Tuesday, August 26, 2014

when compliments don't work

So, for various reasons recently, I've received a few compliments from gentlemen on my looks.

This is such an unexpected and unusual occurrence for me that I have serious cognitive dissonance reconciling the new information with the world as I know it to be.

"No no no, you don't understand, I'm the fat friend. The comfortable, I'll-never-want-sex-with-her, I can tell her everything, emotional punching bag, good for a laugh one. I'm not beautiful or sexy or delicious. I'm... Well... I wish I was... But I'm not.

I'm boys-yelling-from-cars-'you-fat-shit!' ugly.

I'm the recipient of reassuring-but-patronising-'there's-someone-for-everyone' comments.

I am not beautiful.

I'm beyond curvaceous, I'm just fat.

I'm hairy in all the 'wrong' places.

I have glasses.

I dress strangely.

I am not a thing of beauty and joy forever whose loveliness only increases."

Or at least, that's what I believe...

So when someone, especially someone I regard as... Gorgeous. Shining. Scrumptious. Sexy. Heavenly or just plain marvellous, compliments me...


Let's just say I feel exactly like Helena did in A Midsummer Night's Dream, when, thanks to Puck's meddling, her best friends BF and her crush who loves her best friend suddenly both start chasing her.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the man she loves and the man her friend loves, start complimenting her. Swearing undying love to her. And so of course, she, like me, experiences extreme cognitive dissonance, and deals with it by concluding they are mocking her.

I have to admit, it is REALLY HARD not to feel the same. I don't just disagree when someone's complimenting me. I begin to worry that for their own, strange, masochistic pleasure, they're bullshitting me...

Does anyone else have this problem?

Does anyone else feel like Helena when they receive a compliment? Anyone else tempted to scream:

Wherefore was I to this keen mockery born?
When at your hands did I deserve this scorn?


O spite! O hell! I see you are all bent
to set against me for your merriment.
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
you would not do me this much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
but you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
you would not use a gentle lady so:
to vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
when I am sure you hate me with your hearts.

PS. Superpraise. What a word!!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

you might actually like it if you try it

(and by like I mean, be companionably depressed...)

So, Shakespeare on love. What a surprise! One of our most famous writers is constantly obsessed with love - who isn't?

Troilus and Cressida is not just about pointless, protracted war that destroys lives, it's also kind of about pointless, protracted love that destroys lives.

Love of course has many aspects, and darling William explores them all. Some of the quotes you may vaguely know ("love is not love that alters when it alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove" for eg) demonstrate his deep grasp of the nature and depths of love.

In Troilus and Cressida, Bill explores the nature of sexual love and the question of fealty. Obviously, the catalyst of the plot (the rape of Helen) is itself an indicator of the ruinous effects of infidelity (steal a wife, start a war... Pretty large-scale for most of us, but of course T and C provide the more personal dimension to the argument). The love affair between Troilus and Cressida mirrors this destruction, ultimately playing on the theme of oaths and their breaking. Cressida even points out the problem they face, "they say all lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform; vowing more than the perfection of ten, and discharging less than the tenth part of one", or as Troilus would have it, "this is the monstruosity in love, lady, that the will is infinite, and the execution confin'd; that the desire is boundless and the act a slave to limit".

Basically, big promises, small delivery. All the national and personal tragedy of this plot hinges on the inability of lovers to remain faithful, whether to their marriage partner, or the nation they 'love' and swear to protect (but, actually, putting their own egos and sexual relationships first, drawing their nation into protracted war instead of loving peace).

None of this is any surprise to most of us - infidelity sux. And it appears that modern audiences, particularly after the two world wars of last century, beaten down by constant, wearing battles of attrition and the bending to breaking point of personal morality found new interest in this half-forgotten, 'problematic' play.

We find the cries of our hearts echoed in its words, we join with Troilus' disappointment in Cressida's unfaithfulness, we feel the tragedy of Hector's death - the true, faithful, honourable hero of the play is brought down to dust while dodgy, bloodthirsty, fornicating, egotistical anti-heroes live on.

Troilus and Cressida succeeds for a modern audience because of it's dissatisfactions and disillusions, the very same elements which left a bitter taste in the mouths of more triumphal generations. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

a little better at listening

In between strangely productive hours at my desk this week I've been reading Troilus and Cressida for the first time.

It's listed in the Tragedy category of my Complete Shakespeare, so I'm not holding my breath for a happy ending, but I'm not surprised at all considering the subject matter.

I'm also not surprised at all by the relevance of the subject matter to the news this week: Troilus and Cressida is set at the climax of the protracted war between the united kingdoms of Ancient Greece and the city state of Troy, and thus, at the climax of a war started as the inevitable result of petty personal pride, and drawn on and out into further and further bloodshed by the inability of man to admit defeat or wrongdoing.

Sadly this play is relevant in every decade, and every level of human society. The geo-political after all simply reflects the relations between humans on a much smaller scale, like that ongoing family feud begun when a certain someone didn't give a certain someone else the appropriate greeting at a particular and no doubt important occasion because the certain someone supposed the other certain someone was behind the vicious rumour circling the family that a certain someone's wife no longer shared a bed with her husband. OR WHATEVER!

Consider this depressing summary of the state of affairs after seven years of war, from Priam, King of Troy's mouth,

"After so many hours, lives, speeches, spent,
Thus once again says Nestor from the Greeks:
'Deliver Helen, and all damage else -
as honour, loss of time, travail, expense,
wounds, friends and what else dear that is consum'd
in hot digestion of this cormorant war -
shall be struck off.'

Really Priam? You're surprised that the original theoretical justification for the justice of this war is still being clung to by its tired, wounded, yet vainly, fiercely, prideful prosecutors? Long after the original slight seems pointless? That the rage over a wife being stolen, that wife who has now spent 7 years in the bed of another, is not dimmed or muffled despite massive bloodshed, social destruction and financial expense?

Strange isn't it that we also cling, needlessly, uselessly to similar causes that do not sparkle with the appropriate level of righteous anger.

We lose interest in the child soldiers of Joseph Kony after about 3 seconds of air time, but will happily relentlessly pursue other theatres of war started by the loss of ultimately an extremely small number of civilian lives in a powerful nation, as opposed to the constant loss of extremely large number of civilian lives in impoverished states with little or no global power.

'We'll keep hitting you cos we can' seems to be the motto of modern war, dressed up as, 'we'll keep hitting you cos we can, and we'll do it to stop you hitting us'.

Hector (you may recognise him in his more recent form of a buff Eric Bana in the 'epic' Troy, which in fact captures very little of the myth itself) tries to pour oil on the flames of self-defensive ardour by pointing out that the wide world knows it's wrong to steal another man's wife, and therefore, just opinion rests with the Greeks.

The response of Priam and his other sons Troilus and Paris is basically, 'hey, they stole our aunt, plus, we're better than the Greeks'. Yup. Seamless logic there guys!

I'm finding it hard to find any joy at all in the love story that's "supposed" to provide the tragedy to the play, that of Troilus and Cressida, not only because the build up is so poor (sorry Bill), but because I really have no pity for Troilus at all. He just seems to enjoy fighting and f&$%ing, and both on fairly pointless grounds as far as I can see, so I'm left a bit cold by their plot.

The main point, in fact, the only point of astonishment I do have, is in the vast difference between Shakespeare's audience and the modern popular one.

I can't imagine any popular tv show now building most of it's plot around a vast series of dialogues and asides, where each person speaks for about 5 minutes at a time. We call that Question Time and nobody watches it. We 'show don't tell' because technology has given us that capacity. And I do rejoice in it! (Honestly!)

BUT, I think we've lost a great capacity to follow and comprehend when someone tells instead of showing, and it is this dumbing down the leads to a paucity of proper debate when we go forth to shed blood.

Perhaps it would be better for our souls if we were a little better at listening...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

anonymous and other tosh

One of the many reasons for loving Shakespeare is that he helps you win trivia contests!

At our church weekend away a couple weeks ago, the inevitable happened, and a Shakespeare related question came up. I didn't even get to answer it, another member of our team jumped in swiftly to answer, "what 2011 film questioned the authorship of Shakespeare's plays?"

Anonymous played with the ever-popular idea that it was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and not William Shakespeare who penned the plays, that theory and many others consistently kept alive by the intellectual snobbery of academics through the centuries, agog that a small-town boy like Billy, who, as far as we know, never travelled beyond England, could possibly have written novels of such depth, political and social intrigue, set in far and fantastical locations, having nothing more than a primary school level education.

Well, beyond the fact that primary school level education for William involved Greek, Latin, maths, history, English, poetry etc etc etc, and that the whole world was opening up to the British mind during the Elizabethan 'Golden Age', it has surely always been true that imagination is a boundless facility, crossing every boundary of human experience, reaching into the limitless and grasping at the divine.

Ie, pretty sure Bill could figure out how to represent life in Verona, having never been there, especially as, conveniently, everyone in his Verona has an English tongue in an English head!

I can of course, like many others, credit William with the expansion of my imaginative and artistic horizons over the years, and I can certainly understand why an artist more educated than I by age 11 (and I have a post-graduate for heaven's sake!) was quite capable of spinning the majestic prosody of the Shakespearian canon.

And rather than snob about that, I want to encourage it! If imagination is not sharpened and encouraged, we never shall see again the like of William's capability. Our literature will grow poorer and narrower as our minds do.

Every school child should be encouraged to imagine fantastic worlds, create in their minds a full gamut of personalities, thus increasing their ability to empathise, analyse and strategise, three skills that will improve their life immeasurably.

So, I thumb my nose at Anonymous as an idea, and all the others who push Kit Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and indeed, any other candidate, not only because they have a ridiculously small island to stand on historically, but because I think every child, guided and encouraged, can unleash their own Shakespeare within.

So get to it! Read the Bard! And have a bash at your own iambic pentameter!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I totally shouldn't be blogging right now... It's 2:50am on a Sunday, I've gotta get to church in like, 7 hours, which means I should be 'up' in at least 6, BUT I JUST CAN'T SLEEP.

So, I turn to you, dear readers for the succour of an audience to bombard (like man-flu, my affliction is comforted by sharing the pain as much as possible with the strong and healthy around me, leeching their joy in an effort to bolster my delusion that I suffer more than you all).

I wonder if Will ever found himself like this, at 3am, hunched over a manuscript, criss-crossing, re-scanning and screwing up parchment. Or did the words just pour from him like coke from a can that's been shaken repeatedly and then kicked around the floor.

For that is what I feel like on the inside as a writer. Effervescent, ephemeral words, buzzing constantly through my mind, combining, collapsing, sparking, a never-ending fountain of sweet, sticky, 'devil's urine', as the Black Death of Coca Cola Amatil is fondly known in my household.

Where Billy and I differ strongly is in the ability to externalise this fountain, allow the gases to escape, and explode into searing verse.

I've definitely got it covered on the 'shaken up and kicked around' front. That feels like the theme of my life at the moment, which is what inevitably leads to the heinously self-indulgent practise of a writer writing about writing (so 1st yr Uni!).

But I'm not so strong in the "pour words onto the page" area at the moment... Slash ever.

I can dribble to my hearts content when the point is meaningless (cue the drivel you're saturated with on this blog!), but as soon as I am striving to get a serious message across in a way that will be evaluated and judged by others... Eek!! You can't see me for the dust!

Maybe Wills developed a serious case of medieval writer's block when asked to confront the political or social issues of his day. Maybe the idea of moving from comedy to politics was a leetle scary for him as well... Or maybe not! Maybe he'd been biding his time, manoeuvring into a perfect position from which to honour some rulers and blast others...

One lesson I have learned well from Billy boy though is, "say it slant". You want to address the hot-bed of Elizabethan politics in one of the most influential cities of Western civilisation? Write a play about a long-dead hunchback with a a thirst for blood. Or the one about a bunch of Scottish lords who get drunk and stab each other.

Slide your message into the periphery while you're entertaining them in the bullseye.

I did finally make the big leap forward a few months ago in my book project when I realised I should just say it slant. The form I was trying to speak in was strangling me even further than my already debilitated sense of self had done the job, and I was too mentally suffocated to accomplish anything.

So I sat down and wrote it all as letters to my sister instead, and that seemed to work.

Now if only I could get to sleep so that someday soon I can get to work!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Prince of Denmark and the Temple of Doom

2B or not 2B - not a pencil question.

So, turns out my friend Kerryn has a long running love affair with the Prince of Denmark. Not the one Mary married (whatsisname...? Frederik?! Is that it...?), the other one, the confused and confusing, slightly bloodthirsty, possibly oedipal one. Hamlet.

I can totally understand this.

Not only because Hamlet is a fine artwork that mirrors life (most murder victims have been done in by family members, and the secondary victims (ie, the rest of the family), are deeply and irrevocably affected by the tragedy, and twice as likely to commit the same act themselves), which is of course, the best kind (we'll have to have THAT argument later if you think art should be fantastical and not like life at all. What planet do you live on?! And how are you defining fantasy anyway?!!). But also because the PofD is a great example of the philosophical and psychological depth of Shakespearian tragedies, with layer upon layer of ethical, epistemological and ontological questions raised and explored. LOVE IT!!

For eg, the famous/infamous 2B speech.

Besides the first line, which frankly, is all most of us know, it is worthwhile to read the soliloquy over again to catch the rest of it:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely, [F:poor]
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay, [F:disprized]
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment, [F:pith]
With this regard their Currents turn awry[F:away]
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remembered. [2]

One of the first things you should notice are the other phrases that have worked their way into the vernacular and firmly remained there almost 400 years later. Not just "to be or not to be", but also, "to sleep, perchance to dream", "shuffle off this mortal coil"and perhaps you may recognise "thus conscience does make cowards of us all" and "the undiscovered country". At least one thing you can learn from Shakespeare is how to understand The West Wing better.

Anyway, can't you feel the weight and worthiness of these words?!

Maybe it'll help you as it helped me to learn that being is a verb. This will make every proper scholar of English frown in consternation, buuuuuuut, it took first year Koine Greek at Bible college for me to learn that I am, be, being etc are VERBS. So, from the very beginning, Hamlet is asking, "to exist/live/breath/carry on existing or not?" And so from there unfolds the dilemmas involved in answering this question.

This soliloquy is an incredible way to express weariness at the calamities of life, the desire for death and yet the fear of it, the wondering of what lies beyond and the impact that your answer to that question has on your interpretation of your current experience and your choice of action.

Do you think nothing lies beyond? If so, you're probably more willing to risk and chance at what may come in this life than sleep and waste it. But if you're hoping for something beyond the grave, AND this life becomes too overwhelming, then suicide becomes a rational act to contemplate, as one way of solving your problems and moving on to something better.

However, all the horror, anger, shock, rage, sadness, confusion, distress and heartache that surrounds self-murder demonstrates that rationality is not the most important category of decision making.

The most painful barb that works its way into the flesh and cannot be removed is the knowledge of the volition, the act of the will needed by your loved one, to choose this method of resolution for their troubles.

'Why' is the question asked longest. Long after 'how', 'what', 'where' and 'when' have all been answered and discarded, 'why' stays.

Having been on the receiving end (so to speak...) of two suicides in my family, I know the question never goes away. Pure rationality cannot answer it, because in the cold light of a philosophical equation, the problem with suicide is that it can be made to make 'sense'.

But the sheer nonsense of it, the horrific absurdity is the overturning of every other factor in the calculation. Familial love squared. Hope multiplied by assistance equals...

In the end, poor Ophelia is the only one who casts herself into the river, never to resurface in this world again.

In a dramatic sense, she is the flipside of Hamlet's decision to take up arms. She is the other option he's pondered and given himself.

Of course, both end up dead, as we all do (and hey, this is tragedy people! Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern kick the bucket!), but one of the many questions Hamlet's soliloquy raises is 'whose death was nobler?' nobility being a sister of righteousness. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

this means war

So, the Olympics are on. Well duh!

And from the vibe on facebook, I reckon every other Aussie is as disappointed with the free to air coverage as I am. So much swimming!!! Surely that's not our only event?!!

But it's not just the coverage I've been slightly depressed about.

What's with the poor sportsmanship at the Badminton?!

Basically, the way the tournament has been designed this year means that China can't win all the medals or something. Boo hoo. So, when the Chinese were supposed to be playing Korea yesterday, instead of just forfeiting, they turned up BUT BARELY PLAYED PROPERLY. They got nothing but net for service after service INTENTIONALLY, and eventually were warned by the umpire that if they didn't play properly, they'd be disqualified.

I said I was disgusted with this behaviour, so, cue hour long 'discussion' (ok, we were arguing, but we love to do that, so don't think, 'emotional blackmail at 20 paces', think more, 'passionate discussion') with my housemate Phil. Phil wanted me to have sympathy for the teams because strategically, they were making a good move in the context of the tournament. Which is true. BUT, I still believe playing poorly on purpose is unsportsmanlike because sport is war. War is life. Life is unfair, therefore, sport is unfair.

Do you follow?

Probably not, because my philosophy of sportsmanship is not logical at all. Phil is right. If China want to win all the medals, they've got to play the tournament, not the game, to ensure they get the top three spots. (He'd have to explain the mathematics to you, I have to hold all my fingers in front of me and move invisible tokens in the air to understand it. Let's just take it as a given that, because of the maths, China would ultimately win more if they lost in the short-term.)

But even though it's correct, I still hate it!! It seems so wrong to me to intentionally lose to gain advantage for yourself.

After an hour or so (it was somewhere past midnight by this point. Not super surprised, Phil has combat mechanisms on the brain over at Pack of Heroes where he's designing a game), Phil asked a fascinating question. Why am I fixated on this idea that you should just give it all you've got, every time, no matter whether at the tournament level it's advantageous to rest on your laurels for a while? Ie, why can't you intentionally slack off every now and again?

And for the answer, I have to dig deep into my psyche.

Is it a hangover of Protestant work ethic? (Sadly, I have no work ethic, so that can't be it...)

Is it because I'm scared I'll lose? Well, yes... But there's more to it than that...

I/we concluded it's because in general, I approach all of life as an underdog. Just like Baghdatis at the Australian Open, I'm unseeded, I don't know what I'm capable of, and nobody else does either, but the odds would suggest that the classic favourites will beat me. Translating this out of sport for a moment, I'm not pretty enough or rich enough or socially powerful enough just to skate, so, I have to try (at least, that's what it's like in my own head...). And I have to try all the time, because just like war, it's win or lose. Either you kill them, or they kill you.

Again, Phil is right, this is totally illogical, because if you've got to conquer a small village before you take on a big city, then you don't squander all your energy, soldiers and resources on quashing the village.

But in my head, I would. Cos to me, even the small village is a major threat...


The point is, in my mind, the whole world is the field at Agincourt, and I am Henry the 5th.

The English army, or what's left of it, is with me. We've marched through a horrid French autumn, it's been wet, cold and muddy. We're half starved, we're mostly untrained, and the French are in fighting form. They've got home ground advantage AND, shiny armour. We. Are. Screwed.

And that's why the absolute triumphs of Shakespeare's Henry 5th are the bookends of the battle, the St Crispin Crispian's Day speech and the 'victory' speech at the end.

The Crispian's Day soliloquy strips layer upon layer of clay from the frail pots of the English army to at last reveal the bold light of truth, sacrifice, nobility and right underneath. Yes the odds are against them, yes, they're hungry, yes as a 21st century observer I totally disagree with their justification of war and I'm not totally crash hot on the effects of it either, BUT, they are standing for right (so they think), and thus, despite the terror, should fight, because they will be proud to show their wounds, the cost of their sacrifice for right.

Huzzah huzzah!!!

But Henry is still shit scared. That's why, in the early hours of the morning, before the dawn speech, he's on his knees, in the mud, pleading with Almighty God to fight on their side. He knows he's the underdog by a long way, and needs divine intervention.

So, the English go out and give it their all, and, in an absolute shock victory, by a margin so incredible it's almost laughable, they win.

They win!!

Everyone expected the French to win, including the French. Even though the froggy bastards went and killed all the messenger boys behind the lines (yes Matt, as per your comment like, two years ago, I will one day do a post on Billy's racism! ;-).

Underdog triumphs is the order of the day, and they approached the battle in the right way, ie, to the last breath.

And thus the incredible, but totally understated beauty of Henry's closing remarks. He orders that masses be said for the dead, and that the non nobis be sung.

For those of us who didn't learn Latin at private school, or aren't pre Vat Two RCs, the words of the non nobis can be roughly translated as,

"Not to us Lord,
not to us,
but to you,
be all the glory."

It's the opening of Psalm 115 and it's the perfect cry of the underdog who triumphs.

Henry/underdogs everywhere/me could try to take the credit for our victory. Surely it was by our unexpected strength we vanquished our enemy. Surely the stirring speech we made to the troops did the job. Surely it's because we're awesome that we'll just win the badminton anyway. We did it!!


It is never by our own strength, whether physical or otherwise that we triumph. Even our strength is given to us by the hand of the Lord.

So, perhaps I also baulk at the idea of slacking off intentionally (not involuntarily, that's a whole other thing!) is because your opportunities, body, skills, talents, life have been GIVEN to you, as a gift, for a while, so you're supposed to use them for God's glory. Not just to sit on your arse. You're meant to use your resources.

So anyway, Henry the 5th is the reason I don't like the poor showing at the badminton. Or something. ;-)

Non nobis Domine, Domine. Non nobis Domine. Sed nomini, sed nomini, tuo da gloriam.