Thursday, May 25, 2006


My younger sister has been called up for potential jury duty. She is most unimpressed about this as she is self employed and her time is precious.

My older sister is beside herself. She fears that her baby sister is going to be chosen for a case involving a crazed psychopathic killer. And she just knows that the killer’s equally psychopathic relatives will be in the court room and, once the said killer is found rightfully guilty, these relatives will stalk her baby sister with intent.

My advice to my younger sister was practical. Once chosen, she has two options to become unchosen. Firstly, she can call out to the said defendant, “Don’t worry cousin I will see to it that you get off this time.” Or, secondly, she can wait until the court room is settled and about to start proceedings and then nudge her neighbouring juror and nod towards the defendant and say in a stage whisper for all to hear, “That face has guilt written all over it.”

I sense that my sister is not going to take my advice because she simply laughed at me when she should have gasped and said, “Yes, yes. That is what I’ll do.”

Our recent conversation brought back memories of a similar situation which involved one of my favourite ex-work colleagues.

I will call him Stuart. I will use this alias not because I want to keep his identity confidential but because it was twenty years ago and I simply don’t remember his name.

Stuart and I worked for a large communication company. Mind you, “worked” is a very poor description for what I did.

I would turn up each day and I'd make two phone calls to follow up the two outstanding contracts in my very slim folder and then I would tidy my desk and then I would look at the silent phone and then I would tidy my desk again and then I would look, hopefully, towards the direction where the morning tea trolley would emerge.

This is well before the days of desktop computers which provide the idle worker with the opportunity for furtive Internet surfing and hours of Alzheimer-avoiding card games.

Stuart, who sat at the desk behind me, had a phone which rang constantly. Stuart arranged the tenders for the sale of excess goods and, even before Ebay arrived, everyone loves the challenge of competitive bargaining.

I loved Stuart. He was most amusing in an eccentric way. And, because I loved him, I willingly helped him with his job (which he hated) and well, let's acknowledge history, I wasn’t doing anything anyway.

Stuart was attractive in that “a little bit too religious and clean-cut, young Donny Osmond” way in the era of Punks and their mortal enemies the "John Travolta lookalike" disco dancing dudes.

Stuart would spend many hours away from his desk (for reasons I know not why) and, being his friend who also had nothing else to do, I would diligently answer his phone calls and, grateful for the opportunity to wile away the time, I would carefully write out messages for him.

Stuart would finally return from his unexplained adventures about the building and I would proudly hand over the bundle of messages. Stuart would eye them with contempt and toss them in the bin.

Eventually I saw the light and I would respond, “No. I won’t take a message because when I give messages to him he just throws them in the bin.”

Mostly the callers laughed.

Stuart’s aim in life was to leave the company and to live happily on his father’s (yet to be acquired) wealth.

One day he speculated on potential ways to bring about the early demise of his father. I listened dutifully but I wasn’t overly concerned because it was a slow day at the office and I sensed he was just being creative in a scary and "I wish he wasn’t telling me about this" way.

One morning he told me, excitedly, that he had been called up for potential jury duty. I was glad to hear that he had a new and immediate aim in life which was unrelated to acquiring his father's wealth.

He really wanted to be on a jury because it meant he wouldn’t be answering phone calls and he felt it could be extremely interesting if he came across a murder case.

The first morning that he was rejected at the court, he turned up to work most upset.

The next morning he was rejected, he came to work most dejected but with a plan.

“I’ll get a haircut.” he enthused to me.

The third day he was rejected, he came to work somewhat angry but, again, with a plan.

“I’ll wear a suit!”

On the fourth day I had to sympathise with a most distraught colleague.

He never did get selected for jury duty.

Looking back I now wonder if, on a slow morning waiting for selection, he had been overheard discussing plans with a fellow potential juror about how he could send his beloved Dad to an early entry to Heaven and leave the communications company.

So I am thinking that I may revise my advice to my sister.

“Hey sis, get a haircut, wear a suit and tell someone about your plans to off your wealthy father.”

Michelle ©

Thursday, May 18, 2006


It was Mussolini who confirmed that I had a knack for creative writing. How so, you ask. Well, it all has to do with my pursuit of a tertiary degree.

If you have a talent for creative writing but you haven’t got a plot then don’t despair. There is a way to practise your craft and be assured of having someone read it, albeit a readership of one. It is called undertaking tertiary study.

Now you will need to be careful when enrolling in a course. Obviously you must avoid courses that require a clear understanding and actual use of formulae, definitions and terminology. And steer clear of any course requiring a technical ability (either innate or acquired) beyond basic keyboard skills.

Those of you who possess the abovementioned talents need not read on. You have the tangible skills to get yourself a proper degree and, no doubt, you have already mapped out your career path and you are out there getting on with it. Indeed, you are probably constructing and practising mnemonics at this very moment in time.

For the rest of you, I recommend something under the heading of Arts or Humanities, that is, subjects that are assessed by written work (preferably long-winded essays).

I advise that you avoid any units that involve scientific reports (e.g. sociology and psychology). I know you will be tempted (hey, it’s only words and some numbers) but, be warned this type of writing will eventually crush your sensitive soul. It requires the restraint of a catwalk model at a smorgasbord and the imagination of a rock. The key words here are “precise” and “concise” – two words incompatible with the concept of creative writing.

Perhaps at this point I should introduce some “for examples” by sharing some of my experiences using creative writing to complete an Arts degree.

I knew I was on a winner during the second semester of the first year when I wandered up to the tutor’s room to collect an assignment. The title of the assignment was:

“Orwell’s style is more appropriate for reportage than for imaginative fiction. Contrast two essays from Inside the Whale with Keep the Aspidistra Flying.”

The tutor handed over my assignment saying, “This is beautifully written but it doesn’t say anything.”

Now I was not surprised to hear her comment that it didn’t “say” anything because I already knew that to be true. However, I was most surprised to find that I had received 14 out of 20.

Over time I began to notice a trend in the scribblings beside my marks. There were comments such as: “competently written essay”, “well structured”, “lively”, “clear and genuine”, and “a good and excellently written essay”.

There were also comments such as: “limited point of view”, “more could have been said”, “doesn’t come to grips with the deeper levels”, and “a little light on detailed analysis”.

I began to realise that content was a necessary but not an essential ingredient. The medium was getting me a grade point average of a credit despite the message.

By the first semester of the third year, I was full of confidence and taking on history units which is another subject which lends itself to creative writing.

One memorable unit was taught by a lecturer who was not big on having to mark papers and therefore he wasn't too keen on setting too many assignments or having to organise an actual examination. All we had to submit was just the one 5,000 word assignment for our chance to pass the unit. He was also very vague about the topic and he basically left that up to us. His only requirement was that it had something to do with his unit which was called "Modern History since WWI”.

My choice was Mussolini who was not a complex person (his hobbies being sex and megalomania) and therefore his autobiography (fortunately translated into English) was easy to read.

I learnt that from an early age Mussolini exhibited the prerequisite "conduct disorder" personality traits of a dictator-in-training. When only a young boy, Mussolini stabbed a fellow schoolmate in the back. I mentioned this fact in the assignment and stated, most dramatically, that he went on to figuratively stab the Allies in the back whilst he scurried about arranging various peace treaties in an effort to enhance his status as an influential world leader.

Needless to say the assignment was “lively” and I finally scored my first high distinction.

Now I know you will ask, “What happens when you finish the course?” A valid question. Well, you have been honing your writing skills for three years and if you attended a couple of lectures, read a couple of books or listened to gossip in the refectory, then you may have collected some ideas for writing a play, book, short story or an episode for a TV soap opera. Failing that, there is always a postgraduate course.

Me? Well, I did take on a postgraduate course. It is a bit of a challenge though as “beautifully written” doesn’t seem to be enough at this level and I had to try to keep up with the other students who could write assignments which actually “say something”.

But I do harbour literary ambitions. I fully intend to write a screenplay based on my Mussolini assignment. And I will, real soon. It’s just that I have a bit of laundry to do today and then there is the newspaper to read, and later I want to watch “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

Guess I’ll have to pencil it in for later this week.

Michelle ©

Friday, May 05, 2006


I used to watch the Oprah Winfrey show without fail. However recently I read a scholarly article that said that people who watch afternoon television are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. I think they were talking about women of a certain age like me for instance.

Of course, one doesn’t need to be a research scientist to see a flaw in their hypothesis. Perhaps those people who are watching soap operas and talk shows on TV already have the beginnings of the disease and they simply can’t follow complicated movie plots.

All that aside, I like Oprah. Oprah is like a best friend. She can be chatty and giggly and she can also be really empathic and weepy.

I used to think that she and I were a lot alike. We are both woman, we are the same age, she is on TV and I watch TV.

Well it didn’t take me long to see the flaw in my reasoning and to admit to myself that we are nothing alike.

She is a black American, I am a white Australian. She is a little on the plump side but very fit and healthy whilst I am comparatively scrawny and the only exercise I get is walking from the car park to attend medical appointments for my chronic illness. She is single with dogs, I am married with children. She has been on the cover of Vogue magazine and I can’t afford to buy Vogue. She has billions of dollars and I have billions of (let me think here), ah yes, dust mites. I am sure you get the picture.

Yes, I admire Oprah but I was beginning to worry about the direction she was taking the show and her audience. She started to rattle on about “change your life” TV.

It’s all a bit scary. She has these guests come on her show to counsel those elegantly dressed people in the studio and those tracksuit wearing, potato crisp eating people (too much about me there) who make up her TV audience.

In the olden days these guests would have been called “snake oil salesmen”.

These “guests” drag people from the audience and put them up on stage and try to change their lives. These victims look like frightened hares trapped by car headlights. They have to spew out their deepest secrets, bare their fragile souls and they must cry otherwise they don’t get help with whatever life problems they are currently experiencing. These problems can be marital disagreements and infidelities, addictions to drugs, sex, gambling etc., huge financial debts, and various psychological disorders.

Of course these saviours all have books that they wish to flog to the audience. The titles vary according to the problem. Titles such as: "Stop whinging and live your wildest dreams", "Cleanse and liberate your soul in 14 days (or was that your liver?)", "The best ever eat whatever you want especially if it is only cottage cheese diet" and "10 steps to financial independence".

Okay, I made some of them up.

But that last one is a doozy and now I am thinking of writing my own book about steps to financial freedom. It will be called “Two Steps to Wealth” which means that it will be quite thin and therefore quick to read.

Step One involves writing a book about getting rich. I’ll just make something up that sounds like financial advice because, frankly, Step One is not important.

Step Two is the tough one. Step Two involves getting yourself on the Oprah Show to flog your book to her audience. I am certain, once everything falls into place, it will become a best seller.

Does anyone out there have Oprah’s private number?

Michelle ©