Saturday, January 31, 2009

Of horses and ballet dancers and books

Having already confessed to my bookaholism, which if anything is escalating rather than the reverse, I must now confess to a desire to complicate my obsession with reading books, by trying to write one. Rather than an indication of latent literary talent finally emerging after a long gestation, this is more likely one of those predictable age related yearnings, sort of like the desire to have a horse or be a ballet dancer in young girlhood, or a boyfriend in slightly older girlhood - all goals to which I fervently aspired at the appropriate age. The horse thing never really came to fruition, unless you count sitting astride an old saddle slung over a fence at my grandma's farm for hours fondly imagining I was Liz Taylor in National Velvet. I did give the ballet thing a real run for its money though and despite my resemblance to a long and very ungainly string bean rather than a ballet dancer, forced my mother to enrol me in classes where I eventually won a prize for "most improved". The irony of this was lost on me though and I persisted with practising en pointe at home in my slippers, despite the agony, for some time, which may well have been the genesis of my recent unfortunate foot problems. As regards the boyfriend, well probably enough said there - that dream came true in my younger days reasonably regularly although I think more the result of a complete lack of discrimination on my part, rather than any mysterious sexual magnetism. Now of course things are different. Friends (other than platonic) of the male persuasion are very thin on the ground, I'd be scared shitless to get on a horse (and so would the horse no doubt) and would probably kill myself if I attempted ballet.
No ... now that I've reached the respectability of middle age, and probably along with half the literate population, I want to write a book. Ambitious perhaps but not completely beyond the bounds of rationality, given that I quite like writing and this blogging stuff is good practice, even if I often feel like I'm just talking to myself. Dreams of best sellers aside though, I realise it would be a lot of hard graft and long hours of eschewing other more hedonistic or possibly lucrative pursuits. The only pursuit though that can truly be called lucrative in my case is work, that being currently of the 9-5 variety and monopolising a fair amount of my physical if not mental energy. Fruitless as it may be as an outlet for intellectual creativity, it is sadly non-negotiable as an option, especially as I have to finance the aforementioned bookaholism somehow.

However even after having absorbed the statistics that 556,500 Australians reputedly engage in writing as a creative or leisure activity, but only 185,500 have paid involvement in writing (even for a maths dunderhead like me I think that means that only a slender minority can ever hope to make a buck from this "activity"), I still think it's worth a shot. Some years ago I had similar ambitions I recall and actually enrolled in a creative writing course. An interesting experience from which I learnt not much except that the tutor (who specialised in bush ballads I think) and I had quite polarised opinions about my literary potential. I'm afraid at that time I took his probably highly deserved and no doubt constructive criticism personally and took my budding magnus opus and went home in a huff.

Now though I'm made of sterner stuff and even the thought that often crosses my mind that surely there are more than enough books and misguided scribblers in the world already is not enough to deter me. There are of course books by the tonload and it's likely anything I could possibly have to say to add to the wisdom or entertainment of the world has already been said and possibly more incisively by hundreds of others. But equally there's lots of publishers, agents, book sellers, printers, bookshops and all the rest of the literary paraphernalia still making a gainful living out of books ... and they're not all reprints ... and someone has to write them .. and indeed even if my efforts meet with scorn, derision or simply the disparagement of a new age Henry Lawson, why should I at least not have a go?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Love Rat

Or why men who can't keep it in their jeans may now be able to blame their genes!

Recent medical research has discovered that men who have trouble being monogamous may be the inheritors of a particular genetic variant which has an effect on “an important attachment hormone”. Findings indicate such men are more likely to stray, tend to have difficulties with commitment and experience more marital problems, in other words carry all the typical traits of a love rat. This breakthrough was assisted by studies of the sexual behaviour of different species of voles (see picture) – little critters who bear an uncanny resemblance to rats in fact. Depending on their genetic predisposition in terms of variations in hormone receptors, different species of voles are either having it off with every passing lady rattie, or faithful to their little volie wives. It seems like a bit of a stretch but science has been able to apply this finding to help explain why some men are serial cheaters while others are loyal and devoted mates.

While this may seem like a brilliantly conceived piece of scientific evidence for men behaving badly to use as an excuse, I hardly think it’s going to wash with those women caught up in a love rat’s exploits. Love rats of the female persuasion of course exist also, but in my experience (personal and observed) it’s the men who tend to predominate in the cheating stakes. Male infidelity has been explained, justified, rationalized and often excused over the ages on the basis of their lusty little appetites, which we are told are so insatiable because of all that testosterone coursing through their veins. In other words it’s not really their fault – they’re just victims of their hormones poor dears. And now it seems they’re victims of their genes as well. With all this physiologically provoked libidinous behaviour, it’s a wonder we women are not being raped and pillaged every time we set foot outside our doors!

Well of course we’re not. Men are perfectly capable of managing and controlling their carnal urges, however base or basic, and comporting themselves in work, play, and all the other realms of society in which they act, in a reasonably civilized manner, for the most part. Men are not beasts (appearances to the contrary in some cases). Their brains are quite developed enough to give them the ability to premeditate before they act, to foresee consequences, and occasionally even to permit the glimmer of conscience, morals and ethics to enlighten their behavioural choices. That wonderfully unique human gift of choice allows us all, men and women, to look at both the pros and cons, weigh up the benefits and calculate the costs of anything we are thinking about doing, all within that smallish but very significant organ – the brain. Nothing else really at the end of the day can be said to be the boss in terms of what good or bad stuff we decide to do – not hormones, not genes, especially not that even smaller male protruberance (unjustly endowed with thinking power by unkind women in anti-male jokes). We as thinking, feeling, intelligent and hopefully principled human beings have an innate ability to control our appetites and hence our actions.

If we aspire to conduct ourselves according to our principles, our morals, commitments we may have made, or our desire not to hurt someone we can of course sometimes weaken and with perhaps the bitterest of regrets, fall foul of our good intentions. But (and this is a big but) we permit ourselves to do that in the full knowledge that we should be doing something else and no-one and nothing else can be held to blame.

So for all those men (and women too even if in the minority) out there who let themselves get caught up in self indulgent and hedonistic behaviour, simply because it feels good at the time, quit fooling yourselves. You have opted to do this in the full knowledge that it’s not right, it will at least hurt yourself, and at worst hurt at least one other person you claim to care about and perhaps more. There’s often one simple and foolproof way to figure out whether what you’re thinking about doing is ok or not, and that’s to stop and contemplate just for a second how you would feel if someone did it to you. I think it’s called compassion and I think it’s about time a few blokes in this world tried it on for size instead of blundering through others’ lives on a wrecking trail and then walking away scratching their heads and wondering what happened.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

An older lady has a birthday!

This week was little Scully's 12th birthday, so in doggie years she is becoming an older lady. Despite what can only be described as rather a matronly figure, she is doing very well for her age. And matronly with good reason of course, having been the mother of around 5 litters of puppies in her time, some champions of the show-ring among them too I believe. Not the least of her prize offspring is Fergus, my other dog.

I adopted Fergus as a 6 week old puppy almost 7 years ago so of course briefly met Scully, his mum, then. However Fergus turned out to be a very hyperactive puppy, full of beans constantly, always wanting to play and have mock fights with me. That's when he wasn't engaged in chewing or shredding some article of my clothing or prized objet d'art around the house. Eventually I hit upon the idea of getting him a little companion with whom he could expend some of his excess energy and who would keep him company while I was away at work. After the experience of Fergus's puppyhood, I thought an older dog might be wise and when I approached the breeder, she mentioned Scully, Fergus's other mummy was soon to be retired from breeding and might like to come and help me keep her errant son in line. So Scully came to live with us about 6 years ago and very glad am I that she did. She is the dearest little dog - completely calm and placid and an absolute model of good behaviour, in complete contrast to Fergus. She does have her moments though - one of her greatest weaknesses being food. Maybe it was all that jostling for position around the food bowl in competition with the puppies that did it, but she is to put it bluntly the biggest little glutton around food I've ever seen. Long after her dinner bowl is empty, the sound of crashing and banging can be heard from the kitchen, as she slurps her bowl around the floor, desperately vacuuming up every minuscule trace of food until not the tiniest speck remains. She is also an enthusiastic devourer of books - not unfortunately in the literary sense, but in the literal sense and can often be seen dragging dog-eared books from the lower shelves of the book case and gaily ripping them to shreds. Cook books are her favourites - those realistic food pictures I guess being the attraction.

Nevertheless she is one of the little lights of my life and I hope she has many more birthdays still to come as we both grow gracefully into the twilight of our lives together!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Commodifying Cupid (or how I've learned to hate online dating)

Reckless as it can sometimes be to make "never again" statements, I am vowing "never again" (for now at least) to online dating. After lots of reflection, I've concluded it is a process that is fundamentally flawed. Flawed that is, if one uses it like I've done to try and make contact with a likely person of the opposite sex, with the aim of establishing a committed, mutually agreeable and essentially monogamous relationship. If your aim is to "hook up" for a more basic liaison, where monogamy is a totally trivial pusuit, and you're not too particular about the qualities of the "hookee", then the process may well work really successfully.

I read an insightful commentary by one online dater recently who'd given it a good long try, ultimately without success, and concluded the process is a great way to meet people but a lousy way to end up with someone. Her theory is that online dating changes people because they come to see the people they meet as commodities, which they feel free to pick up and put down at whim, rather like browsing in a shop. Perhaps it's because of the commercialised nature of the thing, which has become very big business indeed. As consumers par excellence, we are indoctrinated to look at things we have to pay for in a different, more materialistic light, and to see those consumables as ultimately disposable. In other words, it's fine to pick up a little something to while away a Saturday night, or maybe even a week or so but it's pretty likely that if we keep browsing, something even better is bound to be out there and then it's no big deal to consign the first purchase to the recycling bin. As a result, online dating promotes a culture of constant looking, rather than actually finding and committing, which is of course the aim of those making huge profits from the sites. Imagine if the thousands of hapless lookers all got promptly matched up for life after only a few attempts,, RSVP and the rest would pretty soon be making only big bucks rather than megabucks.

The other aspect of the whole thing that simply doesn't work for me, and I suspect many others, is the entirely contrived nature of the connection. If (and it's a big if) one gets to the stage of actually meeting a likely match, it of course constitutes a blind date with all the ghastliness that implies. How on earth to be "yourself", comfortable, relaxed, pleasant when from the instant of first sighting you just know they are totally checking you out for possible consumption, as of course you are doing to them, poor sods. And if on first sighting, despite perhaps an attractive photo, a witty and charming email correspondence, even a pleasant phone chat or two, your immediate reaction is "Oh God let me out of here!", or worse you can see that look in their eyes, it can be an ordeal straight from hell just getting through a coffee, let alone if you were foolish enough to agree to a full on dinner! Here is where alcohol in copious amounts is really useful, except for the pitfall of booze induced visual impairment where after enough, you can start to find even Quasimodo strangely sexy. Anyway the whole thing is usually utterly boring and because of how you "met", the conversation sooner or later leaps into "relationships", where you get to hear about their inevitably grotesque ex-wives and all the many desperate women they've encountered on the online dating site, who of course being the chick magnets that they are, they've had to almost literally beat off with sticks. One could go on, but in the interests of good taste I won't.

Apart from all the above, this method of putting oneself "out there" means you become instantly totally vulnerable and exposed (metaphorically speaking) to not only the world's choicest selection of freaks, cranks, sexual deviants, and social misfits, but to the experience of constantly being scrutinised, checked out, rated, laughed at, scorned and all too often found wanting in some way or another. This of course is pretty much a part of life, but usually only happens irregularly at such times as job interviews, auditions, exams and such like. But in online dating it becomes a way of life, and it's very emotionally demanding.

I have as a result, convinced myself that the process, while like so many seeming brilliant in theory, in practice just doesn't work the way many people think it is supposed to. The profiteers of course would have you believe otherwise and a quick glance through their "success stories" (supposedly autobiographical) may give one pause for hope. Far be it from me to be a nay-sayer and I have heard of friends of friends who met, married and lived to tell the tale on online dating sites (never met one personally though), so clearly it works sometimes. But I would be really interested to know the percentages, as I suspect those who actually find the love of their life are very much in the minority.

But I am not cynical or disillusioned about life, love and the potential of all of us single men and women to find happiness at whatever age and I remain very open to the possibility myself. But I just don't think it's going to happen via Cyber-Cupid, for me.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A little holiday project

Having declared no New Year resolutions, I have at least set a goal (which sounds more personal growth-ish I think) which is to do more blogging ... I know at least one or two of my friends read it occasionally which is enough to keep the muse alive and kicking and there's nothing more disheartening I know than logging on to something (like your personal emails) and finding zilch - not even a special offer on Viagra. Which needless to say is lost on me. Besides it's good intellectual exercise - believe it or not, the brain does make contact occasionally with what issues from the keyboard. So with this incentive to inspire me, and because I am quite chuffed to have actually achieved something productive during the Xmas/New Year holiday break, thought I would show what I've done.

As I live in a courtyard home I don't have much of an outdoor view from my loungeroom and kitchen windows, except for the dividing fence and the top of the next door neighbour's house - decidedly uninspiring. To brighten things up a bit, there is a trellis on the fence, a few struggling creepers and assorted pots with plants in various states of health - good, declining and fairly dodgy. At one end, overlooked by the loungeroom window, is what was once a rockery - all evidence of rocks having been submerged beneath a mountain of Wandering Jew - a hideous rubbery plant that grows anywhere - up your legs if you stand still long enough. So the project was to uproot the Wandering Jew, dig out all the rocks and pebbles and re-do the whole thing, if not with a Jamie Durie inspired water feature, at least with a bit more panache just in case anyone worthwhile ended up in the loungeroom and happened to glance out the window.

It's taken me ages but after much sweating, digging, tugging and Prometheus like lifting of rocks, I finally got the area cleared and have now artfully rearranged all the rocks, pebbles and pots of new plants so it looks really rather good - well when compared to the tip it was before. In the narrow window of opportunity before the dogs decide to do a bit of excavating - partial as they are to the taste of new potting soil - thought I'd take a couple of shots of the completed masterpiece - sort of a "before", with the wishful thought that against the enormous odds of dogs, drought, snails, wind, birds and general wear and tear, the plants will be allowed to grow, thrive and spread attractively over the rocks so that there can later on be an "after" - which even Jamie Durie would be proud to call his own!