Sunday, 2 June 2013

That time I was molested in Rome*

Project Unbreakable
Photo courtesy of Project Unbreakable

 When I was in 9th grade I had a best friend who had an older boyfriend. It was pretty wild. She was a year older than me, and had developed early, so she caught the attention of older men quite easily. I remember her skipping school to see him all the time, climbing over the back gate and getting into shit with our maths teacher. She was smart, pretty and had lovely parents so she never really got into serious trouble. Well, except for that one time when he raped her.

 He was 19, and she was only 14. This fact had been breezed by in a conversation over cheeseburgers next to the local Time Zone. 'Yeah, but I'm almost 15,' is something she probably said while slurping down a thickshake. I say 'probably' because this time in my life has always been hazy to me. The one thing that sticks with me like a bad smell on a wet dog is the image I got in my head when she described how it happened during a late night phone call with a shattered voice. My reaction was what you'd expect from a 13 year old girl, 'that's horrible' was probably uttered a few times, and 'I'm so sorry'. 

 I didn't know how to react to the situation because I was a child, and so was she. I'd always skirted around her heels, being chubby and not well endowed in the areas that count to the salivating neanderthal-esque male who hunts for pubescent girls. I'd always looked up to her as someone who knew what they were about. It was tough picturing her in a vulnerable state, and my only reaction was really to look at her and ask her what she was going to do. As you can imagine, she really didn't know.

 When I was in 10th grade I went to a party where a classmate was allegedly raped in the bushes by another classmate. I say allegedly because all we had to go by as a collective was a statement she made under the influence after the 'fact'. The boy who supposedly did the raping was quite popular, fairly good looking and not at all known for taking girls against their will. As the night wore thin, and the cold farm air grew thick with post-party fire pit ashes, everyone seemed to have forgotten the incident ever occurred. No one died, right? C'est la vie. 

 When I was 21 a friend showed up at my door in tears. My mum took her inside and made her a cup of tea. She said she'd had an argument with her boyfriend. That he'd been hurting her, physically. That he'd been pressuring her for sex. She felt trapped with him. I was blindsided - the guy was a friend too - but I didn't doubt what she had said for a single moment. Both my mother and I advised her to go to her parents' place, straight away. We told her to give us a call when she got there, to let us know that everything was OK and that she was safe. And then we'd all, collectively, take it from there. 

 The only call we received was a few days later saying that 'everything is sorted' and 'I'm OK'. She apparently over-reacted, and she was very happy with him after all. Of course I thought this was bullshit. I struggled across many months trying to contact her, to talk about the incident, to no avail. I grew disheartened, and eventually spiteful. Either she lied to me, or she didn't trust me. Both outcomes bruised my weary ego. I was done.

 When I was in Rome I had advances from more men than I can possibly recall. I chalk it up to culture and hair colour - I was a blonde tourist wandering the cobbled streets ripe for a cat call or two. One guy in particular stood out. It was late and I was coming back from an attempt to find a particular church hosting a show in a very bad neighbourhood across the other side of the city. I managed to walk through this neighbourhood unscathed for hours, until I gave up and meandered back into the heart of Rome, the Metro having shut and the bus timetable utterly indecipherable to me at the time. Besides, I liked to walk around Rome at night. For me, it was charming.

 I'd made it to Piazza del Popolo having had only a few encounters with unruly swarms of men. A group of footballers threw me a 'ciao bella!' and it made me feel a bit better, walk a bit straighter, and enjoy the sites a little more. Walking down Via Del Corso, it was lit up and still packed with tourists, even after midnight. In my mind, maybe the safest route to get home.

 He stopped me in my tracks, bearing a very impressively lensed camera. 'Ciao bella, come va?' Whenever I'd encounter men I didn't like the look of I pretended to not speak the language, 'Non parlo italiano, mi scusi', and walk by. Unfortunately, unlike most people in Rome, this guy spoke english. Broken, to be sure, but still a variant that I could understand. After a few back and forth's he asked if he could take a photo of me. He was a photographer, you see, and I was assuredly a 'great beauty'. I indulged him in the hopes that he would move on. He didn't. He grabbed my arm and pulled me to the side, out of the busy street and into a stairwell next to a basilica. That's when things got weird.

 He was a large man, and very strong. He kept calling me beautiful and I felt remarkably confused. There was a good while, when he was touching my waist and pushing me against the wall that I pictured myself outside my own body yelling 'scream! Run! Get OUT OF THERE!' as though I was watching a horror movie and some stupid bimbo was running up the goddamn stairs. Sometimes our instincts work against us.

 In stead of doing any of these things I said 'no, thank you'. I was polite. I was courteous. I wasn't worried about a weapon. I wasn't thinking 'this guy is going to rape me'. I had no idea what the hell was going on. I was out of my element, my context, my universe. I thought only of keeping the situation mild and silly, in stead of being over dramatic. I watched people walk past on the street as he grabbed my other arm, squeezed much tighter than I expected and tried to shove a tongue down my throat. I did not respond the way he liked. 

 'Come on, come on, you want this,' is all he kept saying in perfect english. These words were well practiced. 'No, grazie. No, thank you.' Is all that could come out of my mouth. He tightened his grip and it hurt. This gave me focus. And then, quite suddenly, panic. I squirmed. He pushed harder. I yelled 'no' louder, but it was still only a squeal. He tried to muffle my mouth. I stopped resisting for a moment, he loosened his grip and in an instant I ducked out from under him and ran to the side of two carabinieri (military police) who had been around the corner the entire time. I saw him come out to follow me then immediately turn to walk away, fast. 'Phew' is all I could think, and then I kept walking, my head down, at a brisk pace, the entire hour and a half home. 

 Later I made a joke of it. 'Italian men, they're all such sleazes! One tried to molest me! OMG, it was the worst.' I didn't mention that I was terrified every time I left the house in Rome again. I didn't mention that I couldn't look Italian men in the eye anymore. I didn't tell anyone how truly disempowered I felt. I simply couldn't face how much it had affected me. 

 This encounter, however brief, shifted my world in a way I couldn't have predicted. People asked me why I didn't report him and the honest answer is I didn't think it was that big a deal at the time. 

 It baffles me that I know at least 15 women and 2 men who have been molested or raped in their lifetimes. I have had, at one time or another a close enough relationship with them for them to feel comfortable confiding this information to me, and I have not had altogether that many close relationships. I struggle to understand why this is so prolific, and then I remember that none of these people - none - felt compelled to report the incident. They confided in friends, in family, in their relationships or even in a drunken stupor at a party to a stranger, but never sought outside help. Why?

 I can't help but feel our society, our culture, our government, our law enforcement & our peers dilute the problem. Hardly anyone talks about molestation & rape outside a private bubble. And rarely do we ever talk about the fact that we don't talk about it. It's not just a failure of communication, it's a failure of listening - really listening - to the pain and trauma these situations can cause. To how goddamn huge this problem really is. 

 As a society we collectively stick our fingers in our ears, shut our eyes and wish the problem will just go away. Well it won't. These are serious issues with serious consequences. We should be brave. We should speak the fuck up. We should really listen to our friends & family and at least try to do more than just pat them on the back and tell them it'll be OK. The only way to get rid of a problem is to first shine a bright light on it. Here's my bright light, where's yours? 

*Article inspired by Project Unbreakable, shining a light on sexual abuse the world over. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Standing in the Shadow of Giants

 I think we all have certain methods with which we value ourselves. We can value our worth by our dress size, our GPA or our latest kill count in Call of Duty. We can count it by the amount of likes we receive on our latest youtube vlog or the amount of friends we have on Facebook. Some don't go by numbers, but in stead figure their own self-worth to be determined by how satisfied they feel by the end of the day, the month, the year or their own lifetime. Fuck these stable, self-congratulatory arseholes.

 These all have very little to do with our actual market value, which, according to Time Magazine sits at about $129,000. So, more than your average prostitute and less than your average home loan. Depressing, maybe, but for some that could even seem a bit too high. The point is that there are a multitude of ways we can look at our lives and work out if we are worthwhile or not, and all of these methods are a giant, steaming pile of horse shit.

 My own self worth has always been bottled up in intelligence. Sure, I have fallen victim to the numbers on the scale, the number of countries I've been to or the number of likes my profile picture receives as an estimation of how society regards me, but these numbers have never stressed me like the frenzied, hair-pulling anxiety I get when I'm sure someone thinks I'm an idiot. 

 It's quite possible my regard for intelligence is an inherited one, as I come from a highly educated family who passed their hunger for knowledge down to me through books, conversation and an overbearing and repetitious monologue about the importance of a university education. Yet I do not regard the graduates of university as necessarily intelligent. I've had plenty of encounters with graduates who have minds like cold chicken soup, gelatinous and bland. So too have I met people without degrees whose intelligence is as palpable as the nose on their face. 

 I tend to gauge peoples' intelligence not by the paper in their hand but by their sense of humour. This comes from a long childhood admiration of comedians and comedy actors. Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Whoopi Goldberg & John Cleese were all heralded as near gods in my household. Almost all American, because my mother is American and often despairingly homesick. Almost all male because, unfortunately, that was the state of the industry at the time. I remember the day John Candy died being akin to a national day of mourning in my house, where we gathered around the TV to watch reruns of Uncle Buck & Cool Runnings, crying and talking, sharing quotes and jokes, pledging to never forget the great man. We didn't just love these comedians, we took them seriously.

 I watched Goldberg feign crack addiction, Murray drive off a cliff with a groundhog, Murphy wax lyrical about being beaten with a shoe as a child & Martin jab a knife into the Los Angeles elite, and I thought yes, this is what intelligence is. It is having the skill to find humour in the worst possible circumstances. It is having the conscious ability and will to laugh at yourself. It is being able to pick out the best and the worst of people and get them to laugh at themselves too. 

 You might think this an odd definition of intelligence, but it's the kind I've most admired through my life. To put it bluntly, growing up, if people didn't think I was funny, I figured they thought I was stupid. That's how I saw it, and to this day it remains my accursed yard stick in determining whether I am a worthwhile human being. 

 The difficulty in this is that I am not a natural jokester. The fact that I just used the word 'jokester' can attest to this. I was never the class-clown, or the extrovert. I could never tell a joke, or even a story worth a damn. My humour rested only in a private sphere of self-deprecation and small witticisms between close friends. My burning desire to be at the pinacle of comedy was starved of oxygen by my increasingly justified belief that I was just not funny. 

 After all, I couldn't exactly work out if I was funny by the number of laughs I got. Well, I could, but I would have been setting myself up for humiliating defeat. While I counted, many more people, those who didn't feel a pressure to be esteemed by their comic timing, would surpass me in a flurry of over-confidence and maddening nonchalance.

 To value ourselves in and amongst a set of pre-determined standards is the most frustrating activity we seem to fall victim to in this society. It's desperation that wills it. We want so badly to become what we admire that we tend to forget who we are and the unquantifiable potential we each contain. A young girl looks at Kate Moss and thinks 'I want to be that'. She counts her life in calorie intake, in waist measurements and in number of boyfriends. When she grows up to be more of a Roseanne Barr, what is she? She's a failure - even though Roseanne is a Golden Globe and Emmy award winning writer/director/comedian/actress & producer who is just fucking cool, OK. 

 I'm never going to be Steve Martin. I'm coming to terms with this, slowly, painfully, and unwillingly. But that doesn't mean who I am & what I do counts for nothing. Does it?

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Complete History of my Sexual Failures - A Review

 It's awfully tempting to look into one's past to find answers to the big questions. Why am I the way I am? How did I get to be this way? And, perhaps most importantly, where did I go wrong? I find as I grow older this process of rehashing past failures becomes less and less appealing. As though contained within an hour glass, my potential is sifting through a tiny hole and each time I look into the bottom, it seems overflowing with mistakes.

 For this reason, Chris Waitt, the director and star of the comedy-documentary 'A Complete History of my Sexual Failures', is a new hero of mine. If what he claims is to be believed, he has been dumped by an unbelievable number of women, all of whom seem unwilling, or at the very least reluctant to ever speak to him again. What on earth could this man have done to become so widely unappealing to the opposite sex? This is the question proposed by Waitt at the beginning of his film, and by god is he showered with a great assortment of answers.

 Waitt is the utter embodiment of the word 'pathetic'. He is a grown man who lives in a decrepit apartment in the bleak urban sprawl of a dank, gray London. He collects old toys, wears old clothes and doesn't seem to bathe. As you watch him chase women down the street begging for sex, you realise he harbours absolutely no sense of shame. But all of this contributes to the bewildering sense of urgency one feels watching this sad, pathetic man attempt to stare into his past in order to fix his future.

 Hope is what drives this documentary, a doco which could easily be described as a romantic comedy for anyone who doesn't particularly like romantic comedies. Through his footage - interviews with ex-girlfriends who tell him with no hesitation precisely why they left him - a portrait is painted of a man who has lost sight of what he wants in life. Yet in between long shots of his flaccid penis and monologues about how his exes are all completely batty, Waitt cleverly weaves a very familiar story of rediscovering his long lost love.

 Without spoiling the end, I must say that the contrast between where this film begins and where it concludes would be incredulous if it weren't quite so endearing. How Waitt received funding for a film where he is repeatedly whipped in the balls by a dominatrix in full view of the camera, I do not know. But his talent lies in showing us a shameless desperation that, by the end of the film, is disturbingly easy to relate to.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

In love? Screw you.

 A friend of mine is going through a rough time. He has been for a while and it all boils down to a bitch who broke his heart. This girl isn't at all what you would call a looker. She hasn't amassed any exceptional talents or engorged her mind with meaningful insight. She certainly hasn't accumulated, or inherited any fiscal wealth. There is no sensible reason why he should hold her worth superior to any other female on Earth,  but he tells me he loved her. What a fucking moron, am I right?

 'But love isn't about reason or logic, it's about butterflies, unicorns and reckless abandon', you squeal in refute as I beat you with a hammer. Now that you're subdued, we can finally talk like reasonable, intelligent human beings about this god damn word 'love'. 

 Don't get me wrong, I've been a fan girl for this word all my life. In fact, my love of words can be boiled down to a love poem I wrote when I was five; a love contemplation, if you will. It reads as follows:

 Red rosses ar love
 I love red rosses
 Tey maek me happy (the p's were backward; an interesting stylistic choice).

 Man, I really fucking loved red 'rosses'. They were the bees knees of flowers. But the key to this poem isn't the declaration of love, but my reasoning behind it. 'Tey maek me happy'. And thus an entire definition - a philosophy - was born for a word more infinite than the word 'humanity', or 'cheese'. 

 That love brings one happiness is the core message I, the 5 year old poetic prodigy, was trying to convey, a philosophy which died after a few pre-pubescent screaming matches with my brother about how I hate him and I 'always will'. Gosh darn it, I still love him though. Phooey. 

 So love is more complicated than that. After all, a rose does have its thorns (5 year old self = genius). So the things you love can cause you pain and misery too. They can punch you in the arm, threaten to steal your lunch money, send you to your room. When the ever nauseating pubescent years set in, your concept of love is ensnared in a slimy web of hate, lust, envy, deceit, greed and... well... go watch the movie 7even and you'll get the idea. So embroiled does it become, you stop regarding it as a distinct entity and accept it as an invocation of all these terrible, sometimes wonderful things.

 Once it occurs to you that the things you love might not love you back, you've hit a wall -SMACK- and happiness is a distant, naive sensory experience you once thought you had. You're exhausted from all this meaning searching, and suddenly the meaning doesn't even matter, because for you it's such a tangible solid thing, but for them it doesn't exist. 

 'Love' is the best worst word in the English language, because it is the most simple of ideas, the most plain and distinct of feelings, but it remains impossible to define in any adequate way. You love your mother, you always have, but you will never be able to truly say why. And every time you try, you sound like a poorly written Hallmark card. 

 And that's another thing. It is someone's job to come up with a new way - each and every day - to express this inexpressible, unfathomable thing. Personally, I think it must be one of the most soul crushing jobs you can find in the first world. For once I would like to see a card that reads 'Dear Potential Lover, I do not understand what I feel for you. I just desire you to feel what ever this is also. So let's get naked and hope for the best. xo' 

 But that's just the beginning of the conversation. Why is it that we desire a definition for such a listless, messy word? Why do we group such an enormity of feeling into just one, teeny tiny, four letter expression? Why can't we just feel love, and let it be? 

 It's beyond reason, it's beyond intelligence - or, more likely, in spite of it - but my friend loved this shitty person for a good long while. Well, he says that. But I'll never really know what that means. 


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Rom-Com Stars in Films that Fuck with the Genre

 I'm a huge goddamn fan of Romantic Comedies. If I weren't quite so modest, I would call myself an expert. Name a romantic comedy, and I've probably seen it. If I haven't seen it, tell me before I watch Annie Hall for the 40th time and cry myself to sleep thinking about how they don't make good rom-coms anymore.

 The thing that draws me to the rom-com is the same thing that draws me to chocolate. It's sweet, it's comforting and no matter how bad the quality (Hersheys, Cadbury, 2 dollar shop) it's still satisfying an internal need. It's such a fucking cliche, but I love my chocolate and I LOVE my romantic comedies.

 BUT (and this but is about the size of yo' momma's, so listen up) I still don't buy into them. I love seeing Rennee Zellweger wrapped in Colin Firth's arms, making out in her underwear, in the snow (what can I say? I have a very specific fetish), but I don't actually think things like that occur in real life. No, I will not find an ex standing below my window with a boom box hovering perilously over his head. For one thing, my window is on the first floor. For another, this isn't the 80's.

 But that's OK. Sometimes I walk into an ice cream parlour with a strong craving for chocolate - note: always - but they've run out. Oh shit, now I have to get vanilla, strawberry or some weird exotic flavour like Jamaican rum or pistachio. As I've recently discovered during my travels in Italy, turns out I fucking love pistachio. Pistachio is the bee's knees of gelato. How nuts is that!? (...sorry)

 I admire these women and these films precisely for giving me pistachio when all I wanted was chocolate.* 

Sandra Bullock in The Net

 I will preface this by saying that The Net is not a romantic comedy. Nor does it pretend to be one. It is a sci-fi thriller to the core. But when watching the first 20 minutes, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The classic rom-com set up is all there, dangling on the line. A beautiful, lonely, flawed woman decides she's had enough and is going to escape her hum-drum life for the first time by jet setting to a tropical island. She stumbles upon a handsome, charismatic - though a little goofy - guy on the beach, they play a bit of will they/won't they, and the rest, as they say, is box office gold.

 Until, of course, she finds a gun in the left breast pocket of the future love of her life's coat. The very coat he gave her when she had a chill. Way to kill a dream, Hollywood. It's the old bait-and-switch. Suddenly she's gone from Meg Ryan to trapped on a boat in the middle of the ocean with a psychopathic terrorist.

 This film undermines the rom-com in two fundamental ways. First, the flawed heroine. Any romantic comedy scholar will tell you that the flawed heroine is essential to the formula. Hollywood actresses are just too beautiful to be relatable to ugly mofos like you or I, so they assign them a flaw - clumsy is the most common, but it can be anything from lonely and depressed to super nerd, because in Hollywood being a nerd is a flaw. In While You Were Sleeping, Bullock plays a woman without family or friends, who is also clumsy. In Two Weeks Notice, Bullock plays a super nerd, who is also clumsy. Miss Sandra Bullock has covered all these flaws over and over with expert precision and excellent slapstick skills. 

 In The Net, however, Bullock's character is seriously fucked up. She has a severe case of agoraphobia. She has zero real life friends, avoids human interaction at all costs (she suffers dial-up speeds just to order a pizza) and when she does leave the house she wears baggy clothes to hide her figure - a classic symptom. To top it all off, the only person whom she actually speaks to (other than her therapist), her mother, has Alzheimers and can't even remember her own daughter's name. That is rough. Add to this level of fucked-up-ness the fact that she chose a job specifically because she wouldn't have to leave her home to do it, and our heroine becomes a cut above the clumsy heroine of yore. 

 This very isolation is what she has to contend with when the old bait and switch comes. The most important thing about this movie is that Bullock's character is all alone. Absolutely and completely. She has no girlfriends to run to and cry about how her new boyfriend is trying to kill her. As soon as she tells anyone about her situation, they end up utterly dead, and she is once again on her own, fighting for her own life, despite how many times the villains tell her it is not a life worth fighting for. 

 In this way the film presents itself as an argument against the romantic comedy. Romantic comedies tell us over and over again that we need someone in our lives to fulfill us, to complete us, to make us whole again. If we take a step back to that boat scene, Bullock was trapped in the delusion we are all spoon fed from childhood - she's finally found that person who will make her happy - but he isn't at all who she thinks he is. At the moment she finds the gun, I am always screaming into a pillow 'DON'T LET HIM KNOW YOU HAVE IT YOU FUCKING IDIOT!!', as though pretending he isn't a gun toting maniac will make everything OK. But Bullock calls him out - straight away - and an awesome fight scene ensues, which is equal parts realistic and kind of terrifying. 

 The point is, she escapes. And she does it over and over and over, on her own. In the end there's no guy, no help, no love, there's just her - and only her - to kill the bad guys and save her own bony butt. And she does it. She does it with goddamn style. 

Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding

 This film is probably the most famous anti rom-com ever made. The reason cited again and again is the M. Night. Shamalamalamadingdong worthy twist that the girl does not get the guy. It's a little known fact that this ending was actually decided post-production by a test audience, who didn't buy into the Hollywood girl gets boy happy ending for Robert's sort of messed up, unlikeable and altogether shrewish character. I suppose she was a little too flawed for their liking.

 But the reason I think this film presents an antithesis to the rom-com is that it is a film about friendship. Not only that, but it prioritises friendship over love. Only one other rom-com I can think of off the top of my head does that, and that's Bride Wars, so it just doesn't count.

 Robert's character is in love with her best friend, the premise of a squillion other romantic comedies, including Nora Ephron's masterpiece When Harry Met Sally. But she's realised too late and he becomes engaged to some ditzy blonde (Cameron Diaz), who is clearly inferior to Robert's character in every way except that she is blonder. At least that's how Roberts' character perceives it.

 But in an extremely effective - and considering the original ending, possibly accidental - way, the film highlights how utterly skewed that perspective really is. Through Roberts' other overtly homosexual (and thus safe from another rom-com cliche) best friend, played masterly by Rupert Everett, we hear a voice of reason that echoes the voice of reason in our every day lives. The voice at the end of the phone, on FB chat or on the other side of the cafe table, that tells us how bloody stupid we are being, yet magically gives us support at the same time.

 Roberts' character is a reflection on all the things we hate about ourselves when we fall for someone whom we fear doesn't want us back. The fantasising, the scheming, the loss of perspective and most of all the uncompromising focus we give to that situation to the sacrifice of everything, and everyone else. In her obsession with winning over her best friend to love, she forgets that he is her best friend, and more importantly, that she is his.

 And thus we see her spiral out of control, and in the blurred background we see a lonely, sad, confused man who craves so badly the support of a person who had up til now been there for him no matter what. In the end, when she confesses her feelings and realises the errors of her ways, a beautiful interaction occurs on a station bench, where she realises that this friendship is more important than her desire for happily ever after.

 There is an onslaught of films that tell us love, marriage, and all those gooey romantic things are more significant or special than the friendships in our lives. This is one of the first romantic comedies to tell us that friendship is just another kind of romance. It's a sentiment highlighted by Everett's arrival at the wedding. There is no hope in that friendship for more than what it is, but he still gets on a plane, gets in a tux, and is there for her precisely when she needs him the most. Now that is romantic.

*Apologies for the ice cream analogy. I've clearly been in Italy too long. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

In Memorium - A Brief History of A/S/L

 Am I the only person who remembers A/S/L? I know I'm ageing when the phrase 'it feels like only yesterday' stumbles so ungracefully from my fingertips, but it truly does feel like yesterday when these letters would be the first thing I'd type in any given internet conversation. I don't even particularly remember when it stopped being a 'thing' for me, which is odd, because of all the internet acronyms I've  encountered in my life, this unassuming little guy probably had the most profound affect.

 For those of you born after the internet became a thing, A/S/L stands for 'Age/Sex/Location' and existed almost exclusively for internet sexual predators and sweaty 13 year old boys trying to pick up online. Like its brothers 'WTF', 'LOL' and 'ROFLCOPTER', A/S/L crept from the foul depths of the internet chat room. Unlike its brothers, it died in the arse when said chat rooms disaparated to the far reaches of internet nomansland. This is because A/S/L served one purpose, and one purpose only; to meet strangers.

 Just quietly, I feel as though I am also the only person who remembers when the internet was the invention to put the world at your fingertips. Within only a few modem screeching minutes you could be reading a news site from Canada, playing Neopets alongside Koreans, or chatting with pedophiles in Russia. It was all so god damn exciting.

 But, as per usual, we became cynical about it. 'Oh, you have a boyfriend in Spain? Tell me more about how he models internationally yet still finds time to chat to you every night on ICQ'. We started to develop sites that pandered to stock communities; chat rooms exclusively for holistic florists from Taiwan or forums for nerds who wore funny hats and read Douglas Adams' novels. In stead of drifting out into the world to experience different cultures and possibilities, people receded into familiarity, burned from the sudden realisation that the internet wasn't so much a tool for communicating as it was a tool for lying.

 Back when I was 13, 14, my friends and I would 'hang out' in online chat rooms. I can hear the collective rolling of your eyes here, but back then (1999) it was the done thing. MSN facilitated this with great finess. We'd create groups called 'THE AWESOME PEOPLE' or some shit and chat about  bitches we hated at school in fluorescent pink and green text, scattering random emoticons around like nobodies business. Then a few random people would stagger into our room and the page would fill with A/S/L? A/S/L!? A/S/L!!!?

 If anyone admitted to being a girl, they would be slapped hard with filthy propositions coming from so many directions it was like an online Bukake fest. One of us would say 18/F/Sweden and get swarmed. In all honesty we could have said 90/F/Antarctica and still would've been swarmed. You just needed to be female, or rather say you were female. Easy. In conclusion, internet people are perverts.

 Straight away we'd be on ICQ, or the telephone (yes, I know,weird, right?), discussing how to make this guy (we assumed it was a guy but for all we knew it was a horse) send a photo or say even more vulgar things for lols. As a pass time my friend would come over and we'd specifically go to the weirdest chat rooms, pick up strange guys (say we were female) and laugh at all the stupid shit they said. These chat rooms were so heavily populated with creeps it was terrifyingly easy to snag one at any given moment. It's no wonder they were shut down.

 But then there were those rare occassions where I'd find myself bored, lonely and awake at 3am just wanting good conversation. When I was almost 15, I met a guy on one such morning in a chat room about niche horror films. A/S/L? 16/M/Germany. He was really into film, so much so he'd send me video tapes in the mail showing me around Berlin. I'd borrow my parents' camera and send him tapes showing him the wonders of Sydney. I even gave him a tour of Pancakes on the Rocks once and bumped into a famous rockstar outside who gave him a shout out- you may have heard of him, Josh Homme (name droppin' like a pro). We were friends for a couple of years - German guy, not Josh Homme. Sucks - and the lovely exchange we had continued throughout. It was, without a doubt, one of the nicest friendships I've ever experienced in my life.

 The best thing about it was how private it was. We had no connections whatsoever. He knew nothing about my life, apart from what I chose to tell him and vise-versa. This turned us both into the most interesting versions of ourselves we could possibly muster, and for the first time in my life I felt somewhat significant in the greater scheme of things. Someone from the other side of the world was genuinely interested in what I got up to that day, and, probably most importantly, what I was doing with my life.

 I never told anyone about it. But when A/S/L died, when chat rooms died, when ICQ, MSN and the entire idea of making real friends over the internet died, so too did our exchange. We both got Myspace and it exposed us to each other in a way that, for me, felt brutal, uncomfortable and ruined what we had. I could make an argument here that Social Networking killed off the wonder and mystery of internet communication blah blah, but really I just want to send a shout out to my little man, A/S/L. He was a pretty sweet guy, we had a good time together, and I'm kind of sad to realise he's gone. Probably forever.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

RIP Maurice Sendak

 Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of masterpiece literature such as Where the Wild Things Are and Outside Over There, died yesterday. I can not begin to describe how devastated I feel about this. Neil Gaiman wrote a touching article about this wonderful man over at his blog. He writes;

What I loved, what I always responded to, was the feeling that Sendak owed nothing to anyone in the books that he made. His only obligation was to the book, to make it true. His lines could be cute, but there was an honesty that transcended the cuteness. 

 Take a look

 And if you want to read something extraordinary, have a read of this

 Much love sent out to a master of his craft, his family and his fans.