2. Shy, Shy (a second try)

A few weeks ago, I sat down to write a post about shyness, but, as often happens to me, I was immediately distracted by a small bit of trivia that should have been a mere footnote, and ended up heading off on a tangent that finally took up the entire post.

What happened was this. I sat down to write my post with a topic in mind, (a better start than some posts have had!), and as usual, hoped that a title would suggest itself. On this occasion, the title popped into my head the instant I sat down. It was a lyric (and song title) from a silly 80’s pop song: Too shy shy, hush hush, eye to eye, by a band aptly titled Kajagoogoo.

But as soon as I’d inserted this idiotic title into the title field, I felt as if I couldn’t just move on and talk about the topic of shyness, leaving those ridiculous lyrics hanging there unexplained. For a start, anyone born after about 1984 would have no clue as to the origins of the title, and I’d be forever misconstrued as a terrible poet.* It seemed that the lyrics were too incredibly stupid NOT to focus on.

But I won’t dwell any further on this lame pop song. Rather than divert another post right off track, let’s move on. This post is attempt number 2: Shyness.

A few weeks ago I attended a talk about shyness, by an Australian writer and broadcaster, Sian Prior, whose memoir, Shy had just been published. No doubt like many others in the audience, I attended the talk because I consider myself a shy person, and felt a jealous curiosity to hear how someone else who describes herself as shy, has made a career out of doing things I self-selected out of  – radio broadcasting, arts journalism, writing reviews – and developed a high public profile in the process.

The main two questions that come up for me, after attending this talk and then reading other people’s blogs on the topic, are: what is the difference between being an introvert and being shy? – and, how do you differentiate between shyness, introversion, and low self-esteem?

I know that shyness and introversion are not the same as one another, nor the same as having low self-esteem, but in my own case at least, I feel that my shyness is a product of having two very shy parents, as well as having had very low self-esteem as a child.

One of the posts I read while researching was this great post about being an introvert, by dorkymum. As she mentions, “introversion” means a tendency to need time away from others in order to re-energise, (as opposed to the olden-day perception of introverts as people with no self-confidence) and I completely relate to that. Dorkymum also described introverts as being stressed out by having too many things crammed into a day. I was not aware that was a trait of introverts, but I was certainly aware that was my own response to my time being too full! Having to go straight from an appointment, to work, to a dinner with friends feels like too much to me. Occasionally I have to turn down dinner invitations from an extraverted friend of mine because to cram in another social function on my weekend won’t leave me enough time for some quiet reflective activity – like reading, or writing this post. However, in a small group of well-known people I can come across as extraverted, and I arrive home after a good night out feeling energised by the socialising I’ve just done. So I’m not sure whether I am an introvert, or the term that Sian Prior uses for herself: a “shy extrovert”. But my interest in this topic goes beyond trying to work out how to classify myself.

One of the reasons I’ve thought about shyness, and/or introversion, for a while was that I was looking to change jobs, and in the arts industry, at least, it seems to be hard to find any Position Description that does not, between the lines, require you to be an extraverted, confident, high-achieving go-getter, prepared to try anything, and to spend your free time networking for the organisation. Now I love working in the arts, don’t get me wrong, clearly that’s why I stick with it. The trouble was that on paper I met the criteria for a lot of jobs, and made it to interviews for a high percentage of those I applied for, but after being told about 10 times over 3 years that I was “only just missed out, you were our second choice”, I couldn’t help but suspect that what let me down was my natural shyness and/or introversion.

Somehow I feel sure those jobs all went to extraverted, high-achieving, twenty-something go-getters that bounced into the interview oozing with so much confidence that the panel hired them on the spot. Maybe I’m displaying a soon-to-be totally outmoded Generation X way of thinking, but I find the idea that one person can be just amazing at everything from managing the finances and running payroll, to creating the artwork for marketing, to building the website, booking the tickets, working at reception, setting up the AV, managing the casual staff, ensuring all legal compliance is covered, and bringing in sponsors and donors, as well as the bins at night*, a little bit unrealistic. Whether people are shy, introverted, or extraverted is only one of the factors that make them the right person for the job, but I feel as if PDs in the artworld are all written with confident extraverts in mind.

Isn’t it just common sense to play to people’s strengths? The shy amongst us often make great people to do your administration, your graphic design, your contracts, your databases, your IT, or your back of house technical and stage set up – because we like to do the essential work in the background that keeps projects running. We may not want frontline roles. We may not be the best person to manage your Front of House, your Publicity Campaign, or to represent your company at the industry trade show. That’s not to say that shy, or introverted people, can’t do these things well, but that in general, most prefer not to. Shy, or introverted people can be creators of cultural products (or other kinds of products). For goodness sakes, writers are the epitomy of introverts, aren’t they? A preference for solitary activity – tick! Reenergise by spending time alone? Tick! Enjoy reflective thought? Tick! Sian Prior is only one example in a long line of shy or introverted people who are also writers.

I think our self-image as shy or introverted allows the shy amongst us to self-select out of certain careers without realising what a limited picture we have of the career, and of ourselves. When I was at school, I contemplated journalism as a career, for about 10 minutes. Based on what I’d seen on TV, all I knew about being a journalist back then was that I’d need to be able to push my way through a scrum of other media to get to the front at a press conference and yell out questions, something which I could do about as comfortably as I could nominate myself to become Prime Minister of Australia*. No other kind of writing-based career occurred to me way back then (there were probably no other examples supplied in the Year 10 Job Guide). Now, I think that public radio would have  suited me, because of my love of music and ability to amuse myself and sometimes others with my scintillating verbal repartee, but back then I’d never heard of public radio, and I was probably correct in assuming that to be an announce on commercial radio would have required me to be not only extraverted but pretty much cut-throat competitive. That definitely ruled me out!)

But was it shyness, introversion, or a lack of self-esteem, that caused me not to pursue those things? In my case I think a lack of self-esteem. That was a distinction I would have been interested to hear Prior talk about. Prior talked about feeling anxious knowing she had to go to a party, and called that shyness, which it is. But I wonder, of myself, what lies even deeper. What causes my “shyness”. Isn’t it a sense of not being good enough to command others’ attention? I know that feeling. I always expect people will forget my name. (Invariably I’m correct, because my name belongs to a dark haired, olive skinned woman, not a freckled, fair-skinned and sandy-blonde one, but these days I don’t take it personally since I forget everyone else’s names too.)

After years of bad publicity, “introversion” and “shyness” are finally traits we can admit to without shame, but “low self-esteem” is still not kosher to admit to, certainly not as a current personality trait. “Hi there, boy- that-I-kissed when I was 17! Sorry I never called you back all those years ago, I had low self-esteem, so when you said I should get your number from our mutual friend and give you a call, I assumed you were just saying that to be nice.”*

I think my confidence has improved with age. Compared to my childhood self, I am an outgoing extravert! Compared to my teenage self, I’m socially at ease in a room full of slightly-known people! But I could still improve. Even my writing betrays my lack of confidence in myself.

I mentioned earlier that Prior writes reviews, another activity that I’m a bit jealous of. The difficulty for me is that writing reviews requires a decent amount of self-esteem, because you need to form a strong opinion and have the confidence to feel that opinion is correct, before you put it out there for the world to read. I write a blog, and a lot of posts on my blog reference books and music, and, to a lesser extent, theatre and visual art, but I deliberately avoid writing anything that could be formally called a “review.” That’s because I don’t have the confidence to do that. And that’s not shyness or introversion, is it?

 *

Links to other posts on this topic:

Living and Loving As an Introvert

sianprior.com

- I saw an interestingly titled post about Famous Introverts on the Huffington Post but every time I try to load a page of the Huffington Post, my browser crashes – I lost a paragraph of this post as a result. So search and click at your own risk – but save your work first!

 

*I AM a terrible poet, if we can go by that poem I spent most of my first year psychology tutorials writing.

*that mix of tasks was pretty much covered in a PD I recently looked at, with the exception perhaps of putting out the bins.

*We are looking for new nominations for Prime Minister of Australia, as the current one seems to be broken and continuing to use him is causing irreparable damage. Alternatively we are willing to trade him for an incomplete set of Star Wars cards or an old pair of socks.

Life Isn’t Everything

Back in the day, I had piano lessons for a few years.

I started lessons when I was in Grade 5 at school, walking approximately 50 steps each week, across the road in front of my primary school to reach a little house that smelled of cooked cabbage and mothballs, where my piano teacher lived. She looked as if she had stepped out of a British sitcom from the same period – a middle-aged, saggy-jowled, possibly widowed woman, wearing her hair in a scratchy looking bouffant that was probably, in hindsight, a wig, her look completed with an abundance of chunky, tacky, jewellery, and and flouncy, swishy, acrylic blouses and skirts. There were lace doilies everywhere, and I seem to remember a fluffy dog as well, but that could be my imagination helpfully filling in any gaps in the stereotype.

My piano teacher - almost.  Picture longer hair and a fluffy dog.

My piano teacher – almost. Picture longer hair and a fluffy dog.

 

I attended for about 4 years, and quit at about the end of year 8, which means I got as far as Grade 3 in the Australian Music Examination Board curriculum.

The reason I gave up lessons at that point was not the teacher (by then my lessons were at high school) but because I was tired of learning the – to my 14 year-old mind – obscure classical pieces required by the Examination Board. No-one (other than piano students) recognised Fur Elise. I had a secret desire to be able to entertain a room (and ideally, the people in it) with my ability to leap onto the piano stool and whack out a “hit” that everyone recognised. (The way they did back in mid 18th Century). (This desire existed rather incongruously alongside my extreme self-consciousness and shyness that, even putting aside my inability to read music or play a “hit,” made that forever an impossible dream.)

Consequently, I quit piano lessons, spent a large portion of my measley pocket money on some sheet music, and defiantly taught myself to play 3 pieces of contemporary music. As this was the Christmas holidays of 1983 and I was about 14, the pieces I chose were: Song For Guy by Elton John, Theme from Chariots of Fire, by Vangelis, and The Rose, made famous around that time by Bette Middler because of the movie by the same name (which, thankfully, I’ve never seen). Over the next few months, or probably, years, I played those three pieces to death, much to the despair of my long-suffering family.

(Sidebar: A word of encouragement to those out there who fear they may never reach the giddy heights of being able to teach themselves “hits” at home from sheet music. I must confess that I could never actually read music without stopping to say slowly, Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit or All Cows Eat Grass, as learned in my very first music lesson, while working my way up the corresponding lines of the Treble or Bass Clef, to work out the notes. Sheet music was never anything more than a loose guide to what note to start on, or how the chords worked, as I worked out the tune and timing by ear and then just memorised how to play the piece. If I can do it, anyone can.)

At high school, two years of compulsory Music Theory instilled me with the confident assurance that Carmen is an opera about a woman called Carmen. I recall nothing more. Consequently, although I love music, I can’t really write about it because I don’t have a sophisticated musical vocabulary that enables me to discuss the intricacies of the beat, the melody, the arrangements or the instrumentation (which could be the same thing for all I know.)

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In Australia, Carmen and Mr Ed The Talking Horse are our two favourite celebrities and often host the Logie Awards Ceremonies together.

Pic: ABC

I can read, and write, however, so I’m on slightly more comfortable ground talking about lyrics. For one thing, lyrics are composed of words. I’ve written a few of those, so that is a good start. So occasionally, as in today, I delve into a post about lyrics that I like.

So, dear reader, just to keep us on track, although this post appeared at first to be about my childhood piano lessons, it is actually a post about lyrics. Do try and keep up. It’s my second post about lyrics – the first one can be found here. Perhaps one day my mediocre musings on other people’s lyrics will be syndicated as a weekly column in a dying major newspaper that senses it’s about to go bankrupt, but until that day, we can only dream, and then weep when the wine runs out.

Now, if you say “lyrics,” I say “tomato,” but straight after that momentary lapse, the word “lyrics” makes me think of revered singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Joanie Mitchell, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, etc. (sorry, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but I think you’ll do fine without me.)  There is nothing I could say about these songwriters’ lyrics that hasn’t already been said by people far more qualified than myself, but here are a few favourite lines from some of those mentioned above:

You said love is touching souls;

surely you touched mine

cos a part of you pours out of me

in these lines, from time to time. (Joanie Mitchell – A Case Of You)

Lyrics can be funny, sad, nonsensical, quirky, bleak, clever, poetic, insightful, vulnerable, beautiful, or some combination of the above, and when the music fits perfectly with what’s being conveyed in the lyrics, it’s a match made in heaven.  Joanie Mitchell’s lyrics above capture a beautiful idea – love that melds souls – but the beauty in those lines is also the vulnerability revealed by the singer. The love she is thinking of is past, the relationship has now ended, and the extent to which that love has left its mark in her is apparently beyond her control. It sometimes “pours” out of her – a word that suggests tears as well as a stream-of-consciousness in her writing.

 

They say there was a secret chord

that David played and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you? (Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah)

 

It’s probably the most well-known three lines from Cohen’s prolific songwriting career to date, but I decided to go with it because it’s classic Cohen. The first two lines begin as though a story is being told, evoking imagery from the Old Testament, but then, in a signature Cohen-like device, another dimension is added to the song. The singer cuts off the poetry with a prosaic question directed intimately at an imagined listener, revealing the artifice of the preceding lines, and making it sound like the story was part of some intimate conversation. But You don’t really care for music, do you? I like that twist in the perspective.

 

How do your pistol and your bible and your sleeping pills go?

Are you still jumping out windows in expensive clothes? (Tom Waits – Who Are You?)

I mentioned this line from Who Are You? in my previous post about lyrics, but as I’m attempting to write about favourite lines from well-known singer-songwriters, it deserves another whirl. It’s beautiful because it paints a visual picture, and in the context of the rest of the song, Waits seems to ask this question with gentle, tender sympathy for the desperate, lonely beings driven to such behaviour.

I’d like to go on, but I spent so much time talking about my piano lessons at the beginning of this post, that I’m going to have to wind up. I guess there are a few posts ahead on this topic (- editors of dying newspapers, take note.) But before I end, I’ll share one last lot of lyrics.

As I began writing this post, I looked up “Song For Guy” on Youtube, to make sure I was referring to the correct Elton John song, and after listening to 2 seconds of it, long enough to establish that it was indeed the right one, I let it keep playing while I wrote. As it played right through,  I discovered – or rediscovered if I ever knew this before – that there are lyrics at the end of what I had thought was an instrumental piece.

 

Perhaps I’m the only person who was not aware of this, but just in case anyone else out there was not, the lyrics are as follows:

Life isn’t everything

isn’t everything

isn’t everything

Life isn’t everything

isn’t everything

isn’t everything

Life

Life

 

It’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? After hearing those unusual lyrics, hidden at the end of nearly 4 minutes of music, curiosity led me to delve a bit further. According to Wikipedia, which describes the song as a ‘mainly instrumental piece of music,’ while Elton John was writing the piece, he found himself imagining that he was looking down on his own body, as if he had died. The next day, he found that his 17 year old messenger boy, Guy, had been killed in a motorbike accident the previous day. It’s not quite clear when he added those words in to the piece, but when someone has just died, the idea that life isn’t everything is a tempting one to grasp on to. At the same time, you feel that nothing can ever again be everything. Certainly not for the person who has died, but also, not for you.

*

In conclusion, for those who got lost along the way, here is a brief roadmap of this post.

It started with a fairly smooth drive through my childhood piano lessons, segued rather clumsily to a bumpy section about lyrics, and then came skidding to an awkward end, focusing on a song that I learned on the piano as a teen, which I had mistakenly believed all these years was a purely instrumental piece. Clearly the lyrics did not resonate with me previously, if I’d ever even realised they existed, but the serendipity of discovering the piece had lyrics, while writing this particular post, meant I had to write about it. Why? Because that is the rule*.

 

*There is no rule.

 

 

 

An accidental post

Dear readers, in a half-awake state this morning, attempting to reply to a comment left by Draliman on my last post, I managed to write and publish a short and succinct post instead, without even realising it until I logged back in later and wondered what the mysterious “unnamed” post was that was showing up in my stats.

This is apparently what happens  when I try to write comments in the morning, before having a coffee, using my phone, and probably squinting because I wasn’t wearing my relatively new reading glasses.

I’m sure any regular reader would have guessed this post was a mistake since I am usually unable to write less than 1000 words, even when sending a quick email at work to say I’ll be out of the office for an hour.

To put this in context, I am responding to Draliman’s comment that as soon as he saw the words “Too shy shy”, the name Kajagoogoo popped into his mind. 

*

Sad isn’t it, how our brains (or mine, at least) can’t recall information learned at school, like, for example, who was Prime Minister of Australia during the 1st World War, but can retain knowledge of these lyrics.

*

Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye

It’s that crazy title that is to blame.

When I sat down to start this post my idea was to write something about the concept of shyness, and for once, I immediately hit on the title.

As per my usual method of titling posts, I start by casting around in the cobwebby recesses of my mind to come up with a song title or lyric that fits the theme. In this particular case, it’s a little bit embarrassing to acknowledge how quickly this lyric came bubbling up to the surface as soon as the word “shy” was dangled temptingly above it.

In this case, however, I couldn’t really just leave a bizarre title like that just hanging there like the elephant in the room, and progress on to writing a post about shyness. I really had to stop and dwell for a moment on that title and what a reader would make of it.

If anyone under 25 was not yet convinced that the 80s was an era of disastrous haircuts and pop music, the title of this post should finally convince them. Of course, that is only if they could actually believe that “Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye” is a line from a song that reached the top of the UK Singles Chart in 1983, and number 5 on the Billboard Top 100 in the US.  People, what were you thinking???

Shut up and get a haircut!

Kajagoogoo – no, not a keyboard malfunction, it’s the name of the band.

Pic: Cosmic American Blog

(Note that although I was about 13 in 1983, I choose to distance myself from the single-buying public in the UK and the US on this matter. Firstly, I was in Australia, where it only reached number 6 (!) and, secondly as we’ve covered previously, I had a musically-deprived childhood, and by 1983 had only just saved up enough of my pitiful allowance to go halves with my sister in purchasing our very first album (a compilation – on cassette – that did NOT include this song). So I did not contribute to the chart success of this ridiculous song, although just between you and me, I was probably as guilty as anyone else at singing along with gusto when it was a hit.)

While we are dwelling on titles, regular readers (hi mum!)* will know, or have surmised, that a lot of my posts titles are song titles, or song lyrics, but it’s not a golden rule I follow. If I can’t think of something relevant pretty quickly, I don’t search for a title, I just make up my own post title. But I think any reader with even the vaguest knowledge of popular culture (sorry mum!) could reasonably surmise that if someone titles their post, “Too Shy, Shy, Hush, Hush, Eye To Eye,” either they have just eaten a particularly powerful batch of magic mushrooms, or they are quoting a lyric from an 80’s synth-pop hit.

Now we all know that the 80’s was a time for atrocious haircuts, so in some ways it’s not fair to make fun of those yet again, but somehow, just like fart jokes, an 80’s haircut is always worth a laugh. (I was going to write, “a bad 80’s haircut is always worth a laugh” but after spending 0.82 of a second running through a range of 80’s haircuts in my mind, I took out the word “bad” because it was superfluous.)

An Australian version of synth-pop hair - Pseudo Echo

An Australian version of synth-pop hair – Pseudo Echo

Pic: Powerhouse Museum

In the 80’s, advances in technology caused “new” electronic equipment to became more refined and affordable, reaching the mainstream, where it was embraced as the sound of the times. The synthesiser had been around in various forms for decades, and was already being used in popular music by the late 60s. In the 70s it featured in experimental electronic music and new-wave, but in the 80’s it reached the realm of the bad-haircut-wearing mainstream of pop music, and was over-used with enthusiasm, leaving us with collateral damage.

A Moog Modular synthesiser 1960s-1970s

A Moog Modular synthesiser 1960s-1970s

Pic: Wikipedia

It is difficult for anyone who was a teenager in the 80s to separate the synthesiser from bad 80s music, because of the plethora of over-produced, mediocre hits that relied heavily on the synthesiser and do not stand the test of time very well.  One forgets about the cool use of synthesiser in the music of Kratwerk or Gary Numan, and recalls instead songs like “Take On Me” by A-ha, or “Flashdance” by Giorgio Moroder.

But the line above is of course taken from one of the worst examples of 80s synth-pop, Too Shy, by a band of bad haircuts known as Kajagoogoo. The effort they put into naming their band must have been about equivalent to the effort they put into devising the lyrics to this song. According to the lyrics discovered on MetroLyrics.com, they only bothered to think up 2 other lines, then, by stringing everything together with “ooh, try a little harder,” the disparate, meaningless parts became a disjointed, meaningless whole:

Hush, hush, shy, shy, eye to eye
Hush, hush, shy, shy, hush, hush

Modern medicine fall short of your complaints
Ooh, try a little harder
You’re moving in circles, won’t you dilate
Ooh, baby try

Hey girl, move a little closer

‘Cause, you’re too
Shy, shy, hush, hush
Shy, shy, hush, hush
Shy, shy, hush, hush

Shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush

Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye
Too shy, shy, hush, hush

 

There you go. Modern day poetry. It is tempting to wonder how the writing process went down. Did they write the music first, then have a game of scrabble, and use the last few tiles that were left when everyone gave up, to make some one-syllable words they could fit to the music? Even with a whole team of monkeys and a typewriter, I doubt that I could come up with anything to beat those lyrics.

So on this occasion, starting with the title was a blessing or a curse, depending how you see it. It has caused my post to be waylaid and sidetracked. I was going to write a post about shyness, but that topic will have to wait for another day. Instead I’ve written a post about the ridiculous lyric that I chose for the title, 80s synth-pop, the synthesiser, and bad haircuts – basically the legacy left to us by bands like Kajagoogoo. Boohoo.

 *

*the link, above, to Cosmic American Blog is a funny post about the same song. I’d written my post before I came across this while looking for pictures and had a bit of a giggle.

* the line “won’t you dilate?” sounds like something one might hear in the labour ward, which leads me to surmise that the writer of this song was inhaling a bit too much gas at the time of the birth.

*As always, I should mention that my mum is one of my loyal band of imaginary readers, as she does not even have a computer and wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do with one if she did.

We are family

A few weeks ago, my mother turned 75, and, as is typical for my family, this milestone was celebrated in a very low-key fashion, with immediate family (those of us who were in the country), 8 of us in total, having dinner at the local pub, in the small country town where my parents live.

This is my parents’ style. My parents have never held, or hosted, a large event for anyone’s 18th, 21st, 30th, or anything else, and in keeping with their example, nor have any of us organised or hosted an event for our parents’ milestone wedding anniversaries or birthdays. (I’ve organised a total of 2 parties for my own birthdays: my 21st and my 40th – my 21st was a friends-only affair with a lot of students and cheap beer, held in the shared terrace-house in Fitzroy that I lived in at that time, and my 40th was a very casual affair for friends and close family.)

Thinking over that dinner,  I realise that, coincidentally, 8 is the same number of people that sat around the dining-room table at meals all through my childhood.  The 8 in question back then comprised of my parents, myself, my younger sister, and my four younger brothers.

After my youngest brother was born, and there were now 6 kids to fit around the table, my parents had to upgrade from the small laminex table in the kitchen to a large, 8-seater laminex table in the dining room. (Up to that point I’m guessing we fitted 6 around the table and put the baby on a corner in a high chair).

At this time, we were each given a designated place at the table, in a strategy basically designed to minimise fighting between the older boys. My sister and I, opposite one another in the middle, and our parents at the ends, had the four boys  placed in-between each of us, in an attempt to keep them as far apart as possible. Crucially, the two older boys, the most likely to sock one another in the face at a moment’s notice, were at diagonally opposite corners – about as far apart as they could be while still at the same table!

However, no arrangement was fool-proof, and like a carefully planned game of noughts-and-crosses that goes awry, it was clear that there were flaws in this strategy, as it meant that although no boys were next to one another, each boy faced directly opposite another boy. Oh dear.

For all the planning that went into the seating arrangement, I’m pretty sure our dinners were not entirely free from the occasional heated name-calling or punch-up session – although these were more likely to occur when Dad was not home, and result in poor old Mum’s familiar admonishment: “You wait until I tell your father!”.

*

In 2014, the people missing from the arrangement around the table at Mum’s birthday dinner were my sister Cupcake,* who now lives in Ireland,  my youngest brother, Pickles,* who was temporarily in the Phillippines for work, and our brother Jeronimo,* who died 2 and a half years ago. Making the numbers up in their absence were my partner, my daughter, and my brother’s wife.

When I think of only 8 of us, coming together for mum’s 75th, I feel a bit sorry for my parents. They’ve never been into large events for the sake of show, but as staunch Catholics, my parents obediently followed the command to go forth and multiply, and produced 6 children. They place a great deal of importance on the idea of “family” and they must have felt that, having done their bit, it was not unreasonable to hope that if we followed their example, they might have approximately 36 grandchildren by the time they were in their mid-70s. Instead, they have 1 grandchild. Of their 6 children, only two are in long term relationships. One has passed away. This can’t be anything like what they pictured for the future of their family.

It seems that, despite all their early efforts, the next generation has let them down in the “go forth and multiply” game. They have gained only one new blood relative, and that small gain is neutralised by the fact that another family member was cruelly subtracted (gained: 1 grandchild, lost: 1 son). After 45 years of marriage and a lot of effort on their part, the total pool of “immediate family” that visits at Christmas, and attends birthday dinners (when able to), has increased by a measley 2 – the inlaws: my partner, and my brother’s wife.

They have never complained about this, although I’m sure it must be a disappointment to them. Whatever my parents may think about the failure on the part of their children to continue to multiply, they’ve never once pressed me about why I didn’t have another child. (Once, my mother asked me, hesitantly, if I thought I might have another child. But she never pressed that subject.) As far as I know, they’ve never pressed any of my siblings about not having children, or a partner. They keep their thoughts on these topics to themselves.

*

The last time I ever sat around the dining table at my parents’ with that strict configuration of seating still in place must have been about 20 years ago now.

By the time about 4 of us had moved out of home, it became rare for us to all be home at the same time, and then new people (my partner, then my daughter, and now my brother’s wife), became a part of the seating arrangement. Myself and my siblings would come and go at different times, sometimes not able to cross paths at Christmas or Easter due to differing work schedules or obligations to the families of in-laws, one sibling went through a long period of rarely bothering to show up for celebratory meals anyway, one sibling lives in another country and can’t very often be there for dinner, and one sibling has recently passed away. When it comes to sitting around the table at my parents place, nowadays whoever happens to be there for a meal can take a seat anywhere.

In any case, these days the table is in a different position.

 

*

*Not their real names – my parents were strict Catholics and there are no saints called Cupcake, Jeronimo or Pickles, at least to my knowledge.

Wordsworth v. Chandler

It rained on my Chrysler all day long

as I sat high up in the Hollywood Hills,

peering through my binoculars

past a soggy clump of daffodils;

beside the lake, beneath the trees,

till I was hit and fell on my knees.

 

Things went black for a little while

and when I woke I smelled of gin,

- not casually as though I’d sipped,

but reeking, as if I’d had a swim -

Framed, I realised at a glance,

a hasty departure my only chance.

 

A dame beside me, pretty dead,

and on the floor my bloodied gun;

a pounding in my aching head,

once again I’m on the run.

To clear my name my only hope

And catch that Stinky McFlintoff, the dope.

 

And oft, when on my couch I lie

and tell this story to my shrink,

I wonder why I didn’t try

the window high above the sink;

instead of making for the door

and ending up here in the clink.

 

Noir detective with daffodils

Humphrey Bogart, wandering as lonely as a cloud, o’er Hollywood Hills.

 

 

 

With apologies to William Wordsworth and Raymond Chandler.

 

This post was my variation on the The Daily Post prompt: A Form Of Flattery  – in my variation, I chose to pick two incongruous styles of writing – the romantic poet and the noir detective thriller – and try to marry them together. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The history of Nietzsche’s moustache

I must begin with an apology.

It seems that I have lately been remiss in providing up-to-the-moment news for those readers who only subscribed in the first place because they need regular updates on the moustache of Mr. Freidrich Nietzsche.

Now, admittedly this blog was not originally created to be the newsletter, (dare I say, mouthpiece?) for the above-mentioned moustache, but in an unexpected turn of events, a few years ago I was undertaking some academically rigorous research on the topic of Existentialism, for a post about Samuel Beckett, and reading up on Nietzsche, when I became completely distracted by a picture of Nietzsche’s moustache, featured on the Wikipedia page about the gentleman in question. That particular picture has since been changed, but can be seen here, in a post I was immediately compelled to write about the moustache.

Little did I realise the train of events that would be put in motion with that post! (Namely, that I would go on to obtain a degree with honours in writing posts about moustaches.*)

As soon as I beheld that creature moustache, it immediately became clear to me that it deserved its own social media campaign. Perhaps not so much “deserved”, as “commanded me to create” its own social media campaign. (Whether this moustache has brain-washing powers is not for me to say).  (In fact I am forbidden to).

(I can’t help but note that his moustache looks like a living creature in its own right. I can imagine the moustache starring as a parasite in a creepy short story written by Patricia Highsmith, in which it crawls around on the face of a human by day, making a horrible high-pitched scratchy noise, and at night – slowly sucks the human’s brains out, disguising the effect so that syphilis* is diagnosed as the cause of madness).

Before we get too carried away in fantasy, let’s stop for a moment and look at this far-fetched notion of brain-washing moustaches. It’s well known that Nietzsche died in 1900, so in fact it’s unlikely that his moustache has been up to much since then. I’m almost certain that it could not be brain-washing people in 2014 via a Wikipedia page.

But, on the social media front, as we know, just because something does not exist, does not mean that there can’t be a Facebook page devoted to it.

As it happens, Nietzsche’s moustache, (much like Nietzsche himself) was very vocal about its contempt for Facebook, but the moustache (unlike the philosopher) was more open-minded when it came to the idea of being featured in a blog. Or at least, when I proposed this idea, it made a horrible, scratchy, high-pitched noise, which I could only interpret as either, “cool idea!” or, “I’m about to leap off this face and stick my hairy fangs into your neck!”

The reason for all this focus on such a hideous thing as a huge, repugnant moustache is that, after extensive analysis of the most popular search terms on my blog, it’s clear that Nietzsche’s moustache hovers consistently around 2nd or 3rd place in popularity. Clearly there is a demand out there, for huge, repugnant moustaches, and like most other commercial enterprises earning massive amounts of money, I am merely responding to demand.

(I just remembered that I’m not a commercial enterprise earning huge amounts of money. Damn that brain-washing moustache!)

Strangely enough, the most searched term on my blog indicates that people spend a lot of time looking for information on facial features of well-known people. The top searched term on my blog is for another specific facial/cranial feature, belonging to another specific and well-known person. I’m sorry to say that the second-place-getter, ie, the Nietzsche Moustache, will probably never surpass the winner, a very specific pair of celebrity ears.

To finally get to the point of this post, this entire post is, in fact, a response to a recent search term: “Nietzsche moustache history.” This search term made me realise what a glaring omission it is that, as yet, I have not presented the entire history of the infamous moustache in one post. So here it is, as gleaned from the moustache’s diary entries and the observations of commentators at the time.

15 October 1844 – Nietzsche was born early this morning, and with him – glorious me! This was disconcerting for the nurses, who had never seen a newborn with a prominent, hairy moustache, and promptly gave him a good shave, but never fear, I will be back. Humans will not hold me down.

Nietszche as a baby, in-between shaves.

Nietszche as a baby, in-between shaves.

October 1871 – well it’s taken me a while to write, but it’s hard for a moustache to get its hands on pen and paper. We are here in Basel, hanging out with some other philosophers and professors. I’m thriving in the warm Autumn we are having this year.

Nietzsche.later.years

A thriving moustache living on the face of a philosopher (no editing!)

Sometime in 1879 – I’ve been helping Nietzsche with his philosophical writing. So far I’ve been successful in causing him to be very pessimistic about humankind. This is partly aided by the fact that I am now such a massive growth on his face that no-one can understand what he is saying, which causes him to feel somewhat isolated. On the plus side, he is developing a reputation for making deep and meaningful remarks at the drop of a hat. In fact, usually all he has said is, “pardon me, you dropped your hat”, but due to my presence, his speech is so muffled that the listener hears some mumbling and interprets it as “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” *

Nietzsche animatedly talks about his latest theories

Nietzsche animatedly talks about his latest theories – or the weather, it’s hard to tell.

 

1883 – Nietzsche now only has me to talk to. He has named me Zarathustra, which I consider is a suitably imposing name for a moustache the size of myself.

 

1885 – Nietzsche has published a book of my speeches – entitled Thus Spake Zarathustra! Quite rightly, I am the first moustache to have my ideas put into print for the world to read. I told you they would not keep me down.

 

1900 – Nietzsche has passed away. I have to admit, this is a slight set-back in my plans for world domination. Hopefully I can overcome it if I can just find another human face to attach myself to. That shouldn’t be hard….if I can just work out how to get out of this bloody coffin!

 

 *

* I have no such degree, in fact, I don’t think that Melbourne University even offers a degree in Moustache Analysis in the much-lauded “Melbourne Curriculum”. At time of publication, they have not returned my phone calls so I am unable to verify this.

Academics at Melbourne University converge to discuss the merits of introducing a degree in writing about moustaches.

Academics at Melbourne University held a conference to discuss the possibility of introducing a degree in writing about moustaches.

 

*It was originally thought that it was syphilis that caused Nietszche’s death but more recently this has been called into question.

*Quote from Nietszche obtained at Brainy Quote. (I didn’t have any copies of his work lying around.) More on just how misinterpreted Nietszche was during his lifetime can be read here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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