Living a virtual life....

My life is quite surreal. Being a writer these days means living and working largely on the internet. That means that most of my colleagues are people I have never met. I work at home, alone, sitting in front of a computer, for most of the day. I write articles that I send to online publications that then appear a week later. I write books that I send to an agent one thousand kilometers away, who sends them on to publishers that I've never met, who have meetings about me and my book. Yays and nays are then relayed back to me. All this happens on the net, with no laughter or touching or gesturing. The publishers then assign me an editor and I communicate with her/him via emails and edit an entire book without ever meeting or even speaking to an editor outside of the rather intimacy-lacking internet. I approve book covers and send soft copies of my books to people to get endorsements. The first concrete, physical part of the process is to receive a box of hard-copy books in the post.

Last week I was lying in bed, tapping on the computer when my cousin rang to let me know that he just heard a radio station talking about me. I am oblivious to what is going on outside my house.

I read the newspaper online, I pay my bills online, I talk to my friends online and I work online. I live in a town where I know almost no-one. I go to the shops for groceries and various things. I spend days working, nights catching up with the family after their days at work and school. We stay home and watch movies and cook pizzas, play Monopoly and such.

I get to do the occasional radio interview which I do from my office at home unless a local station invites me in. I go to the occasional book launch - my own or those for other writers I have met online. If I absolutely must, I go to the school for meetings and special events.

I get emails from strangers who have read my work and they become new online friends. I keep old friendships alive on Facebook.

It seems everything in my life is run by remote control. I live, work and play in the control tower and just press buttons to make everything run smoothly. This is beginning to drive me insane.

I want to move back to Sydney and play with real friends, drink lattes and laugh. I want to have power lunches with agents and publishers. I want to write longhand.

I want sunlight.

If my phone and internet went down......I'd frankly....just disappear.......

Where the Wild Things Are.....

A Current Affair recently ran a story on how teenagers are terrorising our shopping centres. I am the mother of a teenager and have successfully raised two others. Over the years I have met my sons’ friends and come to love many of them as my own. They have been Skateboarders, Musos, Punks, Goths, Emos and Nerds. The whole kit and caboodle. Some of them, including my own, have sometimes resembled aliens with their way-out hairdos and fashion sense. To be honest, the kids of today do have a post-apocalyptic air of menace about them, but I don’t exaggerate when I say I have rarely, if ever, run into serious problems with my teenage children or their friends. There have been the odd dramas. Boundaries pushed. But nothing that I didn’t consider ‘growing pains.’

The ACA story aggravated me because I am one of the parents of a sixteen year old who ‘hangs around’ the local Westfield shopping centre. It’s a monolithic wonderland in the middle of an average suburb in Brisbane. My son and his friends, meet up, go shopping for clothes and hair products, eat in the food hall and take in a movie, sometimes two. This is an average Thursday night. Most of these kids also hold down part-time jobs at the same shopping centre, contributing their labour and their taxes to the smooth running of our society while still attending high-school.

There are rotten eggs, for sure. Troubled teens. But I haven’t heard of teen violence at the mall on the six o’clock news since…..well…ever. I am devastated whenever I hear of a gate-crashing that ends in violence with young lives irrevocably altered by injury or death or a random king-hitting outside a nightclub. These episodes of violence are escalating but aren’t just contained to the teen years.

In twelve years of hosting teen parties and ‘gatherings’, I may have had to hose off frisky couples on the trampoline occasionally but I’ve never needed to call the police or break up a physical fight. I have never felt threatened by the youth in my local shopping centre either. Ever.

I have however heard of shopping centres being mentioned on the News quite often. Two shootings occurred in the Robina shopping complex, on the Gold Coast, within weeks of each other. The culprits were grown men. I have read of two cases of a geriatric driver causing death and serious injury in the car park of shopping centres. Kids in shopping centres are rarely causing serious trouble.

I am going to bat for the good teens because there is a serious trend these days to lump them all into the ‘juvenile delinquent’ category. This is a moral panic and the media and soap box dramatists are fashioning our youth into the new folk devils. Stupid hairdos and piercings and Carny clothes do not make a walking, talking criminal intent on wreaking havoc. The folk of old used to say the same about those scruffy-looking Beatles!

I have seen this teen discrimination at work up close. After moving house one hot Summer’s day, I stopped at the local fish and chipo, ordered up a feast and then hit the bottle shop next door to purchase a nice cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I took my then fifteen year old son with me to be my pack-horse and carry the hot food. I was refused service in the bottle shop because the young bloke behind the counter thought I might be buying the wine for my son. My son couldn’t even spell or pronounce ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ and certainly had no interest in drinking it. No matter what I said, the man would not renege. I was unable to buy myself a bottle of wine because I had an evil teenager lurking suspiciously by my side.  I’ve caught public transport with my son and seen older people, growl and push past him so roughly that he loses his footing. The truth is, many people treat teenagers appallingly. They’re more regularly short-changed at the counter, made to wait longer in queues and always guilty before proving their innocence. And most of the time it is undeserved.

The shopping centre management of the Westfield that was the target of the ACA show, was refreshingly positive about the youth presence, understanding that these kids contribute cash and labour, colour and laughter to the glitzy merchandise paradise.

Young teens are just learning about society at large and we used to celebrate that. In tribal societies young people are initiated and mentored as they transition to adulthood. Adolescence is a trying time for youngsters and adults sometimes make it even more difficult for them to find their feet. Sure, they’ll make some mistakes but that’s normal. We should be there to dust them off and encourage them to reassess and try again.

We live in a culture that has become guilty of ‘puppy parenting’. We fawn over our gorgeous toddlers and dress them in funky clothes, worry about their development, search websites and join playgroups to keep abreast of the latest breakthroughs in power-parenting. We hover like helicopters and proudly plaster their finger-paintings all over the refrigerator. But as soon as they start sprouting pimples and hickies, we shake our heads and tut-tut. Most parents spend more time reprimanding their teenagers than laughing with them.

Hey, I don’t like the orange lopsided fringe or the lip piercing but both were done without my knowledge or consent for lots of money at the local shopping complex. There’s little point carrying on about it because underneath the costume I have a teenager with a beautiful heart, a great wit and so much future, it’s wonderful. He’s not Mad Max.  He’s just Max from ‘Where the Wild Things Are...’ a bit grumpy and masquerading as a monster!   

The violent world.

I am sitting at my home office looking at a battalion of emergency services vehicles. Blue and white checked cop cars, ambulances and paramedic cars. This is a quiet, middle-class, comfortable and conservative suburb. It feels strange to see these ominous blots on my neat-lawned, hedge-trimmed landscape.

Straining to see what is going on, I spy a policeman making his way to my front door and I race to throw clothes over my early morning frumpy flannels ( and a smudge of lipstick on my lips). The handsome copper explains that the poor elderly gentleman in the little house across the way has been violently assaulted and has serious head injuries. He was randomly assaulted by someone who walked through his door looking to rob him. I was home at the time, talking to my son on the phone and couldn't assist the police with their inquiries. I saw nothing at all.

I feel sick to the stomach and wonder what this world is coming to. Nine o'clock on a Monday morning in suburbia, minding your own business in your own house and someone just wanders in and clobbers you over the head with a metal pole or some-such. Crikey.

I just rang my son back and he reminded me that I had mentioned that I heard a weird noise in my back-yard at that time and thought a tree branch may have fallen. I am going to investigate now as someone may have thrown something into my yard....

Too close to home. I detest all violence - from cruelty to animals to war. I don't smack my kids. I cry when I hear of innocent teenagers being glassed or king hit while out at night. My children are gentle and peace-loving and I would never forgive any man or woman who raised a hand to me or any other. There is no excuse.

I hope my neighbour makes a full physical recovery and I hope they catch the miserable asshole who did this. The poor man will live with fear and nightmares for a long time to come, I am sure.

I have locked my doors for the first time today while I am working at home. I've never felt the need to do that. That's a loss of innocence and it makes me very, very sad.

Peace out.

Morphing into Stepford Wives.....

I've been watching television recently (I don't do that all that often) and I am horrified to see so many women morphing into the same plastic Stepford Wife. The frozen faces, unnatural lips and high cheek bones. Waves of blonde hair. Impossibly uncomfortable torture devices on their feet (shoes are beginning to resemble weapons of mass destruction). Anorexic bodies. And no doubt the obligatory fifties housewife chemical addiction. Women are more obsessed with their looks than ever before. It is like a disease. Far from being liberated, women are more trapped by the shallow judgments leveled at them than ever before.

When Hilary Clinton foregoes the make-up it makes international headlines. Julia Gillard's bum is as newsworthy as her views on climate change. Demi Moore is broken-hearted....lets focus on how that has affected her 'looks'. Lindsay Lohan is a hopeless addict....lets focus on how that has affected her 'looks'. Kate Middleton is too thin. That horrid Kardashian chick is too fat. We don't want to see pictures of celebrities' babies...we want to see pictures of their post-baby bodies! We've gone completely mad.

We are endorsing and encouraging the view that women are dolls and we are doing so to the point that we are in fact becoming production-line plastic things. The smooth faces, the glossy hair, the impossible bodies....despite the so-called liberation of women we are moving more and more toward a 'Barbie' world than ever before. We are not free. Women are slaves to fashion and beauty. Grey hair is a sin. Fat bottoms are unacceptable. Wrinkles are the devil. Shave every last disgusting hair from your body, except your head. Walk on stilts that will destroy you feet. Don't eat anything. And if all that isn't enough the latest craze is genital cosmetic surgery. Plump up those pillows and snip off anything too droopy. Tighten it up. Bleach it. For Christ-sake where will it end?

To my eye the sexiest thing in the world is health and happiness. A happy, healthy person looks good, not freakishly alien. I don't think injecting botulism into your face is healthy. I don't think starving yourself is a good idea either.

Life is short. We all look like crap when we're dead....I like to find healthy, natural alternatives to cosmetic surgery. Take Co-Enzyme supplements and eat a lot of greens. Exercise. Lots of sex. Laughter and good friends. How bizarre must it be to be addicted to beauty to the point that you and your friends are all beginning to look like clones and you can't afford to laugh in case you rupture something and your face falls off. Soft boobs feel nicer than rocks. Stretchmarks are ticklish. Laughter lines are beautiful and genitals are there to be experienced and felt  not to be framed and hung on the wall.

There is real beauty in nature so we should try to abort this trend of morphing women into plastic freaks. Enough!

From band molls to net trolls

Trolls are really just the new cyber-groupies. In the media over the last couple of days we have been subjected to a barrage of social commentary about bullying and in particular cyber-bullying. I have only just become aware that the term 'troll' now refers to a person who targets and abuses others via social networks and those targeted are often celebrities. It’s an apt moniker to give this mob of verbal abusers.

In targeting a celebrity the perpetrators suddenly enjoy a tiny, grubby slice of fame as well. Anyone who has had any kind of public profile knows that this sort of thing has been around for a long time - only now it has become viral and it’s a virtual epidemic.

Fame has less currency than it did in the good ole days. In this age of information technology it is becoming increasingly easy to grab that fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol described and frankly the easiest way to do so is by causing a fuss on social media. The concept of an overnight sensation has never been more possible. But if you ain’t got talent, the easiest way to turn the spotlight your way is to hunt down someone who’s already in it and stand real close!

Access to a celebrity now is so much easier than writing fan letters, standing at backstage doors or dressing up as a hotel maid and hiding in a laundry cupboard outside a rock-star’s room ( I never went that far but almost).

When I was a teenage groupie in the eighties, the very thing that made the hunt and the thrill of connecting with a celebrity so exciting was that they were so unapproachable, so lofty. We were Earthlings - they were Stars....bright beacons so very, very far away. To touch one, to catch one, was like being given a celebrity audience with a celestial being. (Of course, the reality once you found yourself in the arms of a rock-star was often more like an impact with a lesser meteor but that's another story....)

Celebrities are only a tweet away these days and a tweet is like a permanent graffiti comment to the entire world. Sign in and see my etchings! You can, quite literally, have a global audience within seconds....You might have a miserable twenty followers in the morning but if you make death threats on twitter to a'll be better read than J.K Rowling by supper time.

It’s not so very different from other anti-fans who have crossed the line with dire consequences. Think of Mark David Chapman who killed John Lennon. He claimed to have been bullied at school and wanted to share some of Lennon’s celebrity.  Or John Hinckley Jr. (also bullied at school) who wanted to assassinate Ronald Reagan to impress/get noticed by his celebrity crush, Jodie Foster? Fatal attraction fans. They’re nothing new. For every hundred admiring fans you’ll find one that is unhinged and obsessed in a dangerous way. For every ten groupie girls there was one bunny-boiler who’d set out to ruin a celebrity’s life because he didn’t love her back.

‘Don’t feed the trolls’ has become the cement response to celebrities who find themselves the target of online abuse. But is that a fair thing to tell a celebrity? Is that a fair thing to tell the kid in the playground having his lunch ground into the playground bitumen in front of him? Famous people are still just people.

This is bullying outside of the square and not bullying for its own sake but for the promise, the heady thrill of a little short-lived notoriety and power. Bullying has always been about power but if you can topple someone you perceive as more powerful than yourself, you can absorb some of their power. Groupies/obsessed fans and trolls all suffer from low self-esteem. In many ways celebrity is fuelled by the low self-esteem of those who worship obsessively. We created TomKat, Brangelina etc. Fans blow the hot air into these massive balloons of fame and fans can pop them just as fast. They are far from powerless.

A groupie can bed a rock-star/football player/actor for one night and leave it there or she can post photos on social media, call the press, lay a false paternity suit. Groupies can be dangerous. Trolls are just groupies who keep their knickers on but their claws bared.

Sticks and stones might break bones but names do hurt and deeply. We’ve all called Tom Cruise a ferret face, Tony Abbot a budgie smuggler and much worse. Mere mortals play the game of tearing down celebrities all the time. It’s cafe latte bullying with friends. But the social media provides a weapon and words can be bullets. It’s not fair to simply say ‘put up a shield’, ‘dodge the shrapnel’. We’ve lost sight of the vulnerability of celebrities. Fans think they know them, own them. I’ve been guilty of being the groupie who listens to the radio and thinks every song is about me. The whole concept of fame is a bit surreal. 

I feel sorry for Charlotte Dawson and the many others who have been so cruelly targeted.  I believe in free speech but I believe in being kind to people as well. There is no easy answer because shining a light on the problem is exactly what the trolls crave. I had one mad troll abuse me in a twitter raid when my book was published and my immediate response was to retweet it but that fired her up into more of a frenzy. The last tweet said, ‘I’ve had my fun with you and will now move on…’ And I realised sadly, for some, it’s a sport. Anti-groupies. The sort that bring pain instead of pleasure. It is sad but perhaps it is the unavoidable double edged sword of celebrity and that’s probably why mere mortals can only handle fifteen minutes of it.

Search This Blog

Follow me by Email