Work

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.

J.M. Barrie

Subtitling and stuffing my face
Subtitling and stuffing my face

Back in the very old days when I worked in schools and offices, and didn’t have the flexibility of working from home, I thought I’d be hopeless at trying to do a job when surrounded by the comforts and temptations of my own abode. I thought I’d spend all day gazing into the fridge or watching daytime TV or vacuuming under the bed.

But I’m not like that with subtitling. I really enjoy it. As soon as M leaves the apartment at 7am I sit down at my desk and throw myself into it. I enjoy the tick-off-the-list nature of the work – I’m given a programme to subtitle, I download the video, I subtitle the programme, I do a detailed review of my work, I spellcheck, integrity check, save the file and send it to the client. Tick. The job is done and I move onto the next one. It’s quite mechanical but there’s something in that that appeals to me. And I do, of course, appreciate the fact that essentially I’m getting paid to watch TV.

But on Thursday last week, I was distracted. I’d wrapped up one season of The Only Way Is Essex and was moving onto another, and all I could think about was food. I kept getting up from my desk to grab another chocolate Easter egg or make another coffee. Or have a sandwich. Or eat the leftovers from last night’s dinner. Or wish that I’d bought that packet of Zweifel paprika crisps that I’d eyed in the supermarket so that I could now sit here and scoff the lot.

On Friday morning, when I sat at my desk and tried to get back into the awful mind-numbing rhythm of TOWIE, I felt the same way. There was a Lindt bunny with my name on it. But as I got up to grab the doomed rabbit, I spied my camera. The SD card, I knew, was still full of the hundreds of photos that I’d taken during our hiking holiday. So I slotted the card into my computer and 90 minutes later had chosen some of my favourite pictures, uploaded them to my Flickr account, and thrown myself back into TOWIE with a level of energy and enthusiasm that had been absent since we’d got back from our break. The lovely Lindt bunny lived to tempt me another day.

This was such an important reminder for me about what I already know to be true about work – that you have to choose a job that you love doing. Sorry, I know it’s obvious but sometimes I forget the glaringly self-evident and have to beat myself over the head with it. Don’t get me wrong – I love subtitling. It’s harmless and it’s helpful and it appeals to the pedant and the geeky grammarian in me. But as a freelancer I have the gorgeous joy of being able to mix it up a bit. I can do the work that I get paid for and I can intersperse it with some “work” that makes my heart sing. And that prevents me from eating my own bodyweight in chocolate. And I think if I didn’t have this flexibility in my scheduling then I’d have to come home from the nine-to-five and learn to paint or write a novel or knit jumpers or start trying to recreate the Bayern Tapestry. Or something. Anything to remind myself that work is important but fulfilment matters more.

I’d love to have a chance to ask Eve Ensler whether she felt like she was working when she wrote The Vagina Monologues, or when she first performed it as a one-woman show.

I’d be prepared to bet that she didn’t.

Vajazzles and vajayjays

Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. 

Henry Ford

I have never claimed to have my finger on the pulse of popular culture. I probably had my best shot of zoning into the zeitgeist during the years I spent living within walking distance of all my favourite music venues and theatres in central London. But even then I think my tastes were a bit too obscure to really get what was going on. And in the last four years, living sans TV first in Israel and then in hippest Switzerland… Yep, you’re right. Not a bloody chance. If you want to know what’s hip, ask a hipster.

Often I have to rely on the freelance subtitling work I do to haul me kicking and screaming into the modern day. And I have to admit that sometimes, when I’m hauled here, I want to block my ears and screw my eyes up and shout, “La, la, la, la, la!” until someone makes it go away and lets me crawl back to my happy place. Because in that happy place, I’ve never heard of The Only Way Is Essex, and nobody expects me to know how to spell the word vajazzle

Yes, in the last few weeks, when I’ve not been scaling mountains, entertaining lovely friends or writing this blog, I’ve been sitting at my desk working on yet another “reality” TV show that’s given reality a very bad name. I’ve subtitled conversations in which people didn’t know where in London they might find a place called “North London”. I’ve endured about a gazillion monosyllabic exchanges between two sub-humans called Mark and Lauren, who are too moronic to realise that their matching idiocy means they’re obviously made for each other. And to my horror I’ve learned that a vajazzle (and this is a word that even I, in my cultural no-man’s land, have heard floating about in the last number of years) is a Swarovski crystal vaginal decoration. To use a good TOWIE expression… What the actual fuck?

But I have to admit that (shockingly) I have learned something as a result of hearing this word. (I’m afraid that the rest of you, you know, the ones who haven’t been living on planet Gen-Jerusalem for the last four years, will already know this, but for me it’s news so bear with me…)

In the same way that I’d heard the word vajazzle and failed to know its meaning or origins, I’d also been aware of the word vajayjay and failed to know anything about that.

But in being shaken down from my happy Sound of Music hilltop, I’ve learned that vajayjay was first popularised by an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and has since become pretty much mainstream. And I think, weirdly, that I’m kind of comfortable with that (and not just because it apparently has Queen Oprah’s official stamp of approval.)

Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, is right when she says that “what we don’t say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear and myths.” And that’s a powerful argument for calling a vagina a vagina. But the fact is that like it or not (and just for the record, I don’t like it), we are still squeamish and oversensitive about a wonderful thing that’s in the possession of 50% of the world’s population. Vajayjay seems to me to be a fairly acceptable transition word. If we can go from silence to vayjayjay to vagina before, say, 2015, then I’ll be forced to admit that the people at broadcast standards and practices, whose puritanism inadvertently brought the word vajayjay into popular use, have accidently done us all a favour.

But hey, since I’m so far behind the zeitgeist, perhaps I’ve missed the fact that people have already become comfortable with the word vagina… Hooray! Hey, Eve Ensler, apparently your work here is done!

 

 

Universe

To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

 

Celebration
Celebration

My BFF has always been rather amused by what I describe as my “relationship with the universe”. And she’s right to be. She knows that religion is not an affliction that I suffer from, and she probably thinks that it sounds like quasi-religious fervour when I say things like, “I’m so grateful to the universe for X” or “The universe is not there to fuck you up.” This kind of talk sat far more comfortably in my Catholic childhood than in my rather more rational adulthood (well, maybe not the “fuck” bit), but for some reason I can’t seem to shake the words “the universe” out of my lexicon.

In theory, I totally agree with Richard Dawkins when he says that, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” I agree that the universe is utterly indifferent to my happiness and well-being, but it’s actually that that makes me feel so unbelievably fortunate. Since there’s no all-powerful being forever on my side, how is it that I get to inhabit such an incredibly beautiful world and live so happy an existence?

When I refer to “the universe”, I think it’s just because I need words with which to express my gratitude. And it seems to work for me. Unlike some believers in a malignant and vengeful God, I don’t blame anyone when things fail to go my way. But it does make me feel better to be thankful when I experience the kindness of friends or strangers, or when something good comes my way, or when I see something beautiful. And those things happen many, many times every day.

This desire to express gratitude is part of the reason why I’m enjoying getting into photography. Every picture that I take is an attempt to express my gratitude for the fact that I was there in the moment when a particular thing happened, or that I was able to visit a particular place or spend time with particular people. I need to get better at taking pictures so that I can more accurately document some of the incredible moments that I’m privileged to witness. (A few early attempts can be found on my Flickr page here if you’re interested in taking a look. I promise that I will get better.)

Other things that I always thank the universe for are the beautiful opportunities that spring up in the course of an ordinary life. Like the opportunity to speak regularly on Skype with a father who’s quite recently embraced the joys of technology. Or the chance to have beautiful times with friends and family who visit my home, or invite me to visit them in theirs. Or the ability to speak frequently with much loved family members who live far, far away. Or the opportunity to join an extraordinary group of women to perform a wonderful play in a theatre in Geneva.

I don’t know how else to express it.

And so I say thanks to the universe.

Travel

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

onebillionrising.org
onebillionrising.org

One of the best things about having a vaguely itinerant lifestyle is the fact that you get to meet so many extraordinary people from all over the world. Last night I had dinner with three lovely friends, one of whom was from New Zealand, one from Ireland and the other from the US. Our lovely English friend was up to her neck in work and wasn’t able to join us, but if she’d been there we would have represented five English-speaking nations. And the fact that we were all English-speaking made ours quite an unusual gathering for Geneva, where international organisations attract people from every possible ethnic background.

Last night our Irish friend reminded me of a story that I’d told her once before. In 2001 I’d been living abroad for about ten years and decided that it was time to make up my mind, once and for all, where I wanted to live on a permanent basis. I put my stuff in storage in London and landed on the doorstep of my fantastically obliging little sister in Perth, Western Australia, and stayed with her for an amazing six months.

There are many things that I could write about that time (and I’m sure one day I will) but my point for this piece is that for the six months that I was there, I only met one person who spoke with an accent that wasn’t Australian. I don’t remember this Belgian girl’s name or very much else about her now, but what I do remember is that I absolutely adored her. And all she had to do to earn this adoration was speak with a foreign accent, so starved were my ears of a variety that had become familiar after years of living in London. Of course there were “foreigners” living in Australia, but for some reason they weren’t in my circle of acquaintance during that time, and I missed them.

I was very young when I left Australia and I think it was probably my youth, while I was there, that made me feel disconnected from problems in other parts of the world. The distance was also a factor, of course, but I think it was mostly the fact that I find it much easier to identify with other places when I’ve been on their shores and/or met their people. It’s much more difficult to have an “I’m all right, Jack” attitude when the people of whose suffering you read are people with whom you’ve eaten and talked and travelled.

That’s why it was so important for me to be involved in The Vagina Monologues and by association with One Billion Rising. I had the random good fortune of being born into a society where my very existence wasn’t threatened because I was a woman. But I’ve met people who didn’t have that same chance. I have no more right to life, freedom, self-determination and dignity than they do. There are some rights that should be inalienable.

Perhaps this three-minute video will give you a better understand of what trying to say. Be warned that it’s not for the faint of heart. And be aware that it concerns issues that everyone in the world should know about.

 

Sorority

For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather; 
To cheer one on the tedious way, 
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down, 
To strengthen whilst one stands

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems

The orgy moan
The orgy moan

I’ve never been much of a joiner. My current lifestyle – which includes paid-up membership of a book club, a writers’ club and a photography club – would seem to contradict that fact, but historically it’s been true.

For that reason, I find the idea of sororities something of a nightmare. To be honest I don’t know that much about college sororities other than what I’ve seen on American TV – thankfully no such system exists in Australia (at least to my knowledge)  – but the thought of initiation, membership and exclusivity makes me feel at best claustrophobic and at worst a little nauseous.

This is partly because of the separation between men and women that fraternities and sororities imply and reinforce. I’m generally uncomfortable in big groups anyway, but when I see big crowds of just men or just women out together, it always strikes me as a little odd.

But when the idea of sorority is pared back to its Latin origins I feel altogether different. The Latin stem of sorority is soror, which simply means sister. And sisters are something that I simply cannot imagine my life without.

It’s a terrifying 22 years since I last lived in the same country as my four sisters (and, of course, my beautiful big brother). But still many of my happiest memories revolve around them. Often it’s the small things that make me laugh when I’m talking with them, but those small things make me laugh until the tears stream down my cheeks, in a way that I don’t laugh with any other person on the planet.

I never know where or when I’m going to see my sisters next but I am never in any doubt that when I do see them it will be spectacular. We’ve grown up together and are growing older together, in spite of the distance between us. It’s my sisters that I’m planning to wear purple hats with when I’m old, as we laugh through the lines on our familiar old faces and wipe away the tears of mirth as we look back on the hilarious magnificence of life.

As well as the honour of having four sisters by birth, I also have the joy of honorary sisters – women who have been in my life for shorter or longer periods, who’ve become embedded in my heart and my brain and who are inextricably linked with who I am. You know who you are and you know I adore you, and I thank you for giving me so many amazing times and magnificent memories.

There are also the women with whom I share extraordinary and unexpected experiences, all of whom contribute to the wonder and humour and vitality of life. They are all part of the wider sorority and I’m privileged to know them.

Among those women are the cast of The Vagina Monologues, Geneva.

Girls, you are gorgeous.

 

Rest and relaxation

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.

Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

Japanese garden, Interlaken
Japanese garden, Interlaken

Shh! Don’t tell anyone but I’m taking a day off. A day off from hiking, a day off from taking pictures and a day off from my A to Z blogging theme. Ah, the self-indulgence is delicious!

The rain that greeted us when we opened the curtains this morning made the decision for us. We’ve been out there hiking and sightseeing for at least eight hours a day for the last four days and it’s been amazing. But what’s the point in heading up a mountain when all you’ll see is cloud? Today I’ve stayed in our hotel room with Easter eggs, The Guardian, books and cups of tea and I’ve loved every second of it. M’s gone out for two walks and I’ve declined both invitations to join him. I even turned away the lady who came to clean our room so that I could stay comfortably tucked up in bed. Ah, the bliss!

This is the second post that I’ve written today as I had to catch up from a period of lagging behind on the daily blogging challenge, but now I’m even cheating on this… I’m not going to write but am putting up some pretty pictures instead.

It’s radical, I know. I’m a reprobate. But don’t be reproachful. Tomorrow I shall be renewed. And I shall try to restore my reputation.

But for today, I’m remembering that a picture tells a thousand words. So let me regale you with this random selection of photos from our R&R…

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Quills

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Ernest Hemingway

www.tiki-toki.com
www.tiki-toki.com

A couple of years ago I was tired of the spectre of writing.  All my life I’d dreamed of being a writer, but now that I had the time to write the words weren’t forthcoming and I was sick of the constant niggling feeling that whatever I was doing, I should really have been writing instead. I thought at that time that if some fairy godmother or genie in a bottle had given me permission to never write again, I’d have been relieved.

I do not feel that way anymore.

Have you ever seen the movie Quills? Geoffrey Rush plays the scandalous Marquis de Sade, a (real-life) writer and revolutionary in 17th-century France whose libidinous acts landed him in prison, where he spent much of his life and did most of his writing. When, as part of his punishment, the Marquis de Sade is deprived of pen and paper, he takes to writing with wine on the bed sheets, or with his own blood and excrement on the walls.

The whole film is a treatise on the act and importance of writing. Apparently the tune that the Marquis de Sade constantly hums is the children’s song Au Clair de la Lune, the second line of which translates as “lend me your quill so I can write a word”. Apparently every line that was cut from the film’s script made it into the film in one way or another, either written on clothing or bed sheets or on the walls of de Sade’s prison cell. Not a word that was written was lost or wasted.

Not every writer achieves the Marquis de Sade’s notoriety. Not every writer is even published, and some successful writers are scathingly critical of the fact that in these days of blogging and self-publishing, every wannabe writer can find a voice. I don’t think Milan Kundera meant it in a positive way when he wrote, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down the streets and shout: ‘We are all writers!’

But sometimes the words that we write can make a difference. They can make a difference to those around us, or just to ourselves. Or, like the words that sprung from Eve Ensler’s pen when she sat down to write The Vagina Monologues, they can make a difference to millions around the world.

If a genie in a bottle were to grant me three wishes now, I would not wish never to have to write again, but rather that I will always have the right words to say what I need to say, and the tools with which to say them. I admire the Marquis de Sade’s determination, but I think I’d rather drink my wine and leave my blood flowing in my veins so that I might write another day.

Give me a quill or a computer. And leave the rest to me.

Pâques (and pictures)

There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.

John Steinbeck

 

Easter breakfast
Easter breakfast

My mum was good at Easter. I remember it as being almost as exciting as Christmas. Mum always got up before the rest of us and we’d wake to the smell of tea and hot cross buns. My little sister and I – we shared a room – would sneak into the dining room to see the table magically laid out with tea cups and side plates and coloured eggs galore. We’d have chocolate for breakfast, altogether as a family of eight. It was the most exciting thing ever. After breakfast we’d go outside to search for the Easter eggs Mum had hidden in the garden. The six of us would compete to find them, the older ones surreptitiously helping the younger ones, then we’d pile all the eggs up together, count them and divide them equally between us. I thought I’d carry these traditions on with my own children.

But last Easter M and I were in the south of France mourning the end of an adventure that never began. We spent four days staring out to sea and contemplating both the future that wasn’t to be and the one that was within our power to create. Like much of life, it was hard but it was beautiful. We cried but we got closer.

This Easter we’re in Interlaken making the most of the life that seems set to be ours. We won’t have any little people with us tomorrow morning getting excited about Interlaken’s Easter egg hunt, but we will have each other. And we’ll have beautiful countryside to explore and gorgeous Swiss chocolate to eat and lakes to look over and mountains to climb.

The first Easter that M and had together we spent diving in Dahab. The next year we had Easter in Egypt. Then last year there was sadness in the south of France.

This year we have satisfaction in Switzerland. Life could be a whole lot worse.

Joyeuses Pâques, everybody.

Happy Easter.

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Older people

A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can’t make old friends.

Christopher Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere

Older People (sometimes played one stage by young ones)
Older People (sometimes played on stage by young ones)

A few years ago one of my colleagues told me about his experience of visiting his mother in an “old people’s home”. Usually, he said, he spent his weekly visits talking just with his mum, and he saw the other residents in the home not as individuals with lives and stories, but more as a collection of geriatrics whose presence in his mother’s home he had no choice but to tolerate.

Then one day his mum was busy with something when he turned up for his visit and he had nothing else to do but talk with some of the people sharing the roof over his mother’s head. And he realised that they were amazing. He heard extraordinary stories about the lives that people had lead, the things they’d achieved and the sacrifices they’d had to make. It was a good reminder for him, he said, to always look behind the possible decrepitude to see the life and the love and the story.

A number of months ago I made a new friend in Geneva. I was sitting at a bus stop outside of the Art Geneve exhibition at Palexpo and the lady sitting next to me took an English novel out of her handbag, so I struck up a conversation with her. By the time we’d reached Cornavin we’d established that she was born in the same year as my mum and I was born in the same year as her daughter. This, to me, is a very special kind of friendship, for reasons that those who know me well will understand (and those who don’t can read about here). The next time we met we went to see a photography exhibition and spent about five hours telling each other about our lives. It was at the end of that rendezvous that I told her that I was going to be in The Vagina Monologues and she said she’d like to come along.

And she did. My lovely 72-year-old friend K was there in the audience for the matinee performance, laughing and crying and whooping it up with the best of them. The hug I got from her after the show was more important to me than perhaps she realises.

One of the monologues that K was most touched by was The Flood, which was based on Eve Ensler’s interviews with a group of women between 65 and 75. One of the women said that she’d never had an orgasm and had cried when she’d seen her clitoris for the first time at the age of 72. Eve Ensler wrote The Flood for her, and our directors cast the wonderful Christina to play her part. They couldn’t have chosen better. Christina’s warmth, charm and humour paid perfect tribute to the woman and the life that she might have had if things had panned out differently for her.

After the matinee performance of the play K asked if I could introduce her to Christina. A brief but beautiful moment passed between a 72-year-old woman and a woman decades younger who had played a 72-year-old woman.

It was a good reminder to all of us to always look behind the possible decrepitude to see the life and the love and the story.