Birthday

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Parisian Flower Market

It’s strange reading this birthday post from last year, because so much has changed, and yet so much is the same. It’s my birthday tomorrow. I have no profound thoughts, other than offering a poem and an image, and perhaps a suggestion that you can join me in my birthday gift to myself by donating money to Yad Vashem (or The Donkey Sanctuary, or anything else that reaffirms our humanity, if only for a brief moment).

The Garden by Moonlight
By Amy Lowell

A black cat among roses,
Phlox, lilac-misted under a first-quarter moon,
The sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock.
The garden is very still,
It is dazed with moonlight,
Contented with perfume,
Dreaming the opium dreams of its folded poppies.
Firefly lights open and vanish
High as the tip buds of the golden glow
Low as the sweet alyssum flowers at my feet.
Moon-shimmer on leaves and trellises,
Moon-spikes shafting through the snow ball bush.
Only the little faces of the ladies’ delight are alert and staring,
Only the cat, padding between the roses,
Shakes a branch and breaks the chequered pattern
As water is broken by the falling of a leaf.
Then you come,
And you are quiet like the garden,
And white like the alyssum flowers,
And beautiful as the silent sparks of the fireflies.
Ah, Beloved, do you see those orange lilies?
They knew my mother,
But who belonging to me will they know
When I am gone.

Image credit: A Parisian Flower Market by Victor Gabriel Gilbert.

Interview with Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Friday, August 1, 2014

northern lights

About a year ago, I asked author and friend Erica Lorraine Scheidt to do an interview on her novel Uses for Boys (which I ‘reviewed’ here). My love for this book, and for this woman, has not waned. Life got in the way, as life often does, and we both forgot about this interview. And then yesterday, I received a surprise in my inbox when Erica sent her responses to those questions I asked.

I’m probably not the world’s best interviewer and some questions are a bit clumsy/mundane. But I want to end this week with something thoughtful, beautiful, and humane. So here it is. Thank you, Erica.


(P.S. The image above technically doesn’t have much to do with the interview, but it just ‘fits’ in my head somehow. Don’t ask me for logic right now. Image credit: Northern Lights by Sydney Mortimer Laurence.)

Hila Shachar: How did you become a writer?

Erica Lorraine Scheidt: When I was a kid, I was certain I was a writer. I dropped out of high school to become a writer, and then I dropped out of college to become a writer, and then another college, and then I moved to New Orleans to become a writer, and then I went to the The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics to become a writer. And then, like everyone else, I graduated from college, got a job, and never wrote again.

Some fifteen years later, I returned to writing. I quit my job, I wrote stories, I took classes, I spent time with writers I respect. I lost all my teenage bravado. I’m humbled by writing, I struggle with it. I want a beautiful paragraph. I throw away a million words for every few that I keep.

HS: What compelled you to write Uses for Boys?

ELS: I knew I wanted to write about girls. And I was writing all these stories (incomplete, fragmented stories) about adolescence and about loneliness and at the same time I was reading and rereading The Lover by Marguerite Duras and a lot of Jean Rhys and I started writing about a girl for whom sex was an anodyne against loneliness.

HS: As I was reading Uses for Boys, I felt like it was filling an unspoken void in terms of the types of books that I currently see being written for and marketed to girls and young women. I’m much more used to, for example, encountering typical romances in the genre of young adult fiction now. Maybe this is a generalisation, but I do feel Uses for Boys is different and has a different tone. Did you deliberately want to create a different type of story for young women and girls?

ELS: I was frustrated with a certain pattern, it’s the: adolescent girl has some trauma (loses a sibling, is raped) and then starts down a self-destructive path (bulimia, cutting, drugs), then she meets someone (sometimes a teacher, sometimes a coach, often a boyfriend) and finds something (long distance running, art, love) that helps her understand her inner strength, and she moves on trope. So much of adolescence is uneven, and growth is not always forward; sometimes it’s a cluster of awarenesses and sometimes it’s a sequence of setbacks and sometimes you have to trust yourself and sometimes that’s a terrible idea.

Because I was trying to work against easy answers, early drafts of Anna’s story weren’t very satisfying. Anna just kept running and looking and it took an act of will to get her to stop and stay and see what happens when she takes the story she was given and rewrites it.

That said, there’s a tremendous amount of young adult fiction that is startling and human and curious and visceral. Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff is a favorite. And, Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.

HS: I stated before that I love Anna like a friend, or a sister, or even a part of my teenage self, even though I had a much better and different childhood. Did you intend to make her such a relatable character?

ELS: I can relate to her. God, she seems so relatable to me. She’s me, she’s my best friend, she’s my goddaughter—and yet she’s also not. I was so heartened when a young reader said:

>>>> “I’m 13, and I’m reading this book…It’s definitely one of my favorite books. It’s so real, so poetic, and it’s the fact that everything in this book, all the wonderful and all the terrible little things, can happen to anyone.”<<<<

And I have to say, I didn’t realize how dark everyone would find the book. I saw Anna as always trying so hard to be true to herself and to make a place for herself in the world.

HS: I have to confess to feeling quite angry when I read some of the negative reviews of Uses for Boys, some of which are basically victim-blaming and slut-shaming. Were you surprised by this reaction to Anna as a character?

ELS: I don’t know if I was surprised, because honestly I didn’t know what to expect. And I knew the story was more raw and explicit than most stories about adolescent girls. I was saddened by a few reader comments about the sexual assault—I wondered, is it because we don’t talk about the unsettling, unexpected reactions of survivors after a sexual assault? I know we all want there to be this clear marker: this is rape and this is what a survivor feels after rape. But I was much more interested in the messy complexity of Anna’s experiences.

HS: By the end of the book, I felt very protective of Anna. She inspires a raw, visceral response. Could you talk a bit about how she came to be – how you shaped her as a character and what inspired you to create her.

ELS: I don’t know if I could have done that on purpose. A lot of readers say things like they just wanted to hug Anna or hold her or protect her. I do think writing—and reading—is a form of empathy. And that it’s the mix of our unexpected frailties, strange resiliencies, problematic desires, and misguided actions that make us such empathetic creatures.

HS: Anna’s friendship with Toy is particularly interesting. I also found Toy’s name very interesting and thought about its significance. I was wondering of Toy acts as a type of ‘foil’ for Anna, or whether for you she has a different role in the story.

ELS: I was very angry at my best friend when I was writing the book. I felt like my real life would never measure up to her fantasy life and even though I was in my late thirties, and we’d been friends for more than twenty years, I felt like I couldn’t get this friend to really see me. That’s the genesis of Toy.

But as she became a character, I thought of Toy as a child who had suffered things so horrible that fantasy was her only possible response. I don’t know if she’s a foil. I saw her and Anna employing different, though both learned, responses to their loneliness.

I have no explanation for the name. It just came to me. And I’m inexplicably charmed by the name Toy, although I’m not sure that’s warranted.

HS: One of the saddest things for me about Anna’s childhood is her lack of family. And by ‘family’, I don’t mean some stereotypical image of the traditional nuclear family, but simply, a sense of belonging or enveloping, and love. Or in Gail Jones’ better words in Dreams of Speaking, “a space into which her self could be poured, without erasure.” Was this a clear theme you had in mind when you first started writing Uses for Boys, or is it something that developed along with the story and with Anna?

ELS: Hila, yes.

And that’s exactly what the book became about—I didn’t know it when I started. At first I thought the book was about boys, and then I thought it was about best friends, and then about the mom, and finally, only when I was finished with the final revisions and it was at the publisher’s, turning into a book, did I realize it was a story about family.

Family is a talisman-like word to me. A magical word that’s about belonging and being claimed. It’s no surprise that as I was finishing the book, I fell suddenly and startlingly in love with a woman and her daughter and we three made a space where our whole selves are poured without erasure.

HS: It’s hard not to talk about gender with regard to Uses for Boys, as it seems to so truthfully highlight the gender roles boys and girls are expected to play out as they get older. Is this a deliberate critique in the book?

ELS: Yes. Sometimes I feel like my whole life and all of my actions are a deliberate critique on gender roles. And especially now that I write for and work with girls—how is that that sexuality has become our one innate power? That sexuality is the last thing that the powerless can trade on? That we can be sexualized by others without our consent? How did this happen? I both want to work to dismantle it and so often I cannot stomach it. I feel a dark, bleak, grief in how our girls are systematically sexualized and made to feel powerless. I know you know what I mean. I know it’s one of the things we connect on, Hila, across continents, that sometimes our grief for the human race is something we are wailing and wailing and yet our voices are tiny and without weight.

HS: One of the most honest things for me about this book is its attitude to sex, especially in relation to teenage girls. Could you talk a bit about this and why you felt it important to portray sex so honestly?

ELS: Thanks for this question. I really love to talk and write about the weird, visceral, reality of two bodies together—especially when you’re young and you’ve never had that kind of intimate exposure to another person’s body. Our own bodies are so mysterious, but then, under the umbrella of “sex” we get to touch all these strange foreign parts of another person’s body. It’s comical, and nonsensical, and mystical, and really, just damn cool.

HS: Storytelling plays as important role in Anna’s relationship with her mother as well as with Toy – could you talk about the significance of telling stories in Uses for Boys?

ELS: A lot of the motif of storytelling comes from how I see the world. Our families give us stories to understand the world, and over time these stories change, or they don’t fit, or they do. And we tell ourselves stories about ourselves, and those stories change over time, and they become outdated and they don’t work anymore, and we need new stories.

A lot of Uses for Boys follows Anna as she learns to rewrite the story she’s been give. I’d love to think that’s our one great power, that we can write our own stories. That telling our stories is a brave and powerful act. That telling our stories makes us less alone.

HS: What young adult fiction do you love and recommend? What’s the first book you remember making a strong impact on you? What general books do you think every girl should read, or be given?

ELS: Here’s a few. The first one, the one I feel like I’m always writing toward, is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. That was the most powerful book I read as a child. As a teenager, I read Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr., and it was astonishing. I had no idea you could do that with language and story and character. I’ve read The Lover by Marguerite Duras dozens of times and it contains so much about the slipperiness of language and memory and how we tell the same story over and over. More recently I was heavily influenced by Exquisite Paine by Sophie Calle, which manifests how our stories change over time and in relation to others’ stories. I am bowled over by The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell. I’ve read it twice in a row now and it feels like the only thing I want to read. I’m also rereading the essays in Madness, Rack, and Honey by the poet Mary Ruefle. Especially the title essay. And Mary Oliver’s Stag’s Leap, the book about her divorce. This essay, by Bethany Rose Lamont, called “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, has been hugely influential in terms of thinking about how our stories change over time. It appeared in Rookie.

Rookie has the writing that most gets under my skin lately. It’s written for teenagers. The other YA that gets me: I already said Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. I love AS King, especially Everybody Sees the Ants, and Ask the Passengers. Her books don’t pretend that everything makes sense. Also Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry is the book that I would have carried and around and read out loud and dogeared the pages when I was a teenager.

This is not YA, probably, but maybe it is. I love this essay by Roxane Gay, “What we Hunger for.” Maybe anything by Roxane Gay.

Some pleasure

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I’ve been feeling so lousy lately, in every possible way. It is physically draining and makes me feel like a kid wanting to hide beneath the blanket. My escapism comes in many forms, including playing with my new waterlogue app. And reading poetry. And cuddling with the cat. And skype conversations with my mother.

The loneliness and homesickness feel worse now due to many reasons, and probably because it’s my birthday soon. All those birthday rituals I’m used to will change. I’m trying not to feel too sorry for myself, as it doesn’t help, and I have plenty of work to keep me occupied. And I just keep reminding myself that I love my new job and that I’m here for a very good reason, and I would probably be more sad if I were in Australia now, without such a good job.

Mostly though, I’m just angry at myself for not taking care of myself as I should. I’m not a child anymore, and I know the pseudo-virtuousness of overworking to the point of exhaustion is only alluring in romantic theory rather than in practice. Many people use the ‘I’m so busy’ line as a badge of honour. I’m not. There’s nothing virtuous about not carving out proper time for pleasure and it’s counter-productive to doing good work efficiently. So here is a poem and some flowers.

By Maccabit Malkin from 'When Leaves Fall'.
By Maccabit Malkin from When Leaves Fall.

Rose

Bloom

Flowers

Reacting versus thinking

Whenever there is a conflict in Israel, friends and family usually advise me the same thing: don’t talk about it online. This is not because they don’t like debate, or don’t believe in discussing things openly. It’s because just the word ‘Israel’ seems to bring on the most ignorant commentary online, from all sides. Whatever your position regarding Israel, it’s undeniable that the world chooses to focus on it intensively while choosing to ignore other regions in the world and those who happen to live there.

Now, I could try to analyse the reasons why, but I don’t feel I’m qualified to. I could make this post about Israel and the latest conflict, but I don’t feel qualified talking about that either. Despite being born there and having most of my family there, I still don’t feel I know enough to intellectually and ethically offer political commentary. If you ask me about Australian politics, I probably know more, because this is where I’ve spent most of my years on this earth.

But the little that I do know about Israel, its history, its politics, its government, is a lot more than the majority of people I’ve encountered online via facebook, twitter and opinion pieces published on media sites, who are commenting with the breathtaking self-confidence of MRAs lecturing women about women’s rights. Please, do go on.

This preface is a way of saying that this post is not about Israel, or the latest conflict. It is about the reaction to it I’ve been encountering and witnessing online (primarily, but not only, as it relates to anti-Semitism). If you cannot make a distinction between the Israeli government and all Jews worldwide, I suggest you stop reading now.

With this in mind, I want to raise two main points:

Unless you really are an expert, you’re not an expert: Self-explanatory. You know, there are people whose twitter feeds I follow, who usually comment on world politics in a balanced manner, who acknowledge that they may not know everything and that their opinion is subject to learning more. All that goes out the window when you mention Israel or Gaza to them. Suddenly, it’s the most simplistic, almost childishly naive argument being thrown. Suddenly, they are totally an expert, despite never bothering to actually learn the basic, skeletal history of the conflict they are commenting about.

This is occurring on both the Right and the Left ‘factions’. But since I follow mainly left-leaning people like myself, I’ve been noticing it mainly on the Left. In the last week or so, what I have learnt is that the Left is acting just as ugly as the Right. I do wonder how they think this is helping. Ignorance only fuels the hatred. Posting pictures of dead babies that aren’t verified is not only intellectually unethical it is morally compromising. This conflict is not an avenue to demonstrate to your followers just how morally superior you are by appropriating victims’ bodies. Posting inaccurate information in an effort to appear virtuous only adds to the cesspool of degradation and hate that this conflict is already breeding. You are not making things better, you are making things worse. If you want to comment, come to the table in a humble manner and recognise that victims are not here for your own consumption and that this conflict is not about how the West reacts to it – the West is not the centre of the universe.

This is not an avenue for anti-Semitism without impunity: We have people in Sydney attending mass rallies with swastikas flags. We have people chanting anti-Jews slogans and songs, calling for Jews to be gassed in Germany. We have the Holocaust being appropriated repeatedly. We have people in Paris destroying Jewish shops (and from personal direct knowledge, swastikas being painted on office doors of Jewish academics). We have a member of the Greens party in Australia attending a rally with a swastika flag, giving it legitimacy. We have people calling for Jews to be ‘expelled’ from Europe. We have #ifhitlerwasalive trending on twitter. We have so many more examples, but I may actually break down and weep if I list them all.

Are we back in 1930s Europe? Because it sure feels like it. Go read this, educate yourself.

Europe has a long history of making Jews their scapegoats, like alien beings in their own countries. Israel may be strong in its region, but Jews are marginalised everywhere else. And when your reaction to the Israeli government is to make them feel even more marginalised, you are making things worse and simply providing the justification for extreme Right-wing views from both sides. If your brain cannot handle talking about Israel without resorting to anti-Semitism, then seriously, shut up. You have nothing to contribute.

Points to end with:

* I’m aware there are equally vile anti-Muslim sentiments being thrown around right now that are just as damaging. None of this is helpful.

* I’m closing comments on this post for obvious reasons. If you email me threats or anti-Semitic crap, it will be forwarded directly to a lawyer. I am one person, not a government.

* Think before you tweet, and I repeat, be humble. You are dealing with people here, not a general mass. Be humble. And display your true humanity by not being simplistic and making generalisations. Be responsible.

* Don’t expect or require every Jewish person you meet to ‘explain’ what’s going on to you. We don’t owe you anything. We don’t all have the answers.

* Be kind, but remember this is not a competition of who is outwardly displaying themselves as the most virtuous on social media. This is not a game. This is also not about the West, and it’s arrogant to assume it is.

Comparisons

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

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I’m preparing course material I’ll be teaching right now, alongside trying to get some research done. So my mind is filled with comparisons as I think about similarities and differences between certain books and films, myths and images. I guess you could call these image comparisons above a related break from my work. But also, they hint at some ideas I’ve explored before, and which I want to extend. I’m interested in gestures, colours, themes ... I don’t expect all of these comparisons to make immediate sense, maybe some of them only do so to me. But they were fun to make. Here’s to useful procrastination.

Image credits (top to bottom, left to right): Screen capture from Great Expectations; Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Lady in a Garden by Edmund Leighton; Screen capture from Cracks; Beauty by John Everett Millais; Screen capture from The English Patient; Screen capture from Bright Star; Morning Sun by Edward Hopper; Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May by John William Waterhouse; Screen capture from Bright Star; Screen capture from Russian Ark; The Ionian Dance by Edward John Poynter; Screen capture from I Capture the Castle; Ophelia by John William Waterhouse; Lost by Frederick McCubbin; Screen capture from Picnic at Hanging Rock; Courtship by Edmund Blair Leighton; Screen capture from The Piano.

This writing thing

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sasha Abramsky

Well hello, I haven’t been here for a while, huh? Life has been strange and hectic, and I’m still waiting for things to settle down to a normal routine – or at least to a new normal routine, in a new country. And after staying away from the blog for a while, it does tend to feel like the posts I publish here get thrown out into thin air, sort of like I’m talking to myself. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose.

Anyway, I did want to share a few things, one of which is a talk I went to this week at my new university: De Montfort University. This talk was arranged by my colleagues and it was absolutely fascinating.

The talk was by Sasha Abramsky on his latest book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books. In his own words, the book is “a family memoir about my grandparents, Chimen and Miriam Abramsky, and of their unique home at 5 Hillway. In their semi-detached house, so deceptively ordinary from the outside, they created a remarkable House of Books. It became the repository for Chimen’s collection of thousands upon thousands of books, manuscripts and other printed, handwritten and painted documents, representing his journey through the great political, philosophical, religious and ethical debates that have shaped the western world.”

I was struck by many things as he talked – mostly by the similarities between his family history and my own, even within the differences. It’s a type of commonality of Jewish experience; the kind of commonality that explains why I still call myself Jewish while being ambivalent about the existence of god, or basically, while being an atheist. When you are Jewish, you are Jewish for life, it doesn’t leave you, even if you may question the concept of religion itself. This makes sense – we human beings, we create our own little worlds and communities, and no matter how many times people tell me that we are born alone and die alone, I still believe there are things that tie us together just as much as there are things that set us apart.

The other thing that struck me was the best advice Ambrasky said he received from his mentor about writing: “you have to learn to kill your beauties”. I’m still too infautuated with those beauties, with insecurely hanging on to them. This is why my writing is still, in a sense, immature. But that’s okay, I’ll grow into it perhaps, there’s time. And I think I’m allowed to suck for the time being.

I also read this interview with Meanjin’s editor, Zora Sanders, this week. I urge all writers to read it, but also, all editors.

I had an email conversation with an editor of mine where she said that the pitches and submissions she receives fall into a gender line: women tend to be more self-deprecating and apologetic, men tend to be more confident, direct and self-assured in their pitching style.

Now, I don’t think this is because men are naturally more confident than women; rather, I think this is because women have been conditioned to be apologetic about occupying space on this earth, and that includes the space taken up by their voice as writers. I’m guilty of this, too many times when I pitch a story or submit something to an editor, I am apologetic and self-deprecating. I’ve had to consciously stop myself from doing this.

But the onus does also fall onto editors to encourage women, to recognise the disparities that still exist, and to actively work against them. This is why there should be more editors like Zora Sanders, who from personal experience, is great – this should tell you why:

“If you’re consistently getting good pitches and submissions, it’s easy as an editor to just run those, even if they’re all from men. It can require more work to get gender parity in your publication, and editors are often stressed and overworked as it is. But that isn’t an excuse. Actively commissioning work that isn’t all written by middle aged white men is simply part of the job as an editor. If you aren’t doing it, you’re failing your authors, your readers and your publication.”

It is such a good interview, do read it in full.

This writing thing, I feel like the more I do it, the more I talk about it with people, and the more I read about it, the less I know. It’s still worth doing, though.

Lastly, I want to share this call for papers for a conference I’m co-organising. Please spread the word and send the CFP to anyone who would be interested:

CFP: Biopic Adaptations
Centre for Adaptations
De Montfort University
Leicester LE1 9BH
24 February 2015

Although ‘biopics’, or film biographies, have been around since the beginning of cinema, scholarly interest in the subject is only beginning to develop. This one day conference hosted by the Centre for Adaptations will bring together scholars and practitioners in a range of topics, such as the evolution of the biopic from the silent to the contemporary period, biopics of writers, sporting heroes, politicians, royalty and gangsters, and debates concerning gender, sexuality, race and historical integrity. Proposals (between 50-100 words) and a brief biographical note should be sent to Deborah Cartmell (djc@dmu.ac.uk) and Hila Shachar (hila.shachar@dmu.ac.uk) by 27 November 2014. Papers will be selected for publication.

Image credit: Photo of Sasha Abramsky by Ambrose Musiyiwa, used here with permission.

Women looking at women

Friday, June 6, 2014

Strange things happen when you unpack stuff. My things were delivered this week from Australia, and while unpacking, I cried over an old blanket that originally belonged to my parents, I dumped all my clothes on the bed in my spare room in disinterest, I had a lump in my throat gazing a vase I ‘stole’ from my mum, I gave myself the finger while sorting through the paperwork I decided was ‘essential’ to bring to the UK, when it really isn’t.

But then, I started thinking about something else. I looked around my living room – currently the only room with any substantial number of wall art – and noticed the specific subject-matter of many of my pictures. I had a limited budget when moving my stuff, and so, I had to pick a select number of pictures to take with me. This means I had to give my choices some considered thought. I find it telling that many of the pictures I’ve chosen to bring over have women as their subject.

I find this fascinating. Here’s why. There are so many levels to this in terms of identification vs. objectification, desire vs. a general appreciation of beauty, what is acceptable for women vs. what is acceptable for men. And this post is me thinking out loud about these things without offering any conclusive answers, or pretending that my personal view is the world view, the default view, on this subject.

The first thing that occurred to me as I looked around my living room was: are we so used to looking at women in our culture, that this is normal? It’s far more acceptable for women to talk about other women – their appearance, their bodies – to admire them, but also, to judge them. I rarely hear my male friends, for example, talk about male celebrities the way many women talk about female celebrities. And let’s face it, we do scrutinise female celebrities to an uncomfortable degree – what are they wearing, have they lost/gained weight, have they had plastic surgery, are they wearing makeup, etc. It’s so obvious it almost doesn’t require stating, but this is sexism and misogyny at play, and sometimes we and I unwittingly participate in this vicious little game that keeps women in their place by indirect means.

I question myself, for example, when I immediately gravitate to ‘perfect’ images of women in art. I both admire the skill of the work, the beauty of the body presented, and at the same time, acknowledge that I can’t separate the appreciation of beauty from a history of objectification. We are not yet at the point where we can innocently admire images of women – whether in art or in tabloid magazines. And by ‘innocently’, I don’t mean without desire, but I mean without sexism.

But let’s talk about desire too, because heterosexuality is not the default status, and also, because even if you are heterosexual, like me, desire does play a large part in the appeal of these images. As a woman who is attracted to men, I like gazing at images of other women because it gives me this sense of identification which plays into my attraction to men. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll do my best.

I’m generally pretty happy with my body. This does not mean I have a daily love fest with myself, or don’t have off days. But it does mean I don’t spend an enormous amount of time wishing I looked different, or even thinking about the way I look, because I’m busy and generally have more interesting things to think about. Now I know a lot of women don’t feel that way, and I know a lot of women wish they were different, and I know much of this pressure is societal rather than part of their personality. I know I am the way I am because I grew up loved. Not everyone is lucky enough to have grown up that way.

But the fact that I have no major issues with my body does not mean I don’t think about the female body, or enjoy looking at it. The fact that I’m not attracted to women doesn’t affect that either. I enjoy looking at beautiful images of women because I like myself, if that makes sense. It’s an indirect way of identification. I like those images because they are a reflection of me and my taste, and that reflection ties into my attraction to men – because I need confidence for attraction to occur, I need to like myself first before I can like a man.

But, I don’t exist on my own, I exist in a culture that has a history of valorising the female form over the female mind, one in which images of women are far more prevalent than images of men because men’s bodies are historically more ‘invisible’ as objets d’art. And ‘invisibility’ here is a state of privilege, not disadvantage; it is the default status of objective humanity, the opposite of which is women’s ‘special’ status as ‘unique’ beings that are endlessly documented like a separate species. So then I wonder, how much of my taste is shaped by the culture I’ve inherited and of which I’m a part?

The thing is though, even this question seems inaccurate in part, because these images, and my appreciation of them, depend on different contexts. That’s to say, what I’ve written here could be both right and wrong. And maybe, just maybe, I need to also put the brain to rest and simply allow myself that time to gaze at things that give me pleasure without asking questions. Maybe not, though.