Friday, December 30, 2011

Wrapping Up 2011

2011 has been a year of strenuous hard work for me. When not at the office, I was either:
  • editing
  • writing
  • researching
  • learning about marketing & publishing strategies and book cover design
  • blasting my 300 or so followers with annoying Tweets
  • pushing myself through an endless physical workout
What can I say, even at 36, I remain a workaholic. Nothing has changed. Luckily for me, I do enjoy my work. And I love heading to the gym or walking along Brisbane's river to clear my mind. So these mental extremes are balanced by physical extremes and I stay sane.


Yet like a true introvert, the best moments of 2011, were those moments I spent in my head completely removed from surroundings, transported through fantastic visions into a spiraling world of speculations and ideas often sprinkled with a good dose of my glorious imagination. And I must add, what would introverts be without this age's social media and intranet? Surfing the net was my die hard habit of 2011. One I'm unlikely to desist from for all the wonderful learning experiences it affords me. 


There were other highlights in 2011 so I'll go through them, with gratefulness and joy. Because you have to be grateful in life.  And you know what, no matter what the advocates of modesty would tell us, you have to be able to boast about what you love. How else do you reckon with this thing called Happiness? How else do you invite IT to stay?


My Photo Shoots
Dressing up and posing for the camera. I love the creative process of conjuring up shots, costumes and poses. Vanity for the sake of Art. Not too bad for someone who spent most of her teenage years in daggy tracksuit pants and Tshirts. Yet not too professional so I can still recognise myself. Phew...


Romantic Escapade
On a warm Winter's night, I was treated to a romantic weekend at the plush Emporium Hotel.  The bed was sprinkled with red petals, there were candles everywhere and we had dinner and breakfast at Tartufo Restaurant.  Enjoying time with my lover and best friend all through the year was a highlight. I know that those glamorous touches are just the icing on the cake and that every day spent at home holding him is a welcome escape for me.


Athens and Cape Sounion
Enjoying the cool autumn nights in Athens during our Greek holiday...Eating spicy charred meats in the old Turkish suburb of Plaka...Wandering into the ancient marbled world of the Acropolis among Gods and Goddesses and exploring the old ruins of the Agora all the way to up to the hills that overlook the entire city. Worshipping at Poseidon's Temple at Cape Sounion...Pretending to be a nymph...Going nuts with my Hipstamatic app. The term Hedonism comes rightly from Greece.


Milos
In Milos, I got lost along pristine Greek beaches and laid back coastal villages. I absorbed the Mediterranean Sun, Greek Food, more Greek food and just the peaceful non touristy world. Bottom right, you can see a sight that touched my heart, an old couple holding hands and venturing out into the late afternoon after the sun's rays had waned in the old town of Plaka. 


Santorini
In Santorini, I was touched with overwhelming beauty and calm while staying at Iliovasilema Suites in the charming cliff edge village of Imerovigli. Having breakfast every morning while gazing at the caldera from our private balcony was one of the most peaceful and rewardingly silent experience of the year. Walking along the coastal path from the town of Fira all the way to the marble streets of Oia to watch the sunset was an experience I will never forget. 


Paros
Wandering through Paros and its markets. Stuffing myself with Galaktoboureko pastry for breakfast. Losing myself in the labyrinth that is Parikia's narrow white streets. It was early in the morning and the streets were near deserted. The last time I got this lost was in Toledo's Old Town in 1999. And here I was... I ended up having to stalk a gorgeous blonde local and ask her in which direction I could find the sea. Just my luck, she spoke zero English. But she began to make swimming arm motions and confirmed for me with the word "Thalassa". And then I remembered Grade 8 Greek history and the word Thalassa suddenly made a lot of sense. I was saved!


Mykonos
This year I spent my birthday on Mykonos island. I don't believe I have ever been that spoiled. One of the highlights was admiring the colorful stacked houses on the water's edge, otherwise known as Little Venice.  I also loved frolicking in the crystal clear blue waters and admiring the views at Psarou Beach. 


My Friend's Wedding
I have known my friend Karen for 12+ years now and it was a joy and an honor to attend her wedding late in the year. It brought tears to my eyes. Her parents were so nice to both me and Shane. While we did not know anyone else at the wedding, we felt very welcomed.




My Long Walks in Brisbane
When I take walks along the Brisbane river, to exercise, calm my thoughts, listen to music on my Iphone or just dream, I often come across these beautiful views. They have been my companion for almost two years now. I am grateful.


Gorgeous Food, Sex, Cuddles, Good books, Good films, friends who make me laugh and touch my heart. 


I want more of all this next year. Bring on 2012!



Monday, November 28, 2011

The Ultimate Betrayal


Whenever there is betrayal in a relationship, the world often seems as though it is collapsing around us.

Nobody wants to hurt. And in most relationships, especially those where the attachment between the parties is not yet secure, there is always an initial fear of being cheated on. I know couples who have put a stop to or sabotaged their relationship for years out of this fear of being cheated on. It seems these couples preempt betrayal even though it has not taken place (and perhaps never will). Yet they are so crippled by the fear of betrayal that they will, out of anxiety and insecurity, inject toxins in their otherwise harmonious relationship.
Luckily this fear diminishes over time with a secure, happy relationship. But it takes time. 

The interesting thing about this fear and with many fears, including that of being handicapped, is that they are actually irrational. No one has ever died from betrayal.

Such fears undermine the human spirit. Yes, at a psychological level, these fears point to insecurities and an inability to cope with any ego-threat. One must rise above perceived ego-threats or one is soon at the mercy of so many events in life. Developing self-esteem is very important for dealing with such fears but so too is conceiving the strength of the human spirit.  

One must trust in the human spirit and its ability to overcome setbacks. Studies suggest that people who have suffered an accident and became handicapped showed more resilience and turned out happier than they ever thought they could be when envisaging any handicap. Similarly, people who have felt betrayed and heart-broken by a past relationship erroneously believe, at the time that their depressed state will continue with them for years and that they will never be able to love or trust again. 
But this is not the case.

It is surprising too, how the weakest, most defenceless human can in fact overcome betrayal. Let me tell you a story...

I have suffered the ultimate betrayal. No. None of my partners have cheated on me. And no, for the most part, my friends have not broken my trust.

The ultimate betrayal came for me as a ten months old baby when I was abandoned by my mother. 

Now I say 'abandoned' because technically, from the point of view of baby Laura, that is what it was. I must have felt terrible as I burst into yet another colic fit, wondering where my mum was. It was clear that she was no longer there for me.
This is not the place to dwell on the reasons she let me go but needless to say, my happiness and comfort were very much a priority and I was well cared for where I was.

Unfortunately at this age, one does not know 'what is good'.  If one were to ask a child then, 'what is good',  is to be with mum.

From eight months, I would have already entered that phase developmental psychologists describe as an important emotional attachment phase.  This means I knew who my mother was. I had begun walking and so I recognised her and I was probably emotionally attached to her.  As a result, any feelings of betrayal I would have had were more pronounced than if our separation had occurred much earlier. Consider also that as a ten month old baby, I was still in the trust vs. mistrust phase described by Erikson and betrayal during this phase is damaging to trust, perhaps more so than at any part of adult life.

So enough of the psychology...I was sent away to live for two years with my grandmother, my Mamy. During that time, I believe I was happy. The proof, was that I am strongly attached to my grandmother even now.

My second birthday in my Mamy's arms, France


But what is disturbing is that when I was separated from my grandmother to be reunited with my mum, I did not recognise my mum.
It turned out that I had become so attached to my grandmother that this second separation from a caregiver also had a terrible impact on me.

I had nightmares. I was constantly afraid. I had screaming fits at night. And I was convinced that my 'new' mum was an evil witch.

What did I have to cope? What defences could I, a three year old toddler, summon to overcome this horrible feeling of dejection and  disempowerment, to overcome this anger and this feeling of betrayal? To have been betrayed not once but twice was too much that I could bear.  I had no recollection of the first betrayal since, after all, I had been too young but the sum of it felt enormous within me.



I felt like a roaming orphan. I identified with Penny from The Rescuers and I had no doubt that Madame Medusa was my mother. It did not help that my mum was fond of jewelry...

I think it took years, but I overcame those nagging feelings of emptiness, the knot in my throat, the self-esteem issues and most of all, I grew to love my mum.

Today I understand her and what she went through. Again, this post is not the scope to dwell on her reasons.

But the gist of this story is that people are too complex to be tied to set relationship paradigms. In this case, the situation demanded that my mum let me go despite the adage that 'mothers should not abandon their infants.' Is betrayal easy? How many mothers would be ready to do what my mum did? Believe me, to do something like this takes much courage. But it also takes a genuine need...

We must learn to understand that the betrayal we feel does not often stem from malicious intent in others, nor does it necessarily have its origins from the weakness and deceit in others. The answers are much more complex. 

At the time of experiencing betrayal, we always think it is the end of the world, that our soul has been trampled on, our egos trashed and that those who are betraying us are evidently manifesting some dark side of their personality. That they have failed us...

But often those who 'betray' us, -and by betrayal, I don't mean physical and emotional abuse which I do not condone, but rather abandonment, separation and loss of engagement- yes, those who 'betray' us are experiencing their own demons and their own limitations. Often their own needs are not being met within the relationship and they must go elsewhere to have those needs met, to grow as a person, to experience peace. My mother did not stop loving me during those two years when she gave me up. But she needed those two years for herself. What has love got to do with anything? And was she necessarily selfish do you think, for taking that time? I don't think so.

I have learnt that our self-integrity is an important part of who we are, it is the foundation of our beings and any destabilisation in our self-integrity poses a threat to our sense of self. Unless we choose to live in a closed box, unless we have adopted unchanging and dogmatic attitudes and have completely stopped growing, then, who we think we are is constantly evolving. And as it does, over the years, often we achieve self-integrity by ensuring that what we do aligns itself with our values and beliefs. We may also change our way of thinking to accommodate what we perceive our recent behaviours to be, all for the purpose of aligning our attitudes with our actions and help achieve self-integrity. 

Doing what we believe is right, running away from paradigms that would in any way shackle us or limit us, is integral to self-integrity and ultimately to human happiness. And yes, there are times when it will appear as though we are betraying others, but this is all part of ensuring that we do not betray ourselves.  

The alternatives: poor self-integrity and a shaky sense of self are dangerous propositions. These do not lead to happiness nor do they help the parties in any relationship. They render us petty, envious, bitter, resentful, controlling and dissatisfied. 

It is true, nobody wants to hurt.  Yet understanding less-than-perfect human behaviors is crucial for processing feelings of betrayal and ultimately, for overcoming their negative impact.




Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Top Films for 2011

Five films stand out for me this year. Some were not technically made in 2011 but they had me riveted, informed and in some cases, deeply unsettled.

1. Adam Resurrected


Based on a novel by one of Israel's top writers, Yoram Kaniuk, Adam Resurrected stars Jeff Goldblum as Adam Stein, a Holocaust survivor with a disturbing secret. During his incarceration in a concentration camp, he was allowed to live on the condition that he entertain a Nazi commandant by pretending to be his dog and walk on all fours.

This film is brutally honest in its dealing with the subject of human debasement, psychological survival and the manner in which cognitive dissonance can deeply unsettle us and drive our behavior. Adam's inner conflict, that of remaining a dog or becoming 'human' again and therefore dealing with his shame and emotional pain, comes to the fore after the war.

It is while practicing his unusual skills as mind reader and pseudo-psychiatrist and himself a patient at a mental hospital that Adam meets a little boy, also a WWII victim. This boy believes that he is a dog and presumably no one can help him. Adam Resurrected is a film I strongly recommend if you are not afraid of complex human themes and have some interest in psychology. Both Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe give excellent performances as always. I love this film.

2. Hors La Loi


Roschdy Zem in Hors La Loi

Not your typical gangster film. Hors La Loi is actually a historical drama more or less depicting the life of Abdel Kader, leader of the Algerian Independence movement in France. It follows the life of three Algerian brothers, Messaoud, Abdelkader and Said, who, confronted with the injustices of French involvement in Algeria and later, with the poor treatment of Algerian immigrants in France, set out to make a difference for themselves and for the impoverished immigrant community.

An informative, captivating story which resonates strongly with social issues still facing France today. I enjoyed the dynamic between the three brothers and the outstanding overall cast. And if, like me, you have a soft spot for Roschdy Zem, this one is for you. He literally sizzles as the silent glassy-eyed, Messaoud.

3. La Rafle


France's shameful WWII secret. Under Vichy rule and faced with a Nazi quota requirement, the French gendarmes round up 13000 Jews into Paris' Velodrome d'Hiver. This cycling arena, right in the middle of Paris is specially sealed for its new ghetto purpose.

This is yet another story of what humans do to one another other and where outgroup prejudice can lead if left unchecked. Google "Vel d'Hiv", or watch this film but either way, do not be naively misled into believing that your own government would fully care for you during a wartime occupation. In the Vel d'Hiv, during their 3-5 days captivity, the 10000 French Jews are subjected to appalling conditions at the peak of the summer heat; no toilets, food or water. Only limited medical facilities are provided by the Red Cross and this is obviously not enough for those rounded up forcibly from their hospital bed. Outside, it was later reported that neighbours of the velodrome experienced foul smells emanating from the newly locked building.

From the velodrome to the death camps of Auschwitz, we follow the plight of several families and real life survivor Joseph Weismann. I would not watch this film again but I strongly recommend it for its revelatory effort. Strong performances from Jean Reno (who is mostly underutilised) and Melanie Laurent.

4. Insidious

This low budget horror was declared the most successful film of the year in terms of ROI. James Wan's horror film has just the right balance of mystery, paranormal, dream archetypes and bedroom settings to strike a chord with the dreamer in most viewers, making them dread falling asleep at night and wish they'd never seen this film. But yeah, a strong horror production that haunted me for days afterwards.

5. Gainsbourg: a Heroic Life


Why does Gainsbourg score with hot women? Find out...

Finally, something funny and light-hearted for a change. After all, I am not all about brooding-over-human-suffering-and-injustice. It seems there is also a hedonist spark in there...

What with sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, the smouldering Juliette Greco, gamine Jane Birkin, Dali's dark and curvaceous muse, and Gainsbourg's last wife, the sizzling Bambou (who is played by none other than sexy Mylene Jampanoi), there is much to feast on in this entertaining biopic about one of France's most celebrated and controversial musicians.

But what distinguishes Gainsbourg from the average biopic formula is the appeal to the child in each one us. From the very beginning, Gainsbourg's larger than life alter-ego makes recurring appearances through an ever smoking dandy-like, animated caricature whose relationship with the artist drives him inasmuch at it limits him. This elongated, long nosed figure has enough panache to charm and inspire; for viewers, it provides an enchanting and heart-warming conception of Gainsbourg's complexity as an artist. This film will delight your senses and make you wish you lived in Gainsbourg's time.

Hipstamatic Greece

A joyful photographic spree, starting in Athens. From the Acropolis, to the Temple of Zeus and onto the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Greece's Attica province is resplendent on Hipstamatic. I added a couple of shots from the island of Milos, views from Santorini's castle and the splendid waters of Psarou beach in Mykonos. I hope you enjoy them as I did my wonderful journey in Greece.



























Friday, November 18, 2011

Why You Don't Have to Be A Mum

This blog post could very well have been entitled, “How to Piss off Mothers and lose your friends” or “Neo-Germaine Greer Rant”.

It is not intended to be. 

What I want to highlight here is that where motherhood is concerned, there are universally accepted truths that are illogical and rooted in deeply entrenched religious and social mechanisms that we fail to question. I simply hope that questioning those, highlighting those can aid uncertain prospective mothers in making their own choices about motherhood.

In other words, with this post, I want to reach out to women who have had doubts on this subject and tell them that they are not alone and that it is fine to choose not to have children.

Finally, my experience for this post is the predominantly patriarchal community where I have been raised and the curious number of miserable, depressed and untruthful mothers I have known in my thirty odd years.

So it begins....

The Myths

Society elevates its mothers to a pedestal whereby motherhood automatically lends honorable and virtuous qualities to women. Granted the pain and sacrifice involved in giving birth is admirable and even unsurpassed by any other biological feat. I respect it.


The Women

With all actions, one must always look at motivation. Indeed, often motherhood is an accident. Often it follows from the lack of education, the lack of choices available to women who end up fulfilling themselves through the one task they can indeed do though often, not so well, judging from the depression, family conflicts and adolescent angst that problematic motherhood engenders. Finally, often having children is mere tradition, a duty assumed by females.

In Western societies on the other hand, it is arguable that the need for social acceptance, social approval, social support and often financial support, all of which society somehow naturally offers to mothers, are a powerful driving factor in leading women to naturally assume the role of mother.  After all, you can get government support for having children, whether or not you choose to take motherhood seriously.

Granted a woman may be honourable and virtuous but these qualities do not necessarily follow from motherhood and are entirely dependent on each individual’s temperament and disposition. It is highly possible that a woman who has never had children may also be as equally honourable and virtuous. The media just never mentions them.

The Goddesses

One must wonder about the source of this unanimous equating of motherhood with virtue and female fulfillment. Going thousands of years back, it may have arisen from a long lost tradition of goddess cults worldwide in which women detained the secret of childbirth and immersed themselves in fertility rites that men could not take part in. In some places of the world, like the Kabyle of Algeria for example, the magic rites of the birth and life cycle still forms part of a sacred female ritual.

Patriarchal Religions

But in most places of the world, goddess cults are no more, replaced instead by patriarchal religions like Christianity, where incidentally it is a male god who controls the fertility of women. One of the most glaring examples of this is the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. This topples traditional matriarchal fertility beliefs because it symbolically empowers a male god, not a fertility goddess...

Society’s equating of motherhood with virtue may have arisen from a patriarchal desire to control reproduction.
Notably, in patriarchal belief systems, guilt is a powerful driving factor for women, often leading them to have children. If the qualities associated with raising children are so universally admirable and if one should feel they have fallen short if they don’t enter parenthood or meet the benchmarks of parenthood, why then, is there no such guilt for men? I maintain that this is partly because the guilt was engendered by patriarchy and in many ways sustained by patriarchal religious systems like Christianity where a ‘good’ woman was not ‘barren’. Indeed, in the Old Testament, one encounters stories of ‘barren’ women who finally, 'at long last', are granted a child through divine intervention.

In purely patriarchal societies, it is usually men who control reproduction, either through social rules, laws or religious belief systems.

Economic Considerations

Even today, the resulting economic effect of motherhood is not to be underestimated. Simply put, motherhood gives males the advantage. In the past, when birth control was not available, it meant that women were frequently burdened by pregnancy. Even today, not occupied by the first years of childhood, male workers experience no glitch in their careers. I have met many women who agonise over having children ‘before it’s too late’  but who are well aware of the career opportunities and experiences that they will have to forego. Men face no such limitations in their careers. Further, the large shift in the workforce resulting from mothers working part-time or stay at home mums means that at any time, there are more jobs available for men. 
Note also that in some societies where there are low employment opportunities, such as some African American communities, Mexico or Spain whose unemployment rate is over 20%, we see a remarkable rise in misogyny and or domestic violence. In those societies, women can inspire jealousy and be hated for just having a job.

In a competitive world or one with few resources, having a woman raise children, not partake in the workforce, not rise to positions of power (and be less likely offered positions of power) perpetuates an arguably secure situation for men. This greatly taken-for-granted status quo may not be readily recognised by male consciousness but it nevertheless remains highly desirable and would be met with strong opposition if threatened. Witness the ego threat posed by women who advocated for the pill years ago. Aside from religious opposition, it was the prospect of women not remaining at home to carry out pregnancy or fullfill their motherly duties and instead, taking valuable jobs, that posed a considerable threat to men.

Controlling Motherhood not only allows men to increase their economic chances but also improves their status.

To understand how one acquires status through having children, it is important to highlight the much ignored socio-economic relevance of the aforementioned Judeo-Christian stories. After all, for many years, infant mortality was high and having many children was nothing short of a miracle and a sign of social status. Having many children also secured the likelihood that at least a couple of them would survive from the harsh living conditions.
This is still the case in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East where incidentally, parents often have many children.

Returning to the contention of this article, one must appreciate the enormous difference between 1. recognising that a couple must has access to enough food and wealth and can therefore raise many children (valuation of the couple’s status) and 2. the misguided notion that the woman must be virtuous for having had children (valuation of the couple through the wife’s morality).  Somehow, the second notion has survived while only the first makes any sense. But let’s be honest, no one wants to openly admit to status concerns, it is better to be seen as virtuous and ‘loving’...

Ongoing Guilt and the need to be Good

A couple with children should therefore only communicate economic ease. Why, then, is there the added impression that the woman must be virtuous and fulfilled? Where does this belief come from?

Firstly, at least the fulfillment assumption may have arisen from the laws of scarcity. In the past, women who understood that child mortality was high, naturally desired what was hard to achieve. They wanted children because it was hard and not many children survived. Therefore a woman who had children, had, in the eyes of others, fulfilled a difficult task.

I must also add here that a woman had through her grace, effectively perpetuated life. A highly valuable consideration especially in terms of its gift to human kind whose population once did not thrive as much as it does today. 
Today would be a different story...

But why are mothers, even today, also immediately perceived as virtuous?

I maintain that economically driven, patriarchal guilt-inducing systems are the reason we continue to propagate the image of a mother as good and virtuous. Consider the way the world celebrates Mother’s Day over and beyond Father’s Day, or even the absence of a day for celebrating non-gender specific Friendship or Humanity. The ubiquitous endorsement of motherhood as virtuous and ‘normal’ and the use of celebrity mothers (but not so much fathers) by the media to encourage identification and emulation creates such social pressure on women that those who choose not to become mothers develop guilt, believing that they must have shortcomings as a female human being.

Note further that women who actually choose motherhood are not spared from guilt. They feel it regularly whenever they believe they have failed in comparison to what society paints as a ‘good’ mother.

Breathe. There is more to come.

I don’t want to give the impression that I am against motherhood. I love babies. Full stop. But the heart-warming feeling I get from babies is not enough to warrant my full journey into motherhood not enough to warrant the “evidently, I should abandon all my dreams now and have children” feeling. Not enough to warrant ‘juggling it all’.

I know my limitations and I’m at peace with them. I respect motherhood especially when it stems from a genuine desire as opposed to the pleasure of merely ticking a box (valuation of a couple’s status…remember?).

What is a concern is the lack of choices some women have for contentment and the ongoing guilt that drives them to become mothers. My issue is with the ‘evidently, once you have a partner, you must have children’ attitude that most women face all over the world. Why evidently?

Biology Truisms Toppled

One might say that the evidence for this truism lies in the female biology. Ah yes, one would say that you simply cannot argue with nature. Nature shows us the way…

The proof is right there, it’s in the limited eggs women carry. So why not use them? Well let’s see. I am biologically capable of having children but I am also biologically capable of becoming an Olympic runner or a dancer or, hell, even a porn star…yes? Note that all these involve pain, sacrifice, endurance and discipline. Yes, believe me, they do.

So then, as a woman, let me ask you, why is it more evident that you should become a mother and not a dancer?
And further, why should you feel guilty for not ‘using your eggs’ before they run out but feel zero guilt for failing to use your legs to their full capacity before it’s too late?

We continue to nurture truisms and ‘natural’ ways of being that are grossly slanted by patriarchy and past social beliefs. They obscure the real reasons why women (and men) should choose to have children.  And through subtle but persistent ideation of motherhood, they discourage deviations by default.

Do what you like.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How I Got a Thicker Skin



Those qualities less appreciated of a writer are his discipline, courage and his endurance.

As a writer, you need discipline to say a definite no whenever life's frivolities (Facebook, Twitter!) present themselves and you've promised to stick to your plan and complete the hardest chapters. You need discipline during editing to read and re-read the book that you'll often love and at other times fucking hate because you know every damn thing about it and can't-for-the-life-of-you-read-it-another-time-please. At 170000 words my first novel has drawn from me all the discipline I ever mastered as a self-starving anorexic teen and which I thought I'd lost.

You need courage to ignore the self-negating voices in your head, the negating voices of others who scream loud about some vampire crap they've read and that has sold millions and that you know you'll never write not because of lack of talent but because that topic bores you to tears, courage to write your mind despite what's popular out there, courage to subvert conventions. Most of all, you need courage to ignore those who would bring you down to their comfortable life, you know, life at the simple rat race level...Been there, bought that and it wasn't for me, sorry. Yep, you need courage to forge ahead with your dogmatic writer paradigm. Every chosen lifestyle presents, after all, its own paradigm but the artist's life is less traveled and least understood.
I know this because after all those years, I still have so much to learn from my boyfriend who has been writing for decades. He is the single most courageous man I know.

Endurance. It is not all about writing volumes of words. It's about sticking to your plan for months, years, decades. Writing, editing, pitching, marketing, querying, and hopefully in the future, promoting. That's the marathon you're signing into. If you're a screenwriter like my partner then be ready to battle out writing credits with ruthless producers, perhaps face arbitration and watch the popular Imdb website carefully as it's often not accurate in marketing the true story behind a film's writing journey.

The constant ego adjustment and intrinsic self-motivation that take place in your average week as a writer is akin to running a marathon. You're out of breath sometimes and only you can pick yourself up. And wake up honey. If you're not published yet, then there's no crowd out there cheering you on. You, with the help of maybe a few friends who understand your journey, are responsible for getting up and continuing to run.

I had a stint with falling off the track recently. It lasted a month. I received a letter that disheartened me...

It started out with me sending a query letter to a reputable Australian agent before I went on a holiday.
While I was in Greece, I received an expression of interest which pleased me greatly:

Laura, sorry not to get back to you earlier, it is always so busy. Please do mail the first the chapters, a synopsis and some writing bio. Please let me know if any material is going to other agents or publishers.
Best wishes


Upon my return from Greece, I sent sample chapters, synopsis and bio and after only a couple of days, I received the following reply:

Thank you for this Laura.

I’ve had a very quick look and I’m sorry but I will pass. My experiences with publishers here at the moment in this very difficult publishing environment is that it could be difficult to place.
I wish you well elsewhere,
agent's name


I was disappointed. I immediately lost myself in an undesired exercise of conjectures as to what the agent could possibly mean with the terms "it could be difficult to place".
I re-read my first chapters, determined to iron out those parts that could possibly "be difficult to place". Hell it took me one month but I went through the entire novel yet again, with the thought that I'd lose sleep over it, I'd rip off time that was better spent on my second novel but at least I'd have removed those bits that "could be difficult to place".

I had little desire to work on my second novel during this period. To be honest I had a nagging feeling that I could not be fucked since anything I invented or bred would likely be met with the same "I will pass".

Aaah, yes...I brooded over the "I will pass" statement too.
To me, it evoked a haughty queen to whom one might present a silver tray of petits fours in the hope that she might like one or two. She takes a disdainful sniff at the said sweets, turns her head away in disgust before pronouncing a resounding, "I will pass".

This brooding went on for a month. Every week during that month, I secretly felt crushed. I felt emotionally depleted, guilty for not writing and horrified that I was a lie and that everything I did had been in vain since after all, no one would ever read anything that "was difficult to place". Because it was never the idea of rejection that worried me (self-publishing would solve that problem in one day and might even be the path I take), no, it was the thought of not being read.

Then somehow...I finished editing the entire book again and picked myself up. I took a deep breath.

I read the letter again, this time with an objective mind. I realised that...if anything, I am difficult to place! So anything written by me will be difficult to place. And would anyone really expect anything other than a literary work that is "difficult to place" from someone born and raised in West Africa with a Eurasian mother and Arabic father, someone who is both multi-lingual and has had unique life and cultural experiences and prides herself on being different.
I don't think so.

Any rejection letter will be ambiguous. You read what you want into it.

So I've transformed the letter for myself in any positive way I can and now I'm running again. I've got another round of querying to do, a long way to go but I've so much enthusiasm for it that I'm smiling as I run.
And I know the deep ditch in the road is well behind me.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Insecure Male Chauvinist Guide to Being a Man

This is for laughs but you must admit there are some truths to it!

The Insecure Male Chauvinist Guide to Being a Man in the Corporate World

1. Never miss an opportunity to show that you know more than others. Remember, knowledge is manliness!
2. Never miss an opportunity to put a woman back in her place by doing 1.
3. If a woman is silent, she obviously doesn't know anything.
4. If a woman backs down to keep peace and let's you have the last word, she was wrong anyway.
5. If a man backs down to keep peace and let's you have the last word, he's a true friend. Plus you know he's sort of right anyway.
6. Don't back down.
7. If you are speaking with a woman and a man interrupts, give him your immediate attention. The bitch can wait.
8. If a woman shares an idea, don't listen, don't think, don't breathe; just disagree.
9. If you have disagreed with a woman's idea and realise that you were wrong, distract her, improve the idea and then suggest it as your own.
10. If you want to save face in a meeting, just disagree the next time a woman speaks. Instant confidence booster!
11. If a man has just demonstrated that they know better than you, immediately turn towards a woman and show her how much you know. Order will be restored!
11. If a woman speaks up in a group, make sure you talk over her.
12. If another man talks over a woman's voice in a group, never ever point out to him that, "Hey dude, she was speaking." You'll end up sounding weak and stupid. Remember, he's your  mate. Mates come first.
13. Raise your voice, it makes you seem more confident (and manly!)  It seems that banging your fists on your chest is no longer socially acceptable...but raising your voice until a woman's voice is barely audible is a great compromise.
14. Do not be seen to be undermining another woman's ability. After you have hijacked her meeting and said all you wanted to say to assert your power and knowledge, turn towards her and make sure you condescend with "What do you think?" or "Do you have anything to add?"
15. Don't be seen to appreciate another woman at work. It's demeaning. You're a man for heaven's sake. Put her down in front of other colleagues. Make jokes at her expense and never, ever give her a compliment in front of other males.
16. When in doubt, disagree with what a woman says.
17. Ditch this guide the moment a woman becomes your boss.
18. Now go home and do what your wife tells you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Novel Number Two - Work in Progress

Artemis

I feel that writing is a little like acting. After all, to create effective characters, one must, to a certain degree inhabit various personalities, ruminate their thoughts, feel their emotions, adopt their manner of speaking, their facial expressions just as an actor would. After an intense session, a writer can be drained or enlivened, depending on the character. It can be demanding. More so when the characters are dark, twisted or tormented.

Writing the Ming Storytellers was a particularly dark experience for me. I think I balanced the burden of this revengeful, secretive and obsessive narrative with light hearted, silly banter either on Facebook or Twitter. You see, one can never judge whether a writer is being sincere, that is, whether they are being themselves or just dealing with complex emotions and working through an intense experience in skewed, roundabout ways. Sometimes to be honest, I have no idea who I am but I'm actually at peace with that uncertainty.
I think I would be more worried if I had a complete (and deluded) self-assurance about the nature of my own character.

So that was The Ming Storytellers... It's the only novel I've so far written but at 600 pages plus it was a pain in the arse. Not really, I loved the ride and the time travel journey. I'm sure it will be published in the next couple of years but right now I need to let loose the other stories inside me.

I've longed for something fresh, new and a tad less dark. Yes please. And I need women. I've had to put on an admiral uniform, felt boots and walk on a ship deck for far too long.

So here's the thing. I'm embarking on my second novel. It's a story I've been toying with and researching for a couple of years now. Sexy multi-ethnic heroines, multiple settings, a bit of history here and there, a dash of science-fiction, mystery and a nice undercurrent of social psychology. I'd love to make it a graphic novel too because it would work nicely. The girls are just too hot. It would be a waste to not illustrate them, right?

The hardest for me was conceiving the evil force for this action-adventure novel. If I were left to my own devices, characters would be mostly civil and nothing life threatening would ever happen. But readers don't want that so I've had to rake my brain and the brain of others for inspiration. I wanted an antagonist that was not all about world domination and revenge.  I think twisted, self-righteous ideologies is where I'm heading because I like my evil forces to think they are actually doing good and I appreciate the shady grey in most characters. So for this novel, I'll be juggling a Talamasca-inspired research institution, a post-Inquisition army of religious warriors and of course nature itself.
Because what could be more potent than natural forces out of control?

Bring it on bitches! It's going to be a sexy ride, I know it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Girl in the White Dress


It was the lace of her white dress that caught my eye. It looked so radiant against her tanned limbs.

I've loved white since that day.

She sat across the aisle, on a desk to my right. She was this beautiful distraction. A distraction that I welcomed.

You see, on that day, I had been ruminating. There was much bitter brooding to do since my dad had left moments earlier. He'd left me alone, you see. Traitor. I was about to face my very first day in Grade One. Institution Notre Dame, Dakar.

Try to imagine it. This is West Africa. I'm in a Catholic school, in a classroom filled with individually spaced out wooden desks, among fifty or so little girls who sit before their little crayons and plastic pencil cases, all of us waiting in suspense to discover what our first day of school, our very first day in twelve years of schooling will be like.

And all I could think about was her white dress.

I know because when I saw her, I put aside my self-pity. I forgot my dad instantly. I think I stared at her pretty dress in utter disbelief.  She had little brown limbs and a boyish haircut. She looked a little Spanish.  To me anyway...I called out to her. I asked for her name.

Her name was Nasrin.

Check it out...

Nasrin (also spelled Nasreen, or NesrinPersianنسرین,Nasrīn) is a female name of Persian origin meaning "wild rose".[1] It is among the most popular names given to baby girls born in Azerbaijan,

Take it from Wikipedia...

There you go. I had good taste and I didn't even know it. So this girl, this 'wild rose', she had my full attention. And soon I saw nothing except her.
I asked her how old she was. She replied that she was five. You know, it's routine with little girls. First you share names, then you compare ages and then if they pass the 'vibe' test, you go on with the next question. And the next question is simple. Especially when they happen to be wearing that dress...

Me: Do you want to be my friend?
Nasrin: Ok.

So that's what I did on my first day of school. I picked up. It was easy in those days.

Nasrin smiled at me. I think she was shy.

And I was in heaven then. Ah yep, I had completely forgotten about my dad. Who cares if he wasn't there. I had Nasrin now! Nasrin and that fabulous white dress.

I didn't really care that we were in a middle of the classroom. Well, not yet anyway. I shot a glance in the teacher's direction. She was affairing herself to her papers and chalk and whatever teachers do when they must prepare to face fifty odd children on their first day of schooling. She told us to be quiet and I knew then that we must all behave.

But something took hold of me. As an adult, I think you might call it flirting...Either that, or I was so mesmerised by Nasrin's white dress that I absolutely had to touch it. It was now or never...

Verifying that the teacher was not looking, I leaned to the side and reaching across to my right, I quickly tapped Nasrin on the shoulder. What thrill. The teacher did not even see me. I  smiled triumphantly as though defying Nasrin to do the same. She did. Much to my delight. She reached across to tap my shoulder.

My heart was beating faster, I took my turn and reached across to grab Nasrin's hand. The joy!

Soon we were giggling quietly, very satisfied with our clandestine little game. I think there were three exchanges before I looked up and noticed that the teacher had heard us and seemed to be looking around for the source of the noise. I noticed that Nasrin was giggling too loud. She liked me that's for sure...

I'm not proud of the next moment.

I did not like to get in trouble. So I immediately stopped playing. I sat up, staring at the teacher, determined to show attention and to be well behaved. But while I was taking great pains to avoid the teacher's scorn, Nasrin was still enthralled by the game I had started. And it was her turn to tap me...She reached across and tapped my shoulder. The teacher saw her.

We blame the victims. Remember that.

The teacher said some very nasty things to Nasrin in front of the whole class. I felt for her. I think to this day, it didn't seem right that she had such a pretty white dress and yet had to be the first girl to be humiliated in front of the whole class. I felt as though somehow the teacher had stained her dress. This upset me. But I was afraid. And it quickly became apparent to me that to avoid humiliation and public scolding and to avoid any negativity at all, I should be well behaved and put all my energies into being a good girl at school.

And I did just that. I forgot about Nasrin. I shut everything out and thought only of avoiding punishment and humiliation.

I think on that first day of school, I learned that friendship can be a precarious thing when authority and fear are involved. This incident in my life embodies the dynamics of many situations even today. So many times, we have to choose between truth and loyalty at the risk of our reputation and the threat of social scorn.  When those moments come, I remember the girl in the white dress.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Page) - An Analysis


It's been a while since I regaled my readers with thoughts on cinema. I have not felt compelled to write about any film to date perhaps because none have left a subtle-yet-meaningful impression on me. I like fleshing out complexity and deciphering meanings that are not ranted about in every review.

Enter the French psychological thriller La Tourneuse de Page.

In a summary it is the story of Melanie, a young girl who, distracted by one of the judges during a piano audition, fails to enter the Conservatory and makes a revengeful pledge to get even with the one woman who, she believes, ruined her promising musical career. This one woman is Ariane, a rich and anxious bourgeoise living in a stately mansion with her self-righteous attorney husband and musically gifted son.

There are so many reasons I like this film and unfortunately to better highlight my insights, this post will need to contain spoilers. So please avoid reading if this will mar your experience.

The first thing I liked is the opening scenes, that is, the emphasis on butchery images as Melanie's father cuts carcasses and meat chunks and piano notes resound in the background. This sets the audience expectation for the film; since Melanie is a butcher's daughter then perhaps her revenge is likely to involve much blood letting or murder of some sort. After all, this plays on the cliche that butchers must have a somewhat callous disposition given the nature of their work and surely, Melanie must also possess those traits.
The greatest surprise then, in the film, is that this expectation is never fulfilled and Melanie's revenge strategy is much more subtle and crafty. Yet the meat symbolism remains powerful inasmuch as it conveys the hidden callousness inside Melanie and her utter objectification of the victim, Ariane.  Bluntly speaking, Ariane is the meat. The butcher symbolism inherent in knives and animal carcasses only serve to delineate Melanie's poor regard for her victim and her complete lack of empathy. A warning of things to come...

The second aspect of the film I found engrossing are the psychological details. Years later, as she sets about to avenge herself, Melanie enters into Ariane's service, first to mind her son and then later to help her turn musical pages and revive the musician's waning confidence.  The director uses costume remarkably well, offering us a glimpse of Melanie's deceitful nature even before she delivers her well planned blows. In all her encounters with Ariane and her husband, Melanie is meticulously dressed in conservative style, her hair tied back neatly, she speaks with a competent but soft humility and recalls Catherine Deneuve's ice cool beauty. Yet in the privacy of her room, we see the real Melanie prancing around bra less in a long t-shirt, her loose blonde hair cascading on her shoulders. During one scene, she reclines on a bed, chatting with nonchalance to her parents on the phone with an Anime magazine beside her. Again this might be cliche but in this case, the Anime symbolism not only reveals Melanie's modern and non-conservative outlook but it evokes strong, intense characters and an epop culture that has often been associated with lack of empathy. Who is the real Melanie?

Well the real Melanie is the young girl who years ago, even before she was called to complete her piano test, eyed the other girls in the waiting room with a calculated, cold stare. Yes even before her dramatic and life- shattering failure to enter into the Conservatory, Melanie's expression conveys her ruthlessness and callousness. I think that's another detail which works to raise the question, "would Melanie have turned out the way she did if she had at all succeeded?" She probably still would.

                                                                     The Kiss

There is another question I posed myself while I watched Melanie sexually and emotionally seduce Ariane with every intent of breaking her heart. After all, revenge, or the mechanisms of revenge requires that the avenger be familiar with what their victim would deem heart breaking or devastating. Inasmuch as Melanie chose to hurt Ariane through the heart route, I posed myself the question about whether Melanie might not have been herself vulnerable to female charm or any romantic charm.

And having thought about that, I wondered whether the very reason why the young Melanie was distracted by Ariane during her audition years ago, might not have been that she was already attracted to her.  During the audition, the young Melanie actually stares at Ariane and ceases to play. To which Ariane smiles and tells her, "why are you stopping my darling. Continue."
My darling...Perhaps Melanie already felt intimidated by the beautiful Ariane as a young girl. Perhaps her revengeful obsession, while partly fueled by thwarted ambitions, is no other than a repressed sexual obsession that will never see the light because she has chosen to hurt Ariane before Ariane hurts her.

And of course to add to Melanie's complexity is the very nature of her distraction. Indeed, during the audition, Melanie becomes distracted because Ariane was signing an autograph for a fan. This signing act, why would it be so fascinating to Melanie unless of course she was brutally envious of Ariane who represents the very peak of musical achievement inasmuch as she has fans who desire her autograph. Indeed, perhaps Melanie is not so much avenging herself for having failed to enter the Conservatory as a result of this distraction but more so because she wants to punish Ariane for having this power, this ability to sign autographs. This is supported by the fact that years later, as Ariane's page turner, Melanie witnesses another of those autograph signing acts after a concert and she seethes.
All these details work wonderfully to highlight Melanie's grandiose ideas of self-entitlement and her refusal to face the fact that perhaps it was her own inabilities that led to her being barred from the Conservatory.

One other aspect I enjoyed in this film is the sexual tension between Melanie and Ariane. The beautiful Catherine Frot was fifty years old when she stepped into that sleek one shoulder black gown for her character's Radio concert. I noted her perfectly toned shoulders and back, and her slender leg flirting through her thigh high slit. Her vulnerability and longing for intimacy had me voluntarily suspend any fears that Melanie was plotting something in the hope that the two women would actually consummate the underlying passion. I knew this could not turn out very well but I was prepared to watch this fascinating encounter. (I don't think Deborah Francois' perfect soft breasts helped either.)
I enjoyed the arguably very European casualty of Ariane's confidence to her musician friend. In a moment of soul baring, she sighs and states that her problem is "Melanie" and that "she has nothing, that everything belongs to her husband." Her friend understands perfectly. Our mind races fast...Ariane has had thoughts of leaving everything to be with her female lover.
I loved this understatement and the sexual possibilities it conveys. I thought it was well done.

To tie in with the film's deliberately misleading introductory scene, is the execution of Melanie's subtle and artful revenge which does not even involve knives, murder or blood shedding. Personally, I thought the ending was highly unlikely and qualified Ariane's husband as a loser on the basis that I am of the opinion that not many husbands would be verily threatened by their wife having an affair with another woman. But I think the film deliberately takes the conservative view. In addition, the plausibility of Ariane's husband's disgust upon discovering his wife's love affair hinges on what the couple have said earlier during a dinner, she, that she "always feels judged" by her attorney husband and he, that "he loves her dearly". Given those elements, the shame and betrayal implied in the ending seem more believable.

One final note is that early in the film, Ariane's husband makes reference to a hit and run car attack over his wife, one that left Ariane a nervous wreck, supposedly the reason why she is so reliant on her new page turner as a calming effect. The film does not further explore this attack but one is left to wonder whether Melanie has not for many years plotted to ruin Ariane's confidence and life and whether she may not have played a part in the hit and run attack. If this were true, it certainly adds to Melanie's complexity and only emphasises the lifelong, merciless effort she put to get even after all those years. The film does well in depicting its main character, in particular the character of potent nemesis, one that belongs only too well in an Anime story...

Overall I enjoyed the Page Turner and found it a refreshing film with interesting surprises and much psychological depth.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Poseidon Waits


For just over eight years, I have had a yearning to see the Greek Islands. It has been a long cherished dream of mine to step into white-walled paved alleys, lose myself in villages perched on the edge of seaside cliffs and enjoy the Cycladic sunsets and sweeping sea views. I've longed to swim in secluded turquoise water coves and bask under a Mediterranean sun.

I have been patient.

A lot of things have happened in those eight years; I got divorced, completed a psychology degree at uni, wrote a historical novel, began a new career, sold my apartment, moved to a new home, began a new relationship and visited other parts of the world including New Zealand, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, China, Japan, the Whitsundays and Hong-Kong. Greece was overlooked somewhat. But I never forget my dreams.

It takes years, for most people, to reach their goals. Having everything happen all at once is not possible. Patience is key. Patience and grit over a long period of time. Eight years.

My dream is about to come true.

There are so many sights and experiences I am excited about. Soon I will be in Athens, strolling in the marbled streets of Plaka, eating more Greek food than I've ever dreamed of, setting off on an afternoon escapade to watch the sunset at Cape Sounion where Poseidon's temple sits high, overlooking the ocean on a dramatic cliff. It will be lovely.

It was a hard task selecting what islands to visit. But my choice was based on sunset views, the charm of traditional villages, walking/cycling potential and the sheer beauty of the landscape. I am after all, a fitness freak and a romantic aesthete. Milos, Santorini and Mykonos have won my favour.


Milos Travel


I want to cycle around wild Milos, take a boat tour around the island and swim in surreal beach settings.

In Santorini, I want to walk from Fira to the picture perfect village of Oia and take in the stunning views of blue-domed churches and white stone traditional houses hanging over the ocean. More photography...

The charm of labyrinthine sun-washed Mykonos, its Little Venice and traditional white and blue villages, will contrast with its pulsating party atmosphere.
I like contrast. I will be there, taking it all in. I will turn 36 in Mykonos.

Dreams come true.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Party Time - Why People Stand You Up



This is an acerbic post directed at no one in particular. Although it is Father's Day tomorrow and I've no plans to make an appearance in the family home...

Ever wondered why people stand you up?

You’ve invited them to countless parties and social gatherings and they just don’t show up for one reason or another...

Social anxiety disorder, double bookings, pregnancy, labour, illness, tiredness and child minding aside, there are other less obvious reasons why your guests often decline or simply do not show up.

      They are introverted - Amazing how many social event organisers simply do not understand this reason but it really is one of the most valid and common reasons why guests would choose to avoid social gatherings. Here is a reminder of what introversion is all about.

            Venue - You chose a venue that is far too inaccessible and inconvenient for them to get to based on their standards of inconvenience (not yours!) Yes, I know, you took great pains to choose the venue and had your friends’ best interest at heart but you may be mistaken thinking the venue is easy for them to get to. That may not be the case.

      They are sick of giving – whoooops, that was blunt. But it really is a valid reason. Let’s face it, it’s always about you, your birthday, your anniversary, you being the center of attention, your going to-and-fros, you organising an audience of admirers, you wanting others to meet at a particular time/place of your choice, you wanting them to make the effort of bringing in gifts and what not.  It does not take idiot savant syndrome to identify a salient pattern here. Yep, it's all about you. After a while…only masochists or individuals who have no life of their own can put up with this mindless one-sided giving.

      You hurt their feelings at the last social event. Ok, they did come to your party last time and you were not exactly a very good host. Hell, you came one hour late while your guests waited, you did not offer them anything to drink, you did not thank them for coming, you did not even try to talk to them or ensure they felt included…I could go on.  Again, remember they are supposed to be your friend, not a masochist.

      You're an Advice Dispensing Machine - At gatherings in the past, your guests or relatives have been left wondering whether this is a social reunion or a counselling appointment. They've barely sat down and you spare them none of your endless wisdom, dispensing advice every ten minutes about how they should do their hair, what they should do with their life, what they have done 'wrong' so far with their life. Has it ever occurred to you that you might not have all the answers? And that your guests are weary of your insecure attempts at justifying your own choices in life?

      Let’s face it, you are not really their friend.  By what logic do you expect a person to give of their time to support you socially if you berate, embarrass or insult them on a regular basis? By what logic do you expect a person to give of their time for you if you cannot spare five seconds or less to say something positive or encouraging to them? By what logic do you expect a person to be there for you, when you were clearly never there for them? Not going to happen.

      You are a User: Part 1 – It's official, you like to surround yourself with attractive, seemingly successful or influential girls and/or guys and be seen with them to raise your social profile. And you think no one has noticed this?

      You are a user: Part 2 – No one likes to show up to a party knowing that they are simply there to be used for making their host feel good especially when that host has zero interest in them.  The only time you can expect this form of selfless adulation is at your wedding. Grow up.

      Your guests are jealous of you – You have a new job, you are soon heading on a holiday, you have a brand new <insert something your friends value here> and happen to be bursting with joy. It’s time to celebrate your life with your friends. Yay! After all, that’s what friends are for. Yes?  Sadly, jealousy often rears its ugly head. Your happiness may make your friends realise that they are missing out on something.  By choosing to avoid the social gathering, they avoid seeing you happy and it’s less painful for them.   

So go on,  have a party.