Being stood-up

SONY DSC

I hate waiting.

And yet here I am.

It is a lot warmer than I thought it would be. The flies are those sticky, needy types that just want to sit on my arms / legs / face no matter how many times I brush them away.  Sweat is running down by back, inside my dress. I hope like hell that no one notices. Sweating is disgusting when not directly related to exercise; even then it’s not very attractive yet more acceptable. Here I am sitting at a café sweating like I’ve just run 5-kilometres or something.  I shouldn’t be sweating like that. Should I? Women don’t talk about sweating so it worries me that it is abnormal or a sign of something abnormal … I didn’t expect it to be so hot.

The flies continue. The sweat continues. I wish I had worn a hat and sunscreen and been sun-smart and slip-slop-slapped. Why didn’t I think of all this before choosing the outdoor table with limited umbrella coverage? If I get skin cancer because he is late I will kill him.

He was meant to be here twenty minutes. We had arranged this coffee catch-up only a couple of days ago. The place was his idea. The time was mine. 10.30am. I texted him as I left my apartment. I texted him when I arrived. There’s been no response.

When I arrived, I told the young woman who called me “ma’am” and made me feel incredibly old, that I was waiting for someone. The people at the other table heard me. The waitress brought out an extra glass of water and an extra menu – “Here you are ma’am, in case your friend wants breakfast” she smiled and added “ma’am”. I wanted to throw the water in her face. But I didn’t. Besides, she’d probably call me ma’am as she cleaned up the mess and offered me another, fresh glass of water and so the cycle would continue …

I sit with the empty chair in front me, the untouched extra glass of water, the unread menu.

Half an hour late.

Now I’ll look like some kind of jilted bride if I up and leave before he arrives. I will look like a complete idiot. I’m sure that couple at the table near mine live in my apartment block. I’m not entirely sure but they did walk from the same direction as me to this spot, look a little familiar and seem to be watching me now and then, sizing me up. Probably wondering if I am the girl from their apartment block. They’ll probably go home and laugh about that neighbour being stood up at the café. I’ll hear them laughing too. You can hear so much in the apartment block; couples’ fights, couples’ make-up sex … and so the cycle continues. They probably think I’m having some sort of secret affair and I’m waiting for my lover who has decided to stand me up on this day after Valentine’s Day. I really, really need my dear, gay friend to turn-up right now so they can see I’m not cheating on my boyfriend, so they can see I’m not some philandering loser.

But he still hasn’t answered his messages.

Maybe he met someone last night. It was Valentine’s Day. Maybe that’s it.

The waitress who called me ma’am just looked at me very apologetically. I don’t know how to make my getaway …

“Would you like a cool drink or something ma’am?”

Shit. She notices the sweat. She can see it. Why else would she ask if I wanted a cool drink. A cool drink? At a café renowned for its coffee …

“I’ll have a peppermint tea.”

Shit. Shit. Why did I ask for peppermint tea? It’s hot. It’s hotter than I had expected.

“Yeah, just the peppermint tea. While I wait. For my friend.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. Why did I say “My Friend”. Friend could mean anything. Anything. I remember when I had my first boyfriend in high-school and if he came over to any family sort of thing, Mum would always refer to him as my “friend” and I hated it. Hated it. It sounded so patronising. Now it just sounds like code for “my lover”.

“Of course ma’am. Right away ma’am” – what the hell is with this ma’am thing? It sounds like she’s the Prissy to my Scarlett O’Hara or something. I’m not looking for a maid. I’m not living in the deep south of 19th Century America. I’m not old enough to be a ma’am, surely?

She moves away with her ma’am and her apologetic look and I keep on looking up and down the street, keep checking my phone, keep writing, looking busy.

Someone else brings me the peppermint tea and this one doesn’t say ma’am. Thank goodness.

The sun is moving so it’s not as sweaty as before. But the flies don’t let up. I should have sat inside … Thirty-five-minutes.

On my first date with boyfriend I must have been half and hour late. Half an hour is a long time. I hope I texted him back then to say I’m just running late, oops, sorry, I’ll be right there. I feel bad imagining him sitting there, waiting, wondering if I was even going to show up. I hope I did text him. I will have to ask him tonight.

Maybe my friend had an accident.

No. I’ll go with the other scenario. He met someone. That’s better.

The couple next to me have finished their organic quinoa salad with soft boiled free-range egg, sumac corn, coriander, pomegranate, avocado, pistachio and citrus dressing … and side of bacon. Somehow bacon just doesn’t seem to fit that equation … Oh well. At least they’ve finished. Once they’ve gone I can go.

He gets up. This could be it.

I think he has gone inside to pay the bill. She is cheating at the crossword they were attempting over breakfast with the assistance of an app on her Smartphone.

He comes back and now she goes inside. Why can’t they just go already so I can leave without looking stupid?

If only I had a dog. That would solve everything. The dog could drink the extra glass of water. He may even sit up on the extra seat. I’d call him Dave or Corey or something and order him his own side of bacon.

The dog I would call Dave or Corey or something …

A woman in exercise gear (the brunch uniform even if it looks like you haven’t actually exercised in the gear ever) has just tied her dog up near me. I can’t claim this one as mine; the guy at the table saw the exercise-gear-woman tie it up and wander inside for her skinny latte. Now the guy, clearly deflated by his girlfriend’s successful completion of the shared crossword, comes over to pat the recently abandoned dog. I think he wants to see what I’m writing. You can read it on my blog, I want to tell him. But I don’t. I just do that not so subtle arm across the page thing, like the super-smart kid in math class who didn’t want anybody riding her mathlete coattails.

11.15am. That’s 45-minutes. I can’t wait an hour, especially as I’ve heard no word that he is even coming. No word that he is actually OK and not lying in a coma in the local hospital … no, he has met someone. I am sure that is it. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

An overweight, shirtless man with a vast collection of tattoos stalks past me, muttering something about the dangers of choppers. Or coppers? I don’t like to ask him to clarify. I don’t think he’d like me to ask him to clarify. My dress sticks to my back. My once straightened hair is shoved into one of those cool messy buns all the girls do now, except mine is more mess and less cool.

Finally, my maybe neighbours leave.

47-minutes.

Still no response.

I am going to get up, hold my head up high, march inside and pay for this overpriced peppermint tea. The other teas here sound amazing: Silver Fox, Genmaiche, Ancient Moonlight … No, don’t hide in the menu – get inside. Go.

11.25am. Peppermint tea finished. Operation head-up-high, this-was-not-a-date-and-I-haven’t-been-stood-up-at-all-my-friend-is-just-busy-or-hung-over-or-madly-in-love-or-in-hospital-or-something is about to take place …

I pay without one sympathetic, questioning, judgemental look.

I leave –

“Thank you ma’am,” the waitress smiles weakly as she picks up the still full extra glass of water from my table for one …

Detaching the shadow: letting go of anorexia

“I wasn’t crying about mothers,” he said rather indignantly. “I was crying because I can’t get my shadow to stick on. Besides, I wasn’t crying.” 

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

The old demon is back. Actually, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure it went anywhere. And if I was honest … No, if I could be honest, about this thing which they call anorexia (a word I find difficult to verbalise and even more difficult to write without feeling stupid and apologetic) that would probably be a good start. But I’m kidding myself. Maybe.

It is always lurking. No matter how often you declare look I ate all my dinner and feel happy and not guilty at all about it. No matter how often you remind yourself that when someone says you look healthy they don’t mean chubby or fat or obese. It’s a good thing. Healthy equals good. No matter how often you run and refuel body. Because you know that. You’re not stupid. Refuelling. Like a car. Think of your body as a car she told me. That will help. And it does. Sometimes. But it is lurking. Still. That big, grey shadow lurks, waits, eavesdrops, niggles and niggles, somewhere between the bottom of my ribs (which probably aren’t as obvious as they used to be which, if I was honest, makes me anxious from time to time) and the pit of my stomach.

Today the shadow bounded from its hiding place full of bad energy and cruel words. It bounded like a pretentious child from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head, filling every part of me on its frighteningly quick journey. Cement. It’s quick-drying cement.

To be honest, which can be hard with this grey shadow, the journey probably wasn’t as quick as I’d like to think. I’d like to think; wow, where did that come from? That took me by surprise. But it hasn’t. Not really. I know it has been meandering on its well-trodden path for sometime. I was just able to slow it down. For a bit. But now it has taken the front seat. Shotgun! it must have shouted, leaving common-sense and you-know-better and grow-the-hell-up to squabble over who had to sit in the middle. No one likes that middle seat.

But why today? Today I got a call-back and an audition. For tomorrow. Both of them. It’s not like I ever get a lot of warning about these auditions and things but something about getting these two opportunities, in close succession, just made me feel so ….under-prepared. Not from lack of research, reading the script, practising, rehearsing, training. No. None of that. Under-prepared because I haven’t been suffering from anorexia for nearly a year now. Because when I was thin anorexic I felt I was the perfect size for film and TV work. I felt good. People said I looked thin and good – god, you look great, look how thin you are, they would say. The camera adds ten pounds, right? Right? I mean, it must be true if the Daily Mail says so. Plus, those actors always look so much smaller in real life …

I think I am fairly intelligent woman and I know the damage an eating disorder causes and I know that I’m not fat. I know it. But I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that the film and TV industry wants someone who isn’t an Australian size 4. Emma Thompson recently spoke of the pressure on female actors to be like models. And it is true. I get casting briefs that provide me with “character references” that are descriptions of models, not characters. I sit in casting waiting rooms with women whose legs are as tall as me. I have listened as the casting director bemoans the fact that the models can’t act but that’s what the producer / the director / the production company wants. Because anyone can act, of course, but not everyone can be a perfect size 4. Now, I am not saying models cannot act, or vice versa, but, well, sometimes …

I am not blaming the industry for my problems. I mean, it all started long ago – I link a lot of it to watching Ariel’s waist in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. How is she so skinny and beautiful? thought 10-year-old me who now wishes 33-year-old could go back in time, smack myself in the face and shout IT’S A DAMN CARTOON IDIOT – IT’S NOT REAL! EAT THE FRICKIN’ POPCORN!

No, I am not blaming the industry but I know what it wants. I worry I don’t live up to those expectations, those thin, tiny bodies it so adores. As soon as that worry sets in, well, the grey shadow can sneak up and grab the front seat. I’ve left it wide open.

This grey shadow. It’s boring. It’s predictable. It’s the most selfish thing in the world; there are people dying of starvation, dying of obesity, living in poverty, living in fear, not living at all …

But this grey shadow isn’t so great and letting me see things with honesty.

It used to make me run in heavy sweatpants – even when it was warm. It used to make me do a lot of math – but never count over 1000 but, better still, 800 on a “successful” day. It used to make me obsess over jeans and brush my teeth at weird times and stare in the mirror and not leave the house. It used to make me tired. It used to give me dry skin and rings under my eyes. It used to make me believe you could never be too thin and thin was everything. It used to make me think I was happy – that was its second biggest lie. It used make me think it could define me – that was its biggest.

Honestly I will try honesty – I will call it now that I’ve seen it. I will take notice. I will do those things I have been taught to do and I won’t let it define me. I will eat. I will drink. I will be merry. And I’ll keep reattaching my true shadow and not this dishonest, unhealthy version of me. I’ve already made a start here … honestly.

New memories in old places

My sister, Claire, and Grandad fishing at our piece of beach (circa 1987)My sister (Claire) and Grandad fishing from our piece of beach – circa 1987

We all headed to the spot we thought was the spot where, as children, we played on the beach for a week in February. It looked different but Dad worked out a path from the tree he remembered which I said I remembered but I don’t really know if I did.

The asbestos chalets and caravan sites were gone, replaced by two-storey mansions with balconies and timber decks and six-burner stainless steel barbecues and expensive cars in double-garages and signs warning people not to enter beyond this point because this is an exclusive resort for the people who can afford it.

We squinted as we tried to look through the mansions; superimposing over their imposing structures with the little green asbestos chalet we’d call home for week in February. It was hard to imagine but I desperately wanted to get it back. That’s when Dad said that tree was the tree that was once in front of the chalet we’d called home for a week in February, and that’s why I said I remembered it when maybe I didn’t …

We traced a path from the tree Dad recognised to the beach and all agreed that this was the spot; our little plot of sand and sea that was our beach for a week in February. The beach looked smaller now, the sand not as white, water not as clear. But it was the spot. We all agreed. It was too cold to swim so we stood in the water and I sang that stupid song that we made up one holiday which we all found hilarious back when we were four and five and eight and ten but now it simply made my 12-year old niece look at me with that funny eyebrow thing she does when I make a joke.

We weren’t all there, my brother had plans and one of my sisters had just had a baby, but it was still a good turn-out. We were all staying in this new two-storey holiday house which lacked both character and enough bathrooms. I wanted it to be the same as it was back then but it wasn’t; we couldn’t hear the waves as we fell asleep, there were no bunk beds, no early morning runs along the beach with Grandad, no card-games, no jelly-fish stings, no straining our ears to hear what the adults were talking about when we reluctantly went off to bed. We are older. We are adults. My sisters now have their own families to bring here or somewhere like here and make new memories.

On our last morning I went out for a run to retrace the steps we would take with Grandad on his morning jogs during these annual family holidays. He would jog, or attempt to jog, whilst we got distracted by the treasures that had washed up on the shore overnight; shells and sea jelly and cuttlebone and seaweed.

I ran to the point he would run to. It seemed a lot further out when I was eight. I walked out onto the rocks and waited for a sign. For something. A vision. A rainbow. A dolphin leaping into the sky. Even just a slightly different wave to break up the tempo a bit. I breathed in the fresh, sea air and waited … But the waves kept on in their hypnotic rhythm, the sky was clear and the dolphins weren’t playing along.

I had desperately wanted a new memory, a significant moment, to sit alongside all the memories I had of this place. I wanted something that would reinforce the importance of our time spent here all those years ago. I wanted to feel as if they hadn’t gone; my Nan, my Grandad, those childhood memories.

I ran back to the house to find my niece waiting for me. Everyone else was asleep. She was up. And dressed. And waiting.

“Want to go the beach?” I asked her.

We went back to that piece of beach which was our piece of beach. We threw our shoes off and walked on the sandbars. They still felt like they could go on forever, into the horizon. We marvelled at the flat sea and the colours of the sky. She drew her name in the sand. We collected handfuls of shells. We walked in the freezing cold water until our feet ached, and then went back for more. We talked and laughed and told stories. We watched old men walk their old dogs. We walked and walked without getting anywhere in particular. There were no dolphins or rainbows or visions but it didn’t matter; I loved that morning spent with my niece.

I couldn’t recapture the childhood memories of that place but I did get a new memory – something that will now sit alongside those older memories.

That simple morning beach walk – I hope that will become a memory for my niece and one day, in twenty years time, she revisits this place that was hers for three days in December and builds another, new memory to sit alongside it … and so it continues.

Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

You turned 12 earlier this month and you still haven’t received a card or a gift from me. I have sent it. I sent it late. But I did send it, and a gift, so it should be in your letterbox any day now. Honestly. I am so terrible at this Long-Distance-Aunty stuff. It’s not like I forget birthdays and important events – I usually buy the card and gift weeks in advance and pop it on my desk and then the big day comes and goes and the gift and the card are still on my desk. It can’t post itself. I know that. So why don’t I just post it on time? Why don’t I? What is that about?

I have a One Direction collector card and lollipop pack thing sitting in the top kitchen drawer. I don’t know why it is in the kitchen drawer but it is. Every time I need a tea-spoon I see it; Zayn, Louis, Harry, Liam and Niall mocking me and my inability to post things on time. I bought you the collector card and lollipop pack thing on a whim from the local 7-11 months and months ago. I thought, I should send Abby a little something, let her know I’m thinking of her … But it just ended up in the drawer. You probably don’t even like One Direction any more, do you? Have they suffered the same fate as Justin Bieber who you didn’t like, then you did like and now you don’t like again? Bieber spat on one of his fans so I think you made a good decision to move on from him (1D haven’t spat on anyone have they? Oh, and did you notice I wrote 1D – that’s cool right?). What is with that behaviour? I suppose there is a lesson in it for all of us. If you ever get so famous that you think it okay to spit on someone who adores you without even knowing you, the same person who has, in some way, however small, elevated you to this level of fame where, for some reason, you can get away with the aforementioned behaviour then maybe it is time to just take a step back and rethink your life choices.

Now, I have never spat on anyone and I don’t think I ever would. Someone spat on me once. I was on the tram and this woman thought I was spy and said some disgustingly racist things to me (even though I’m not the race she seemed to think I was) and then she spat on me. Yep. That’s when I moved. In hindsight I probably should have moved when she thought I was spy but I didn’t want to be rude or judgemental or anything. So, instead, I got spat on. It was really gross. At least you could bottle up Justin Bieber spit and sell it on eBay to some Bielber for a lot of money.

Even though we can roll our eyes at Justin’s spitting there will come a time when we all, metaphorically, spit on a fan. We will do something that we know isn’t right or makes us feel horrible inside because we want to fit in or feel better about ourselves. Especially when you are 12.

I did it.

I said some really mean things about people when I was hanging out with this so-called popular group (our relationship didn’t last long but it has had a lasting effect). I remember them all laughing at one girl and her bra; a whole group of us laughing over something to do with her bra-strap. It was something so minor and idiotic, absolutely nothing worth laughing or picking on someone about, but I was going along with them because they were the ‘popular girls’.

I felt horrible inside. But I didn’t stop them. I was part of the group.

This group would relentlessly pick on someone because they were fat or thin or short or wore coke-bottle glasses or stumbled over an answer in class or wore the wrong sneakers or couldn’t run fast enough or didn’t play netball well enough or fell over or cried or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time …

It was at this time I also decided to stop eating. The ‘popular girls’ liked me, I was in their group, and I knew the only reason for this sudden acceptance was because I had lost all that baby-fat people love to talk about. Why do people do that? Talk about baby-fat like it is something they can have a comment on like the weather. Is it anyone’s business? Really? Well, I noticed as I turned 12 that is became everyone’s business. People loved to talk about how I was losing it, the baby-fat, with a mixture of sadness and relief in their voices. They all noticed, even my well-meaning year 7 teacher.

What they didn’t notice was that I was losing more than the baby-fat. I hadn’t realised that losing baby-fat is just something that is meant to happen, that is just a part of growing up; nope, I thought it had all started because one day at school I skipped lunch. Now, I’m not dumb Abby (I was reading George Orwell right alongside Sweet Valley High) but that is how anorexia made its way into my brain and took up residence for awhile. So, I kept skipping lunch and eating as little as I could when I was being watched. It was stupid and it made me feel horrible inside. I wasn’t spitting on a metaphoric fan; I was spitting on myself. That is just as bad and even weirder, right?

But, I was 12 and I thought that being really, really skinny would mean the popular girls would accept me and I would be happy. But it felt funny inside. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t happy or healthy. But I didn’t stop it. I was part of the group.

So much of what I was doing when I was 12 was about impressing other people and not about impressing myself. If I could go back and be 12 again I hope that I would be able to be more myself and stand up for the people getting metaphorically spat upon on by the metaphoric Justin Biebers of the school.

When the leader of the popular girls decided we should write a very awful letter to our delightful music teacher I said ‘no’ and I finally left the little in-crowd. They were pretty spiteful but I managed. I discovered that the term ‘popular’ is very misleading in this context Abby. The ‘popular’ crowd tend to be the least popular, they are cliquey and cruel and not many people really like them all that much. Why should they like them? They were bullies. And I was a bully if I stayed with them.

I would like to say that that was that – from that moment I was on my own path and didn’t care what people thought … Of course I cared. I cared when they all started laughing at me and my shoe-laces (which were once considered very cool) and my skinny arms and my inability to play netball. But it gets better. It really, honestly, truly gets better.

I feel like it all begins when you are 12; that idea of going along with the majority, not wanting to cause a fuss, not listening to that little voice inside you that knows that you shouldn’t be laughing at / picking on / gossiping about someone, wanting desperately to ‘fit in’ (whatever the hell that means) …

Abby, please don’t fit in.

Don’t be one of the crowd. The crowd, particularly the ‘popular crowd’ are boring. They really are. Be yourself. Don’t change who you are, what you stand for or what you look like for anyone. You are not boring. Listen to that wonderful Abigail who is inside you and trust her no matter what. If something isn’t right call it, speak up, make it right. Don’t be scared to be different; be proud to be different.

Start your own popular group and actually be popular – inclusive and interesting and different.

And don’t, ever, spit on your fans.

You are a wonderful human being Abby. You are. Enjoy being 12 and enjoy being you.

Happy (belated) birthday. Now, let me know when that card finally arrives.

Missing you and sending lots of love,

Katy

xxx

***

An open letter to my 12-year old niece, and all 12-year old nieces, for the Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dear Abby

Thoughts from the waiting room, again …

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

George Burns

My audition was scheduled for 1.40pm. At 2pm I still had not gone in and there were three other blondes waiting with me, looking nervous and eager and far better suited for the role than I did. At 2.10pm the casting director asked if any of us were in a hurry. I had seen them checking their watches and tapping their feet and drumming their fingers. Of course they were in a hurry. Of course they had somewhere else they had to be. It’s not like sitting in a waiting room to audition for a non-speaking role in a local television commercial pays the rent.

“No. I’m fine,” they all giggled through plastered smiles.

“Actually, I do have to get back to work soon.” As I said it I could feel the other blondes settle into the uncomfortable plastic chairs triumphantly thinking one less person to compete with; one step closer to nailing the gig. I suddenly felt like I was a strategically-challenged character from The Hunger Games. I felt sure that if that casting director had asked them to tear me from limb to limb they would have done it without hesitation.

“Always say yes. A casting director likes a can-do attitude,” an over-paid, washed up film and TV “acting tutor” once preached to a class of young, wannabe actors. I was one of the wannabes – sitting there, soaking it all in because, well, this tutor had been a star on some now defunct Australian television series so they would know, right?

“They ask if you can ride a horse, you say yes. You just say yes,” he declared between name-dropping and performing excerpts from the show. The class scribbled down his wise-words.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked and all the wannabes stared at me, wide-eyed, not understanding how I could question the oracle who had once been nominated for a Most Popular New Talent TV Week Logie Award. “I mean, if you don’t know how to ride a horse and pretend you can, you could break your neck -”

“It’s not pretending – it’s acting,” one of the wannabes informed me. (I am sure she is probably huge in L.A. now.)

The washed-up tutor looked at me sadly and shook his head of wonderful hair. “You just say yes. OK? To everything. Just say yes. They can work out the logistics later.”

I am always reminded of this brilliant class as I wait for castings and watch the actors respond to any request with this amazing level of enthusiasm that I, personally, would think better suited to winning the lottery or being given a puppy or meeting your long-lost sister for the first time: Can you fill out this form? Can I take your photo now? Are you available for the shoot dates? Have you done a commercial for a similar brand? Can you smack your head against this wall?

There are so many people out there who think they want to be actors (I propose that many of them don’t actually want to be actors; they want to be famous, which is a completely different career choice) that the competition for even a non-speaking role in a pretty ordinary television commercial is fierce and brutal. Because, as all actors are told, “you never know” … that pretty ordinary television commercial could be the Turning Point, the Moment of Discovery, your one chance like Meg Ryan in a Burger King commercial. You just don’t know where this seemingly crappy commercial could lead you. So, we are told, you can’t give the casting director any reason not to consider you for the role.

“So, what’s the latest you could stay around for?” The casting director asked me. “Like five minutes? Ten? Honestly, tell me honestly.”

Honestly? Honestly? Honestly my audition was scheduled for 1.40pm it is now 2.10pm. 2.10pm. Honestly I should have finished the audition and been about to sit back at my desk, back at my boring, soul-destroying, monotonous job any minute now …

I could feel the competition waiting for the casting director to lecture me about the importance of an actor being flexible and available and willing. Waiting for me to leave. Waiting for their moment. Waiting for their big break.

“I can wait. I’ll let my boss know. It’ll be fine,” I smiled through a plastered smile.

It wasn’t like I was lying about my ability to ride a horse or something could actually be dangerous.

“You sure?” Could this casting director see through me? Was my acting this bad?

“Yeah, yeah. I’m happy to be away from my desk to be honest,” and I meant it. That bit was true.

She smiled. I smiled. The competition pretended to smile.

And I waited.

I didn’t get the gig.

The Neurotic Writer Cliché Thing

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

J. K. Rowling

So …

I had been going really well with this blog until I was ‘freshly pressed’.

It was easy to keep on blogging to three followers and my Mum.

A well-meaning person asked how I could write anything after the freshly pressed post; “How can you follow that up?” she asked in a well-meaning way because she is a well-meaning person. She explained, well-meaning-ly, how she would be too scared to put anything else out there after that sort of ‘recognition.’

I laughed at her well-meaningfulness – yeah, right …

Then I thought.

And thought.

And did just as she predicted.

I wrote nothing.

I was busy. I was working. I was putting on a play. I was going out for a run. I was cleaning the house. I was calling my sister. I was popping to the post office. I was meeting a friend for coffee. I wasn’t sleeping. I was cooking an elaborate meal. I was working through my lunch break. I was reading. I was – I was – I was … avoiding.

I was scared.

I felt like Alanis Morrisette trying to follow-up Jagged Little Pill … minus the worldwide acclaim, success, fame, money, talent, musical ability, friendship with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Grammy Awards etc etc etc … OK, so, maybe not quite like Alanis but I am sure you understand what I am saying. (And, for the record, I really loved her follow-up album Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie)

I found that I couldn’t write. Anything I started wasn’t good enough, witty enough, political enough, relevant enough … blah, blah, blah, really, I was just scared.

I was scared of writing on my blog.

Isn’t that one of the most ludicrous lines ever? I was scared of writing on my blog … When I put it like that I could finally see the ridiculousness of the situation.

Chemical warfare is scary. Failing at a blog … I don’t even think that is a ‘thing’, right?

It is time to put things in perspective.

It is time to break the neurotic writer cliché thing and just get writing.

OK. Who am I kidding? It isn’t that easy. Being a neurotic writer cliché thing means I rarely put things in perspective.  But I can make a start …

So, thank you “Freshly Pressed” and the extra 197 followers and my original 3 followers and my Mum … I will keep on writing … And I hope you will keep on following …

My beautiful actor friend or; rethinking this whole acting business (a short reflection on a bad audition)

It’s a business you go into because your an egocentric. It’s a very embarrassing profession.

Katharine Hepburn

My friend is an actor. She is beautiful in that unorthodox way. She wears a big hat and no bra and smokes cigarettes with the grace of Bette Davis. She gets calls from her agent whom she calls “darling”. She never apologises. She never orders lunch but eats most of mine. She is always on her way to something, usually an audition. She knows she is good. She doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t let you think she cares what you think. And you believe she doesn’t. She can wear red lipstick. She can get outrageously drunk. She can be the centre of the attention. She is The Actor.

I’m not like that.

I wish I was.

I think it would help me, you know, as an actor or at the very least it would help me feel like one.

I hate meeting new people because I know that question is coming; “What do you do?” My actor friend answers that question beautifully. By the end of the conversation they’ll have her autograph and will have posed for a selfie with her to pop up on their Instagram account (she, of course, has her own, fabulous Instagram account you’d be very fortunate to appear upon – all grainy and 1970’s chic) so they can show their friends who they knew before she was famous. Because she is going to be famous. I answer the dreaded question with a mumble (oh, yeah, I’m trying to be an actor … and a writer) and this apologetic upward inflection which makes me sound desperate and unsure. These are not the attributes one associates with an actor … or a writer. OK. Maybe a writer but definitely not an actor. Basically, I am the wrong cliché. I wouldn’t mind being like the incredible cliché which is my actor friend, that I could handle … No, instead I fall into the kinda-artistic-loser cliché played by Woody Allen – I want to be Annie Hall not Alvy Singer goddammit!

My beautiful actor friend smiles apologetically when I try to tell her about my sporadic auditions. She says she understands but it seems more like sympathy than empathy. She eats most of the salad I ordered (she couldn’t possibly eat lunch) between taking long drags on her cigarette as we talk about the auditions we’ve lucked out on. At this point, I am still happy just to get an audition. I know she thinks that is naïve. Her auditions are for the major producers of major production houses for major prime-time dramas. My auditions are for television commercials. Sometimes I even get lines to prepare.

I know Mum would say, “you’re an actor – just play that part, the part of your actor friend”. Oh Mum, you just don’t get it. My time at drama school was all about finding my “authentic self” and losing the ego and learning important skills like how to somersault. (I am not ashamed to admit I couldn’t do this before drama school and since drama school I have used it once – not for an audition or a part. Nope. I just kinda did it because I could. And I was drunk. Yay for drama school!) I left my training before the end of the degree and missed out on all the narcissistic, vanity building, self-confidence stuff which seems to make up a lot of the final year (and they need that, they really do for the go-sees and the showcases and the meet and greets and all that).

Instead of finishing my actor training I started writing.

I think I can see where all this went wrong.

But it hit me, you know, how stupid this acting thing is as I was packing an imaginary bag for an imaginary camping trip with my imaginary children for a very real audition for a very real television commercial. The camping bag was floating in mid-air because that’s what the casting director wanted 1. for eye-lines and 2. to make the audition as awkward as possible. It was lucky we were using an imaginary bag. As I packed this bag full of all the things you need for the perfect camping trip (I chucked in all sorts of goodies – fishing rods and mountain bikes and croquet set and boxes and boxes of wine … I was summoning my inner Mary Poppins) the casting director took a phone-call. Right there. Not an imaginary call – a real, live phone-call on his real, live iPhone. Strangely this is not considered a good sign. In that moment I thought – what would my actor friend do right now? How would she handle this situation which has, unbelievably, grown even more awkward. I considered doing a somersault. Nope. She would not do that. I know what she would do – she would keep on going. So I did. I packed that bag beautifully. I didn’t wait for him to get off the phone. I packed and packed and smiled at my kids and ad-libbed something about sleeping-bags and finally he called “Cut” … Well, no he didn’t actually call “cut”. He was still on the phone. Calling “cut” in the middle of the phone-call would just be rude. No, instead of breaking phone etiquette he did this weird, silent little hand movement in front of the camera. It reminded me of Joey from Full House: “Cut, It. Out” – I nearly said that but remembered my actor friend and refrained.

While I waited for him to finish his phone-call so I could resume packing (the kids were getting really restless too – they just wanted to go camping, is it that difficult?) I thought about this acting thing. It dawned on me, I could never be like my actor friend because I know what she would have done. She would have stormed out of there and called her agent and told the darling that she would never be humiliated like that again and if they couldn’t send her to real auditions then she would seek representation elsewhere, and she would get it too.

The casting director resumed the audition (minus phone-call) and changed up the scene (goodbye imaginary floating suitcase; hello imaginary steering-wheel) and I continued. I didn’t storm out. I didn’t call my agent. I didn’t get the part.

I don’t really know if my actor friend would have stormed out. We are all so conditioned to take this thing so seriously, to see everything as some sort of ‘opportunity’ (you just don’t know what this will lead to / who will see this / what this director will do next) and to understand that there are many, many actors out there (all of whom are willing to stab your eyes out with a chop-stick if it means getting a line on a crappy television commercial) that we are too scared of making the wrong impression so put up with the awkward and the humiliating and the downright rude.

And you know what?

Being beautiful in that unorthodox way and wearing a big hat and no bra and smoking cigarettes and calling your agent  “darling” and never apologising and not eating lunch and always being on your way somewhere and knowing you’re good and making them believe you don’t care what they think and wearing red lipstick and getting outrageously drunk and being the centre of the attention … maybe all that actually does help deal with the crazy of being The Actor.

Or  if that fails, maybe just doing somersaults. For no reason.

Or giving it all up to write.

Maybe it all helps.

Maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

Because, in the end, it is only acting – it is only make-believe.

 

An unexpected cab ride; or, things I learnt from the taxi driver

NYC Cabs, New York 2008, Katy Warner

I think that anybody’s craft is fascinating. A taxi driver talking about taxi driving is going to be very, very interesting.

James Lipton

Today I had to catch a taxi. I don’t do that very often. Whenever I do I like to imagine I am Carrie Bradshaw and I am in New York with amazing shoes and the salary to afford it (the taxi and the shoes). This particularly taxi was taking me to Brunswick (which is not quite New York) because our borrowed 1988 Ford Laser refused to start (which is not quite Carrie Bradshaw’s style) to get me to a casting (which means I am not even close to being able to afford those shoes).

I love talking and I particularly love talking to taxi drivers. Sometimes it works out (I’ve had some enlightening political conversations). Sometimes it doesn’t (I’ve been asked out, rather emphatically, on a “date”). But it is always interesting.

Today I had a brilliant taxi driver who got me to Brunswick

a) on time

b) alive

and, as bonus, we had a nice chat during ridiculously expensive ride (which I didn’t feel so bad about paying due to a and b, above, but not necessarily in that order).

He told me he was trained nurse. Nursing was his passion. It was all he wanted to be. It was the job he loved most in the world. But here he was, driving a taxi because Australia would not recognise his four-year degree from a University in India nor his extensive experience. “Driving a taxi is better than nothing,” he told me. His positivity was incredible.

Along with some wonderful positive thinking, here’s what I learnt from the taxi driver today:

  1. Being called “Boss” has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen
  2. Always speed up when approaching an amber light because “you never know which ones you will make”.
  3. Education is important (but Australia only recognises those educated in the western world) (i) Australia has a tendency to treat people from non-English speaking backgrounds in the most shameful way
  4. Taxi drivers have to deal with some of the most awful people in the world (“I think when people are drunk,” he said, “they just don’t realise what they are saying”) (i) Some people are gross when drunk (ii) Some people are gross all the time
  5. Positivity can be contagious
  6. Taxis trump public transport (i) Guaranteed seat (ii) Less likely to be coughed all over / sneezed all over / stepped on
  7. Ray-Bans are cool
  8. I am pink – like my EFTPOS Card (I’m taking that as a compliment)

I wish more people would speak to their taxi drivers. Yes, sometimes you may have to give the driver directions, yes, sometimes the driver may just be a jerk, yes, sometimes the driver may have bad-taste in music / jokes / appropriate conversation starters or a turn out to be some sort of homicidal maniac or racist / homophobic / sexist / angry, angry person … But we all know people like – besides, it always makes for great writing / blogging / dinner-partying material. Speak to your taxi driver – you never know what you might learn …

What I wrote or; getting out of the office

I had to get out of the office and away from the desk. My head hurt. And my soul. Dramatic? Maybe. But I’m sure that was where most of the pain was coming from. I just wanted to get a little bit of this sunshine everyone (everyone who didn’t have to make revenue spreadsheets and rewrite copy for incompetent people who were asked to write their own copy but just couldn’t seem to do it, probably because they were enjoying the sunshine) was talking about.

I finally make it out outside.

I find the only table in the sunshine. It’s covered in bird shit. Covered. I wonder if the bird had some kind intolerance thing. Do birds get IBS? That would be terrifying. Anyway, the table delightfully decorated with bird poo is the only table in the sunshine and I have forgotten my cardigan. So I ignore the white and brown flakes and mounds of god-knows-what-these-birds-have-been-eating and sit down to write.

The smokers are out in force. The work-place hierarchy still firmly intact as the power-suits of the heads / managers of this and that smoke in prime position on the manicured lawn whilst  the cheap-suits of the security guards smoke in the dirt and wood-chips and litter that fills the sad flower-beds.

Once the power-suits crush their cigarettes into the lawn and rush off for some important meeting with some important client, the security guards take their places.

The short security guard has issues with his lighter and speaks in series of questions; “Oh, really?” “Fair enough?” “Two extra hours today makes it a long shift?” “I bloody hate Vodafone?” “I need a new lighter?”

I wonder if he ever got the answers he wants. His fellow security guard seems unlikely to argue with him. He looks like a very unassuming man and wears square glasses. I wonder what made him choose

a) to be a security guard, and

b) square glasses

I’m not brave enough to ask him. Besides, his colleague has more than enough questions for him.

“I’m loving this sunshine?”

Their voices and cigarette smoke drift over me.

Sometimes I wish I was a smoker. Without the cancer and wrinkles and yellow teeth and bad skin and addiction and harm to unborn babies and gangrene and all that stuff … But … Still … There is still something immaturely romantic and ridiculously ‘cool’ about the cigarette. Like Leonardo DiCaprio playing Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.  Like  Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like Rita Hayward or Lana Turner or Ava Gardner or …. OK, who am I kidding here? Maybe it is because it gives you something to do with your hands. Or an excuse to have a bit of breather, outside on your own for a moment, during a full-on dinner-party or family gathering or something without looking totally rude. A breather? With a cigarette? Who am I fooling? It smells disgusting. I know it. I want no part in it. I am that person who gives you a filthy look as I rush past you on the street to avoid the killer passive smoke of your disgusting habit. I am that person who coughs loudly when you light up too close to me in the beer garden. I am that person who feels like they deserve some sort of medal, or at that the very least an impromptu performance by a mariachi band,  when they tell the doctor – “No, I don’t smoke” … But still. Some days …

Maybe it is because I feel like an idiot sitting at a table covered in bird excrement writing away whilst surrounded by smokers. Maybe I am feeling a bit of peer-pressure.

The sun moves and suddenly I am sitting at a table covered in the faecal matter from a flock of birds but minus the appeal of sunshine  … or a cardigan. I try to ignore all of those facts – the lack of sunshine, the lack of a cardigan, the abundance of bird poop – and focus on the positives: I am outside, I am away from the desk, I don’t smoke, I am not a security guard.

The sunshine gets locked behind the clouds and the wind picks up. A dry and miserable looking leaf snuggles up to my foot. I try to shake it off but it doesn’t want to leave me – clinging to my boot like the sooky two-year old who cannot be without its mother and , before they know it (where does the time go), he is twenty-five years old and still living at home and playing on his X-Box whilst his mother still does his cooking and washing and ironing and even though she hints loudly that he should find a place of his own, they all know he won’t be going anywhere because he’s got it too good. Like this leaf. But enough is enough. It is time for it to stop being so clingy and find its own way in the world. I get tough.

The security guards notice.

I wonder if they are out here to protect the leaves.

Or find new recruits for the security guard team.

I was pretty tough.

Or maybe I was too tough and now I am a ‘person of interest’.

I make sure they can see my lanyard and staff pass thing – just so they know I am on their side, nothing to worry about here. Just a leaf. Just a leaf.

Another three security guards join Shorty and Square-glasses. They are all smoking. I wonder

a) what is the collective noun for security guards?

b) do all security guards smoke?

c) have I done something wrong?

Shorty’s questions are getting louder – I think he is showing off for the other, taller security guards. He stands like a politician and gestures a lot.

The smoke continues to drift over me but the sunshine never does come back. I wish for my cardigan and a clean table but neither come – the end of my mini-break does though. I remember in grade 1 a kid asking the teacher why five-minutes could feel so long when we were waiting for home-time but feel so short when we were doing something fun. Like French Cricket. Our class loved French Cricket. She said it was exactly the same amount of time. I don’t think she understood the question.

And so I head back to the world of spread-sheets and data-bases and invoices and wait for home-time …

 

 

Another List; or, ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy [working title]

 

The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.

Pablo Picasso

I knew this would happen.

I was meant to be working a decent, part-time (i.e. maximum three-day-a-week) job which would give me time to focus upon writing, writing, writing for the other two days plus weekends when I could (i.e. so I don’t become a friendless hermit or cat-lady, minus the cats but with the isolated-craziness thing going on – I’m not allowed pets in my apartment but that’s another story, another blog, another day) …

This is not quite happening.

My three days often magically turned into five.  Just like that!

BAM!

Now I am signed up for four days a week. Sometimes five. Then I can negotiate a day-in-lieu. So maybe some weeks I can work three. But the usual will be four. Unless there is a show on or an important meeting. Then it is definitely five. But I’m only paid for four. But a day off can be negotiated so long as it isn’t for a day off when there is a show on or an important meeting. But most days. They’re flexible. To a point.

Confused? Me too.

But …

I thought I would manage.

One of my colleagues told me it wouldn’t work – “It’s a creative process,” he said. “You need time.”

Yes. That would be nice but I’m not Jane frickin Austen (apologies to Ms Austen – I know you didn’t have a middle name and probably would not appreciate being given that one in particular)  – I don’t have the luxury of time or a handsome trust account.

I have to Pay Rent / Buy food / Live (not necessarily in that order).

So, whilst I have been outwardly dismissing my colleague’s comments as completely and utterly wrong, inwardly I am thinking he might be right. There is a lot of pressure to get writing done when you only have limited time in which to do it: pressure trumps creativity.

But …

Maybe the reverse is true also; you make more of your time when you have less of it.

Or, in my case, you just freak out at the pressure of getting something done today and the pressure manifests into self-doubt and anxiety and youtube and Not Getting Anything Done.

So, here is my “list of ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy” [working title]

  • Carry a pen and a pad of paper EVERYWHERE (um, okay, maybe not everywhere – everywhere, but you know, within reason) and write whenever anything is sparked.
  • Write something everyday. Be that mysterious person in the cafeteria at work who is scribbling away in their notebook (so long as you do look mysterious and interesting rather than creepy and homicidal).  Write any length / style / form; just do it everyday. Does a shopping list count? Hell yeah. Here’s my list for today:
Lime
Bananas
Tomatoes
Pineapple

(Riveting stuff there, I know … But one day it could be gold, you never know what I have to pick up from the store – stay tuned!)

  • Keep blogging
  • READ – READ – READ – never stop reading!
  • You don’t have to finish but you have to at least make a start …
  • Prove your smart-arse colleague WRONG