Don’t Worry, Be Happy

American columnist Erma Bombeck said of her career writing about the quirks of her home life “there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt” and it is true in most cases that the bigger the laugh, the deeper the well of despair that it echoed out of.

There have been, and will continue to be, many tributes to Robin Williams. I have many, many memories of his films resonating with me, none more so than Dead Poets Society. I still can’t think “Oh Captain, my captain” without getting a lump in my throat. Today especially.

But for all of the roles he played, it was perhaps his appearance in Bobby McFerrin’s video for Don’t Worry, Be Happy that most sums up all the thoughts I’ve had since hearing the news this morning. Legend has it McFerrin wrote the lyrics while suicidal, a note to himself to push through the pain. How terribly sad if that story is true.

I too fight a sometimes daily battle with the more sinister side of my brain, and I too choose humour to pull myself out of that black hole. It’s a lucky person who doesn’t understand that the biggest laughs come from the darkest places. Sometimes the melancholia feels like it will never leave. Continue to seek help, continue to find laughter, continue to try not to worry, continue to try to be happy.

We owe it to Robin.

To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before

So apparently I’ve reached that point in my life where, when I catch up with friends, all anyone wants to ask me is whether I’m seeing someone. I’m not sure if it’s my clitoris or my heart that people are most concerned with, but either way they aren’t concerned with any other achievement in my life. Correction – any actual achievement in my life. All they want to know is if I’m attached, and if I’m not, then why not?

“But you’re so pretty/funny/smart/successful/blah blah blah”…who cares? It’s all irrelevant if what you’ve got isn’t what’s on demand.

It’s weird. I guess I hit ‘married with children age’ a while ago, although I never really felt it happen. But suddenly I’m the single friend, and everyone wants to see me paired up. People look out for me, they feel sorry for me. They want to ‘see me happy’ as I keep getting told. For some reason, we’ve worked out that it’s not polite to ask if a woman is pregnant, but to put someone in a position of analysing their desirability is still okay. The reality is I’ve been dumped more times than a Channel Ten newsreader, and while I’d be kidding myself to say it didn’t hurt like hell to feel that I’ve never been worth holding on to, for the most part it’s not a big deal. I get that I’m a bit left of centre and most of the time I can handle that. My mother let me off the hook a long time ago when she told me that not everyone was meant to fly accompanied. I remember at the time feeling so much calmer with that thought. Shame the rest of the world didn’t get the memo.

Not that I don’t fall in love. I do, though rarely with the appropriate target. I seldom find people who spark my curiosity anyway, so it doesn’t often matter.

And then today someone commented on how many times my position as girlfriend has been made redundant, and I thought to myself “fuck this” – I may be single and live alone, at risk of becoming the crazy cat lady my brothers always said I’d be (bollocks to that, I’m a dog person), but without the knock downs I wouldn’t know I can get back up again…and I wouldn’t have such an extensive music collection. And sure, there are days where having to face another partnered friend and their well-intentioned questioning is just too hard. But it is the way it is.
So screw it. I might have a worse batting average than…um…some shit cricket player (I don’t know names)…but I have learned a lot from every single one of those relationships. They might not be good for a back massage any longer (actually none of them ever were), but these are the things I have accumulated along the way…

The world’s best taco recipe
Joan Armatrading
Learning to use my mirrors when I’m reverse parking
Champagne at midnight
Knowing that Calvin Klein men’s boxers are the most comfortable sleepwear ever
Bright red lipstick
Funny Girl
Brain Pickings
Kurt Vonnegut
Dusty Springfield
Wine appreciation
Carol King
Midnight in Paris
How to walk in super high heels
How to pitch a tent
M People
Honey Birdette
Brazilian waxing
The rules of AFL
How to order caviar
How to use a strap on (sorry mum and dad)
How to ride pillion on a motorbike
The best way to eat oysters
Patsy Cline
The best Vietnamese in Sydney
How to apply a smoky eye
The Pretenders
How to cook a lamb roast
Friends (not the exes – ugh – but the people around them have almost always been worth it)
A million other little things that have made me who I am

I realise that most of these aren’t particularly exciting. But sing ‘em to the tune of Willie Nelson’s To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, and you may just be on to a winner.

Alternatively, skull a bottle of red and cry yourself to sleep. It’ll all be okay tomorrow…

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Brave to the Bone – for The Big Smoke

Here’s a little piece I wrote for a new publication out of Sydney, The Big Smoke…

From The New Yorker

From The New Yorker

A Shoulder Before Bed

A little reflection before bedtime:

I think what makes the difference is knowing that someone is willing to listen to our story when we feel the need to tell it. I also think that to be in a situation where you don’t feel there’s anyone who wants to listen must be the loneliest place to find yourself.

I am reminded of this quote from Truman Capote (I think it’s Other Voices, Other Rooms?)
“But we are alone, darling child, terribly isolated each from the other; so fierce is the world’s ridicule we cannot speak or show our tenderness; for us death is stronger than life, it pulls like a wind through the dark, all our cries burlesqued in joyless laughter; and with the garbage of loneliness stuffed down us until our guts burst bleeding green, we go screaming round the world, dying in our rented rooms, nightmare hotels, eternal homes of the transient heart.”

I’m very lucky to have people in my life who want to listen to my stories.

A Killer Rack

I was chatting with a mate a while back about my desire to change careers, and she asked me if I felt I was an expert in anything.

“I dunno” I replied offhand. “Probably boobs.”

We laughed, because everyone knows Boob Men don’t come much bigger than me. What can I say? I’ve never been any different. All I know is that any time a decent set of boobs appears in front of me, I lose the ability to speak. I’m like a rugby league player trying to string a sentence together.

Lately though, boobs have been messing with a close friend of mine and they’re starting to lose their appeal. They’ve tried this before with other friends, even succeeded on two occasions in taking great women I knew. But this time I’ve been a little closer to the action, and it’s highlighted to me how little I understood of breasts at all.

I suspect some of us girls are a bit blasé about breast cancer. We are bombarded with ‘breast cancer’ messages and campaigns almost to the point of being desensitized by it all. We know to check our breasts and we know the risk factors from lifestyle choices. Sure it can kill us, but the statistics are on our side, and most of us know at least one woman who’s been diagnosed, had a lumpectomy and a round of treatment and come out of it the other side with little to show for it other than a new hairstyle.

Well, yes. Except, no. Big NO.

Breast cancer is horrible. It is a hideous, nasty, insidious disease that attacks us at the very core of our being, not only because of the importance we place on our breasts, but because our bosom is also where our heart is, where so much emotion is stored and felt – as though our chests needed any more pressure placed on them. For all the feminist ranting about the over-sexualisation of breasts, the truth is that our boobs are more than just utilitarian objects designed to feed babies.

We are destined to have a dysfunctional relationship with our breasts. From the minute our chests begin to fill out, or even more awkwardly don’t, they are an undeniable sign of our burgeoning sexuality that is visible to the rest of the world. We are judged on them, and judge ourselves on them, from the minute they appear. The other things that come with puberty, like pubic hair and menstruation aren’t readily available for viewing (well, you’d hope not), but our breasts? We have no control over them. They force us to confront our body’s development in comparison to our peers, and often they’re the cause of some pretty soul destroying taunts as we negotiate adolescence. Some of us are lucky enough to get through it all and end up happy with what we’ve got mammary-wise. Some of us get there via push up bras and cosmetic surgery. Some of us never learn to love our breasts at all. And for an increasing number of us, we wade through all that only to have our breasts betray us and develop life threatening tumours anyway.

It’s a lonely journey, cancer. Much as she has many people there for her, no one is really there with my friend. I don’t know exactly how bad the post-surgical pain was, although her tears gave me some idea; I didn’t know exactly how rattled she was by the diagnosis, although I could sense it in her text messages and emails and every black-humoured remark. I didn’t know how scared she was of what the future held, although I could guess. I was scared for her too. And I may have been alongside her in the hospital for part of it, but only one of us was the patient.

I sat in a scanning room in Nuclear Medicine, arguably the grimmest part of any hospital, while she had radioactive fluid injected into her nipple by a doctor she’d met only minutes before, the same doctor who was at pains to make sure it was okay I be in the room lest I get a nipple flash – as though there’s something awkward about a friend seeing your boobs, but not a bunch of medical staff. The room, at once high tech and 1960s retro, was a bit like the set of The Thunderbirds. The off-grey walls and floors and harsh lighting only added to the alienation. I watched her being slid into the PET scanner, manoeuvred and bossed around by staff who go through it too many times a day, saw them tape her breasts and draw guides for the surgeon on her skin in Nikko pen. I kept wanting to say “you know that’s a person there, right?” as they joked amongst themselves and worked out where to put the markings. It was all I could do not to reach out and grab her hand, give her some form of human contact amongst all the science fiction.

And yet I saw some of the sweetest moments of humanity in that hospital too. Fleeting connections between strangers that made all the difference to both of them – whether between the staff and patients, patients and their visitors, or between the patients themselves. There is an immediate level of intimacy created when people are brought together through illness. Maybe it’s just because someone else knows how bad the hospital food is, but it’s a connection nonetheless.

The fatalist in me says that breasts are just breasts – who cares if they go? And actually, I do believe that. Having a killer rack suddenly takes on a whole new meaning when there’s a Grade 3 malignant tumour nestled in your cleavage. If they’re out to kill you, then get rid of them. It’s not like your personality is stored in your mammary glands.

But I still have my breasts intact, and I don’t know what it’s like to mourn their loss. Another patient, full of good intentions, said that it’s better to be safe than sorry. She was right, of course, but my friend’s response “I’m both” was gut-wrenching.  It doesn’t matter how many times a woman is told she’s sexy, there’s a part of her that fears being undesirable. So imagine the psyche of a woman battling the combined effects of chemotherapy – the disappearance of distinguishing features like eyebrows, eyelashes and hair; the nosebleeds, blistered skin, lethargy, nausea, weight gain (or loss depending on the person) – along with the crippling depression that is both a symptom and a result of treatment, and whose scars across her chest continue to pull and hurt and send phantom pains shooting from the nerve endings where her nipples used to be. Can you imagine the strength it takes just to get out of bed some days, let alone out the front door? Seeing someone who oozes self-confidence be so vulnerable is heartbreaking. This should not be happening to her.

And yet, why not her? That’s the nature of this stupid thing. It doesn’t give a shit that she’s fought enough already to be here. Cancer is completely indiscriminate in its selection process. It’s never cared about any of the people I know who’ve answered that knock on life’s door.

I simply can’t fathom how anyone copes with being told they have cancer. It’s terrifying enough as a friend to hear words like tumour, mastectomy and chemotherapy. To be able to remain a functioning member of society when you are at your most fragile; when control of your life has been taken from you and put in the hands of a stranger now known as your oncologist; when dealing with the shock and fear and disbelief at how quickly life exploded has turned your brain to mush and left you unsure of every decision you make; when you can deal with it all with humour; when you can maintain some semblance of life despite all that, and when you can come out the other end never once having asked “why me?” while knowing there’s still so much ahead to get through…well frankly, that’s where my words run out.

And so, my love affair with breasts has hit a rocky patch. I still think they’re lovely, but I now view them the way I view a potentially dangerous dog. I’m happy to play with them, but I expect them to attack.


The Worst Two Words You’ll Say To Me

Have you ever played the Worst Word game? You know, the one that usually results in a group of people gagging over ‘panties’ or ‘gusset’ or ‘discharge’? I know, I know – and I’m sorry for making you read that – but I have two more I want to add to the list: ‘always’ and ‘never’.

I admit they don’t make me cringe the way I do when I hear ‘panties’, but it occurred to me recently that the further I travel in life the less I find myself using ‘always’ and ‘never’, and the less I want them said to me. They come laden with the weight of expectation, and my experiences tell me that expectation always precedes disappointment. I’d like to say I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve truly been disappointed in my life, but the truth is I remember every one. That’s what disappointment does; it leaves a mark that no amount of soul scrubbing can remove. And that’s okay. It’s through those disappointments I’ve learned the most about myself, but they remain what they were – great disappointments. And once I started to scrutinise it I realised that, in most of those situations, much of the heartbreak could have been avoided if ‘never’ or ‘always’ hadn’t been uttered.

I think what I’ve come to believe is that they’re used too flippantly to be bound as tightly as they are to human emotions. We promise never to cheat, never to stop loving someone, never to hurt another person, or that we’ll never want children. We say we’ll always be there, that we’ll always be together, and that we’ll always have each other. We talk about always loving people, declare that we’ll never give up, and promise to always look on the bright side of life.  But in truth we mean these things only as long as the conditions in which we say them remain the same. What we really should be saying is “I will never cheat on you provided nothing changes” or “I will always be here for you as long as something terrible doesn’t happen to me.” The reality is life can and does change quickly, and promises made under different circumstances can suddenly become unrealistic. This isn’t only related to romantic attachments. Illness, accidents and altered living circumstances all have the potential to break unbreakable promises. I can’t say “I never want someone I love to die” because I have watched people in the final stages of illness and, despite loving them very much, I did want them to die in the end. I guess I can say “I never wanted to see them sick in the first place” but that’s not really the same thing. Besides, I once wished for an ex with a drinking problem to fall sick because I was so desperate for her to give up alcohol. Despair can make for irrational requests of the world.

Even at the most basic day to day level ‘never’ and ‘always’ are hard to commit to. I can’t even say “I’ll never eat corned beef as long as I live” because there are stories of people who wake up from comas and everything about them has changed. Unlikely as that seems given my utter loathing for Silverside, I have to admit it’s possible. I doubt I’ll ever buy a Justin Bieber album either, but who knows? There’s a woman in America who woke from a coma speaking with a French accent; bet she never expected that to happen.

I don’t know, maybe I’m over-analysing like I always do. I’m not trying to be maudlin about it. I just can’t help thinking that some of our falls in life wouldn’t be so hard if these two words and the pressure to live up to them didn’t exist. But they do exist, and at the very least we should try and use them sparingly.

What do I want to hear instead? Well…I want someone to stand in front of me and say they’ll try their hardest despite the circumstances; that they’ll love me for as long as they can, that they’ll do their very best not to hurt me, and that they’ll fight to stay in my life for as long as they are able – and for them to understand that by offering the same in return, I am promising far more than I would be if I just said “I’ll never hurt you.” Maybe that way we’ll find delightful surprises far outweigh crushing disappointments.

And I can go back to believing ‘moist panties’ are the worst two words you’ll ever whisper in my ear.


It’s a nice sentiment Dolly, but I just don’t believe you.

Unavailable Tampon Syndrome

It’s two days before my period is due and as usual my mood is hanging somewhere between moderately frustrated and thoroughly homicidal. This month however it’s not PMT that’s the cause of my irritation, but another lesser known disorder called Unavailable Tampon Syndrome, or UTS. Most of you won’t have heard of it because…well…I just made it up, but the seriousness of the condition should not be underestimated.

UTS occurs when the only pharmacy you’ve found within a 20km radius that sells the only tampons you can use decides not to stock them any longer. Some lucky women may never suffer this affliction, and others may only have to confront it once or twice in their life, but if you’re anything like me you come to anticipate it on a monthly basis along with all the other joys of menstruation.

In my case UTS is caused by the increasing difficulty in finding stockists of Tampax Super Plus tampons (and yes I know that just gave you more information about my menstrual cycle than you were hoping for, but I promise whatever you’re imagining isn’t as bad as the reality often is. I hope that makes you feel better). For the last three years I’ve been UTS free as my local pharmacy has always had a supply of Tampax Super Plus on hand, sitting on the shelf gathering dust until I trundle in with my abnormal uterine bleeding every four weeks.  

It had been going so well. Where the supermarkets and corner stores had failed me, I could always rely on this one chemist to carry them. Once a month, as soon as my tits began to feel like watermelons, I’d duck in for my usual 30 pack of Nurofen Plus and two boxes of Super Plus. I’d go home, drug up, plug up and spend the next four days contemplating a hysterectomy. Too easy.

Yesterday all that changed. Standing in the feminine hygiene aisle desperately scanning the shelves, I felt myself relapsing. There were regular tampons, super tampons and light tampons (pfft, who uses those?!) There were organic cotton, fluro wrapped and easy twist open tampons. There were even slim ones, which I guess is good if the other styles make you look fat. But nowhere to be seen were the Tampax Super Plus tampons. Even worse, there wasn’t a space on the shelf where they should have been.  I knew where this was leading. Unavailable Tampon Syndrome.

Obviously my stunned expression was noted by the staff, because I was soon asked if I needed help. “Where are the Tampax Super Plus?” I asked in a way that I hoped disguised my alarm. “Oh, they’ve been discontinued by the manufacturer” said the guy serving me, a gay boy I know socially but not well enough for us to be totally relaxed discussing heavy periods. He was no doubt wishing he’d taken more notice of where I was standing when he offered his assistance, and desperate to cease discussing sanitary protection immediately. Clocking my look of disbelief, he followed up with “that’s solid information.” He was trying to act like he cared, but the curled lip and backwards step he took upon realising he was discussing things of a menstrual nature betrayed him, and I’m pretty sure as soon as I left he was texting all his friends about how close he came to actually having to deal with a period. Apparently there are some aspects of being a woman that even the campest man just doesn’t want to embrace. When he asked why I couldn’t just use the Super tampons I decided it was easier to leave than go in to the finer details of my flow with him, and frankly I was ready to suffocate him with a packet of overnight pads anyhow.  

In a total flap, I went home and panic bought $157.00 worth of tampons online from the only website I could find that had them in stock, and paid an additional $20.00 for urgent delivery. I know this seems like over reacting but panic buying before disasters is human nature, and trust me when I say that the 2011 Brisbane floods have nothing on the sort of flooding that can occur from my beaver dam. Eventually I contacted Proctor & Gamble to ask them for clarification, and received a reply assuring me that Tampax Super Plus were most definitely still being manufactured. I bloody well knew it.

I am not trying to be difficult, but to have to beg pharmacies to stock something that is essential is annoying at best. To be lied to about why they’re not stocking them is downright insulting. I don’t choose to buy Tampax Super Plus tampons because I get off on buying the biggest, most expensive tampon available; I have a medical condition that requires them. Of course I’d prefer to use the pretty little bullet shaped ones everyone stocks because they’re compact and easily hidden and come in bright colours, and I can buy the fucking things everywhere including petrol stations. Unfortunately, that is not how my body works.

I understand that Super Plus tampons will never be the bestselling item in the Tampax range, not every gal can be lucky enough to experience the sheer joy of a heavy period. But that doesn’t mean the women who require them cease to exist. And the most frustrating part of all of this isn’t the fact that they are so hard to buy. It is that on almost every occasion where I’ve enquired whether a pharmacy stocks them, a female assistant has said to me she would buy them too but she didn’t know they existed. It makes me wonder just how well Super Plus tampons would sell if women knew they were an option. Perhaps it’s time for the chemists of Australia to consider that a full range of tampons is slightly more important than a full range of Revlon nail polish?

As for the guy who told me they’d been discontinued? I can’t wait to drop a Tampax Super Plus in his drink next time I see him out. Just wait until he sees how much liquid those suckers can hold!



Semi-Precious Moments

I owe a few people an apology. Actually it’s probably quite a few people, so I’m just going to go with a blanket “I’m sorry” to anyone I’ve ever accused of over sharing and be done with it. Turns out whatever the reason was for me attacking your need to disseminate all aspects of your private life in public was nothing compared to my latest discovery on YouTube.

This morning as I was making my usual way through procrastination central, I stumbled across videos of women telling their partners they’re pregnant and…well…I’m kind of horrified. I’m not talking Maury Povich-style “you ARE the father” videos. I’m talking sweet, loving moments between couples who are ultimately pleased about becoming parents. Videos like this:

There are thousands of them, the majority of which have titles like Telling My Husband I’m Pregnant – *Emotional* or Jake Finds out He’s Going to Be a Daddy – Beautiful!!!  I sat through a few, my heart unmoved by what I was watching, and all I could think was “what are you people doing?”

I’ve never been ‘with child’ so maybe I am totally romanticising the whole concept of pregnancy, but there’s something about this I just can’t handle. I understand being excited about being pregnant, and I understand wanting to share that joy. I even get filming the moment you tell the rest of the family you’re pregnant, because some of the grandparents’-to-be reactions are genuinely laugh out loud funny. But that very first time you share the news with your partner, before the pregnancy becomes something that belongs to everyone else, don’t you want five minutes together to say “this might be happening to us” that no one else gets to share? Isn’t that one of the few moments of pregnancy that belongs just to the two of you? If you’re going to let everyone in at that point, why not just invite them to the conception as well?

For those who want children, then this is arguably the moment between a couple; the point at which they realise they may well be bringing another human into the world. Discounting intervention from fertility specialists and pressure from the mother-in-law to give her grandchildren, no one else is actually involved. So why are they stopping to film it for the internet? Is it a competition between females to see whose bloke will prove himself the better man?

I know we live in a world where the line between private and public is fuzzy, enough has been written about how we overshare our lives. But this seems to be a very clear example of where we’ve got our priorities all arse about face, and I’m starting to feel a queasy sadness about what we’ve lost. Perhaps you could call it mourning sickness.

This is more than just sentimentally holding on to keepsakes that have special meaning. Mementos are different. My home is full of little knick knacks that hold value for no one other than me (although I’d probably draw the line at turning the urine covered pregnancy test into a framed wall décor like quite a lot of these women seem intent on doing). Aside from these videos being pretty boring viewing given they’re mostly of guys dumbfounded by both impending fatherhood and the fact that they’re looking into an iPhone rather than their partner’s face, the moment being recorded is actually being altered by the presence of the camera. If you’re busy concentrating on the Director’s Cut, making sure you’ve pressed record, worrying whether the sound is okay, that you’ve got your script ready and you’re both in frame, you’re not exactly giving the father your undivided attention. And he’s not giving the moment his undivided attention either based on how many videos include the line “are you filming this?” All you’ve ended up with is footage of two people dealing with life changing news, aware that their behaviour is being recorded for probable mass consumption. Way to ensure the reaction is anything but natural.

The thing is we don’t actually need permanent reminders of everything that happens to us. We have memories and the ability to tell stories – and a whole lot more can be evoked by a loving retelling than can ever be gleaned by sitting through a home movie. Consider it the real life version of ‘the book was better’. And okay one day you may forget that memory due to age or brain function, but at that point no YouTube video is really going to help you. If you are experiencing something that means so much to you that you want to remember every single second, then participate in it without the distraction of the viewfinder. Be present for the moment itself, not just the instant replay, because right now you’re somewhere between participant and audience and that kind of sucks.

Frankly I can’t help thinking we’d all be better off putting down our phones and just enjoying the experience of making memories we’d hate to forget, rather than footage of what might have been.


And see, the funny thing is, occasionally you can read too much into a situation. You can over-analyse everything, and make something out of nothing. You can try and stop your heart with your head, which never really works out well. You can ask yourself and others a million questions in an attempt to figure it out, when you aren’t supposed to understand anyway. It’s just life, the reasons aren’t always clear. You can try to avoid situations in order to avoid pain and confusion. That never works, you just end up regretting not giving it a go. And you can drive yourself crazy wondering why you did it, why you always do it, why you are the way you are. And really, none of that matters. We are what we are and will always be.

by caz.



A friend of mine said yesterday that people liking each other is the most important thing in the world. She’s right, of course, except that occasionally the world decides that while it is important, it just isn’t important right now.

Sometimes, no matter how much two people like each other, you have to put that aside, file it away, shove it in the bottom draw. It’s not easy, in fact it’s really fucking hard. But you do it, because there’s really no other option.

Maybe one of the people doing the liking hasn’t finished working out what they like within themselves first, or maybe they want to know whether there are better options in the liking department. Maybe they’ve thought they have liked people before, and realised that the feeling was transient and not based on real liking at all. Maybe they doubt their liking instincts, or the liking is a smidge one sided.

Sometimes it’s just the case that there’s a whole world to be experienced, and for the time being that’s a wee bit more important than liking, or being liked by, anyone. And it’s a sign of how much you like someone that you would hate to see them miss out on seizing absolutely everything on offer to them.

So…have faith that the world knows what it’s doing. What may appear to be lousy timing may in fact be a blessing in disguise. And try to remember never, ever, to stop liking.

by caz.