Let’s talk about why that isn’t a compliment…

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Yesterday I attended an end of year picnic with some people from the Life Models’ Society. A person approached me:

Them: You look like you’ve lost weight.
Me: [laughing] I really haven’t.
Them: Then why do you look like you have?
Me: [awkwardly ignores the comment and goes back to my previous conversation]

Let’s break down why this conversation was fucked up.

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com

1: Commenting on my weight is never a compliment
Regardless of how well-meaning you are, commenting on my body shape, weight loss, or gain is not a compliment. I am more than the sum of what I weigh, and whether I currently fit into Western ideals of beauty. It also implies there are people unworthy of your compliment/respect/value based on their bodies, which is not cool. All bodies are good bodies.

What can I say instead?
Nothing;
Hello;
You look well;
You seem happy;
I’m pleased to see you;
That outfit is smashing.

2: If I correct you, accept this.
When I said I have not lost weight, and indeed I have put on a fair amount what with the injury and COVID restrictions and lock-down and stress and the like, the person in this conversation argued with me. This could be considered gaslighting, a practice where you habitually deny the reality of another person in order to undermine them. Part of my also wonders if people have a concept of what I look like that is a lot fatter than how I appear in person, given how often I get told ‘you’ve lost weight’ and the fact that I have not, in fact, lost weight.

What can you I instead?
‘What I meant was you look well/happy/great in that outfit’. Or maybe going back to the above idea of not commenting on my body in the first place don’t say anything. If I correct you, don’t ignore that correction, especially when it is about me, my body, or my life. I’m the expert in that field, and you have no right to doubt me.

Women in particular are subjected to appearance based judgement frequently and I, for one, would be happy to see it go in the bin.

This year has been particularly difficult for my relationship with my body. For a period of time it was severely broken, it is now only mildly broken. I have had a lot of intense pain, and still have ongoing mild to moderate pain and restrictions in my mobility.

I don’t consider myself permanently disabled (yet); time will tell whether my ankle injury (and the associated back pain which has become more of an issue now I’m more active) is permanent and to what extent. I have good days and bad days. I limp in the morning and when I get up from a long period of sitting.

In six weeks it will have been a year since the incident. I’m surprised, frustrated, and disheartened by the amount of work still to be done return to full functionality. Then again, I look back at the time when it was too much to walk to the coffee shop (ten minutes away) and back, and I’ve come a long way.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience. It’s always uncomfortable when people compliment me for the way my body looks; sometimes when I’m modelling artists will say I have a ‘real/natural’ or ‘womanly’ figure, which makes me uncomfortable not only because I’m being objectified, but because it implies an ‘unreal/unnatural’ or ‘unwomanly’ figure.

I welcome compliments on my creative posing, my stillness, my use of shadow/shape/foreshortening, my theatrics, but whether or not my body is highly consumable is not a compliment. I’m sure I do it too, it’s a cultural norm, but I’m working on it. Maybe we all need to spend some time cultivating new ways to tell people we value them.

NaNo-Success

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Well, November felt like it took several years, but I’vecome out the other side with another NaNoWriMo successfully under my belt.

Woohoo!

For this year’s project I rewrote a story I started in 2014. I had done a full manuscript, 78k words with rewrites, but I didn’t like it; it was in several different points of view and my style has improved since then. I thought why not rewrite it from scratch?

Now I’m hurriedly trying to finish reading a book for book club which was neglected in favour of NaNo. Once I’ve had a few days off writing, I need to start on edits.

I’m planning to release my new book on 1 February, 2021. It’s a stand alone ubran fantasy/paranormal romance. I got it back from my editor in late October and I have final edits and proof reading to go, then it will be ready for sale. Keep your eyes on this space for my launch.

NaNoWriMo 2020

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This year will be the ninth time I am attempting NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. My first time was in 2012 and I have won, reached my goal of 50,000 words, every year since then.

I work best with external encouragement and deadlines, and while NaNoWriMo is an (almost) entirely self motivated endeavour it still feels like there are stakes.

I’m rewriting my 2014 novel, I have reread the synopsis but I am going to avoid reading the text as much as I can. I’m sure I’ll change a lot of details, but the story and character arcs will remain the same.

photo of sand and shallow waves on a sunny day in late evening with blue skies.
Mordialloc Beach, November 2020

It’s a weird time to be writing. I had a conversation earlier about how much the pandemic will appear in culture, writing, film and TV in the future. For myself I don’t want to read or write about COVID-19. Living through it was plenty.

Yesterday I went to the beach. It was a public holiday (for a horse race I disapprove of but that’s another issue) and there were a lot of people around. I wore a mask, many others didn’t bother, or were wearing them incorrectly, in spite of laws requiring them.

Our numbers are way down, which is great, but I hate to think that our numbers will be back up after people stop taking this dumb virus seriously.

I will continue to be cautious, but I will be really upset if we get sent back into lockdown. At least doing NaNoWriMo I have a good excuse to stay home.

Share-house Woes

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I haven’t written here for a while, what with work, the pandemic, and everything else, I’m busy but not interesting.

Earlier today, going for my government sactioned daily walk to a local coffee shop, I was listening to Josh Earl’s ‘Dont You Know Who I am?’ podcast and they were walking about crappy housemate stories.

I have several but one I thought I’d share was the time I came home from an overseas trip to find a stranger sleeping in my bed.

Let’s back up a little. I had given notice I was moving out; six weeks as I was going on a trip I’d already planned and paid for to India, and didn’t want to have to rush to move out in the days after I got back.

Little orange flowers from my walk

I did some packing before I left, but had a lot still do to. I let my housemates know I was happy for them to show my room while I was away, and when I’d be back.

During my trip, I didn’t hear anything from any of them. There were three; an Australian, a German, and a Chilean (plus the Australian’s Italian boyfriend who stayed over a lot).

I arrived home, get lagged, at nine on a Sunday morning. My flight had been delayed by 24 hours because of a missed connection, and I’d eaten something which didn’t agree with me in the hotel I stayed in while waiting for the flight home. I was in a foul mood and just wanted to shower and relax at home.

When I walked into my bedroom to find a person sleeping in my bed I was livid. I told her she needed to collect her stuff and leave immediately. The poor young woman in my room was deeply shocked. I can’t blame her, my housemates had told her I wasn’t coming back and now she was homeless.

My mum had picked me up from the airport and brought me home, because she’s a legend. Mum was more rational than me, having not just been on a long haul flight, and suggested we give her half an hour to collect herself and we go for coffee down the road.

I felt violated. All my stuff was still in my room, some of it in boxes. I was also still paying rent. I moved out of there as quickly as possible and into the new place but I was so angry.

The thing is, of the three housemates (plus one pseudohousemate) only the Chilean seemed to want to speak to me about the situation. His story was they had believed I’d already moved out and had left all my stuff there.

They have phone service and internet in India, so they could easily have called or texted or emailed or Facebooked me to ask what was happening to all my belongings and furniture. They did not. They also were not charging this unsuspecting back packer to stay in my room while I was paying rent, which makes me believe they knew I was coming back and thought they could get away with it.

After I moved out, I worked out how much they owed me for the share of the rent when the backpacker was staying in my room, along with some miscelaneous other expenses, and made the decision not to pay any further bills until I had recouped my expenses.

I felt this way fair. The housemates apparently did not. The Chilean tried to call me 27 times over the space of half an hour once to try to get me to speak to him about it. I wasn’t able to answer the phone at the time and given he hadn’t left a message I didn’t call back.

The whole thing left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. Everyone I’ve told has been on my side, agreeing my housemates were in the wrong for having someone stay in my room without my knowledge or consent. I’m sure everyone who hears the story from their side will believe I was in the wrong.

It has led me to conclude human beings don’t like to be the bad person in a situation. No one wants to be the asshole. I wrote a whole novel based on this idea later that year. I might rewrite it as my NaNoWriMo project this year, that’s still TBC.

Despite the subjectivity of ‘being in the right’ I don’t think I was the asshole in this particular situation.

Virtual conferencing

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I bumped into a real estate agent in the supermarket yesterday who I had some dealings with about eighteen months ago; she recognised me behind my mask from my earrings.

‘How are you? Are you working from home?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I’m getting used to it now after a couple of weeks.’

‘A couple of weeks? I’ve been working from home since March.’ I laughed. She was pretty blown away. I didn’t even tell her my work life is now least 30% video conferencing.

I’ve mostly settled into the restricted lifestyle we have here in Melbourne although I do get a bit stir crazy every so often. Trying to find a balance at the moment is tough.

Last week I took a few days annual leave from the day job to attend the Romance Writers of Australia virtual conference. It ran Wednesday to Sunday, some of the sessions were great, others less relevant to me. I struggled to give my attention to my screen all day, especially in the pre-recorded sessions.

woman working at home using laptop

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

In a virtual conference some death by powerpoint is inevitable but I came out of the week feeling pumped about writing and more confident in describing my current work in progress. 

The writing community is so encouraging and warm, I am hugely thankful to be a part of it. I’m glad the conference was able to go ahead in the face of a pandemic, hats off to the organising committee. I was disappointed not to be able to see Perth, or meet everyone in person. I guess I’ll have to wait till next year on the Gold Coast (fingers crossed).

I can only hope we come out the other end of this period of history wiser, kinder, safe and healthy. Breathe deeply, drink more water, get some sunlight, and remember you’re a like plant with complicated emotions.

Six Months Later…

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Global pandemics, like grief, affects each person differently. Some people in my circle have been able to produce a lot of work during the pandemic, others have produced almost none at all. I completed a survey last night on the effect of the pandemic on mental health which included an array of psychological test scales. 

blue, purple and green time care with yellow text. Text reads '6 months later...'

As seen in Spongebob Squarepants

One scale measured body dysmorphia* which tapped into a few thought patterns I hadn’t been aware of. It’s just over six months since my accident and I’m still attending physio several times a week. My ankle is strong enough to walk to the local coffee shop and back, about 30min round trip, but not much further. The mobility of the joint is still  compromised, especially after sitting for a while or getting up in the morning. It’s also much bigger than the other ankle.

Part of me has always known my left ankle will never be the same, but another part of me thought if I tried hard enough it would recover. I’ve had my final surgical review, and finally got to see the x-rays (I think they were hiding them in case I was upset) and I have a couple of pieces of metal in my ankle which will stay there permanently. The surgeons also informed me that in ten to twenty years I would be arthritic, so I have that to look forward to.

The coronavirus has affected people in very different ways. I remind myself I’m doing  well in comparison to some – I still have a job, my income is stable, my housing is stable and safe, and I’m not unwell (injury not withstanding) – but I can’t help feeling down at the idea of repeated waves of increased transmission, going into and out of lock-down, and being worried every time I go out into the world until we find a vaccine.

I live in Melbourne, our city and state has been doing much worse than the rest of our country lately and it doesn’t look like it’s improving. Days blur into one another. The view of my terrace/balcony is lovely, but I’m getting sick of it.

I’m tired. It feels like I’ve been tired for a while and it’s hard to know whether it’s really tiredness or just boredom, or stress. I worry we’re going to come out of this period of human history and all be total weirdos.

What have I been up to during lockdown v2? I am working the day job (from home), editing a manuscript, attending physio rehab, doing  trivia with friends on Zoom, baking sourdough bread, reading, watching a lot of streamed TV, procrastinating doing work on the mural in my hallway**, yoga and other exercise at home. I try to keep myself busy but it often feels like an uphill battle.

I hope you’re staying safe and keeping up your mental health routines as much as possible. It is comforting to know that everyone is in the same boat, but it’s also okay to acknowledge a hard time to be alive.

 

*A quick Google shows it was the Dysmorphic Concerns Questionnaire

** The mural is quite large and quite complicated, based on this image by Christian Waller, and whenever I think about doing a bit of work on it I become overwhelmed and do other things, like writing blog posts.

Cabin fever

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I sit, my belly boils
with nervousness
dissatisfied
with the smallness of life
with loneliness
with my poetry

Outside, everything is dark
hide inside, afraid
or not afraid enough
I watch people walking around
anxious on their behalf

I am a worrier, overthink
everything, don’t know how
to turn it off. How will
I stay sane here alone?
How will I stay healthy
when everyone is a
walking infection?
It wouldn’t happen to me
Until it does.

A little poetry for your winter’s day

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It’s heated blanket and tea weather in Melbourne. Despite the government easing restrictions on social gatherings I’ve largely remained cocooned at home cooking and receiving delicious baked goods from friends.

I also thought it might be fun to publish my 2018 poetry chapbook as a free ebook for people looking for new content.

my body no apology cover jpg

It’s a short, pithy, and potentially upsetting set of works, so please take care when reading.

This is available for free download on Amazon and other good sellers.

‘Daydreamings’ release

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thumbnail_Nicole-Henriksen-Headshot

Today I bring you my interview [socially distanced via the interwebs] with the fabulous Nicole Henriksen. Nicole has written their debut work of prose, Daydreamings, following years writing and performing several award-nominated theatre and comedy shows.

Daydreamings is a collection of flash fiction, in which Henriksen dips into the stories of diverse friends, family, and lovers, over thirty-two pieces.

A remorseful ex attending a wedding, a friend helping another be brave and honest, a disconnected father trying to finally find common ground, the excitement of a new romance, and so many more.

thumbnail_Daydreamings-portrait-press

Fleur: I met you in 2015 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival after seeing your show Honeycomb Badgers on Acid, and we’ve been in contact since then. I really enjoyed your comedy/theatre work, tell me about this new project, how does it relate?

Nicole: Thank you for reminding me! I had forgotten how we met, that’s the chaos of Edinburgh Fringe for you. Thank you for your kind words about my live shows, they’ve definitely influenced my prose. Daydreamings, and all the prose I’ve written, is very much composed in the rhythm of the spoken word.

The way I use language in my prose, is more similar to a song lyricist or playwright, than a straight up and down author. It’s something I wasn’t aware of, until my editor, Mireille Stahle, pointed it out to me.

But I really like prose to feel like someone is reading it out loud, as though it has flow and feeling, as though the beats of the words have meaning, and sit well when read out. This is something I didn’t know was unusual, or interesting, because I myself don’t and can’t read, it’s the reason I started writing as a child, and developed an ability to bullshit an essay, without reading the main text, as a teenager.

F: In the last few months I’ve watched your journey since getting your Autism diagnosis. Tell me about how this has changed your creative process and/or your life more generally?
Thank you for following along on that journey, it’s strangely special to share it with other people. It’s an interesting and awkward process for sure, a lot of emotions, difficult and painful self-reflection, and learning about my brain.

N: There’s a relief with a diagnosis, but also a daunting new reality, and also a realisation that it’s not a silver bullet. Every issue I’ve had in the past isn’t magically erased because I now understand why I find certain things so incredibly challenging that I have panic attacks, when other people can just fill out the damn form.

It’s changed my creative process by giving me a greater insight into how my brain works differently, and in turn, how I apply that to my writing. For example, I often am not privy to a lot of “normal” experiences, and end up an observer of those experiences, rather than a participant. It was something I felt guilty about before my diagnosis, but now, I realise it’s one of the main reasons I feel so compelled to write.

That observer perspective is the narrator. It’s the child watching their parent drink alone, it’s the remorseful ex at the wedding, it’s the reflective young adult watching their parents dance at family Christmas. It’s a really important tool I can use to explore love, death, loss, and connection.

F: Your show Makin’ it Rain referred to your work in the sex industry, does this new work, Daydreamings, refer to this work?

N: It was a real “kill your darlings” moment, but I had a couple of pieces about sex work, and they simply didn’t fit with the collection. The tone was all off, so I had to cut them out.

In this collection, I’m really looking to explore connection, and to me, connection has to be genuine to have meaning. I wouldn’t say that for me, the connections I make in the sex work industry, at least with clients, are genuine in that same sense. I also think that honestly, that’s a whole collection in and of itself.

F: As a writer, I try to walk the line between serious and absurd in order to shed light to issues I believe are important. How does maintaining this balance inform your writing?

N: That’s a great way of putting it. I’d definitely say I’m intrigued by that same balance of serious and absurd, though I lean more toward a balance of awkward truth and tension-relieving comedy. It’s something I very much brought to my theatre works as well.

I really feel like intimacy and genuine connection, which is the main theme of this collection, is inherently awkward and cringey, there’s something so embarrassing about some of our most honest thoughts, desires, shared moments, it’s something mostly only shared with trusted people in our lives, in my observations. And I also feel that there’s a chance for comedy in some of those moments, both in terms of banter between characters, and in the harrowing experience that is sharing those cringey truths.

F: Finally, tell us about your work Daydreamings.

N: Daydreamings at its heart, is an exploration of the mortifying ordeal of being known, and its overwhelming benefits, despite how difficult it might seem at certain times, perhaps after a fight with a friend, or a romantic break up.

I’m obsessed with connection, because it’s something I’ve struggled with as an autistic person, and something I’ve always sought to have tremendous control over, which of course, is a futile exercise. So, because of that lived experience, I still have a lot to learn, but I have a lot I’ve already taken away from the many types of connections I’ve successfully, or unsuccessfully, made.

And in Daydreamings, I dip into a diverse series of moments with friends, lovers, family, and others, to share some of these experiences, and the challenges that come from trying to simply connect to other human beings, as we move through life.

To purchase a copy of Daydreamings click here.
And folks can find out more and read a free sample on my website here.