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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Living room, twilight. I'm sitting in my red velvet armchair, reading my book. Graham is in the opposite corner, lying in his favourite place: the wedge-shaped cushion of what should be the centre module of my L-shaped sofa. Because I can only fit two-thirds of the damn thing in my living room, it's the corner section.

Graham lies with his front paws outstretched – pewpewpew – and his tail curled around him. 

I'm overwhelmed with tenderness for this ridiculous little animal. "Buddy…" I say, and the tail twitches crossly by way of a reply.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015: the year in Five-Minute Photoshop. Thank god I shelled out $200-odd to have my data retrieved from my tea-soaked laptop, because among the lost files I was grieving most (my extensive Christmas music collection notwithstanding) was my precious cache of stupid sweded pics. Posting them here on my blog is one of the highlights of my year, which says a lot about how exciting my years get.

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, and 2014 in Five-Minute Photoshop. Well, are you ready for the past year's masterworks?

Elanor's birthday provided one of the sweded pics I was most proud of: Three Christa Wolf Moon.

I still think this fictitious ebook cover – it's the title of a book within the fictional universe of my novel-in-progress The Hot Guy – which I sweded purely to put it in my e-newsletter, is truly mint Five-Minute Photoshop. I would happily put this on Amazon to see how it fared against the works of Chuck Tingle et al. (Chuck is really good at sweding cover pics.)

Speaking of The Hot Guy, I never tire of teasing my co-author Anthony about his love for the soppy romantic drama Like Crazy – or as I refer to it, The Chair Movie. Just recently I teased him some more:

And, speaking of chairs…

For some reason Ben went into the Crikey office and sat in this ridiculous armchair in what is apparently Guy Rundle's office. So I photoshopped another, tiny Ben in the open desk drawer. I'm sure this made more sense in the context of whatever Facebook thread this was in.

I also couldn't resist doing Ben as Danny Deckchair.

The cry of every aggrieved Twitter user when they get caught in a Twitter canoe (CCed in on a conversation they aren't involved in, and then forced to read all the notifications of that conversation).

This was for Courteney, who loves Hannibal, and Mads Mikkelsen in particular.

This looks kind of insulting out of context, but Dougie had recently shared some story about his child giving him a present – a turd, laid on the floor.

Tom got a Helen MacDonald tribute card.

Again, I'm sure there was a backstory to me depicting Myke as each member of the Wiggles for his birthday.

This, for Chad's birthday, was meant to look like some kind of communist propaganda picture. Again, I can't remember why this was relevant. Maybe it was a literal take on 'radical sparkles'.

Meanwhile, my high-concept swede for Zoe's birthday also puzzled its recipient because Zoe – although generally a fan of things maritime – had never heard of The Onedin Line, the 1970s BBC period drama about an ambitious shipping line owner. To be fair, I also didn't know about it until recently, when my dad happened to mention that he loved the theme music.

It's an excerpt from Aram Khachachurian's ballet Spartacus. To be fair, I must have known the music too, because I shamelessly ripped the chord progression off for my very first song composition, which went, "Everything's lonely when you're not around/The world can't go round/without love/Don't go away, everything's lost without you/When I am without you/I frown." Oh Christ. How old would I have been? Somewhere between seven and nine? Roll over, Mozart.

When the Astor Theatre reopened, its new manager Zak was described as "a youthful Willy Wonka" because he has a pink pinstriped suit. Hence this birthday swede.

I noticed that Julie Bishop has taken over the mantle of wearing white from Julia Gillard. Both are childless. Both wanted to project the impression of being clean and virtuous, with no symbolic dirt or blood on them. Both can ride horses along the beach, etc etc.

And speaking of horses and blood, I'm sure there was a reason I sweded Julie Bishop as Daenerys Targaryen, devouring a horse's heart, but I can't recall it now.

Ahahaha, one of my greatest achievements in Five-Minute Photoshop this year was to put Brodie into a pic with her BFFs Kanye and Harry Styles for her birthday. LOL, look at the sparkles I put on them.

I feel strongly that Canberra airport is a joke. How is this sad hangar the gateway to our nation's capital?

For Dion's birthday I put him on the cover of Céline Dion's 1993 album The Colour of My Love. (This album's most successful single was Dion's cover of 'The Power of Love' – not the Huey Lewis one, but the "'Cause I'm your layyyyydeee, and you are my maaaaaaan…" one.) Can I just say that I love how, being Canadian, she spells 'colour' with a U.

This was for Glen's birthday – I have no idea why I referred to him as 'sport' but he is a generally sporty guy, although having a kid this year has mellowed him somewhat from the kind of scarily intense quantitative approach he used to bring to his exercise program back in the day.

Love you, Fat Godzilla!

Oh no, I turned one of my Stupid Cat Songs into an image. Although he's actually lost a lot of weight in the last year. I weighed him today and he was 4.9kg, down from a high of 7kg at the start of the year, when the vet fat-shamed him by saying he was too fat to groom himself. He's still shit at grooming himself, which just goes to show that fat-shaming has nothing to do with actual behaviour.

I found this diagram on Wikipedia while researching an article about dinosaurs. I found it faintly hilarious that the human, included for scale, seems to be blithely oblivious to the Dilophosaurus about to snack on him.

I also created this gif for the article (I downloaded Tribeca, the Jurassic Park font, especially), but infuriatingly, it refused to animate when it was embedded. The attack raptors were the best bit of Jurassic World.

Hahaha, this was a birthday swede for Jason, who used to work as an ambo, and once treated himself intravenously for a hangover using saline he had obtained from work. If you look closely, the saline in this pic is actually 'champas', which is an IV line I could really get into.

Jenny's birthday happened to be right at the height of the fierce debate over The Dress.

HAHAHAHAHA, this was in an article I read about an ancient and cantankerous ginger tom who was accused of attacking dogs in Wells, Somerset.

SPOILER ALERT if you somehow don't know what happens at the end of Mad Men and care about my revealing it. I think I was trying to explain which of these characters were actually people you would want to emulate.

This is an artist's impression of me at my BA graduation. I actually did take a copy of Power Without Glory, which I read during the boring bits. But I was also in the grip of an epic malaise at the time. I was so depressed to see my classmates again and hear about their great new jobs, when I had failed to get a job in advertising and instead was working in market research and writing a terrible novel that was the most embarrassing rip-off of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Hilariously for such a pedantic diagram, I totally fucked it up. The cat's wrist is higher up; where I indicate is more like the knuckles. And the ankle is actually where I say the knee is; the real knee points forward and is approximately where that dark, shiny patch of fur is.

I had nearly three months of nightmarish flu in 2015 (June, July, a temporary reprieve in August – thank god, because I was dreading being ill during MIFF and my birthday – but then back with a vengeance in September). I simply could not believe how long it went on. Hold on, Melly, bend your knee, let yourself down slowly…

I had recently watched an episode of Vikings where a mysterious visitor (Kevin Durand), who is probably Odin in disguise, lays hands on Ivar the Boneless, and the poor disabled baby mysteriously stops crying and goes to sleep. I yearned for such a laying-on of hands for myself, because my sleep was totally shot. I downloaded an uncial font especially to swede this.

I also yearned for codeine, although when I did locate some prescription painkillers, I just felt woozy and vaguely nauseated, rather than enjoying the cough-suppressant properties codeine is alleged to have.

Come on, Graham Norton looks positively Papa-esque with that beard!

This was a commissioned swede: Clem wanted me to swede this after Leigh Sales did an especially confrontational interview with a hapless Tony Abbott. Let me tell you it was a nightmare to comb through all the Mortal Kombat screencaps online to jigsaw together all the letters I needed to create the text (on both green and red backgrounds). I also tried to pixelate Sales's head to match the low-res display.

Hahaha! This was a slide from my Game of Thrones presentation at ACMI, which just goes to show that I make these jokes for myself because nobody in the audience seemed to get it.

Another piece of pedantry from me, explaining why so many fashionable shoes look fucking appalling and also the heels look as if they are about to snap off. It's a question of maintaining the sinuous angles of the leg: the thigh angles in to the knee, curving out to the calf, in to the ankle, out to the heel and then in again to the ground. Euclid would be with me on this, even though I don't think they had high heels in ancient Greece.

This one was so dumb and politically incorrect that I didn't even post it… until now. The skywriter is spelling out "Shut down Manus" – a crowdfunded gesture to mark the anniversary of the bludgeoning to death of Reza Barati in the Australian government concentration camp on Manus Island. Personally I think it's a pretty toothless gesture but my swede wasn't even politically motivated – I really was just making a stupid joke.

In my exhaustive and ongoing Terminator research I discovered that the series' iconic phased plasma rifle (in or out of the forty-watt range) is apparently manufactured by Westinghouse. Yeah, yeah, I know that some of these brands we know for their domestic appliances also manufacture military equipment, but the juxtaposition of the cosiness of Westinghouse with the remorseless of Terminator was impossible to resist.

My tradition of sweding up a festive pic for our annual film critics' Christmas drinks continues with the somewhat overlooked action film Run All Night.

The Minions from Minions say "bello" rather than "hello".

I sweded this as a suggested illustration for a story I wrote about seven easy hacks for a healthier week (basically none of which I actually do myself), but in the end it was a really good thing that I decided not to file it along with my copy.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A terrible realisation. It's the Golden Globes today, and my friend Jess expressed a yearning to go to the kind of event where you dress up and make speeches. I thought… oh no, I was with this idea until the bit about having to listen to people making speeches. This has led me to my terrible realisation…

I cannot abide speeches.

As soon as I allowed this thought to form in my head, I realised it was true. Every time I go to some event where there is mingling, chatting, eating and drinking – especially a book or an exhibition launch – I always feel so resentful at the prospect of having to stop enjoying myself to listen to someone making a speech. And while the speech is going on, I am listening but I am also resenting every moment it keeps going, and longing for it to be over so I can go back to socialising again. Even at my own friends' book launches, I endure the speeches rather than enjoy them.

It seems hypocritical for me to loathe listening to speeches as I don't mind making them myself. It is basically admitting that I like the sound of my own voice but am too narcissistic to listen to other people's. But I really think my beef is with the form and function of the speech, rather than its content or the skill of the speaker. I like storytelling, stand-up comedy, public readings and lectures. But I hate having to listen to a roll-call of acknowledgments, and ritualistic invocations of the nature of the event.

The launches of big exhibitions and festivals are the worst, because every honoured guest gets to make a damn speech, and they always seem to follow the same formula of acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, mentioning every honoured guest by name, saying how pleased they are to be here, and how their organisation or department is so thrilled to be involved with this event because it is so culturally important.

But I also dislike wedding speeches because of course everyone knows the bride and groom are into each other, and have heaps of people in their lives to thank for getting them to this point. We've already had a wedding ceremony where they acknowledged this; why must we endure an entire other ceremony of speech-making?

The only reason award ceremony speeches are charming is the surprise factor: what kind of speech will we hear? Will we hear a charming, unselfconscious speech that the speech-giver did not expect to have to make, and so is humbled to be making? Or will it be a vain, self-satisfied speech? Will we hear some political grandstanding? Will they crack jokes, especially inappropriate jokes? Will they whoop and scream and carry on? Will they mention their loved ones (awww!)? Will they go on too long and have to be played offstage?

Generally, I feel speeches are terrible and I am suddenly quite relieved that I have admitted this to myself, and to my tiny blog audience.


Andrew McDonald – makes perfectly adorkable speeches at his own book launches and at friends' launches
Barack Obama – has a mastery of oratorial tone and a finely tuned ear for code-switching

Monday, January 04, 2016

A shameful Star Wars fantasy. Today Elanor shared some Han Solo fan fiction on Facebook. I read some and it's quite well written; the author understands not just the texture of the Star Wars universe but can convey some of the personality the actors brought to their characters.

Anyway, so I was looking at Graham, sitting on the floor beside my desk, and a terrible, shameful Star Wars fantasy gripped me. I often call him my 'buddy'… what if Graham was roughly four to five times his actual size, and then he could be my Chewbacca and I would be Han Solo?

We'd go blasting our way through the galaxy, smuggling stuff and going on missions. "Ready to make the leap to hyperspace, Grahamy?" I'd say from the pilot's seat of the Mellium Mazda 626.

"Mew," Graham would say, only it would be ear-shatteringly loud because of his newly enlarged and powerful larynx and lungs.

His fearsome, five-inch fangs and his claws the size of switchblades would definitely come in handy during a fight, though.

Basically at this point the Star Wars fantasy peters out because of Graham's general hopelessness. I mean, he runs in terror at the sound of a plastic bag being shaken, and today was seriously freaked out by my hairdryer.

Can you imagine the monstrous turds that giant Graham would lay on the floor? How much cat food he would demand to eat? It would be like that scene in The BFG when the titular colossus arrives at Buckingham Palace and the staff are freaking out about how much food to feed him, and he eats with a garden fork and an heirloom sword.

I have to wonder whether having Graham around is only nice because he is physically small enough for me to pick up, hold on my lap and overpower when necessary.

Have you ever had that fantasy about being small like a child again, because there were giant people who could hug you like your parents used to, and carry you in from the car when you were sleepy? Maybe it would be lovely to have a giant friendly cat snuggle you. His fur would be so long, and he would be so warm in winter. Imagine his purr, like an outboard motor.

Oh boy, am I glad nobody reads blogs any more.

EDIT, 6 JANUARY: Just remembered that an Argentinean coffee ad brought my fantasy to life, although this cat is larger than my fantastical giant Graham.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

On being a scaredyCATI. I worked as a market research phone interviewer for nearly six years, and most of the time I hated it. I've always dealt poorly with rejection, and it just did not get any easier to call people up and ask them to do surveys.

I liked the people I worked with – who came from an interesting range of backgrounds, from students and retirees to underpaid creative professionals – and I liked the small company, which never felt too much like a grim battery. Even when we were at our busiest – we did a statewide local government performance benchmarking survey that required full shifts – there were never more than about forty people at work.

But I dreaded the cold-calling. I used to make endless cups to tea to procrastinate from having to sit back down in my cubicle. I used to get in trouble for dawdling on my breaks and for talking too much with my co-workers – my 'dial rates' were always too low.

And you won't find a more literal version of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon than the call centre supervisor system. I got along quite well with most of the supervisors – by the end, I'd worked there long enough that some of them had once been regular interviewers like me – but I hated the feeling of constantly being monitored. I never felt at ease. I always felt like I was maybe already doing something wrong, and was just waiting to be caught and reprimanded.

That's what people don't understand when they say things like, "Surveillance is benign if you're a diligent worker and good citizen. It's only for catching bad people. If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear." This ignores the structural purpose of surveillance systems: they are designed to make everyone feel like potential wrongdoers. They're animated by blanket fear. At least part of the reason why I prefer to work as a freelancer, alone at home, is that I can minimise workplace surveillance.

Yet despite feeling so terrible about this work, I sometimes agreed to do more specialised jobs such as mystery shopping. I had to pretend to sign up for insurance, to test the companies' phone customer service. Fuck, it was stressful, having enough information to fool them into thinking I was from a completely different location, and whether the details of my fictitious home and car passed their test. Every fucking phone call was like infiltrating enemy lines in a stolen enemy uniform, hoping I didn't give myself away with some shibboleth. I had to do this job from home, on my own phone, using a special code to hide the caller ID. Oh god, the sick feeling of each call.

I thought I'd done well to last in the industry for as long as I did, but thinking back, I wonder if this job is the reason why I now loathe doing phone interviews or making business calls.

It's quite a disadvantage in my chosen profession. I now turn down offers to interview people because I'm overwhelmed by anxiety – will I fuck up the questions, will they be mean to me, will my recording device fail? There are so many people I can anger and disappoint with a bad interview. And I feel such shame about it – because a good journalist is meant to enjoy interviewing people, and eagerly seek out interviews.

Having to interview people for Out of Shape was nightmarish. I knew I couldn't get around it. I tried to do it in person or online if I could, but I had to interview one person over the phone, who was home sick from work at the time, and all the way through I could feel myself slipping back into that slick but ingratiating voice I used to use in my market research days, jollying the interviewee along.

Anyway, I was just thinking about this because I have to call up my old high school and deal with the woman in the development office who's meant to be sending out the invitations to our forthcoming reunion, because she hasn't replied to my emails and my fellow alumna are freaking the fuck out about it. Personally I couldn't give a fuck whether there is a reunion or not; I only decided to help organise it because that way I get the kind of reunion I would want to attend.

Maybe I'll make a cup of tea and then call.

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