Category Archives: Opinion

WU UnCon: A Conference of Connection

WU UnConIt’s ten days since I arrived back in Australia after attending the Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem. Ten long days, and I’m only now posting about it. Why? Because if I’d posted sooner, my whole post would have consisted of a disjointed list of unrelated adjectives interspersed with exclamation marks and the occasional unsubstantiated claim that the UnCon changed my life.

But now, ten days later, I feel I’m ready. I’m ready to say that it was a phenomenal, transformational, life-changing, brain-expanding, emotionally-charged hot-pot of creative energy and connection, built around a series of inspiring, enlightening, and incisive workshops.

Or something like that..

Actually, I’ve pondered long and hard about how to share the experience of Salem with you. And as I’ve pondered, I’ve consolidated the things I learned in a deeper and more meaningful way. And thus, I’m ready to share.

I could tell you about the amazing workshops I did — particularly Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story”, Donald Maass’s “Writing 21st Century Fiction” and John Vorhaus’s “The Comic Toolbox” — and the ways those workshops have improved my writing and expanded my thinking.

But I won’t.

UnCon Group 2I could tell you about the deep connection I felt with the other writers I met there, many of whom I knew as icons and names online, and the long-lasting bonds that formed during those five days.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the dinner we had as a memorial to Lisa Threadgill, my dear, dear friend who passed away earlier this year, and how laughing and crying with other people who felt her loss so keenly reopened old wounds and yet helped them heal so much cleaner.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about hanging out in a bar at 1:00am on the first evening with a group of people I’d only just met, drinking picklebacks (the most revolting shot I’ve ever tried), and then asking the bartender for his shirt.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the Poker Cabin, and how it felt to be playing poker of an evening after a long day of brain-expanding workshops and conversation, and the surreal feeling of sitting next to an inspirational (and possibly super-human) NY literary agent as I confidently bluffed my way to a winning hand.

But I won’t.

UnCon GroupI could tell you about sitting at dinner on Friday night, after the UnCon was technically over, and collaboratively building a back-story for our surly waitress using all the techniques we’d learned from Don Maass during the full-day workshop we’d just attended.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about Bob Stewart.

And I will.

Before the UnCon, I knew WriterBob Stewart as a name and an icon on the Writer Unboxed FB page. We interacted once or twice, in an oblique way, and I admired his dedication and persistence, but I didn’t know much about him. As the time for the UnCon grew closer, I learned more about him. He was much older (75, I later learned), and had some health issues. He was an accomplished playwright, journalist, and novelist. And, above all that, he was funny and kind and a good and genuine human being.

WriterBobOn the Saturday before the UnCon was due to start, he was bitten by his cat. Due to other health complications, the bite got infected, and he ended up in hospital. The first thing he did was message Therese Walsh to find out if it was okay if he arrived at the UnCon a little late. Which, of course, it was. He checked himself out of hospital early, and flew to Salem, and arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

I spoke to Bob briefly. Just enough to say hello, and I was glad he could make it. But he was there — real, and solid, and not just an icon and a name. He participated in groups, and stayed for evening sessions. And Wednesday evening, after everything was winding down, he complained about feeling a little funny, returned to his room, and passed away.

We found out on Thursday.

I wasn’t having a great day on Thursday. I finished the day with an amazing session that hit me like a brick wall and made me question the validity of everything I’d ever written in my life. Then, mired in self-doubt, I found myself flicking through the memorial book that had been created for Lisa Threadgill. A book that was full of my words. A book that brought all the grief and pain I’d felt at her passing back to the surface. And so there I was, weeping in the lobby of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, when Therese approached and told me about Bob.

WriterBob Stewart. A man who spent his last days exactly where he wanted to be — with a community of writers he’d only known online, in a beautiful little hotel in Salem.

And so I found myself, on that Thursday evening, telling the other attendees that our evening plan had changed. That instead of a discussion of craft, we would be sharing a toast for Bob, and hearing some of the pages from his latest work. And as I told them, I found myself breaking the news of his passing over and over and over.

Some people cried. Others told me stories. One person looked like she was going to faint. Another told me that he’d lost a number of family members recently, and then excused himself to find somewhere private to sit and reflect. And through it all, I hugged and comforted and listened and was present.

UnCon Group 3But once the toast was said, once the memorial was underway, I couldn’t be present any longer. To coin my own phrase, my heart was a new helium balloon floating through a cactus forest. The slightest brush — skin against skin, mind against mind — would break me. I had too much grief, too much emotion, coursing through my body. I had to escape. And so I fled the room. Quietly. Hoping not to be noticed.

But I was.

John Vorhaus*  — a man equally funny and wise — saw me going and followed me out. He rejected my claims that I was ‘fine, just fine’, and he sat with me, and we talked. We talked about loss and grief and self-doubt and pain and all manner of things. We talked until my skin no longer felt electrified, until I no longer felt I was going to explode, until I felt grounded again. And during that talk, during that conversation, he said a phrase that resonated with me both then and now, and defines the UnCon experience for me.

“Cherish your emotions’.

When JV said it, he was referring to the grief and shock I was feeling — that we were all feeling — in the wake of Bob’s death. But it means so much more to me.

he entire UnCon for me.

Cherish your emotions.

Think about it for a minute. How often do we truly cherish our emotions? Conversely, how often do we feel shame or guilt about our emotions? How often do we attempt to hide them/ To wall them away, or move on from them, or pretend they’re not there? What would happen if we truly cherished our emotions — accepted them, not as being bad or good but just as being. How would that feel?

UnCon Group 4How would that inform our writing?

How would that inform our lives?

Cherish your emotions.

It ties in to what Lisa Cron said about specificity and back-story. It mirrors Donald Maass’s talk of finding emotional resonance between our lives and our character’s experiences. It touches on Meg Rosoff’s discussions of voice. But, more than that, it is a model, a mantra, for life.

And so when I think about Salem, and about WriterBob and Lisa Threadgill, and about the close connections I forged, and the games of poker I played, and the fun and hi-jinks I was part of, and the way I got lost every freaking time I walked out of that hotel building, I think of that phrase.

Cherish your emotions.

And when it all gets too much for me, when the homesickness for an event that lasted only five days and yet a lifetime threatens to overwhelm me, I take a deep breath and cherish my emotions. And then I write.

* JV has a new book coming out. I’ve read it. It’s brilliant. And you should totally go and buy it right now. Tell him Jo sent you.

Advertisements

15 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Writing

Depression, Poetry, and Guilt

All my good intentions fell apart after my last blog post, and I was MIA for a couple of weeks. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just…. Life.

I’ve mentioned before that I have Bipolar II and a general anxiety disorder. Both are only minor in the overall scheme of things. In that I can manage them with lifestyle options such as exercise, food choices, meditation/prayer, and avoiding high-anxiety situations. However, “managing” isn’t the same as “curing”, and over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself on a down — which is to say, I’ve been depressed.

Living with depression is something I’m accustomed to. Since I was eight years old I’ve been through three or four periods of depression every year. Then I’d “magically” snap out of it, and everything would be fine. (I was only diagnosed with Bipolar II a couple of years ago, and suddenly my whole life made sense.) So I know how to cope. I know the warning signs to look for, so I know when I’m not coping, and when to seek help. I know how to minimise the worst of it through exercise and food. I know to treat myself gently, and not try to “push through it” — which includes not pushing myself to write when I don’t have the energy. I know how to cope.

But once my anxiety disorder kicks in, it’s a whole other kettle of crazy.

Over the last few weeks, my life has felt like it’s spiralling out of control. Circumstances outside of my control have left me in a situation that has been thoroughly dependent on friends for my everyday necessities. I don’t want to get into the details here, but trust me when I say that I am eternally grateful to have friends willing to sacrifice their own time and plans to help me in my hour of need. But gratitude only gets you so far, and on Thursday night I found myself having a major panic attack — the first in eleven months.

And around and around in my head went the thoughts.

Other people have it much worse… You have no reason to feel like this… You’re just being silly… Stop being so melodramatic… Somewhere in Africa, children are dying.

And so I grabbed a pen and paper, and I poured my pain and anxiety and guilt on to the paper. This is what I wrote.

The Guilt of Africa

 

Anxiety strikes like a copperhead snake
My vision is blurry, my hands start to shake
Too many weights pressing down on my mind
The burdens are boundless, I’m not doing fine

My problems are first world, my life is a mess
My heart won’t stop racing, I’m tight ‘cross the chest
My children are calling, I want them to stop
I need to curl up in the dark now and sob

My thoughts are a spiralling circle of pain
Why can’t I be normal? My head feels insane
My breathing’s too fast, my head is too light
I’ve lost all my hearing and most of my sight

And somewhere in Africa, children are dying
Putin is marching and oceans are rising
And my well-fed children have pain in their eyes
While their mother just cries and cries and cries

Is this all I am? A heartbeat? A tear?
A mess of emotional, overwhelmed fear?
My fingers are tingling, my toes have gone numb
I’m not even worthy to wear the name ‘Mum’

It’s dark now and cold and I’m sitting so still
If I move, then I’m worried that I’ll break the spell
Of peace, just a little, of paper and pen
And words spilling out like the Duke of York’s men

I have vodka and cigarettes, stars and the moon,
Two children who love me, friends and a spoon,
And a tub full of yoghurt in the door of the fridge
I wish I could eat, but my stomach is sick

And somewhere in Africa, children are dying
ISIS is killing, Ebola is rising
And here I am safe in a home of my own
Strung out, defenseless, completely alone

 

14 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Poems

On Sex, Defining Normality, and the Wonders of Technology

I was wandering around the interwebs a few weeks ago, and came across this interesting, and rather disturbing, TED talk from Cindy Gallop. Now, it’s not new — it’s four years old — but I believe it’s at least as relevant now as it was in 2010.

Note: This video is NSFW and includes graphic sexual language. If you’re not up to listening to it, I’ll recap below.

For those who didn’t watch, what Gallop is basically saying is that young men and women (in their mid-twenties and younger) are growing up believing hard-core porn to be an accurate depiction of sex. And so young women pretend to like things that they don’t actually like (because it’s “normal”) and young men behave like… well, like male porn stars.

But let’s face it, we all know that real sex — sex based on mutual love and respect — is very rarely, if ever, like a hard-core porn film. At least, I assume it isn’t for everyone else. And if it is, then I would like to think that it’s still based on mutual enjoyment and respect.

Another point Gallop raised is the idea that parents don’t talk to children about some of the most important aspects of sex — from consent, to mutual pleasure, even to respect. She blames this on being a puritanical society, which may well be true. But I wonder if her parents talked to her about those things. Mine certainly didn’t.  And so if nothing’s changed, why has everything changed?

And that brings me to my next point.

In the same week that I saw this TED talk, I read about some other worrying situations. Children as young as 12 engaging in sexual acts far outside what any reasonable person would consider “youthful experimentation”. Twelve and thirteen year olds addicted to hard-core porn. Children as young as 10 being charged with sexual assault. Playground antics that are anything but innocent.

I’d link to some articles but, honestly, I don’t want to read them again.

Whenever these situations occur, there is one overriding response from the general public.

fault

Where were their parents?

  • What have their parents been teaching them?
  • What have their parents been letting them watch?
  • Why didn’t their parents know what they were doing?

Valid questions, certainly. But before casting judgement, I’d like to share a little story.

When I was ten years old, school was full of children giggling about new words and concepts they’d learned from older brothers, sisters, and TV shows. The word ‘sex’ had everyone blushing and giggling, even though none of us really knew what it was. Words like “penis” and “vagina” had us in paroxysms of hilarity. Lunch-times had us giggling about the idea of being *heeheehee* naked with someone else.

So one lunch time, we snuck back into the classroom and — wait for it — got out a… dictionary.

dictionary“Look up *giggle* sex,” said one girl.

And so we did.

(In case you’ve never done it, the dictionary definition of ‘sex’ is profoundly unsexy.)

And then we looked up penis. And vagina. And intercourse. And tampon. (Because clearly someone had been remiss in delineating certain facts about puberty.)

And when we’d finished, we put the dictionary away and went on our way, proudly able to tell the boys in the class that we knew all about sex. Because, you know, dictionary.

If our parents and teachers had known what we were up to, would they have demanded they remove dictionaries from the school room? Probably not. They probably did the same thing when they were children.

But the question is moot. Because our teachers and parents didn’t know. And why would they? We were at school. Using school resources. In a safe, school-based environment. Sure, we were giggling a lot, but we weren’t smuggling in magazines, or reading erotica. We were looking up information in a state-sanctioned, parent-purchased educational resource.

Fast forward to today.

Most kids don’t use dictionaries anymore.

Many children wouldn’t even know how to use one.

When they want to know what a word means, they refer to the state-sanctioned, parent-purchased educational resource that sits on their desk at school or at home.

computers

Do me a favour. Go type the word ‘sex’ into Google and see what happens.

And then tell me again how important it is for children to have access to their own laptops, tablets, and phones.

3 Comments

Filed under Opinion

I Still Aten’t Dead

*tumbleweed rolls*

So, hi. *waves*

It’s been so long since I blogged, it took me fifteen minutes of trial and error to remember my password. To all the people still hanging around to read this: Thank you! If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just put down this oversized cardboard sign…

I aten't dead

It’s been a busy full months full of busyness. Between parenting, writing, and learning how to cope with the changing seasons in a largely outdoor living arrangement, there’s been little enough time for life. But I’m back, and I shall endeavour to remain back for the foreseeable future.

So, how are things going? Funny you should ask. (I’m going to assume someone asks, and I’m not just shouting into the void.)

I’ve been busily writing-writing-writing, and loving it.

I’ve almost finished the final round of revisions on Clock Struck Twelve. (Stay tuned, I’ll be posting about my writing process for that manuscript over the next few days.) It’s been a long journey, and every time I think I’m finished, I come up with something new to add. But this time — this time — I’m sure I’m about done and ready to start querying.

I also started a Facebook group dedicated to writing short stories. Ray Bradbury famously said:

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.

And so, the group Bradbury’s 52 was formed. Each week we have a series of prompts (a character, a location, an item), and members write a short story based on those prompts. We’re up to the 11th challenge this week, and it’s a lot of fun. If you’re interested in stretching your short story writing muscles, come along and join us.

Once uponFinally, I’ve started writing a new story. I estimate it will be about 75,000 words when completed, and I”m at the 4000 word mark at the moment. Early days, but my characters have taken on a life of their own, and I’m excited to see where they end up.

In other, non-writing-related news, my children are growing.

That is all.

Okay, that’s not all.

Sometimes I turn around and wonder how it is that the little baby I held in my arms, who locked his beautiful dark eyes with mine and grabbed hold of my heart in both hands, could possibly be seven years old — and looking me right in the eye while he argues that he really, really and truly, really needs a new Lego set, and he’s got a whole list of ones he’s wishing for, and if I don’t let him buy one with his pocket money right now — right now! — then I am officially the worst mother in the whole entire universe.

And when his little brother, a respectable three-year-old looks me in the eye while actively choosing to ignore every word that comes out of my mouth, I fondly remember the days when he couldn’t actually move at faster than a crawl, and I could make him smile with little more than a cuddle.

And then Master Three walks up to me out of the blue, puts his beautiful (and probably dirty) hand on my cheek and tells me he loves me. And Master Seven gives me an earnest smile and says, “It’s okay, Mummy, I’ll make us lunch today. You can keep writing your story.” And I realise that growing up is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

And it would be even more beautiful and wonderful if they could do it without arguing every freaking five minutes.

*deep breath*

All is well in my little corner of the world. The sun and the wind and the rain challenge me, and the stars look down on me at night. And all ahead of me is vast open fields of happiness ready to be explored.

So, what’s been going on in your life?

Five points to Gryffindor* if you can name the book the title of this post comes from.

*Or the House of your choosing if Gryffindor** isn’t to your liking.

** Gryffindor forever!

 

34 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Writing

The Myth of the Helpless Female

Barbie WorldOne of my neighbours, a 60-something country guy named Paul, came over recently to say hi and offer me some firewood. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I’d been fixing my lawnmower.

“You need any help?” he asked.

“Nah. I just had to replace the starter cord. I’m putting it back together now.”

“Huh,” he said, looking impressed. “You’re not one of the usual useless females, are you?”

I muttered something along the lines of: “I can usually figure out how to do things… I don’t like useless people…” But I was flabbergasted as to how I was supposed to respond to his comment.

I’m pretty sure — no, I’m positive — that he meant it as a compliment. But it doesn’t feel right to say thank you for being essentially told that I’m not like most women, because I’m not “useless”.

This is not the first conversation I’ve had with someone about repairing the lawnmower (which, incidentally, is not actually mine — it’s one I borrowed from a friend). My other neighbour, an almost-deaf man in his late 60s with a heart of gold and the gender-bias of someone from the 1950s, laughed when he saw me working on the mower. The conversation went something like this:

Him: What are you doing?

Me: Fixing the mower.

Him: *laughs* You?

Me: Yes…

Him: *smiling patronisingly* What’s wrong with it?

Me: The starter cord broke. I was just replacing it.

Him: Well, what you’ve got to do is–

Me: It’s alright. I’ve done it.

Him: You?

Me: Yes.

Him: …. Maybe you should have a look at my car. *laughs and walks off*

Which leads me to believe, of course, that fixing a lawnmower is somehow related to having a penis.

Either that, or there is a large subset of the community that believes that to be the case.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go on a lovely bushwalk through a mountain-top rainforest with a close friend and her three children. Halfway through the walk, her six-year-old daughter started limping and pretending her foot was sore. “She’s copying her book,” my friend explained.

So, it turns out that there’s this book — it may or may not be part of the Barbie franchise of sparkly pink merchandise — and the story invokves a group of girls going for a bushwalk. One of them goes off on her own and wanders into a cave. But don’t worry — she doesn’t get lost. She sprains her ankle and has to be rescued.

Yes, she sprains her ankle.

Honestly, I thought we were past the days of helpless female victims spraining their ankles and having to be rescued. But apparently not. Apparently, this is still what we’re teaching our girl-children.

Girls have weak ankles. Girls need to be rescued. Girls can’t look after themselves.

I had a conversation with a friend of a friend last week, actually. An incredibly talented, creative, intelligent woman who pretended not to understand cell phone plans, because it’s easier to appear stupid and helpless than to argue with her husband — and that way, she gets what she wants, and he feels happy and superior, and everyone wins.

Well, everyone wins assuming she’s happy for her husband to believe she’s helpless.

It strikes me that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of women pretending to be helpless, which makes men treat women like they’re helpless, and so women pretend to be helpless… So much so that it’s seen as somehow aberrant for a woman to fix her own lawnmower. Or understand a cell phone plan. Or go exploring on her own and discover a rare type of fungi before being found, sprain-free, by her friends.

In fact, some of the “best” relationship advice I was ever given was about how to keep the man in my life happy. “Sometimes,” I was told, “you just have to let them open the olive jar.”

The idea being that in order for a man to feel happy in a relationship, the woman needs to ask him to help her do “manly” jobs, even though she’s perfectly capable of doing them for herself. You know, things like fixing broken things, and mowing the lawn, and lifting anything heavier than a saucepan…

I tried it. It worked. But eventually, I found myself asking:

What kind of relationship is this?

Is this the kind of relationship I want?

What am I teaching my children?

I have no interest in perpetuating the Myth of the Helpless Female.

And so when Paul, my always-helpful neighbour, told me I wasn’t like the “usual useless female”, I didn’t quite know how to respond. Should I be flattered? Angry? Grateful? Before I’d really worked out my emotions, he said, “My wife, God rest her, I loved her. But she was useless. She couldn’t do anything.”

And I felt sad. Because chances are, he never got to see the real her. He never got to see how useful and capable and intelligent she was, because she was too busy spraining her ankles and handing him jars of olives.

Just like she was taught.

16 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

I Need Some Advice

Questions and Questions

Hi there. I need to ask you a question.

Well, not so much a question as for some advice.

You see, I’ve got this situation I’m dealing with, and I don’t know what I should do. There’s all this emotional sub-text, and my head is telling me one thing, and my heart is telling me another, and… Can you tell me what you think I should do?

So, the situation is this. I’m…

Actually.

Before I explain, maybe I should find out a little more about you. I don’t want to waste your time. You know how sometimes someone gives you some advice, and you listen to it, and you think: Yeah, but you’re not really someone I trust to give me this kind of advice. You’ve got your own agenda here.

It’s like asking your employer for advice on how to pretend to be sick. Or asking your Dad for advice on which mini-skirt to wear on a first date.

And sometimes people just give you the wrong advice. I mean, you listen and all, and you say “thankyou” and “that’s a great idea”, but you know right away that they’re just plain wrong.

When I was a kid, my brother and sister and I would argue over what game we were going to play. So we developed a system where we’d each write five options on pieces of paper and put them in a hat and mix them up. We’d draw them out, one at a time, saying: “This is what we’re going to do first!”

And then we’d draw one and someone would say: “No…. I really don’t want to do that.” So we’d give ourselves a break and draw the next one. And in the end, we’d find what we all really wanted to do.

Which we could have done in the first place if we’d thought and talked about it a bit more, rather than relying on a system of luck and gut reactions .

But sometimes you think and think and think, and you just can’t work out what you want to do. And so you really need someone to give you some advice. To tell you what you should do. To lay it out in black and white and give you permission guidance to do the right thing.

And that’s where I’m at. So please, help me out. I need some advice.

So, the situation is this: I’m…

Wait.

Look, there are really only two options, and if you give me the wrong advice, I’m going to either (a) feel terrible, or (b) decide you’re wrong, and start questioning your intelligence. So just make sure you give me the right advice. Okay? Okay.

So, the situation is this: I’m…

Hold on.

I don’t really know what advice I’d like you to give me.

Let me think about this a bit more and get back to you.

And then I’ll really value your advice.

Do you ask for advice from people who are going to give you the advice you want, or the advice you need?

11 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

Science Fiction, Double Feature

If you’re anything like me (and a lot of other people on this wonderful planet), the moment after reading the title of this post, a very particular melody popped into your head.

Doctor X will build a creature…

You may currently be envisioning a pair of giant red lips.

See androids fighting Brad and Janet…

Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve jumped straight to picturing Tim Curry in suspenders.

Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet…

And any moment now, you’re going to feel an almost unstoppable compulsion to stand up and jump to the left. And then step to the righ-igh-igh-igh-ight.

Oh-oh, at the late night, double feature, picture show.

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show at some point. Very possibly at multiple points. I know I have. But last week I had my first opportunity to go and see the show performed live on stage, with Craig McLachlan starring as Frank-N-Furter. It was, in a word, AMAZING.

Rocky Horror

It was everything Rocky Horror should be, and time seemed to disappear into a vortex and fly by at the speed of a super-sonic mansion-shaped alien spaceship.

When we came out of the theatre, I was grinning and glowing. The world was a different place — slightly less predictable, and an awful lot more exciting. Around me, 1999 other people (the show was sold out) were exiting the theatre with the same loopy grin on their faces. When people made eye contact with each other, no one looked away in awkward embarrassment at being caught staring. Instead, they shared a secret grin. People jostled each other, not in their rush to leave, but in that casual way that friends and intimates make occasional body contact, as if assuring themselves that they’re in good company.

And the thing that stood out to me, even more than all of that, was the variety of dress and age of the patrons.

Costumes; wigs; diamond jewelry; suits and ties; after-five gowns; fisher stockings; bright red lips; pale pink nails; sensible shoes; 3-inch heels; pearls; cuff-links.

Eighteen year old kids, and seventy year old couples who clung to the handrails for support as they walked, and everything in between.

And all of them, all of them, grinning and laughing and smirking and walking with just a little bit more hip-swivel than usual.

My friend and I left the theatre, and wandered down the strip looking for a place to sit and have coffee and cake. And as we walked, we talked about Story.

Rocky Horror Picture Show is almost forty years old. Those frail-looking septuagenarians? They were younger than me when the movie came out. They probably saw it at the picture theatre. And here they are, still moved by the story of innocent young lovers, and the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania. As for the 19 year olds? They weren’t even a gleam in their parents’ eyes when the movie came out. But they’ve paid a small fortune to go to the theatre and see it performed live on stage.

But, why?

What is it about Rocky Horror that makes it so enduring?

What is it about the story that keeps us coming back for more? Is it the sexual liberation? The costumes? The catchy songs and dance numbers? Or just the overall antici–*

There have been so many other movies and stage shows over the last forty years that take the theme of sexual liberation even further. Seeing a man in suspenders is no longer quite as risqué as it used to be. And while the songs and dances are great, if that’s all it was about, we’d just buy the music. Or see a performance of the songs, rather than the whole show. But, no. We don’t do that. We don’t put the movie in the DVD player and skip through the boring bits to the songs.

Well, I don’t.

So what is it about the Story of Rocky Horror Picture Show that continues to draw the crowds?

“It’s timeless,” my friend suggested. “People can still relate to it.”

But… can they? I mean, obviously they can, or the show wouldn’t be playing to a sold-out audience every eight times a week for five weeks. In Brisbane. But what about it is timeless? Brad and Janet certainly don’t represent modern teenagers. And the whole “we have to go to the the spooky castle and ask if we can use their phone” is quaint and possibly completely unbelievable to the 19-year-olds in the audience.

So what is it that makes the story so timeless?

“You’re over-thinking it. It’s just a great show.”

That wasn’t my friend. That was a random lady who just happened to be walking in front of us, also having come from the theatre, and also in search of refreshments.

“Yes, it is,” I said. “But we’re writers. We like to try to work out what makes the story so great.”

She and her friend slowed and joined us. “It’s just great,” she said flippantly. “I remember sneaking into the cinema when the movie came out — because we weren’t old enough to get in and see it, but things were more relaxed back then. So we snuck in and watched it, with no idea what it was going to be about. And it was just… It’s the story of Brad and Janet who are so innocent, and they’re exposed to this world… It’s like they go through this whole experience, and then… Oh… The hug at the end. Where they run into each other’s arms…”

The two women looked at each, and one fanned herself with her hand. “It’s like… After everything they’ve been through, they realise they still love each other, and their love is even greater than it was to start with, because they’ve experienced so much more. And they’ve both done it, and they’re still there for each other, and…” She trails off, her voice full of emotion.

The other woman adds, “It’s like a fairytale.”

And that’s what it is.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a fairytale.

It’s the tale of a young couple, separated by a wicked (and yet incredibly sweet and high-heeled) witch, forced to undergo emotional trials and come face to face with themselves. But in the end, despite everything that’s happened, they run into each other’s arms.

Safe.

Loved.

Forever.

And the wicked witch, a man so desperate to be loved that he would do whatever it took to create the perfect man — and discard the “failures” on a whim — is bested not by an outside source, but by his own excesses and hubris.

It’s a modern fairytale. A coming of age story that is timeless, because as we start to navigate the adult world, one of the most terrifying things we have to face is our own secret desires and appetites.

Also, there’s killer music, costumes, characters, and a whole lot of antici–

“When we were fifteen and we saw the movie for the first time,” my mystery friend said, “we came out of the cinema, and it was like we had been changed. It didn’t feel like we’d watched a movie. It felt like we’d been to another planet ourselves, and we were entirely different people. Like we suddenly saw the world the way it really was. And now…” She trails off and a little smile plays at the corners of her mouth. “Now, every time I watch it, I feel exactly the same way I felt when I was fifteen.”

And that, my friends, that is what makes a story timeless.

Did I over-think it? Under-think it? Why do you think The Rocky Horror Picture Show has such timeless appeal?

*pation.

11 Comments

Filed under Opinion, The Inner Geek, Writing