tears.  In my grown up voice I answer with a ”no”.  I feel bad about feeling offended by this. It reeks of internalised ableism. Or does it? If you are asked repeatedly over time if you have a condition that you don’t have, even by grown ups, is it ok to be miffed and annoyed? Because that is how I feel. Perhaps it is because I do already know about the things I do have (not suffer, that is ableist language) I leave the little ”intellectually curios” scamp and follow my friends for a drink.

When a friend suggests I remove my anorak, I get weird and say that I wont just yet. It is warm and I do want to take it off. The paranoid voice inside whispers that if I take it off, my structural crookedness due to scoliosis would be shown more noticeably. If that little human came up and asked with her dead eyed stare why my posture was a bit weird and my bare shoulders looked rounded, I doubt I would have any patience left to explain it to her in my grown up voice. When her parents heard about it they looked uncomfortable and apologized saying that this was why she didn’t have any friends at school. I didn’t really fully relax until the little family left. It was then I sighed a breath of relief and shrugged out of my Aldi children’s Anorak, and drank my fourth drink of the day.

When it gets dark I get so emotionally vulnerable that the hostess kindly takes me out the back of house and we sit there together on the steps and look out into the dark as I talk and cry and talk some more. She helps me see that there are options and I am not so alone as I feel sometimes. Her kindness is so overwhelming and the crying and talking really helps. Its like throwing all your worst parts out into the open air and someone else catches them gives you an escape and then lets it float away and dissolve.I was not crying because a little girl had the gal to ask me questions. I know thats what it looks like. But its just that the kids I see regularly do not ever ask things like that they just no me as aunty by blood or by association. It has been years since I was teaching primary school kids and getting questions like that so often it didn’t matter. I lie, it did matter.  As I sit and cry hot cathartic tears,  the  beautiful lady greyhound comes over and licks at my tear stained cheek. It s not even an overly sloppy lick, it is more like a sniff with a bit of a soft kiss. Dogs are neat. So is having strong female friendships who let you do the cry thing once in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Male Gaze is turned on its head and it is cathartic as all hell.

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When Candy Bowers messaged me on social media asking for my phone number I was excited. Nobody asks for my phone number these days. I gave it willingly and then experienced mild anxiety at the thought of receiving a phone call and having to actually speak over the phone.

I have been lucky enough to be on a panel with Candy about girl representation on Television.  I have taken part in one of her writing for performance workshops where a young white man had the audacity to ask Candy, a seasoned and brilliant performer, writer and singer, what her credentials were.

It turned out Candy was working on a night of live performance art with her collaborator Victoria Chiu and thought I would be perfect to play a game show host type role for a subversive beauty pageant made up of white heterosexual men. The premise sounded brilliant and I agreed with gusto. Me? help facilitate a performance that puts men in the shoes of women for a small moment in time? A chance to treat some men the way men have been treating women since the dawn of time? Yes please.

 

The men who would be in the beauty pageant all had to be volunteers. They all had to be straight. They all had to be able to look serious and not goofy. They were not to look like they were having fun. This was not your American style beauty pageant. This short piece of live performance art would have a kareoke part. The men would have to take turns singing a part of a Justin Bieber song called Baby. A song that starts nice and takes a dark turn if you listen to the lyrics.  Before that part the men would come on stage and do a short cohesive dance where they would end up standing in a row on stage after taking turns taking of theIr jackets. I would introduce each male contestant and share a couple of made up facts about each male contestant. Candy and Victoria said I had free creative agency for that. The only guideline was that the names for the men had to be hyper masculine: Hard, Rock and so on.

It can feel like every time I leave the house I enter some sort of twisted pagent without even signing a release or permission for pervs to openly share thier views on my looks and body. If your a woman you cannot even go to order a burger without some dude feeling entitled to comment on your order or your legs. If I had a dollar for everytime a man looked me up and down and said something to my face that made me feel worthless I would have a lot of dollars. Men treat the entire world as of it is a beauty pageant and they are the judge.  If you are a black woman you get over sexualized and if you are a woman with a disability you can be infantilised. That is why this performance was so exciting to me. It put me and the two woman who would be the judges, into the position of power usually reserved for white men.

Victoria Chiu got the inspiration for the show while on a trip to Singapore. She stubled across something that really affected her. She managed to take some sneaky photos to take back and show Candy. The photos were not shared on social media out of respect for the women in the photos.

In a  room with a stage and the audience of suited men sitting in the dark, Victoria watched as a collection of 10 or so women stood on stage wearing white wedding dresses. The dresses were very virginal and modest. Each woman held some red fans and did an awkward dance with the fans in their hands. They held tight smiles in place as they danced. They looked like they were there because they needed the money. Surely money was involved? The women finished the dance and then they did kareoke. When each woman had completed their song they stood in a line on stage and men took turns placing a sash with a money amount on it, over the head of the woman they had chosen. The chosen woman would then step off stage and leave with the man who had chosen them.  These women were not doing this ritual on stage for fun. There was no sense of frivolity in that room. It was sex trafficking for the already wealthy men who wanted it done with a sense of refinement and class.

 

Candy and Victoria managed to get enough white straight male volunteers and we practised about three times leading up to the show. The point of the show was to make people laugh and enjoy themselves. Candy would not explain the rather dark inspiration behind the show until after it was completed. We laughed a lot as the men learned the words to the Justin Bieber song. That song is still tattooed into my music memory.

Back stage on the night we all gathered around as Candy helped the men get into character. You are doing this because you need the money so your kids don’t starve. Candy tells them.  You are not doing this for fun, its a eat or don’t eat situation.

I think that this was the most nervous about a performance I had ever been. I did not want to let Candy and Victoria down. I wanted to be brilliant. Anything less is unacceptable to me.

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I walk on stage to applause after Candy introduces me. The stage lights hot and the microphone in my hand. I walk to the centre of the stage and stare out at the crowd of enthusiastic Fringe Festival participants and punters.

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I take a deep breath and begin with some banter and jokes about how all white men look the same to me. I have slept with many men and received pleasure from some of them. I dead pan. Tonight’s festivities involve the judgement of 12 attractive and affable objects of desireWe have three judges who will chose the object they deem most desirable. These lucky objects will be given a sash and five whole dollars.  And now it is my pleasure to introduce you to our Objects Of Desire.

 

The men enter the stage one at a time and do their choreographed dance. When they are all standing on stage I introduce them one at a time. Each object steps forward as I introduce them and then goes back to their original place in the line of Objects of desire.

HARD PACK: Hard cannot remember how he got his name.  He loves playing Bandminton and has very fluid wrist action. He dislikes injustice.

STEEL: is a landscape gardener. His fav flower is the simple Daisy. He dislikes spiders.

MERCURY: Likes to read. But, don’t you worry. He is no know it all. He likes housework even more. He dislikes bees.

BRAZEN: Loves sunny afternoon walks in nature. He is a mad keen rock climber. He dislikes that he cannot take his pet blue tongue lizard, Mercutio on his rock climbing adventures.

SILVER: Enjoys baking cakes. Dislikes the clean up.

QUARTZE: Loves chocolate. Dislikes calories.

REVOLVER: Loves his mother. They are very close. Dislikes animal cruelty.

SPIKE: Enjoys fixing up vintage dirt bikes. Dislikes mud.

IRON: likes doing puzzles. Scared of moths.

ODEN: Enjoys getting facials. Is the proud father of three cats. Dislikes it when his cat babies get unwell.

ROCK: Not THE Rock, but, still bloody good looking. Am I right? He enjoys lifting weights and taking his pet pug, Paul for a walk.   He dislikes peas.

METAL: Likes running marathons. Dislikes climate change.

After the introductions the sing along portion began. Each object of desire took turns coming up to the one microphone and singing their portion of Baby by Justin Bieber.

Once the winners were announced and all the hooting and whistling and deafening applause had died down, Candy explained briefly what had inspired the live art performance. Then it was a brief intermission before the second part of the show. I was buzzing as I went to get my free drink.  The rest of the show was fantastic and i was able to enjoy it whole heartedly.

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https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/oct/01/candy-bowers-the-door-was-slammed-on-me-for-being-a-black-woman

http://blackhoneycompany.com/about/the-keepers/http://footscrayarts.com/profile/chiucox/http://www.victoriachiu.org/