My reading list: The particular sadness of lemon cake

particular-sadness-of-lemon-cakeby Aimee Bender

Where do people come up with these ideas? I’ll admit that a novel that includes interesting references to cakes (recipes are a bonus) will catch my attention pretty quick. One with lemon-cake in the title wins me hands down (I love lemon cake!).

This story centres on the extraordinary talent of Rose Edelstein who grows up with the ability to sense a person’s emotional state through the food they’ve cooked. She notices it first with her mother who is hiding a deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction with her life. It doesn’t stop there though. She eventually teaches herself to distinguish ingredients, their source, and the emotion of the person who grew or picked the product separately from the person cooking. It makes for a roller-coaster adolescence noted by visits to psychiatrists and counsellors – she won’t eat much and has to deal with the emotional fall-out when she does. She lives every day knowing the truth of her parent’s happiness and failings. Yet, she tells only her brother and her brother’s friend about what is happening to her.

Her brother has his own issues, and as it turns out, his own odd abilities. Her father too had once been afflicted and an older uncle…. A hidden family trait that could have made life much easier for sister and brother if only it hadn’t been so hidden.

In the end, Rose must learn to live with her ability, herself and her knowledge, and accept her family for who they are as well.

The novel has had great reviews and won the SCIBA Award for best fiction as well as an Alex Award. I recommend you take a look. No cracking recipes, but a moving story to digest.

For your cooking pleasure…

Lemony recipes

Jamie Oliver’s Nan’s lemon cake recipe

Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Drizzle Cake

 

Selfies: a non-definitive history of humanity’s obsession with itself

Human beings have always been fascinated by themselves; collectively, as individuals, and personally. If not, why would there be such a glut of self-help books, DVDs, and “experts”. If not for self-interest we wouldn’t have so many psychiatrists and psychologists. If we weren’t fascinated with every aspect of ourselves there would be no beauty industry!

But we are; totally, completely, utterly self-absorbed.

“Selfies” aren’t a modern fad – here one day and gone the next. We’ve been leaving behind selfies for millennia. Little bits of ourselves that state, “I was here” and “I existed”.

The earliest known selfie (that is the earliest I know) was found on a cave wall somewhere in Europe. There are examples in Australia as well. Of course, I’m talking about the hand-print created by spitting paint over the hand while held against the rock. Amid drawings of animals and assorted strange creatures, the hand-print stands out as a bold statement of presence.

France - along time ago. Missing digit could be part of a ritual or could just be a missing digit...

France – along time ago. Missing digit could be part of a ritual or could just be a missing digit…

Australian cave hands

Australian cave hands

Anasazi handprints created by dipping hands in paint rather than spitting or blowing

Anasazi handprints created by dipping hands in paint rather than spitting or blowing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, human-kind learned how to draw faces and paint reasonable likenesses. Portraiture became a form of art in its own right and people started paying for the privilege. Portraits became symbols of power and artists went up a notch or two in status. This led to self-portraits (much more hygienic that paint spitting) by artists who knew that wealthy patrons might ditch them on a whim, and they too needed to say, “I was here”.

Earliest known portraits came from Ancient Egypt. This one is a Roman-Egyptian funeral portrait of a young boy

Earliest known portraits came from Ancient Egypt. This one is a Roman-Egyptian funeral portrait of a young boy

With the invention and spread of photography, portraiture became available to the masses. Now, people passed around photos of themselves at the beach, in a park, or sitting on the back of wagon with a bunch of besties. Even more important, they could now have the portrait printed as a photograph, which they could then turn into a painting of themselves (it was a little hard to take selfies with the early cameras).

Earliest photographs: Robert Cornelius, 1839.

Earliest photographs: Robert Cornelius, 1839.

Earliest photographs: Louis Daguerre 1844. Developer of the daguerrotype

Earliest photographs: Louis Daguerre 1844. Developer of the daguerrotype

As cameras became cheaper and smaller, and film developing cheaper and easier, the slow proliferation of selfies started to take hold. Granted, they often cut half their own head off because there was only one lens pointing in one direction and they couldn’t see themselves when they pressed the shutter, but they were on their way. Tripods and self-timers grew in popularity. Still a lot of guesswork, but with practice a good selfie was achievable. It took a week to find out how good, but waiting for your photographs to be developed was being streamlined and would time would be reduced from seven days to only two and then one within a few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you had a Polaroid camera, you could see your wonderful (or not so wonderful) shots within minutes, but these were expensive in the early years and bulky.

Andy Warhol self portrait with Polaroid camera c 1971

Andy Warhol self portrait with Polaroid camera c 1971

And then along came Jones(reference has nothing whatsoever to do with photography) or rather, mobile phones that could also take pictures. What wonderfully handy gadgets these proved to be. From that moment the selfie blossomed into the often narcissistic trend it is today. It has its uses though. For instance, taking a quick pic of yourself in a dress you’re considering buying but you need the opinion of all your friends first. For those dreaded before shots and celebratory after shots (before/after the party where you drank yourself into oblivion or before/after your 12 week gym/diet program…. you get the picture, right?). Now that smartphones and a lot of digital cameras give you the option of “turning the lens around”, you can even avoid cutting half your head off!

Me! Selfie for Twitter profile

 

Images were sourced from these places:

Handprints in Australia and France – The Bradshaw Foundation

Anasazi handprints – Rock Art Pages

Roman Egyptian Funeral Portrait

Earliest photographic portraits – Robert Cornelius & Louis Daguerre

Polaroid Selfie – Andy Warhol

Me!

Life Influencers: who helped shaped your worldview?

I’ve been thinking about influencers. Not in social media terms where influence is fast becoming a new form of currency, life influencers; specifically, my life. I’ve mentioned previously that John Steinbeck has been a great motivator for me. Others are Mary Stewart, Mary Daly, Caiseal Mor, and Melody Gardot: writers, musicians, artists. There are many others including my family, but some things are too close to the bone to blog about. I prefer to stick to safer, less grey areas. The deep and the dark are reserved for storytelling.

john steinbeck

John Steinbeck wrote once that he feared the day that somewhere someone would be reading one of his stories and realise that he really wasn’t very good. That admittance of fear of failure has stayed with me for years. One, it was exactly how I felt about my writing (in fact, about my whole Self). Two, it showed me that I wasn’t alone. If such a great and successful writer shared this disbelief in Self and yet continue on then I could too. I’m a simple soul and have pushed past many barriers based on the notion that if “so and so” can do it then I can too… None of us are alone in our fears yet reaching this understanding can be a difficult path. It’s a waste of time, isn’t it, when all we have to do is talk about our fears with people (and listen as well), but it’s a necessary journey. Short for some, long for others, but a requirement if we are to reach any kind of self-actualisation.

mary stewart

Mary Stewart created a character in book, The Crystal Cave, Emrys (Merlin) who showed it was okay to be a loner and a dreamer. The magic is on the inside. Work toward realising your dreams and it will be released. She also connected me to a long relationship with myth, magic, the power of story, and the importance of history. Not the history we learn at school but the hidden words and forgotten people between the pages who have exerted great influence over what we know of the world.

marydaly

Mary Daly. Wow, if you haven’t read her Outercourse: the bedazzling voyage yet and you’re interested in women’s history, language and feminism, go borrow it from the library. Magnificent eye-opener of a read. Mary was a radical feminist, philosopher and theologian. What she could do with language was amazing. She taught me a lot and expanded my vocabulary exponentially from restrictive man-speak to inclusive woman-speak. I don’t agree with everything she ever said, but Mary Daly helped me turn vague thought-patterns into concepts that shaped my adult-life. She showed me how to think “outside the square”.

Mary Daly, pioneering feminist who tussled with BC, dies at 81

Caiseal+Mor+harp

Caiseal Mor is an Australian writer and musician. I love his Wanderers Trilogy. I’ve read it only once but I remember some of his characters as if they were real people in my life and his story hooked me fully. Being able to relate stories with powerful music gave it a depth you won’t often experience with a book only. It’s similar to reading the book and then watching an excellent interpretation in film. I saw him at several events later and thought that his connection to his history and a “background” world, and his ability to convey meaning through story, music and art were inspiring. His music was the first I bought on CD and I played it constantly. Think Celtic folk music with lots of drums, violin and harp. I still love it. His wiki page has a good list of his novels and other works.  The Cds were produced in conjunction with The Wanders Trilogy. You can learn more about him at his current website www.mahjee.com and purchase some of his music. Some of his older pieces (books/cds) are out of print now – I should make sure I look after my copies…

Melody Gardot is a jazz singer from Philadelphia who has had an enormous struggle with health and come through a dark tunnel to find her voice. Her ability to tell story through her songs and express herself are without equal. I spent most of today listening to her sing and talk. She has a wonderful way with words, sharp intelligence, and a perception of life and others that go way beyond your average singer-songwriter. When asked what had been her number one lesson in life so far (she is around 25), she answered, “Above all else, the greatest joy that any of us will ever experience is serving others. When you serve others and then you serve yourself, your life is enriched.”

Melody Gardot singing Who will comfort me

  and the documentary where I first discovered her existence, An Accidental Musician: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O47HEtfdzyQ This is part one. I recommend watching all four.

The wisdom of the above five people have had a profound effect on the way I relate to the world around me, they’ve influenced many aspects of my life, not just writing. Part of what I’ve learned from reading and listening to John, Mary Stewart, Mary Daly, Caiseal Mor and Melody Gardot is that we all have stories and stories are for sharing.