The World According to Renee

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Switch Bitch: A Review

This post contains mentions of rape and suicide. Please seek professional help if these trigger unwanted thoughts or feelings for you. 

Who doesn’t love Roald Dahl? Who wasn’t enthralled with fantastical stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda? I was stoked to find Switch Bitch, a collection of 4 short stories for adults written by the legendary storyteller. 

(An aside: I found this copy at Brisbane’s Lifeline Bookfest. It was sold to me for 50 cents as they mistakenly thought it was a children’s book. They could not have been more wrong.) 

The Visitor 

A man arrives home to find twenty eight volumes of his (presumably deceased) uncle’s diaries. Uncle Oswald details his global quests to bed women and collect interesting arachnid specimens. The story largely follows Oswald’s exploits as a visitor to a grand castle in the Middle East when his car breaks down and his attempts to bed a mother-daughter combo. 

If you’ve ever read any other Roald Dahl story, he loves a twist at the end and these short stories are no exception. 

It’s quite a good tale with an amusing twist at the end. 

The Great Switcheroo

Unfortunately the next three stories are appalling. All four stories were once published in Playboy magazine, which gives you an idea of the target demographic and the fantasy delights held by its readers. 

Two men concoct a plan to have sex with each other’s wives, without the wives knowing. This is rape. It’s not ok. It is not consensual if one party is mislead to believe she’s with her husband. 

I felt physically ill reading this story. This was not the storyteller I thought I knew. 

The Last Act 

Anna has just lost her husband of twenty-something years. He’s the only man she’s ever been with. She’s suicidal but throws herself into work. On a business trip interstate, she calls an old flame and, of course, they end up in bed. 

She freaks out and leaves him to his own devices while she presumably considers taking her own life again in the bathroom. 

Atrocious. The biggest problem with this story apart from the suicide was the description of Anna. She’s a housewife who didn’t know any better. She’s seemingly portrayed as being in control but she lives for patriarchal approval. 

Bitch

Wow. Saved the worst for last. 

We meet Uncle Oswald again. This time he’s investing in a perfume guaranteed to drive any man wild. Literally. Once a woman applies this magic liquid, any man within a couple of metres will be overcome by instinct and want to mate with her, whether she’s ready or not. The perfume is called Bitch, as if it is the woman’s fault she’s about to be raped. 

Uncle Oswald plans to spray some on the neck of a woman who will be standing next to the President of the United States as he makes a national address, with the idea that POTUS will rape the woman on live television, be impeached and ousted as President. 

Yes, this is rape. On national television. Naturally there is a twist and this idea never comes to fruition, but that is not the point. This is a vile situation and a little too close to current world affairs. 

This is not the Roald Dahl I’ve loved since childhood. This is a collection of horrific stories which have no place in this world. His master storytelling is, as always, apparent. But the material is vile. Steer well away from this at all costs. 

June 25, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grief

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Image by grief.org.au

Grief sucks. It’s a natural response to loss, most often triggered by death of a loved one (person or pet).

I’ve had a project in mind for quite some time. Several years ago, a friend lost her child to cancer and something she said at the time has stuck with me: I just wish people would say something. By keeping silent, she felt people were not validating her loss.

Although she has a lot of friends on and offline, she felt few of them reached out to her to offer condolences. People just don’t know what to say, especially when the loss is too horrible to comprehend.

Since then, I’ve wanted to write a book about dealing with grieving people. There’s tons of information, books, and websites about how to deal with grief, but not about what to say to grieving people. Grief is something that happens to all of us – why is it so hard to find something to say? Obviously, nothing is going to make the grief suddenly go away, but people generally find comfort in others.

To get started on this project, I’ve devised a survey. It’s a series of questions about events that trigger grief and how you felt when people did or didn’t respond. The survey takes around 20 minutes depending on the detail of your answers: I’m ever so grateful for as much detail as possible. There’s no identifying information, unless you’ve already told me the circumstances of the tragedy. Otherwise, I have no idea who wrote what. Individual answers may be included in the book.

If you’d like to participate, please follow the link: https://surveyhero.com/c/8bf2609.

Much love to you, and I am sorry for your loss.

 

 

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June 21, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

After: A Conversation

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This post contains mentions of suicide and depression. If this post triggers similar thoughts in you, please seek professional help immediately.

In October 2015, Nikki Gemmell’s mother Elayn self-euthanised.

What follows is a raw look at Elayn’s life, death and their mother-daughter relationship. Nikki and Elayn’s relationship was strained. Elayn wanted a perfect daughter: smart, pretty, popular, famous. Nikki was berated for not being those things and this formed the narrative of her life. But, ELayn was still hr mother and deeply loved. When she committed suicide, Nikki and her brother were called upon to identify the body and answer the police questions surrounding the death. Nikki couldn’t call it suicide, she preferred “self-euthanasia”.

This book forced me to examine my own relationship with my mother but also the relationship with my daughter. Although my daughter is only two, am I being the mother I want to be and the mother she needs me to be? There is no chance I’m ever going to tell her she’s ugly, or I wish her friend was my daughter instead of her, or she needs to earn my love. My own mother never told me any of those things either; in fact my mum always told me how proud she is of me.

Nikki refers to the Japanese practice of kintsugi, which is the repair of ceramics with a fine gold paste to create a new history of the object instead of disguising the repair. Kintsugi is a metaphor for their relationship, creating something different and unique rather than disguising a repair. It’s a beautiful background for something so heartbreaking.

Elayn suffered depression after foot surgery a year prior to her death. She cried out for help yet also pushed it away, believing herself to be a burden on her adult children. Nikki’s inbox was full of emails asking for help with shopping or medical appointments, with an outbox full of “Sorry mum, too busy”. It’s not a reflection of tension within the mother-daughter symbiosis, it’s a reflection of a mum’s busy life. Nikki has four kids who have a full calendar of after school and weekend activities.

I’ve written before that toddlers are quite difficult people. She does drive me crazy because I have little patience, particularly for toddlers who haven’t had a nap and draw on my bedsheets with markers or spit in my Milo. It’s these moments which draw out my cranky side and I’m only slightly less than perfect in my parenting. It’s probably not the moment she will remember, hopefully those are negated by trips to the park or library, playing trains or animals on the floor of her room, or the endless readings from her favourite books. I do hope that one day far into the future, she’s not writing painful memories in her own best-selling book about the fractured relationship with her mother.

Inspired by the book, last week I asked my mum about her plans for her death. Funeral, songs, friends. It’s a conversation people avoid yet everyone will go through. Funerals are for the living. They are a celebration of one’s life and should reflect the good parts of life. For Elayn’s funeral, Nikki and her siblings draped Elayn’s extensive collection of scarves over each pew with an invitation for guests to take them home to remember Elayn. In my mum’s case, perhaps I’d be leaving out her extensive DVD collection?

This started as a review of After, but it is impossible to critique a personal recollection of one’s grief. Nikki’s writing is deeply personal. She’s a writer’s writer so you may need a dictionary nearby. She examines her mother as her mother, as a mother herself, as a daughter and as a person. Sometimes we forget our mums are people too, with their own lives and a whole life before we were even born.

It’s a recommended read, but it is harrowing in parts. Her own story forces you to examine your own relationships for better or worse. There is so much to take away from her story and weave into your own.

June 5, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Toddlers

It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times… 

I have a two year old. At times, she is the most adorable munchkin I could imagine. Cheeky, inquisitive, playful, sweet. Other times, she’s a monster. Screaming and kicking, throwing herself on the ground, climbing all over me to pull my hair or pinch my face, pulling the dog’s fur or spitting food on the ground with drool running down her shirt (naturally, she finds this hilarious). 

She’s not a baby anymore. Her hair is long enough to plait. I had my nails painted the other day and she enquired, “Cecy nails?” Not only that but she sat still long enough for me to crudely paint them a fashionably girly pink. 

Sometimes I’d be happy to give her away, other times I want a dozen just like her. She’s just like me, but I’m a huge pain in the butt. 

Ah toddlers! 

May 20, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hey there, Judgey McJudgerson

judgemental

 

Recently, I watched You Can’t Ask That‘s episode about facial difference. As a customer service person with a lifetime in retail and other face-to-face roles, I’ve come across quite a few people with facial differences. I’ve always bitten my tongue although I’m dying to ask a bunch of questions!

I admit I stare because they are different. I am fascinated by different people. I am fascinated with people who aren’t me, because I’m pretty boring. I’m interested in why and how people are the way they are. How did you get that difference? What treatments do you have? How is life different for you than it is for me?

The show fascinates me. I am someone who wants to ask inappropriate questions, because it’s a genuine fascination with extraordinary people. It’s not because I’m silently laughing at them. It’s not because I want to highlight differences. I’m not judging them on looks. I just think they are people who are more interesting than I am.

Judging people in society is a worldwide pastime. On one hand, there’s a movement about loving all shapes and sizes and perceived differences. That goes out the window on red carpets, where often the same movement pounces on celebrities to judge whether a dress is an appropriate fit for someone’s body type.

Where once upon a time, these comments would safely reside within one’s home or a casual chat with friends, social media has created an anonymous place where these comments are immediately posted for criticism and others can join the vitriolic taunts. News agencies pick up the “story” and run click-baiting headlines, encouraging others to join the “conversation” to spread the hatred.

Something that struck a chord with me about the facial differences is their attitude. One of the questions was, “Do you think you’re ugly?” Everyone said no, but they had been subject to taunts, unkind remarks and sarcastic comments because of their appearance. What is wrong with people who think saying horrible things is OK?

Years ago when I was still at school, a man came to talk to us. He was in a wheelchair. I can’t remember why, but it was an accident i.e. he wasn’t born disabled. I remember one thing he said: “If you want to know how someone ends up in a wheelchair, ask them. Don’t stare and point, just ask.”

Still, I think it’s largely inappropriate for me to ask strangers about why they are the way they are. I’m guilty of asking about seemingly minor inflictions such as broken arm, although a friend who regularly has her arm in a sling says she’s really not cool with strangers asking why.

I totally understand that. It’s akin to someone touching your pregnant belly, an invasion of your personal space even if it is just a question. I like to think I am including people in my life instead of pretending something doesn’t exist.

Please don’t be offended if I ask you an inappropriate question. It’s just that I think you’re really interesting. And awareness of differences is the first step towards an inclusive society.

May 4, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: 13 Reasons Why (novel)

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This post discusses suicide, depression and violence against women. If this post triggers any harmful thoughts or feelings for you, please seek immediate professional help.

This post also contains spoilers.

Once upon a time, there was a teenager named Hannah Baker. If you’ve recently watched the Netflix series, you know what’s coming. Or do you?

The novel isn’t new; it was released way back in 2007. Still outside the era for recording cassette tapes, may I add. It came to the attention of Selena Gomez, who produced the filmed version.

The novel is told from Clay’s viewpoint as he listens to each tape. Hannah’s words are differentiated from Clay’s in italics, with Clay’s reactions intertwined. This is where the similarities to the series end. The book offers no outside timeline- what the characters think and feel about their own tapes is never mentioned. In fact, these characters don’t exist outside of the tapes. The only time Clay comes into contact with someone other than Tony is when he’s outside Tyler’s window and runs into Marcus. There’s no plot against Clay, there’s no subplot of Clay’s mother being involved in the civil case, there’s no grieving parents and no mention of Tony being gay.

There are other differences too: Clay gives away everything in the first chapter. Jenny Kurtz is the cheerleader who fells the stop sign. Hannah’s parents run a shoe store and took Hannah’s body back to their home town to bury her. Hannah committed suicide by overdose. Clay’s tape happens at the beginning of the party, not the end.

I don’t think the narrative is a particularly good one. What I loved about the series is that each character was presented in time and left you wondering what they did for Hannah to include them on her tapes. The novel doesn’t really lead you anywhere. They’re just names on a tape. There’s no connection with anyone except Hannah and Clay. What’s more, I gave up caring.

At the end of the version I read (Kindle), there’s a Q&A with the author, Jay Asher. He explains the concept of the story, how the idea came to him and why he wrote Clay interjecting with Hannah’s story. He even reveals the original title for the novel: Baker’s Dozen: The AudioBiography of Hannah Baker.

I don’t know what Selena Gomez saw in the novel in order to make it a series, but I’m glad she did. Most times, the novel is so much better than the filmed adaptation, but in this case, the series is the much better offering. Skip this and watch it instead.

2 out of 5 bookmarks.

 

April 28, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: La La Land

la la land

Hollywood loves films about itself, which explains why La La Land was nominated for a slew of awards. Arguably, its most famous moment was the non-winning of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. Warren Beatty shoulda gone to SpecSavers…

Emma Stone plays Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress. Ryan Golsing plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who pays the bills by sticking to the setlist at a club. They meet, fall in love, dance among the stars, break up… Usual film fodder.

On one hand, I loved the film. I love musicals and ‘old Hollywood’. La La Land appealed to me on those levels. On the other hand, I felt it was overrated. Emma Stone gave a good performance, but I don’t think it’s worthy of an Oscar. Ryan Gosling seemed distracted the whole way through, except for the last ten minutes when he really shone.

The technical aspects were fantastic. The difference between Mia’s bright, bold colours and Sebastian’s dulled hues along with visual clues harking back to Old Hollywood was brilliant. For a musical, it lost it completely in the middle of the film when their relationship wasn’t doing so well. Sure, I understand that singing and dancing only happens when joy is present, but this is billed as a musical yet lacks any of the painful emotions expressed in music. Let’s face it: break up songs are much more interesting than love songs.

The twist at the end was original and one of the most interesting narrative devices I have seen. It was probably the most interesting thing about the movie, to be honest.

I’m torn. The story itself was tired and cliched, buoyed by singing and dancing and a twist at the end. Because I love that kind of thing, plus production values, it scores 7.5 popcorns.

April 24, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

13 Reasons Why: A Conversation

This post contains talk of suicide, violence, bullying and spoilers.

If this post triggers horrible feelings and thoughts, please seek help immediately.

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If you’ve been living in a cave for the past month or so, here’s a brief synopsis of 13 Reasons Why: Hannah Baker has killed herself, but has left behind a series of cassette tapes explaining her decision. The tapes feature people at her school.

Australia’s leading mental health organisation for young people, Headspace, has spoken about their concerns that the show, particularly the final episode, may be harmful to vulnerable persons.

I am not going to discuss the depiction of suicide. Neither am I going to comment on some reviews saying her reasons were “weak”. Mental illness shares common characteristics but is different for everyone: reasons are reasons. I am an adult and I found the final three episodes very difficult to watch.

What I am eager to talk about is the narrative and general thoughts about the series. I’ve not yet read the book, although it is a New York Times bestseller, garnering even more popularity thanks to the Netflix series.

Clay Jensen is a likeable young man who discovers Hannah’s tapes left on his doorstep. He starts listening, wondering why his friend killed herself and why he was sent these tapes. Spoiler: he’s number 11.

Hannah was the new girl at her high school. Thus begins her tragic tale of high school bullying and violence.

The viewer is led through Hannah’s final months, from her disastrous dates with popular boys to ruined friendships and rape. Her story is interwoven with that of the aftermath of her death. The two scenarios are generally easy to tell apart; Hannah’s scenes are generally brighter and warmer tones while the aftermath is colder and greyer. And, thanks to Clay’s bike accidents, he has a wound on his forehead which further helps orient the viewer.

I really liked how the narrative was presented. The subject of each tape and the circumstances were revealed in due course without the viewer needing to guess or think ahead. At one point I wondered if the finale was a school shooting, which seemed to be confirmed when Tyler packed some guns into a case. Thankfully, I was wrong. (I wonder what the media would have said about that?)

So, Hannah had some pretty shitty “friends” and people she hung out with. She wasn’t really excluded from anything, still invited to parties and the boys still thought she was hot (thanks to Alex’s list. no doubt). As Skye said. lots of people in high school deal with the same shit every day and get through it. Hannah’s ability to cope diminished with every new shit thrown at her.

High school culture sucks. I was bullied all the way through school and was sent to the school counselor who gave me the bullshit advice, “treat your bullies like trees.” What? “You know they’re there, but ignore them.” I told him to stick his job where the sun doesn’t shine, and stormed out of his office, slamming the door behind me. I got detention for that. He kept his job.

So we get to Hannah’s final tape, where she’s recorded her conversation with her own school counselor. Did he do anything wrong? Wellllllll, who can say? Hannah went home and killed herself, but could he have stopped her? By that point it seemed Hannah had made up her mind, having taken razors from her parents’ pharmacy. It’s a series of What If…? pondered by each character, with no answers. Sure, if Justin wasn’t a dick and Bryce didn’t rape her and Clay told her he loved her, things might have been different. The point is, her reasons snowballed, with each experience adding to her growing insecurities and paranoia.

Clay’s own paranoia threatens to overtake the series. He was on a mission to drag down every one of Hannah’s abusers which could have derailed the series but was brought back. I understand his need for justice, and in the end it worked well for him to have waited as well as taking the series out of a revenge hunt to bring it back to Hannah’s story.

Let’s talk about the last three episodes. These are easily the best of the series. Secrets which appear in the first page of the novel (which is as far as I allowed myself before I finished the show) are revealed here. The viewer is drawn to Clay. He’s too sweet and kind to be mentioned in the tapes yet Hannah admits it was her own mind which brought about their downfall. Clay is the antithesis to the dickheads whom Hannah has previously had a crush on/dated. What on Earth could Clay have possibly done to earn a place as a reason for her death?

He loved her and she pushed him away, frightened by her own traumas of how other boys had treated her. Could he have prevented her death? Probably not. Had he stayed at the party, she would have walked away from him. He was caught in a no-win situation. In time, they probably would have repaired their relationship. Tony was just a bit dramatic when he told Clay he was the cause of Hannah killing herself.

Tony. What was his deal? His full friendship with Hannah was never really explored in the series. He was there while the police carried her body out of the house. He was trusted with the tapes, given instructions on what to do with the tapes if they weren’t passed on. In the end, he decides to give the tapes to her parents.

Can you imagine being a parent to a suicided child and listening to those tapes? Knowing what was happening to your child and absolutely powerless to do anything? I wonder how it would have affected the outcome of the civil suit. (I assume in reality, Lainie Jensen would have been dismissed from the case once her son was deposed, if not before.)

I believe the depictions of high school culture are realistic. High school sucks, and it’s so much worse now than when I was at school. Sure, I was bullied, but when I got home it stopped. With technology and social media, someone is bullied constantly, 24/7. It doesn’t ever stop. To me, the overarching message of this series is needing to change this culture. Bullying is never OK. Violence towards women is never OK, especially if they are drunk and unconscious. Covering up for your mates is not OK. I have a toddler now, but wonder what the world will be like when she’s in school. I pray that she has a trusted friend to talk to, or an adult that she feels comfortable talking to (no teenager would ever talk to their parents!) Teenage years are really tough. If only we could treat each other respectfully.

Edit: I’ve started reading the novel. Hannah overdoses on pills, which means the TV series deliberately changed the method to a more graphic representation. Whoa. I can’t even process this right now.

April 19, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: No Easy Answers

In the wake of the Columbine massacre, everyone wanted answers. How could these two kids commit such a horrifying act? What was going through their minds? Could this have been prevented? Why did this happen?

Brooks Brown was friends with Columbine gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. He uses this 2002 memoir to dissect their lives together to find answers. Although titled No Easy Answers, Brown’s recollections clearly indicate warning signs and puzzle pieces that no one put together.

I read this memoir after reading that of Dylan Klebold’s mother Sue, who asserted in her 2016 memoir that had she known what Dylan was up to, she could have prevented the massacre. Brown makes no such claim- he feels that his friends were entwined in destiny due to their toxic friendship.

Brown endured his own troubles post-massacre. Eric Harris, undoubtedly a psychopath, had made tangible death threats online towards Brooks Brown yet the police had not taken them seriously. In the days and weeks after the massacre, Brown and his family were discredited by the police although they were later vindicated and shown to be telling the truth.

It’s not easy being the friend or family of a killer. You’re forever implicated no matter what you knew (or didn’t know) and the subject of hate.

Brooks Brown clearly wrote his memoir still grieving for his friends and those they killed. Unlike Sue Klebold’s effort, he makes no apologies for being their friend. He’s just as angry and hurt as everyone else.

Further viewing:
YouTube “Brooks Brown” for a range of his media interviews.
Recommending viewing: Brooks Brown’s interview with Tom Brokaw the day after the shootings.

Further Reading:
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

9/10 bookmarks

 

March 24, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast: Review

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

You know how it goes.

This is a live action remake of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, which holds the distinction of being the only feature length animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars; after that, a separate category was introduced for Best Animated Feature. Will this remake be a contender for next year’s awards?

Emma Watson’s Belle is something of a feminist. She’s the only woman in the village who can read, and is an inventor as well. She’s smart, which the villagers think is a little odd. Apparently, Ms Watson refused to wear a corset for the film, and had creative input into some of her character. Belle’s dress is hitched up tomboy-style frequently, so this Belle is not the ultra feminine princess we’ve come to know. I feel there could have been more, maybe Belle telling Gaston not only was she not thinking about children, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend either, let alone husband. But, this is a provincial French village where girls were probably married at puberty, so I may be asking too much.

In fact, Disney seem to be thinking themselves quite progressive: they’ve confirmed LeFou is gay (although there is nothing explicit in the film, it’s rather like Smithers and Mr Burns in The Simpsons) and there are interracial relationships. However, they also used cross dressing as a punchline, which I subtracted a full mark for.

All the songs one has grown up with appear in the new film along with a few new ones and extra lyrics written, but not used, in the 1991 version. Be Our Guest was the highlight of the film. Emma Watson can sing, handling the singing & acting seamlessly. Josh Gad as LeFou almost stole his scenes; he’s certainly been the face of the film’s promotion during the past few weeks. Visually, the film is gorgeous with sweeping cinematography. Technically, I found the direction a little clunky in places. I’m probably the only person who noticed, though.

It’s yet another Disney live action remake we didn’t need. I didn’t love Cinderella but I did enjoy The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast is not terrific, adds little to the beloved classic. I wish Hollywood would come up with some original ideas instead of milking classics for all they’re worth.

6 out of 10 popcorns, having lost a mark for using cross-dressing as a punchline.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment