The 5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

Cute hamster in tunnel.
Image from Unsplash by Zimbahcat

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation. While the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body has missed the minimal amount of upkeep it demands – there’s loads of stuff I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed of all.

Obviously, I’ve missed certain elements of my life – going to restaurants, weekends away, and trips to the movies, to name a few – but what this virus has gifted me is a window to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life and what isn’t.

Below are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook to unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or in the work environment. You see, one of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which I’m sure is not that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, AKA an alcoholic – but it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t become a recluse in isolation whose only source of happiness comes from her dog and bullying her husband – I’ve been working my butt off within the four walls of our home – but I think the extra enthusiasm for work has derived from my contentment at being alone, rather than under the gaze of others.

The work required to socialise is what kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in and not offend anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve had to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go – not that that stopped me before – but on the rare occasion I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

And it’s nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about that change in my priorities again. I used to waste hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself – now I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, but it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19 – if anything it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. This may be because triggers such as work have been removed, or it may be (my theory) that the threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s here it feels somehow more tangible. It’s like looking the enemy in the eye.

Added to which, health anxiety simply isn’t an option right now – I mean, NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? On the personal front, while having Kurt back at home has added some tensions, it has also removed the fear those calls in the middle of the night caused. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

The treadmill issue ties in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill. At fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into the one I want i.e. working for myself (preferably from home); and doing something I feel passionately about that scales well with my work-life balance. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to. I’ve been able to step off the treadmill and roll around in the bedding.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but for those of us who measure success in terms of work- life balance rather than financial reward, that weight of expectation can feel heavier and be difficult to keep in proportion. This difficulty is interlinked with my anxiety and I can only describe it as needing to nail everything, to be there for everyone, not to let anyone down even if when I’m drowning. With less expectation, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

Of course, these thoughts may just be symptomatic of middle age

I can’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, a positive of this COVID-19 experience has been how it has highlighted areas of our lives we took for granted. Nature, family relationships, and my health have been pushed back up to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never travelled to before, but I won’t miss the anxiety that used to accompany those trips, in much the same way I haven’t missed my invisibility at our local pub.

Is there anything surprising you haven’t missed in isolation?

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Those Bloody Crises of Confidence Part 1

You may have sensed it in my writing of late, but I’m going through a bit of a crisis of confidence at the moment. I’ve tried to buoy myself up by trawling through all the memes on my Inspirational Shit board on Pinterest and drinking more wine than usual, but any writer will tell you that the rejection of your manuscript – no matter how well you prepare yourself for it – is a very personal rejection, worse even, than when your child is the only kid in the class not to get invited to a party.

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Because I have nurtured this, my third child. I have sacrificed great chunks of life (that I probably should have spent with my own children) to get this baby out into the world. Indeed, I have probably been a better parent to my manuscript than to either of my own children. And I will shoot the next person that reminds me of JK Rowling’s sixteen rejections before Harry Potter was published.

 

And while I am still not ready to give up on it, sadly there are only so many hours in each day to continue editing and re-editing and, (as the old man reminded me so supportively the other day), these last fanatical strokes of the paintbrush of a scorned wannabe writer, might prove to be its final undoing, aiding my manuscript’s journey to its final permanent residence in the reject piles of Sydney’s publishing houses.

 

I assume that at some point you have to ask the question – is it good enough? – and if you can be completely honest and listen to your instinct screaming no, you begin the grieving process.

 

I’m not quite there yet.

 

However, inevitably, there is pressure from a certain department of the house to earn some money now that everyone has accepted that I haven’t written the next Fifty Shades – and rightfully so because wine and take-outs cost money. And honestly, what kind of feminist would I be if I expected to sit in my home office all week, being creative?

 

A bloody happy one, actually.

 

The problem with rejection is that a) it’s a fucking lie that it gets any easier and b) it seeps into every other aspect of your life. One day you’re skipping merrily through hot sand on the beach, the sun on your face, and the next, you’re a loser. Which means my head isn’t exactly in the right place to search for paid work at the moment. I’ll go so far as to say,  if I’m honest I’m feeling kind of lost at the prospect of this latest career crossroads, which feels much closer to the choice between the eighteen fucking lanes leading to the Harbor Bridge than a simple right or left turn. And I just know that I’ll end up in the wrong fucking lane.

 

Finding motivation gets harder each day because I know I’m running out of time and writing is something that can’t be rushed. That voice that used to get me out of bed, full of excitement, and tell me to keep going – that I CAN DO IT – sounds hollow now. I hate people who get published. Some days it is physically painful to listen to other people’s stories of success when I have nothing to show for my hard work.

 

And then the sun rises on another day and along comes Jacinda Ardern on my computer screen, modeling her feathered Kahu huru huru cloak, with her husband on her arm. And I look at her and I think, HOW FRICKIN AWESOME is this woman in the sort of dress-up that is way more suited to a GOT set than meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace. How bloody inspiring is it to see a young, female world leader, so proudly representing her culture, her politics, and her impending motherhood, whilst slaying the toxic gender roles of the establishment with one swish of that cape.

 

I want to be her. I want to be able to stand up like her in front of all my naysayers with that self-belief and be able to say that I did it.

 

And I looked really closely at those photos of her in the media and I did wonder if there are some mornings that Jacinda gets up, looks in the mirror and feels any doubt. Knowing that her (and more specifically her bump), would be under the spotlight, I wonder if that night she asked Tim as she got ready if he thought her bum looked too big in that Maori cape or if she looked like a bit of a dick. Because let’s be honest, not many women can work a shit-brown dress and a cape of feathers whilst heavily pregnant.

 

But I’m guessing that her inner voice wasn’t screaming negative thoughts at her. I’m thinking that the ghosts of those native New Zealand birds on her back were egging (sorry!) her on.

 

‘Go bitch! You show that Commonwealth Queenie who you are,’ they were screeching – because birds in this part of the world don’t tweet or twitter.

 

Well…whatever was going through her head that evening, she wore those dead birds like a boss, with no sign of any self-doubt.

 

And more importantly, I need that cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housework: Does Your Husband Do His Share?

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At a party a few weeks ago, I witnessed a blood-boiling example of inequality. Through the entire three courses of dinner – for which the women had put together salads and baked desserts, organized decorations and gifts for the birthday boy – the majority of the men remained glued to their seats as the women milled amongst them, collecting plates, serving food and effectively waited on them, hand and foot.

 

According to Oliver Burkeman’s article in The Guardian, Dirty Secret: Why is there still a housework gender gap? I am fortunate to be in a minority of women who has a husband more anal than I am about germs. Not that either of us cares that much, but we all know that there’s a fine line between pretending not to care and hoarding empty “Pods” bags under the bed.

 

According to recent statistics in the UK, Burkeman says, ‘the “housework gap” largely stopped narrowing in the 1980s. Men, it seems, conceded that they should be doing more than before – but then, having half-heartedly vacuumed the living room and passed a dampened cloth over the dining table, concluded that it was time for a nice sit-down.’

 

I can believe it.

 

For it appears that some men, (and middle-aged men seem to be among the biggest culprits), believe that they are the character of Don Draper in Mad Men, still living in the fifties, at a time when housework was the responsibility of their wives because they didn’t work in a professional capacity – even though, (seventy years on), women now work full-time, as well as doing sixty percent more housework than they do. Yes, I did say sixty percent. And that gender imbalance is behind Tanya Plibersek’s commitment to a new survey into the value of unpaid and domestic work, to gauge the true value of gender inequity in this sensitive area.

 

As Tanya has stated, ‘Women, for the most part, do not begrudge unpaid work because of the “joy in caring for those you love” but it leads to lower pay at work, more time off and a tendency to work part-time, all of which add to the gender pay gap.’

 

Please understand that I employ the verb ‘waiting’ with tongue firmly in cheek because what in fact my band of friends and I were really doing was coming to the aid of a sister – even if that’s how it felt. While most men managed to prise their privileged asses off their chairs to refill their glasses and collect their food, and one, (upon receiving the look from his wife), scuttled to the kitchen to carve the meat, (hunted and gathered by my friend from the butcher that afternoon), the male contribution overall was disconcertingly negligible.

 

Why?

 

Well… my husband’s argument is that it takes time for a culture to change – although he has been known to employ that excuse a little too often for my liking. I noticed his look of discomfort when I ribbed the group of men (stuck to their chairs around the table) about the blatant lack of equality as I piled their plates together, noisily, in the face of such blatant injustice. ‘You just sit there,’ I said sarcastically. A couple of them had the sense to look away, while the rest happily passed me their plates.

 

This is not unusual, nor as Burkeman points out, is it entirely the fault of the men. While many men are happy to get into the kitchen to cook, the concept of clearing up afterwards needs some further education. His suggestion, that perhaps we women need to step back, (even if men make a pig’s ear out of a simple task), makes sense.  If we don’t, we are guilty of empowering their housework privilege; enabling their ineffectiveness to do simple domestic chores.

 

When I rewash those Bolognese-encrusted fry pans, am I feeding my husband’s genuine belief (I fear) that if he does a job badly enough, he won’t be asked to do it again? Surely, in a modern society where the majority of women work outside of the home as well, these chores should be divided?

 

‘But you do it so much better than me,’ he argues if I ask him to do something out of his comfort zone, such as clean the bathroom. And we all know how much easier it is to cave in when three sets of eye rolls are lobbed in your direction at the suggestion of help to clear the dinner table.

 

I’m fortunate, I suppose, that my husband does such a better job than me at putting the bins out on the street of a Tuesday night.

 

But what are men role-modeling to our sons with their half-assed approach to housework? In a modern world, and one in which we continue to fight for equality, what does it say to our boys when their fathers don’t clear the plates or load the dishwasher? What is the message from mothers to daughters when they assume control in the kitchen?

 

It’s time for a change. No-one’s arguing that it isn’t easier for us to do these chores ourselves. Have you ever watched a man put on a doona cover? Managing household chores avoids arguments, shoddy workmanship and the likelihood of a deadly bacteria cultivating on our bench tops, and yet, that’s not the point. It’s simply not the right thing to do.

 

 

Jacinda Ardern: No One Doubts That You Can Have It All

Jacinda Ardern is the sort of woman for whom I could sacrifice my love of putting the toilet seat down and changing the loo roll on its holder. 

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Although I’ve recently come to the decision that the expression ‘having it all,’ (generally associated with women), puts too much pressure on our gender and inadvertently encourages men to reduce their contributions to domesticity and family life, it is lovely to be proved wrong, and to witness a shining example of a woman who has proved that, perhaps, we can. I should add that I also believe that if ‘having it all’ is being able to have a professional career and a family,  many women do ‘have it all,’ out of their need to survive rather than through choice. However, if ‘having it all’ is also about achieving equanimity in all areas of our life, to include lifestyle and happiness, that is a much harder goal to attain as a woman, without support.

 

I admit that I felt a bit like skipping awkwardly through the mountains like Julie Andrews when I first heard the news of Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy and then witnessed how she presented it to her public and the press, as in, a celebration rather than the apology some might have been expecting.

 

Unfortunately, however, with our closest mountains situated three hours away, I had to make do with the frozen food aisle in Aldi.

 

What I will admit, though, is how nervous that headline made me feel at the same time. Because, in spite of our reputation, we raving feminists can be sensitive as well, and at a time when male feathers have been severely ruffled in matters of equality – leaving many men feeling lost, abandoned, in denial, victimized and confused by what the hell these loose women are accusing them of – I didn’t want the fallout to encourage an attack on Jacinda, who, (the implication at the time), might have actually known she was in the family way at the time of her election.

 

*Makes the sign of the cross.*

 

And as many men are aware, it is a well-known fact that pregnancy is a debilitating sickness that can leave its victims with vegetable brains, and therefore useless to society; that is if we conveniently ignore the fact that of the approximately sixty percent of women that work and get pregnant, will most likely work close to their due date.

 

Those that continue to fight for equality in the workplace have always stipulated that, with the right support network in place, there is no biological reason why women cannot do the same job as men, even when a woman becomes a mother – mainly, because she is one half of a couple and the child has two parents. Therefore, (in an ideal world with no privilege, pay gap, the full payment of child support and more affordable childcare), there should be a choice within most partnerships as to who will become the primary carer to the children.

 

I like to believe that Jacinda may even pick up new skills during those early weeks of motherhood, that could prove useful in her role as PM. She’ll learn how to wake at the sound of a pin dropping and she’ll fall back to sleep with a drop of a hat. In fact, she’ll learn to sleep just about anywhere – and she might have to watch out for that during those arduous parliamentary discussions.

 

Granted, the prime minister of New Zealand is in a more fortunate position than many women. She has a husband happy to take on the role of childcare, along with, (I imagine), a salary not only commensurate with her performance but one that will contribute nicely towards a cleaner, should Clark feel a bit icky at the sight of a dirty toilet.

 

But what I truly love about the way this woman works is her commitment, because even after the dust settled on the public announcement of her pregnancy and her skeptics had ruminated and untwisted their knickers – because there will be  doubters that spout bile about how irresponsible her decision was to have a baby at this point in her career – she hasn’t disappeared into the shadows, shied away from celebrating one of life’s greatest achievements or using her new position as a pregnant PM to leverage her views on sexism in the workplace.

 

Jacinda has proven that we can have it all if we want it. It won’t be easy. But if having a baby is one of the hardest things one can do, I reckon that being prime minister comes pretty close.

 

 

Time to Tear Down Mia Freedman

I needed to write this piece in defense of Mia Freedman of Mamamia, because she has been an inspiration for my own writing. Whatever her detractors accuse her of in connection to the debacle yesterday with Roxane Gay, I refuse to accept that her intentions in her approach to their interview were anything but respectful and professional.

“You don’t have to knock anyone off their game to win yours. It doesn’t build you up to tear others down.” (Mandy Hale)

 

I feel for Mia Freedman since yesterday’s very public condemnation from writer and feminist, Roxane Gay, in which the author accused her of being ‘cruel and humiliating’, appertaining to comments the editor made about her weight. IMG_6039

 

For some time, Mia has always been a target of abuse that she doesn’t always deserve – some might even accuse her of setting herself up for it. When you put yourself in the public eye and work with and for women and women’s rights, you open yourself up to the firing line and some days there will be sunshine and other days, a deluge of rain.

 

To be a good writer, you have to take risks and Mia wouldn’t have reached the echelons of journalism she resides in now without thought-provoking and incendiary commentary. Most of the time, I enjoy, learn from and share her opinions. She has highlighted issues that many women face, both in society and on the homefront. From mental health, work/life/balance and parenting issues to relationship and body image issues, there are very few topics that Mia won’t touch, and I have identified with several of them at different stages of my life. Although I am not naive enough to believe that Mia’s life is similar to mine, I enjoy her quirky style, her honest approach, and her ‘close to the mark’ opinions on sensitive issues.

 

As I dip my own toes into the murky waters of journalism, I can see how hard it is to always get it right and know instinctively the location of “the line”. Sometimes I struggle to find the balance between the truth and the level of hyperbole I want to use to make a story funny or compelling enough to get noticed, even though I know that if I step over the line, to betrayal and disloyalty, a good news story can go bad very quickly.

 

The competitiveness of the media and rivalry among writers, some of whom are prepared to disclose everything, can cast a shadow over that line. And perhaps Mia, with her experience, should have known better. She doesn’t need to write click bait headlines, sell herself, or compromise her integrity at this point in her career, especially when her magazine attracts the interest of high-profile writers of Roxane’s caliber, who Mia has the utmost respect for, clearly.

 

Yesterday, I think Mia made a genuine mistake, but I don’t think her intention was to ‘shame women,’ and she has since acknowledged publically her error in judgment. I believe it is time to stop casting stones in her direction and the predictable loser’s behavior of tearing down those that succeed.

 

Sensationalism will always sell, which is why I realized a while ago that I had nothing more to contribute to Mamamia anymore unless I was prepared to sell my soul. Although I share my family’s story on my blog, it is a censored version, but I know how easy it is to make mistakes when those bright lights first begin to shine; and I have done so many times – fortunately without the ramifications of Mia’s.

 

We all make mistakes – they’re how we learn and grow and they are endemic to human nature. If there is any lesson to learn from here, it is that the only non-fiction story we are free to embellish is our own.

 

Health Anxiety And The Ability To Identify When There IS Something Actually Wrong

Even though I have a massive health anxiety issue and spend most of my day counting the different ways I will contract cancer on Dr. Google, I rarely go to the doctor. 

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The good news about having a potentially broken finger means that I can give the old man the finger whenever he asks me to do anything.

 

 

Because what if I find out there IS actually something wrong with me?

 

There should be a point system that people like me can fill out with pertinent questions such as:

 

Could this disfigure you for life?

Does Dr Google refer to the C word at all?

Can you wipe your bum?

Do your children scream and run away when they see you?

Any sightings of the Grim Reaper or crows yet?

 

That way we could gauge the necessity of a very expensive visit to the doctor and blocking appointments for people that actually require them.

 

“Anxiety” is a crazy mind fuck, particularly when it’s related to your health. It’s the sort of condition that gives you helpful advice such as its OK to drink tons of wine each day because you’re dying anyway. It tells you to ignore surgery because of that one person in Peru that had a pre-existing heart condition and was operated on in a makeshift hospital in the jungle, that didn’t wake up.

 

So I tend to ignore the potentially serious, life-threatening stuff.

 

I had a “work-related” accident a couple of months ago – one that I should have reported in hindsight, because … workplace insurance? – so that inherited “you’ll be fine”, “there’s nothing wrong” attitude – handed down to me by my single, working mother, who never let us miss a day off school unless we needed hospitalization, could prove costly now.

 

The accident happened when I was with a client in her new home and I opened the door of a kitchen wall unit, which fell off its hinges and what felt like the weight of an entire Amazonian forest gravitated towards me. In my desperation, the designer in me put the aesthetic of the newly tiled floor before my own safety and I broke the fall of the door by shielding it, super-heroine-style, with my middle finger.

 

At the time, it wasn’t that painful. I was in shock, I imagine. But pretty quickly my finger swelled to double its size, rather like a penis (if you’re lucky), with this huge lump at the middle joint. While it was swollen – for weeks – I convinced myself it was sprained and that “it would be fine” and in the meantime, I milked my injury for everything it was worth and held up my finger any time the old man asked me to do anything, with a ‘sorry!’

 

I’d heard somewhere that, medically, there’s nothing you can do with broken fingers – if it was broken, (which I assured myself it wasn’t) – and as time passed and the swelling finally began to subside, I tried to ignore the fact that my finger was blatantly bent in the middle and that I still cannot form a fist without reaching for a medicinal glass of wine.

 

So today I am going to see a very expensive hand doctor, who I assume will tell me there’s nothing they can do about my physical dysmorphia and because I am right-handed (and it will affect my livelihood), he will write me out a disabled parking sticker for the Aldi car park, so that I don’t have to sit there for an hour waiting for women to finish their conversations about Masterchef, and more especially because I’m now unable to tap my finger on the steering wheel or beep the car horn in frustration.

 

Obviously, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from this story, which is: never go in the kitchen.

 

 

Food Goals When You Work From Home

One of the main benefits to working from home, aside from the greater job security than that currently offered by the FBI, is the 24hr on-site cafeteria. 

I have instigated Google’s food policy in our house. They don’t allow their employees to be further than 200 feet from food at any time – a strategy that ‘inspires innovative thinking’ they believe, as well as a greater appreciation for food, in my experience. Particularly now, as we enter winter, and I’m cold and beginning to miss the luxuries of the modern office, (and in particular, ducted heating), and have turned to food for comfort.

Without the usual office time-wasting distractions of forming scrums around the coffee machine, bitching in the toilets, sending funny emails about the boss, kicking the photocopier and social media, food has become much more significant in my new working environment – perhaps too significant.

And the best part is there is no judgment.

There’s none of that pressure to take in the grossest, sludgiest green smoothies for breakfast; no need to hide my Nachos under my sprout salad sprinkled with caterpillar semen for lunch, which I then used to top up with Maccas when I was ‘doing the mail’. No, you see I can eat what the fuck I want to in my own home, and if suits my very busy schedule to eat ten smaller (hmmm!) meals per day, I have earned that right.

Even so, I have begun to see the potential pitfalls in this new partnership. The fifteen-pound weight gain (on average) of Google employees over their first year of employment, has been termed the Google 15, hence I haven’t got close to the scales in months. But I ask you, with no-one to have hour-long chitchats in the toilets to discuss current events, (the size of Jon Hamm’s penis, for example), how exactly is a girl supposed to fill the gaps in her concentration?

It has been said that the lack of physical contact with the outside world can be a disadvantage to those who work from home – research that I suspect was reported by someone who has either never worked from home or who actually likes people  – and I now see how that sense of isolation could lead to an eating disorder for the lonely writer. Chocolate chip cookies have been my support through several, highly stressful hours to deadline.

I’m lucky that I have been able to learn from the best when it comes to my WFGs (work food goals), my progress in which he will assess in my annual review. Because there has to be some biological reason that my husband, who also works from home, has to run 7ks a day to maintain his current weight.

He works at the other end of our house – the end with heating, (an issue that is escalating and as such has been added to the next team meeting agenda). His office, which doubles as a nap-pod and reading room – in fact, any room name he can invent to avoid me – is even closer to the evil magnetism of the kitchen and I hear him and his furtive rustlings in the pantry; the tell-tale timeout beeps from the fridge door.

The waft of melting butter on crumpets is all it takes to pull me out of my steely focus on work and straight into the cookie jar, a consistency which is certain to score me a 5 at my review, I hope.

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When You Use Your Age As An Excuse Not To Chase Your Dreams

I went to a workshop on freelance writing on Saturday. Pursuing the dream, seizing the day, there are a number of clichés I could come up with to describe my final charge into a job that I love. adult-1868015_1920

I learned that journalism is not for the faint-hearted these days, with cutbacks and job losses and a sizeable drop in the word rate in recent years. And like many jobs in the arts, you have to be either crazy or passionate to go into it – and there’s probably a very fine line between the two. It’s also bloody hard work, and perhaps not something sane people ‘of a certain age’ should consider when they could be winding down with Ellen each morning.

Fortunately, there appears to be less of an ageist facet to freelance writing than in fiction-writing, where you need to be able to market your work physically as well as write it. Sitting on the stage of a writer’s festival, with knitting in one hand and inhaler in the other, is probably not the promotion a publisher is looking for when they try to sell your erotica novel. So the appeal of the freelance writing gig is that I can be back of house, slouched in front of my computer, clad in jammies, hair unkempt, toes being kept toasty by the dog in winter.

I’m not naive enough to believe that you can be anything you want to be at this, (or indeed), any time of your life. I suspect that it is too late for me to become an Olympic athlete or an astronaut for NASA, but then again, would I ever have really pursued those goals with such a distaste for sports and heights?

There were about fifteen of us wannabe writers in the room – an eclectic, somewhat motley bunch, each with aspirations of making money from doing something we love and at different junctures of our writing career. The full spectrum of ages and personalities was made more evident once we were asked to share an imaginary pitch and those different views, politics, idealisms and sensitivities sliced through the room with as much subtlety as a hot knife through butter. Most writers, I suspect, are opinionated know-it-alls who seek a platform from which their voice can be heard.

At the beginning of the session, our leader took full advantage of her position of power by asking us to introduce ourselves, and flashbacks of being picked on by my English teacher to transpose Shakespeare, flooded my brain.  Funny really – when all of us in that room were confident enough to put ourselves out there; had given up our Saturday to improve ourselves. I watched as each one of us squirmed in our seats as our turn got closer. Writers are not quite as gregarious when it comes to self-proclamation and hubris with the spoken voice.

One thing I have learned over time is not to downgrade myself in these situations. I refuse to apologize for who I am these days, when in the past I would make feeble, self-deprecating jokes or give reasons as to why I shouldn’t really be there – a habit women are far more guilty of than men. Typically, the person who protested too most about her inexperience went on to deliver the best pitch and we all hated her immediately.

Most of the group, however, spoke with humility and passion and openly admitted to the rest of us strangers that they were still chasing the dream, (the unspoken words being), before it’s too late. Many of the younger ones were already in-house journalists and about to set off on travels that they would finance through their freelance work and some were already published authors, branching out in different directions of the writing industry – one they hoped would pay the bills. Several, like me, were scratching the itch.

‘Change’ is exciting and terrifying and in these situations when you have committed yourself to a situation, (and ‘flight’ is still a tempting possibility),  it would be easy to cave in to those ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ fears that mess with your brain. So it’s good to be with like-minded people, with similar goals; to be reminded that you’re not alone.

There are millions of us still searching for ideas and answers for ways to improve ourselves, and I know that I’m lucky to have this opportunity. There will be days when it is impossible to eradicate doubt from my mind, and in the same way that those progress prizes at school marked me as being not quite good enough, the old fear taunts me that I will always be known as Louisa The Trier, in Viking terms. But that’s okay.

I’ve stalled several times over the last few years in relation to taking this step, so I wasn’t surprised when ‘you’re too old for this’ rang in my ears as I walked into that meeting room on Saturday, pretending to feel confident. Youth and beauty are equated with success in our society and once you get past fifty, it is easy to disappear ‘over the hill’ unless you fight. 

It turns out that I wasn’t the dinosaur.

It’s time to change that internal rhetoric.

Change, Anxiety and Crazy AF Dreams

There are some exciting changes coming up in my life in the near future. Or at least I’m pretending to myself that they are wildly exciting even though inside my organs feel as though they’re dissolving in acid, something that happens each time I go through such changes and my anxiety goes into overdrive. The other byproduct of such an assault on all my senses is that I have crazy AF dreams about what can go wrong. halloween-997596_1920 (1)

 

These current changes involve my career, and if the dream I had last night is anything to go by, I’m not completely comfortable with them.

 

Last night’s dream involved my opening of a home and giftware shop (a long-term aspiration) where all the product is white. Logically, I named the shop ‘White’.

 

The best part of the dream was I can remember the tingle of anticipation I felt at the prospect of a whole shop full to the brim of calming neutrality because if I had the choice, absolutely everything in my house would be white…that is until the complication of real life intrudes such as children and dogs and men who can’t eat without getting food on the sofa. I’ve never quite understood how such schemes work outside of Home and Garden magazines unless you make a religious commitment to “Vanish”.

 

Evidently, there’s a little OCD thrown into my own particular brand of madness.

 

Anyway, as I was signing my first orders for ‘White’ branded tee-shirts and white fluffy cushions, I got a call from the police to say that I had to close the shop because its name was not politically correct and there had been complaints from the locals. They castigated me for overtly demonstrating my privilege in the neighborhood and as a result imposed sanctions on my potential customer base from buying from my dream store.

 

The dream was intense. Not as terrifying as those ones where you fall off cliffs or are being chased, but I remember one moment distinctly where I was looking at my beautiful new business cards, weeping onto their perfect white gloss card with its perfect black font and wondering if I could change the brand name to ‘Black and white’.

 

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many black schemes in beach-style, Hamptons homes.

 

Next was the stress of actually choosing the product. One of my intentions, when I chose my white theme, was to keep it simple, because something I have worked out with maturity is that simplicity is core to my mental stability, hence survival. The problem then was that I couldn’t decide whether I was allowed to veer off-piste and include all of those different shades of white that Dulux has invented – because then, I worried, my brand might not be authentic to its racist origins.

 

The final stress of this journey to the fulfillment of my dream career came about when I gave a customer’s child a white chocolate jelly bean at the front desk and they had an allergic reaction, entitling the mother to accuse me, very publicly, of being both a bad retailer and bad parent.

 

This is anxiety, folks. It’s how your stupid brain can turn even your dreams into nightmares.

I’m Learning About ‘Privilege’

‘Privilege’ is a word that crops up increasingly in conversation at the moment – as it should – to make every one of us question our attitudes towards different races and genders. woman-1302674_1280

 

As a middle-aged woman with some free time now that the kids are older, I have noticed a reignited hunger and enthusiasm for learning to understand what the world holds for my young adults entering into it and the generations of our family in the future. I’m becoming more aware about the different kinds of ‘privilege’, in particular those that have been staring us in the face for centuries – that of ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’.

 

I learned more about these when I went to the launch of Clementine Ford’s book ‘Fight Like A Girl’ in Sydney last week.

 

Sometimes when I try to convey my personal feelings about inequality, whether it’s with friends or here in this blog, internally that little voice in my head tells me that I don’t really have the right or enough knowledge to speak about this important topic that divides nations. I was never an activist for feminism in my youth and when I read articles by leading feminists that are so much more intelligently written and researched than the meagre offerings I put out, I feel like a novice. Yet everyone has their right to their own opinion, everyone has a voice, and we should use it in whatever forum we have if we are to progress and make any change in our society.

 

I suspect that if I mentioned the term ‘male privilege’ in one of the heated discussions about feminism that I have monthly with my dad on Skype, he’d laugh in my face, in the same way that he does when I talk about the pay gap and climate change. I’m not making excuses for him, but there is a distinct generational gap of understanding when it comes to equality, I believe, and interestingly his opinions don’t necessarily anger me – he’s entitled to them – it’s the fact that he won’t listen to my perspective that irks me.

 

Perhaps because he’s male.

 

I’m sure that Clementine would disagree, but I can’t draw up a huge list of times where I’ve been the victim of male privilege, either on a personal level or in the work place. I’ve been fortunate to have been given the same education opportunities and I don’t believe that I have ever lost a role due to my gender or colour, so I am undoubtedly the perfect example of ‘white privilege’.

 

Perhaps my bolshy nature has helped because I’m no pushover and I’ve always voiced my opinions loudly, so although I can admit to being witness to sexist and racist remarks that I since regret not jumping on immediately, and I’ve equally suffered at the hands of the occasional, ageing male predator, I’ve made sure that my circle of friends and my partners have inherently feminist ideals, even if they choose to be more ‘silent’ than I’d like.

 

Certain among them have required some extra coaching – not mentioning any names.

 

There was one situation in my late teens when I was hitchhiking through France and the initial delight that a Mercedes had stopped to pick me up quickly turned to fear when the driver’s hand found my knee and I was forced to bolt at the next petrol station.

 

Inevitably, more and more stories about male dominance are currently bombarding the media due to the catalyst of Trump’s march, nay limp, towards the Whitehouse – thwarted recently (*praying*) by the exposure of the level of his abuse of women, (and it seems to me), general misogyny.

 

How any nation could consider putting such a man in power when girls and women around the globe continue to be kidnapped, raped, tortured, married off and made pregnant when still children – often for political gain – or silenced and abused in the workplace, I have no idea.

 

Yet in spite of these daily events and stories of male dominance, (that even the most ardent anti-feminist can surely not remain immune to), astoundingly there remains an underbelly of male supremacy that continues to try to curb whatever progress women at the coalface of the feminist movement, such as our own Clementine Ford and Germaine Greer, or politicians such as Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton try to make. And they employ brazenly vitriolic bullying tactics and threats.

 

The state of Victoria is about to introduce a new program to public schools to educate children about ‘male privilege’, not to ‘man-bash’, but in an attempt to get to the root of where this concept of male dominance comes from and to reduce the number of female deaths at the hands of domestic violence, before this privilege spreads like a cancer into the developing brain cells of the next generation of young men.

 

Of course the program already has its skeptics, who have accused its creators of brainwashing our children into a campaign of ‘man-hating’ – yawn – the atypical reaction to feminism in spite of statistics that prove that many of us man-haters continue to put up with them, and some of us even like and marry the fuckers.

How The Conversation Changes With Middle Age

My pet peeve, aside from slow swimmers and water waders hogging up the fast lane at my local pool, is when I go to a dinner party and no-one asks me about my job… or indeed anything about me. restaurant-690975_1280

 

This has happened throughout my adulthood, since the very first time I was invited to my first grown-up lasagne and garlic bread dinner party back in the eighties.

 

The old man was always asked.

 

Its not that I’m self-obsessed, (well, perhaps a little), or do anything that is spectacularly interesting – although my job, I would argue, is far more appealing than the old man’s profession as a *yawn* accountant prior to his fall to middle-aged layabout, it’s the assumption that either: I don’t work, hence have nothing to offer conversationally unless it’s about my children or my organic veggie patch; that my career is not interesting enough to warrant attention; or that women’s chit chat is less valuable than that of the opposite sex. ie. a gender thing that if men get close to could give them a world of regret.

 

Don’t panic, it’s a little too soon since my last post (here) to climb back onto the feminist soapbox again, but why do I always feel like I have to initiate conversation and pose the questions the keep the conversation going?

 

When will someone ask me about anything other than my children?

 

What, apart from sport and a few comments about the state of the stock market and the horror that is Trump, do men talk about? Nothing wildly interesting in my experience.

 

The majority of them refuse to even pretend to have opinions on the sort of stuff they believe women are interested in, which is fair enough. Dare to mention fashion, cosmetics or interiors, and watch their eyes glaze over. But women can contribute to conversations about politics, honest! We do have the vote now, and some of us even have opinions; if push comes to shove I can even bluff my way through a five minute review of the Olympics or some recent golf tournament without sending myself to sleep.

 

So what other common ground is there for conversation between men and women once they reach middle age? Unsurprisingly, retirement and health are popular topics. Then there’s the question of how much longer we will have to work, what we’re going to do once we retire, where we can afford to downsize and how much longer we can stand working for our bosses? Because it becomes very difficult to work for anyone once you become a know-it-all – a character trait many among us in this age group share.

 

Then there’s the age-old question of when the kids are going to finally fuck off, I mean …become self-sufficient enough to leave home so that we can actually consider retirement? Our own parents health? Whether our knees can withstand another ski season and where our future holidays will be? The general consensus being closer to home because even though we all expected to travel the world once we retired, many of us have become a tad anxious about flying, and then there’s the whole leg-room issue.

 

Compare this to what we we used to talk about in our twenties and thirties, when we’d brag about our drinking prowess, whereas now we moan about how much our tolerance to alcohol has slipped and how much drinking so much water affects our bladders at night. We’d recount stories such as the one about how much we drank that night we got so pissed we ended up playing dead in the middle of the motorway while we waited for the petrol station to open to get some fags.We discussed work and who was banging who in the office, which band was playing where and where the cool new shops and hip new restaurants had opened.

 

The problem is, we don’t have the energy to do much more than watch Netflix series these days after a day at work, we’re too fat for cool clothes, far too comfortable on the sofa and we can’t eat out much due to bloating, anyway.

 

Remember how we used to get excited about where we’d be in twenty years?

 

Hey, wasn’t that because we were supposed to be retired now?

 

And how we’d talk about what we’d name our children – although I’m sure ‘critter’ and ‘waste of space’ didn’t cross our minds back then.

 

I suppose we don’t talk about our career aspirations anymore because we have the wisdom to know now that they don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, because in reality many of us are working to live now whilst fervently praying that some day we’ll discover the secret to get out of the rat race early.

 

But then that involves the kids leaving home, doesn’t it?

 

And so we pour ourselves another glass of sparkling water and get back to joint pain.

 

 

 

Concessions for Women

Hats off to Fu Yuanhui, the twenty-year old swimmer, for mentioning the P word at the Olympics. And I’m not talking about the P in Phelps.angry-1429013_1280

 

When asked how she felt after her race, she responded with:

 

“My period came last night and I’m really tired right now … but this isn’t an excuse, I still did not swim as well as I should have.”

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be that honest in the workplace and our colleagues were mature enough to demonstrate some empathy rather than smirking patronisation?

 

No, menstruation is not an excuse for poor performance and women don’t expect it to be, but perhaps it should be? Other athletes concede matches due to injury such as inflamed joints or muscle strain. Picture the pats on the back when a guy comes into the office with his arm in a sling because he sprained his wrist playing rugby; then imagine the reaction in the photocopying room if a woman suddenly bent down in agony from excruciating period pain.

 

Why is there this expectation that women have to be stronger and tougher to be equal ie. Superwomen? They suffer through menstruation, giving birth and breastfeeding while working and are still not considered as good as their male counterparts.

 

I read a very funny article recently about the true, nitty-gritty symptoms of menopause – the bits we don’t talk about. ‘Clots the size of tennis balls’ is one of the descriptions that stuck in my brain – cue exit of all my male readers – and it made me laugh out loud, because every one of us has at least one horror story about birth and embarrassing period accidents.

 

So, even though I’m usually quite vocal about my demand for equal rights, it did cross my mind when I read that piece that too right! women should be given some concessions in the workplace for all the hormonal shit we have to put up with at the same time as doing our jobs. But we’re not. We’re expected to forge through it, which means that sometimes our life feels like our own Olympic competition to to see if we’re good enough to do ‘a man’s job’; as if what they do is what we need to aspire to.

 

Even though we push their babies out of our bodies.

 

At the same time we’re fighting the stereotype of women being complainers and moaners, so to counter balance that accusation most of us try to make as little fuss as possible in the workplace, even though no man has ever had to give a presentation while worrying about leaking from either boobs or vagina or being over-tired because they couldn’t sleep through period pain or the crying of a newborn the night before.

 

*Steps down from soapbox*

 

2016 Will Be About Me

I’ve decided that New Year’s resolutions are just so 2015.

 

Ambition Key Means Aim Or Goal
Ambition Key On Keyboard Meaning Target Aim Or Goal

Have you noticed how women often link theirs to self-improvement rather than ambition? How we focus on the stuff we don’t do well?

 

Probably because we are continually reminded that we are not perfect.

 

And I’m the worst offender. The resolutions of my past have always reeked of what I can only describe as pathetic girliness; and I’m a feminist. They’ve been centred around how I can become a better mother, a better wife or how I can shape and improve myself mentally and physically into something I’m frankly never going to be.

 

They’re not true-to-myself, badass, ego-fuelled, man goals.

 

The majority of men don’t see the need to self-improve, which is why we continually have to remind them. They don’t settle for wishy-washy, politically correct personal goals for the sake of popularity and fitting in. Men put themselves first. They are aware of their strengths. When they go into a work review, they always ask for a raise. Most women don’t ask for a rise; they wait for it to come to them and they can wait a long time.

 

I’m not going to be that woman this year.

 

This year I’m going to take the old man’s lead and be proactive about me. I’m going to focus on selfish goals instead of putting myself last place in the family and career hierarchy, and I will force myself to eat kale patties as punishment if I ever hear myself apologising or marginalising my value or opinion again.

 

Because in the words of L’Oreal, ‘I’m worth it.’

 

We’re all worth it, ladies. We just need to make sure everyone else gets that. And I don’t need to set my goals down in stone because I am the only judge of any importance. These ideas that I have for this year have been exploding in my brain for a while now, desperate to be implemented; yet so easily thwarted by excuses when you’re a professional procrastinator like me. They are ambitious and tangible personal achievements that are unrelated to those defects of my personality or genetics that I have blamed for my failures in the past, yet can’t change.

 

I’ve wasted too much of my life focusing on what I can’t do and what I haven’t got, but this year will be about focusing on my strengths. 2016 is about not compromising myself anymore, not defining myself by what others expect of me, nor allowing my innate lack of confidence to sap at my powers.

 

This year will be about discipline, focus, taking those risks that I’ve benched for too long and seizing the fucking day.

 

I’m gonna be a BITCH this year. This will be the year where I nail every fucking goal and then some that I haven’t even thought of yet.

 

‘Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!’ (Coach Taylor)

 

And I will start right now by going back to bed for my first strategy session.

Man-Bashing Won’t Fight Our Cause

Since I’ve engaged myself more proactively in feminism, my involvement has opened my eyes not only to where women sit in society today, but also where men fit in.

 


Embed from Getty Images

 

As Max Olesker wrote in his article in the Guardian on Sunday – How To Be A Man In 2015 – the world that men now inhabit has seen some radical changes for them, too.

 

I am a relatively new feminist. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in equality before, but like a lot of young women, for a long time I made the assumption that someone else would fight for it for me. I was what you would call a ‘silent’ feminist.

 

My voice is a little louder these days.

 

But I wouldn’t call myself an extreme or staunch feminist. I like men and I am not anti what they represent – in fact I like the differences between the sexes. Just as you can’t brandish all sharks as man eaters, I believe that you can’t label all men as sexists or sexually exploitative.

 

My husband is a belated feminist. Fortunately, as a result of his work with women, he has achieved an understanding of and an appreciation for them through experience. He has also been berated for any questionable judgment calls about women on the home front when either myself or my twenty-something daughter catch him.

 

Our seventeen-year old son is a work in progress.

 

Feminism is a complex subject area and one that provokes a lot of passion. And although I do not defend man’s tortoise-speed progress to come to the table of equality, I am aware that education and change don’t happen overnight. Ill-formed ideologies about women, that have been entrenched in men since time immemorial, alas, cannot be shaken off as quickly as we women would like.

 

And men are entitled to a period of adjustment, except in the case of violence towards women. But man-bashing won’t fight our cause.

 

We are seeking mutual respect; therefore women need to demonstrate that respect, too.

English: "Mind the Gap" goes feminist.
English: “Mind the Gap” goes feminist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We need to educate, not war.

 

Understandably, some men, who already consider themselves feminists are confused by the animosity of certain groups of women towards them – it’s not that they’re confused about equality, but by the accusatory attitude that all men are made of the same stuff. What is equally confusing is that not all women share the same ideals of how equality should look.

 

Because women are all different; just as men are.

 

Men don’t have to grow long beards, sport man buns and eat kale to be acknowledged as modern feminists, but many men are now afraid to commit any man-focused crime.

 

What goes on in their heads and hearts is what women really care about.

 

I think a lot of modern, educated men are feeling victimized, downtrodden and threatened by this new wave of feminism and there could be a backlash if women keep pounding at them. Many feel that women expect them to shed their masculinity completely.

 

Which is not what we expect at all.

 

Men and women can be different without having to be at war. Read ‘Men Are From Mars…’ or watch the polar-opposite antics of the two genders in I’m A Celebrity… – and celebrate those differences. They’re not ALL bad…(frustrating sometimes)…but not all bad.

 

Imagine if men and women were paid equal wages and shown equal respect from society, then both sexes would have an equal choice in how to live their lives. The woman who decides to pursue her career after giving birth would be able to: the man who wants to become a nail artist could do so, too. Couples would be able to make decisions about their careers and childcare based on their skills, passions and ambition; rather than salary.

 

Not all men exploit or abuse women. Not every man whistles or shouts obscenities at women in the street. The majority of men don’t beat up their wives, use their physical superiority to intimidate them or innately feel that women should feel grateful for what society has given them.

 

Sure, harmful and archaically sexist attitudes do still exist but they will die out as each new generation is born and educated and society progresses with equal opportunities. More and more women are working and there is the potential for even more in the workplace if governments would address the cost of childcare and workplace inequalities.

 

Which is progress. So perhaps we should refrain from griping and taking a pop at ALL men about gender traits or ‘mantisocial’ behavior, which don’t truly affect our goals and ultimately are just ‘different’ to ours. We want men on side, working WITH us, so we can unite our energies towards the issues about equality that will really make a difference to women – NOW.

 

Bullying tactics never worked. Let’s leave name-calling in the playground.

 

Most educated men are with us. They already see the benefits of having women in the workplace and not living in a man’s world, but if they feel threatened by a woman’s world, they could run straight back to the cave.