Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Insecure Male Chauvinist Guide to Being a Man

This is for laughs but you must admit there are some truths to it!

The Insecure Male Chauvinist Guide to Being a Man in the Corporate World

1. Never miss an opportunity to show that you know more than others. Remember, knowledge is manliness!
2. Never miss an opportunity to put a woman back in her place by doing 1.
3. If a woman is silent, she obviously doesn't know anything.
4. If a woman backs down to keep peace and let's you have the last word, she was wrong anyway.
5. If a man backs down to keep peace and let's you have the last word, he's a true friend. Plus you know he's sort of right anyway.
6. Don't back down.
7. If you are speaking with a woman and a man interrupts, give him your immediate attention. The bitch can wait.
8. If a woman shares an idea, don't listen, don't think, don't breathe; just disagree.
9. If you have disagreed with a woman's idea and realise that you were wrong, distract her, improve the idea and then suggest it as your own.
10. If you want to save face in a meeting, just disagree the next time a woman speaks. Instant confidence booster!
11. If a man has just demonstrated that they know better than you, immediately turn towards a woman and show her how much you know. Order will be restored!
11. If a woman speaks up in a group, make sure you talk over her.
12. If another man talks over a woman's voice in a group, never ever point out to him that, "Hey dude, she was speaking." You'll end up sounding weak and stupid. Remember, he's your  mate. Mates come first.
13. Raise your voice, it makes you seem more confident (and manly!)  It seems that banging your fists on your chest is no longer socially acceptable...but raising your voice until a woman's voice is barely audible is a great compromise.
14. Do not be seen to be undermining another woman's ability. After you have hijacked her meeting and said all you wanted to say to assert your power and knowledge, turn towards her and make sure you condescend with "What do you think?" or "Do you have anything to add?"
15. Don't be seen to appreciate another woman at work. It's demeaning. You're a man for heaven's sake. Put her down in front of other colleagues. Make jokes at her expense and never, ever give her a compliment in front of other males.
16. When in doubt, disagree with what a woman says.
17. Ditch this guide the moment a woman becomes your boss.
18. Now go home and do what your wife tells you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Novel Number Two - Work in Progress


I feel that writing is a little like acting. After all, to create effective characters, one must, to a certain degree inhabit various personalities, ruminate their thoughts, feel their emotions, adopt their manner of speaking, their facial expressions just as an actor would. After an intense session, a writer can be drained or enlivened, depending on the character. It can be demanding. More so when the characters are dark, twisted or tormented.

Writing the Ming Storytellers was a particularly dark experience for me. I think I balanced the burden of this revengeful, secretive and obsessive narrative with light hearted, silly banter either on Facebook or Twitter. You see, one can never judge whether a writer is being sincere, that is, whether they are being themselves or just dealing with complex emotions and working through an intense experience in skewed, roundabout ways. Sometimes to be honest, I have no idea who I am but I'm actually at peace with that uncertainty.
I think I would be more worried if I had a complete (and deluded) self-assurance about the nature of my own character.

So that was The Ming Storytellers... It's the only novel I've so far written but at 600 pages plus it was a pain in the arse. Not really, I loved the ride and the time travel journey. I'm sure it will be published in the next couple of years but right now I need to let loose the other stories inside me.

I've longed for something fresh, new and a tad less dark. Yes please. And I need women. I've had to put on an admiral uniform, felt boots and walk on a ship deck for far too long.

So here's the thing. I'm embarking on my second novel. It's a story I've been toying with and researching for a couple of years now. Sexy multi-ethnic heroines, multiple settings, a bit of history here and there, a dash of science-fiction, mystery and a nice undercurrent of social psychology. I'd love to make it a graphic novel too because it would work nicely. The girls are just too hot. It would be a waste to not illustrate them, right?

The hardest for me was conceiving the evil force for this action-adventure novel. If I were left to my own devices, characters would be mostly civil and nothing life threatening would ever happen. But readers don't want that so I've had to rake my brain and the brain of others for inspiration. I wanted an antagonist that was not all about world domination and revenge.  I think twisted, self-righteous ideologies is where I'm heading because I like my evil forces to think they are actually doing good and I appreciate the shady grey in most characters. So for this novel, I'll be juggling a Talamasca-inspired research institution, a post-Inquisition army of religious warriors and of course nature itself.
Because what could be more potent than natural forces out of control?

Bring it on bitches! It's going to be a sexy ride, I know it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Girl in the White Dress

It was the lace of her white dress that caught my eye. It looked so radiant against her tanned limbs.

I've loved white since that day.

She sat across the aisle, on a desk to my right. She was this beautiful distraction. A distraction that I welcomed.

You see, on that day, I had been ruminating. There was much bitter brooding to do since my dad had left moments earlier. He'd left me alone, you see. Traitor. I was about to face my very first day in Grade One. Institution Notre Dame, Dakar.

Try to imagine it. This is West Africa. I'm in a Catholic school, in a classroom filled with individually spaced out wooden desks, among fifty or so little girls who sit before their little crayons and plastic pencil cases, all of us waiting in suspense to discover what our first day of school, our very first day in twelve years of schooling will be like.

And all I could think about was her white dress.

I know because when I saw her, I put aside my self-pity. I forgot my dad instantly. I think I stared at her pretty dress in utter disbelief.  She had little brown limbs and a boyish haircut. She looked a little Spanish.  To me anyway...I called out to her. I asked for her name.

Her name was Nasrin.

Check it out...

Nasrin (also spelled Nasreen, or NesrinPersianنسرین,Nasrīn) is a female name of Persian origin meaning "wild rose".[1] It is among the most popular names given to baby girls born in Azerbaijan,

Take it from Wikipedia...

There you go. I had good taste and I didn't even know it. So this girl, this 'wild rose', she had my full attention. And soon I saw nothing except her.
I asked her how old she was. She replied that she was five. You know, it's routine with little girls. First you share names, then you compare ages and then if they pass the 'vibe' test, you go on with the next question. And the next question is simple. Especially when they happen to be wearing that dress...

Me: Do you want to be my friend?
Nasrin: Ok.

So that's what I did on my first day of school. I picked up. It was easy in those days.

Nasrin smiled at me. I think she was shy.

And I was in heaven then. Ah yep, I had completely forgotten about my dad. Who cares if he wasn't there. I had Nasrin now! Nasrin and that fabulous white dress.

I didn't really care that we were in a middle of the classroom. Well, not yet anyway. I shot a glance in the teacher's direction. She was affairing herself to her papers and chalk and whatever teachers do when they must prepare to face fifty odd children on their first day of schooling. She told us to be quiet and I knew then that we must all behave.

But something took hold of me. As an adult, I think you might call it flirting...Either that, or I was so mesmerised by Nasrin's white dress that I absolutely had to touch it. It was now or never...

Verifying that the teacher was not looking, I leaned to the side and reaching across to my right, I quickly tapped Nasrin on the shoulder. What thrill. The teacher did not even see me. I  smiled triumphantly as though defying Nasrin to do the same. She did. Much to my delight. She reached across to tap my shoulder.

My heart was beating faster, I took my turn and reached across to grab Nasrin's hand. The joy!

Soon we were giggling quietly, very satisfied with our clandestine little game. I think there were three exchanges before I looked up and noticed that the teacher had heard us and seemed to be looking around for the source of the noise. I noticed that Nasrin was giggling too loud. She liked me that's for sure...

I'm not proud of the next moment.

I did not like to get in trouble. So I immediately stopped playing. I sat up, staring at the teacher, determined to show attention and to be well behaved. But while I was taking great pains to avoid the teacher's scorn, Nasrin was still enthralled by the game I had started. And it was her turn to tap me...She reached across and tapped my shoulder. The teacher saw her.

We blame the victims. Remember that.

The teacher said some very nasty things to Nasrin in front of the whole class. I felt for her. I think to this day, it didn't seem right that she had such a pretty white dress and yet had to be the first girl to be humiliated in front of the whole class. I felt as though somehow the teacher had stained her dress. This upset me. But I was afraid. And it quickly became apparent to me that to avoid humiliation and public scolding and to avoid any negativity at all, I should be well behaved and put all my energies into being a good girl at school.

And I did just that. I forgot about Nasrin. I shut everything out and thought only of avoiding punishment and humiliation.

I think on that first day of school, I learned that friendship can be a precarious thing when authority and fear are involved. This incident in my life embodies the dynamics of many situations even today. So many times, we have to choose between truth and loyalty at the risk of our reputation and the threat of social scorn.  When those moments come, I remember the girl in the white dress.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Page Turner (La Tourneuse de Page) - An Analysis

It's been a while since I regaled my readers with thoughts on cinema. I have not felt compelled to write about any film to date perhaps because none have left a subtle-yet-meaningful impression on me. I like fleshing out complexity and deciphering meanings that are not ranted about in every review.

Enter the French psychological thriller La Tourneuse de Page.

In a summary it is the story of Melanie, a young girl who, distracted by one of the judges during a piano audition, fails to enter the Conservatory and makes a revengeful pledge to get even with the one woman who, she believes, ruined her promising musical career. This one woman is Ariane, a rich and anxious bourgeoise living in a stately mansion with her self-righteous attorney husband and musically gifted son.

There are so many reasons I like this film and unfortunately to better highlight my insights, this post will need to contain spoilers. So please avoid reading if this will mar your experience.

The first thing I liked is the opening scenes, that is, the emphasis on butchery images as Melanie's father cuts carcasses and meat chunks and piano notes resound in the background. This sets the audience expectation for the film; since Melanie is a butcher's daughter then perhaps her revenge is likely to involve much blood letting or murder of some sort. After all, this plays on the cliche that butchers must have a somewhat callous disposition given the nature of their work and surely, Melanie must also possess those traits.
The greatest surprise then, in the film, is that this expectation is never fulfilled and Melanie's revenge strategy is much more subtle and crafty. Yet the meat symbolism remains powerful inasmuch as it conveys the hidden callousness inside Melanie and her utter objectification of the victim, Ariane.  Bluntly speaking, Ariane is the meat. The butcher symbolism inherent in knives and animal carcasses only serve to delineate Melanie's poor regard for her victim and her complete lack of empathy. A warning of things to come...

The second aspect of the film I found engrossing are the psychological details. Years later, as she sets about to avenge herself, Melanie enters into Ariane's service, first to mind her son and then later to help her turn musical pages and revive the musician's waning confidence.  The director uses costume remarkably well, offering us a glimpse of Melanie's deceitful nature even before she delivers her well planned blows. In all her encounters with Ariane and her husband, Melanie is meticulously dressed in conservative style, her hair tied back neatly, she speaks with a competent but soft humility and recalls Catherine Deneuve's ice cool beauty. Yet in the privacy of her room, we see the real Melanie prancing around bra less in a long t-shirt, her loose blonde hair cascading on her shoulders. During one scene, she reclines on a bed, chatting with nonchalance to her parents on the phone with an Anime magazine beside her. Again this might be cliche but in this case, the Anime symbolism not only reveals Melanie's modern and non-conservative outlook but it evokes strong, intense characters and an epop culture that has often been associated with lack of empathy. Who is the real Melanie?

Well the real Melanie is the young girl who years ago, even before she was called to complete her piano test, eyed the other girls in the waiting room with a calculated, cold stare. Yes even before her dramatic and life- shattering failure to enter into the Conservatory, Melanie's expression conveys her ruthlessness and callousness. I think that's another detail which works to raise the question, "would Melanie have turned out the way she did if she had at all succeeded?" She probably still would.

                                                                     The Kiss

There is another question I posed myself while I watched Melanie sexually and emotionally seduce Ariane with every intent of breaking her heart. After all, revenge, or the mechanisms of revenge requires that the avenger be familiar with what their victim would deem heart breaking or devastating. Inasmuch as Melanie chose to hurt Ariane through the heart route, I posed myself the question about whether Melanie might not have been herself vulnerable to female charm or any romantic charm.

And having thought about that, I wondered whether the very reason why the young Melanie was distracted by Ariane during her audition years ago, might not have been that she was already attracted to her.  During the audition, the young Melanie actually stares at Ariane and ceases to play. To which Ariane smiles and tells her, "why are you stopping my darling. Continue."
My darling...Perhaps Melanie already felt intimidated by the beautiful Ariane as a young girl. Perhaps her revengeful obsession, while partly fueled by thwarted ambitions, is no other than a repressed sexual obsession that will never see the light because she has chosen to hurt Ariane before Ariane hurts her.

And of course to add to Melanie's complexity is the very nature of her distraction. Indeed, during the audition, Melanie becomes distracted because Ariane was signing an autograph for a fan. This signing act, why would it be so fascinating to Melanie unless of course she was brutally envious of Ariane who represents the very peak of musical achievement inasmuch as she has fans who desire her autograph. Indeed, perhaps Melanie is not so much avenging herself for having failed to enter the Conservatory as a result of this distraction but more so because she wants to punish Ariane for having this power, this ability to sign autographs. This is supported by the fact that years later, as Ariane's page turner, Melanie witnesses another of those autograph signing acts after a concert and she seethes.
All these details work wonderfully to highlight Melanie's grandiose ideas of self-entitlement and her refusal to face the fact that perhaps it was her own inabilities that led to her being barred from the Conservatory.

One other aspect I enjoyed in this film is the sexual tension between Melanie and Ariane. The beautiful Catherine Frot was fifty years old when she stepped into that sleek one shoulder black gown for her character's Radio concert. I noted her perfectly toned shoulders and back, and her slender leg flirting through her thigh high slit. Her vulnerability and longing for intimacy had me voluntarily suspend any fears that Melanie was plotting something in the hope that the two women would actually consummate the underlying passion. I knew this could not turn out very well but I was prepared to watch this fascinating encounter. (I don't think Deborah Francois' perfect soft breasts helped either.)
I enjoyed the arguably very European casualty of Ariane's confidence to her musician friend. In a moment of soul baring, she sighs and states that her problem is "Melanie" and that "she has nothing, that everything belongs to her husband." Her friend understands perfectly. Our mind races fast...Ariane has had thoughts of leaving everything to be with her female lover.
I loved this understatement and the sexual possibilities it conveys. I thought it was well done.

To tie in with the film's deliberately misleading introductory scene, is the execution of Melanie's subtle and artful revenge which does not even involve knives, murder or blood shedding. Personally, I thought the ending was highly unlikely and qualified Ariane's husband as a loser on the basis that I am of the opinion that not many husbands would be verily threatened by their wife having an affair with another woman. But I think the film deliberately takes the conservative view. In addition, the plausibility of Ariane's husband's disgust upon discovering his wife's love affair hinges on what the couple have said earlier during a dinner, she, that she "always feels judged" by her attorney husband and he, that "he loves her dearly". Given those elements, the shame and betrayal implied in the ending seem more believable.

One final note is that early in the film, Ariane's husband makes reference to a hit and run car attack over his wife, one that left Ariane a nervous wreck, supposedly the reason why she is so reliant on her new page turner as a calming effect. The film does not further explore this attack but one is left to wonder whether Melanie has not for many years plotted to ruin Ariane's confidence and life and whether she may not have played a part in the hit and run attack. If this were true, it certainly adds to Melanie's complexity and only emphasises the lifelong, merciless effort she put to get even after all those years. The film does well in depicting its main character, in particular the character of potent nemesis, one that belongs only too well in an Anime story...

Overall I enjoyed the Page Turner and found it a refreshing film with interesting surprises and much psychological depth.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Poseidon Waits

For just over eight years, I have had a yearning to see the Greek Islands. It has been a long cherished dream of mine to step into white-walled paved alleys, lose myself in villages perched on the edge of seaside cliffs and enjoy the Cycladic sunsets and sweeping sea views. I've longed to swim in secluded turquoise water coves and bask under a Mediterranean sun.

I have been patient.

A lot of things have happened in those eight years; I got divorced, completed a psychology degree at uni, wrote a historical novel, began a new career, sold my apartment, moved to a new home, began a new relationship and visited other parts of the world including New Zealand, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, China, Japan, the Whitsundays and Hong-Kong. Greece was overlooked somewhat. But I never forget my dreams.

It takes years, for most people, to reach their goals. Having everything happen all at once is not possible. Patience is key. Patience and grit over a long period of time. Eight years.

My dream is about to come true.

There are so many sights and experiences I am excited about. Soon I will be in Athens, strolling in the marbled streets of Plaka, eating more Greek food than I've ever dreamed of, setting off on an afternoon escapade to watch the sunset at Cape Sounion where Poseidon's temple sits high, overlooking the ocean on a dramatic cliff. It will be lovely.

It was a hard task selecting what islands to visit. But my choice was based on sunset views, the charm of traditional villages, walking/cycling potential and the sheer beauty of the landscape. I am after all, a fitness freak and a romantic aesthete. Milos, Santorini and Mykonos have won my favour.

Milos Travel

I want to cycle around wild Milos, take a boat tour around the island and swim in surreal beach settings.

In Santorini, I want to walk from Fira to the picture perfect village of Oia and take in the stunning views of blue-domed churches and white stone traditional houses hanging over the ocean. More photography...

The charm of labyrinthine sun-washed Mykonos, its Little Venice and traditional white and blue villages, will contrast with its pulsating party atmosphere.
I like contrast. I will be there, taking it all in. I will turn 36 in Mykonos.

Dreams come true.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Party Time - Why People Stand You Up

This is an acerbic post directed at no one in particular. Although it is Father's Day tomorrow and I've no plans to make an appearance in the family home...

Ever wondered why people stand you up?

You’ve invited them to countless parties and social gatherings and they just don’t show up for one reason or another...

Social anxiety disorder, double bookings, pregnancy, labour, illness, tiredness and child minding aside, there are other less obvious reasons why your guests often decline or simply do not show up.

      They are introverted - Amazing how many social event organisers simply do not understand this reason but it really is one of the most valid and common reasons why guests would choose to avoid social gatherings. Here is a reminder of what introversion is all about.

            Venue - You chose a venue that is far too inaccessible and inconvenient for them to get to based on their standards of inconvenience (not yours!) Yes, I know, you took great pains to choose the venue and had your friends’ best interest at heart but you may be mistaken thinking the venue is easy for them to get to. That may not be the case.

      They are sick of giving – whoooops, that was blunt. But it really is a valid reason. Let’s face it, it’s always about you, your birthday, your anniversary, you being the center of attention, your going to-and-fros, you organising an audience of admirers, you wanting others to meet at a particular time/place of your choice, you wanting them to make the effort of bringing in gifts and what not.  It does not take idiot savant syndrome to identify a salient pattern here. Yep, it's all about you. After a while…only masochists or individuals who have no life of their own can put up with this mindless one-sided giving.

      You hurt their feelings at the last social event. Ok, they did come to your party last time and you were not exactly a very good host. Hell, you came one hour late while your guests waited, you did not offer them anything to drink, you did not thank them for coming, you did not even try to talk to them or ensure they felt included…I could go on.  Again, remember they are supposed to be your friend, not a masochist.

      You're an Advice Dispensing Machine - At gatherings in the past, your guests or relatives have been left wondering whether this is a social reunion or a counselling appointment. They've barely sat down and you spare them none of your endless wisdom, dispensing advice every ten minutes about how they should do their hair, what they should do with their life, what they have done 'wrong' so far with their life. Has it ever occurred to you that you might not have all the answers? And that your guests are weary of your insecure attempts at justifying your own choices in life?

      Let’s face it, you are not really their friend.  By what logic do you expect a person to give of their time to support you socially if you berate, embarrass or insult them on a regular basis? By what logic do you expect a person to give of their time for you if you cannot spare five seconds or less to say something positive or encouraging to them? By what logic do you expect a person to be there for you, when you were clearly never there for them? Not going to happen.

      You are a User: Part 1 – It's official, you like to surround yourself with attractive, seemingly successful or influential girls and/or guys and be seen with them to raise your social profile. And you think no one has noticed this?

      You are a user: Part 2 – No one likes to show up to a party knowing that they are simply there to be used for making their host feel good especially when that host has zero interest in them.  The only time you can expect this form of selfless adulation is at your wedding. Grow up.

      Your guests are jealous of you – You have a new job, you are soon heading on a holiday, you have a brand new <insert something your friends value here> and happen to be bursting with joy. It’s time to celebrate your life with your friends. Yay! After all, that’s what friends are for. Yes?  Sadly, jealousy often rears its ugly head. Your happiness may make your friends realise that they are missing out on something.  By choosing to avoid the social gathering, they avoid seeing you happy and it’s less painful for them.   

So go on,  have a party.