The Leak

Sun-Through-Hole-In-Roof-of-Engine-Shed-at-Bahnbetriebswerk-Pankow-Heinersdorf

There was a leak in my ceiling. The ceiling paint chipped where the water pooled and the drops dripped heavy and glistening, straight into my bathtub. At least I wouldn’t need a bucket. The drops were consistent; I counted about 10 seconds between each. I was standing in the bathroom doorway brushing my teeth when I first noticed it. Every drop echoed in the porcelain bath and through the hallway.

I’ve lived in this house for four months, but every room already has a broken fixture or fault. The stove broke on the first day. The keys got stuck in both locks on the second. The next week, the tap handles in the kitchen broke and the week after that one of the floorboards snapped beneath my feet. In all instances, the real estate agent took their sweet time to act on the issues. That’s what you get for hurriedly signing the lease for an old Queenslander house for too-good-to-be-true weekly rent. But it was close to work and was as far away from my ex as possible.

I was having a rough year. And to top it all off, I hadn’t sold any of my pictures since I moved in. I just had nothing new and people just weren’t interested in my old stuff anymore. The house was bad luck and I blamed everything on the real estate.

I stared at the leak a bit more while chewing on a piece of toast. I would have stared at it all day if didn’t have to go to work. Staring at my ceiling didn’t seem like a good enough excuse to take the day off.

When I drove to work I couldn’t help but think about the leak. It probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I had lived in an apartment on the bottom floor. Someone could have left a tap on too long, or a pipe could have burst. But I lived in a house. Sure, an old crappy house but there was no reasonable explanation for it. There was nothing above me but a roof and the sky.

I discussed the leak on my break. A few people came to a conclusion, that it was just left over from a previous rainstorm and had matured in my ceiling, slowly rotting the timber and curling the paint.

“Are you sure?” I asked them.

“Yeah,” said one co-worker, “it happened to my brother not so long ago. He just let it drip out – didn’t even need to call a plumber.”

“So I’ll just have to wait it out then?”

“I guess.”

When I drove home, I couldn’t help but notice the blue sky. It was an interesting contrast to the brown fields and crinkling forests. It hadn’t rained in this town for months. It flooded around the same time I moved in and my paintings stopped selling. Maybe I was cursed.

I stood in my bathroom doorway again, counting the drops. It was now 8 seconds between each, and the drips were no longer a hollow sound on the porcelain bath. The drips slapped into a pool of water that had grown while I was away. The plug was out of the bath (I don’t even think I had a plug) so there would have been blockages in the pipes as well. But with only 8 seconds between each drop I wasn’t too worried. It took only a day to fill a quarter of the bath. I could wait till tomorrow to find a plumber.

But just my luck when I woke up in the morning the leak had increased – now 5 seconds between each. And the bath, well, it was the first time I had ever seen it full. And the water was clear, beautifully crystal clear. If it had been manifesting in my ceiling I would have expected it to be dirty and full of rot. What sort of leak was this?

I rang the agent as I watched the drops splat into the bath. They put me on hold for five minutes. Then there was a cheery hello.

“Yes hello,” I said boldly, “I would like to get a plumber over my place as soon as possible please.”

“No problems at all, which house are you from?” said the too-cheery voice and I was a bit insulted that they didn’t already know me by now. A plumber was organised anyway and would be at my place between 11am and 1pm tomorrow.

The plumber arrived at 1:15pm and we both stood in the doorway of my bathroom, staring at the leak.

“That’s damn clear water.” He said.

“Damn clear.” I said. “Can you fix it?”

“The easiest thing to do is it just let it leak out.”

“How long will that take?”

“Depends on the size of water in the ceiling.”

“Ok.” I said and just stood around while the plumber fixed the blocked pipes in the bath.

“Really shouldn’t take longer than a week.”

A week?” I said, shocked that I would have to endure drips and splats echoing though the hallway and in my dreams for a week.

“Don’t stress yourself over it.” The plumber said and left. I think he stole my pen.

That night I drowned in my dreams and the next morning I woke up in a sweat. Maybe the plumber was right; maybe I’m just going insane. I got up and walked to the bathroom. Strangely, the pipes were clogged up again, and the bath was full. 2 seconds between each drip now. And the ceiling was almost curved a little… like it was only just now heaving under the weight of the water. And the bathroom floor wasn’t any better. I stepped on one tile and the whole floor creaked like it was screaming from my touch. This wasn’t good. But I had an idea, and I grabbed my camera. This was the first bit of inspiration I’d had all year.

I waited for about an hour before the water in the ceiling finally broke through. It poured into my bathroom like a waterfall. The pressure from the water buckled the floor and the room crashed in on itself. The mirror smashed and the walls cracked and split. A palm tree fell in through the window. There was now a hole in the ceiling was the leak had been, and the sun was shining through.

I took a picture. I took a few. The rest of the house was still sturdy, but maybe not for long. Maybe I would sell the picture, and earn thousands. I would definitely get some sort of insurance pay out. But, either way, I’d have to call the agent and inform them of the situation. I hoped they would remember me by now.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

Most Likely to Succeed

Available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmpnguy/92214672/in/photolist-4FEYZg-pp7ZLZ-5D2XpQ-4LDBaz-6vNYCx-Bb3Uq-gd2au-44nXcJ-dXEM6y-BMLyo-8429eX-9i9QUS-oz3Zdn-aDPyCo-5T858V-4QF4ch-dERcri-99Cd9-wR4xs-aiJ5PJ-8nrw9Z-5u1nze-9oMJNH-nG7jq4-7fDYu-6aRWKr-3eLdT1-b8ocdz-Bb42i-3AiLhe-ci85c9-bPaTap-nGRnr1-6zBHbi-jQv8h-7BQD1b-Bb3ZQ-gA5B4Q-9rAjY6-NxRFT-2AMvfX-G3NVq-nXdNf5-tHSUZ-m7V4yq-6zFMVf-3ezSGo-bPaT5z-ppnCDu-egauEH/

Photo: Loyd Schutte, ‘High School in the 80’s’. Shared under Creative Commons License.

One of the most fascinating things about being in my thirties is that I’m discovering what kinds of adults the people I went to school with have become. My family moved around a lot and I went to many different schools, but through Facebook, and extroverted tendencies, I’ve managed to keep in touch with several people. Some of their experiences have surprised me, particularly those of my old schoolmates Harry, Angie and Cecilia. Here are their stories. I’ve changed the names and fictionalised the details, to avoid incurring me a defriending, but the basics are true.

Harry was one of the first guys in the ‘challenger’ class for ‘gifted’ kids to get a girlfriend. They earned social status in well-behaved ‘challenger’ circles by making out at the bus stop and drinking beer, but not so much that it affected their grades. Later, Harry graduated from Law with great marks and started with a prestigious and highly competitive firm. He moved into a house with some of his male colleagues who’d also just started with the company. He once invited me to one of their parties, where Harry and his friends spent a lot of time listing which of their female colleagues had the best legs/tits/arse. He then moved to a regional office, where he worked for a female manager who talked openly about how as the acknowledged geek at high school, she’d been highly unpopular. (She would never have won that graduate boys’ prize for best legs/tits/arse.) She yelled at him in front of clients and criticised every piece of work he produced. Normally reluctant to admit to vulnerability, Harry asked for advice from his old school friends and sought help from HR. Our advice didn’t work, and HR backed his boss. Eventually, he quit his job. He now works for a smaller, less prestigious firm. He’s still angry about his earlier experiences, but he also says they’ve made him a kinder manager, because he doesn’t want to turn into his old boss.

Angie drove me a bit crazy at high school by asking me what mark I’d got on every assignment, and smugly announcing whenever she’d done better than me — which was quite often. Angie worked hard and got excellent marks. She also struggled with mental health issues. She was never popular and sometimes faced teasing by the ‘cool’ kids, but she always had a few loyal, nerdy friends. At the end of high school, when she didn’t win the dux, rather than congratulate the winner and grit her teeth, she went home crying. Shortly after graduation, she won a prestigious overseas role as a middle manager with an international development agency. She was unlucky enough to be involved with a public stuff-up in which her agency inadvertently caused several local people to be injured. As a manager, Angie was held partly responsible. The work pressure and media attention were too much. She left her job to focus on her mental health. Once this was stabilised, she took a less demanding management role back in Australia. Now, she devotes her competitive energies to running the best ever under 18s local girls’ basketball team. The girls love her — especially those who are going through tough periods — because Angie always makes the time to listen to them.

Cecilia always intrigued me, because she managed to get through one of the most brutally alpha schools I ever attended, doing well academically, and never being bullied or bullying anyone. This in itself was remarkable at our school. If you did well in class, the teachers would like you but the other kids would torment you. If you did badly, the teachers would call you stupid, but the kids would leave you alone. In Cecilia’s adult life, she continued to achieve impressive things modestly, earning a PhD and then a sought-after scientist role in an elite national institution. When she started at her workplace, the women’s toilets were being turned into offices because there weren’t enough female scientists to use them. Many of her male colleagues resented the arrival of this young, female upstart, and they didn’t bother to hide it. Yet Cecilia kept doing her job well and ignoring the critics, just as she’d brushed past the bullies in high school. She’s been there for five years now, quietly advancing the nation’s knowledge in her field, and showing future scientists that it is indeed possible to be female and do her job. She recently had her first child.

High school can be one of the most difficult experiences people go through. Surprising numbers of adults struggle to hold it together when asked about high school — or they lie and pretend it was all easy. What I’m seeing with the people I know, however, is that high school is not destiny. The smart, popular guy can lose his job. The modestly high-achieving girl can quietly smash gender barriers.

We as grown-ups have a responsibility to share this knowledge. I think this is a role for books, and for young adult writing in particular. We need to tell our own high school stories — honestly — and we need to share the perspective that comes from being out of school for twenty years (and developing wrinkles and knee problems). Yes, high school is full of bullshit, but the bullshit will pass. If you’re having fun, great — enjoy, and be nice to others. If you’re not having fun, ask for help, and try to remember that grade nine is not all you will become. Life has many more challenges and adventures along the way.

Penny Jones   

Writing is Work (and other things you need to get over)

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Let’s get down to it. If you want to be a writer chances are you’ve wanted to be a writer since you read your first book/poem/play (probably a book, not many infants learn their ABC’s with Samuel Beckett).

Actually, revise that. You’ve probably wanted to be a writer since you experienced your first really good story, you know, the moment when all the hairs on your arms stood up, and you forgot where you were and who was with you, and you got the feeling that there was a lot more to this grand old life than most people realised.

And chances are that this feeling never left you. In fact as you chose your subjects at school and went on to study medicine and then became a doctor and settled down and had kids and bought a house and took out the rubbish bins and made dinner at night, that feeling followed you everywhere. It never went away.

Most people will never write so much as a tweet in their whole lives and still manage to live an extremely satisfied existence. But that’s not you. And whether or not you come to it late in life after a long career in something else, or you wrote your first play when you were five and never stopped, there are some things that you will need to get over in order to make your writing dream a reality.

  1. Yourself

The first thing to die must be your own insecurities. Easier said than done. And this is something you will have to battle every day for the rest of your writing career, because unless you have the unshakeable ego of, say, Napoleon Bonaparte, those doubts will niggle you every waking moment.

The thing is if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Don’t apologise for wanting to be a writer. Don’t apologise for thinking that you can be a writer. Don’t mumble when people ask you what you’re working on. If they don’t get it, who cares. You get it. That’s all that matters.

  1. Other people

Just to be clear, no one is going to fully understand your work except you. No one is going to care about your work like you do. When people ask how your weekend was and you say “So busy, I wrote 10 000 words, stayed up all night, so exhausted.” Not only will they mentally roll their eyes, they will immediately compare your sitting on your butt in front of a computer screen all weekend to the fact that they had to take their 8yo to three different birthday parties, their 5yo to soccer, have ten people over for dinner, walk the dog, mow the lawn, get root canal and paint the house.

They don’t give a shit and they probably never will. In fact many of them will resent you for having the courage to try and do something creative. Don’t look for encouragement in others, even in your close friends and family, because many of them will just not get it. And that’s the way it is.

  1. Time

Writing is one of the most time-consuming activities in the known universe. Even if you write 3 000 words a day (which takes most people about 5-6 hours), it will take you thirty days straight to write a 90 000 word manuscript. That’s if you literally do nothing else for a whole month. Add to that full-time work, family, weddings, funerals, sickness, appointments, birthday parties, holidays, and actually having a life (so maybe 1 hour of writing a day if you’re lucky) and it will take you around six to eight months. Add to that research, frequent slow periods, and some moments of despair/writer’s block/questioning the meaning of life, you’re looking at twelve months. Absolute minimum. For a first draft. Then comes the rewrite, editing, reworking, burning it in the backyard and starting all over again, blah blah bah.

The point is it requires serious dedication and deliberate effort to even get a first draft on paper. It will require you to stay home when everyone else is going out. You will have to miss birthdays, dinners, events, holidays, usually to the great offence of everyone around you. No one will understand because the deadline is self-directed, and people rarely respect a self-directed deadline. But if you want to write, you have to actually write. And that takes real time.

  1. Where you came from

Some people are born into artistic families. Most people aren’t. Some people are born into culturally fortunate locations where inspiration and opportunities and contacts abound. Most people aren’t. Some people get recognised in their formative years and get useful legs-up in the creative world. Most people aren’t. These are things you have little control over. But it doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

If you need to move to a more conducive artistic environment, then do it. If you need to change who you hang around so you can get inspired, then do it. If you need to remodel so you have a useful writing space, then do it. If you need to change jobs, degrees or fields of study in order to get the input you need, then do it. Most people don’t. But you should.

  1. IMG_0512Conventions

The rules state that you have to go to school then go to uni then get a job so you have money to buy a car, get married, buy a house, have a family, go on family holidays, invest in superannuation and retire.

Thing is, you don’t.

Spending two years of your life writing a novel goes against all rational conventions. Do it anyway. You may have to delay other things in your life to get it done. Do it anyway. You may decide that you need to drop out of uni, postpone a life event, or turn down a great job to get done. Do it anyway.

Just don’t get to the end of your life never having tried.

  1. Work

Most writers will actually have to work for money for a long time before they are able to live off their writing. Some writers will never live off their writing. Work will always get in the way. You need to manage it. If you need to get a different job so that you have more time/energy/brain space to write, then do it.

Writing is work. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a fun idea to kill some time. It’s not a phase. It’s not a therapeutic exercise. It’s damn hard work and it’s no less worthy of respect than any other job.

  1. Expectations

If you write always worrying about what other people will think about this or that then you will never put a word on paper.

In order to be true to your genre, characters, story, whatever, you may need to write graphic sex scenes, violence, abuse, morally shocking behavior, drugs, mental and physical illnesses, gosh you may even have to use a four-letter word or two.

Yes, your granny might be offended. Or your colleagues/parents/friends/family. Know what? Too bad. Hey, everyone watches Game of Thrones. Even if they say they don’t.

  1. Security

There may come a time when you decide you need to spend a solid three months on your book. You may need to take unpaid leave. You may even need to quit your job. Again, no one else will understand or care. They will tell you that you’re crazy because a promotion is just around the corner, or that you’re leaving the team in the lurch, or that certain projects won’t happen if you’re not there. In the end, this is your life and your future, not theirs. Work out which one matters most.

  1. Genre

So when you decided to be a writer you thought you would be the next James Joyce. Then you started writing and you realised that all you wanted to write about was guns and car chases. Does that make you a second-rate writer? HELL. NO.

Write what you want to write. Don’t write to win the Booker prize or the Nobel prize or to be the next J.K. Rowling. There are plenty of authors out there who are writing from ambition and I can guarantee that deep down they know they’re not being honest with themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our most lauded literary minds will lie on their deathbeds wishing they had created the next James Bond instead of ten award-winning lyrical masterpieces.

  1. Other writers

The great thing about finally owning up to your dirty little secret is that you will start to find some like-minded people. You will find workshops, seminars, competitions, writing groups, writing centres, literary fetsivals. You will find beta readers and crit partners and people who just love sharing your work and talking about it. And then you will also find people who are just plain rude or ridiculously elitist or want nothing to do with anyone else because they are the ultimate lone wolf.

In the end, writing, like any creative pursuit, is a small and competitive field and some people are in it to win and don’t care about anything else. They will resent your success and then smugly rub their success in your face. They will use you for a profile boost and then clamber over you up the literary social ladder. So find the good ones and don’t let them go. The rest? Forget them.

  1. What you could have been

Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. People tell me I could have been a singer. I could have been a performer. I could have been a great music director. I could have been a great educator. I could have been a principal. I could have been an actress. I could have been an academic. That’s all great. But I have only one life. And I’m at least going to try to do what I really want to do.

And you should too.

 

Elise Janes

A Little Gypsy in my Soul: Maria Vantsos

VANTSOSdesign Jodhpur  Rajasthan, India

 

To epitomise the spirit of January’s Embark edition we bring you an interview with Australian travel photographer Maria Vantsos whose flair for bright colour and bold images caught our eye at the Kiribilli Markets in Sydney earlier this month.

 

A Little Gypsy In My Soul is Maria’s collection of fine-art photography featuring far-off lands, exotic streetscapes and bold portraiture that celebrate the raw essence and aesthetic beauty of colour and culture around the world. Her range of display options allows you to choose a single stand-out canvas print or, our favourite, create a wall display of signature block-mounted tiles.

Maria talks to us about her process, her inspiration and the uniqueness of Australian travel culture.

 

We’ll start at the beginning. What brought you into this line of work?

When I was 22, I decided to take a year off from my studies to travel through South America with my older sister. I was studying graphic design at the time majoring in black and white photography. ‪‪Landing in Mexico to kick off our adventure changed that very quickly. Early one morning as we were travelling out of the city and down a dirt road our bus pulled over to pick up some locals and as the fog was lifting and I was awakening to a new day, I looked out of my window seat to see a line of native women in fluorescent pink ponchos and brightly coloured yellow bows tied around their long plaits, zigzagging down a lush green mountainside. I was in awe! I saw art, I saw the boldest of colours playing themselves out within a moment in everyday life. I remember thinking how beautiful it was to ‘see’ the world in colour. After many more trips overseas and friends complimenting me on my photography, I haven’t looked back. I started with several cafe exhibitions where my passion for combining travel, photography, and colour & culture into wall art has grown from there.

 

Your use of colour to evoke the soul of a place is remarkable. Can you describe your artistic process?

Thanks!

‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪’A Little Gypsy In My Soul’ now creates bold, rich fine art photography which celebrates colour and culture around the world! My passion and the challenge is to ‘see’ what can so often be missed‪‪‪‪… weathering paint, a hanging water urn, a passing moment. My body of work is an artistic approach to the celebration of colour but more than that it is also a documentation of tradition, culture, religion, tribe, and an identity unique to that country…. through people and place so much of what is disappearing due to globalisation can be frozen in time due to the power of photography.

‪‪‪‪My photos are featured onto our signature wooden tiles and as fine art canvas prints.

 

VANTSOSdesign Rajasthan, IndiaYou seem to have genuine passion for the places you visit. How do you decide where to travel and what to photograph?

It’s really inspired by how colourful a country is,‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ where that character of culture and spirit is still predominant in everyday life. Mexico, Morocco, Cuba and India are some of the most fascinating and visually stimulating countries to explore. I also enjoy returning to countries I have previously travelled to years before. As I grow and change over the years my vision of what I’m inspired to capture also matures.

 

In your experience, do you think Australians have a particular interest in travel culture?

Absolutely! Particularly‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ because we have grown up within a highly multi-cultural society and that exposure to so many different faces and facets influences many to want to explore further. Being so isolated from the rest of the world when we adventurous Aussies travel, we really like to spread our wings‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪!

 

As an artist do you work with anyone else or have you collaborated before?

No, I’m a one woman band, just me and my camera and the wide open road!

 

It seems you have visited some truly exotic places. What’s on the cards for 2015?

Returning to India to photograph the holi festival which marks the end of winter in early March. They welcome in the spring with throwing colour bombs at each other, so I can’t wait to be within the thick of it all to live and capture this amazing experience. ‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪I hope to travel through Vietnam towards the end of the year. I will also be spending the year designing new products featuring my photos so stay tuned.

 

VANTSOSdesign Yellow Rajasthan, IndiaCan you tell us about your current range and maybe highlight some favourite images?

I am currently in the process of working on my new collection for 2015 which I am looking forward to sharing soon.

There will be a feature range of photos from Morocco and the Greek Islands,‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ showcasing my work from the last trip I did to these countries. It will also feature a new selection of photos from all around the world from previous trips. One of the highlights of my previous catalogue was featuring a beautiful sequence of different coloured turbans and saris I shot through India (pictured).

 

We met at the Kirribilli markets but you display at other retail venues throughout Sydney. Where can people get hold of your work?

I retail at Paddington/Bondi beach markets in Sydney every weekend and around Australia through various homeware and online stores such as Temple & Webster. ‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪My work can also be purchased from my website at www.vantsosdesign.com.au

Elise Janes

Sir Partridge Gormley Speaks

Hello blots,

When The Cringe begged me to become an agony uncle for them, I sent the word out to my enormous fan base. Naturally, I was subjected to a veritable blizzard of need, most of it drivel. Only this missive struck a chord:

Dear Uncle

Firstly, let me say that I worship you like a god.

Now, listen to this. When I got married seven years ago, a distant relative was charged with videoing the event. He has since returned to his native Fremantle and not a peep has been heard from him since. I’ve emailed him frequently asking for a copy of the video but to no avail. I even sent him a crisp $50 note to cover the cost of postage but the bastard simply trousered it.

I’m going to Perth soon for a mutual relative’s wedding where I will surely bump into him. Rather than endure a ‘scene’, is it reasonable for me to simply lift the money from his wallet, should the opportunity present itself?

Yours in righteous indignation

Egbert T

Well, Egbert, you have been betrayed. I can visualise this strange relative of yours. Perhaps he is in advanced middle age, corpulent, fancies more than the odd tipple and is not averse to leering at the young and winsome. He is a cad, and as such the usual rules of human conduct do not apply.

Of course there may be an entirely reasonable explanation for his failure to provide you with what is rightfully yours. Perhaps he has died. Perhaps he never received your funding, or has been forced to hand it over to a bookie. Who knows or cares?

Therefore the simple answer to your question is yes, by all means slip the bugger a mickey, rummage in his hip pocket, restore the cash to its rightful owner, and why not lift an additional crafty fiver for your trouble? After all, you shelled out 50 of the hard-earned and whether he received it or not the bastard owes you a wedding video, which he has presumably either lost or taped over with something unsavoury.

Huzzar!

Sir P

A man who has long needed an introduction, Sir Partridge Gormley is a baronet, raconteur, bon vivant and genteel nutter. With plenty of time on his hands he welcomes queries from anyone who’s confused and dilemma-ed. Sir Partridge’s verbal emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke 

Conan Elphicke

Have a question for Sir Partridge? Email your query to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

‘Gone Girl’: A Discussion of Themes & Implications (spoilers)

When the dust settles what does Gone Girl tell us about men, women and relationships*?

gone-girl-01_Amy DunneI’m still on the fence about Gone Girl. While I admire the clever plot and the exceptional interrogation of human nature, I find myself a little angry at the negative depiction of marriage and gender that such a contradictory book delivers. Whatever your opinion, one thing is certain: the book is incredibly influential. Creative influence is a responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly. As with any book carrying significant cultural weight, it’s important to consider the themes raised in the book and the impact they may have on gender issues and relationships.

The story is clever and the themes are unsettling. Both elements make the narrative particularly engrossing, but when all is said and done we are left with some confusing messages. It’s a mistake to write off the portrayal of Nick and Amy’s marriage as complete fiction, as the story raises many significant issues about how men and women see themselves and each other. I think it’s equally dangerous to take it at face value, as some have done, and use it as proof that all men are dicks and all women are evil and the world is screwed.

This is where I get concerned. Considering the impact such a widely popular story will have on people, I wonder exactly what Flynn had in mind besides making a pretty dollar off the sensationalism.

Nothing is sacred in the novel. Love, marriage, family, neighbours, men, women, city life, country life, the media, the economy, the police, the judicial system, the masses, parenthood, childhood, fame, destitution, old writers, new writers, cultural legacy, pop culture, rich people, poor people, the educated, the ignorant, the young, the old, sanity, mental illness, you name it. The only safe element is the cat, Bleecker. It’s hard not to leave the story frustrated by the utterly desolate portrayal of everything that makes up our modern way of life. Sometimes you can’t help but feel that Flynn has created a story that shits on everything just for the sake of it.

Many people hated the book and the movie for this reason, mainly because they expected some kind of justified resolution. They wanted someone to win: a righteous ending so justice could be served, or utter tragedy so the audience could write it off as black fiction. The exact awfulness of the ending is just unresolved enough to leave us perpetually uncomfortable because we can’t just tuck it all away in a convenient genre. We actually have to think about it, and we don’t like that because it cuts too close to home. I think a lot of the people who have denigrated the novel entirely are people who ultimately don’t want to admit that there was a lot of truth to the characters.

Perhaps that’s what Flynn is ultimately trying to say: that we deceive each other and ourselves because reality is too damn hard. Yet the truth about marriage is much more nuanced and positive than Flynn would have us believe. The fact is that men and women do have different expectations of each other when entering a relationship, and rarely are those misunderstandings fully solved. But the final ‘comment’ of Flynn’s story is that you can never be yourself in a partnership; that the only way things work is for both to continue in self-deception. While I don’t agree that this is the only possible outcome for all relationships, I do think it bears some consideration.

Here’s a quick look at some ideas raised in the book.

Marriage
GONE GIRL, from left: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, 2014. ph: Merrick Morton/TM & copyright ©20thThe novel explores many contemporary issues about marriage that are disturbingly relevant. Foremost are the tensions created by external factors, such as job redundancies, financial constraints, cultural tensions between the city girl and the country boy, the stress of relocating, the influence of in-laws, and dealing with family sickness and death. These are all highly powerful influences on the health of a marriage, and Flynn depicts both positive and negative reactions to these issues in Amy and Nick’s relationship.

Just as relevant are the internal factors, such as whether or not to have kids, where to invest money, deciding to relocate, how to handle dwindling romantic energy, how to balance gender roles, how much to expect of each other, how to be attentive, how to communicate effectively with each other, how to consider one another’s needs and desires.

In reality, most marriages have successfully overcome or compromised on these issues, but many have also sputtered and failed as a result. Flynn’s depiction of the slowly building tensions and the lack of effective communication between Nick and Amy is frighteningly realistic, more detailed and accurate than the normal reader expects from a thriller. The way the novel’s characters respond to relational fallout has a lot to do with their upbringing, their personalities, and their mental health. As Amy is clearly a sociopath (or technically, suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder), her response is not ‘usual’ so we can (hopefully) assume that not all relationships will end in someone trying to frame the other for murder. However, as we all have a little bit of crazy, and mental health is a very present factor in a lot of marriages, it can also be expected that most of us won’t necessarily respond well to all of these issues.

So where does reality sit? The bottom line is that relationships are tough, but we can’t exist without them. They require some effort, but inevitably they make your life worth the living. You can’t expect any relationship to be perfect, but you can expect it to be great. The key, really, is to know when and how to compromise and when and how to stand your ground. Be ready for the crap when it comes (because it inevitably will) and be determined to overcome it together and move on.

This is where Nick and Amy really fail each other, long before the affair and the set-up. It’s too easy to say they were screwed from the start because she was a psycho and he was a spineless mummy’s boy. The cracks came through in the false expectations they had of each other and of marriage. Perceived failure, resentment and guilt, incubated by a lack of authentic communication, ultimately drove them apart, resulting in the vengeful actions (on both their parts) that lead to the events of the novel.

Men
gone-girl-vigilThe portrayal of Nick Dunne is complex and exceptional, and it’s unclear at the end of the novel if he should be regarded as the hero of the book, or an equal and willing partner to the horrors he’s endured. When it comes to male gender identity the important thing is not deciding if his behaviour is right or wrong, but in filtering through the sensationalism to find the truth in his character.

Nick starts out genuinely wanting to make things work with Amy but gradually stops trying, ultimately starting an affair and wanting a divorce. The hinted reasons for this change include his hurt pride at being made redundant, his dependence on Amy’s finance, his constant guilt about moving them to Missouri, further guilt about not living up to her (treasure-hunt) expectations, his inability to effectively communicate his feelings, and a deep-seated resentment toward strong women (a feeling which he suppresses and denies, but still surfaces).

Is this a true representation of all men’s response to marriage? No, but it would definitely ring true for some. The grey area here is that all these reasons can both be valid and invalid in their own way, and so it becomes far too easy (and incorrect) to place blame wholly on him or wholly on her.

For example many would argue that the difficulty of relying on your wife for financial support is a result of deep-seated ‘provider’ psychology in males and is therefore justified. While this may be true, is it not fair then to say that sometimes we need to get over our pride in order to make a relationship work?

Another example is his perceived guilt for not living up to Amy’s expectations. Again, this is valid on some level, but is it ok to live in resentment without trying to communicate how you feel? Is it not valid for Amy to have some expectation for how she wants the marriage to work out? Was his guilt a result of knowing he had deliberately failed to consider her in some decisions?

At one point he complains that he is sick of being surrounded by nagging women, but earlier in the book Amy points out that there are behaviors he reverts to that force her into a nagging role. Both valid. Yet he often genuinely wants to help people and do the right thing, and frequently acts out of love for the women in his life: moving home to help his sick mother and maintaining a consistently positive relationship with Margo.

All of this simply serves to illustrate that Nick is human. He fails and is likewise failed by others, ultimately playing an equal hand in the disintegration of his marriage. Unfortunately, in the wake of the revelation about Amy’s deception, the novel leaves us with a conflicted portrayal of male identity in marriage and in society.

Nick’s insecurities about turning out just like his own father haunt his every step, and it’s ultimately this fear that makes him decide to stay with Amy: he wants, above all, to be the great father he never had.

Making his determination all the more poignant are the behaviors and attitudes that surface throughout the book that show him to be exactly like his father. While we are left with a somewhat positive impression of Nick’s commitment to his unborn son, Flynn has created just enough grey area so there’s no guarantee that he won’t gradually succumb to the emotional pressure of living with a murderous sociopath and become the same father he resented.

Nick’s upbringing has far-reaching effects on his emotional life and reflects a very relevant issue in modern families. At the core we have the negative male role model in Nick’s life: the emotionally abusive, woman-hating father. The de-masculinising of men is a real problem in society and one that must be addressed, but does it excuse weak and abusive behavior in men? Of course not.

How, then, are men expected to behave? And are the expectations society generates actually valid? And what prevents some men from being present in the family as strong parental role models? It’s a cop-out to say that bitchy women or spineless men are to blame for this modern gender identity crisis, but unfortunately that’s one way Flynn’s narrative could be interpreted. The greyness and complexity of this issue is subverted by the fact that Amy is a sociopath. It then becomes too easy to blame all his selfish actions on her craziness, or to blame her breakdown on his selfishness.

Nick is portrayed as sympathetic but also flawed. He does try to be a good guy but he also deliberately distances himself from Amy instead of trying to work out their issues, ultimately choosing to have an affair. The point is not that Nick was or wasn’t valid in his feelings and actions, as his insecurities are borne of real struggles that many men face. The point, again, is that he and Amy failed to communicate effectively about them, resulting in destructive responses from both.

Women
gone.girl_diaryLeaving aside the fact that Amy is a sociopath, her reflections on what it means to be a woman in a relationship are often accurate and insightful.

Her rant about the ‘Cool Girl’ syndrome is particularly true, and bears some serious consideration. Cool Girl is described, basically, as being effortlessly and consistently gorgeous, sexy and brilliant, having flawless confidence and easy-goingness, and unfailingly loving all the things men love. As Amy rightly says, Cool Girl doesn’t exist. She is a myth perpetuated by women pretending to be what men want, and men lazily expecting their women to be exactly what they want. Flynn’s discussion of Cool Girl lasts over four pages in the novel and is itself an essay in contemporary gender dilemmas. And that’s the problem. It’s not something that sociopathic women like Amy invented in order to hate on men; it’s a real and present issue in modern society.

So, why, Flynn? Why write such an insightful and concerning gender essay and then make the character an unhinged murderess?

Amy’s desire to constantly be the perfect partner is an accurate depiction of most women, the extent of which depends on individual personalities but nevertheless rings true. How many women spend their lives adapting to perceived expectations, only to end up exhausted and frustrated? Too many. Again, this is a two-sided issue of women perceiving expectations from their partners that are not necessarily true, but also of partners not observing that their wives are making such an effort.

As discussed above, a lot of Amy’s problems with Nick come down to her miscommunicated expectations and the resultant feelings of guilt in Nick. The point about the treasure-hunts is disconcerting, because of course everyone wants to know that their partner ‘understands’ them and cares enough to notice what they’re like. At the same time, everyone is human and you can never know everything there is to know about another person. To avoid this becoming a huge issue in their marriage, Nick and Amy clearly needed to make some effort: Amy to mitigate her expectations, and Nick to make a concerted effort to be more attentive.

Though it’s impossible to know exactly how much Diary Amy is Real Amy, it’s clear that most entries are an accurate reflection of her feelings and actions. If I put myself in her place, I can’t help but sympathise with her feelings of desolation and her desire to make things right (though I wouldn’t go about it quite like she did).

If I faced two job losses in the household and my parents’ financial ruin, and then my husband up and moved me away from my hometown without consulting me, I would be more than momentarily upset. I would start to question the health of our marriage. Having similarly relocated to my husband’s hometown (though voluntarily; my husband would never force that on me), I completely sympathise with Amy’s feelings of isolation and the difficulty of trying to fit in with a family and a community culture that is vastly different to your own. If my husband then continued to distance himself from me, used our remaining finance to set up a ‘hobby’ job, and cared so little for me that he didn’t even know what I did with my time, I would start to freak out emotionally too. If I then caught him cheating on me with a ‘perfect’ young girl after I had tried so hard to be the perfect wife? Well, that would be a tipper. Would it induce me to commit murder by framing him? No. But then again, I’m not a sociopath.

And this is where I get annoyed at Flynn. She sets up sympathetic and complex male and female identities, creates a compelling case for marital disharmony, and then screws over any truth to their relationship by making Amy a murdering sociopath. This then gives every dissatisfied and ignorant man an excuse to blame any valid female behavior that they don’t like on the misguided premise that all women are psychos. Of course, the book wouldn’t have worked if Amy had been sane, but the true concerns raised by Flynn combined with Amy’s extreme behaviours create a disturbing message about female identity, one that can confuse both men and women.

In a way we should thank Flynn for creating such an impeccable female villain. It’s about time, really. But instead of the one-dimensional, totally crazy villains we expect from this kind of story (Norman Bates) Amy is a real woman. Which sadly makes it seem that any remotely intelligent woman with expectations and standards in life must be a sociopath.

I hope that modern audiences are open-minded enough to both accept the truth of this novel and also to see beyond the final curtain to a balanced view on the nature of relationships. Unfortunately a quick scan of recent forums demonstrates this is not the case; it’s too tempting for modern readers to let the novel validate their malcontents instead of challenge them. Try to put your knee-jerk irritations aside and examine these issues in an honest way. Interrogate the truth to Flynn’s characters while also seeing them for what they are: a simple exercise, albeit a highly successful one, in mass-sensationalist controversy.

Elise Janes

What are your thoughts?

 

*Note: The discussion in this essay stems from heterosexual marriage and gender identities due to the subject matter of the novel.

the end

He holds your hand in both of his, sitting on that cracked top step, his face grim and vulnerable with tender resolution. “It’ll work out. I’ll work it out.”

You stand before him, panic quickening your heart. “What are you saying?”

“I’ll move.”

He meets your eyes, exposed conviction in his gaze, and your breath is gone. But surely he knew?

montreal

Surely he knew this was the end.

You hear the others through the open door, laughing over their share-house dinner. They know you’re both out here, they know why. Your time is up and you have to decide.

The door is open but this grip of his feels like the most intimate you’ve ever been. The weight of the simple gesture makes it real, terrifying. He waits and you can’t speak.

What did you think would happen? Maybe you hoped that when the moment finally came you’d both laugh and agree it could never work.

Or maybe you wished through the descending seasons that your heart would shed a layer and this would suddenly be right.

The question was there from the moment you met, knowing you were his type and he was yours. He took you to the old hall on campus and you stared up at the tiny stained glass windows, portraits of legendary writers. You were breathless, in awe, like he knew you would be.

His careful approach to life was a relic from his childhood, from his infamous neighbourhood and absent father perhaps. A determination to make the right decisions, avoid hurting others. This was the first commandment of his life, despite the subtle, contained wildness in him: an irresistible conflict of impulse and hesitation.

Were you completely honest with each other? Not really, not with the deeper stuff, the hidden places. You showed him most of who you were: not everything, but more than usual. The rest you dropped in hints, hoping he would catch them, hoping he would show some sign of awareness, acceptance.

But if you lost your security or your strength or your resolve or your temper it would surprise him. He would try to re-strategise, to deal with this new antagonist in you, full of tense dissatisfaction.

You didn’t want to be dealt with (even thought he didn’t mean it that way). You needed someone who would push back, who would put you in your place or be moved by your conviction or slam the door in your face or thrust you against a wall. He would be slow and considerate and that would make you push further, irrationally scratching for that true impulse, the indication that you were both alive to the same humanity.

Perhaps you’ve known all along that he couldn’t be that person. But still you wanted to be with him, to see what would emerge, hoping he would prove you wrong. All the passing seasons have faded into this inevitable parting and all you’ve thought about is this moment, forming your heart around the possibility of a future.

Perhaps it’s your fault for letting your heart go because now the memories are too real and they won’t go away, wedged in your mind, forever shadowing the years of your life.

Time is up and you have to decide, and here he is on the step with his earnest eyes telling you he’ll move, he’ll follow you, he’ll make it work, and you know he believes it.

So, you see? No one wins. Both of you cautiously following the path of possibility, neither willing to make the first mistake, and this where it ends. Surely he knew that?

But no, he never did, and for that you blame him. Now you have to be the one to admit reality, to open his eyes to the truth. You must be the one who does this awful thing and it’s not fair. You gave him your heart, you tried, and yet he still doesn’t know you, not really.

The laughter grows louder in your ears and your hand trembles in his grip, under his waiting gaze. He has broken your heart, and now you must break his.

Elise Janes

Prologue

She balances on a knife-edge. Between tragedy and cliché.

He accuses her of vandalism as he picks chocolate from the fabric of his chair. They were the chocolates he’d given her on Valentine’s Day, the day before he confessed that his Valentine is elsewhere. She couldn’t stomach the thought of eating them and they looked close enough to dog turds when smeared into his chair.

He does not leave the house. It is Dante’s definition of hell. Proximity without intimacy.

The dog can smell her distress and cowers.

He has stopped talking to her. But the rest of the world is.
ABBA: Breaking up is hard to do.
Elton John: Turn on those sad songs, those sad songs, they say so much.
The calendar: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
She wishes it was tomorrow not today. She wants to believe in time travel so herself-in-three-years can come back and tell her-today: it’s all okay. If it is.

The Real Estate Agent’s eyes light up the moment he’s through the door. They are the fat parasites of marriage failure. They feast on the corpse. It’s the only way they get hold of such gems: the beautiful family home.

Sympathy is a killer.

She wonders about forgiveness. Forgiving him. Forgiving herself.
Maybe there is no such thing as forgiveness. Mark Twain said it was the scent the violet gives off as it is crushed beneath the boot.

Advice comes unsolicited: Let go. Move on. Make decisions. Get on with it. What is past is gone. What is past is prologue.

She reads Chekhov: it is sometimes the most insignificant people who realize happiness is found in ordinary things. She looks on her desk at ordinary things. The paper. The pen.
The prelude to her life is over. If only she could turn the page, and under the heading, Chapter One, begin to write.
About anything but him. So why does it keep coming back to him?

Jane Downing

The (Super)Hero’s Journey

(Or, what we can learn from the rise of the caped avenger)

superhero picThe hero, it seems, will never die. From the ancient empire-creating adventures of Odysseus to the poetic quests of Sir Gawain, masterpieces that have truly stood the test of time have been tantalisingly heroic. Why? People like them.

Fast-forward a millennium or two and the narrative world is overrun with neon spandex and flying shields. Almost forty superhero blockbusters have been released since 2000. One has even made it into the top ten most popular movies of all time (according to the IMDb). Guardians of the Galaxy is already at 8.5 (at time of print) placing it on the same rung as Taxi Driver, American Beauty, even Citizen Kane. And this is a movie that features Bradley Cooper (two-time Oscar nominee) as a talking raccoon.

A talking raccoon.

Let’s not get into a debate about what is literary and what is not, and the fact that movies are a visual medium so of course everything with flash-bangs is going to be popular. And before you roll your eyes and go on about the difference between quality cinema and blockbuster material, and how you yourself have never even seen Spider-Man (the first or the second or the third, or the remake or the sequel of the remake), consider what the facts are telling us: people like them.

So a superhero movie has never been listed on the AFI’s Top 100, or taught in any serious cinema course, or even won an Oscar for anything besides technical production (except for Heath Ledger, but come on, he was astounding) but that doesn’t mean we, serious people who read Booker-prize-winning novels, can’t learn us a lesson or two about What People Want From Their Stories…

  1. A hero. Simple. A guy or girl who is strong or tough or can do awesome shit, and will pretty much save the entire known universe. Probably in New York City.
  1. A vulnerable lead. One with flaws and a past and tough, personal choices to make (italics necessary). Self-doubt is the key. A tragic orphaned upbringing? Great! If they have to sacrifice their greatest love/best friend/mentor/home planet or even a limb in the course of true justice, even better!
  1. Crazy, made-up shit (as long as it’s justified (or sometimes even if it’s not)). People love it. They love stupidly-named planets and weird teleport gateways, and bizarre fighting implements. They love flying submarine-ships, rocket-powered suits, web-swingers, or guys who can just plain fly (of course he can fly, he’s from Krypton!). They love alternate universes, mythological gods, magic crystals and glowing blue cubes of whatever-the-hell-that-is. The weirder, the better. Our audience may be getting more sophisticated, but they’ll never be too sophisticated for crazy, made-up shit.
  1. A good villain. Gone are the days when the bad guy is just a two-dimensional bad guy bad guy (or girl). No, no, no. There must be a reason. They must be vengeful, or misunderstood, or mistreated, or horribly disillusioned, or just plain unfortunate. Or played by Tom Hiddleston. That helps.
  1. A kick-ass supporting cast, not just a sidekick anymore. The funny-guy is mandatory. It’s even better if they can all crack a joke at some point. A range of genders, ethnic backgrounds, fighting abilities, and/or species is appreciated. The quasi-mentor who the audience gets attached to and then dies is always a winner (hey, you can always bring him back in the TV series).
  1. A dark ending. Is the hero dead? Did the bad guy win? Is our world destroyed? Is all hope really lost? Think The Empire Strikes Back, then add some more budget.
  1. Intertextuality and framed narratives (now we’re getting there, lit nerds). What’s better than one superhero? More superheroes! Get them together and let them push each other’s buttons. Develop a bromance or two. Run out of ideas? Write it again, only different! Create entire histories that no-one cared about before. Let worlds collide. There’s nothing a character-loving audience likes better than you exploring their what-ifs for them.
  1. A never-ending chain-link of narrative hooks. Damn you, black screen chapter-break, I want to know what happens next! How could they possibly resolve this terrible situation when there’s only ten minutes left?! No, that can’t be the end! What if that is the end? Surely there will be another sequel! Who was that guy we saw at the end of the credits? Who the heck was that? Tell us!
  1. Themes, themes, give us righteous themes! Good vs evil. Power vs sacrifice. Pride vs humility. The big guy vs the underdog. Forgive yourself! Let go of the past! Work as a team! Please, just teach us something about the nature of humanity.

A closing thought. James Joyce (arguably the best novelist who ever lived) based his masterpiece Ulysses on the heroic epic that started them all: The Odyssey. If he were alive today he might be tempted to write an indecipherable, genre-mash-up, satirical epic based on the formative years of Rocket Raccoon. Well, you never know.

And if it’s good enough for him? Well, then it’s good enough for you.

Elise Janes  

 

‘Barracuda’ by Christos Tsiolkas — Review

BarracudaBarracuda is the latest novel by Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap and Loaded.

Danny Kelly, known as Barracuda, wins a swimming scholarship to an elite private school, where he overcomes bullying through his drive to become ‘the strongest, the fastest, the best’. He sacrifices everything to his Olympic goals, but he doesn’t make it as a swimmer, and commits a violent crime out of anger and humiliation. As an adult, he has to overcome the shame of his past and create a life in which he can respect himself.

Barracuda simultaneously tells the story of the young, ambitious Danny, and the same character after he has ‘failed’. Tsiolkas tells a well-paced and engrossing story, populated with compelling characters — above all its flawed protagonist. The book offers reflections on a number of issues without descending into wankery or preaching.

The novel considers class issues in Australia through the clash between working-class Danny and his privileged schoolmates who make fun of his hairdresser mother. Several characters challenge the myth of an egalitarian Australia, but it is ultimately Danny’s experience at school — wearing the uniform he can’t afford to outgrow, intimidated by his classmates’ designer houses — that the book makes its most persuasive argument.

Danny’s character is also a vehicle to explore the idea of ambition. When Danny doesn’t make it as an Olympian, he realises there is only a ‘hole’ where he used to be. Gradually, he attempts to re-create himself as a decent person, who supports his family, earns his living and atones for his past. The book forces readers to consider whether our society pushes us to be great at the expense of being good.

Barracuda also offers a gorgeous meditation on the body — Danny’s fit, young body flying through the water, then losing control of itself as he faces failure and shame. It compares the sculpted bodies of Danny’s privileged schoolmates to the ‘slovenly’, ‘pear-shaped’ bodies of his family. Gradually, Danny comes to an understanding that class itself is expressed through the body.

Tsiolkas offers an insightful reflection on contemporary Australia, in an engaging novel which is possibly his best so far.

Four stars

Penny Jones