Sunday, December 30, 2007

Couch Blogging: The Year That Was

Lucy Pig Puppet has done an end of year meme a couple of years in a row now where she posts the first sentence of the first post for each month throughout the year from her blog. Since I'm in chaise longue mode and not really up for creating a proper post (and my ability to download photos from my mobile phone has once again been thwarted), I thought I'd give it a go:

My household appliances have horned in on the spirit-of-the-end-of-year-season action by taking the moment to collectively give up the ghost.

A week or two following the screening of Pickles, SBS showed Veiled Ambition which introduced us to Frida, an Australian-Lebanese Muslim woman, who was intent on cornering the retail market in formal wear for women.

Here's a photo my brother took while he was visiting over Christmas.

So, I finally presented the real estate agent with three Form 11s, also known as a Notice to Remedy Breach, because, really, how long is one expected to go without a properly functioning stove, a key to the laundry door, and a recycling bin?

Today was the first time this Autumn that I’ve felt the slightest nip of cold in the air. It was more of a challenge than ever to stick to the four minute shower regimen.

There are some days when you would be well-advised to simply accept the warning signs that present themselves to you at the beginning of the day and just stay in bed.

I’ve been watching Nerds FC.

While looking through next week’s TV Week I noticed that SBS will be screening a film I’ve just seen at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF).

Every now and then you get the opportunity to see your city through another person’s eyes.

I seem to have misplaced the cord that connects my mobile phone to my computer in the event that I want to download any of the photos I randomly snap as I go about my days.

I first had the thought to do this segue series as I was finishing the ‘Immobile’ post.

I'm back in Brisbane after my two week holiday in Melbourne.

It's astonishing how representative this exercise is. If you'd never read another post on this blog you'd be reasonably informed about my life and obsessions this year: domestic upheaval in Brisbane, mobile phones and television--especially SBS it seems, all topped off with a dash of self-loathing and a sprinkle of a Melbourne holiday. Well at least this format created a happy ending, which seems as good a way as any to end 2007 and begin 2008.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dear Intertubes

I admire people who manage to resist posting about the people in their lives . Not so much when there are nice things to say, although perhaps such things need to be said publicly and more often, but in those cases when there are terrible things to say, when the relationship between the blogger and the family member, friend, acquaintance, colleague or flatmate has reached such negative proportions that the blogger is bursting with the injustice of it.

I admire restraint in such circumstances because I am not capable of it. I am far less restrained--as many of you will already have observed--to the extent where I feel messy and excessive. Perhaps this sense of being faulty in my judgement about these matters, leaky, embarrassing and not properly contained, accounts for my undergraduate fascination with Julia Kristeva's concept of the abject? I am not the 'machine' that a former colleague once informed me was an appropriate description--not even a metaphor--of the human body, and 'mechanical' or 'mechanised' is certainly not an appropriate characterisation of the gush of emotion that bursts forth when I am upset.

So, all of this is a prelude to yet another post that I know is likely inappropriate, but where any sense of appropriateness in regard to speaking about someone from my off-line world is superseded by the enormity, the impact of the events that have recently taken place. Again there is some part of me that wonders whether I am so thoroughly interpellated into the discourse of the confessional that telling of these incidents feels like the only recourse amidst a very real experience of disempowerment: through this lens my indiscretions are brave rather than foolish, I am speaking a truth rather than indulging in potentially defamatory gossip.

I have just had to move again. You might recall that I moved only 7-8 weeks ago from somewhere I had lived for 11 years. I was hopeful about my decision to share with someone for the first time in 13 years. I knew it would present a challenge, but one born simply of having not had to share for so long. I was confident that I was house trained, that my natural tendency towards the ways of the pig-sloth could be curtailed, that I would be suitably accommodating of another person's habits and ways.

The town house I moved into 7 weeks ago was wonderful. I blogged about it here, showing you a picture of the view from my laptop as I sat on the small patio outside my room. There was a small garden and cable internet connection, I had my own bathroom with a bath to soak in. In contrast to the place I had left, there was a big kitchen with plenty of bench and cupboard space. It was such a well designed town house--well except for the bizarre absence of a clothesline and the even stranger body corporate edict that one could not be installed.

What I didn't tell you in that post, however, was that I was experiencing already twinges of doubt about my new flatmate.

What can I tell you? It was too early to admit even to myself that I might have made a mistake. I did have to leave the place I'd lived in for 11 years because it was bad for my health, not simply because of the lack of maintenance undertaken by the landlord and agent, but due to its position on the edge of a major bypass and the noisy and drunken nocturnal habits of my neighbours and visitors to the sports venue precinct nearby. So, I don't regret moving from my old place, but as soon as I began to move into the new place there were clues that perhaps this new arrangement wouldn't work either.

I had hired removalists, a firm that includes an insurance clause in their agreements to cover any damage they might cause to property and belongings in the unlikely event of an accident. Even with this reassurance, my new flatmate wouldn't let the removalists take a large bookshelf and chaise lounge into the upstairs area. She asked that they leave them on the verandah and that she and I would move them in later. The flatmate cited a bad experience when she moved from her former abode two weeks earlier: the removalists she had hired had scraped a wall taking what she described as 'a chunk' out of it. (It should be noted that the 'chunk' became a 'barely visible scratch' when she was charged the extraordinary amount of $200 by her former agent for the damages incurred). Given that incident, I could understand her worry, but tried to reiterate that my removalists were insured and that since they were professional removalists and I was not, then they were likely to be more able than I in moving the unwieldy pieces of furniture into place. She did not accept my reasoning and, while I thought it was strange, I didn't press the point.

The next inkling that I got that all might not be well was when I began moving things into the kitchen. I had told her that I liked cooking and that I had a fairly well equipped kitchen. I was lead to believe that she had 'everything', so I was prepared for my things to go into storage. It turns out that from the perspective of someone who enjoys cooking as much as I do, she had far from 'everything'. This disparity didn't seem so bad, surely she would be pleased that I had brought a sharp knife set with me that she could now use instead of the small broken (blade swinging) knife that she had been using?

It was not the case. She was very clear, if not necessarily in words, that my crockery and appliances were an infringement on her kitchen. When, in an attempt to keep the number of my saucepans to a minimum, I used one of hers, she asked me to retrieve one of my own of around the same size, for my use. I brought my saucepan out of a box and into the kitchen, whereupon she declared that it was too big and couldn't possible go into the kitchen. I was puzzled. I said that it was exactly the same size as hers, merely that it had a steam insert. I asked her if she felt that I was taking up too much room in the kitchen, because she seemed to be reacting negativley to my belongings, constantly rearranging them when I wasn't there. I got a bit teary, at which point she snapped 'You're over reacting! I've got more important things to worry about! I'd never have brought it up if I'd known you were going to react like this!' Suffice to say, I think it's important to make time to negotiate boundaries in a shared living situation and there's nothing worse than being told that your boundaries are not worth any consideration. I was pissed off, but really tried to remain calm, reasoning that this was part of sharing with someone.

As well, from the beginning the contents of my kitchen seemed to offend her. She expressed distaste over the amount of food I had. She said that my grocery bills must be enormous. I said 'Not really. It's all condiments that I don't buy every week.' I appreciate that 5 different kinds of oil and 6 different types of vinegar probably does seem excessive to someone who isn't aware of the different uses of Chinese black vinegar, red and white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar and tarragon infusedvinegar, but her expression of disgust made me feel very uncomfortable. In the end I thought she did have a kind of eating disorder--she embraced anaemia--that adversely affected her moods, and was compounded by excessive exercising--she walked manically for about four hours per day in addition to walking to and from work.

I can't condemn someone for having an eating disorder or any other mental health illness or disorder, but this flatmate's behaviour was so unreasonable, intrusive and controlling that I was driven to scream and cry and rage at her, just to convey my point of view which otherwise didn't seem to penetrate her consciousness. Even that embarrassing behaviour on my part didn't shift her from her absorption in her own view of the world. It merely served as evidence that I was 'aggressive'.

The occasion of my unseemly outburst was on the eve of my holiday to Melbourne. I had come home to find her moving my washing, hung on a fold-up wash stand, from the front downstairs patio to the back one near my room. Immediately, the flatmate started to say that she was moving it for my benefit because in order to get to the front patio I'd had to squeeze past the bed in the spare room. She was right, it was tiresome to do this, but that isn't what was going through my mind at that point. I had noted that in order for her to shift my washing to the patio off my room she would have had to use the key to undo the deadlock to the back door. This is a key which also fitted the deadlock on the front door, a key which she had said she hadn't been able to get to work, as a way of explaining why she wouldn't lock the house up when she left it. I said to her, 'You do have a key to the front door that works?'. To which she said she had just been able to figure out how it worked. I noted that she had used it before to unlock the downstairs door, since I had been sure I had locked it on previous occasions and come home to find it unlocked. She denied this and soon the snapped accusations began. They were about the washing at first, something that I didn't really care about in the face of the greater issue of her ongoing refusal to lock the house and close the glass doors and windows when we were out, and now the revelation that she had effectively lied to me about the keys.

She explained to me that she had a phobia about dying in a house fire. Now I wasn't talking about locking doors and windows while we were in the house, just when we were both out for the day. I guess that's the thing about phobias, they aren't logical. I had even had a key cut for her, a red one, so that she could locate it on her keyring easily, because she told me of how she had once come home after I had gone out and locked the house and had become 'hysterical' because she couldn't figure out the front door keys. She'd had to enter the house using the electronic remote to the garage. In spite of my efforts and attempts to urge her to take the time to familiarise herself with the keys and become confident using them, she resisted my attempts to negotiate, including my expression of concern about the safety of my DVD and CD collections.

She also denied lying about the keys. She said she was a truthful, loyal, sensitive person. All of this was in response to my cry that I didn't know if I had made the worst mistake of my life moving in with her. In the heat of the moment, I expressed my sister's misgivings about her. V had picked up on my flatemate's manic energy, her obsessive neatness, and her sense of propriety over the placing of my belongings from the very beginning. V had wondered 'How's Kirsty going to cope with this person?' My flatmate was more worried that someone had made a negative judgement about her than the issue at hand: household security. She said, 'Your sister's wrong!'

My flatmate wasn't truthful. She didn't lie exactly, but she was very manipulative with the telling and retelling of versions of events. For example, while I was moving out, she regaled my friend, whom I had asked to accompany me to run interference, with glowing reports about homestay students as a way to help pay the rent. Whereas to me she had reported the inconvenience and unreliability of homestay students: it was like having a second job, you had to cook and clean for them, take them on excursions and so on. They also tended to move out after six weeks to live with friends they had made since they'd been in the country. Yes, I should've listened more carefully to what she was telling me. The timetable is consistent, four weeks of being scolded and cajoled like an incompetent child and two weeks to find alternative accommodation and move.

'Loyal' is one way, I suppose, of describing someone who seeks to probe and control every area of your life: I came back from my holiday in Melbourne to discover she had moved and rearranged everything I had in the kitchen. She had done the same with boxes of items that were in storage in the garage. She had gone into my room and turned my DVR and television off at the wall, thereby cancelling the recording programme I had set in my absence. I'm a television scholar, damnit! And then attempted to cover up her trespass by turning it on again before I returned. I could tell because the display is different when it is turned on at the wall or if it is in stand-by mode between recordings.

I had battled with her over using the dishwasher. I would often put crockery in it, only to come home and find she had taken it out and washed it up. I said that I would like to use the dishwasher. She said that we could only use it when there were enough dishes to fill it up. I said there wouldn't ever be enough dishes in it if she kept taking them out, and I asked her when she could envision that I could use it. She said when I cooked and used saucepans etc. I said that still wouldn't generate enough dishes in any one meal to fill the dishwasher, wouldn't it be better to fill it over a period of time, a couple of days at most? She said that it would take a long time. She said now that we were on level 6 water restrictions we had to be conscientious. I contended that using the dishwasher on an economy cycle every two or three days was more water efficient than filling a sink of water four times a day. She would not budge. She continued to 'wash' my dishes. I used scare quotes there, because she never washed them properly, certainly not the way a dishwasher could. One of our last discussions before we decided to part ways was on an occasion when I put the dishwasher on before I left for work one day. She leapt out of her chair at her laptop and turned the dishwasher off immediately. She said most people put the dishwasher on at night. I said that it was full and I needed the dishes for when I came home. She contended that it wasn't full, even though it had three days worth of dishes in it. She lectured me again about water restrictions as if I was a backward child who hadn't started using a 4 minute shower timer long before they were delivered to our doorsteps. Then she said if I needed the dishes I should wash them up.

*Imagine a tirade of expletives here*

I have so many stories like this, gathered in only a few weeks. In the end I couldn't bring myself to even look at her, never mind speak to her. She seemed genuinely puzzled by this, which genuinely puzzles me. I couldn't behave the way she has towards someone unless I despised them. She had always maintained that she liked me and cared for me. Well that was more than a bit creepy since we hadn't known each other long enough to develop any kind of friendship, never mind affection. Still, if she was genuine in her own mind about her sentiments then I don't understand why she would feel the need to contest everything-- EVERYTHING: from the washing powder I bought, to the way I walked to the grocery store, and which grocery store I went to; from which uni I went to on which day ,to whether I worked on my thesis or did paid research work for which she wanted me to recommend her to those for whom I worked (snowflake--hell). Of course there is no logic to any of this except perhaps to note that for her caring seemed to be synonymous with controlling.

Anyway, if you've managed it, thanks for reading this far. As for whether this has been a foolish or a brave post, I'll leave that judgement up to you, but personally I'll be taking my cue from dogpossum who has said to me in our offline conversations that this is the kind of thing people want to read in blogs.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Is Borders stalking me? In view of my last two posts, what do you think?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Post-Holiday Blogging: Book Meme

I'm back in Brisbane after my two week holiday in Melbourne. I thought I'd get a chance to do a bit more blogging during the second week and so make 'Holiday Blogging' a two-part post, but things didn't conspire that way--there were too many cakes to be eaten and too many art galleries to visit--so I've had to resort to 'Post-Holiday Blogging' for the remainder of the book meme.

A point of interest you might like to note is that between this post and the previous one, I've had the pleasure of meeting Oanh, who tagged me with this meme, IRL . There was a small window of opportunity for us to get together after I returned from Melbourne and before Oanh left Brisbane, went to the Gold Coast and returned to the UK. We arranged our meeting via the chat function on Scrabulous--as all the cool kids are doing these days--and miraculously we managed to find one another, in spite of my suggestion to meet at a cafe that was closed on Mondays. Luckily Oanh knows West End a lot better than I do, so we easily found another place to sit and acquaint ourselves.

We talked of many things, and of course, one of those was our respective reading groups. I think book clubs all around the world are a front for various other activities--not quite in the subversive tradition of the quilting circle--but still it functions as a reminder to get together with friends and talk outside of the rush of everyday activities.

In a roundabout way that brings me back to the remainder of the book meme:

4.The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be…

Oh, so difficult. Jeanette Winterson would be good to have lunch with because the food would be good and organic, and while I haven't read much of her in recent years, I would swat up before we met purely on the basis of her first 4 or 5 novels.

If the food at the lunch was the primary purpose for meeting at that time of day--and clearly for me it is--I rather think I'd like to sit down with Maggie Beer to drink champagne and eat quinces, artichokes and kangaroo, all the while talking about cooking and eating.

I'd rather like to meet the television writer Tom Fontana. He's responsible for Homicide, Life on the Streets and Oz. Homicide is one of my all time favourite television programmes.

5.If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except for the SAS survival guide, it would be…

This might be the only way I'll ever finish Don Quixote so I'd take that.

6.I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…

I think I'd just like a ribbon in every book. A built in book mark so bent pages are a thing of the past.

On that note, one thing that always annoys me when I borrow books from University libraries is the way people feel no compunction about desecrating communal books with tawdry fluorescent highlighter pens. So arrogant to assume that your notation of the important passages of a book will be the definitive interpretation of the book in question. Or perhaps just completely self-centred. So, for me a welcome bookish gadget would be something that rendered highlighting with fluorescent pens either impermanent, removable or impossible. On the last, the delivery of a short, sharp shock to any wielder of a fluorescent highlighter would be a welcome first step.

7.The smell of an old book reminds me of…

I don't like the smell of old books. It's the thing that puts me off Lifeline book sales. Yellowing, curling, lice-infested Penguins, endlessly recycled by unappreciative school students, who nevertheless insist on inscribing their names and form classes in misshapen Texta letters on the title pages of The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Harp in the South...

8.If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be…

I always wanted to be Pippi Longstocking, she seemed to have a rather excellent life wearing crazy outfits and looking through a telescope out to the ocean.

9.The most overestimated book of all time is…

I want to say On the Road, but I didn't get past the first few pages of it, reading it as I did with a feminist sensibility well after the use-by date of its Beat movement-libertarian moment. I think if I'm really going to condemn a book then I should have read it, so from the same cultural moment as On the Road, I'll nominate One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for its romantic view of America's indigenous people in the figure of the Chief, its alignment of women with civilization and oppression in the figure of Nurse Ratchett, and its glorification of same old, same old, white male individualism.

10. I hate it when a book…

Hmm, what could a book do that would evoke a feeling of hatred within me? I'm stuck. Perhaps I'll poach from above: ...has fluorescent highlighter all over it!

I can't quite remember how many people I'm supposed to tag with this meme. I might just tag Ariel, since she expressed an interest in the meme via the comments on the first installment. The usual open invitation applies to anyone who's similarly interested.