I’m A Special Little Snowflake and I Want to ‘Live on the Wing’

 

cappuccini

On the weekend I found a delicate and beautiful white gold and diamond snowflake necklace. It got my attention because many people have called me a Special Little Snowflake throughout my life (mostly out of frustration, red hot hatred or idle dislike). I saw the necklace, laughed out loud and thought, OK, well I am…and I am owning it! So, I bought my Special Little Snowflake necklace and it is very pretty! It looks fucking awesome around my precious little Snow White neck!

Conversely, right now, on a minute to minute basis, honest self-assessment and reflexivity is something I trying to grasp without being too self-depreciating or facetious. I’ve always overshared a lot of my life and I accept that I test as unusually highly extroverted (e.g. I’m talkative, always looking for EXCITEMENT writ large as possible and I’m always interested in other people, fascinated by a story). I described myself today as someone who has always slowed down in the car to gawk at roadkill. ‘Oh, to look for ravens pulling at intestines,’ says the friend who knows me well. ‘No,’ I say thoughtfully. ‘To pay attention to death. To pay attention that something or someone died’.

I’ve always been fascinated by death. My recent Memento Mori tattoo is existential and morbid. I am both. I would love to live in an old rundown house overlooking an old cemetery. I’m often called the Weird Girl or the Death Chick. I was a dark tween, a teenage Goth. I collected murder stories when I was a young girl and stared avidly at gruesome Grimms Brothers illustrations such as the accompaniments to the deliciously gory ‘Bluebeard’ (my all-time fave). I would have liked to be a Medical Examiner if I had been Hard Science Smart. I want to take notice of death. I want to think about the cycle – pre-birth, birth, life, death, dirt. I love Bernd Heinrich’s ‘Life Everlasting’. I read it after I lost my precious father and cried and cried. It made me decide to have a green burial. I wished to really be fed to ravens and re-live ‘on the wing’…but I don’t think Australian authorities would allow this!

In addition to these oddities and eccentricities I can be both overly naïve and paranoid at the same time. A weird paradox, yes. It leads to some bizarre situations and sometimes, my naivety and belief that others are inherently well-intentioned sees me wondering whatever I did to deserve whatever mess I tend to be the architect of. My own culpability needs recognition and thus, I need to disengage from new relationships for a long time.

I met with someone who knows a gentleman who burned me badly. They knew him better than me and laughed at my naïve interpretation of him as ‘creative, intelligent and shy’. What they described was a sly, emotionless and calculating individual who was quiet because they had nothing unique, empathetic or genuine to add. They underscored how much he had benefited from our friendship as opposed to me and pointed out how silly I was in stubbornly thinking of him of a tortured artist-type who deserved some understanding. I blushed, feeling perhaps the silliest I had throughout the whole stupid thing. Several people had outright said they didn’t like him over the years that I was friends with him and one person likened him to a fungus that infested something and slowly overtook it, ruining it. These descriptions horrified me at the time but now…now…I’m listening.

botticelli dante
On the way home, there was a place called the Tattooed Barber and I was picking up supplies from the shop next door. I asked the girl what the owner was like, considering the name, he must be EXCITEMENT personified! She smiled grimly and said she hears him yelling at his staff, that’s all she knows about him. I laughed and thanked her. For probably saving me from a likely broken jaw in the future. My psychologist has banned me from dating for 2 years because she thinks my judgment of people is this bad. I let the wrong people in, before I know it, they’re too tight with me and then I see it. I see their inner uglinesses. Likewise, I take bad advice off newbies and misjudge people I’ve known well for decades. I’m just coming to terms with my mistakes. They’re big mistakes and really horrible to face. I want to stop repeating these.
I got an email yesterday from my Vice Chancellor advising me the ‘Respect. Now. Always’ results “shocked” Australian academe. I let out a sardonic little chuckle and didn’t bother looking at any of the results. I have been personally affected by this stuff and have had been ignored, excluded from work opportunities and slut-shamed. People who perhaps could have considered the power imbalance in whatever outlandish story did the rounds did not and I almost was forced out of academia several times because I wondered whether I could really hold my head high and work here, ‘respected’ now or always. But then I remembered how audacious my family have always been. Benbows are often called ‘tactless’…”front-stabbers not backstabbers”…”pains in the arse”. I sure am. My father, aged sixty, beat up a street gang who were trying to rob an elderly couple in Swanston Street, Melbourne with his umbrella! My mother is always giving people what-for. My brother…he is incredible. Let’s just say he gets stuff done. I’ve been bought up not to take shit. I confess: I love professional wrestling and have since I was like 5. My brother said I’d lost my bad-assed-ness to a degree and then was surprised by a recent bout of me being a total stubborn asshole. It makes me think of how Vince McMahon wanted the OLD STONE COLD back…did he fail to properly remember that guy and the hell that he gave him!? LOL.

bacon

I often think of the legendary Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s infamous ‘just watch me’ response in refusal to choosing people’s punitive either-or options. Sometimes I have no way out, no Plan-B up my sleeve. But who gives a damn? To use the ever-quotable Joshua Homme in “Smooth Sailing” (from …Like Clockwork):

It’s all in motion
No stoppin’ now
I’ve got nothin’ to lose
And only one way up
I’m burning bridges
I destroy the mirage
Oh, visions of collisions
Fuckin ‘bon voyage
It’s all smooth sailing
From here on out
I got bruises and hickies
Stitches and scars
Got my own theme music
It plays wherever I are….

 

Doll Parts

Badge_of_HMS_Benbow (1)

 

 

“…And if you gaze long into an abyssthe abyss also gazes into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

“…they have grown like flowers—bright thoughts along the psycho path that I can pick and gather when the forest feels too dark. It’s not always going to feel like it does today.” Cat Marnell, How To Murder Your Life

“I feel free when I see no one and nobody knows my name.” Lana Del Rey

 

To quote David Bowie, I am deranged.

How so? My mother told me I never FIT IN. I fought this all my teens but she was right. In my teens I was a destructive rage-filled terror. People were compelled by my appearance – I did fashion modeling from age 17 to 21 and knew how to bat a lash, charm a stranger. But then my mask would slip, I’d seethe, snarl or toss an unladylike fit. Nothing has changed, only now I’m “too fat” and “old” to model…or get away with half of that shit.

Trapped within a bimbo-looking face was a ticking nervous intellect. I play this card. I smile beguilingly at the stranger who mansplains how I should live and think, go to hell motherfucker. I possess a dualism that I still can’t comprehend. Half bleeding heart liberal, half vengeful harlot bitch. Tellingly, the Benbow family crest features a harpy.  My bloodline has some interesting mad folk. Notably, the notorious John Benbow who laid foundations for other ancestors such as Sir Roy Dowling who sought naval honor and personified the intensity that my family is known for. My Scottish great-grandfather, also a Navy man, returned to infantry despite having shrapnel in his ass. He gave zero fucks; he just wanted to whoop some more enemy butt.

My mother also has interesting relatives in her past. Her German father, surname Bartsch, was a part of a rebel alliance against the Nazi regime and was assassinated for his involvement. My grandmother, Eileen Bartsch, fled to Australia for a new life for her and her young children, most of who she gave up for adoption. A poor German immigrant and young widow could not raise 4 children alone. I think my mother accepts this now. And she has always appreciated the upper-middle class couple who adopted her and her twin, raising them as their own. We’re meeting our blood relatives now and they’re as zany and fabulous as my eccentric mother.

I love the painfully relatable Courtney Love and my favourite Hole song is ‘Doll Parts’. I always felt like an amalgam of pretty meat, stitched together with anger, pain and denial. My mother is the beautiful one, a career model. My father was the smart one, a charismatic academic with uncanny illustration skills and musical genius. I am a weak imitation. I ape their brilliance and their gorgeousness. My brother stuns me with his brilliance. I am the black sheep. I am doll parts. I am a fraud, a pretend Bartsch-Benbow who lives in the shadow of talent and self-assuredness.

“I want to be the girl with the most cake
I love him so much it just turns to hate
I fake it so real, I am beyond fake
And someday, you will ache like I ache” – Hole, Doll Parts

love

I love too much. I think too much. I am too much.

 

 

 

 

I Love

I love.

I trust, I treasure, I idealise.

I hope, I want, I see a beautiful future.

It dies. I bleed. My heart rips apart. I think I’m gonna die.

Zizek once said he was going to kill himself over a lost love but first, he had a book to write. I have 2 little cats who love me. A family. Friends. I don’t wanna die. But, damn, that dark pull. That voice that whispers, they’ll be better off without YOU.

So, I talk to people. My ex is being wonderful. He forgives despite the unforgivable and wants to be life-long friends. My family gets me. My friends listen, they don’t judge. They understand the feels that made me name this blog Night Gardenia.

I just spent 20 hours in bed. Internal monologue: I wanna die/I don’t wanna die.

I fear people don’t care. Someone can I say “I love you” 1000 times and it doesn’t resonate. I think, I AM HATED. It lingers.

Am I reprehensible? I am not sure. I know I am flawed. I know I am human. Perhaps it is OK?

I came out as bisexual to my mother. Long time coming…20 years. Long time to be a fraud. I’m scared. I know queer people are vilified, despised. But nothing is compared to my internal monologue.

I miss my cats. I miss my books. I hate what I am. I try to accept what is.  Can I? Time will tell.

Ways of Seeing: Phenomenology and Semiotics

Van Gogh crows cornfield

In his 1972 book ‘Ways of Seeing’ (derived from a BBC TV series), John Berger asks us to analyse the above image twice. The first time, we are instructed to view this recognizable Van Gogh painting in its current context of ‘art’. Then, in our second viewing, we are told that this painting was Van Gogh’s last work – before he committed suicide. Berger asks us to reflect on how different the image becomes with this new knowledge. The additional information adds a lingering shadow to the painting and imbues each brushstroke with despair and horror. What was quite simply ‘Crows in Wheatfield’ becomes a semiotic hotbed of intent. Are the crows flying towards darkness an analogy? Do the orbs of light signify afterlife? Or perhaps the crows distract the viewer from the green path that transverses the wheat field – a kind of reverse-Yellow Brick Road to nowhere which dissolves before the horizon. Once we consider that this was Van Gogh’s final work before suicide, we see new things and uncover fresh meaning.

Roland Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’ also reflects on the image and its multitudes of meaning. The image has many transmutations. The punctum I feel looking at pictures of my lost father and others who have broken my heart grips me, horrifies. It drives me to want to self-harm, to neutralise the unbearable. People I love are dead. People I love don’t love me. It is a chronic terror, a deep wrenching. An abyss that gazes back, amplifying one’s hideousness, their faults, their inherent unlovable status.  That loneliness that clings like a cold June Melburnian fog, eating at your dignity and self-confidence. You are hated. You are unworthy of love and human affection.

I understand suicidal ideation. I sink to the low all too often. Sometimes, one feels like they have nothing to offer, nothing good within them. Death looms as a definite future possibility and one may feel power in speeding towards this inevitability.  It’s control, right? Something the neoliberal rationalised society values. If one takes things into their own hands, however ghastly, then they’re an ACTOR, they are not acted-upon, a stooge. This illogical and slippery thought pattern shouts at me frequently. I battle it, decrying its nihilism and anti-humanism. I want to Be. I somewhat accept me, however flawed that person is. As an agnostic, I feel death might possibly be the end. Odd experiences I have had suggest otherwise: perhaps the Dead can communicate in a Finnegans Wake-like, or Bobok-esque nonsense-speak. But I am certifiably crazy. I am an unreliable witness.

However, I cannot deny that Western death rituals are sanitised, dehumanised. Phillipe Aries beautifully chronicles this. We love death, yet loathe and hide it. The social constructions of contemporary Western death are odd. To paraphrase (abuse?) Tom Waits, one is ‘dead and lovely’; yet abhorrent, forgettable. The workplace gives us little time to mourn. Get on with life, you lowly scum. How dare you FEEL?

This contradiction is a mind-fuck. As humans, we love, we connect, we mourn and we pine. But corporatism commands a cold rationality: dead is dead, gone is gone, get back to work and move on, motherfucker. Mourning and feeling creates LOSS, ECONOMIC INEFFICIENCY. How dare you be human, with relationships and connections?

This is what leads me to my current emptiness. I lost my beloved father, my closest relationship, mid -2013. I will never heal, I will never get in with it. It defies modern rationalised sanctioned grieving. Yet…I am beginning to give zero fucks about what this awful neoliberalised society wants and needs. It doesn’t feel. It defies my basic empathy and humanity. I want to defy it. I don’t want to create a ‘Crows in Wheatfield’ and then self-destruct as a perfectly human response to the horrific reality of corporatist unfeeling norms. I refuse to be this kind of asshole. I will not conform. It may take me more than 7 years to finish my PhD, which I have continued from a previous failed attempt, but maybe this is OK. Maybe it is contemporary norms that are problematic. I am failing to care. I am beginning to accept myself, as dangerous to patriarchal capitalism as it is. In immortal words of Rage Against the Machine, “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me”. I’m not going to be an anally-bleached hairless pawn with a shiny stretched face full of injected fuck-knows-what who blindly follows dictate. I am a Nasty Woman, somewhat accepting of her gradual corporeal rotting and slow decline into the grave. I want a Green Burial and we cannot be sure whether silicone and other prostheses break down into the dirt seamlessly like flesh, bone and sinew. I want the ravens, the worms, the black and crawly things, to re-purpose me, to consume me, to recycle me, and to resurrect me into a new form. I feel at one with the earth: some kind of deep existential Monism which I want to uphold in the afterlife. Human is human; age, ruin and decay, to me, is good.

Identity, Class and Contemporary Contexts

It has been widely noted by many who know me well how binary I can be  – that is, I am prone to extreme moods, fancies, etc. Most of the time I don’t even realise this but it struck me symbolically whilst organising some recent photographs. I could split photographs featuring myself in two distinct categories. I was either wearing ripped jeans, heavy metal hoodies and flannelette shirts with my hair pushed in a messy ponytail. Or I had full makeup, manicured platinum blonde curls and the Marilyn Monroe look with either a fussy frilly structured dress or a neat business casual outfit. It was rather perplexing. Who the hell was I? And if I didn’t know, how were others meant to know? Was this endemic of the fabled late modern identity crises? Or simply, as friends would jokingly point out, an ‘Anoushka problem’?

We live in a world of multiple roles (parent, sister, daughter, wife, friend, boss, colleague etc), confusing messages that identity can be worn and discarded like clothes (the ‘sex kitten’ that one’s partner likes is hidden in the proverbial closet when Mum comes over for tea and cake!) and perhaps most importantly, within an advanced capitalist system with a sophisticated consumer culture that also sends many messages regarding self-authenticity and identity. Social media allows us to carefully construct an ideal self alongside these contradictions, perhaps worsening our crises. Many wring their hands over a supposed explosion in narcissism and self-absorption, which over-simplifies the very human social need to be accepted and liked.

These phenomena do not allow for a straightforward and fluid narrative. However, as I am exploring in my thesis, there are some cultural codes that are becoming embedded in global contexts – and potentially, emerging as a globalized linguistic sign. Such as the luxury symbol. Regardless of language spoken, the luxury brand symbol, some makes/models and styles, are recognizable across linguistic barriers and sociocultural lines. For example, luxury goods are experiencing strong demand in China – and a show of the ‘right’ clothing, watch or bag when doing international business may engender more trust or a display of power/class than carefully chosen translated words. This could explain how ruling classes dominate in civil societies; how power is shown symbolically without the show or suggestion of violence or force. This may even assist us in moving towards understanding why the lower classes fawn over the elites like giddy tweens at a One Direction concert.

Social identity is a shifting construct that moves, often depending on who you want to see it – a ‘conspicuous consumption’. I would not wear my jeans and shirt to get a bank loan or do anything professionally related. This is likely related to class-positioning – or my cultural capital, if you will. My mother was brought up in a upper-middle class home with old-fashioned bourgeois values and manners; which she pushed on to my brother and I. My father was raised by his traditionalist Scottish-British grandparents whilst his radio star mother flitted around the world and his father drank himself stupid. To say I was raised with old-fashioned cultural values is an understatement – and admittedly, this accumulation of cultural capital is something that often benefits me. As I examine my thesis data that shows how wealth keeps compounding at the top of society, despite the quantity of social theories proposed since, I return to Veblen and Bourdieu, because few theorists describe the symbolic power of class and capital better. People can often guess if you are not ‘one of them’, regardless of how well you may imitate them. Masks slip, or prove to never be very good anyway.

Returning to the problem of self-authenticity, it may be debatable whether it is even an issue for sociology to be concerned with. There exists a body of work in philosophy and the psychological sciences that treats the issue rather extensively. It is doubtlessly a bourgeois puzzle – an existential self-query that troubles the caricatured ivory tower academic.  Recently, I have come to realize that I like a lot of ‘stuff’ that I probably should not dedicate my scholarly career to studying. For me, an onus exists for the sociologist to interrogate society, locate it’s problems and legitimize discussion about urgent issues such as socioeconomic inequality – unpacking this to causes, drivers and results. Writing about phantasmagoria and culture is enjoyable; but not particularly socially important. To utilize a Marxian term, it provides little ‘use value’. As what can be considered Australian society extends via technology and markets, the sociologist is pressured to keep up with the reflexive social changes and the constant shifts in winners and losers of this transformation. This is no small challenge…