Monthly Archives: September 2009

Sometimes, I forget to realize – much less appreciate – just how good I’ve got it. And just like any other female who bellyaches about her lot in life at certain times of the month, I need to be reminded. I need to be reminded that no matter how unhappy I think I am with my lot in life, it could be infinitely worse.

And these are perilous times we live in. Not just interesting, as in the old Chinese curse, but – perilous. All sorts of alarm bells – environmental, political and intellectual, are screaming as I type this, desperately trying to remind us that the Hour is Nigh, as old Gothic novels used to say, time is running out, that humanity as a whole needs to wake up and do – something, not tomorrow, not in twenty years, not even after dinner, but right this minute, or else we will continue to dance our merry little jig on the knife edge of obliteration – and – game over, man. That’s it.

Exit humanity, the greatest viral lifeform this planet has ever known.

Among the staggering challenges that are staring us in the face for the next several generations are: global warming, climate change (self-inflicted, my sorrow to say), overpopulation, pollution, the current economic recession and – poverty. Poverty of a sort most of us in my part of the world cannot even begin to imagine, just as it’s even harder to try to think of some sort of solution that might actually work.

In the early Noughties, in the affluent West, happiness was an It bag, or more than one pair of Manolos. These days – and yes, we’re still in that best of all possible realities, the West – happiness for a lot of people is knowing their job will be there tomorrow, or that the mortgage will be paid this month.

In other, poorer regions, the ones we don’t hear about nearly enough, the ones Fox News would prefer doesn’t exist at all, happiness is a full belly for your children, and the sometimes remote possibility of not being beat up by a male relative or even your husband – today.

If you’re a woman, that is. I’d like to point out, much evidence to the contrary, that roughly half the human population are – women. In an ideal world, that would mean that women should have about as much to say in ruling the planet as men, in whatever relevant field or capacity they choose.

You and I know that’s not the case. We know it in our bones and in the 3 AM sleepless corners of our souls. We know it in our everyday lives, and we know it when a newsflash on TV, a book review, an article in the newspaper, shocks us out of our complacency to remind us what we would prefer – or pretend – not to know.

This is not an ideal world, this is not an equal planet, there is no such thing as “liberty for all”.

Poverty is everywhere a global problem, and everywhere, it is increasingly the women who suffer for it, just as they always have. And why?

Because women are left out of the equation of – education, politics, creating solutions to the problems that are affecting every one of us right this minute. Women are written out of influence for any number of reasons – religious dogma, tradition, or just plain testosterone-induced bloody-mindedness at having to relegate even the tiniest amount of the “power” to control their surroundings.

Well, you know what, guys? You’ve ruled the roost and the planet for this long, and look where it got us!

So when I read an article on the NY Times written by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn some time ago, it was as if someone had planted me on top of a very hot bonfire. I had to check to see if my rattan desk chair was burning. (It wasn’t. )

In their book, reviewed here, Kristof and Wu Dunn show that with small, baby steps, with micro loans and education, there can be hope for the billions of women who need it the most. And in so doing, there might be a glimmering of hope for the rest of the planet.

But this blog is not here to serve any feminist diatribe/harangue purposes. They rarely achieve what they’re supposed to, any way. I’ve been married long enough to know that from personal experience. I’m not here to rant over or harp upon atrocities like rape, genital mutilation or other brands of misogyny benign or malignant.

I would instead like to propose a little mind experiment, to remind you, me, and whoever else might be reading, just what the women in the world are worth, not just in the many roles they are required to play, but their intrinsic worth as sentient, living, breathing human beings who have so much to contribute to their kind, and not just providing cannon fodder for the next epic conflict.

You are – a husband, a father, a lover, a colleague. You have been accustomed since birth to the presence of women, starting with the great Mother Goddess Mom and on throughout your life.

Women! Can’t live with them, can’t live without ’em!

One perfectly ordinary day, a day just like any other day, you wake up. You have the vague disquieting feeling something is wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Then, it hits you. Your wife/mother/sister/daughter/female cat is missing. Not just missing, but all the odds and ends of female life are missing, too. No clothes in the closets, no lotions and potions in the bathroom, no lipstick or perfume by the vanity in the bedroom. In fact, there is no vanity at all, and you could have sworn you saw it yesterday!

Dazed and confused, you make your way to work. Maybe your shirt is unironed, maybe you had to skip breakfast because there was no one but you and Junior to cook, and you only just managed to master the microwave, if that.

There, you discover that it’s not just you, but every guy you know.

Yesterday, there they were, the ladies in your life, and today, they’re gone as if they never existed. It’s all over the media – in every country, in every city, every village on the planet, and why it happened, no one knows.

But the females are gone, and only the males remain.

How long would it take, for all that unchecked testosterone to implode and explode? How long, before scuffles erupt into skirmishes, conflict or all-out warfare over the few resources we have left? A week, a month, or even a year?

How long would it take, before humanity began dying off, with no hope and less remembrance, and no one to replace them?

How long?

Think about it.

Then, I want you to tell me whether or not women are important, valuable, worthwhile to invest hope and future in.

And if not, if you don’t agree, then think about the alternative – that perfectly ordinary day the world woke up – and we were gone, without explanation or warning.

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You might wonder about that decidedly vintage ad above: You might have had total hysterics over it, as I did, because just when I think I’ve seen it all and nothing will surprise me ever again, something like that Seventies ad for a now thankfully defunct men’s cologne will come along to shock me out of my complacency.

As one of my favorite Talking Heads songs goes: “And you may ask yourself – how did I get here?”

Once upon a time not so long ago, I was so poor I could not afford to buy perfume. Now, it’s true that strictly speaking, perfume is not going to make one iota of difference in my ability to survive. Not one.

But ever since my mother took me on a trip to Paris aged barely 14, and bought me not one, but two bottles of my very first grown-up seduce juice from the source, I had never, ever, been without. I moved on from those first bottles of Guerlain’s “Jicky” and “Miss Dior” on to other, more subversive stuff, and out of both habit and inclination, I wore it all day and every day. Several former boyfriends mentioned it was one of their favorite things about me – that haunting trail of pheromones and scented cloud I carried around like a badge of honor, a willing obligation and a shield against the world. No matter what happened or what vicissitudes life threw my way, because of that fragrant aura of whatever I was wearing that day, I could handle it.

In the meantime, I have given up on recreational drug use, most alcohol except at Xmas and casual sex, but not perfume.

The came that day, not so very long ago, when my six favorite bottles were empty. There was nothing left, and no money to replace them. I wished for perfume every birthday and Xmas, and my mother-in-law bought me socks, underwear and mommy jeans. I appreciated the socks and underwear, but the Mommy jeans went straight to the Salvation Army. Poor or no, I had my limits. Unlike the hips and thighs of those jeans.

The Buttkicker would have loved nothing more than to inundate me with perfume, but as I said, we were poor. So poor, we were often reduced to selling our own plasma just so we could feed our two cats.

But it was a matter of priorities. We had broadband. So I began to read perfume blogs, as if I could absorb clouds of scent by some weird osmosis interfacing between the words and my brain. Perfume by proxy. A shabby substitute for the real thing, but it would have to do.

Along the way, I became educated as well as entertained. I learned how to sniff like a connoisseur. I learned of the harrowing perils of niche perfume houses – the ones who hardly, if ever, advertise, who exist as a sensual secret among the the lucky few who know about them, smug in the knowledge that whatever they’re wearing will never,, ever, ever be on sale in the discount bins at TJ Maxx or Walmart. learned of a perfume house – in Paris, where else? – that, so said many, many reviews, had the unique ability to bottle emotion. Fancy that! Distilled emotion – good, bad or frustrated – in a bottle you could take with you!

I saw it in my mind’s eye. On my gothic days, I could waft melancholy and Proustian nostalgia, on other days, all-out take-no-prisoners va-va-voom sex appeal, on yet other days, spread the joys of intellectual arrogance.

It beat anything available at my local department store in the sticks well into a cocked hat. The possibilities were endless.

So, as time wore on and I eventually acquired a bottle or two in exchange for a couple of weeks or so of oatmeal and Rice-A-Roni, I saw it as my hellbent obligation to educate the unwilling. I mean, people, how can you not know?

Nowhere more evident than when it came to scents – and men.

Now, it’s well-known that with a few exceptions, not a few men have the olfactory sense of a wooly mammoth with a bad headcold. If men had their way, women would be perpetually wrapped in fried bacon. And in terms of what they wore themselves – forget it. They wore what their dads wore, or whatever fell out of the Xmas stocking, bought by a well-meaning (female) relative.

Two young gentlemen of my acquaintance were particularly clueless. One is fair, one is dark, and they both discovered they wore the exact same stuff. This would never do. I sat them down over the course of several smoke breaks and rearranged their wiring like some latter-day Frankensteena. Suddenly, their vocabularies included words like “headspace”, “heart notes” and “vetiver”. They found out there is much more on offer than anything labelled “Hugo Boss” or “Axe”. Old Spice is so VERY – old hat.

The test came some time later. After their synapses had been rearranged in an altogether more pleasing olfactory fashion, I sent them out with definite orders to buy something that went with their pheromones. Since one is a notorious lech and the other is notoriously geeky – and knows that playing Fallout 3 all weekend does not help much with the challenge of getting laid – they went for it.

I am pleased to report that the lech is now working on his own headspace in relative peace and quiet, and the geek is beating off the ladies with a very particular stick. They smell infinitely better now. They’ll thank me when they’re 50, at least for the memories.

Back to that ad. As I said, I had hysterics, and it usually takes a lot more than the sight of a cologne bottle to induce it. But really, folks – what were they THINKING? “Macho – it’s ba-a-a-a-ad”.

Anything in THAT bottle would have to be, wouldn’t you say? Are these the lengths men went to in the late Seventies to assert their (temporarily) misplaced/emasculated masculinity, and to such a degree that they had to have a bottle to prove it? Or is it just the product of an enterprising designer and art director who had two days to work through a brief and resorted to alcohol AND cocaine to get the right idea and meet their deadline?

You wonder. I know I did!

Remember that arcane Parisian perfume house that bottled emotion? Well, as events proved yesterday, it’s true. I can attest to the fact.

Last week, I summoned up the courage to email this rarified, august presence and request samples. They arrived, three days later, wrapped in odiferous black tissue paper and with an eloquent handwritten note thanking me for my interest and looking forward to my patronage.

The Buttkicker and I have been married too long. I know this because in .2 seconds, he had homed in on a sample and said “that is SO you!”.

A few I have tried, and discovered that there IS such a thing as bottled emotion. Some I look forward to trying later, and one that is such a flesh-eating monster I would never test even if my arm were located in Ulan Baator and the rest of me in LA. (My sister, however, would go ape over that one)

But yesterday, to give myself a lift, to give myself a challenge, I sampled one. It sounded like a good one. If I didn’t like it, well, it hadn’t cost me anything. Not so bad, considering this stuff retails for around 120$.

On it went. I checked my email. And a few seconds later came – happy. Exuberant, even. I’d call it “Joy”, but Jean Patou’s edition had nothing on this one. If you could encapsulate “happy”, “womanly”, “bubbly” “sexy” and “mature”, all in one word, and pour it into a bottle, that would be it, exactly. I had to leave, and went over to the Buttkicker to give him a goodbye hug. It was nothing short of a miracle that he let me go. He refused. He buried his wooly mammoth nose in my neck and wouldn’t budge. “I don’t care what it costs – I’m BUYING that, right effing NOW! I want to smell it on you, on our sheets, everywhere! Oh! Man!”

Over the space of the past nine years, he’s been subjected to a lot, nose-wise. About 98% has boiled down to “you smell so good!”

There are two exceptions. Yesterday’s was one. He even threatened to send off an email to that august Parisian establishment of refinement and thank them personally.

Happy in a bottle.

Pas mal, as they say in Paris!

And worth at least a month of oatmeal!

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Sometimes, it’s a good thing to plug out the plug, disconnect from the universal grid, and do something entirely different from your daily routine. Sometimes, that can teach you a lot about yourself, your priorities (or the lack thereof) and where you energy should go.

For the past five weeks, I have been on vacation. I haven’t been anywhere exciting, or done too much that would be considered “interesting”. So far as anyone could tell, I have very much been right where I’ve always been.

So far as anyone could tell, I could just as easily have fallen off the face of the planet altogether, and in a manner of speaking, I have.

For the first time in a long, long, time, I have allowed myself to fall into:
a) the time warp of my book, and the rest of the world be damned.
b) books. Lots. Of. Books. History books and short story anthologies and source books and biographies and historical potboiler books. I used to pride myself on being a three-a-week person. Since the arrival of Damien, that went downhill fast. In a day and age where everything happens instantaneously, where we’re looking for fast – food, fixes, thrills, I had forgotten the indecent pleasures of staying up until 2 AM – reading.
c) the fine art of what the Italians call “dolce far niente”, or – “how sweet to do – nothing.” Contemplating the vagaries of existence, fine-tuning the art of making the perfect cake, or simply staring out into space and thinking – nothing at all, which has a lot to recommend it.

Most of all, and most important of all, I have been – writing the Effing Book. 10 – 15 pages a day, going back and ditching most of them, fine-tuning until it reads like poetry and flows like mead – sweet, smooth and golden.

All the while being only too aware of Colette. Once upon a time, Colette was approached by an ardent fan, a very young man. He had finally summoned up the courage to see La Grande Dame with his manuscript. She asked him to return in a few weeks. He did. Breathlessly, he asked: “So, Madame. What did you think about my book?”

Madame looked him up and down, marvelling at the impatience of youth. “It is a fine book, a magnificent book. Now, chéri, go take out all the poetry!”

I am preparing myself for the day when an editor slashes all those poetic passages I loved so much to write.

And meanwhile, I’m trying not to second-guess myself. Figuring out what happens next and in what order, figuring out points of view, untangling conflict and motive, realizing how little I know about what it means to be young and male in the testosterone-soaked society of Iron Age Ireland, realizing just how much the story has changed from first to third draft. What was once a Harlequin bodice-ripper of a sort became an action adventure story and then became – something else entirely. The characters took over and demanded to be heard. They still do, yelling in ancient Irish in my dreams, the dreams that do not include unlikely situations with metal gods who aren’t getting any younger, either.

When I get really stuck, I send a fervent thank-you to the inventors of Google Earth, who take me where I need to go when I need to kick-start my imagination.

So if I have been missed, if you have been wondering, that’s where I’ve been. I will be back. Eventually.

Now, excuse me please. I have to scare the bejeesus out of a Roman with pneumonia!

So long as I don’t take out the poetry!

Image: Cow Parade, “Meditating cow”

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