Of Trolls and Rolls

Image result for old age cartoon

My husband is a clever man. I mean really clever. He has a Master’s degree in Musicology and half a PhD. But for fun he has been known to sit in his Man Cave, playing GTA and cackling to the Red Neck humour of The Cable Guy, having the cheek to tell me he looks like my game ranger cousin. Of course he also loves more edifying humour like QI and laughs at The Trump and Clinton Comedy Show, despite the chilling consequences of the election of either to the presidency of the USA. He relishes the debates of Mehdi Hasan and delights in provoking conservatives. Bigots who don’t enjoy his stirring the pot call him a troll.

Andrew’s Music pupils adore him because he is cool. In fact he has a ‘Cool/Uncool’ Wall in his office. He is on Snapchat and rocks it. He is in with the gamers in the house and up to date on urban slang.

But he has a thing about his age, which is really funny, because besides …um… having an ‘extended crown’… he doesn’t look old. But he keeps on pretending to be younger than he is. And people believe it. If you present the evidence of his passport or ID document, he will tell you there were administrative errors when they were issued. If you plead with his mother to indicate when he was born, she confirms his actual age, but he blandly says you can’t ask her because she has Alzheimer’s (which is true, God bless her). So that is his secret: denial; denial; denial.

In a world where women complain that men don’t have issues about ballooning beer boeps, grey hair or sagging ‘stuff,’ it’s quite refreshing to see that actually they do care/ have insecurities/ feelings/ issues.

As a woman, for example, I have never had to worry that I might go bald (well – until I realised I might – if I keep pulling out the silver strands from my fringe); we can skip over the articles on prostate cancer and console ourselves that in general we outlive our spouses. (Hence my devilishly clever move to cougardom (only just though, hey.) We don’t need knee surgery from our days on the rugby field or feel the need to pretend we’re not aging and make a down payment on a fancy car and keep pulling in our stomachs when the new secretary sashays in (hell, we have girdles and full body stockings to slow down our undulating Sunday lunch excesses. And even Kim wears one – I read it on the internet so it must be true.)

In fact, if anything, women are opting for less hair – some even go all the way to Brazil to ensure that they are smooth (not me of course, but I do know someone who does); our surgeries include popping out the uterus and goodbye monthly worries. And we: Just. Do. Not. Care. We can laugh until our mascara runs; we no longer worry about embarrassing ourselves and in fact have perfected the art of mortifying image-conscious teenagers. We laugh loudly and heartily in restaurants without worrying that our double chins are showing. We have learnt to stand up for ourselves and not buy into society’s nonsense.

Sure I wear make-up to fill in the odd crinkle or cover the sunspots. It is depressing that I’m not thin after starving myself of chocolate for three days, but I am really not too phased.

However we have survived tight skinny jeans before there was stretch denim (and still managed to go on and have babies!); we were raised on Queen and Journey (with Freddie and Steve Perry); we had to actually break up in person, not on Whatsapp or Skype. We grieved with Demi in Ghost and watched American shows dubbed into Afrikaans. We have earned the accolades of the youth.

Besides which, I have an ageless man and we all know what they say about how old you are…

He is not the only clever one.

Read to know; not right to know.

Image result for the right to know celebrity privacyAuthorship:

The ‘unmasking’ of author Elena Ferrante’s, who has been writing under a nom de plume since 1991 begs the question of the ‘whether the public has a ‘right to know’ as the journalist who set about discovering her identity claims, and calls into question the cult of the celebrity as well.

I write autobiographically and I use my own name and those of my family members liberally. That is my choice. I’d love to say that I have stretched the truth about what goes on inside our home, but seriously you couldn’t make this stuff up. It does restrict me as a writer somewhat because I have to remember I have a public persona at school and one doesn’t want to reveal too much dirty laundry, especially the teenage boys’, but knowing my name doesn’t mean my audience owns me or has a right to pry into my mail.

I invite the reader into the bedlam that exists around us for the vicarious enjoyment of other war-torn parents not quite coping with the tumult of raising a family, in order to make others look anew at their lives and think, ‘Thank God I am not as bad as Colleen.’ I don’t mind if unknowns ‘know me,’ (It’s hard to hide when you drive a large, noticeable bus around town with 4 ?/2 redheads) but I am certainly not inviting Joe and Julie Public and their awful kids to picnic on our lawn (It’s full of prickly weeds and windblown pollen from the neighbour’s tree, which is guaranteed to irritate your allergies anyway).

I do not have the talent to create worlds and characters as a creator of fiction might. Elena Ferrante does. I do not have the desire to keep my name unknown. Elena Ferrante does. That is surely her right. If you buy her books and enter her world, you have not bought her. Your relationship is with her characters only. While you may be intrigued by the mystery behind her anonymity you do not own her or her personal story, because her personal story is not what she is selling. The public does not have a right to know.

I’m reading Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare at the moment. If I have learnt anything from it, along with my years of English teaching, it is that we don’t know much about old Willem Wikkelspies. Personally I think Marlowe wrote all that stuff, but that’s another story, which serves only to irritate Shakespeare’s purists who can’t prove he did because we don’t know anything about him. The art must speak for itself whoever wrote it and it does. That is what has made his work so durable. The characters tell the human story no matter who put quill to paper.

Actors and even reality television entertainers are entitled to privacy. They participate in a film or programme and after that we do not own them. We pay to watch a film, not to know that Brad Pitt may or may not have been drunk on a plane or that some emaciated Survivor star is bonking an Idols finalist. Unlike the royals who frankly are owned by their nations (yet still are entitled to tan topless in the peace of their homes), celebrities are private citizens. I don’t want to know the details of Kim Kardashian’s ordeal during a robbery, despite having been invited into her onscreen world (and gracefully declining). In fact that robbery is perhaps an extreme result of some folk thinking they even have a right to the possessions of famous people. Not even the trashy Osbournes want you to or let you see everything.

This is not about censoring the right to know what our governments are doing or the l’art pour l’art view, because for me, all art clearly comes out of and is part of a moral and historical framework. But, unless a novel is written by a criminal who is profiteering from his crime or a politician who should be spending the time in office serving the people not selling books to them, I say we should leave the jolly author alone!

However, you are welcome to send me money and flowers. Then I’ll show you my new toenail polish if you like. The girls say it’s ‘a bit bright, you know!’

Raising Civilised Children – Introduction: Happy Families

Remember that card game we used to play called ‘Happy Families,’ where you had to match cards to build a complete nuclear family? Despite the myriad ways in which that game is now appallingly politically incorrect, its core message was: obtain happiness to win – and complete families make for convivial living. Really?

We live in an age of single parent households, for heaven’s sake. In 2013 The South African Institute of Race Relations  reported that only 33% of our children live with both parents, but, as I was always at pains to stress with my own children: we may have had a single parent home, but we did not have to be a broken home and, unlike the card game, we can prevail even in our ‘incompleteness.’

The remnant of that ancient phenomenon ‘the diligent parent’ in me is still drawn to articles entitled ‘5 Ways to have a happier family’ and ‘10 tips for raising teens with no issues.’ (I read a cute one that ran out before the strained writer reached 10 points, so it remained ‘9 strategies for emotionally stable adolescents’) Now far be it for me to knock the conscientious pop psychology of a favourite magazine or negate the zeal of a well-intentioned newly minted counsellor, or, God-forbid, challenge the oeuvre of esteemed academic research, but, seriously, ‘stable adolescents’ is an oxymoron at best and at worst a denial of an integral aspect of human growth: coping with change.  I met a doctor once who asserted quite calmly that teenagers were clinically insane. I wouldn’t go as far as the good doctor, but I have yet to meet a human being without ‘issues’ let alone an adolescent who doesn’t run the gamut of emotions from delirious buoyancy to Gothic angst in one day – unless he is in denial – but I suppose we could all do with being ‘happier.’

What many fail to realise that oftentimes the route to real, profound happiness is not a Brady Bunch adventure or Pollyanna-like family fun. That primrose path leads to overindulgence which borders on believing in the Kardasianesque illusion.

For what it is worth, my next few posts will identify some of my discoveries along my Odyssey as parent, educator and school leader.

They may help you, appal you, or inspire you. Or they’ll just make you laugh at my ineptness and allow you to pat yourself on the back with amused schadenfreude about not being as bad as ‘that woman who thinks she knows what’s what.’

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