Is it 2013 already? Well, another year, another blog post… On January 24th I spoke at a Midsumma spoken word event called Art, Sex & Snacks, organised by the gorgeous and funny Lisa Skye. Here is an edited version of what I said.
One of my favourite phrases in the English language is “finger food”.
Partly because it sounds tasty, but mostly because it sounds dirty. There’s something about the word “finger” that just makes everything near it go a little bit Benny Hill. I have the same reaction to the phrase “Pacific Rim”, especially when it relates to cooking.
I have never held a sex party, because I’m the sort of person who gets hung up on the wrong things, like the music, or the décor, but mostly I’d be worried about the finger food. Do you provide snacks at a sex party? People will probably get hungry – or will they have eaten before? If they get too hungry they might leave, but then again, do you want people to linger at a sex party? And what do you provide? Do you go retro and cheeky – devils on horseback, perhaps? Or do you go simple and easy – maybe something from Nigella? Or is that too obvious?
Basically I would ruin a sex party by worrying about the canapes.
And the lack of sex parties in my life has started to worry me. Not that I necessarily want to be going to them now, but I want to have gone to them then, in the past. I’m reaching an age where I’ve started to worry about the roads not taken. I’ve never been to a sex party, I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never been on a hovercraft. I could try to kill three birds by being arrested at a sex party on a hovercraft, but somehow that just seems desperate.
Partly it’s the internet to blame. Through the magic of facebook we can now see all the social events we weren’t invited to. All the parties we didn’t attend, the food we haven’t eaten, the men we never had sex with.
It’s all highly edited, of course. No-one’s going to update their status to say “I’m sitting in a filthy dressing gown while watching repeats of Miss Marple and idly masturbating”. And it’s clearly a First World Problem – no-one in India is tweeting “Granny died from diphtheria today. Lolz!”.
But it still makes me feel like life is a game of musical chairs and the music has stopped and not only do I not have a chair, I’m not even in the same room. And I’m naked and… on fire.. or something.
A friend and I used to play a game called “What’s Madonna Doing Right Now?”. You always think of Madonna as recording a new single, or having a tantrum in a dressing room, or having sex with the linebackers of the San Diego Chargers on a winged chariot made of diamonds while being pulled along by a team of wild swans. But the truth is – at any given moment – Madonna is more likely to be brushing her teeth, or meeting an accountant, or watching a DVD of Swept Away and wondering how it all went so terribly wrong.
For the younger members of the audience, Madonna was a singer, a bit like Kylie Minogue with much scarier arms. She famously recorded a cover version of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way 20 years before Lady Gaga did it. It was called Express Yourself, and was featured on Madonna’s CD “Like A Prayer”.
For the younger members of the audience, a CD was a collection of music you would purchase from a shop in physical form, and insert into your parlour’s stereogram when your pianola had run out of paper rolls and you wanted to do the lindy hop.
For the younger members of the audience, “purchasing music” was something we used to do before the internet came along, making everything free and revealing all the parties we hadn’t been invited to, yadda yadda yadda, thus bringing us full circle.
We can’t see ourselves the way others see us. At the very least, it would hurt your neck, or you’d need to carry a big mirror around at all times, and that would be tiring. but it means we’re all a bit clueless of how we’re come across. Jodie Foster, for example, somehow misses the irony of asking an audience of 250 million people to give her some privacy in the middle of a speech about she’s proudly not coming out. There’s an old story that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was at a party where a woman was telling him about her travels through Africa and Madagascar. Armstrong listened intently, then sighed and said “That sounds amazing – I’ve never been anywhere”.
That story isn’t actually true, of course, but that doesn’t stop it from making my point.
Everyone thinks they’re average. Everyone thinks their experience is normal. Serial killer Ed Gein probably thought that everyone else was making lampshades out of human skin, and mining magnate Gina Reinhart probably thinks that everyone else… is making lampshades out of human skin. Oh, sure that may be unfair, but you can picture it, can’t you? If you found out tomorrow that Gina Reinhard had been making a body suit out of the skins of her victims to wear around the house you wouldn’t be THAT surprised.
But we want to be exceptional. We want to be special. We want to be adored. We want life to be a smorgasbord, not half a box of Jatz crackers and some old hummus you found at the back of the fridge, as it sometimes seems.
But while we’re alive, there’s hope. And if you’re not alive, I think you have bigger issues to concern yourself with. Actually if you’re not alive and you’re here in the audience then either there’s some wacky Weekend At Bernie’s hijinks going on or you’re a zombie, and either way you’re ruining the poignant conclusion of my talk.
Because there is still time. There’s time to make ourselves the people we want to be. Break out the good china. Take down that cocktail shaker. Organise that illegal hovercraft sex party. You can take that last one as a metaphor, if you like.
Become the person who leaves pictures on facebook that makes other people feel bad.
Enjoy what you have, enjoy who you are. It’s an obvious thing to say and yet I feel the need to remind myself all the time.
I was supposed to talk about art, sex and snacks tonight and somehow I ended up talking about self-esteem and identity. But in a way, we’re all made up of our desires, we’re defined by what we want as much as what we are.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher around 300BC who believed the goal in life was to achieve tranquillity through freedom from fear, the absence of pain and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.
He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared; the gods do not reward or punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.
And that, by the way, is the most poetic passage of wikipedia you could ever hope to find.
His name lead to the word epicurean, defined as one who pursues pleasures, especially those of food, drink, and the body.
Epicurus once said “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not – remember that what you now have… was once amongst the things you only hoped for.”
John Richards is a writer and broadcaster. He wrote quite a bit of Outland, the best ABC1 gay-and-lesbian-science-fiction-fan-club-comedy you will EVER see! Why not buy it on DVD? He is also a presenter on the Boxcutters podcast and (with Ben McKenzie) is part of the Splendid Chaps: A Year Of Doctor Who podcast/performance extravaganza.