Christian Grey is a [blank]

50 Shades of Grey. 12th of February. Opening night in Australia. Three girlfriends and I went to see it.

“You’re pretty excited about this,” one of them said half-accusingly, as I bounced up and down and drank out of the mini bottle of champagne I’d smuggled into the cinema.

“As excited I was about Magic Mike,” I trilled.

Oh, 50 Shades. If only you were half as good as Magic Mike. (A film that had a plot; was tongue-in-cheek, had plenty of the female gaze; and some damn charming flirting, thanks to Mr. Channing Tatum, a man whose beefcake looks I am ambivalent about, yet who still is a master banterer.)

I know, I know. The book is abysmal. In 2012, I wrote how I hated 50 Shades, and the memory still lingers. The source material — Twilight — was bastardized as fan fiction, the characters re-named and the plot slightly changed. The writing was so poor as to rank with one of the worst books I read that year, let alone ever.

So why get so excited?

Because it looked like fun.
Because it had a prominent female director.
Because Jamie Dornan is hot.
Because it looked like a fun night out with the girls, watching a movie with a hot dude who makes out with you in an elevator, and spends half his days buttoning or un-buttoning his button-downs. (I don’t mind the repetition in this case.)

At the start, the movie theatre was geared up. Hordes of women, bubbles in hand, giggled and even laughed uproariously. My friends and I (bolstered by two glasses of bubbles apiece) snickered and commented our way through. The only people who didn’t seem to get into the lighthearted spirit of the film were the men scattered around the back of the cinema, silently sitting not with their girlfriends, but by themselves. Creepy. And perhaps the movie’s ultimate viewer.

Who else would enjoy seeing a woman be stalked?

See, I kind of forgot about that. The book’s bad writing stayed with me while the stalkerish tendencies faded with time. They built up and built up over the film — you could feel the audience getting more annoyed. (Or at least me and my friends did.)

Item 1: When a guy shows up at work, and you have a crush on him, you might be a bit flustered. When he shows up IN YOUR NEW APARTMENT after you’ve known him a while, your natural reaction would be — what?
Here’s mine: “What the f— are you doing here?”
Instead, Anastasia simpers her way through the scene.

Item 2: When someone gives you a car as a present — and SELLS YOUR OLD CAR WITHOUT TELLING YOU — you know, the car that you’ve absolutely loved, that makes you feel kinda cool because of its vintage vibe — your natural reaction again would be, “WTF.” And here we go with Anastasia’s blankness. Does she have no emotions like a normal human being?

Item 3: When one goes out to a bar, one does not wear a small t-shirt, no matter how tight it is. Seriously. All of my friends and I simultaneously pointed out what a stupid fashion choice it is. Anastasia has a cute roommate. She would never let Ana go out of the house in a dumb slogan tee. This isn’t 1998. It was an incongruous choice.

The list goes on. Let’s see, there were the heavy-handed closeups of her biting the ‘Grey’ pencil (yes, a real pencil). Then there was the completely bizarre scene where they were going through her contract, each seated at opposite ends of a conference table, backlight with orange light. It took me half the scene to figure out it was supposed to be a sunset. (Or was it? Even now I’m not sure. Perhaps it was meant to allude to a 1980s music video? Who knows.) The bit that really annoyed me was how there were not one, but two scenes where Anastasia wakes up, covers herself in a sheet, and walks out to the living room to find Christian playing a piano. Do you know where we saw this before? Pretty Woman. Where it was done much better. We didn’t need to see it twice in 50 Shades.

I do have to say that, for all of its abysmal writing, having the book set in first person did lend itself to a slightly deeper knowledge of how Anastasia was feeling, particularly during the sex scenes. What was she thinking or feeling during them? I have zero idea. I do know that, for all this is a movie written by a women, with a woman director, for a female audience, there were certainly a lot of gratuitous nipples. Did every single scene where she’s been handcuffed or tied up include one of Anastasia’s nipples? Why couldn’t it have been one of Christian’s nipples? Why a nipple at all? Why so many nipples? Whyyyyy?

Oh, I forgot. It was for all of the single men silently ringing the movie theatre, sitting with their hands in their laps.
Should I be disgusted, or should I be happy that, hey, at least someone got off by watching this movie?

I shall not delve into the BDSM aspect, except to say that E.L. James should have read Dan Savage’s Savage Love back columns for the past 20 years. And that I’m positive that many of my friends — from the one who is an occasional dominatrix to the one who is presently exploring their love of kink — would be highly insulted to see how the film portrays what should be a consensual act between two people who are vastly enjoying themselves in their different roles.

Finally, I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

Why does Christian, when introducing Anastasia to the glider instructor, tack on her surname? Who in real life ever does that?
And why, dear Lord, why, do they spend so much time pouring white wine (what’s wrong with red?) and then never drinking it? Oh, the humanity.

And that’s my main problem with 50 Shades. The small details are wrong and wrong and wrong again, obscuring from view any amount of pleasure we can derive from a visually appealing film filled with great music and two hot actors.

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Happy Straya Day!

Happy Australia Day, everyone!

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2014 Books: What I Loved, And Didn’t

This is a post I look forward to writing each year. Since 2011, I’ve let you know what I’ve read the year prior. (You can catch up with what I read in 20112012, and 2013).

Goodreads pages

2014 Books – the Stats:

  • Read (parts of) 80 books. The six I didn’t finish were: Swan Song, by Robert McCammon, was a Book Club read that was not only too lengthy for us to manage, but repeated Stephen King’s The Stand way too closely. I disliked both. The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World, by Thomas Keneally, started off well but became engrossed in minutiae. I couldn’t put up with all the men’s names. The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte Mary Yonge, came about because I’d re-read Little Women in ’13, and Jo references it several times. But its tiresome morality and huge length made me put it down. Questions of Travel, by Michelle de Kretzler, was supposed to be a pick for Book Club; for some reason, we decided not to, and I put the book down as it wasn’t gripping me. The Forgotten Garden, by Katherine Morton, was so blah that I barely remember discarding it. Couldn’t manage to finish The Marriage Plot, by Geoffrey Eugenidies. (My review on my Booklist page: I found 1980s Brown students to be insufferably boring. Booooooooring. I won’t be reading any more Eugenidies.)
  • Re-read the entire Dark is Rising sequence, which I loved in childhood and loved anew. Sense & Sensibility was a fun re-read, before re-watching the film. I enjoyed re-reading two James Herriott novels, and The Boxcar Children was another childhood foray. It seemed like a much harder book back when I read it, which given its level of English had to have been when I was around six years old.
  • Completed 74 total books.

Best of 2014’s Books:

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain. Easily my favorite book of the year, I can’t stop recommending it to people — introverts and extroverts alike. While I wish there were certain points it delved into (introvert parents vs. extrovert children, instead of just the opposite), the points it make have helped me see my friends and family in a new light. I’ll be re-reading this for certain.
  2. The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks, Amy Stewart. I rarely buy books for myself (preferring that most amazing of institutions, the public library), but this is one I’m proud to have grace my shelves. I couldn’t stop smiling as I read it, reading aloud tidbits to my long-suffering boyfriend. Now, to just grow the plants to make my own booze…
  3. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. The same long-suffering boyfriend had to physically hide this book from me during the weekend I read it, because I was sick and kept staying up too late to read it. I couldn’t put it down, and believe you won’t be able to, either. And I say that as someone fairly ambivalent about Tartt’s other bestseller, A Secret History.
  4. The Keepers of the House, Shirley Ann Grau. A solid book that makes you think, this was a selection of mine for my Book Club. A Pulitzer Prize winner from the 1960s, it has stayed with me throughout the year.
  5. Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, Meredith Small. Biocultural reasoning, people. That’s what it’s about. Why human babies are the way they are, physically and mentally, and how different cultures raise them. Fascinating, albeit embarrassing to carry on the tram.
  6. The Magician King (The Magicians, #2), Lev Grossman. The first of the trilogy annoyed me slightly, so it was several months before I picked up the second (and then, quickly, the third). Thankfully, the annoyance was due to the main character being an arse — and guess what? He’s matured and isn’t so much. This is a fun fantasy series, one I’m glad to have read.
  7. The Edge of the Woods, Ceinwen Langley. My friend Cei was one of the first Australians who befriended me in Melbourne when I moved here 4.5 years ago. Although we no longer live in the same city, we still keep in touch frequently thanks to social media and our blogs — and so it was with great joy that I read her first book. It’s lovely, and you should read it, too.
  8. Untitled manuscript, N. R. Nothing gives me more joy than seeing my talented friends do what they do best. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the first readers of my friend N.’s unpublished manuscript — one I’m sure will warrant a best-selling book deal. Stay tuned…

Worst of 2014’s Books:

  1. Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts. After years of seeing every CouchSurfing friend of mine carry this book around, I finally committed to reading it. It started off so well, then delved into wild forays — into other countries, into plotlessness. I’m not mad at the writer, I’m mad at his editor. How could s/he have let this go on? Easily half the book — and its overly clunky descriptions — should have been erased before publication.
  2. Oh Myyy!, George Takei. Total and utter drivel. Look, I love George Takei as much as the next Star Trek: TOS fan, but the fact this was published as anything more than a free e-book means the publishing world is not doing its job.
  3. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferrazzi. I really, honestly thought that the author was in his 80s, the way that he talks about this “newfangled website” called “LinkedIn” and tries to explain how to use it. This is one book I shouldn’t have bothered finishing.
  4. Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, Adam Alter. A rip-off of Malcolm Gladwell, everything about this is boring and wrong. The entire title, in fact, goes around the so-called “fact” that a certain shade of pink makes men less violent. In America. Where pink (now that we’re not Victorians) is seen as feminine and thus weak. Try running the study in India or an indigenous culture and get back to us before your trumpet this as some amazing “fact.”
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundara. Yup, I hated it. That’s all there is to say, really. What a chore to read. At least it was short.

So there we have it. I’m happy to say that I actually read quite a few amazing books this year, and even more than were exactly what I needed at the time, be it a dry history book or a fluffy beach read on a trip.

Keep track of what I’m reading throughout the year via GoodReads, or my short reviews of the books on my Booklist page. And remember: there’s always time to Read (More) this year.

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Holding a Brushtail in the Palm of Your Hand

One of my most amazing wildlife encounters in Australia happened last night, in the kitchen of my friend Tom’s parents’ house. Sebastian and I had gone for a weekend out to the Grampians, a mountain range northwest of Melbourne, to see Tom (who was one of my good friends when I lived in London in 2003, and who is presently visiting his folks).

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Theresa (in Pioneer seedcorn hat) with Little the Possum

We were all sitting around the table enjoying some home-made wine from one of their family friends, having a bit of a chat (the phrase ‘fair dinkum’ was used), when Tom’s mother walked over with a little bundle of fur. It was a brush-tailed possum baby named Little, who’d been discovered by Tom’s sister a few weeks ago after it had been orphaned.

Now, your North Americans might be thinking, “Possum? That ain’t no opossum!” And you’re right, because it’s not. This little guy is a marsupial possum, and is native to Australia. Possums are also found in New Zealand, where they were introduced, and have wreaked so much damage to the native flora that they’re considered a huge pest. If you see a possum on the road in New Zealand, many people will speed up. But here in Victoria, they’re actually a protected species.

I quickly fell in love with my little possum baby. How can you not? Look at his little pink nose, his huge fluffy ears, the myriad whiskers (twice as many as a cat), and its wee little raccoon-like hands! Little is fed a gourmand’s diet by Tom’s mother, consisting of all kinds of lettuces and fruits. He delicately ate a strawberry with his little hands, then spent some time licking the salt off of my skin and giving my fingers a few gentle nibbles. Adorable. And so fluffy!

Sebastian with the brush-tailed possum

Sebastian with the brush-tailed possum

The best part, though, was when the baby possum wrapped his furry little tail around my finger and nestled into my hands…and promptly fell asleep. While possums are nocturnal, the baby is growing so much he obviously needed a bit of a snooze.

Sleepy possum

Sleeping baby possum

Little baby possum

Little baby possum

I never imagined I’d have a baby possum fall asleep in my hands.
What a special gift.

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God Bless American Junk Food

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Is that Cards Against Humanity? You bet!

There are a few things I miss terribly about the U.S.: How everything is on sale, all the time. Nothing is geoblocked on the computer. And of course, the junk food.

I feel junk food is where we truly excel as a nation. The combination of high fructose corn syrup and fake cheese (sometimes in the same item) is beyond addictive.

That’s why I always request the same items, which are either not imported to Australia or are prohibitively expensive. (I’m looking at you, $7 box of cereal.)

My go-to junk foods, in no particular order, are:

  • Snyder’s pretzel chips
  • Starburst jellybeans
  • Triscuits
  • Grape Nuts
  • Heath bars

My friends have for so long been bringing me Snyder’s (if they’ve even visiting the States) or watched me stock up (when I’m visiting), that my friend Esther even gave me a couple of bags as a present when I was in Chicago. I supplemented it with the bags Sebastian brought me, which you can see above.

Being without my favorite junk food makes it all the more special. I try to spread out the gorging so it lasts as long as possible. But who am I kidding? Once the bag or box is open, I can’t stop.

Which is why it’s good I only get to eat it once a year…

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November 17, 2014 · 2:16 pm

Halloween 2014

Jetlag and Halloween don’t mix. Getting back Wednesday before the holiday on Friday didn’t give many options for costume-creating. Luckily, I scored a 1960s psychedelic print dress at a clothing swap a while back that I’d never worn.

I sorted through my costume closet for accessories, then whipped up a beehive hairdo and some period makeup (thanks to Pinterest plus taking my laptop into the bathroom to consult as I painted my face).

Alas, my jetlag kicked in before I got the chance to hit up any parties. I did, however, wear my ensemble to work — then met a good friend and gallivanted around Melbourne’s CBD for a couple of hours. The only problem? This being Melbourne — where not only do people not really celebrate Halloween, but also dress crazily any day of the year — I’m not sure most people realized I was dressed up!

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Taking Over The Internet, One Site at a Time

Honored. Thrilled. Tickled pink! That’s how I’ve felt this week when two of my favorite websites in Melbourne published profiles about me.

Girls Club

On Wednesday, I was featured on Girls Club. I met co-founder Fox Woods at a blogging event last year. This chance meeting turned into my writing an article about women’s networking groups (which was mentioned in the introduction, excerpted below). Over the past year, I’ve gone to several of the fabulous themed monthly meetups. Girls Club has yielded so many amazing opportunities, from being asked to give a talk at one of the months, to making friends with the other women, to being asked to be profiled for yet another website (which I will also blog about, never fear).

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Girls Club profile – photo by Lena Todorovski

Dear Theresa,

When I first met you, I could sense a kindred spirit… you were freelance writing for Time Out magazine and other organisations; curious about everything in the world around you; an explorer of places, people and events; wholeheartedly in support of girls & women being excellent to each other; and always trying new things and starting new things – like your Braidiance hair braiding classes, your WinWinWinters Facebook group that seeks out the best contests, giveaways and freebies, and The Plus Ones website, which highlights Melbourne’s best events!

Since then, you’ve written about Girls Club for the press, been a speaker at our 4 Short Talks event (speaking about “How to schedule awesomeness: go out every night, read dozens of books, and make it feel effortless!”), made friends everywhere you go, and generally been a fantastic human bean.

We’d love to hear your answers to our Girl Profile questions… and learn more about the world of Theresa.

Read the full profile, and check out the ongoing series. Many more stupendous ladies will be featured in the coming months, I’m sure.


Business Chic

Friday’s profile is on Cheryl Lin Rodstead’s fashion website, Business Chic — which I’ve been reading for years. I’d seen Cheryl at a few events without managing to say hello, so finally reached out to invite her to one of my hair braiding classes. Not only did she really enjoy herself, she asked if I would be photographed for her site. Um, yes, please. Lifelong goal to be photographed for a fashion blog: CHECK. (And just to show what a small city is: she previously partnered with Girls Club to take beautiful photos of some of its members.) Love the whole women-helping-women thing goin’ on!

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BusinessChic website

“Secret Lifers” are those people who work a job (or more!) but then pursue their passions at the very edges of their capabilities to live full and interesting lives. Some eventually make the switch to their passion like I have – trading in the IT audit gig for photography and personal styling – while others are completely content to keep their work and passions separate.

The thing I like about the secret lifers that I meet is that they are not defined solely by their “day job”, their relationships or even their interests – they are multi-faceted. They don’t make excuses like “I’m too old” or “I would if I had the time”; they just do it, they make the time. They worry less about “being perfect” and more about living the life they love. […]

Theresa Winters is a Secret Lifer. I’ve followed her on Twitter for some years now and have marvelled at all of the things she does. She is American and yet contributes so much to her adopted home city of Melbourne; more than many Melburnites I know (me for one)! By day she works part-time in administration but she also contributes to some great publications, co-founds another AND finds time to run classes teaching braiding. Read on for more!

Love that description — sure makes me sound like a go-getter! Do take a look at the phenomenal pictures in my profile, which she managed to take on a sunny day in Carlton in about five minutes.


So, what did you think? And how about when I tell you I’m going to be profiled on two more websites in the coming months? It’s crazy!

Thank you SO much, Fox and Cheryl, for taking the time out of your own very busy lives to put these pieces together. You’re both phenomenal women, and I’m lucky to know you.

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