I have a motto. It’s not the kind that’s inscribed in Latin under the family crest or anything – just a sentence that, when faced with something I instinctually view like it has the potential to infect me with ebola, I try to summon up to help me overcome my aversion. Here it is.
Bite off more than you can chew, then chew like buggery.
I actually did try to translate it into Latin at one point but got stuck on buggery. It’s not a word listed in Cassell’s and even when you try to get around the Australian vernacular with sodomy or anal intercourse it’s still surprisingly unhelpful for a dictionary. Anyway, as a saying to use as a guide to life choices it’s not particularly elegant (or even logical when you actually think about it) but it helps me get over my instinctual desire to hole up in my bunker and only emerge to replenish my supply of books and alcohol.
When I decided that I wanted to be a writer I must admit to falling for the romantic image of the socially awkward introvert happily spending their days with only their keyboard for company. It seemed perfect. I could write. I thought I had interesting things to say and I was happy spending vast amounts of time in my own company wearing pyjamas that probably should see more of the washing machine. What I didn’t realise was that being a writer involves a great deal of self promotion and public speaking – two undertakings I look on with about as much enthusiasm as snake handling. But, as I have to repeatedly tell myself, no one loves every aspect of his or her work. So this is where the bite off more blah blah motto comes in. When offered a reading, rather than laughing hysterically or pleading sudden onset diarrhoea and running from the room, I take a deep breath, silently intone the biting and the buggery and lie through my teeth. Yes, I’d love to. Thank you so much for thinking of me. And this, friends, is how I came to be reading at two Adelaide Fringe performances over one weekend.
The invitation to take part in the first performance came late last year from the highly respected and lovely poet Ray Tyndale. She asked if I’d like to join her and several other writers I love and admire to do one show over a dinner at Sarah’s Sisters’, which is a beautiful restaurant down near the beach in Semaphore specialising in local, sustainable vegetarian cuisine.
Biting, chewing, you’ve got the theme by now. Of course, I said yes. One of the significant down sides to this method of decision-making is that you generally consent to the undertaking before you’ve read the fine print. The gig was called Seduction: Luscious poetry and lovely food. Once the emails about matching poems to courses on the degustation menu started bouncing between us it dawned on me that the poetry we were expected to bring to the table needed to be about food, sex, sexy food and foody sex – given the title of the show it’s a pretty simple assumption but one that had passed so far over my head it left a vapour trail.
The fundamental problem with this is that I don’t generally write about food or sex. To begin with I don’t have a sense of smell (it’s a genetic thing – my Grandmother didn’t either) so it follows that my sense of taste is what I would call disabled. Unless food is so salty it leaves raw patches on my tongue or is stuffed with chillies, to me it will taste bland. The upside is that you can fart right next to me in an elevator or have milk curdling halitosis and I’ll still smile at you and not edge away. The downside is that I will probably complement you on the meal you’ve cooked for me in such a confusing way it might come across as a slight. That meal looked absolutely gorgeous. I love the way you matched your salad bowl to the colours of the vegetables.
And as for the sex poems….well, I just don’t write confessional poetry. Besides, people these days only want to hear about grungy, urban, 50 Shades of Grey type sex, which I’ve got to come clean and admit, is not the type of sex I’m having. And to be frank, writing about sex when you’ve been with the same partner for twenty years then reading it to an audience seems like a reliable fast track to divorce.
So, sex and food poetry. Where’s the Mylanta? I tried to write new material. It sucked. I tried to find old poems that at least mentioned food. Zilch. The course I was assigned was gnocchi. Surprisingly, I had no gnocchi poems. Neither did the thought of gnocchi inspire sexual rapture. I Google-image searched gnocchi. I was not aroused. Other sex and food based Google searches revealed that the majority of people tend to get jiggy with dessert ingredients rather than Sicilian flavoured pasta dishes. I thought there might at least be some sort of interesting Italian food-based fetish involving gnocchi or at least tomato-based sauces. I knew carbs were out but this seemed a bit extreme.
To cut a long and self-pitying story short, I ended up being the only poet on the night that failed to mention her dish, or even any of its ingredients. In desperation I read an old poem about a socially awkward apiarist, one about eating freeze-dried food on the Overland track, a new and admittedly disposable poem about sexual comments using food as metaphors that relied on a terrible dick joke as a punch line and, in a lame effort to prop my set up with humour, I whipped out an old poem that compares my vagina to a car. Gold.
Fortunately I was supported by the brilliance of the other performers – Heather Taylor Johnson, Alison Flett, Mag Merrilees and Ray Tyndale all brought their A- game and it ended up being a wonderful night. The food was sensational and the staff at Sarah’s Sisters’ put on a fantastic night. Plus, the show got a brilliant write up the next day on Radio Adelaide’s web-site.
I’ve just looked at the word count for this post and since a) it is ridiculously long and b) I have to get out of these pyjamas and get ready for work, I’m going to leave it here and write about Fringe Performance number 2 tomorrow. Just to give you a teaser it involves tears, handling criticism, more tears, PMS and turning up to a performance looking so red-eyed a reviewer tells you that you look stoned. Suffice it to say the motto backfires again.