Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017: The year in Five-Minute Photoshop. Yes, it's that time of year when I glory in a year's worth of stupid sweded imagery. I'm actually surprised how little of it I did this year, compared to previous nonsense-filled years. I guess this is growing up? Nah.

Here's the original Five-Minute Photoshop post, from March 2012. Then I decided to make it into an annual tradition: here's my round-up of 2013 in Five-Minute Photoshop, 2014 in Five-Minute Photoshop2015 in Five-Minute Photoshop, and 2016 in Five-Minute Photoshop. Okay, get ready for greatness…

The film A Street Cat Named Bob is about a homeless guy who turned his life around with the help of this very handsome ginger cat (the real Bob actually starred in the film):

But I always saw the title as A Streetcar Named Bob.

"Bob! Hey Bob!"

This is a 1945 aerial map of Carlton, which I annotated to show the streets that were bulldozed when the Commish was built in the 1960s. Look especially at the diagonal line of Neill Street, part of which only survives today as a park-like pedestrian throughway from Rathdowne to Lygon St. And look at Drummond Street, which originally ran north-south from Princes Street to Victoria Street but now breaks off at the Commish and picks up again at Palmerston Street.

Here's the same location today. The point of my doing this was because someone on Twitter was talking about the 'ghost streets' that show up on aerial maps, where the shapes of buildings, parks and other uses of urban space reveal where streets used to be, even though those streets have now vanished. Interestingly, now that the old Commish walk-up flats have been replaced with bourgie apartment buildings, the old street names have been reinstated because people need to drive through the new developments.

Earlier this year there was a lot of fuss made about FaceApp, an AI-based app that alters photos in varying ways – to make you look older or younger, or swap your gender, or add a smile when you weren't smiling in the original pic.

Chad does not smile in these terrifying, dead-eyed selfies he takes of him trying on clothes, which he then sends to his wife Zoe for her opinion. Instead she is unsettled, and she posted a whole bunch of Chad's serial-killer pics and then FaceApped him to add this creepy smile. I then thought, "How can I make this photo creepier? I know – make Chad into Pennywise the Dancing Clown from It."

Gaston from Beauty and the Beast is all about this provincial life. I took a lot of trouble to get the sparkles right – you can't go overboard with them or it looks ridiculous, but you want them to look really blingy. I also offset two identical layers of the text to create the embossed gold effect.

I'm still unsure the extent to which this US local news report was engineered by the journalist, who is reporting from the scene of a wild cougar sighting, but then the camera zooms in to an ordinary cat sitting in the background of the shot. Obviously I sweded up a version featuring my own large cat. The hardest part was the bottom right-hand corner, which was the background of the original shot, but the grass was much browner than my garden so I had to green it up, but also not ruin the blue gradient effect on the banner.

I really thought people on Cool Cat Group (an excellent Facebook group that is basically lots of pictures of members' cats) would find this joke funny, but the admins mustn't have known about the meme, because they didn't approve my post. They must have thought I was just posting an actual screengrab and not a picture of my own cat.

This one tangentially features Graham as well. It is very spiritual. I sometimes like to imagine Ghost Obi-Wan giving me life advice.

I threatened to draw Omar like one of my French girls, hence the Heart of the Ocean round his neck. It is basically a joke about how he would always post these moody thirst-trap selfies of him reclining. Of course, now he has a girlfriend all his Instagram pictures are smoochy pics of the pair of them cuddling. Look, on one level I'm glad Omar is happy.

I always wanted a reaction pic of this Star Trek moment in which Spock mind-melds with a wounded alien – I have the dance remix and I listen to it all the time. It is the soundtrack to my own performative agony and aversive feelings.

This year I co-hosted a freelancers' work Christmas party. I think I chose just the right Santa hat to look as if it's part of the original comic, which of course is emblematic of the experience of being a freelance writer.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Secret baby. Over the years I've struggled with the idea of having children. I've always been acculturated to want kids in a vague sense, and I've felt some grief and shame that my sexual failure has prevented this. Other people fear getting pregnant; that has just never been a relevant fear to me. Instead I fear being alone and forgotten. Children represent a sense of genetic posterity, a connection to past and future generations, without which life doesn't have much meaning. Hence Children of Men.

On the other hand, I don't like kids. In recent years I've made peace with this. Last year for Rereaders we read a book called Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: essays by writers who don't have kids. It struck me how many contributors felt the need to point out that they were fond of other people's kids, as if that mitigated their not having any of their own. Whereas I don't enjoy the company of children at all.

I've wondered if perhaps I might like a kid if it were mine. Everyone says it's different when it's yours. And perhaps I might like parenting if it were an experience I could share with my friends: a rite of passage that creates a community. But it's not a decision you can take back if you regret it later. It's not fair bringing someone into the world unless you're already jazzed to look after them.

In our child-obsessed society, whether or not you have kids cleaves your friendships because, basically, people with children stop being interested in other things, and the children determine their lives. I recently went out to dinner with three friends, all of whom have kids, and I had nothing to contribute to the conversation as they spent the entire evening talking about pregnancy and babies and children. My connection with these friends is now limited to reminiscing about the time before they were parents.

Another time I was invited out for yum cha with some friends and their kids, and the parents spent the whole time wrangling the kids. I just sat there quietly and ate my yum cha and went home thinking, "I might as well not have been there. Why did they even invite me?" (Except I love yum cha and, practically speaking, it's not the kind of meal you can order alone.)

I've had some conversations about this with my as-yet-childless friends, to whom I've found myself gravitating. I've felt tantalised by stories about societies that incorporate kids into adult lives, rather than forcing adults (mainly women) to reconfigure their lives around the needs of a child. Corinne Maier, the Swiss-French author of such polemical books as Bonjour Paresse (Hello Laziness) and No Kids (as well as books on Marx, Freud, Einstein and Lacan), was quoted in The Guardian: “I think it is good for a child to know that her/his mother does not belong to him, that she has her own life and desire, that her world is not limited to her child. It gives the child the freedom to build his own personality.”

So my thinking about kids these days is limited to a very specific fantasy: the secret baby. This fantasy is inspired by a writer of my acquaintance whom I saw in the street one day, hugely pregnant. I was so impressed that she had never so much as hinted at this on social media, when the trend now is to stage-manage and micro-document one's pregnancy from the ostentatious announcement to the side-on time-lapse photos and then the final reveal of a scrunched red thing. But my friend had been keeping up her work, talking about all sorts of other interesting things, being a fully actualised person.

Another friend of mine had a kid and kept on with her life. She'd bring the kid to the pub on Friday night. She'd accept invitations and not make a big deal about leaving when the kid had had enough. She socialised without the kid. She went back to work like normal. Her stories about parenthood centred her needs, not the baby's. It was probably a massive logistical juggle, a series of bargains and negotiations, but she made parenting seem un-disruptive.

So in my own secret baby fantasy, I get pregnant and do not tell anyone. I continue to go about my regular life, wearing my same wardrobe of baggy sacks and stretchy pants, and nobody even notices that I am pregnant because I am already fat. I have the kid (again, in complete secrecy, sharing no photos, let alone those fucking horrifying birth photo shoots), and then keep going with my life as usual. I never post about my baby on social media, and nor does my new status as a mother creep into my work as a writer.

Of course, this is a complete fantasy because having a child is fundamentally disruptive. Babies make loud noises and require constant tending, which means I wouldn't be able to go to film screenings. I would be physically and mentally tapped out, and incapable of keeping up a regular enough workload to support me and the baby. And in practice I would easily crack and talk about the fucking baby on social media, much as I promised myself I wouldn't post about my cat and yet I do. This fantasy would also require a supportive partner, which I wouldn't have.

But whenever I'm feeling angry or upset about our culture's overwhelming celebration of the child, it soothes me to imagine how unlike this I would be with my secret baby that did not define my life.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Walking the white dog. I took the whitest, bourgiest dog ever (sorry Dexter, but you are a golden retriever) for a walk in the white bourgie neighbourhood where I grew up. I was re-immersing myself in pedestrian memories with an earlier, even whiter dog (Alfred, 1992–2008) in these same streets. I thought about how I would yearn here for real life to begin, in all these interstices of suburbia that kids and teenagers sense and gravitate towards: the lanes and half-overgrown parks and deserted train platforms and the rundown old tennis courts and vacant lots and weird tiny slices of unused land backing onto two rows of houses, which feel forgotten by money and the need for niceness, and where you can feel alone. 

The lacquer of capitalism and the soft patina of gentility now cover Tom's house and Greg's house and Cassie's house, none of whose families live here any more. I could disdain this, but I also felt shame today to recognise what I fancifully used to disavow: that I've fitted in here, with my white sneakers and white dog and white skin and polite smile to the teenager raking leaves from the footpath. I felt wrong for having always felt at home in these spaces I thought belonged to nobody, among my weird imported fantasies of flower fairies and nature gods, of dairymaids and duchesses, singing songs of the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa ("Umoja: unity that brings us together!") and Bulgarian laments ("three rifles fired, three heroes fell, three mothers cried") and queer yearning ("if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can't I?") without understanding if they had anything to do with me or this place.  Seeing that low brick fence where in year 10 on my walk to school I found a weather-crimped paperback of Bryce Courtenay's Tandia just sitting there, and this trashy and intensely probbo novel was my introduction to South African racial politics.

When your memories spring from stolen land, are they only ever fantasies? When you plant foreign seeds in stolen soil, does the fruit make you sick? All we can do is listen and learn from those whose home this was, is, and always will be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016: The year in Five-Minute Photoshop. You might see a big change in my annual collection of stupid sweded imagery. This is because in 2016 I decided not to post birthday greetings on people's Facebook walls, so I no longer do up digital cards for my Facebook friends.

I have an ambivalent relationship with Facebook's urging to artificially 'celebrate' people's life events. On one hand, it's nice to get a wall full of nice messages. On the other, it feels perfunctory somehow, as though people are only doing it because Facebook has groomed them to, rather than because I mean something to them. I feel as if nobody even notices if I don't post anything, so I started not posting on Facebook for people's birthdays, and instead texting or messaging them personally. But importantly, this has cut down on the amount of sweding I do each year.

Here's the original Five-Minute Photoshop post, from March 2012. Then I decided to make it into an annual tradition: here's my round-up of 2013 in Five-Minute Photoshop, 2014 in Five-Minute Photoshop, and 2015 in Five-Minute Photoshop. And here are this year's…

This was one of my patented 'Twitter jokes that amuse only me'. Imagine if one family live the most depraved lives possible. And then they die, and are interred in the family vault. What do you call a dynasty like this? The Aristocrats!

I remember spending ages trying to find a picture of an appropriate burial vault, and using the Copperplate font and manipulating the colours to get that chiselled-in look.

This year Kevin Spacey starred in a terrible film called Nine Lives, in which he is a mean awful business tycoon who has an accident and finds his consciousness trapped in the body of a cat named Mr Fuzzypants. Anyway that is the background for this cursed image.

Every year I swede an image for our film critics' end-of-year drinks with one of the year's films. And the breakout star of 2016 has got to be Black Philip from The Witch. Wouldst thou like to drink deliciously? I think thou wouldst.

LOL, this luscious tribute to The Room came from my observation that Juliette Danielle, who plays Lisa in The Room, looks a lot like Renee O'Connor, who plays Gabrielle in Xena: Warrior Princess. Same round, kind of pugnacious face; same stringy blonde fringe. Hai doggie.

I can't remember what this X-Files joke was about. But yet another Room reference can't be all bad.

Everyone in my Twitter feed was carrying on like it was the best joke ever to make up fake opinion headlines and share them as if they were legitimate screengrabs. It's a shibboleth, basically. To the sort of people who follow the #auspol hashtaag, if you for one second take this as 'real news', you are a fool who doesn't 'get' politics and political punditry, and hence can safely be mocked and dismissed wholesale. Reminds me of the roasting one Twitter pundit got once for not knowing what 'butthurt' meant, and thinking it deliberately had to do with butts.

But to me it also says a lot about how nonsensical a lot of punditry actually is, not to mention how easily we digest things posted on social media and don't look into them too deeply. All it takes is googling a headline to figure out if it leads to Fake News from The Failing Australian, seriously. Believe me.

Another Twitter shitfight. I think people were arguing about whether some source of online outrage was or was not misogynist, and it got to the point where people who were saying it wasn't misogynist were in turn accused of internalised misogyny.

In general, the online discourse was very bad in 2016. First some ding-dong tried to scapegoat young people for not being able to afford to buy their own homes, arguing they'd wasted all their money on cafe brunches of smashed avocado. Of course, the millennials fought back. And then this article crashed Junkee's website. So I mashed up one stupid meme with another. Here come dat avocado boi! O shit waddup!

This, I think, was purely a stupid pun that The Price Is Right host Larry Emdur's name sounds like Game of Thrones ding-dong Edmure Tully. And another Game of Thrones swede…

The show never did very much with King Tommen's pet cat Ser Pounce. Apparently this was because the cat was infuriatingly hard to wrangle and it was easier just to forget about him. But in Game of Thrones deep lore there is an ancient and cantankerous cat living wild in the tunnels under the Red Keep who is said to have once belonged to little Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, who was murdered by the Lannisters. So I like the idea that after Tommen's death, Ser Pounce will also lurk beneath the castle, dealing out furry vengeance.

Notice that I actually used a Game of Thrones font, which I had previously downloaded for my Game of Thrones talk at ACMI last year.

So many stupid puns this year. This one was based on a song by another famous redhead, Adele, called 'Hello'. Note that I put the caption in Comic Sans for the proper Pauline Hanson buffoonery effect.

Ahahaha, this one still makes me LOL! I just saw this still from The Force Awakens and it occurred to me that Finn, Chewie and Han look like they're doing the macarena with the storm troopers. What a wild scene that would be. Reminds me of those stupid dancing storm troopers on Britain's Got Talent.

I'm embarrassed to tell you that this was the sincerest of swedes, intended to comfort my fellow progressives after the shocking election victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But to be honest, it makes no difference how pure and dignified you are when your shambles of an opponent somehow wrests control of the country and turns it into a hellscape of bigotry and incompetence.

At the start of the year I was surprised that there was no Facebook group specifically for female film critics. There are heaps for female film producers and filmmakers, and there's a Female Film Twitter presence, but no Facebook presence.

So I started a group, and put together this header image featuring pictures from cinema of women in theatres. It was important to me to feature a wide range of ages, ethnicities and film genres to signal that this was an inclusive group that wasn't about snobbery. I wanted to highlight the female gaze coming from the audience.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Everyone is beautiful except me. I was sitting at Trotters before, as I do so much I worry the staff despise me, and at the next table was a girl with beautiful hair. She was uni-student age, and her hair was thick and wavy and bouncy and a true auburn colour: a rich, dark red. I wanted to stare at her hair.

I began looking around the restaurant, my eye alighting on beauty of all kinds: someone with a lovely slim figure; someone with long, luscious eyelashes; someone with clear, smooth skin. I'm always noticing and rejoicing in beauty in other people. But I myself am completely repulsive.

It is so disheartening to know that nothing I do can disguise this inherent ugliness; the best I can do is blunt it, or blur the harsh edges of it, so I look okay. I can try to wear my hair in such a way as to disguise the fatness of my face. I can choose clothes that drape tactfully over the horror that is my body. I can try to wear zany, jaunty colours so I look more cheerful than I feel. I can wear makeup to cover my horrible piggish pink skin, and perfume so I don't smell bad. But there will always be a breeze that, unbearably, flattens my clothing against my body and reveals its actual, terrible shape. And my head will always look like a half-melted wax sculpture.

And it's terrible to know that when other people look at me, they are looking at this horrible thing, this foul lumpish object, and they put my name and thoughts and words on it and remember it in their minds and know it as 'me'.

Last week I did a reading, the first public reading from my forthcoming novel, and at the time I felt good about it because people laughed at the jokes and told me afterwards they thought it was funny, and tweeted nice things about it. But then on Thursday, the people who'd hosted the reading put up a photo of me in action on their Instagram. I have a pugnacious expression on my pink, hammy face, two bulging chins, and this horrible girth – my body just kind of bulges out below the armpit to become twice as wide as it is tall.

And they tagged it as me, and I felt absolute horror that my carefully curated Instagram image had been so easily punctured by the undeniable, objective fact of my physical ugliness. I felt an instinctive abjection, the way you might feel when you discover a spider or mouse or some other vermin on your clothes, or in your house: getitoutgetitoutgetitout. I untagged myself and hid it from my profile.

But then there is no getting away from the horror that this is actually how I look to other people. That it doesn't matter how good my work is, or how funny or intelligent I strive to be. I will always look like this. I'll always look ugly.

Sometimes I brood on the idea that I can't ever apply any of the qualities I admire in other people's appearance to myself. For instance, when I admire some cool young girl wearing a floral-print cotton dress with chunky Doc Martens and ankle socks, I'm reminded that if I were to wear the same dress and shoes and socks I would look like a babushka or nonna or yiayia. The shoes and socks would look sensible and orthopedic; the dress would look frumpy.

I also grieve the way that I can't look 'hot', because you just aren't if you look like me. I feel so sad thinking about all the years I wasted trying to dress sexily, trying to get the attention of whoever I was into at the time, when nobody ever saw me 'in that way'. I feel ashamed of feeling attracted to someone because I'm barely even a person to them. I'm just a foul lump of flesh, and I'm just getting worse with every passing year.

Objectively I know other people must be able to look at me and see something beautiful, in the way that I can see beautiful things in other people, but I have trouble really believing this is possible. I seem to belong to a unique category of repellence.

As I told Anthony on Thursday morning in a series of text messages sent from my bed while sobbing, "Nobody would agree to bone me because I look so awful even fully clothed. I feel like a fool for ever thinking anyone would find me attractive. I don't loathe physical contact; I am afraid of other people's inevitable disgust at how bad I am to look at, touch, etc. I try to mitigate it as best I can but believe me I look so much worse naked. I wish I could hide my head and neck too; those Muslim ladies have it figured out. The only thing to do now is to just be very successful using my brain, which is all I have. Better get up and mark more student essays."

He said all sorts of ridiculous things like "You look like Mel, which is good" and "Visual appearance doesn't even work the way you think with dudes" which I know was just him trying to cheer me up.

As a feminist I'm in the predicament of believing I shouldn't have to change my body to be worthy, but also I am realistic about the ways in which men think and speak about women, which is primarily as objects to be looked at. And I feel totally alienated from a culture where women – even feminists, especially feminists! – must perform their sexuality as part of their public selves.

Anyway, it just bums me out to notice beauty elsewhere in the world, because there's nothing beautiful about me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Spring means starting again. I think I've been having another malaise. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water on the stove, it's hard to recognise when you're in trouble until you reach a stress point.

After fighting with Anthony on Twitter on Monday night and then deleting the tweets, I've decided to ease off social media. Not make some public, flouncing exit, or use an app to block the sites (although I have used SelfControl for this), but just kind of… back away. It's actually easier the longer you're away, because the less you interact, the fewer notifications there are to draw you into interacting.

My mother is always telling me that I post too much online. She's been doing that pretty much since I started blogging. But as someone who's always felt a need to communicate with words (rather than to record or express things), writing online felt more useful to me than keeping a private diary. (Which I did at the height of my worst depression in 1999, although I can't seem to find it now. Probably a good thing: it was full of bitter talk of how my friends were all bitches, and none of the men I liked were interested in me.)

And I did make a lot of friends online: through blogging and M+N, mainly. It seems interesting to me that it's these earlier, pre-social-network forms of online sociality that feel strongest to me now. I do get a lot of value from professional support groups on Facebook, but I tend to really cement a connection by meeting someone in real life, and early online sociality was big on 'meetups'.

In a way, I started my retreat from social media earlier this year, when I decided to stop making elaborate Photoshopped birthday cards for my friends, which I'd been doing for a few years. Then I stopped wishing people happy birthday on their Facebook walls. Nobody seems to have noticed this. (Except for family members, because I knew my mother would be keeping score of who'd been a dutiful child.) I've started hiding posts that upset me from my Facebook feed (mainly pictures of people's holidays and children), and even entire people, because they made me feel rageful or unhappy. I blocked a family member from seeing my Facebook posts because every comment he made was a 'jokey' insult to me or my immediate family and I was just sick of it. But maybe I have just been generally unhappy and fed up?

What is the meaning of this tapestry of interpersonal interaction we weave when we post things online? What do all those replies and notifications mean? They seem hollow to me right now, more ritualistic than intimate. I should be up to date with people's lives, but of course people mostly post elliptically about major life events, which is why I'm shocked to learn things like that someone's long-term relationship has broken up, or someone has died or been diagnosed with cancer, or someone is pregnant, or someone is planning to become a single parent via IVF.

I also feel that the jaunty self I perform on social media is increasingly unlike the real me. I've observed repeatedly, thanks to Facebook's 'On This Day' function (which I refer to as 'Facebook Mimmries'), that when I first started using Facebook I was much more unguarded about what I said, and I said embarrassingly emotional things all the time. I feel like my self-performance has become more polished and professional, more focused on fleeting moments and jokes, the more I've realised that Facebook isn't a walled garden but is more like an agora.

My private Twitter is most like the real me; it's where the essential meanness and fretfulness that I think of as my 'real' personality asserts itself. And this blog, I suppose, because I now assume nobody even reads it. Even though the real me is awful, and nobody would ever like her, I still perversely want to be seen for 'who I really am' rather than the performance. A few weeks ago I was feeling especially lonely and desperate, and I thought about writing an angsty blog post about how I don't think I actually have any real friends any more, only acquaintanceships and old friendships alike kept artificially vital by social media.

By contrast, I've felt actual joy at events where I've caught up with people in real life. I went to the wedding of two friends and spent an afternoon in pleasant company. I met up with Daniel and Andrew for an Enthusiast catch-up last weekend and we agreed that what we'd liked best about the entire project was the chatting and the drinking. The website was secondary, and it stopped being fun when it got to be a chore.

These things have made me suspect that this is where true sociality lies. I recently stumbled across this article about how when you're a single woman, you rely on friendships for mental and emotional sustenance while everyone else gets it from their partners and families. The article also made me feel ashamed, that I've just been quietly opting out of my friendships and I should try harder to do the work of maintaining them.

Who could I call in the middle of the night for help? Who could I tell about my day? Who (I'm embarrassed about the adolescent tang of this one) would even care if I died? I suspect the answer is 'my parents', and I can't keep relying on them forever. I don't even think they realise how much I do rely on them for basic things like 'telling them my worries'. They're so busy caring for my chronically mentally ill brother that it doesn't seem worth mentioning my own struggles to them.

(I pretended I had made these examples up but they all apply to me.)

Interestingly, Daniel actually mentioned this post to me on Saturday and recognised what it was about because he's suffered from depression and anxiety himself. This is the article I'm referring to, and the article I'm comparing it to is this one. I've found it quite inspiring, because most people conceptualise 'self-care' as 'treating yo'self' but what if it's actually the hard life stuff you really struggle with? Like paying bills on time, remembering to invoice for the work you do, housework, laundry, etc.

Right now my backyard is the most overgrown it's ever been. If I got a letter from the real estate today saying I had a house inspection in a week, I'd be in real trouble. But out of nowhere today I decided to make a start on weeding it. I didn't get very far – just one corner. But I uncovered enough soil that I could fill a small pot and replant the mint that has been not-quite-dying in a glass of water on my kitchen windowsill since June.

It's not great, but it feels like a start. And it's a nice day outside today, and it felt nice to leave the house for a few minutes. And I was reminded that spring is a time when things that appear dead can come back to life.

This is a major theme of my mummy novel, which I've been working on for three years now, but which I recently reread and it was stilted and pretentious and I felt like all that time and thought and research weighs too heavily on it, and the voice isn't there.

But then I remembered that it's also a novel about death and grief, and perhaps I've been coming at it wrong as a coming-of-age story – what if it's also a story of the heroine's mother coming out of the depression she's been sunk in since her only son was killed in WWI? I'd always had the mum in mind as a major character. I'd been thinking of her as being like Demeter, waiting for Persephone to come back from the underworld to bring back the spring. She spends her days pacing in a cypress maze; in Greek mythology cypress is sacred to Hades. She has a little black cat named after Clio, the muse of history. Her name is Alice.

I'd been thinking about putting the mummy novel to one side and working on my sea-wizards novel instead, but as I pulled out weeds I thought perhaps I might try to write something from the mother's perspective.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Biliousness and care. When I was a kid, there was a weird tin of powdered saline drink in the kitchen cupboard. I wish I could remember what the brand was. But I do remember that the side of the tin advertised that you could drink it to treat 'biliousness'.

I had never heard this word before. It sounded like some old-timey disease, and as a result I thought of this saline drink as an old-fashioned, superseded medicine, like Bex or Mercurochrome. (I am just old enough that Mercurochrome was still in use when I was in early primary school, and kids wore its reddish-purple badge of honour on their scraped knees after a trip to the sick bay.)

But I am feeling bilious right now. I caught either some kind of food-borne bacteria or a gastro virus from my housemate's little brother, who was staying with us last week and who was terribly ill on Monday night. In turn I woke up on Thursday feeling terribly ill myself. I managed to make it to (and through) my morning screening of Sing Street, but ended the day being wrung out at both ends. I'm still not feeling okay. My guts are churning and I'm feeling slow and queasy, and vaguely emotionally overwrought as well.

After calling up Nurse On Call (a godsend for hypochondriacs) to ask if the stabbing gut pains and tightness in my chest were normal gastro symptoms, I thought about going to the emergency department, as I'd been advised. But ultimately I went to my parents' house. In the car over there I was reminded of the doomed plague car at the start of Stephen King's The Stand – would I roll to a stop outside my parents' house, dead from Captain Trips?

What drove me there (apart from the Mazda 626) was the idea of care. I wanted someone to watch over me, to observe my symptoms and step in if I became too sick to care for myself. I also wanted to be physically vulnerable in a safe place; I was not relishing the idea of spewing in a hospital waiting room, or trying to rest in their hard plastic seats. I wonder if what drives some people to go to the ED when they're not life-threateningly ill is that they have nobody else to take care of them.

As it turned out, I was so ill that several times on Thursday I leaned over to throw up into a bucket and passed out, finding myself lying on the floor covered in vomit. My bed is quite high off the ground and is surrounded by various sharp-cornered objects, so I was pleased that this happened on a low couch in the TV room at my parents' house (which, appropriately, was once my childhood bedroom). But even as I felt comforted, it was also humiliating to regress to a childish relationship with my parents.

I often feel infantilised by my financial precarity and my perpetual singledom. Our society's narrative is that we progress through early adulthood to the point of forming our own families as adults and transferring the remembered care of our parents to our lovers and children. One of the many depressing aspects of being Forever Alone™ is seeing my peers rising to this kind of care, while I have only myself to care for, and only me to care for me. An unworthy subject. An unsatisfying object.

Laurie Penny has a great essay at The Baffler about 'self-care'. On the left we often scoff at this, and 'life hacks', and 'radical self-love', as neoliberal ideologies that place responsibility for health and happiness on individuals, sliding fatuously into the terrain of consumerist pampering and indulgence as well as ritualistic magical thinking.

"The harder, duller work of self-care," Penny writes, "is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant."

At the height of my gastric turmoil on Thursday, I rebuffed a friend's offer to join a 'thrift' email thread about sharing the labour and cost of living between a group of underemployed friends. The reason I refused is because these friends are big on food, and I was worried I wouldn't be able to pull my weight in the group with bulk food purchases because I don't cook. Cooking makes me anxious. I see it as a space of judgment and failure; when I go on minibreaks I'm endlessly anxious about whether I brought enough food, or the right food. But now I feel ashamed that I refused what was essentially an offer of solidarity, a practice of communal resistance. I feel like a scab.

Penny points to the queer community as a salutary example of radical care. It seems to me that the reason the queer community is so good at caring is because so many queer people have first-hand experience of family rejection and disownment, and because queer people still face humiliating legal barriers in their care for their partners and children. Historically, 'gay liberation' included liberation from the nuclear family, and there's still debate about whether today's emphasis on same-sex marriage and 'rainbow families' represents political activism or quietude.

On the night of Chad and Zora's wedding, I felt worse than bilious. On the way back to the house where a bunch of us were staying, I'd made a poor decision to get a kebab from a roadside truck that, Brigadoon-like, had vanished completely when I walked past the next day. I lay in bed, sweating, guts churning, dozing restlessly.

At last I got up, hoping a drink and a toilet trip would help. In the hallway I smelled gas. It wasn't coming from me. I stumbled into the kitchen. The house had a huge commercial stove and oven; hours earlier we'd drunkenly fixed ourselves a snack of garlic bread. Since none of us were chefs, someone had left the stove on, quietly filling the house with gas. We could all have died in our sleep, starting with Alan the wedding photographer, who was curled up like a cat on the couch near the kitchen door.

I can't see a damn thing without my glasses, so I ran back to get them from beside my bed. That's when I encountered Jess's husband Mike in the hallway. He'd got up to get a glass of water and smelled the gas too. Mike took care of everything as I anxiously trailed behind. He opened all the windows to let the gas out, and figured out how to turn the stove off. He found a blanket and tucked it over Alan. Then he went back to bed.

In the nearly lethal kitchen, I found on the bench a tin of Salvital, a brand of powdered saline drink. Jess and Mike had brought it with them to the wedding. Remembering the anti-biliousness promise of the saline in my childhood cupboard, I fixed myself a glass.

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