50 minutes ago
Posted by Walter Mason on Monday, 28 March 2011
Most people in Australia would not have heard of American reality TV sensation NeNe Leakes, and that's a pity. NeNe rode to stardom as the most colourful and outrageous member of the Real Housewives of Atlanta team, and by the recent series 3 the producers had given up all pretence of equal coverage and turned the thing into the NeNe Leakes show. In recent weeks she has continued her controversial reality TV career alongside singing legend Dionne Warwick on Celebrity Apprentice, where she has distinguished herself by engaging in an all-out war against her team-mate Star Jones. The two hate each other, and the ever-outspoken NeNe is not afraid to say so to an adoring media.
How to describe NeNe and her attraction? She is possessed of so much magnetism, so much star quality that it seems impossible to believe that it has taken so long for the world to catch up with her. In her early 40s, NeNe is a statuesque and shapely woman, incredibly beautiful in her own unique and vivacious way. She is loud, theatrical and awfully funny, and has the kind of bitchy streak that has gay men lining up to adore her, and I am certain drag queens lining up everywhere to "do" her.
NeNe's own interest in gay men was established in the very first series of Real Housewives of Atlanta, when she introduced her "gay boyfriend, the primped, surgically enhanced and impossibly stlyed Dwight, who has since become a fixture on the series, love him or hate him (and for most on the show, it's the latter). Throughout the show NeNe is a kind of magnet for gay men, and she responds to queer people with a natural warmth and curiosity that mark her out as a fag hag par excellence. I even love her teasing of the show's faux-lesbian wannabe, Kim Zolciak. It's obvious that NeNe has been around the block, and that is a part of her enormous charm.
The second part of her appeal is her enormous vulnerability - a quality often to be found in people possessed of a larger-than-life personality. Not only is NeNe an orphan child who has been lied to about her parentage, but in the third series her marriage dissolves on camera, exposing the painful smallness and unrelenting heartache that characterise most domestic dissolution. To use the show's parlance, NeNe is "real" and sometimes that reality is painful.
Her flaws extend, of course, to other, more negative traits. She is quick to anger, and her size and loudness make her an unnerving opponent in any confrontation (the execrable Kim referring to her as a "moose" - a cruelly apt summation of her size and gravity of threat). She is also bitchy to the cameras, tearing apart the obvious flaws oand pretensions of the people that surround her.
Karen Valby, writing about NeNe's current vendetta against Star Jones on Celebrity Apprentice, is cutting about this tendency to attack first and regret later. She attributes it to Leakes's underlying insecurity about being a nothing, and her recognition that her ticket to fame and fortune lies precisely in this talent for verbal cruelty. There is a ring of truth to this criticism, though to me it is infinitely more subtle a reflex, and tied up with the aforementioned vulnerability and fear that render NeNe, ultimately, a good and heartful person who is all-too-tenderly exposed to the harsh ways of the world.
And her previous anonymity, her lifelong status as wife and helpmeet and suburban queen merged into the new one of megastar describes exactly the trajectory of most camp icons. Hers is a quintessentially suburban journey, and a bathetic rise to fame and fortune through the vehicle of reality TV, that most despised medium among cultural elites. NeNe's critics do more sneering than understanding, in my observation.
What more can I say but that NeNe is my new goddess, a new quintessence of all that is modern. Her wigs, her expensive lunches, and her perpetual presence in the alternate reality of reaity TV render her an incredible influence on contemporary popular culture. NeNe's exagerrated beauty, fundamental fragility and her barely disguised (but totally unwitting) discourses on questions of race, gender and status make her a true poet and philosopher for the 21st Century.
Hail NeNe, queen of my heart.
I have been reading lots of good advice lately (one of the benefits of Twitter) and have all kinds of ideas about making my life more successful, more organised and more financially rewarding. Trouble is, I find it so hard to act on any of it. I am up to the eyeballs in excellent ideas. And then I just let 'em sit there, grab a popsicle and watch me some reality TV. Ah, I am a flawed soul....
Here are some interesting little diversions:
Here are some interesting little diversions:
- Korean Buddhism has gone global.
- Kathryn Schulz tells us how peer pressure is in vogue again, and how she doesn't like it.
- The Zoomorphic collection is too fabulous for words, and Cool Hunting has a great video of some fantastic Victorian taxidermy pieces.
- So cruel and so true - the Facebook version of ourselves on Failbook.
- Dale Peck doesn't want his books on Amazon.
- Problogger advises us on becoming a friend to our readers.
- "Stage Performer" is a fast dying profession, and The Smart Set has a great article on its decline.
Posted by thang @ noodlies on Sunday, 27 March 2011
Noodles is one of the most popular and most widely available dishes in Vietnam. And when it comes to noodles, most people think of Pho, Vietnamese rice noodle dish that is usually served with a variety of meat, with the most common being beef.
This dish is simply the pho noodles in soup with usually beef and topped with onion and spring onions. Sides that comes with a bowl of pho include basil, bean sprouts, chilli and a slice of lemon or lime. Hoisin sauce, fish sauce, and sometimes even sugar are added to taste at the table.
An online poll run by noodlies food blog late last year found popular Pho restaurants by Sydney regions, the results can be found here.
Hu tieu, while very popular in Vietnam, is more a Cambodian-Chinese influence. They are also rice noodles but soup is more flavoursome than Pho benefiting from liberal use of garlic. Hu tieu comes with a range of meat, including offal (so be warned). At the moment, I'm liking the dry version, check it out in the video above.
Egg noodles is another favourite, again this dish is Chinese. The most well known in Cabramatta is Tan Viet, famous for their crispy chicken egg noodle (above).
Bun Bo Hue is absolutely all Vietnamese, named after the former Vietnamese capital, Hue, although if you go there, the dish is completely different. The noodles here are like udon and the sauce is the spiciest with chilli and lemongrass. There's a lot of pork, including trotters as well and congealed blood.
Yep, the Vietnamese love their noodles!
This guest post is by Thang Ngo from noodlies, Sydney food blog.
Posted by Walter Mason on Saturday, 26 March 2011
An abiding interest of mine has been prayer and what it might mean in this materialist age. As "spiritual" as I consider myself to be, and as devoted and regular as I am with my own practice of prayer, I am willing to admit that I frequently doubt the efficacy of such acts. I continue to pray, to keep prayer lists, to light candles and offer up blessings, but I have the occasional dark night when I think, "This is all just stupid wishful thinking."
People are surprised, and normally amused, when they discover I pray, and when I offer to pray for them, their loved ones, or their concerns. But one thing I have noticed is that hardened atheists and scoffers will sometimes approach me with prayer requests when times get really tough. I take on their requests unquestioningly, knowing that I may be the only avenue they have to explore the comfort of prayer. Many people can't bring themselves to do it, but they are interested in having someone else do it on their behalf. It was ever thus, I suppose. How else to explain the existence of contemplative religious orders that did the world's praying for it?
I have made the occasional exploration of what I call "Post-Modern Prayer," and have even spoken and given workshops on that topic. You can imagine how fascinated I was to go and hear the American writer and minister Jane Vennard while she was here on her Australian tour, speaking on the many meanings of prayer and how we might use it to enliven us and our spiritual understanding.
Rev. Vennard is a captivating person and an accomplished speaker and teacher. Though possessed of that wonderful American quality of outgoing-ness, she is also balanced by a reassuring earthiness, a lack of pretension that is certainly associated with her life-long quest for what she once called "groundedness." She has a capacity to excite and stimulate her students while constantly presenting her material in an unpretentious, accessible way that would put almost any spiritual seeker at ease, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof).
Her day-long workshop on 'Becoming Fully Alive' is an exploration of spiritual practice as a way of life. It is an incredible day - gentle, reflective, innovative and ultimately inspirational. Along with exploring some of the intelectual and mystical traditions of prayer, we also got on our feet and explored our bodies. Normallly such interaction leaves me cold, but Jane Vennard was able to encourage her collection of awkward Australians to overcome some of their characteristic shyness, and use their bodies to explore the limits of their spiritual worlds. Specifically, we created our own private dance based aroud our dichotomous propensities to hold on to tight and to let go too much. I closed my eyes and found myself moving and, ultimately, moved. It was an unexpected moment for cynical me, and one I don't think I would ever have experienced withut Vennard's gentle prompting.
Her own spiritual journey is one that I think many in Australia - indeed, throughout the west - have shared. A desire to experience things at a deeper level and to make more sene of life's journey saw her in her 30s investigating all kinds of activities at the fringes of religious experience. She named the goal of her journey 'groundedness', but ultimately realised that it was just one of the myriad words we might use for God.
And that, perhaps, is the secret to Vennard's no-nonsense approach to spirituality. She seeks not to impose concepts or vocabularies. She has been on her own varied journey, though these days she calls herself a Christian minister. A big part of Vennard's treaching is that we are all complex spiritual beings, and that the important thing is that we continue the quest and celebrate the questions. And a big part of the spirit's journey is the attitude we take towards our body. The body can be dininished, despised and tormented, not just in the spiritual life but in the more wolrdly existecne we all lead. Jane encourages us to recognise the inherent spirtuality of our skin, and to cherish and celebrate our bodily vessel, regardless of its shape, age or afflictions.
I was struck by her very honest description of her spiritual autobiography. There was much in her story to which I could relate, and I recognised the truth of her experiences in various religious traditions, East and West. She spoke at length about prayer, and that is when my ears really pricked up, for she spoke of the seeming human longing for prayer. We ache to communicate with the greatness we percieve. It is Jane Vennard's work to encourage that connection, and to reclaim much of our life as truly sacred. Our own journeys shift through changing seasons of being, and we must afford our spiritual lives that same flexibility of experience, preparing to change and grow as our bodies change and grow.
I have bought two of Jane's books and can't wait to get started. The first, Praying With Body and Soul is an exploration of the physical possibilities of prayer, alongside the more usual mystical connotations.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ in America, Vennard knows full well the traps and fustiness of much of the conventional Protestant Christian world. In this beautiful book she gives examples of a less conventional application of prayer, and a less rigid definition of it. She tells stories of the healing power of prayer, and the ways in which our bodies might be the perfect expression of that idea some are content to call God.
The other book I purchased was Embracing the World: Praying for Justice and Peace.
This is a much thornier issue for me, and a place where I feel less comfortable. All the more important that I should sit with it a little, and explore it more. Vennard is happy to identify herself as a passionate advocate of social justice issues, and this book seems to be encouraging a more meditative and contemplative version of that path. It is a self-help book in quite a traditional sense, encouraging the reader at every turn to really identify her motives, her inspirations, and the ways that God might be calling her to use her life in the service of spiritual realisation. I know that I am going to get a lot from this.
So from today, I think that one of my goals is really going to be to make myself feel more fully alive at every possible momnent. Jane encouraged us to make a list of 15 things which we recognise as life-giving. I have my list by me now. It is my work to consult it regularly, and be reminded of the broader definitions - and possibilities - of prayer in my own life.
(Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II via Confessions of a Ci-Devant)
Well, I will confess that I have been neglecting my blog somewhat lately - many apologies to all of my faithful readers. I've been writing like crazy, and have accepted a number of different offers that have made my schedule crazy. But busy is happy, right? It certainly is in my case. And today there is beautiful, blissful rain, affording me an excuse to stay at home and work, work, work. Still, in the back of my head is the lingering worry about getting my Chinese visa - how long does it take to get a Chinese visa? While I'm worrying, you can start reading:
- There's a new portrait of the Queen! And I've got just the right spot on my wall...
- Writer Unboxed features a fantastic guest blog post from Joanna Penn, one of the very best author bloggers/podcasters.
- I am fanatical about keeping things separated in my luggage. Must Have Cute has given me major accessory envy with these adorable underwear bags.
- As someone who is regularly torn between a great desire for solitude and a compulsion to be social, I found this article on the benefits of loneliness fascinating - from The Boston Globe.
- Looks like I'm not the only one! Seems the whole world is becoming phone-phobic.
- Problogger sets out the benfits of finding a blogging niche (if only I could follow his excellent advice!).
- I've been a fan of James Gleick for many years, and loved this review in the New York Times about his new book The Information. I will have to get this one.
- Watteau is just about my favourite artist, and I ache to be in London to see this exhibition of his drawings at the Royal Academy, reviewed by Charles Darwent in The Independent.
Posted by Walter Mason on Saturday, 19 March 2011
It's official - I'm in love.
Last night I went to see Australian country star Jasmine Rae live in concert, and she was every bit as amazing as her CDs. Even more excitingly, I was taken backstage to meet the woman herself. Reclining glamorously in the Green Room, Jasmine was a charming, funny and friendly young woman. And so, so beautiful - I know it's a cliche, but Ms. Rae has star quality in buckets, a real charisma that shines through the physical beauty.
She was at the end of a long season of massive arena concerts supporting big name US Country superstar Alan Jackson on his tour across Australia. She confessed that she was feeling a little under the weather, and was sipping a glass of something medicinal. And it wasn't Lemsip. She was looking forward to some r & r after the show, and was planning a detox.
But she was so stunning that I found it hard to believe she could be ill. And when she came on stage she absolutely wowed the place with her charm and her extraordinary repertoire which ranged from country classic to 80s rock, all filled with the Jasmine Rae cheeky charm and always the wonderful, sultry, smoky voice. She is a true diva and a consummate professional.
She slayed us in the aisles with her raunchy and slightly camp new hit 'Hunky Country Boys' (with its legendary lyric "I want a whip cracking, barebacking, proper good time"), but she also delighted with some beautifully rendered country classics and some retro favourites like Pat Benatar's 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' and the super-sexy torch song 'Black Velvet'.
The voice is faultless and the band is tight, and despite some sound problems at the venue they managed to perform an impeccable set. Jasmine's voice is powerful and her presence is divine. Her latest album Listen Here debuted at #1 on the Australian country charts, and deservedly so.
This beautiful, energetic, talented and wonderfully soulful young woman has all the makings of a musical legend.
Posted by Walter Mason on Friday, 18 March 2011
I am immersed in one of John Burdett's wonderfully politically incorrect Bangkok-based murder-mysteries at the moment, but as soon as I'm finished I'll be headed to mildly more serious waters. Here are the month's novels, from the top:
John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces - This is actually one of my favourite books, and I have read it several times, but my old 1990s edition got dropped in the bathtub or left out in the rain, so I had to toss it and buy this nice (and cheap) Penguin Classics edition. An excuse to read it once more.
Gail Jones Sixty Lights - Gail is one of the leading lights at the Writing & Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney, where I am completing my PhD this year. I see Gail regularly at university, but shamefully have yet to read one of her books. When I saw this one in a shop I grabbed it. I think I will read this one before her brand new release Five Bells.
Anthony Trollope The Warden - You may remember a couple of months ago I was ecstatically watching the Barchester Chronicles on DVD, and this is one of the novels that made up the series.
Caroline Overington I Came to Say Goodbye - Someone I trust on Twitter mentioned that this was a terrific novel, and then a dear friend had to review it and he said it was the best Australian novel he'd read in years, so I have been meaning to get it ever since. It's rare to hear that kind of recommendation twice in a row.
Posted by Walter Mason on Saturday, 5 March 2011
Once upon a time I prided myself on being at the very cutting edge of trends. If I missed a movie's premier I wouldn't go and see it at all. If you told me a piece of gossip I'd heard it a month ago, or had started it in the first place. My finger was on the proverbial pulse, and don't ask where my other hand was. Alas, looming middle aged finds me increasingly fallen behind the times. Now I am that quaint oldie who buys the TV series on DVD after everyone else watched it as it screened, on downloads. Just like I remember my mother doing, I hear a halfway good "new" song and I say to anyone who'll listen, "Oooh, I like this one!" and then do an embarrassing kind of shuffle with my shoulders, a distant muscle memory of dancing.
But worst of all is my complete inability to keep up with the latest books. I was once, gentle reader, the type of person who was inundated with free books. If you were the hipster reading this-week's grooviest new title I would have sneered at you, recalling with relish having read the publisher's advance proof copy three months before. But no longer - now I am a humble consumer, once again becoming aware of fabulous things several weeks (at the earliest) after the horse has thoroughly bolted.
And so it is that I have only now read Benjamin Law's enchanting little memoir about being a pimpled, gay, Chinese teenager with braces in Queensland in the 1990s. I was always going to love this book, not least because (excepting the Chinese part, and the pimples, and the braces - oh, and replace 1990s with 1980s) it is largely describing my own awkward adolescence. I identified like crazy,which would probably make the author squirm, given his youth, beauty and hispter-ness.
The Family Law has been a phenomenal Australian publishing success, and deservedly so. It is a unique piece of storytelling, and Law's is a wonderfully idiosyncratic and mostly original voice. Gazing into my crystal ball I see a long and illustrious career ahead of him (not that he hasn't had a fabulous one already), and look forward to the amazing books I know he will write in the future.
Built up out of brief vignettes and short chapters, The Family Law recounts the author's own childhood and youth. What makes it so wonderful is that, for all its promise of Amy Tan-esque Chinese quaintness and exotica, it is much more a completely recognisable memoir of being an outcast boy in Queensland. Law creates a wonderfully nostalgic, and slightly unseemly, memory of South-East Queensland, with its bizarre and often sad tourist traps, amusement parks and slightly OTT Chinese restaurants (the latter frequently owned and operated by Law's own father, a beautifully written character in these stories). Law's awkwardly populous family (five children illegally crammed into a family sedan, along with Gran) are the book's main characters, and the star of the show is his fragile, slightly neurotic and wonderfully naughty mother, who uses the C-word with abandon and is nervous about cleaning. I kind of developed a crush on his older brother, a sporty, butch and gruff counter to the bookish and sensitive Benjamin, and the reader discovers an awful lot about his mother's and sisters' genitalia. All in a good way, mind.
There's no use pretending that this book is not in the same mould as Augusten Burroughs or David Sedaris, and I don't think Law would mind me saying that. In fact, I am intrigued by the emergence of the queer comic essayist as a new (and popularly acclaimed) figure in English literature. And while Law's stories lack some of the world-weariness (and sometimes the sophistication) of his older American peers, they are filled with charm, honesty and a cruelly astute eye for the failings of modern family - Chinese, Australian or otherwise.
Law's father, himself a fragile and lonely fatherless child working like a madman in his adopted country, scans his Christmas presents for the tell-tale "Made In China" stamp, thrusting this sign of failure before his perplexed children:
"We were stupid to have wasted money on him like this,and he'd ask us to immediately retrieve the receipt so we could claim back the cash and buy something for ourselves - something practical like a leather watch or an Akubra hat; something made in Australia."
The Family Law is an exercise in memoir that I enjoyed immensely. Funny, fascinating, and to a large and deceptively complex degree a commentary on race, sexuality and the tenuous grip of culture, high and low, I honestly can't imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy it. At one level it is a rollicking, page-turning comedy; and at another a brittle and challenging discourse on loneliness, identity and anxiety. I may have come to it slightly late, but I have loved it and want you all to read it.
TEASER TUESDAYS is a meme hosted by Should Be Reading, and asks you to:
"Many computer concepts, I soon realised, were pretty abstract. When we checked her email, she would ask confounding questions, Sphinx-like riddles that melted my brain. What was the internet? Was Google a part of the internet? What was the difference between Facebook and Google? Was Facebook controlled by the mouse?" ~p. 164 Benjamin Law's "The Family Law"