WHINGE

WHINGE

A POX UPON THE AUTHOR'S BIOGRAPHY

If it is true, as they say, that people always love talking about themselves, why do author biographies always seem the hardest part of any piece of writing to actually write? It can hardly be natural reticence (I spend a good part of an article trying to draw attention to myself) or forgetfulness (Alzheimer’s hasn’t set in yet). Is it, then, authorial integrity, a desire to distil everything that needs to be said perfectly in the article, story, essay, or poem itself, so that anything coming after would be superfluous? Don’t make me laugh.

Perhaps it is an awkwardness, like posing for a camera and preparing an insincere smile. Somehow, no matter how hard you try, the facts don’t seem to come, the biography as it comes out is not quite right. It would be easier to attend one’s funeral than write about yourself in an author biography, and more pleasant, too, for your only duties at your funeral would be to be an inanimate corpse while others talked about you, except I suspect if ever I decided to attend my own funeral, some bastard would get me to write my own biography.

There’s something in that, though: getting to hear what others say about you. This is exactly the pleasure you don’t have when you write your own biography. And things would definitely be improved if you got to write biographies about others in a detached and calm mood of magisterial disinterest. The more disinterested, the better: 'Gary is a complete and utter bastard and also owes me a dollar' [1] would make a good biography to read, don’t you think? More so than 'Gary lives in Caulfield with his girlfriend. He is a tutor in writing at....'

It is not just that it would be wrong to lie; it’s that even if you decided to lie about yourself, you would end up catching yourself out in the act of lying to yourself about yourself. It is so much nicer to lie about other people and have them lie about you—not the obvious lies of fact, but the less obvious lies inherent in flattery and the language of critical appreciation. Self-flattery is such a valuable luxury that it only works when other people are doing it for you.

But no, you are left with that blank page of paper, and still the words don’t come or, when they do, they seem pointless statements of the mundane (which you hardly wish to have your life seem like). It becomes tempting to list things up like achievements: 'Tim has a BA, an MA, a lovely wife, two cats, and eczema.' (I haven’t tried that one yet). And what’s all this writing about myself in the third person about, anyway? That’s what Caesar did, and look how he ended up. [2]

Not all authors have to supply a biography. Long-dead authors—who you’d have to think had the most biography of all—never have to bother. Genre writers, poets, and short story writers seem to be amongst those most bothered by the pesky demand for an autobiography; other writers seem to have to do little more than supply their name, or anything to that purpose that they happen to find lying around. Or there is the author photograph. If all you had to do was pose for a photograph (rather than a biography), I would be quite happy to oblige. I would procure a pipe and tobacco (you have to be smoking the pipe in the picture or it’s not worth it) and practice my grumpy old man scowl while pulling at the hairs of my beard to make sure it is as long as it can possibly be.

But can you imagine if these innocuous biographies had to be applied to classical writers? Homer ('lives in Ithaca with his wife. When he does not spend his time barding he takes his dogs for a walk....'), or St John? ('You might find him in the third cave from the left. When the world ends he is going to live forever and laugh at you while you fry.')

Author biographies can be quite unbalancing, too; they may not seem so to those who habitually write long-form essays or novellas, but to poets and dealers in aphorisms and epigrams, they really get in the way. Pope took exactly 29 words to pen the following perfection:

Sir! I take it as a general rule
That every poet is a fool
But you yourself will serve to show it
That every fool is not a poet.

Biographies often take twice as many words without being nearly half so interesting.

There is no conclusion to this little essay on the irritations of the jejune writer’s biography, aside from the obvious: that as a writer, generally it is much more advantageous to be dead than alive.

I guess that’s something for us all to look forward to.

TIM TRAIN, MELBOURNE

Tim has a BA, an MA, a lovely wife, two cats, and eczema.

  1. Astute readers may notice at this point that this does not exactly fit the definition of disinterested. You know what I hate almost as much as writing an author’s biography? Definitions!
  2. Astute reader: Conqueror of the British isles and father of the first Emperor of Rome? Tim: Dead! And stop answering rhetorical questions.
Even supposing Mr Sandow was an author, a biography would clearly be entirely redundant. Eugene Sandow [Prussian bodybuilder]. Albumen photograph by Henry Goldman, 1902. State Library of Victoria, H96.160/708.

Even supposing Mr Sandow was an author, a biography would clearly be entirely redundant. Eugene Sandow [Prussian bodybuilder]. Albumen photograph by Henry Goldman, 1902. State Library of Victoria, H96.160/708.

WHINGE

ON THE NINETEENTH DAY OF CRANKVENT... ALL YOUR ADVENTS ARE CRAPPY

...because they are not THIS advent (pictured), which I received in 1984 in Canada and which is without doubt the most superior advent calendar that has ever existed or will ever exist. Today's advent calendars suffer from a mundanity of drawing, poor material quality, a distinct paucity of glitter, and moreover a lack of coherent visual narrative. When you open the doors in THIS calendar, you see a continuation of the scene—for example, see the wildcat standing in front of the fire at the bottom right, where one of the doors has become detached—not some random snowman or bunny rabbit that makes no sense within the scene on the front.

And those calendars stuffed with chocolates or Lego minifigs? Or even—God forbid—virtual advents? Pah! They appeal to our base and materialistic instincts, rather than fostering a sense of wonder and an appreciation of (glitter-laden) beauty.

I do not expect this advent calendar ever to be topped but I hope someone out there will at least attempt to prove me wrong.

ALICE CANNON, MELBOURNE

WHINGE

ON THE FOURTH DAY OF CRANKVENT...WHERE IS MY THRUPPENCE-WORTH OF SILVER?!

The umpteenth day of advent already? Bugger, that means it too late to make the Christmas pudding. The inebriation of the fruit has to start early in November, with its ritual invert-the-jar twice a day for many weeks. So, there will be no homemade Christmas pud this year—well, not one made by us. But even worse, there’ll be no mid-winter pud either. We always make an extra one but often end up with two as the official pud escapes its fate due to a surfeit of family-made puddings. Some puddings have hibernated in the fridge for two to three years. Mind you, we became a little more careful after we discovered one pudding had almost escaped by corroding the base of its aluminium bowl.

And thinking about metal poisoning reminds me of the greatest disaster to befall Christmas puddings—decimal currency. Its advent was a dark day for Christmas pudding lovers, especially money-acquisitive small children. Those wonderful silver threepences were no more, and their cupro-nickel replacements were gleefully denounced as 'do not cook' by the spoil-sports. [1] No more the thrill of looking at the side of the pudding to see where a threepence might have been inserted, a prudent move if you didn’t want to swallow the hoped-for prize.

Hey, wait a minute! It was 'do not cook', not 'do not poke it into the side just before serving'. I’ve been dudded!

SERENDIPITY, WARRNAMBOOL

  1. The new two and five-cent pieces could turn green on cooking and their larger size was thought to be a choking hazard: "The throats and stomachs of small children may not be large enough to accept the five cent coins."
Scientific demonstration of the effects of Christmas pudding on the new decimal coins , 1966, from the  National Archives of Australia . It is a sad state of affairs when we can no longer describe items as being "ex-pudding".

Scientific demonstration of the effects of Christmas pudding on the new decimal coins, 1966, from the National Archives of Australia. It is a sad state of affairs when we can no longer describe items as being "ex-pudding".

WHINGE

ON THE THIRD DAY OF CRANKVENT...A CRANK VENT?!

Look, virtual advent calendars are a dime a dozen right now but our big point of different here at CRANK was that we'd called it CRANKVENT. Ha ha! So witty. So unique! But an alert reader has alertedly alerted us to the fact that crank vents are a THING, a thing which vents the crank case fumes from your Harley Davidson AND controls the air under the pistons by maintaining the proper amount of vacuum in the crank case, at any RPM. It even snaps open for easy cleaning! So annoying. At least we don't spell ours with a K or retail for $124. 

A Krank Vent Plus (image from  Bike Line ).

A Krank Vent Plus (image from Bike Line).

Let us all enjoy the larks the Death and Glory Boys were having at New Years in 1914 at Snobs Creek. Probably their bike doesn't have a crank vent but nevermind.  Death or Glory Boys' at Snobs Creek New Year shooting party camp site,  glass plate negative by Lindsay G. Cumming, ca December 1914. Lindsay G. Cumming Collection, State Library of Victoria, H2005.88/442.

Let us all enjoy the larks the Death and Glory Boys were having at New Years in 1914 at Snobs Creek. Probably their bike doesn't have a crank vent but nevermind. Death or Glory Boys' at Snobs Creek New Year shooting party camp site, glass plate negative by Lindsay G. Cumming, ca December 1914. Lindsay G. Cumming Collection, State Library of Victoria, H2005.88/442.

WHINGE

WHAT DO WE WANT? MONSTERS! WHEN DO WE WANT THEM? WEEKLY!

Ahh, monsters—on television, ideally fought and dispatched [1] in an hour-long episode (or several shorter episodes over the course of a week), in between some nifty tech (Doctor Who), hints of URST (The X-Files), and American muscle cars and snappy one-liners (Supernatural). My favourite kind of telly!

But my favourite kind of telly is too often RUINED by unnecessary “story arcs” and “character development”. The monster of the week is replaced with dark, brooding, never-ending story lines, usually involving the end of the universe and pitting brother against brother or BFF against BFF. Heroes are made to face unpalatable truths about themselves—are, in fact, made to BE unpalatable. Someone dear to them dies. (And is then brought back from the dead but is terribly damaged and nothing is ever the same and they keeping going on and on about how they should have been left in peace). In short, they turn my favourite shows into soap operas with special effects. They may as well just chuck in some babies switched at birth, a family fashion dynasty and a villain called Victor.

We don’t actually WANT Mulder and Scully to get together. (Or if they do, it turns out to be an alien-induced hallucination [2] and everything is back to normal by next week). We don’t WANT to see Sam and Dean hurt each other’s feelings for ANOTHER season while they take turns bringing each other back from the dead and then getting cross with each other for doing it. (I don’t mind a bit of jaw-clenching-as-visible-evidence-of-feelings, but it’s getting ridiculous). And I am certainly not interested in the love life of TARDIS companions thank you very much and also PS could we have some actual science fiction and not just magic-wand-waving? These are supposed to be shows about IDEAS.

I don’t mind a little bit of story arc or a hint of character development, here and there. I just never want to see any of it fully realized, or for it to dominate everything else. The sense of strangeness and mystery is part of the thrill of these shows, knowing that you will never really get to the bottom of what is going on but enjoying the endless speculation. Each week is time spent with friends in their curious universe. There is a problem encountered and a problem solved [3] [4]—a satisfying comfort not to be scorned. Spines are tingled and imaginations fired; we marvel and squeal and chuckle. None of this sobbing into a hanky business. These shows are like short stories or fairy tales, object lessons of a kind. Soap will rot your brain, but a monster will keep you on your toes.

ALICE CANNON, MELBOURNE

  1. OR IS IT
  2. OR IS IT
  3. OR IS IT
  4. Preferably without solely relying on a sonic screwdriver
Scene from an unaired Supernatural episode where Sam and Dean visit a diner run by a demon and accidentally drink demonic soup. Here, the demon summons more demonic soup in her oversized crystal ball. Studio executives pulled the episode as they thought it would anger the powerful Diner Lobby.  Monster Soup, commonly called Thames Water , coloured engraving by William Heath, published by T McLean, London, 1828.  Wellcome Library, image no.   L0006579.

Scene from an unaired Supernatural episode where Sam and Dean visit a diner run by a demon and accidentally drink demonic soup. Here, the demon summons more demonic soup in her oversized crystal ball. Studio executives pulled the episode as they thought it would anger the powerful Diner Lobby. Monster Soup, commonly called Thames Water, coloured engraving by William Heath, published by T McLean, London, 1828. Wellcome Library, image no. L0006579.

Scene from an unaired Supernatural episode where Sam and Dean trace a series of unexplained disappearances back to a local doctor's studio, where he has been keeping some demonic "pets" for medical experiments. Deceased patients were taken to a local pet food factory for disposal. Studio executives felt the episode could cause legal issues with Big Pet Food.  Fever, represented as a frenzied beast, stands racked in the centre of a room, while a blue monster, representing ague, ensnares his victim by the fireside; a doctor writes prescriptions to the right . Coloured etching by T Rowlandson after J Dunthorne, 1788. Wellcome Library, image no. L0012192.

Scene from an unaired Supernatural episode where Sam and Dean trace a series of unexplained disappearances back to a local doctor's studio, where he has been keeping some demonic "pets" for medical experiments. Deceased patients were taken to a local pet food factory for disposal. Studio executives felt the episode could cause legal issues with Big Pet Food. Fever, represented as a frenzied beast, stands racked in the centre of a room, while a blue monster, representing ague, ensnares his victim by the fireside; a doctor writes prescriptions to the right. Coloured etching by T Rowlandson after J Dunthorne, 1788. Wellcome Library, image no. L0012192.

Scene from unaired Supernatural episode in which Sam and Dean encounter the terrifying "man-monster". Studio executives decided not to run the episode, citing "too many jokes about bottoms". 'Homme monstrueux, veu en la France de nostre temps' (Man monster who has been seen in France in our time), from the  Histoires prodigieuses  by Pierre Boaistuau, 1560 (folio 137, verso) . Wellcome Library, London, image no. L0025563.

Scene from unaired Supernatural episode in which Sam and Dean encounter the terrifying "man-monster". Studio executives decided not to run the episode, citing "too many jokes about bottoms". 'Homme monstrueux, veu en la France de nostre temps' (Man monster who has been seen in France in our time), from the Histoires prodigieuses by Pierre Boaistuau, 1560 (folio 137, verso) . Wellcome Library, London, image no. L0025563.