17 December 2010

The New Girl at School

"Look what she's eating!"
They spoke in English but she could understand a little.

The two girls eyed her from afar, inspecting the contents of her half-opened lunch box. Her lunch, it seemed, had aroused their curiosity. But she knew this packed lunch was only an extension of who she was. They'd examined her lunch because it was the only way they could safely observe or judge her, the stranger. Or at least that's what it felt like.

Her ears burnt from shame. She glanced down at the box on her lap with dismay. Was it really so odd? So different?

A packet of Pac Man chips
A mini Snickers
Two ham and beetroot sandwhiches
A muesli bar
An orange juice poppa.

It seemed like a normal lunch. She began to chew self-consciously, tucking her folded legs under her blue school uniform and looking away to avoid the uninvited stares. It was odd how something as universal as eating fell under scrutiny when one was a stranger. A stranger.

Later, after much contemplation, she started to believe that maybe there had been a little too much food in there. After all, those other girls she'd met in class always used to complain about their fat thighs, their fat calves. They'd eat half as much as her and were much thinner. By the end of the year she would have drastically reduced the food she ate for lunch. By then, she would only pack two crackers with cheese and a muesli bar. But for now, she went home and just told her mum in French,
"Mum, can you please only make me one sandwhich tomorrow. Also I don't want a muesli bar."
Her mum was confused.

It was 1986. She'd just immigrated to Australia about a month ago and Grade 6 was a confusing world where one could see but not understand. English words became obsessions and every day was a new word. They'd change her name too. Because on the first day, the teacher had quickly told her that her real name was a boy's name.

"I had been expecting a boy," he reproached. "We'd best change your name so that the other school kids don't get confused."
Her auntie translated it all. At first it sounded like fun.
"What would you like to be called?"
"How about Laure? It's close enough to Laurence."
"It's too difficult to pronounce in English," protested the carrot-haired school teacher.
"What about Laura?" suggested her aunt.

Laura it was. In a matter of minutes, an identity can be changed. It's so easy. You just have to adapt.

They called her Laura. She'd just turned 11. She was anxious and ashamed in those first 6 months. And she had a secret back then.
Because she long ached to try those cream buns with their pink coconut icing, the ones they sold every day at the tuckshop. But she'd held back, terrified about what would happen. She'd remembered how those girls had stared at her in the playground when she ate and the way it made her feel.

And then one day, it started. When no one was looking, she would hide. She would buy a coconut iced bun at recess and creep inside the toilets. There she'd find an empty cubicle, lock the door and enjoy the bun, away from sight. It would happen many times.

It was odd how something as universal as eating could become a source of shame when one was a stranger. A stranger.

13 December 2010

Goodbye to Les Nuits Masquées

Thank you to my many readers.

Now you can find out who the person behind Les Nuits Masquées really is.

I have another blog now. Teranga and Sun. All welcome.

6 December 2010

The Ming Storytellers

The Ming Storytellers is a novel set in 15th century Ming China. It took me four years to research and write, while working and/or studying and I am still in the throes of the manuscript editing process.

My sources and inspirations have included historical journals, medical forums, an endless list of history books, Ming literature, books on Chinese clothing, Chinese maps, astronomical articles, medical articles, a visit to China, Chinese epic films like Feng Xiaogang's "The Banquet" (set in a different period) and my imagination.

I am not modest about this novel. From the point of view of someone raised in a predominantly Western environment with no knowledge of the Chinese language, writing about China, let alone an obscure China of the 15th century, is no mean feat.

Yet, this novel is bound to encounter criticism from historians, Chinese nationalists or even from those who believe they know best and who have never written anything themselves.

That is ok. Every human endeavor invites one of, or a mixture of three possible responses. There will always be criticism, admiration and indifference. This is inevitable. The only hope one always has is that those who criticise will be constructive and knowledgeable.

Still, I value the uniqueness and pioneering nature of The Ming Storytellers. As described by Thomas Carter in his Amazon List of China Historical Fiction, The Ming Storytellers stands as one of the very few historical novels written in English and set in China.

Thomas Carter who is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, indicates that,

"Whether this is due to China’s notorious cultural and geographical inaccessibility or simply a lack of wherewithal by western authors to tackle such an immense subject, the fact remains that for all its wealth of material, China is one of the least written-about countries in historical fiction.

(Of author James Michener’s vast catalog of historical fiction, not one of his 40+ titles takes place in China; apparently the 9.5 million sq. km., 5,000 year-old China was a bit much for the late Michener to take on.)"

- Thomas Carter

I would like to intercede on James Michener's behalf. In his book, Hawaii, Michener does indeed touch on Chinese culture, notably the Hakka ethnic group. He sets part of the novel in China, albeit, mainly to recount the story of Chinese characters migrating to Hawaii.

I feel also that Thomas Carter's list omits Jung Chang's exceptional Wild Swans and perhaps a few others. Having said that, none of the books that I can recount deal with the Ming Dynasty. Their focus is mainly on the Qing Dynasty onwards. Meanwhile, Gavin Menzies' 1421 is the only book set in the Ming Dynasty and even so, his bestseller is not historical fiction but rather history, or some might say, speculative history.

In February 2010, I made a bold and perhaps presumptuous move. I released my novel's website to the public.

My plan this year is to continue with the editing/feedback process. As a first time author, I know better than to approach any publisher or literary agent unless I am confident about the quality manuscript. There is still much to be done.

18 August 2010

10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage Should be Allowed

In a time when the Australian political debate has converged on this issue of gay marriage, we should examine the reasons that people have raised in their protest against gay marriage.

The methodology behind this article is based on social psychology (and therefore science) rather than law or religion. It argues for 10 reasons why gay marriage should be allowed in Australia.

1. To say that gay marriage is wrong because marriage laws dictate it, is flawed reasoning.

Since 2004, Australian law states that "marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life".

This law needs to be changed. The majority of people who voted in a recent Sydney Morning Herald article think so. Do we or do we not have a democracy?

Laws are supposed to be helpful.
In this case,

a. The current law may not be right for all. Using it to defend the anti-gay marriage cause is a circular device. It's like when someone asks "Why is that" and you reply "Because I said so"

b. Laws are meant to exist for the benefit of mankind. A law against murder and theft for example are pro-life and pro-respect and ensure that people are protected from harm. But a law against gay couple marriage is not pro anything. Who benefits from it? Who does it help? No one. In fact it hinders people who genuinely love each other from advancing as easily as other couples on the sole basis of their gender constitution. The current law is depriving some couples who feel love for each other on the basis that 'it is the law' but for no other valid reason. It therefore needs to be changed for the good of humanity.

Some countries, including Spain, Canada and The Netherlands have already done that. This map from French newspaper, Le Figaro, shows the current gay marriage, gay civil union and adoption laws in the world.

2. To say that marriage laws dictate that the party be male and female is archaic

Let's face it, Australian laws today are based on the old Judeo-Christian laws. To repeat this archaic nonsense is the equivalent of repeating that "a woman should be stoned for adultery."
Some laws should be changed.

3. What is defined as normal is a cultural mindset

Culture is changing. What is right or wrong has changed over the years. Nothing is by definition "normal".

About 110 years ago, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to hard labour for 2 years. He was made to labour on the treadmill until he was wasted. Why? He was charged with gross indecency because he was gay.

Today in countries where homosexuality is legal, including Australia, we would cringe at the thought of Oscar Wilde's treatment. How could they do this to him?
Yes, only about 110 years ago, the English judicial system did this to Oscar Wilde because the culture and times were conducive to this mentality. Because it was normal.

Today the English judicial system would behave very differently. This is proof that in matters of sexuality, our mentality evolves.

Culture and social beliefs are evolving today and to say that something is not normal is not a valid argument for denying gay couple the right to marry because 'normalcy' relies on a temporary belief system.

4. There is no scientific basis to define marriage in one way or another now that science has the tools to aid in procreation

Marriage in terms of the Judeo-Christian definition allowed a man and woman to procreate and make children.

In those days, marriage necessitated a male party and a female party - to assist in procreation.
But today the fact that a male and female party are no longer a necessity for a couple to arrive at children is the very thing that puts into question the definition of marriage.

Medical and scientific advances together with the large departure from traditional religious fervour in Western marriages means that couples can resort to any of sperm donations, in-vitro fertilization and adoption to have children. Heterosexual couples use these advances and do not believe it is wrong.

What this means is that the definition of marriage should no longer be limited by traditional procreation considerations.

5. The belief that you need a man and a woman to raise children otherwise the children are lacking in some ways, is a myth

Latest 2010 research indicates that children adopted by gay or lesbian parents develop as well as those adopted by heterosexual couples.

6. It is also a myth that you need a man and a woman to raise children and that 'a woman and a man bring different things to a child'

This is a social fallacy. Basically, it asserts that a man will say, teach his son how to paint a house and a woman will teach her daughter how to bake a cake.
This is a crass example but these stereotypes are real.

In a nutshell, this gender role belief asserts that in a couple, the male is required to fulfill his male gendered role expectations and the female is required to fulfill her female gendered role expectations and that both are necessary for their child to thrive.

But in the first place, gender roles are nothing but cognitive shackles that have been imposed on individuals as a result of social expectations and beliefs. A heterosexual man often behaves a certain way because over many years, social norms, social expectations, and his desire for male integrity have taught him to behave this way. Similarly a female is highly influenced by social norms herself. If we are to grow as human beings, and raise similarly free human beings, we must rid ourselves of shackles that limit us. Regardless of our sexual orientation.

Our society is in fact slowly evolving in this way and this is why gender roles no longer have a place.

Luckily for gay couples, who already have faced an internal struggle with who they are or should be according to society and who already feel comfortable with being their true selves regardless of expectations, the ability to behave in a traditionally male or traditionally female way is just a matter of choice rather than convention.

If anything, gay couples have a supreme advantage of not being limited by social convention and of moving with fluidity between roles. They therefore can arguably be best equipped to raise a child. Wouldn't you think?

But even so, biological gender limitations may still exist, you say. After all, not everything is determined by environment. Some individual attributes are the product of nature.
Indeed, while there is scientific evidence that in general, women are better at multitasking and that in general, men are better at finding their way around a maze, these biological gender variations are hardly significant factors in terms of child rearing.
So in the worse case scenario, little Mary is going to be raised by two women who get lost regularly. So what?

7. Gay Parents are not a form of abuse to a child

The most laughable argument against gay marriage/child adoption is that it is a form of abuse to children involved. There is no scientific evidence in favour of this.

Studies by developmental psychologists have demonstrated that for a child to thrive emotionally, physically and be attached securely to their parents, they need emotionally responsive and attuned carers. In no way does gender come into the picture.

One can't begin to rave enough about the real child abuse perpetrated all over the world by heterosexual couples. Let's not go there.

Anyone who believes that children of heterosexual couples are the happiest creatures on earth is obviously out of touch with reality.

8. The statement that Gay people are a Minority and should fit into our Majority Laws is against Human Rights

Let's say that again. It is against human rights.

It's like saying Black people are not allowed in the Club.

Let's define these terms.

Black is a color that can not be changed in the same way as sexual orientation is a human facet that can not be rigidly controlled or made to change to suit the 'majority'.

The Club allows a group of people to be recognised as 'belonging to the club', it gives them access to various Club rights. It allows those who are in the Club to be seen by all others in the Club as being permitted to join the Club. The Club, in its most abstract form is in fact the very definition of marriage.

We would not turn away a non-White person from any venue today, would we? It would be against human rights. In the same way, refusing gay couples from the right to marriage infringes on human rights.

9. Accusing Gay Couples of Dishonesty is not an argument

There are some who think that any two people of the same gender can band up and reap up the family / couple benefits acquired by law by pretending to be enamored of each other.

It's a fear. The fear that supposedly dishonest gay couples will take advantage of welfare or will benefit from government benefits intended for genuine couples.
This fear is not a valid argument against Gay Marriage.

The ability to take advantage of the system is alive and well in heterosexual couples.

Some heterosexual couples who are happily living together for years suddenly decide to get married because it helps them in one way or another.

Some heterosexual couples happily produce children in order to reap child allowance benefits which never even go to the child. (If that's not child abuse, I don't know what is.)

Most heterosexual couples are happy to use 'the system' and understand how the government can help them, their family, their children whether financially or in any other way. It is human nature to want as much as possible for one's family.

Of course we want to use the system. Did any Australian heterosexual couple ever spit on the Baby Bonus granted to Australian mothers? Hell no. Take it. Take it all. Pop those babies while you can still reap the rewards. Some women even began scheduling their child's birth to take advantage of the rise in the baby bonus. Yes, we know who you are.

Sad really. But gay couples can hardly be accused of anything that a heterosexual couple wouldn't do. Therefore this argument is not valid.

10. Saying "Who Cares" and "What's the Big Deal" is not a valid argument against gay marriage.

So yes it might not be a big deal. Perhaps gay couples could just live as happily without getting married. And perhaps if they don't want children, and some couples don't, all this is really not a big deal.

But "It's not a big deal" is an easy statement to make when you are not discriminated against.

There is a principle used in marketing which has strong psychological support. It is a principle whereby, whenever items are banned / restricted or limited they suddenly become very attractive. As a result, many people desire these forbidden items. It's not childish, it is a human behaviour that has its roots in the scarcity of resources.

Of course heterosexuals don't think it is a big deal. Marriage is there, it's available to them. They can get married easily without restrictions. So of course, it's not a big deal to them.
But if it were a restriction, if it were forbidden, who knows how badly they might want it.

1 July 2010

My Novel - A Self-Critique

With The Ming Storytellers, I was not merely writing to thrill. I wanted to create an entertaining work of fiction that merged interesting characters, narrative, history with ideologies that were important to me. Visually I also wanted to evoke strong images that could do well on screen. Because I love film.

If after having read the book, a reader can, either consciously or subconsciously, perceive parallels between the events unravelling in this novel and society today, then I will have been successful.

If a reader can, either consciously or subconsciously understand the fallacy of Eurocentrism and gain a fresh perspective on the world, then I will have been successful.

The setting is China and the world during the 15th century. It is a remote and, to date, unfamiliar setting especially for non-mainland Chinese including myself. This remote and therefore, one may argue, arbitrary setting is perfect because it may be used to teach, it may be used to introduce a new paradigm about the world and society. However unlike the fictitious worlds of sci-fi or fantasy, it is still a world that is closer to home, a world that has set in motion certain patterns today and from which many parallels may be drawn with our world today.

The world in that period, when China, the Middle Kingdom, was a dominant power comes with its norms and its ideologies just as the English speaking world today has its own dominant Western centric ideologies.

The setting is also perfect because it encourages readers to see outside and understand that what we call normal is a myth.

One particular strategy I have used is to depict the society of the Nakhi people. While I have done this superficially and in no way do I call myself an anthropologist, the depiction of the Nakhi does put into question the generally accepted view of women in the Asian world. In the Nakhi kingdom, women were not submissive. Even the vocabulary used by the Nakhi attribute strength to feminine words and weakness to masculine words.

To conclude, all my characters have beliefs that are relevant to their times. In no way do these beliefs directly reflect my own although to some degree, a few of my characters' ideologies are informed by my values.

The themes explored in the novel include:

  • racism / xenophobia
  • gender roles
  • the nature of sexuality
  • power
  • existentialism
  • ambition / success
  • imperialism
  • dreams

I will flesh these out when I have time and explain the main ideas presented. I will also explain how these ideas challenge the dominant ideologies today.

It is no secret that for me the greatest joy would be that this novel becomes part of some education curriculum. All my life, given my multi-cultural background, the experiences I have had living in different countries and reconciling my multiple cultural identities while learning more about other cultures, then studying social psychology and understanding the influence of prejudice/perceptions/attitudes in human thinking, all these things have taught me that NOTHING that we take for granted as NORMAL is normal.
And when we cease to think in black and white, our tolerance and acceptance for others follows.

The Ming Storytellers is a historical novel set in the Ming Dynasty, at a time when China was in its Golden Age. It is a rich account of life in the Forbidden City and beyond drawing on four years of research on Chinese concubines, eunuchs, the Ming government, international relations and world travel in the 15th century. The novel draws on psychology and speculative history but belongs to the newly coined Ming Gothic genre.

26 May 2010

Chocolate High Tea at Stamford Plaza

I had Chocolate High Tea during my romantic weekend at the Stamford last week.

As Shane and I entered the buffet room, I almost swooned from the buttery-sweet aroma and the sinful displays around us. I noticed that generous wells of chocolate fondue were aptly arranged close to the entrance, a ploy that would no doubt discourage any self-respecting female clientele from changing their minds after arriving!

But no High Tea is complete without the ubiquitous crustless sandwiches. Luckily, a long buffet table was devoted to rows and rows of savoury delights, complete with side relish and mustard. My favorite filling was the roast chicken and aioli but there were also egg and mayonnaise sandwiches together with salmon quiches.

We sat outside, below a grand white marquee decked out with elegant hanging chandeliers. Our table was adjacent the lovely river walk overlooking the Storey Bridge.

Shane ordered a coffee while I marvelled over the extensive tea menu and opted for a spicy cinnamon and ginger chai.

After this sensible beginning, and all Victorian principles having soon left us, we succumbed with abandon to every temptation possible in a manner that would have made Oscar Wilde proud.

The buffet centerpiece became a blur of colours while I agonised over every major decision. Was I to grab yet another slice of Stamford White Chocolate Mud cake, or yet more melting Vanilla squares...

My head swirled as I eyed the Florentines, the pretty cupcakes on their triple-tiered stands, the Melting Moments, the apple and cinnamon cake, orange liqueur cream puffs, Chocolate Macademia Brownies, Mango Cheesecakes...

And then there was the Cranberry Cheesecake, Spiced Carrot Cake, Chocolate Fondue with its Strawberries & Marshmallow skewers, the mini Panna Cotta cocktails and what not...

I lost myself and all dignity.

About an hour later, feeling elated, stuffed and looking rather disorderly in my mini blue cocktail dress, I declared that I was once again "drunk on cake" and that I would not eat another bite.
Well except for that slice of White chocolate mud cake that I had clandestinely wrapped in a paper napkin and was jealously guarding for err...later.

Stamford's White Chocolate Mud Cake 'takes the cake'!!

12 May 2010

Australian Culture and Psyche - Remembering White Slavery and Convict History

I read Marcus Clarke's excellent For the Term of His Natural Life recently. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone, wishing to learn more about Australia's convict history.

This novel was grim and painted a brutal picture of convict treatment. It also made reference to genuine 19th century events where escaped convicts, including a certain Alexander Pearce, resorted to cannibalism among themselves to survive in the bush. If you are interested, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce is a recent docudrama which aired on the ABC in January 2009 and explores this disturbing story. But returning to Clarke's novel and noting that it was published in the early 1870s, I found it to be a refreshing and honest revelation of events that are normally avoided by the modern Australian psyche.

Marcus Clarke

Marcus Clarke was an Australian journalist with a brilliant literary record delving in topics from psychology to history. I admire his writing because it is critical of the established ideologies of the time but remains poetic and sentimental enough to appeal to some readers' need for drama. For the Term of His Natural Life also includes thematic references to the Count of Monte Cristo which added a romantic slant to the story.

Forgotten Injustice

After having read the novel, I lamented at what seems a lack of connectedness between Australians and their convict past. There is a lingering injustice which has not been addressed but instead swept under the carpet. I feel that some Australians address and, in some cases, even mull over the injustices done to Aborigines but remain blissfully unaware of one other injustice which has shaped the Australian spirit even though its influence is scarcely acknowledged.

Convicts in a Prison Ship

What injustice do I speak of? Well, it is my view that the foundations of main Australian cities, at least those of Sydney, Hobart and Brisbane have been constructed from years of exploitation. When I look around Brisbane, I now see it differently. Ironic that my new sense of awe has arisen from something so ugly as White slavery disguised as moral punishment. But this awe comes to me, I believe, because I feel respectful of those men, women and yes, even children as young as 10, who did not have a choice and who were unscrupulously exploited by a system which called itself righteous and lawful.

Australian culture is not necessarily only derived from the darkness of convict existence since after all, culture is more complex than that. In addition, most members of the Australian population have no convict past whatsoever since there were also many migrants from Europe and Asia who since the 19th century have influenced who Australians are today. But by the same token, and this may upset some people, I feel that we need to look beyond sport to discover the Australian identity.

Australian Culture - What a Crock of Shit

It is my view that Convict history has had an impact on Australian culture even if most Australians are unaware of it.

This is one of the ideas advocated by the amazing Convict Creations, a website that I discovered recently and which among other subjects, explores Australia's culture and compares it to that of other countries.

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, but who I will call Convict Wally, uses a methodology based on social psychology which I can not praise enough. Wally's approach for explaining and exposing historical events, characters and Australian culture is fascinating. He also describes the plight of convict women and the harsh treatment of convicts (men, women and children). He also examines the unfair reasons a convict was likely to have been imprisoned for.

But as Convict Wally correctly remarks, we do prefer to seek and read about ideas which agree with our own. And so I admit that my interest in this site only reflects my already preconceived notions. Incidentally, (and grossly off-topic) some of these include:

  • Australian sport is overrated
  • Australian society remains patriarchal even when it does not know it. Whereas in 19th century Australia, women had little choice but to assume the role of ‘whore’ or embrace matrimony, today the whore/mother dichotomy has acquired a subconscious flavour. Effectively, discourses in the media and advertising consistently reward and encourage motherhood which is seen to epitomise selflessness, normalcy and all manner of kindliness. In the meantime, all other forms of female pursuits are given scant notice (unless of course the subject also happens to be a mother ‘juggling it all’.)
So these are a couple of my views anyway.

One of the arguments that Convict Wally raises is that Australia has overachieved in sport and business. On the other hand, he believes that Australia has underachieved in environmental concerns and culture, especially where this culture touches on the intellect. I completely agree with that.

Incidentally, Wally provides a satirical section on sport aptly called "The Demise of Australian Sport. RIP", an article which only too clearly voices the author's attitudes. Enjoy!

If you are interested in this fascinating Australian culture which barely knows itself and grapples even today with its identity, do take a peek into Convict Creations.

Acknowledging the Plight of Convicts

One thing I find disturbing in the Australian landscape is the subconscious urge to escape our convict history as if it were something to be ashamed of. Admittedly there are a few sites such as this one, dedicated to convict genealogy but what I am alluding to is the gross absence of landmarks and buildings that seem to reinforce the notion that convict history never happened. Blessed the powers that be in 'protecting us' from remembering the vile conduct of authority figures. Indeed.

This may seem fanciful but I have a vision for Brisbane where every single location of convict significance would be properly landmarked, labelled for better recognition and for encouraging awareness of the past. I realise it is an ugly and somewhat morbid attraction but to me, what is uglier is the dissimulation of truth. This is what we have been doing so far (except perhaps in Tasmania at Port Arthur). To begin, Queen Street mall in Brisbane used to be the home of several prominent convict buildings. One of these extended from the intersection with Albert St to what is now the Myer Center. Isolation prison cells were scattered in George St. You can read more about Brisbane's early convict buildings here.

In addition of course, there is Boggo Road Gaol and St Helena Island which are part of the tourist trail.

And there is also this splendid structure which begs elaboration:

Brisbane's oldest surviving European building is this windmill, located at Springhill. It used to be attached to a treadmill where prisoners laboured for hours. And I'm not talking about your average gym treadmill but one on which prisoners did die of exhaustion. Incidentally, a recent project will see this windmill added to the tourist trail. It's about time.

Past Reckonings and Identity Shaping

Escaping from truth, any truth, is not conducive to identity shaping and cultural growth. The history of a country shapes its people over many generations. Just as childhood abuse impacts on an adult's psyche, multiple generations in a country may be shaped by dramatic events suffered over a period. The process is complex but does exist. Choosing to ignore tragic events does not bring the necessary awareness for growth. One must reflect, absorb and come to terms with the past.

3 May 2010

Why Do We Love Vampires

Twilight is to the vampire genre what Harry Potter is to the occult.

Harry Potter (my god it's boring) is safe magic falsely marketed as controversial. It is the PG version of the occult. It's supposed breach of taboo topics which had somehow incensed religious groups was a convenient ploy to lure curious consumers who by virtue of intensive marketing were already avid to get their hands on the latest 'popular' craze. I'm still confused as to why Harry Potter has been so popular. As far as magic and the supernatural goes, I got more kicks reading the bible in my youth.

Now for Twilight. This romantic and no doubt visually stunning fantasy tale lures the teenager into heightened sensual experiences that are otherwise lacking in this generation's R rated, action dominated thrill-inducing films. Because sex these days, is so taboo, so eagerly avoided on English speaking screens that our sensation craving teens subconsciously resort to cheap and safe visual symbolisms that nevertheless semiotically encompass everything there is about sexual tension, the vulnerability of exposed naked flesh, forceful penetration, rushing blood, and explosive orgasm.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with wanting any of that. But in the process of giving young audiences what it craves, namely, sex, a vampire genre has been corrupted.

I much preferred Anne Rice's Lestat.

15 April 2010

Introversion - What You Need To Know

According to personality tests, I am an introvert. Individuals who do not understand this trait and have a popular conception of what introversion is will infer that I am therefore 'shy', 'antisocial' or 'quiet'.

Belle prefers her books over the company of obnoxious Gaston

The Introversion Myths

On the surface that is perhaps true, introverts may appear shy and antisocial. But if you dig deeper, more complex mechanisms are at play and these may not even relate to shyness or anti-social behaviour. For example, introverts do not always spend time alone. Some introverts enjoy company and are the life of the party when they do go out and such introverts will fool you into believing that they are extroverts. Again, another misconception with extroversion is that it makes one louder, more sociable and more likely to be on the social stage. That is not always the case.

Then again there are people who are introverted and who like to boast that they can pretend to be 'extroverted'. Again this personal belief that they can somehow 'pretend to be' another personality type is rooted in the popular misconception of what introversion is.
According to the Arousal theory of introversion (which I will describe shortly), the ability to 'become' either an introvert or an extrovert is doubtful. According to this theory, individuals are either one of the other, or perhaps under forces outside their control, they somehow sway between the two but their ability to directly control this trait is not possible.

So what is introversion?

Let's debunk the myths with some psychological theory.

The psychologist Eysenck once proposed that whether we are introverts or extroverts depends on our innate cortical arousal, that is, the degree of brain stimulus that is present in our brain. Eysenck hypothesised that introverts are characterised by higher levels of activity than extroverts and so are chronically more cortically aroused than extroverts. This is called the "stimulation" hypothesis.

To put forward an analogy, introverts have, if you like, a loud party already going on inside. They are already on a high. What this means is that since their internal world is already buzzing, they are going to want to limit the amount of extra stimulus that the outside world brings to them. And yes, that often means spending time alone, limiting their involvement in parties and seeming a little aloof and antisocial.

Redefining Introversion in terms of Human Physiology

As you can imagine, the primary factor that has led to the misconceptions about the nature of introversion is that so often we describe (and test for) introversion in terms of its resulting social behaviour.
But the underlying mechanism for introversion, at least according to Eysenck's theory, is actually physiological, not social. It is this physiological phenomenon which, in turn, results in behaviour that allows the individual to balance their arousal level.

So for an introvert, there will be a desire to reduce/restrict any additional external arousal. On the other hand, for an extrovert, the move will be to increase the total arousal to an ideal level. Whether the individual increases or reduces this arousal via their social behaviour, sporting activities or their lifestyle is entirely up to them.
But their innate physiological state (high arousal for introverts / lower arousal for extroverts) is one thing that individuals can not control. So for those individuals who believe they can 'pretend' to be an extrovert, sorry, you are fooling yourself. Because according to Eysenck's theory, your cortical arousal is something you are stuck with.

The Psychophysiology of Introversion - What is the Proof?

Is Eysenck crapping on?
Apparently not. Granted, his model of personality (consisting of extroversion, neuroticism, psychoticism) is open to controversy and competes with other personality models, but his hypothesised physiological nature of extroversion has so far yielded strong experimental support.

In one study, it was found that introverts salivate more than extroverts in response to a drop of lemon juice. How does this correlate with Eysenck's theory? Well it confirms the tendency of introverts to react more strongly to stimulus (salivate more in this case) because their internal nervous system is already strongly aroused.

Now another example. Pupil dilation is scientifically related to emotional responses. Normally, when individuals view images that are offensive or which they do not like, they exhibit pupil contraction. Conversely, pleasurable or erotic images tend to elicit pupil dilation (which is a wonderful way to determine whether someone is lying when they assert that "no, this woman is not attractive"). Some studies have found that introverts have a stronger pupil constriction response than extroverts when viewing negatively charged images.
The only reason why introverts would have a stronger response to negative images (thereby exhibiting larger pupil contractions) is if in the first place, their propensity to 'reject' extra stimulus is higher than for extroverts. This would confirm that introvert's innate state of arousal is higher than that of extroverts thereby explaining their tendency to more readily restrict unwanted stimulus.

So there you have it, there is a physiological basis for introversion. It would appear introverts' social behaviour is a by product of various physiological factors rather than an innate trait. Something to ponder about...

Is There Such a Thing as an Average Introvert

Not really.

Baloo the Extrovert and Bagheera the Introvert?

Well for a start, let's look at demographics. We represent about 30% of the population. That's less than half of the population. We are a minority.

We are also, according to studies, slightly more intelligent than extroverts. But don't get excited, you need more than intelligence to progress in life, in fact the debate over whether the best leaders are introverts or extroverts continues.

In the end, other personality traits such as neuroticism, risk-taking, grit, desire for control, desire for new experiences and psychoticism are all integrated into making a person. You can appreciate why introversion alone is not the guiding light in all social behaviour.

Having said that, there is evidence that introverts are more likely to rate higher than extroverts in scales of neuroticism, depression and negative affect (the tendency to feel negative emotions on a daily basis). Conversely, extroversion tends to be associated with higher ratings in positive affect (the tendency to feel good and have positive emotions and enthusiasm), together with higher ratings for aggression and risk-taking.

Surviving in an Extrovert's World.

I have already mentioned that most people are extroverted.
Social norms, as the term 'norm' would indicate, represent the accepted social behaviour of the majority. And we introverts must, often against our deepest wishes, suffer the majority. Often we don't have a choice.

Before I go on with how working and performing effectively may be a struggle for introverts living in an extrovert's world, I want to present another psychological theory.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law.

This law stipulates that "some intermediate level of arousal is optimal for performance" (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985, p. 199).

In other words, it doesn't matter whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, your performance (e.g. on a stage, at work, at sport) is at its peak when you reach an optimum level of arousal.

So if we had a graph with the bottom axis indicating the external Arousal Level, performance for both extroverts and introverts would be represented with an inverted U shape curve.

Performance as a Function of Arousal

This curve would peak at a lower level of external arousal for introverts than for extroverts. This is because extroverts have, if you recall, a lower level of innate arousal, and therefore require more stimulus before they reach the same performance peak as introverts.

This theory has found support. Geen (1984) measured the preferred stimulation levels in introverts and extroverts and its effects on their arousal and performance. The results indicated that introverts choose a lower level of noise than do the extroverts, and both introverts and extroverts show no difference in arousal and performance with their preferred noise level.

So in other words, if we were all to perform at our best, we would need to each choose our optimum external stimulus level. Unfortunately in many situations, it is the majority which will ultimately choose the degree of 'acceptable' stimulus. So on average, in the world, the amount of external stimulus seems to be an extrovert ideal but not an introvert ideal.

Performing in an Extrovert's World - The Struggles of an Introvert

Let's take two people. Mary is an extrovert. At work, she has no problems typing away and working at her computer while chatting to her boss and having two people looking over her shoulder and discussing what she is doing.

Enter Belinda. Belinda is an introvert. Belinda and Mary are both as proficient as each other but only when both can work at their chosen optimum external stimulus level.

Unfortunately, Belinda works in an average extroverted office. She can not often choose her optimum external stimulus level. As soon as someone looks behind her shoulder, interrupts her or starts to talk, she suddenly loses her ability to perform or forgets what she was doing. Hell, she can't type as quickly as usual or she makes dumb mistakes and hates herself for appearing less competent than she actually really is in front of co-workers.
(This is of course an extreme scenario but it is not an exaggeration.)

What is going on? Well if you remember, Belinda the introvert already has a higher state of innate arousal than Mary. She could do with quiet music but any more than this and she may experience stimulus overflow. She can work fine alone but under the given stimulus conditions, her performance begins to degrade.

Now obviously this example assumes that neither Mary nor Belinda suffer from performance anxiety or social anxiety which would be a different thing altogether and which may also affect their public performance. So assuming that is not the case, this is then, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert at work.

Introverts need more space, more quiet, more time to reflect alone, less buzz around them. They are more likely to do well in smaller groups or on a one on one scenario.

Something organisations should consider.

Now what about Interviews?

I find interviews to be a bit of a joke. Mainly because, unless an introvert is actually doing the interviewing, the bombastic nature of the interview inherently gives an advantage to extroverts. No, really. Do you know how much effort it takes for an introvert to be bombarded by questions and have to rely on chit chat and quick come backs to prove that they are the right person for a sales job? It's hard. In fact most Sales people are extroverted.

Too Much Information! Talk to the Hand

Even in daily work situations, too much oral information can bombard the introvert to the point that they can't handle it. I mean it. There were times in the past when I would just switch off from conversations because it all became too much.

I've since realised that my best weapon against oral bombardment is to write things down. I can happily jot down the bulk of what the most garrulous extroverted group of people digest in one meeting and not understand anything of what is being said.

It is only afterwards, when I return to my quiet cocooned state of optimal introvert arousal that I can read my notes, think back to what was said and finally make sense of the conversation! I'm a bit of a zombie in some meetings but in the end, I survive and can do the work.

Sill however, you can see that life is not always easy for introverts.

Recovering from Parties

Traditionally, parties are the other bane of the introvert. Personally I've given up. If I attend a party, I stay a maximum of three-four hours and then I'm off. Otherwise, I may incur a migraine or it takes me about three days to four days to recover from the stimulus overflow.

Party Time for Extroverts is Always Fun

Antisocial, huh? You try dealing with the party in my brain.


There you have it, being an introvert is more than anything to do with shyness or anti-social behaviour.

It's a physiological state of being which often, but not always, happens to affect social behaviour but which more often than not can really make life difficult for introverts.

Introverts are not weird. They are only attempting to survive in an extrovert's world. They attempt to fend off excess external stimulus in any ways they can, yes, even by shirking from social contact and appearing shy. But if they do this it is only because they want to maintain an optimum state of arousal, something that extroverts, so comfortable are they in this buzzing world, take for granted.

24 March 2010

Girl with a Gun

No sooner had I started work after almost two years of being a self-employed writer/student that my social life exploded in my face.

I was invited to a 60s themed birthday party a couple of weeks ago.
Everyone looked swish in their psychedelic mini shift dresses and coloured knee high boots. I didn't follow the 60s theme, preferring to wear a black mini skirt and a cream and black polka dot corset that I had succumbed to while shopping in Bardot.
I tried saying I was Minnie Mouse but my delicious hostess corrected me and said I had come as Betty Page. I knew better than to contradict the birthday girl!

One of the guests who was wearing khaki ranger pants and shirt carried a revolver attached to his waist. So I asked if I could "borrow his gun" and decided to pose with it. Shane took a couple of photos of me.

This was taken about an hour before I developed introversion-itis and left the party early. I still had some energy left when it was taken and the noise/smoke/alcohol had not yet affected me.

23 February 2010

Perfume - Story of a Murderer or a Genius?

Perfume (2006) is a passable adaptation of Patrick Suskind's exceptional novel,"Perfume".

The premise of the story is based on the notion that unknown to most people, it is scent, not physical beauty, that more powerfully attracts us to a particular person over another. It is scent (today, psychologists would say, pheromones) that spellbinds us and makes us warm to and feel an affinity towards others upon first meeting them.

While Perfume is the story of a socially inept man, his crimes, his passion for the making of perfume and his unfortunate upbringing in the city of Paris, I think it is also a commentary on people in general.

In this short review, I want to posit that we, unlike the main character Grenouille, are primitive. Throughout the story, we are given a portrait of Grenouille, the murderer. Yet who are we to label him a murderer given the fact that our olfactory sense remains in primitive stage and since as evidenced by the book's last passage, we lack control for the most important sense that partly governs our behaviour.

You could make the mistake of watching this movie, believing, that after all, your senses will awaken more strongly to the sight of images on the big screen rather than to words in a book. You are wrong. If you watch "Perfume", you will not be transported to the stench of 18th century France, nor will you partake in Grenouille's supernatural olfactory gift. You will not experience his brutal, miserly upbringing, nor will you delight in his colorful journey towards the discovery of perfume making. You will fail to understand his drive to create a unique perfume even at the cost of murdering women, of murdering one virgin after another with no regard for life. In short, you will become like the bygone perfumer, Giuseppe Baldini. Watching this film would be like smelling and falling under the spell of "Amor and Psyche" and yet, failing to distinguish its individual components. Finally if you haven't read the book, you may even shun Suskind's evocative masterpiece. That would be a tragic loss.

Why do I write this? I believe that the film is too prude, perhaps even naive, in its exploration of Grenouille's psyche. While reading the book, I remember feeling a mixture of pity, repulsion, dislike and much later, respect, for a genius that I could not understand and who, though socially amoral, still managed to inspire admiration for his talent and his personal integrity. In the film though, the main character's complexity is cheaply diluted. Grenouille is not portrayed with the same motivations and drive. The film's portrayal was almost comical rather than psychopathic.

To compound the poor characterisation, is the annoying off screen narrator. I have not felt like this about a narrator since Oliver Stone's Alexander. With Perfume, every time I tried to lose myself in the sensory journey, here was the narrator, distracting me again, instructing me what Grenouille was supposedly thinking at every passing moment. This was frustrating and inaccurate considering that having read the book, I was aware of what Grenouille was supposed to be thinking and this differed significantly.

So now comes the climax of my contention. It is the very final scene, in Paris, where the great perfumer makes a life changing decision after so many years of intense searching and self-discipline. That scene was pathetically staged. The long shot distances us from the carnage and doesn't make the powerful point it should. Why is this scene so important? In it, a group of vagrants, or dare I say the wretch of society is exposed to Grenouille's powerful perfume. It is the perfect perfume, as far as Grenouille is concerned. It is what has obsessed him for years. He douses himself with it and waits. What will be the people's reaction to this most powerful scent? After all, they are beggars and outcasts but hardly criminal...Their reaction? Well they eat him. The book's depiction evokes animalistic flesh eating, blood and orgiastic cannibalism. It brings the reader to a suspenseful, horrifying climax. As Grenouille is literally devoured, we the readers are invited to contrast the senseless behaviour of mere mortals under the effect of powerful scents, with that of a man who had to live with these very powerful scents all his life.

The question raised in this crucial part of the book is whether we would not also be murderers if we could experience scents to the degree that Grenouille was able to experience them. Or would we be worse than murderers perhaps? This is why I think relatively speaking, this final scene was not dealt with very well in the film. It should have raised a question about our own primal instincts. It should make us realise that perhaps Grenouille is much more sophisticated than his earlier portrayal gave him credit for and that we are not.

3 February 2010

Nanni Moretti's Caro Diario - An Italian Culture Analysis

Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario (1993) can be theorised as a merging of several critical discourses directed at contemporary Italian bourgeoisie and intellectuals together with the social injustice that they perpetuate. Both ‘In Vespa’ and ‘Isole’ scorn Italian culture for its bourgeois capitalistic aspirations and its complacency. During ‘In Vespa’, Moretti aligns with the minority to inform his discourse against social injustices. Meanwhile, Moretti’s internal journey and self-realisations throughout Caro Diario is an observation on the Italian individual’s inactivity and passivity in life. Finally ‘Medici’ is critical of Italian authority figures and other national power institutions that have broken people’s trust.

‘In Vespa’ constructs a discourse against the undesirable transformation of Italian society over the last 30 years. During the 1960s, Italy underwent an economic boom which saw much of the population adopt consumerism as a status symbol (Rascaroli, “New Voyages” 77). The migration of newly affluent Italians to the modern suburban houses is conceptualised as a grotesque adoption of normative middle class practices and of consumerism. As Moretti rides his vespa through the city of Rome, he overtly reflects on his fondness for the older Garbatella suburb and Ponte Flaminio. But then while strolling through a more modern middle class suburb, he mocks the uniformity of its dwellers’ lifestyle, including their addiction to videotapes and slippers. A long, panning shot of modern urban apartments with their stacked geometric form further conveys the crude homogeneity attributed to Italian middle class capitalists. As if to emphasise this discourse, ‘In Vespa’ includes a passage from an Italian film. It depicts a lounge gathering between a group of affluent Italians who lament their lack of passion and their passivity. The dialogue acts as a metaphor for how Moretti considers Italian society. The film’s grim quality and gray-blue tones mirror Moretti’s concerns about the ‘new’ being hopelessly dull and dispassionate.

Moretti’s external journey during ‘In Vespa’ denotes that Italian culture has foregone its past refinement and desire for social justice in favour of vulgar mass consumerism. This discourse is subtly informed by references to director Pasolini. In real life interviews, Moretti has revealed his love for the more radical, political cinema of the 1960s, such as that of Pasolini (Mazierska and Rascaroli 11). Conversely, it becomes clear as Moretti cringes in his seat while watching an Italian film session, that contemporary film horrifies him. As evinced by his commentary on Rome’s suburbs, Moretti seems to agree with Pasolini that the past “contained a sacredness and poetry which the contemporary Cartesian world had lost” (Rohdie 9). Moretti’s visit to Pasolini’s grave pays an homage to past cinema while also lamenting the refined past that Italians have abandoned for their new capitalistic lifestyle. The grave, it turns out, is a remote, unkept and isolated stone sculpture which renders the symbolic neglect of the sacred only too apparent. Pasolini’s reality is “the reality of the poor, [...] the things that European bourgeoisie incarcerated, expelled beyond its borders” (Rohdie 12). Pasolini’s neglected grave mirrors society’s abandonment of fine cinema, and with it, the shunning of the poor in favour of capitalism.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Caro Diario’s ‘In Vespa’ further highlights social injustices in Italian society by endorsing the concerns of ‘the other’. Moretti has been critical of Italian comedy (Mazierska and Rascaroli 12, 87) whose tendencies is to address social issues by poking fun at marginal society, working class and the poorer, uneducated milieu. ‘In Vespa’ functions in the opposite way to Italian comedy because Moretti pokes fun at his own class and aligns himself with the marginal masses. He boldly converses with a driver at a traffic light and tells him that he is “...comfortable and in agreement only with a minority”. This autobiographical component of ‘In Vespa’ reminds the audience that while Moretti may be an affluent intellectual in real life, he aligns himself with ‘the other’. Later, Moretti immerses himself into world music as if to convey his siding with this other. In particular, Moretti dances to the beat of ‘Didi’, a Rai hit by Algerian-French singer, Cheb Khaled. Before its popularity, Rai music originated from the poorer societies of Algeria who were eager to voice social concerns affecting the native population (Rai, Wikipedia). By embracing the moors of the marginal ‘other’ Moretti remains critical of traditional Italian comedy and of the affluent, intellectual community of which he himself is part.

Caro Diario also constructs its anti-intellectualism discourse by advocating for a direct form of communication that can be understood by all. Conducive to this discourse, is the focus on television during ‘In Vespa’ and ‘Isole’. Television is traditionally seen as a source of entertainment devoid of depth and intellectualism. In ‘Isole’, Gerardo, who initially professes his long avoidance of television, eventually becomes addicted to soap programs as far as running away from Alicudi. According to ‘Isole’, Gerardo’s unlikely endorsement of soap programs attests to the value of television. Meanwhile, Gerardo’s written protest to the pope is an indirect criticism of the rigid religious institution, so pervasive in Italian society. It questions the disfavour into which television programs have been placed by reminding Italy of the value of television for meaningful cultural exchange and as a “direct mean of communication” (Rascaroli, “Caro Diario” 239). Television is, in essence, communication that is attainable to all, regardless of education. By appraising television’s qualities, Caro Diario denounces society’s more obscure forms of communication which tend to ensure that intellectuals or political groups remain in power and propagate social injustice.

‘Isole’’s other important discourse criticises the prevalent complacency within Italian society and Italians’ inability to see reality as it really stands so as to eventually improve it along with themselves. During ‘Isole’, Gerardo and Moretti travel through a succession of islands which can be conceived as a micro version of Italy, together with its different regions and villages where people speak different dialects. The chapter paints an Italian complacency, one derived from an absurd sense of self-sufficiency and a lack of clear vision for reality. In Salina, surrealistic passages denote the absurdity of adults trapped into interminable conversations with pampered children intent on monopolising telephone exchanges. Just as Salina’s indulging parents are highly unaware of their own absurdity, so to, is the mayor of Stromboli hopelessly blind to the hostility of his island’s inhabitants. Gerardo and Moretti finding no place to remain on inhospitable Stromboli, are promptly escorted to their boat where the mayor prescribes irrelevant solutions in the form of a fountain and ornamental music in an attempt to improve his island. Again, the mayor can not see reality for what it is and shifts instead to tangential issues. Finally, the people of Alicudi, so proud of their asceticism and isolation also remain self-satisfied and blind to the detriments of their own condition.

According to Rascaroli, the mayor of Stromboli represents the Italian government’s tendency to offer “easy and generic choices” (“Caro Diario” 240). I would argue that it is not so much the suggested solution that is in error but rather, the blind diagnosis and the absence of an awareness which itself points to an inherent complacency within Italian society. This discourse is further emphasised in ‘Medici’ where local doctors continue to be blind to Moretti’s true illness and prescribe irrelevant drugs to solve a medical condition which they have failed to diagnose. ‘Medici’ scorns Italian doctors for being too complacent to even doubt their own judgement or search more deeply into Moretti’s illness as the Chinese doctors did. Just as Stromboli’s mayor remains blind to the real problems on his island, so to are the doctors who can not see Moretti’s true ailment. In essence, Caro Diario highlights the complacency of Italian society which it sees as a veritable scourge since it hampers individual and national growth through relevant solutions.

Similarly, Caro Diario’s autobiographical components construct a discourse to criticise the individual’s passivity and self-satisfaction. According to this, the individual, both in Italy and elsewhere, has failed to embark on those activities that were once planned and have since been neglected. In ‘Vespa’, Moretti alludes to having always wanted to dance and never doing so. Meanwhile in ‘Isole’ after entrusting his list of tasks to Gerardo, he claims “I have done none of the things I wanted to do”. Later, in ‘Medici’, the autobiographical component functions as a metonym for the individual at the universal level, who, when made vulnerable by illness is suddenly confronted with a renewed sense of their own mortality. Caro Diario therefore underlines the dangers of the individual’s inactivity. It presses the individual to act before it is too late.

Finally ‘Medici’, through its depiction of highly imperfect medical institutions, is a discourse against Italian authority as a whole, be it political or religious. ‘Medici’ is critical of powerful national institutions that have failed to deliver solutions and broken people’s trust. As made clear by Rascaroli (“Caro Diario” 241), Moretti appears fragile during his visits to the doctor. This is a metaphor for the vulnerability of the everyday citizen of any country who, powerless and often, against their will, places their trust in some power institution in the hope that they will not be disappointed. But as the succession of incorrect diagnoses ensue and as Moretti’s condition worsens, it is clear that disappointment often occurs.

Works Consulted:

Caro Diario. Dir. Nanni Moretti. Hopscotch Entertainment, 1993.

Mazierska, Eva and Rascaroli, Laura. The Cinema of Nanni Moretti: Dreams and Diaries. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

Rai. Wikipedia. Undated. 13 Aug 2009 .

Rascaroli, Laura. “New Voyages to Italy: Postmodern Travellers and the Italian Road Film.” Screen 44 (2003): 71-91.

Rascaroli, Laura. “Caro Diario: Dear Diary”. The Cinema of Italy. Ed. Georgio Bertellini London: Wallflower Press, 2007. 235-43.

Rohdie, Sam and Pasolini, Pier Paolo. The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995.

I wrote this essay as part of a European Film Course.

2 February 2010

Ming Gothic

Today is a great day in the history of literature!

I have created a new novel genre called "Ming Gothic". This, by the way, is also the name of a Font I stumbled onto while working on my novel's website. I did not use the font in the end but was inspired by its name...

According to this site, Gothic literature includes elements such as: an ancient prophecy; omens/visions; supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events; women in distress; women threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male; the metonymy of gloom and horror (including a sense of mystery, danger); and overwrought emotion.

All these elements feature in my novel and are integrated within Ming history which makes for a perfect coinage of "Ming Gothic".

Why would I want to create this new genre?

1. A Different Type of Historical Novel - I had never thought of my novel as an 'epic' even though the sheer scale of the story was a superficial indication that it may fit that description. Also, unlike Edward Rutherfurd's historical novels which tend to have multiple serial plots and introduce/drop characters while progressing along multiple centuries, my novel retains all its characters, is considerably narrower in focus (it only spans 40 years) and has an ongoing central plot element.

2. Doing Away with Action Figures - I also wanted to shift conception of what this novel could be about, especially for Western readers who may not be familiar with Chinese history. Whenever I am asked, "What is your novel about?" and I answer, "It is a historical novel set in Ming China", I shudder to think what is going on in the other person's mind. After all, setting the novel in China invites all sorts of stereotypical speculation that the story may deal with 'warlords', 'warriors', 'kung fu masters', 'travelling monks', 'young apprentices being taught swordsmanship' and the likes. So overall, I wanted to do away with this Action type view of Chinese characters which in a sense has been perpetuated by films.

3. Changing Perceptions - Another reason is perhaps more ambitious. I basically do not want the English-speaking reader to experience medieval China as an exotic 'other'. Rather, I want them to conceive a world or rather, an atmosphere that is known universally through the Gothic form.

4. Future Projects - Finally, in the future, I am interested in writing another novel set in Ming China. Together, these books will I hope pioneer the genre of Ming Gothic.

23 January 2010

Jealousy and Insecurity - Malena

I was talking to a friend the other day about the film, Malena.

I love this movie. Malena is the story of a beautiful woman living in a village in Sicily. It is WWII and her husband is away at war. She lives alone in a remote house outside the village. At night, she abandons herself to her fantasies and longings, dancing and dreaming in privacy...well, not so private since her young admirers are often lurking in the darkness stealing glances at her in a nightgown.
During the day she walks quietly to the village where she is ritually subjected to blatant gawking by youths and aged alike, lewd remarks and the cruel gossip of both spiteful jealous women and lustful, yet self-preserving, men. Malena is so judged and hated because of her beauty that village people project onto her all sorts of fabrications about her character and morality.

Halfway through the film, as a side effect of war, Malena becomes destitute. No one will help her except a lustful judge who will only help her at...a price. Things become worse for Malena. She has no food, is hungry and becomes desperate to do anything for food. Soon after, she becomes a prostitute, not only to survive, but as a self-fulfilling prophecy following the way she is seen and regarded by the people in the village.

The scene where Malena publicly emerges into her role as prostitute is one of my favourites. Where once she walked gracefully with her head lowered, in this scene, she pounds the ground with her heels strutting her wasp silhouette and sits provocatively right in the middle of the city square where ironically, the men have been gossiping about her questionable morality for years. Malena sits there among the men that she previously avoided and never frequented. The once shy Malena, in a gesture of worldly sophistication, takes out a cigarette and raises it to her bright red lips...And what do you think happens? Well, the hypocritical men all reach out with their lighter.

It is a disturbing scene for me. It speaks volume about some men's behaviour. I feel so much sympathy for Malena.

Following this, Malena entertains German soldiers much to the rage of the village women. While they go on suffering in the last months of the war, Malena, who has been pushed into becoming the very vain, self-interested woman they judged her to be, is sleeping with Germans, is well clothed, well fed and is able to survive. But the war ends and those who are embittered by it will soon seek revenge...

And so it happens that the women of the village, fueled by their long standing jealousy for Malena, drag her out savagely into the city square. There, they furiously stab, stone, punch, shave and beat her under the silent, watchful eye of the men. In this scene, the indignance that these self-righteous, shrieking women supposedly feel towards a traitor is but a sham. It is a pretext for their jealousy and their deep-seated need to destroy someone they have always seen as a threat.

They do destroy her. When they are done with her, she wails like a broken animal, glaring her sad, reproachful eyes at everyone around her. In her tears she finally expresses years of resentment and hurt so that the entire market square stands in stone, shocked by her outburst.
I'll leave it at that but that's the gist of the film.

What Malena means to me and why some insecure people are pathetic
I think insecure people can act mean a lot. From what I've learnt or observed, they will strategically say certain things to devalue what you have whenever it threatens them. By dismissing you, it allows them to feel better about themselves. What else...if they happen to value popularity, then they slander you to ruin your relationship/reputation with others.
They also, like in Malena, will apply all sorts of moral judgments on you to justify their ill feelings towards you, ill feelings which in the first place result from their jealousy and not from some deep-seated moral belief as they like to tell themselves and others.

What I don't like about these people is that if you were to confront them about their behaviour, they would be in denial. So you can't get them to admit their insecurities, you can't help them change or grow. They are stuck unless they learn to make themselves feel good intrinsically and develop some confidence without trashing that of others. And since in the meantime, they are stuck, you end up stuck with their negativity. And no one should have to put up with that.

Another thought...you want to soar, learn more or try something daring but insecure people will want to keep you in your designated little box so that they can avoid feeling threatened by your potential success.

Or else...they will resent you for trying what they dared not and wish you to fail so that it justifies their own decision to Not-try.

Really life is too short for this kind of thinking.

18 January 2010


Creativity is not a fad that one adopts and wears as a status symbol. No. It is grimy and self-sacrificing. It locks itself in isolation for days and emerges at whim. In a conversation, it embraces all possibilities, eluding the facts and the established knowledge du jour. It is often showered in ridicule. Often imprisoned.

Creativity is immersion in activities and products that most people can not understand. It is doing something that will often take the non-creative mind months, years, perhaps decades, to appreciate. It is often visionary.

True creativity transcends the current fashions and their popular appeal. True creativity does not cater for the masses. It is beyond the masses.

Creativity in no way seeks to make one cool or popular.
Popularity often results in the propagation of ideas and behaviours that echo established opinions and ideological desires or strategically rebels against them.
Fuck popularity.

Take a book, for example. The masses will make a book popular by consuming and devouring it.
If it is published, it will be to cater for the whims of the masses with the very purpose of making $$$money$$$.

Fuck the masses.

6 January 2010

My Delicious Holidays

After finishing my degree on 20 November, I had planned to work on my novel and get it to the completion stage. The good news is that I did manage to write a fair bit before the Christmas period so that I have about 9 days of writing to go before starting the editing process. The bad news, is that recently, I have been distracted by far too many social events...my alibi for not yet having completed my novel's 1st draft.

So here is a snippet of the fun I have been up to.

On 12 December, I attended a lovely housewarming at a friend's place. She lives in Newfarm and her riverside apartment offers gorgeous views of the Story Bridge. Again, it made me seriously consider moving to Newfarm.

Over Christmas, I stayed at my boyfriend's place in Teneriffe. For three days, he cooked delicious food for me and we saw Lovely Bones and Sherlock Holmes at the cinema on Boxing Day.

Apart from the wonderful sets, costumes and witty screenplay, one aspect I most preferred in Sherlock Holmes was Hans Zimmer's playfully engaging soundtrack. It is now one of my favourite soundtracks. I interrupt this post to share with you my top favourite film tracks of all time:

1. Hans Zimmer- The Might of Rome for Gladiator

especially from 1:21 onwards

2. Vangelis - End Titles for Blanderunner

3. Lisa Gerrard - Whale Rider

4. Hans Zimmer - Discombobulate for Sherlock Holmes

5. Mark Isham - Flames for Crash

especially from 2:18 onwards

Now, where were we???

During the new year period, I tried three Brisbane restaurants with a good reputation.

The first one was Belle Epoque at Emporium.
I would have liked this restaurant more if the chef had not chosen to share his fastidious aversion to cooking a well done steak.
I would also have liked it more if the Steak and Frites had arrived heaped up on a plate as in most parts of France, rather than as it did, bite size with the fries served separately in what looked suspiciously like an ashtray.
I lament that this restaurant served to reinforce negative French stereotypes. I can assure you that eating out in places like Lyon, Corsica and Marseilles, is a casual and generous affair. None of this attitude.
I ordered the Bouillabaise. It was delicious with generous portions of fresh seafood. But the saffron aroma was more voluptuous in Bistro Vite's Bouillabaise which I had in Melbourne three years ago.
Overall, lovely rustic decor.

On New Year's Eve, I booked in for a celebratory night at the Hilton. Shane and I had dinner at the Hilton's Atrium buffet restaurant. All the meat dishes were exquisite and I loved the baby bocconcini & tomato salad. My favourite dessert was the cheesecake although I was disappointed with the spongy pavlova.
Breakfast was also fantastic!

Finally yesterday, Shane took me to Garuva in the Valley. This was by far my favourite place this summer. So three cheers for Garuva!

I had not been there for almost five years. I still adore the jungle feel in their lounge with its large animal print cushions laid out all over the floor and the green palms glowing under dim lights. When we arrived, the cocktail lounge was conveniently empty so after one eager sip of my juicy Garuva Ecstasy, I proceeded to crawl onto the stage and do a seductive dance before realising I hated the song. Oh, I forgot to mention that while crawling onto the stage, I was giggling so hard that I choked and began to cough furiously. Basically, Laura and alcohol do not mix.
Anyway, we were then escorted to our draped enclosure in the dark dining area.

Now if you haven't been to Garuva, the dining area consists of low, Asian style tables flanked by couches. Each table area is enclosed by white silky looking drapes suspended from the ceiling. Overall you could be forgiven for imagining that you are in a Japanese gothic story and that the drapes are floating in mid air swaying under ghostly breezes.

Oh dear, I have been distracted by the ambient decor and have not given due attention to the food. Absolutely fantastic. The Baha Beef was tasty and tender, coconut prawns were delicious, I could barely finish the bountiful tempura vegetables and the BBQ fish was one of the best fish I ever had. Overall, 11 out of 10 for meal size, flavour and quality.
Now the only thing I would have liked more of in Garuva, is privacy...

So that's for my dining experiences this summer. If that wasn't enough, I am heading to a film screening/pool party at a friend's place on Friday night. I am very much looking forward to it, everyone is so nice and so positive. I love creative and positive people who are not concerned with matters of consequences. They truly are amazing. Oh, wait, it's not the end. The day after that, I have to submit myself to a photoshoot which I admit I have organised for my vain self. But it will be lots of fun.

I may just be able to write this week but for now, I am still enjoying my delicious holidays.