Elly McDonald

Writer


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Valar Morghulis (26 February 2014)

Archetypes are handy.

In the world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, better known as Game of Thrones, people in the southern parts of Westeros worship the Seven: The Father, The Mother, The Maiden, The Crone, The Warrior, The Smith, The Stranger (Death).

There are characters in Martin’s narrative who exemplify aspects of the Seven: Ned Stark as the Father, for instance; Catelyn as the Mother; Sansa as the Maiden; Olenna or Mirri Maz Duur as the Crone; Robb or Jon or any number of others as the Warrior; Gendry as the Smith; Arya as the Stranger.

I like Arya. She could be a female aspect of the Warrior, as Brienne is, but as at Book 5 she’s hurtling on a trajectory that will transform her into Death personified. Mostly we cheer her on.

Why would we cheer a young girl turning into an assassin?

Maybe because we think she has good cause, Arya with her hit list of those she wants dead: Joffrey, the Hound, the Tickler, Polliver, the Freys…

Ser Gregor, Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei. Valar morghulis [All men must die] … Yes, it’s you who ought to run, you and Lord Tywin and the Mountain and Ser Addam and Ser Amory and stupid Ser Lyonel whoever he is, all of you better run or my brother will kill you, he’s a Stark, he’s more wolf than man, and so am I.”

These are people who slaughter her family and her friends, who destroy her world and trash her identity as ‘Arya Stark’. We – I feel I speak for all who care – hope she lives to “stick ‘em with the pointy end”, or at least see them dead.

“A long time ago, she remembered her father saying that when the cold wind blows the lone wolf dies but the pack survives. He had it all backwards. Arya, the lone wolf, still lived, but the wolves of the pack had been taken and slain and skinned.”

But maybe it’s more. Maybe we will Arya towards her destiny as an artist of the kill because the Stranger is obviously her nature. She’s a warg, capable of slipping her consciousness into the living body of a wolf, or a cat. So far she’s embodied always as a predator.

“I’m the ghost in Harrenhal, she thought. And that night, there was one less name to hate.”

Early in the narrative, before her father’s death, Arya asks him, “Can I be Lord of a Holdfast?” (She means, like my brothers?)

Ned laughs. “You,” he says, “Will marry a high lord and rule his castle. And your sons shall be knights and princes and lords. Hmm?”

Arya looks at him with Stranger’s eyes. “No,” she says softly. “That’s not me.”

Arya Stark is born to kill. She cannot kill as a knight, as Lord of a Holdfast. So she’ll kill as a kind of super-ninja. Where that will take her, who knows?

Quotes from Arya:

“Swift as a deer. Quiet as a shadow. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Quick as a snake. Calm as still water. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Strong as a bear. Fierce as a wolverine. Fear cuts deeper than swords. The man who fears losing has already lost. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Fear cuts deeper than swords.”

Quotes about Arya:

Ned Stark: “Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. The ‘Wolf Blood’, my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.”

Jaqen H’ghar to Arya disguised as a boy: “A boy has more courage than sense.”

Jaqen H’ghar to Arya: “Help was not promised, lovely girl. Only death.”

Gendry to Arya: “What kind of lady are you?”

Arya to Gendry: “This kind.”

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Not Mother nor Maiden


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Fuck off. I’m crafting. (10 February 2014)

Call me Penelope. Here I am entertaining my suitors, being polite, being hospitable. And all the time freaking out over all these men and their wooing.

You remember Penelope, don’t you? Wife of Odysseus, wisest and wiliest of Greeks, so smart he managed to take 10 years getting home from the Trojan War to his rocky island kingdom Ithaca, via the scenic route. Meanwhile his wife found his hall – their home – filled with pushy princes, all insisting her man was dead and she must marry again to secure a protector. To prove their point they exploited her resources, seduced her servants, and bullied her children. But I digress. I do not have children, servants, much in the way of resources – or a man, wayward or otherwise. What I have in common with Penelope is a reluctance to progress the courtships offered me. And maybe some alarm. I’m sure Penelope felt threatened.

Every time I check my cellphone there are more emails piled up on my rsvp app. I’m beginning to get phone phobic. I have anxiety about these men and about the futures they offer.

And it’s scary what I find about me.

For instance, I always knew one big reason I avoid dating is that I have always lacked even basic assertiveness in this arena. How hard is it to say “No”? As in, “No, I don’t want this. I don’t want what you want. I don’t want to meet you. I don’t want to spend my life with you, living life the way you think life should be lived.” Or as in, “I don’t want another cup of coffee. I don’t want to give you my phone number. I don’t want to invite you to my home. I don’t want to visit yours. I don’t want to sleep with you. I don’t want the drugs.” So why is it that at age 52, with the ‘safety barriers’ put in place by the online dating site, I still find it hard to say “No”?

There are multiple choice options for saying “Thanks but no thanks” as ‘nicely’ as possible to approaches. But I can’t count on formulaic brush-offs to protect me from my own unassertiveness. One man bypassed the free initial approach option and invested his $15 on an email approach (it’s his choice to do that, but I feel beholden from the outset – remember that law professor who called me names for “causing [him] to waste a stamp on an idiot like [me]”?). I sent a standard response from the multi-choice templates saying I liked his profile but did not wish to meet him at present. He came back saying I should take another look at his Profile and check out his website. Then he sent me an update on info not included on his website.

Me? What did I do? Having said “No” already, did I leave his response hanging? Did I reaffirm his Profile and website are terrific but repeat I’m simply disinclined? I did not. I suggested we meet for coffee. He replied proposing we meet at Geelong Gallery – my workplace, which btw does not have a coffee shop. (He likely did not know Geelong Gallery is my workplace, but he did know from my Profile that I work in a local gallery, and there are not so many galleries hereabouts, and given he’s an artist who’s exhibited there it’s possible he asked a Gallery colleague about me. Either way, I would not be keen to meet at my workplace for fear a colleague might disclose my surname or other personal info before I had time to decide whether I want to do so.)

So I looked at his Profile again and had a hard think and suddenly I was angry. Partly at him, for being a man, for pushing it; partly at me, for being a stereotypical woman (“I’d LOVE to, milord!”)

I answered him thusly:  “[Dear suitor], after I sent my email I looked again at your profile and I must tell you I am very doubtful about us meeting up :-( I am genuinely overwhelmed with approaches at present. I am a non-smoker who specified non-smokers only; I barely drink, but I see you enjoy discussions over a glass of red wine. You’re a smidgen out of my preferred age range, which is not in itself a deal breaker; but I would not describe myself as markedly “easy going” nor particularly as “someone who is able to forgive themselves and others” (I’m not sure quite in what sense you mean that phrase). I do realise this is very discourteous, and I’m sorry, but on reflection I don’t think we should pursue this after all. With sincere apologies, and best wishes, Elly”

I would hate to receive an email like that. I hated sending it. But I’d tried the polite “Not for me but good luck” thing. And having sent it, I braced myself for a blast of hostility like the blast I copped from the law professor.

Speaking of hostility, may I lash back for a moment and suggest that it seems odd and possibly revealing how many men post pics of themselves in uniform? Anything from paramedics to zoo uniforms. Also rugby guernseys. And I have no idea what the bloke who posted a pic of himself standing inside a cemetery intended to convey. Sigh.

I do have two dates lined up for this weekend. One is a sweet-sounding planning and development professional who lives at the end of the Great Ocean Road and advises community groups. His Profile is almost empty but he sent an informative email. (I’ve told him I doubt I’m the only woman out there who’d prefer to see a more fully completed Profile.) He suggested we meet for lunch on Friday. I replied I wasn’t comfortable lunching on Valentine’s Day with a man I’ve never met, even assuming we could get a Valentine’s Day booking, but coffee later in the afternoon is fine.

The other man sounds terrific: a former academic who lives on a hobby farm in the Otways, left-learning, activist, community-minded, into similar reading matter and music. We’ve exchanged a few emails and are meeting on Sunday. But there’s a troubling bit: he identifies on his Profile as a “Born Again Christian”. Seeking, in religious terms, a woman who is “Born Again Christian. Other Christian. Anglican” (interestedly he did not include from the drop-down menu the option “Catholic”.) Now I find myself asking, what does “Born Again Christian” mean to him? To me, it seems incongruent with his claimed embrace of social justice issues, his activism, his concern for Indigenous issues. I hear “Born Again Christian” and I think Conservative. Right-wing. Rigid. Intolerant. Magical thinking. Are these unfounded prejudices?

Every day, Penelope allowed her plague of suitors to put their case. She had to, for fear they’d harm her children, would kill Telemachus, Odysseus’s heir; would seize her property and rape her. She used delaying tactics, telling them she’d make a decision when her weaving project was completed. Every night, she’d unravel whatever weaving she’d accomplished that day.

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Penelope in a tangle

No-one is threatening to kill my first-born, and yet I feel intimidated. And every night, I unravel, just a little bit more.


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For better or for worse (7 February 2014)

Today I received an email from my online dating site that reads “Congratulations! Your profile generated so much attention that you’ve made it to RSVP’s Top 100!  Not only have you created quite a stir, but you’ve also been polite and responded to your admirers.”

Of course, they would say that, wouldn’t they. Everyone wants reassurance their Profile is doing its job.

I can confirm I am overwhelmed by approaches. And I feel crappy about it.

Some of them are very easy to dismiss: the 27 year old seeking a RED HOT SMOKIN’ COUGAR!!!. Or the ones RSVP fields me with the cover-line “They say opposites attract…”

There are the ones I feel sad for: the 72 year old retired business owner who might have merited a date 20, even 15 years ago. The bloke who works with animals but lives too far away and (heaven help me) can’t spell.

There are a few I am ambivalent about: the community planner who lives too far away and is a bit too old and does not look smokin’, but who writes well and discloses beautifully and shares some values. (After some reflection, I’ve replied suggesting we meet.)

There are some I initially thought sounded interesting but then I backpedalled fast: the law professor who chided me for proposing a way to proceed that didn’t accord with his preferred way of going about it, who came off sounding angry and unhappy. I sent him an email saying “I do appreciate you having made contact. I’m not feeling quite comfortable however so I’d prefer not to take this further.” He replied: “You ass! Thanks for causing me to waste a stamp on an idiot like you. Good luck, because you’re going to need it.”

There are two I’ve actually met. Both are intelligent, decent-seeming people, one is really interesting. I’ll see both again. But it was draining doing two dates back to back, and it did make me ask again: Tell me, why is it I’m doing this? (Cue pic of Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka costume posing the big questions.)

Seriously. Why, after a lifetime of Lone Wolf-dom, am I putting myself out there? Some uncomfortable thoughts occur. Am I doing it because I’ve bought into FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out? Have I actually bought the cultural myth that a person must be coupled to be complete? Am I some down-market version of Jane Fonda, who in her late 70s describes herself as still being on a quest to achieve intimacy within a couple relationship? As if intimacy within a couple relationship is the Holy Grail of life, the Pass/Fail standard, the ultimate aspiration. (Is it?)

Or am I still thrall to some Cinderella myth, some idea that someone else – some man – will magically solve my finances, my social life, determining who I am and what I am worth?

Or is it simply fear of growing old alone? My mother was hospitalized this week. Could it be I’m afraid of being the old lady in the news whose body is found moldering many years after her death, her remains physically missed but her presence in this world – her personality, her companionship – unmissed by all?

I may be temporarily jaded. But at the moment I am thinking it is such as effort, so exhausting, to spend time on dates. I caught myself worrying about how I appear to these strangers (my wrinkles! my skin! my weight!), and I caught myself mentally re-vamping my wardrobe to adjust my image to fit how I perceive these men. If I’m going to be with this person as a couple – Man A or Man B, whichever Man it is – I need to outfit myself to complement them. Don’t I? And I need to tailor my conversation to flatter their interests.

I caught myself apologizing to the gardening buff for riffing on how Islamic gardens are conceptualized as Paradise on earth, as an attempt to recreate the beauty and purity of Paradise here on the material plane. He squinted, and frowned, then allowed me to let him laugh it off as one of my yogic fancies. Silly silly me.

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Tell me again how identity is illusion and we’re all indivisible stardust?

Here’s the problem, possibly. I am I. I may countenance the yogic fancy that I blend with the greater Cosmos – but I am constructed to resist blending with any single male entity. I guess I’m just intimacy resistant. For better or for worse.


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Houston, we have lift off (2 February 2014)

By popular demand – a chorus of two – I am launching my blog.

The title?

Elly Takes a Stab at Relating a.k.a. Sex and The City without the City and, erm, without The Sex (so far. But this could get X-Rated). Oh, and with old people. Or, Mme Strangelove: or how I learnt to stop worrying and love the whole horrible hideous business of letting total strangers think I might conceivably want to bump uglies with them. Or maybe just Dating On A Dime – His.

You might ask, why would I want to do this thing – the blog, not the bumpy uglies stuff – and I would say, earnestly, because I have a self-destructive streak that will still be gloriously vital even after the nuclear holocaust and the ascent of the cockroach lords. Never mind that writing about the men one dates is the cardinal offense against the men one dates, the deal-breaker. (That, and weighing more than 60kg. So they tell me.)

However. I do find it helpful to monitor and keep a log of my eating disorder management program, so why not log my mating management program? Which reminds me… somehow I forgot to mention eating disorders in my RSVP Profile. How could that slip my mind?

You might also ask, why now (the bump uglies stuff, not the blog)?  And that would be a good question. Suffice to say that earlier this week I caught myself in a dream attempting to flirt with two young men who were sharing a lunch table with me in what looked to be a campus canteen. And then I caught myself, in my dream, recognising that at ages 23 and 24 respectively, they were so not interested. And, they were dream wraiths.

Geelong is not known as Sleepy Hollow for nothing. There’s a lot of bed goes on in Geelong. And much of it, I’m certain, involves intelligent articulate decent males aged between 45 and 60 who are in that bed alone and just hanging out, so to speak, to be joined by a 52 year old penniless narky maladjust and her two Brittany dogs. (What’s that? I forgot to mention the dogs’ sleeping habits in my RSVP Profile? Truly, it must be dementia setting in.)

So it’s 24 hours in. 24 hours live, 24 hours active. Don’t those metaphors just resonate? 24 hours, and what have I done? Here’s the score:

I have rejected about a dozen probably perfectly harmless potential axe murderers, as graciously as the checklist responses permit. One of them showed up on the ‘Compatibility Meter’ as Compatibility – Very Low, with RSVP’s encouraging comment, “Erm… sometimes opposites attract?”

I have engaged in shameless display with one man whose RSVP handle is “Apollo 13” – so he’s either a god (Penny Lane, this is for you) or he’s disaster-prone. I am practicing Buddhist detachment and will not make a call on which.

I have scolded another man for providing insufficient information on his profile, so little that the Compatibility Meter threw its hands up; only to have him respond, generously, with a lovely, detailed account of his family and his life, completely at odds with the image his picture had conjured up of a self-satisfied wally with a drinking problem.

I have indicated interest to a man who promptly invited me to email him, which involves purchasing “Stamps”, which cost $10 each. Suddenly my interest plummeted.

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Elly takes a stab… at her ear hole. A slow learner.

How will I afford to date, when I can’t afford so much as a cappuccino? Another good question I hear you asking. I’ll work on it and come back to you…