A Lot to Think About

I saw a specialist this week in Melbourne, for something that has been a long time coming. I’m going to be deliberately mysterious on what exactly this whole thing was about, except to say that it is something that has affected me for a long time, will last forever, and will be entering a crucial phase in the next few years. The doctor was a particularly awesome person that, coincidentally, I might run into at writing festivals in the future. But the news she had for me was not the best.

Related, but I love the Father of the Bride movie. I even love its ridiculous sequel too. It’s so comforting to watch those films and think about how perfect Annie’s life is, how she’s so used to everything going perfectly that it turns her world upside down to receive a blender as a gift. Before the age of 25, she studies abroad in Europe, falls in love and has a $100K+ wedding, has a baby, gets her dream job and eventually has really enviable hair. I’m sure for some people, the whole movie would make you want to scream at her to check her privilege, but for me, it’s just kind of like… happy escapism. It would be super if things in my life could all run so smoothly, but the appointment confirmed that a rather big area of my life is going to be a gigantic scary struggle.

Shakespeare (or rather, Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) said “the course of true love never did run smooth” – not just true love, but maybe it’s the case that anything worth fighting for won’t be won easily. I would like to tell myself that I will appreciate things all the more if it was such a battle to have them, but realistically, I’m worried that struggle wears a person down. I don’t want to be worn out, weary and cynical because of my journey – I want to always be optimistic and excited about possibilities. If anybody has a magic potion that can retain this, please let me know.

Review: Hidden Figures

I have been so slack with seeing movies this summer. So many things that I wanted to see were gone from the cinema before I got a chance to see them, though I wanted to see Jackie and it didn’t even play near me. But last night I got to see Hidden Figures. I went with Jennifer and Mum, to watch a film about women for International Women’s Day. 🙂

Basically, the film is based (extremely loosely) on a true story and details three genius women working at NASA in the early days, with the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Russian space race paranoia as a backdrop. They come up against endless barriers and obstacles because of their sex and colour, but all three prevailed and went on to become celebrated pioneers and heroes in their field. They are Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson).

The script was not great. The dialogue was often clichéd, or just failed to hit the right notes at what could have been really meaningful moments. There was one moment early in the film where they give a visualization of Katherine’s mathematical prowess, as she sees the geometric tiles from a mosaic rise off the surface. But after that, apart from a lot of impressive chalkboard equations, it didn’t really touch again in any creative way on how uniquely gifted her mind was. Some of the music was great – I loved the era-appropriate songs and the gospel-tinged score, but I felt like the modern music that was inserted here and there was a bit jarring and took away from the period setting – whenever it happened, suddenly it felt a lot more like modern day actresses playing with costumes rather than a true account of a time and place.

Now, the performances. Let me start with the positives! Octavia Spencer was amazing, as she always is. There is a scene where she personally delivers her work to Kirsten Dunst’s character’s office, only to be stared at with disdain by all the white female staff and treated like a delivery girl. With just her amazingly expressive face, she conveyed so much about the frustration, disappointment, indignity and injustice of the situation, while maintaining a professional facade. It was an amazing moment later in the film when those same women who looked down on her are shepherded into the new computer department that she manages, to be taught by her – I was just about bursting with pride and happiness for her at this part.

In the opening scene, I got bad vibes from Janelle Monáe. I only know her as a musician, so I wasn’t expecting much, and honestly just expected her to be playing herself. But she got better and better as the movie went on. She was playful and feisty, and aside from her performance, she rocked all the vintage styled clothes. I loved how spirited she was and how she wouldn’t take no for an answer – gumption is the word I’m looking for. I’d love to see her in more movies in the future.

Now the bad part. I could not warm to Taraji P. Henson, at all. The biggest reason sounds ridiculous, but it’s totally legitimate – her eyebrows did not move, not even once. They are utterly frozen, inches above her eyes, in this weirdly angular Joan Crawford approximation. It was so distracting, but apart from that, it took so much emotion away from her face during what should have been crucial moments. Actresses of the world – please do not get Botox. Your face is your craft – please show us how angry or sad or calm or happy you are, don’t just tell us with a frozen face. The other part that got on my nerves about her performance was how she changed her voice and her whole demeanour whenever her boyfriend-then-husband was around. It was literally this sugary, simpering, dumb, baby porno voice. It just didn’t gel at all with the fact that she was meant to be such a genius as well as an incredibly strong woman.

She kind of wrecked the movie for me. I could intellectually relate to the horrible discrimination that she faced and feel bad about it, but I couldn’t empathize with her as much as the other two characters because she just didn’t seem to inhabit her character and feel their emotions like Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe did. There have been studies that show that Botox reduces the ability of users to empathize with others, and maybe an additional part of that is that people are less likely to empathize with them.

The movie was pretty standard in being a feel-good, inspirational type story, even if it’s claim to be ‘a true story’ was tenuous at best… which is sad, because the real life stories of these three women are insanely interesting, but they just don’t come together as such a conveniently neat narrative as this film required. A lot of the racial and gender issues that the characters faced could have been ripped from today’s headlines in America, which was a powerful comment on how there has been progress, but there is still a hell of a fight ahead for everybody. Parts of the movie were great, but other parts of it were just a bit ham-fisted and under developed. Octavia Spencer deserved every bit of her Oscar nomination, but I am puzzled about why this was up for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay – it was good but not great, and certainly not amazing.

Picky

How do you plan a multi-course meal, served sharing style, attended by a group of people that includes individuals who don’t eat seafood, don’t eat pork, probably won’t eat anything not cooked within an inch of its life? Raise the stakes and picture this meal happening at an modern Asian restaurant that serves a lot of seafood and raw food. And now add in a few diabetics, a few allergies, and one person who doesn’t eat: pasta, red meat, pork, seafood, mushrooms, spicy food, unusual food, or Asian food in general. How is it possible to navigate this kind of thing without giving up and going to Pizza Hut (although I’m sure there would still be something wrong with even that)? I feel like legitimate allergies should always be catered for, and after that, people are allowed to just not like one or two things each – that’s fine. I don’t like eggs or coffee, but have been known to consume both to be polite (and try not to gag on the egg) if people who didn’t know served them to me. But we have a wedding menu to plan, and I really don’t see a way through this other than gently planting the possibility that certain people might need to grab a baguette or something between the ceremony and the dinner. Is that too mean? Or is that the only way that we’re going to get through this? Is this one of those wedding things where somebody is going to be offended or have their nose out of joint, no matter what we do?

Less than six months to go. Very scary.

Best Dogs

Posie and Rupert are the best little dogs. We took them to the rehabilitation hospital to visit Patrick and we all sat on the shady lawns together – P+R were so well behaved and everybody adored them. I always thought that Rupert would make a good therapy dog if he could just grasp basic commands and learn to not pee on anything resembling a pole. Posie loved jumping all over Patrick’s bed. How great is it that dogs are allowed in the hospital? I wish they were allowed in every hospital.

Aside from that, it’s back to the grindstone. I’ve switched my thesis from a creative piece + exegesis to a straight critical thesis, which feels like a cop out, but it’s kind of a relief. I just couldn’t find a bridge between the two parts I was working on, and neither of them was willing to compromise. The new thesis is basically an extension of the exegesis I was working on, but now I have to figure out ways to make it have finesse and be fleshy. It can be lonely devoting so much brain power to something that you can never talk about in any great depth with anybody else. Like when you are planning a wedding or having a baby or starting a new job, nobody cares about your wedding/baby/job/thesis as much as you do. That doesn’t mean they don’t care at all, but nobody is going to be as intimate with and invested in the details as you, and it can be isolating. Which is why it’s so important to stay interested in other things. I need to get my skates on and read more this year. I want to cook my way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cookinga la Julie Powell. I want to take a painting class. I want to teach myself how to use my big camera, once and for all, and I want to get some special lenses for it. I want to start running again and be one of those annoying people that brags about times. Lots of things to do. If only I had a few more lifetimes to do everything.

There is some bad news too – it looks like we will be postponing our super exciting European adventure for twelve months. I’ve mentioned it before, but this year is an absolute killer. In the next six months, I have to plan a wedding, finish my thesis, figure out my PhD application, do major renovations on the house, and a number of other things. I just don’t have the time or energy to devote to planning something amazing right now. If I’m only going to have one honeymoon, I don’t want to end up regretting not having worked harder on it. It’s a big trip, it costs so much just to fly there from Australia, so I really want to make the trip worthwhile once we actually get there. So the new plan is that next year on our 1+11 year anniversary, we’ll do it. And having had an entire year to plan it properly, it will be everything it deserves to be. And we might skulk around Bali for a little bit at the end of the year to console ourselves in the meantime! 🙂

Mermaiding

We went snorkelling yesterday at Eastern Beach. It was a bit cool, so it was practically empty – which was great, because we got to see some fish that normally would have been scared away. The water was kind of murky, which is to be expected in the bay where it’s not getting churned up and refreshed by waves all the time, but it was nice.

I got to try out my merfin for the first time ever in the ocean! I’m still rubbish at snorkelling and copped a mouthful of saltwater more than once. Nathan is pretty renowned for being a stick in the mud when it comes to leaving the house and actually doing things, but this time, he was really enthusiastic and ended up loving it. I loved it too, I always love to be in the water whenever I can be, even if I am afraid of seaweed.

March – Taking Stock

Inspired by Pip Lincolne’s list, here’s mine for March (even though we’ve just begun) –

Making : a year long to-do list with lots of mini-deadlines along the way
Cooking : pork chops and asparagus and roasted tomatoes for a very late lunch that is also kind of dinner too
Drinking : I had a pickleback (a shot of whisky then a shot of pickle juice) the other night, and it was WOAH
Reading : not very much, unfortunately – my book list is a wasteland right now
Trawling : through my wardrobe to find clothes to donate to thrift stores – everything takes up too much space
Wanting : to skip all this hard weight loss stuff and just magically arrive at the maintenance phase – that would be so much easier to live with
Looking : at recipes to make for Easter, like gingerbread cheesecake
Deciding : finally that I am going to lay bricks on my driveway and paths, by hand, because I didn’t need anything else on my plate…
Wishing : that I had the funds to hire an assistant who would oversee and direct all house-related renovations and landscaping so I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by it all
Enjoying : the beach, as much as I can before it gets cold
Waiting : for my brother to get out of hospital
Liking : the new floral boots I got this week, even if the whole buying process was a gigantic drag
Wondering : what I should cook to use up the half a bottle of white wine in the fridge
Loving : white peaches right now – they are seriously perfect
Pondering : whether this blog should be private, since nobody but me ever reads it
Listening : to Radiohead
Considering : how best to help somebody without making things worse for them
Buying : new underwear for Nathan so he will finally let go of his worst, raggiest, baggiest underwear
WatchingMoana (okay but a bit disappointing) and Pearl Harbor (pretty rubbish)
Hoping : that I can somehow find the perfect wedding dress in time for September
Marvelling : at all the crazy baby names on the Bonds Baby Search (it’s my annual sport)
Cringing : at how invested I am in the lives of horrible strangers on television
Needing : to weed the garden bed around my struggling camellia
Questioning : whether my thesis topic is strong enough this time
Smelling : the faint scent of wine, butter and leeks still in the kitchen from this week’s French cooking adventures
Wearing : all my Bali clothes while the weather is still warm enough – shorts every day!
Noticing : that my skin goes to hell when I eat bad food
Knowing : that unfortunately my body is too lumpy and untoned to wear the new tank dresses I thought were going to be indispensible basics
Thinking : about my thesis, forever and ever
Admiring : my little counter top mushroom box and how all those mushrooms double in size in the space of a single day
Getting : riled up on behalf of poor people getting ripped apart in internet comments, despite not even participating myself
Bookmarking : about one or two chapters in – all the books that I have started and not finished in the last few months
Disliking : sore hamstrings from doing high kicks while I was dancing around the house yesterday
Opening : all the letter that have been piling up on the television cabinet for weeks
Closing : browser tabs that contain articles or debates that just make me angry about the world
Feeling : a little all over the place right now – yesterday was pretty rubbish
Hearing : all the zooming, rumbling and roaring of the nearby Avalon Airshow
Celebrating : the fact that I successfully browned mushrooms in butter instead of having them collapse into a flaccid, sweaty, pale mess (Julia Child would be proud)
Pretending : that Rupert’s unfortunate nighttime biting habit is a result of him being a shellshocked WWI veteran and having war flashbacks (this is the story we tell him)
Embracing : going back to uni next week, even if I don’t feel (and will never feel) completely ready

Three’s a Crowd

Today, we have three dogs.

Rupert:

Posie:

[Missing, last seen scurrying under the sofa]

And Decima:

I’m babysitting, so it’s a little crazy around here. Deci will not stop crying, Rupert must be sitting on me at all times in a display of dominance, and poor little Posie is so out of sorts that she is hiding under the furniture. P+R are not exactly ‘doggy’ dogs and prefer their own company or to be with humans, whereas Decima has pretty bad attachment anxiety so she cries constantly and follows you like a shadow. Posie is so unsettled by Deci’s big swinging tail because it’s at the exact height to hit her in the face, and Rupert’s little internal turf wars always result in some growling. Deci cannot relax until Nathan is home, because she really relies on an ‘alpha’ male figure to feel secure. It’s not ideal. They all tend to get along a thousand times better when they are together at Mum’s house, but not here.

I would love a house filled with dogs, but even three is so stressful. Maybe it’s just this particular mix and how sporadically they are thrown together, but it’s hard work. Feeding them is like the scene from Jurassic World where Chris Pratt takes on the trio of velociraptors. I can’t even go to the bathroom without at least two of them tagging along or crying outside the door if I dare shut it. I can’t even walk around my own house without everybody getting unsettled and panicking about whether I’m going somewhere. Deci is great, but I’m really looking forward to handing her back at the end of the night and getting to snuggle my own dogs again.

Runaway

My brother is still in hospital. I still haven’t figured out exactly what to do about my thesis. I still haven’t got a haircut. I still need to weed the entire garden. I still haven’t picked a photographer or an officiant for the wedding. I am still on a weight loss plateau. Our house is still messy and unrenovated. I’m still drowning in clutter. I’m still finding that it takes all my mental energy to figure out healthy meals every day.

So, basically: BLAUEUURRGGH.

Can’t I run away to Bali already? I’m such a bogan – it will be the first time in four years that I haven’t spent at least a week there, but I really love it there. I’ve been brainstorming all sorts of hare-brained schemes to facilitate a mid-winter escape. It would be so nice to go to my favourite hotel in Ubud and lounge around in the sunshine in quiet solitude. I would actually take my laptop this time and get huge amounts of work done during the hottest part of the day, then swim for hours, drink watermelon juice and eat green papaya salad every day. I could do yoga and ride a bike through the Monkey Forest, now that I’ve decided it’s not so scary after all.

I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody if I didn’t want to. I could just write and read all day. No demands, no deadlines, no schedule other than the sun rising and setting each day.

It’s a nice daydream, but…

Must. Stay. On. Task.

Ancestry

As a Christmas present to each other, we got Ancestry.com DNA tests to find out some information about our heritage. This was always going to be much more interesting for Nathan, whereas we already had a fairly good idea of where my ancestral homelands were (it’s a bit of a stretch to use those terms, considering my family on all sides has been Australian for at least 100 years). It took ages, and it was especially frustrating that we sent our kits back at the same time but I didn’t get my results until a day after Nathan’s. And when we looked at the ethnicity breakdowns, it seems like there is an awful lot of overlap between various areas, due to migration flows. I wish it was more detailed, and I wish that it differentiated Scotland from England, but it was still extremely worthwhile.

So, the results! Seems I am mostly British, but about 40% Irish and smaller amounts from other regions – Scandinavian, Finland/Northwestern Russia, Western Europe, and a trace amount of Caucasus. The overlap problem does make things complicated – for example, I know I have a direct ancestor from Sweden, which could be showing up as Scandinavian on the chart, but part of Sweden is also encompassed in the ‘Finland/Northwestern Russia’ region. But even then, the ranges for both of these regions were just not an exact number, but a range – so it guessed 3% for Scandinavia, but the range could be up to 13%. Or conversely, it could be 0%, so… very tricky!

The other thing that complicates it is that genetic material can completely delete itself from a particular line in less than 5-10 generations. The reason for this is that when a baby is born, it doesn’t inherit a perfectly neat 25% of its DNA from each grandparent. It is rare but possible for a child to have 0% of their DNA from one grandparent, and 50% from another – it all depends which copies of genes were given to their parents by their parents, and which ones got passed along to their offspring. There is some rumour in my family that a certain ancestor was Spanish, which wasn’t reflected in my chart at all. But that doesn’t mean that the rumour is definitely wrong – it is possible that that genetic material got wiped out of my line before it got to me.

We also used the test to download our raw data and put it through Promethease, which links various genes to published medical studies and breaks down their magnitude and reputation, etc. There was a lot of contradictory information in here, but the main things that I learned were that I have a gene that impairs my ability to metabolize caffeine in coffee (which explains why I have never liked it), I have a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (which I already knew, based on my parents), I have a predisposition towards age-related macular degeneration, I don’t have any of the markers that are usually associated with alcoholism or addiction, and there was another gene that means I am a highly empathetic person who will be more likely to be a very sensitively attuned parent. One gene that was so interesting was that I have a bunch of redhead genes, which explains why my hair shines red in the sun, but those genes are also associated with much bumpier recovery from anaesthetic and a greater need for post-operative pain relief – which has totally been my experience. Nathan had the opposite, which matched his wisdom teeth recovery exactly. Now we know!

Statues and Stories

I’ve hinted more than a few times, but I guess it’s time to let the (still hypothetical) cat out of the bag – we’re planning a big honeymoon adventure. For a few reasons:

  1. I’ve never been to Europe, and Nathan hasn’t been (except to the UK) in a very long time.
  2. You only get one honeymoon, if all goes to plan.
  3. So far we’ve only traveled to Japan, Bali, Hobart and Sydney together – we need to branch out.
  4. We have some other post-wedding plans that will change life as we know it forever, and big trips like this will suddenly get a lot harder, a lot more expensive and a lot less romantic.
  5. The more I travel, the more I feel like I have stepped into so many different lives, and the more I have to write about.
  6. It will be so much fun!

Our vague plan at this stage is completely subject to change, but involves France, Italy and the UK. We’re still not sure how many weeks away from work is feasible for both of us, or what the best itinerary is. But we would love to see Paris, Normandy, Versailles and Alsace, then do a road trip south through various cities and villages, ending up somewhere like Nice. We will probably catch trains a lot in Italy; we want to see Rome, Positano, Pompeii, Pisa, Napoli, Capri, Sorrento and of course Florence. In the UK we have a few people to visit, but I basically have the world’s longest list of literary landmarks and locations to see – gonna get my Jane Austen on, for sure.

And I will listen to The Light in the Piazza the whole time and wear 1950s skirts, a straw hat and little gloves.