Friday, September 14, 2018

Last Blood

Today a man (who looked like, and may have been, a frog) I had just met asked when my last period was. Quite a forward frog he was. I replied anyway, these are forward times and you’ve got to keep up. Go with the flow. "I’m on it. It’s now. It’s happening, as we speak!", I said, in a challenging tone, matching his forwardness and raising it some.


His bull-frog face stiffened momentarily before the professional behind the frog re-emerged to ask: ‘How many days ago did it start?’ A forward frog indeed. I couldn’t remember precisely. My mind was boggling like his eyes. 

He was, of course, at least officially, a doctor with a professional interest in my blood work. We didn’t just meet on the street or by a pond. No. He was about to get down deep and dirty with my blood, as he duly informed me, not in so many words. He intimated that it would be in his hands – I didn’t look – that I was about to put my bleeding uterus and vagina.

Prior to this last-minute pre-surgical consultation out of which I could not get without unwinding at least five months of preparation and another year of procrastination before that, I had been led to believe the operation would be performed by a female doctor I had met several times who went by the elegant and trustworthy name of Abir. Now this frogman stood, well sat, in her place.

I can’t recall his name, given quickly, and there was no real explanation for this substitution, other than a small box at the bottom of a long form to be checked by me that waived my right to elect a specific doctor, or even species of doctor (apparently), to perform my procedure. I checked it with a brave, almost perceptible grumble.

Why do men get into gynaecology?  Hmm... Frogs might have additional motives, too. Perhaps a spell had been cast that only baptism by vaginal blood could undo and prince he could become once more. Stranger things have happened. The fact that I would be asleep during the procedure did not alleviate my concerns. And what had he done with Abir?

He hopped away, leaving me to change into my sexy backless hospital smock and shower cap and to think. Always to think. Is this regular? Why was nothing said before? Am I always the last to know? On the other hand, what's the big deal? So a half man half frog is replacing an elegant Arab woman as my vaginal surgeon at the last minute. It happens. First World problem. Get over it. Also, I used to collect tadpoles as a child, so I was probably asking for trouble with a frog eventually. 

He did ask me if I wanted to keep my removed tissue. Perhaps that was his way of getting the permission he needed to take off with my tissue and clone it into a real woman of his own who he could force to kiss him and so be returned at last to his princely form. Who wants to keep their tissue? I nearly said yes.

Ribbit. Ribbit.

Post-op update: Alive and all but intact, other than what was taken of my tissue by a frog with an attitude (and a scalpel) while I slept. Not yet hopping. Taking that as a good sign. Frogman wasn’t there when I woke up. Most suspicious.  

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Thinking about Aretha

You really can't pay tribute to a singer like Aretha Franklin in pictures. Pictures might speak a thousand words but they can't sing a single note. Although you can almost hear Aretha in this picture, in the smile squeezed into her tight shut eyes as she opens her mouth to release a note of song so joyous that it speaks a thousand smiles and all who hear it are stunned speechless by the wonder of such a smooth smiling soulful sister sound.

Clearly words are inadequate to the task of tribute too, and maybe that's how it should be.

As for the furore over her funeral service which by most accounts failed to pay fitting tribute to the Queen of Soul, partly because men hogged the mic and did not show the RESPECT Aretha commanded and demanded from men on behalf of women, that is another example of how we struggle to pay tribute to such a woman. Although there we might aspire to do better. And so we will.

RIP Aretha, long live the Queen!


Friday, August 24, 2018

The perfect norm (for National Poetry Day)

The perfect norm

tofu and marshmallow
                              are indistinguishable
in the regurgitation
                frothy and cream white
                                                 like teeth
        dissolved in the dream
                                   of the clean
                 good life
like cloud
            before it darkens
                                     portending storm
each becomes the other
                                           the perfect norm
      good and bad 
                                       in my vegan vomit
                                                                       all is one

Friday, August 10, 2018

"Stewbridge" the consummate comedy couple (and me)

I'm not normally into couples...

"Brangelina" never passed my lips (either set), nor did "Posh and Becks" ever push my buttons -- and not for want of trying on their parts, I can assure you. Oh yes. But threesomes have never really been my thing. Call me old-fashioned.

But then I met (in print) Stewart Lee and Bridget Christie -- or "Stewbridge", as they might be called if they were A-list actors, sportspeople or singing fashion designers, rather than alternative Aish-list comedian writers -- and all that changed...

Unfortunately, Stewbridge is quite exclusive and reclusive, not even appearing as a twosome in public; the above photo-shopped image being the closest they get to public coupledom, which is a shame -- for me -- and for US, as I really think we could have had some wholesome threesome fun, us being comedians and all.

Still, it was kind of like we were all three together getting off on each other's wits, instead of tits, when I read recently (better late than never) their comedy memoirs back to back and laughed loud --especially with Bridget. They are yet to read my funny memoir, but it's only a matter of time. I am not going anywhere.

I had previously met Bridget, watching her Netflix special "Stand Up for Her" in 2017 -- the first comedy Netflix special by a British woman -- and blogging about it hereBut Stew is new to me, though he's been on the Brit comedy scene much longer than Bridget and in his book talks favourably about his time spent in New Zealand performing at the Auckland comedy club I started out (and stopped abruptly in, with a sex and age discrimination complaint pending) doing stand-up. I will not hold that against him. His book is otherwise brilliant.

But it is Bridget's A Book For Her that shows us, like no other comedian has done, I think, what a genuine feminist laughs like, mingling substantive feminist insights and politics into a properly funny narrative and comedic life. Stew is a lucky man.

And I am a lucky woman to have found such a kindred comic spirit at a time when the women in my local community of new and pro comedians, most of whom call themselves feminists, have expressed their opposition to my discrimination complaint with an aggression and condescension far outstripping that expressed by the men in that community. Interestingly, Bridget says her fiercest public critics have been women.

Being a funny feminist is not for the fainthearted, indeed, but Bridget shows us that it can, and must, be done. And it will be.

“There is something unique about the social determination to keep women from being publicly funny. The persistence of all-male comedy panels, the comperes who introduce female comedians as if they’re something between a freak show and a child’s tap dance... this is distinct from what a female scientist might experience. Standup is an act of profound self-exposure, and laughter is the ultimate gesture of acceptance: I think it’s actually easier for society to concede that a woman might be good at physics than it is to countenance the sight of her being unguarded and shameless, and to approve of that.
Zoe Williams, July 20, 2015

Guardian review of Bridget Christie’s A Book for Her


Friday, July 13, 2018

Painfully Rich

So we all know - and don't really believe - that being rich doesn't make you happy, unless, that is, we have been stinking, filthy, "painfully rich" as the condition is described by the the author of the book on the Getty family, on which the 2017 film All the Money in the World is partly based. Only then, it would seem, do we know, especially if we are the heirs to such painful riches, as J.Paul Getty's children and grandchildren were.

But now, with the production at last of this painfully real 'truth inspired' film of the 1973 kidnapping of one of Getty's grandchildren, we, the not painfully stinking, can finally see for ourselves just what BIG money can do to a man and his family.

And so I urge all to see this film, as I have just done, for that reason if no other. Although you won't only come away thinking how much better you feel about not being rich. For the story of how the grandfather, at the time the richest man in the world, refused to pay the ransom money for the safe return of his grandson, and as a result the grandson was kept in near squalor and fear for his life for five months and eventually had his right ear cut off, an ordeal that he never recovered from psychologically and died prematurely no doubt partly as a result of, will also shock you to the core, as seeing is believing - almost - to learn just how ruthlessly arrogant and heartless an insanely money-obsessed man can actually be, as if we needed any more evidence of this, which we don't really.

But the film is also illuminating on a gender front, as the mother of the kidnapped boy, who was just 16 at the time, fights such a valiant and tireless battle against this ruthlessness on behalf of her son, having asked Getty for no money to raise her three children when she was divorced from her husband, Paul Getty Jr, that her lack of greed, humanity and strength, which in the end sees her son finally returned to her, albeit scarred for life, provides a salient and reassuring counter to the man's corrupt, callous heart.

I feel reassured at least. And I wonder how many gender stories of this sort remain out there still untold, it took long enough to tell this one, though it is totally made for film.

When Getty senior died he left not one penny in his will for the kidnapped grandson (though he himself had inherited a business worth 10 million from his father). What a fucking arsehole, even if, in theory at least, he might have been doing the boy a favour. Alas, it was too late for that.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Yes, yes, Nanette (Hannah Gadsby)

'Remarkable', though 'not that funny', according to one male reviewer
Just when I thought I knew all the western cultural heroes who were brazen misogynists, now Picasso must be added to the long list, thanks to Hannah Gadsby's insights on the man and art delivered in her devilishly daring, honest and brilliant Netflix stand-up special Nanette.

But this is not what Nanette is about - misogynist men - at least not mainly. Nanette is a comedy, for starters, if a very new and cutting-edge comedy that stretches the boundaries of traditional stand-up to a new and, I believe, distinctly, if also challenging, feminine shape, or shapes. This is no one-size-fits-all reshaping.

But Nanette is mainly a show about WOMEN, and FUNNY WOMEN more specifically, and funny, lesbian and otherwise "different" women who do not fit nor want to fit the man-made mould of what it is to be a human female in this male dominated and distorted world most specifically.

"Nanette" rejects the mould of female comedy in which women find themselves in a self-deprecating mode in order to get laughs from men as well as those women who, like Hannah previously, are too ashamed to be themselves and own their anger about the way they are judged and abused simply for being women, and especially for being "different" women. Hannah will carry that shame no more and if that means the end of her comedy career then so be it, as she says on stage in a perfectly timed and balanced performance that pulls no punches and is brutally honest, while knocking its audience over by shouting and repeating its rarely spoken, deeply personal and political feminist rage.

And as a woman, a different and funny, if straight woman who has been wrestling with speaking my own feminist truth for decades, and most recently in reaction to an experience on and around the stand-up stage that I believe was seriously sexist and discriminatory towards me as a not young woman, Nanette feels more than timely and gives me strength to continue fighting that battle.

And so I believe this is our time, hers, mine and yours. Women are not only proving we are funny, as so long denied, but we are showing we are funny (and fierce) fighters in a way that male comedians are not and never have been, indeed never have had to be. Seinfeld, for example, has just told Dave Letterman on his show that he has no interest in speaking about Trump in his act, instead he offers twenty minutes on chocolate raisins. Kathy Griffin, on the other hand, did speak out in anger about Trump in her comedy immediately after his election and was exiled from her country for a year for her troubles. Michele Wolf took a similar risk at the White House Correspondents' dinner this year and was pilloried by many in the press, and Chelsea Handler was similarly outspoken about Trump before and after his election. And unable to stomach his outrageous success and stupidity, or to make light of life through humour in the face of it, Chelsea walked away, after only two seasons, from her own show as the first female evening talk show host in the US.

Indeed Hannah says she has to get out of comedy because she is no longer prepared to hide her history of being abused nor the anger and shame she has felt about being a lesbian and a victim all these years, truths that are generally not funny. But with the incredibly positive reaction to her Netflix special worldwide, it is more than likely that Hannah will have a career in the international public eye speaking her hard and not always funny truth for some time, whether we want to call that comedy or not is up to us.

I would like to think that comedy in 2018 and beyond can and will stretch to this sort of very personal and political truth-telling, warts, wounds and all performance. Because as funny as Seinfeld is, or at least was, twenty minutes on raisins by a straight white male comic in the age of Trump, I think says as much about the limits of his kind of comedy going forward as Griffin's daring decapitated head stunt says about the potential of hers and others who work harder and braver to forge the laughs from within the lessons than traditional comics have ever done. And watching Letterman last night, I got the feeling that he saw this in Seinfeld too, as close a friend and fan of Seinfeld's as he is.

So thank you Hannah and Kathy and Michele and Chelsea and others; your (our) time has finally come. Paint that, Picasso. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Funny girl?

While the comedian's away (in Australia helping my very old mother recover from a life-threatening hip break and post-op stroke), a man, in the rain, at night, turned up on the doorstep of our house in New Zealand to deliver to my husband a copy of the magazine with this article on me based on an interview I had done several months prior on my new and, at that time, burgeoning career as a stand-up comedian.

NZ Life & Leisure June-July 2018
Life can be funny like that sometimes. Because the day before I got the early morning call from my sister's new boyfriend, who I had never spoken to before, that my mother had had a post-op stroke and was, as we spoke, being rushed across Sydney for an emergency life-saving procedure, I had submitted a 25,000-word gender and age discrimination complaint to the NZ Comedy Guild, in which I allege that my exclusion from the finals of the national Raw Comedy Quest to find NZ's best new comedian was sexist and ageist (an associated form of gender discrimination), and not, as otherwise assumed, due to my lack of comedic ability.

As this formal complaint (yet to be answered by the Guild) has put my comedy career on hold and ostracised me from the NZ comedy community for the foreseeable future, and possibly forever, the title of this much delayed article is now in some serious question, and that's even before we go into any issue that I, or others of the feminist persuasion, might have with the descriptor 'girl' to refer to someone of my vintage.

But the good news is that Mum survived and two weeks later is showing signs of regaining the will to live, something that, after losing almost all her mobility overnight, had all but deserted her. And one of the clearest signs of hope is her ability to make light of and even laugh at her predicament. Finding herself bewildered by the large Italian male nurse's aid asking her, in a thick accent, 'Do you want to move your bowels?', having already christened him 'Hercules', she offered him in response a flirtatious smile and said hopefully: 'You are very strong!' Which, although not exactly answering Hercules' question, provided some light relief to all in the near vicinity, and to Mum when I explained to her the question -- just in time to avoid testing how strong Hercules really was.     

Humour helps, is what I say to this, even when, perhaps especially when, in our darkest and least dignified hours. And so we must fight for our right to make laughter out of the variety of challenging situations that life throws our way, many, if not most, of them long beyond our youth, especially as women.

Mum (in dark blue) and friends, shortly before her fall