Abject Horror in the 21st Century


picassoThe term abject is often defined as a particularly low state of being, misery or disillusionment. But it is also used in a philosophical context to describe the discord which exists between self and other, whereby the other can be ‘other self’.

Bulgarian/French philosopher and feminist Julia Kristeva explored the concept at length, whereby,

” the abject marks a “primal order” that escapes signification in the symbolic order; the term is used to refer to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or between the self and the other.”

So, what does it actually mean, and how do you laugh in the face of it?


I first came across the concept of ‘abject horror’ while studying Samuel Beckett’s one act play “Krapp’s Last Tape”. The central character makes a series of tape recordings throughout his life, and is then faced with listening back to a younger self. The younger Krapp is filled with ideas, dreams and resolutions that seem at times absurd and repulsive to Krapp, and at others poignant and eternal. These mixed responses invoke in Krapp the eternal love/hate binary of self, in which we become both parent and child unto ourselves.


The play is complex, stark and uneasy and yet the central concept is simple. How to we view aspects of ourselves once we have ‘cast them off?’

Things that were once part of us, can become almost instantly repulsive once we are disconnected from them. Parts of our physical body for example, a fingernail, skin, hair, blood. Once warm and safe in the cradle of our being, these are now almost unrecognisable as part of us, shunned, and sent away. So too our creative or emotional expressions. Words, brushstrokes, sounds, and images of ourselves.

The other day I was doing some voice recordings for my personal work with children’s literature. I spoke my story and it felt ok, nice even. Then I played it back and heard it. I cringed, shuddered and closed my eyes. I crept away like a coward. Then blasted it with bravado and told it I was in no way connected to it. Eventually, I transformed it with a voice recording app so it no longer sounded like me.

Chastising myself for my precious ego, I was yet pleased with my escape. Later that day I asked my daughter to record a poem. Happily, she grabbed the recorder and took off, returning a few moments later excited to hear her work. But as I played it back her face fell. She scowled and grabbed the recorder.

“Turn it off Mum. I sound so horrible. It doesn’t sound like me.”

I cuddled her. I buoyed her . I reassured, cajoled and … then I showed her how to turn it into a chipmunk voice on the app. We laughed together, relieved to have been saved from the abject horror of discarded self.

Social Media and Self

PilgrimsThe indisputable impact of social media on individual identity is much discussed, but has yet to be measured. With the advent of regular externalising of self, through posting images, opinions, and passing moods, the self is working hard to keep up with itself. The ever fragile, porous and malleable force that is ego, faces new frontiers in the journey of self. And while many pilgrims elect to travel together, with a like-minded group , family or tribe, still the journey must be taken alone.

When Lost Selves are Beautiful

It is no secret that anxiety is the fastest growing medical phenomena around and unlikely that the two are not related. Yet this is the topic for a deeper discussion. Yet the beginning point of that anxiety, the  fracturing of self that occurs when we express ourselves and commit to an idea, feeling or point of view in a passing moment. And to ask the question, why do we ultimately, reject ourselves?

It is unlikely we will ever see our own cast off fragments as truly beautiful. It is a beauty we could only ever glimpse, from the perspective of self.

And this is why we have loved ones to glimpse them for us, and tell us they’re ok. We need that stuff. That stuff is great.

As the performance of ‘self’ in the public arena is only just getting warmed up, we have much to learn about how to safely navigate it all and plenty to teach our children.

When I look back at things I have written, images of my self or comments I have ventured and cringe and recoil as though looking down at my own sawn off ear, I remember Beckett. And I remember the alarming and wonderful discovery I have made in recent years.

LaughterWhen a loved one dies, there is one profound resonance that remains for me. It is not so much the look of them or even memories shared. It is the sound of them. Mostly their laugh. I can remember the way they laughed. I can hear it so clearly, high above the dross of all the detail, pure and eternal, rolling out across the heavens as though they are literally sitting up there blasting away the darkness with a never-ending chuckle.

Whatever comes, we must always remember to laugh at ourselves. Let the sound of our laughter immortalise our former selves.


Remembering Jane Austen-Pens and Potatoes


I am standing at the sink scrubbing potatoes. I am doing it more quickly than usual as I am still editing the final copy of an article, and there is a very high possibility that the distraction of the spots on the potatoes will surpass the importance of dots that come at the end of sentences.

As I scrub, I think of Jane Austen, as I so often do at these times, who wrote her novels “in between peeling potatoes.”

I have always loved this image, ever since I first encountered it in Jane Austen Class at University. And how I loved that class. The way it sat so unapologetically against the backdrop of inner city share house squalor, boots that I had managed to fix using a bicycle repair kit, and the taunting persistent possibility of its complete irrelevance.

The magic of Jane Austen class was illuminated further by the fact that I was in love with the boy who sat in front of me. There was no greater Mr Darcy than he. Indeed, he was proud, brilliant and scornful, and even wore a cape. I think I just dropped my pencil.

While Mr Cape was a heady distraction, I did manage to absorb a great deal of the actual course material, and later encountered Austen over and again, in various courses on women’s literature and the like. Her relevance took many forms, and now, years later, in the absence of Darcensical distraction, the currently relevant part, is the insurmountable interference of women’s work in the creative life of a woman (or domestically tethered man). Peeling Potatoes.

Now Austen was not of the serving class, so we can imagine she had more time than many to attend to her craft. She was also without children, or husband and this would indeed have freed up some creative energy. But is it so, that as it was then, so it is now, and to support one’s creative inclination in life, one must hope for the passing of a very distant relative with a great deal of money. Or marry well?

Happily not. We are many of us free as individuals now, to make our way, as best we can. And this is a wonderful thing. But with basic needs met, the fact remains, that attempting to create quality creative work amongst the cacophony of domestic duties, work commitments and so on, can leave one feeling slightly disembodied. Ok, maniacally frustrated?

Morning dawns, the cat crows at the window and doves alight the branches of the Amber tree. I am, as always, awake before every one, and I smile at the new day and tip toe across the floor. Outside, I sit in half lotus and drink coffee, like I’m not supposed to, and get ready to go running. In this moment I cast out the net and fish for half remembered dreams,  enlightened solutions to problems , and heart’s yearnings, and bring in the net to see what I’ve caught.

I could write a novel, right there and then. I could sit on the rose coloured decking boards hunched over a typewriter, until the light faded and the evening had no choice but to come. I could sleep, curled up on the cane couch, and in my dreams I could write again, and the next day, throw food in a pack and drive to the lake and write, and  stand in the kitchen stirring a pot with one hand and write,  I could get it all down if I just started now….

A dove takes flight, and a leaf falls to the ground in its wake. Moved on by the sound of footsteps that even I have only just heard now. A sleepy child pads towards me, peering out under bothered hair, casting my way, a vaguely accusatory look, as if I personally made morning come too soon. She climbs onto my lap, an elbow to the ribs, a knee under my chin, and the novel drains away.

Later, I go walking across barmy paddocks, greeting pretty cows with a smile and rousing ducks from their marshy reveries. If Darcy were here he’d be breaking a sweat. And I’ve barely written all week.

9 Really Good Reasons Not to be a Writer

Customer: Can I eat it?

Writer: No.IMG_2521

Customer: Can I wear it?

Writer: No

Customer: Okay Bye.

Being a writer is seriously one of the stupidest things a person could try and do. If you are one of those miserably afflicted by Remington dreaming, it’s time to take up something else, anything will do…   go now swiftly, while there’s still time.. …oh all right read on if you must, and then let it rest, because… and you know this already…

1. Writers have no career prospects.

Getting published is about as easy as rescuing a beached whale with a cheesegrater. While you are waiting to be published your ego will suffer so extensively that by the time you give up on being a writer you will have the professional confidence of a postage stamp licker, and have lost most of your hair. If you persist, you will find that..

2.Writers cannot say they are writers.

It is impossible to actually call yourself a writer and keep a straight face. No matter how you try and say it, a casual aside, purposeful optimism, raw bravado or self-deprecating cool, something will give you away. A twitch of the nose, an eyebrow, a hair flick. You cannot in all seriousness, be taken seriously, when you say you are a writer. You will inevitably cite your day job first and if you don’t have one, invent one.

3. All writers who do say they are writers, are tossers.

If you do somehow manage to get through the introductory sentence, you will then be required to describe what you are writing about. This second stage, is hardly ever traversed, unless you are Salman Rushdie, without sounding like you are in Grade 2 and you’ve just announced you plan to be an astronaut. However earnest your topic may be, you can guarantee the person listening is not actually listening but concentrating on nodding and shifting their gaze in equal parts, so as not to reveal their inner smirk with a nose twitch, eyebrow or hair flick.

4.Writers can’t speak properly.

Writers are constantly shifting their pitch between the affected English lyricist and the street wise, salt of the earth, common folk.So their sentences come out like this:

     Yes I quite agree my dear, One does tend to see things in an awfully

        feckin odd, bloody bizarre way

    when one is out there on the precipice of one’s life staring into

       the bloody great big cosmic nothin’, hey brother.

5. Writers have no friends.

Writers cannot have friends. Any friends they have are fodder for absurdist theatre, in which case they are no longer friends. Friends who are not satirised, feature in tragi-drama, and are equally deeply offended. Any friends that are left after that, are getting ready to leg it as they are tired of you never having any money to pay for lunch.

6. Writers are Thieves.

There are now so many thoughts in the world, that Writers have to constantly google their original thoughts to make sure someone else didn’t say it first. Which they inevitably did. So writers feel disproportionately guilty, false . Indeed, the range of new thoughts available are now so few, it makes a writer feel …. like butter scraped over too much bread, when one would rather feel sort of …unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.

7. Writing poses a serious health risk.

When I was a young adult I discovered my favourite writer Richard Brautigan, had committed suicide.  Wha? Ba…? How?

RB was the coolest cleverest, funniest ,most unique Remington wielding individual on the planet.  How could he leave like this?

I soon discovered most writers commit suicide at some point in their lives.

8. Writing cannot be eaten or worn.

If you have tried, like me, to sell your wares at the local market, you will discover the true idiocy of this pursuit.

Customer : Can I eat it?

Writer: No

Customer: Can I wear it?

Writer: No.

Customer: Ok Bye.

9. Writers are terrible at maths.

10.   Writers cannot be happy.

If writers were happy, stories would go like this;

Once upon a time, they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

To all you writers who venture on…I take my hat off to you. And yes I am wearing a beret. ..What?…



How to Write Poetry- Four Lines a Day

IMG_3092Not so long ago, when the faceless abyss of freelance writing seemed particularly jagged and packs were set down on the snow in silent pause, a friend threw me ‘a loop of rope’. Four lines a day he said. Poetry. Four lines a day, and we’ll get through this.

I had written many things before, some poetic in nature, but none of them in Iambic pentameter. I loved it. Instantly. I hadn’t even tried it yet and I loved it. I loved that it was a frivolous challenge void of a point, that it was a dialogue, that it had purpose and that most of all, it was driven by the spirit of writing just for the heck of it. Brooding clouds faded, the sun came out for a moment, and every day forthwith was a picnic in a storm in the brilliant shadows of poets long gone.

Being both in the possession of mildly obsessive temperament we rarely wrote four lines a day, as four lines was never enough. The poetry became a touchstone by which to measure the quality of each day, a meditation, a conversation, an archaeological investigation, and an affirmation of the collective writer’s mantra “I write therefore I am”.

And so the poetry set about its healing work, but it wasn’t always deep. In fact it usually wasn’t When you’re set the challenge of writing poetry every day you’re bound to authenticity. Sure some days the exaltations were fine and high. But when they weren’t , well, you simply had to be happy with what presented itself. A limerick about the boy beach band phenomena, rhyming verse about spinach pie, the first four lines of an epic science fiction tomb. Bad poetry, recited with a cockney accent.

On the days we wrote poetry we actually wanted to like, trusting another writer was invaluable. Happily, my friend was a disciple of precision, and would nae reward a badly written poem.  In his dedication to editing he was my perfect teacher.  Calling for last drinks and hailing the metaphorical taxi home, he kept my writing sober. And he was compassionate to the end about my need to write in a sort of semi possessed spontaneous style during which I had little space for re-reading and refining. Though, in my defence, I may have occasionally produced quality in this state. Still, I concede, much can be gained by a brave and thorough revisiting of one’s work.

Collaboration, the very thing my churlish ego had rejected was my now an irresistible muse. And in the end I wrote not for quality, but the joy of writing every day with purpose.

And so my lesson was spelled out in the sand.  When it comes to matters of the craft, whatever that may be, we must approach them with open hearts, hold them lightly and practice them often. The subsequent joy is exponential.

So next time you find yourself sitting before a half written page that taunts you like some stagnant ponding wasteland.. or parent in law..reflecting in ill fashioned shards the failings of your eternally misguided or worse, mediocre soul…get out of your head, find a writing pal and try it.

Four lines a day.






Why I Love Fiverr


I love Fiverr

I love its  ‘how fiverr works’ video.

Its strobe-like, migraine-inducing medium- voltage  diatribe, and its pushy, careless Haviana wearing voiceover.

I love its generous contribution to the overdiagnosis of ADHD, a mythology in which the problem lies with the individual, not the machine.

Its Tinder-like exploitation of the collective non-committal psyche. I love that it has two rr’s so you sound like a young American when you say it.

Its brazen pimpyoface profiles, its shiny, smiling writers driven drunk by the compulsion to simply exist, discounting their five dollar rates as though being paid for your work is a primitive habit we should have grown out of.

I love its broken promises to hardworking people in developing nations who just spent hours answering the inane questions of clients who were never going to pay anyway.

Most of all , I love its swift delivery of the final humiliation for us first world Loserrs who dedicated their youth to the humanities and took out unspeakable student loans for their craft. The years spent share housing with country club vegans, the guy with Tourettes and the cocktail glass twins while we huddled under a camping store blanket in the corner reading Tolstoy, throughly convinced an education would somehow lead to a roof over our heads.

If you haven’t heard of it, Fiverr is an online freelance discount store, where just behind the oversized moustaches and toxic scented votives you can bag yourself a freelancer for a fiverr. Fiverr is another welt on an already suffering body of workers, which captures perfectly the zeitgeist of our times. But the gall of its unapologetic exploitation, the limp assertion that this is a platform empowering people,  the laziness of its pitch, as though we have all fallen asleep at the wheel and won’t actually realise what’s going on..well  this is truly worth a round of applause.

More Soma anyone?




International Women’s Day


My daughter throws her bag in the car and hides her face under her hat. I can hear her crying and its not like her. I give her some space. Then.

“Are you ok?”

“It’s just…”

“It’s just  so …..”

“It’s just so unfair.”

It’s hard to get the words out sometimes, when you’re nine, and you don’t have “relentless gender inequality” or ” blazing masculine ego” in your vocabulary.

“What happened?”

She is red in the face but it’s not from shame.

“I can run faster than all of them. But the boys are so …. they  say I can’t run as fast as them, when I can.”

“I know you can.”

“Then why do they laugh at me. Why do they call me stupid?”

“Because that’s what boys do.”

I sigh and remember the day I cut off all my hair. The same age. Addicted to Overalls.

I am momentarily amused to find that this incident co-incides perfectly with my plans. To speak to my daughters about the whole thing. International Women’s Day. The path ahead. The fact that this year, on  Women’s Day I have been reminded all day in the media about the importance of taking into account how men feel…about Women’s Day…so as not leave to them out.

But my usual righteous tenacity has lost its shine and I am weary.

Instead, I calmly explain what this dynamic is all about. To my relief my daughters seem already to know what I mean. My 7 year old chimes in with a few cheery suggestions for a special Women’s Dinner tonight. The comforter. The mediator.  7 going on 25.

As evening falls I regard the day with an unexpected sadness. Because there is so much
still to be done. Because I’ve barely heard the word Feminism since I wrote my thesis. On Angela Carter. In 2002. Because a woman dies from domestic violence every week, in Australia. Because I have two growing girls and I am tired. But tired will pass.

To all the courageous women who have gone before, I can still see your footprints and I will not let them fade. I am always, as I must be, close behind.


Anna O’Faolan is a freelance writer, poet, editor and children’s author.

Creative Thinking – The Next Big Thing

scan-005According to recent research.. don’t you love that..I’m just going to start every sentence with that line for the next 24 hours and see what happens. Anyway , apparently the people who make the big decisions on the planet have decided that cultivating Creative Thinking and Emotional Intelligence are the most “lucrative” investment you can make in your future.

The reason for this is simple. And does not involve any of that altruism nonsense.These ‘skills’ are the ones we are least able to replace with robots. And apparently, research has shown, we humans actually like to connect with one another. That talking to each other is important.

Perhaps by the time we are Elders, storytelling will have returned to its mantle and will once again hold a respected role in our communities.