Creative Furphies That Irk Me

August 13, 2010 at 5:57 am (Uncategorized)

Llew and I watched an Australian film on DVD the other night that really underscores one of this country’s major artistic insecurity complexes. It’s called Three Dollars, and stars one of my favourite Aussie actors, David Wenham, who appears alongside a high-calibre supporting cast. The reviews on the cover were promising: glowing praise from some of Australia’s most recognisable and reputable critics. We’d been circling the movie for years – drawn by its cast and its critical reception, but repelled by past disappointments along the same line. Finally, we rented it, and it sat at home for a week while we continued prodding it with a metaphorical stick. The ambivalence was unmistakable, and, in the end, well placed.

So what’s the problem?

In my piddling opinion, it’s a bit of a growing issue across film and literature, this bogus idea that an Australian contribution to either art form has to be grim and deadly serious and deep and worthy in order for it to have any artistic merit – or that grindingly depressing things are somehow intrinsically valuable artworks in ways that determinedly optimistic things are not. Oh yes, yes, it’s total genius, isn’t it, this courageous exploration of bleak, unrelenting misery. Oh, isn’t it powerful, this unflinching evocation of the depths of suburban sadness and horror. Bravo!

Well, I think that’s just garbage – and worse, it’s got the distinct whiff of apology about it too, as if we feel we have to constantly reach into some fetid slush pile to make up for the average Australian having it pretty good. It’s so… so… contrived. And it’s so disingenuous. In the case of Three Dollars, not even my admiration of David Wenham could get me to swallow the idea that this man – a just-sacked government employee with a university degree, a wife, a daughter, a mortgage, friends and two living parents – would respond to his sacking by instantly agreeing to start riffling through public garbage bins on a busy Melbourne street with his good buddy the homeless guy, who finds him a coat to wear – on loan from another kindly homeless gentleman – and shows him how to procure free food (present rotting food at sales counter and claim to have just purchased it from the same establishment) before whizzing him round the homeless shelter trying to tempt him to bunk down for the night. Now, I’ve researched real homelessness for a freelance story, and I query everything about this picture of a very real ordeal, including its recklessly sanitised depiction of the type of characters one meets on the streets. The hospitable hobo – see now, isn’t he just darling? I find it so insulting – it plays at social commentary, it wants to lecture us in our lounge-rooms, but what it really does is completely minimise and make a pastiche of the terrible circumstance of having absolutely nowhere to go.

And I find this sort of thing happens in Australian films All. The. Time. Maybe less so in Australian novels, but it’s there too, and it makes me wonder if the culprit isn’t partially the grants culture, in which one must prove the cultural value in order to be considered for funding. Levity isn’t often taken seriously in this context, I don’t think. Unless of course you can throw in a fun-loving cast of Indigenous merry-makers, which is what looks to have happened with musical curiosity Bran Nue Dae, in which case you’re sure of a cheque in the mail. But only Aborigines are allowed to have a good time, mind – everyone else has to be mired in the single worst day of their pathetic lives. Got it?

All of this belongs to a similar bag of fibs that artists right around the world can’t quite seem to shake. The idea that sunny places are creative wastelands is a popular one (Sydney as a cultural vacuum is a common charge, and this suspicion about our artistic character seems to revolve primarily around the city’s climate), and suggests that one must be wet, cold and miserable in order to commune with the muse.

Hot on the heels of this damning weather report is the tortured artist cliché – one of the worst offenders, in my view. I don’t believe that creativity is the terrible burden some would have us believe, a weight so crushing one must race towards some form of rampant substance abuse in order to manage the torment of existing in the shadow of one’s great, glorious gift. Please. Give me a fucking break. I’ve tried writing while drunk, and given the hilariously ropey results, I strongly suspect it’s the rare talent indeed who can pull off the dazzling trick of performing while heavily under the influence. There’s a very good reason why people crash cars when they’re in a similar condition.

I think artists who claim their drug of choice as part of their creative palette are mostly just ordinary addicts like the rest of us, and it’s more simply a matter of choosing the best prop to hide behind, and polishing a neat justification for all their bad behaviour.

And yes, all these long months of sobriety are making me cranky. Clearly.



  1. Samantha said,

    Hello Di,

    Long time no hear from me!

    I am very very glad to read that your pregnancy is progressing so well (low lying placenta notwithstanding but that can change between now and the birth). Have you been watching One Born Every Minute on SBS TV (see )? It’s a little scary as clearly they have chosen the most extreme birth stories for dramatic effect but still, it’s rather compulsive viewing. Joy, the 40 year old who has endured IVF for 5 years is a scream to watch. I find her comments absolutely hilarious.

    I’ve been reading your blog but waiting for more certainty before posting a comment. So while my comment has absolutely no relevance to this particular post, I thought it time to let you know what has been going on with me.

    Since I last wrote, I have undergone a further two Natural IVF cycles. Number 14 resulted in premature ovulation (a very early day 9 instead of my usual day 12) and thus a cancelled cycle. Upon having the blood test to confirm what I already knew, I sat with a nurse sobbing saying, “how do you know that wasn’t the one good egg I was going to ovulate all year?” “Why don’t you do surge pickups?” I was very upset.

    We proceeded with cycle number 15 which was to be our last of the three that our doctor said we should attempt before ceasing or seeking out donor eggs. As number 14 resulted in cancellation, D and I agreed to add another cycle which would take us to number 16 and right up to my 40th birthday. As number 15 got under way, my sister emailed me with her ovarian reserve (AMH) results. I was utterly shocked by the results and remain so. Although she is 38 years old, she has the fertility of a 28 year old! Her AMH level was 18.6. Not even in the diminished category! Mine is a mere 1.5 and places me in the late 40s age group. So while 21 months separates us chronologically, fertility wise, 20 years separates us. It’s extraordinary to say the least. I am very intrigued as to how the genes were dished out and how the environment has had an impact (in particular diet: I have been a vegetarian for 28 years and my sister is a keen meat eater). Like you, my sister spent about 10 years of her late teens and early twenties smoking and yet, this has not had an impact on her fertility. I, on the other hand, have never allowed a cigarette to pass my lips! I would love to offer myself (and with her permission, my sister) to researchers studying ovarian reserve and familial links. It’s so completely fascinating.

    Suffice to say that I was very relieved (and a tad jealous) about my sister’s results. Should my pattern of fertilization failure continue, my sister was going to be a very very good back up.

    Totally unexpectedly, on cycle #15 my egg decided to fertilize. When we turned up for the embryo transfer and walked into the room we had only ever been in 4 times previously and saw our doctor, I said, “well, it’s been a long time since we have all been in this room together, now hasn’t it?” Indeed, it had been 1 year and 1 month since the last grade 1 embryo took and then miscarried. (Although I had a grade 3 embryo transfer in January with another doctor which I knew would fail). Even more surprising was the embryo was a grade 1 (the best). With my legs in the stirrups, the speculum in place, my doctor’s face looking straight down my vagina to my cervix, I said “[name of Dr], are you a gambling man?” “What?” he said. I repeated my question and added “because although I am not a gambling woman, since enduring IVF these past 18 months, I feel as though I have acquired a gambling addiction. Would you like to place bets on whether this one is going to stick around?” Dr replied, “Mmm, well, I can say I am feeling good about it”. And before I knew it, there the embryo was on the screen with the embryologist saying “Samantha, it has divided again this morning.” “Even better” said my Dr. In it went and off I went.

    Two weeks later I returned for the blood test. I had a strong feeling I was pregnant as my period hadn’t arrived and as it was day 30 of my cycle, a number I never get to anymore thanks to approaching menopause, I was almost certain. The nurses were very busy that day and never called so I called them. When the nurse asked “how are you feeling” and I replied “pregnant”, she said, “indeed you are. Your hCG level is 372.”

    Since then the overwhelming tiredness has kicked in and the very heavy and sore breasts, and yesterday the nausea began. I’ve also had spotting but given today’s results, my Dr isn’t terribly concerned.

    Today the 6 week, 2 day scan revealed that there is one little embryo with a very strong heartbeat. I said to my Dr, “I feel like we’ve been here before”. He offered to scan me again in 2 weeks in order to help alleviate the stress of worrying if I am going to miscarry again. I gladly accepted his offer.

    In the meantime, I have booked in for a CVS at 11 weeks, 5 days. Upon doing more research on CVS vs. Amnio I decided that should something be seriously wrong, I really am not sure that I could cope with being induced at 20 weeks and giving birth to a half grown baby. I read a graphic account in this month’s Monthly magazine of how it’s done (Duty of Care, see–2639 ), and I just don’t think I could do it. Better to be able to abort before 14 weeks. However, I don’t know anyone who has done a CVS, only Amnios so I am curious as to your decision making process and why you chose the latter option. (I also assume that the final results were good as you didn’t post about these results, only the initial ones.) The clinic I am booked into says that their miscarriage rate for a CVS is well below that suggested by the world literature (1 in 200 vs. 1 in 100) and Amnios (less than 1 in 200). Thus, this clinic must be very experienced, which is a comfort.

    In other good news, in late June, my clinic finally began offering the AMH test and is now advertising it at their website. And the drug I was using to stop me from ovulating my one little egg every month during a Natural IVF cycle (Orgalutran), finally got listed on the PBS this month so no more forking out $90 a pop for that drug (one dose of which during cycle number 15, I promptly dropped all over the floor; $90 literally down the drain). I wrote a public submission to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee in support of its listing so I feel that finally one arm of my IVF activism has paid off. I am now awaiting the final pro bono legal advice on the requirement to undergo national police and child custody order checks. The result of which is almost certainly that my case will probably need to go to the UN.

    I turn 40 next week and finding myself pregnant is an unexpected gift.

    Warm regards,


    • doctordi said,

      WOW, Sam – congratulations!!!!!!!!!! This is simply fantastic news – I am just so, so thrilled to hear it. I understand this is a time for caution and all the rest of it – COME ON, TWELVE WEEKS – but equally I think you just have to take this gift and allow yourself to expect the absolute best. It certainly can’t hurt. Yes, I agree there’s value in the additional scan to help alleviate anxiety – I think those of us who have miscarried do value whatever reassurances are available!

      I opted for an amnio because the nuchal transparency results were good enough that we weren’t referred for additional testing, we sought it, and the amnio was the only one I really knew anything about. Frankly no one even discussed a CVS with us, but I asked someone who had the CVS why she’d had that instead of an amnio, and she said it was because she could do it sooner, which was more relevant for them because their nuchal transparency results weren’t great (happily, the CVS established that everything is fine), and so the possibility of termination was looming in their minds much more pressingly than in ours, because our results suggested things were okay and theirs did not (yes, thanks, the chromosomal testing all came back clear – all good). The peace of mind is huge either way, I think, and yes, had I known I could have had a conclusive test earlier, I would have probably elected to do it then for precisely the reasons you describe.

      Sam, talk about a wonderful birthday gift. Happiest 40th to you this week, and my warmest congratulations on this incredible little heartbeat. Lucky 15. I just couldn’t be happier for you.

      • Samantha said,

        Hello Di,

        Thank you for your very warm and heartfelt reply.

        I’m fascinated by the lack of CVS info given to you.

        I am 40 today and officially 7 weeks pregnant.

        D is taking me away for a long weekend commencing this Friday, to an undisclosed location.

        As we cannot vote on Saturday, we voted last week at the pre-poll station at the AEC head office. We voted Greens in both houses. Although the election campaign has been very uninspiring and a yawn, it will be interesting to watch the count on Saturday night. I hope that there is a TV where we are going (as we’re both political junkies, I’m sure that D would have made sure of that).

        Good luck with learning how to drive.

        Warm wishes,


      • doctordi said,

        Happy Birthday, Sam! I doubt it gets much more memorable than this – although I’m sure D will do his best!!

        I think it’s a timing thing with the CVS – that’s the only explanation I can think of, that by the time we decided we did want to explore the more conclusive option, we were past the 11-13 week stage at which the CVS is generally conducted, and therefore had the amnio almost by default. I reread Sydney Ultrasound for Women’s brochure on the two tests just now (which I picked up myself while actually waiting for the amnio and trying to take my mind off my bursting bladder), and the accuracy is also slightly better for the amnio – an error rate of less than 1 in 4,000 for the CVS, and around 1 in 12,000 for the amnio. Anyway, I really don’t think there’s much in it judging from these two summaries, but yes, it is interesting the CVS wasn’t even mooted in our case.

        Ah, the election. I think the Greens stand to do extremely well – people are so sour on both the major parties that I expect the Greens will secure an even bigger result than predicted. Personally I rue the virtual demise of the Democrats.

        Now, Sam, you go and enjoy your birthday, have a lovely weekend away, take it very easy, and do let me know how you’re progressing!!

        Happy Birthday, Woman Warrior! xx

  2. Grad said,

    So tell me, Di, how did you like that movie, Three Dollars? (okay, don’t tease the preggers woman who hasn’t had a decent drink in who knows how long.)

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, tease me at your peril, Graddikins – although at least you’re at a safe distance!!!

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    This made me laugh, Di! It sounds just so Canadian. Is it that commonwealth thing again?

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, Lilian, I do think that’s part of it – a lingering inferiority complex – and a need to be taken seriously against a paranoid suspicion that we’re not.

  4. litlove said,

    Groan! I know that dark-equals-quality thing and don’t buy it either. It’s easy to make a person cry, even easier to depress them – but making them split their sides laughing, now that takes a bit of genius.

    • doctordi said,

      LL, I agree. And it’s not as though I think darkness is off-limits, I just think there’s a particular strain that’s guilty of both trying too hard and not hard enough.

  5. David said,

    Tragedy is easily achieved; true comedy is the rarest and most elusive of birds. I don’t have much patience with things that purport to tug at my heartstrings.

    On a note related to the latter part of your post — I was saying to the Amazon just the other day that the tortured artist thing is a load of crap. Here’s how that works. Every day, I meet people who are mentally and emotionally ill, who are alcoholics, wifebeaters, serial seducers, on and on and on. They just don’t happen to have a talent that makes them famous enough for their craziness to become well-known. Are all artists crazy? Um, no. They’re just in the spotlight, so their craziness is better-known. Tortured insanity is not a requirement of creativity, and I think it’s a disservice to imply that it is — it makes creative people who aren’t crazy feel like they’re somehow missing something.

    • doctordi said,


      Yep, we’re agreed on this too. I think it does functional creatives a genuine disservice – I know I have often worried about not being really creative because I enjoy life and love laughing… it gets in your head, this idea that genuine artists are destined to be tortured by existence, but it’s really total and utter balls.

      • davidrochester said,

        It really is. When I get to feeling that way, I think of Felix Mendelssohn … cherished child of deeply loving parents, who had money and fame and social success and was a really nice guy … and none of that seemed to thwart his genius in the slightest.

      • doctordi said,

        All that and a really cool name too – he’s my new pin-up!

  6. Norwichrocks said,

    David has hit the nail on the head, as usual. There are artists with mental health problems, substance addictions etc etc and there are artists without said problems. They’re not sufficient and necessary conditions for the state of ‘being an artist’.

    • doctordi said,

      Exactly, Truce – just like any other section of society. Put a bunch of doctors in the room – or a bunch of miners – and you’ll find the same thing, it’s just that this image has been created in the case of artists because of a public profile that doesn’t exist in many other careers. But it’s just people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: