beautiful monsters: July 2004 Archives

July 23, 2004


I’m sitting in the shade of a battered old ngaio tree that is toughing it out on the rocks above Otanerito beach. The two black piwakawaka that followed me all the way to the beach have lost interest now that I’ve stopped flicking bugs in their direction, and hopping around the outline of a boat that someone has made out of driftwood. Under the trees the frost is still crunchy on the grass, but on the beach the sun was so warm that I stripped down to a t-shirt and shorts. A single tiny cloud appeared above the ridge but soon disolved into the blue.

Four people live in this little valley, but Fiona and Doug have just left for town and the others are nowhere to be seen. My accomodation has all the delights of a tramping hut – it’s peaceful, secluded, cosy and rustic, close to a stream and the bush. A kereru whooshed overhead this morning and a korimako was chiming from the branches of a nearby tree. But this cabin has a bonus that is rare among tramping huts – electricity. So I can charge up this laptop and spend all afternoon sitting on the porch in the sun, working on my book. Bliss.

A few minutes walk from the cabin is Faintail falls, a track that a friend of mine helped to build. Under the kanuka trees young kawakawa, titoki and manamana are weaving a bright green cloak for the hills. The falls are gorgeous – delicate beads of water strung from the mossy rocks. A few flakes of fuschia bark dangle from a spider’s web. One of my feathered friends has returned to snatch a bug from the air near my feet, reminding me that I haven’t eaten lunch yet.


It has just occurred to me that I’ve never been alone in such a remote location. I’m not sure what will happen if I have an allergic reaction or an asthma attack, or if there’s a freak tsunami or if I get attacked by bees... There are bee hives everywhere, and I had to chase half a dozen bees out of the hut after I left the door open. Yes, I am a wimp when it comes to anything that can sting. At certain times of the day the light catches them, bright specks against the dark hills, thousands of bees drifting like particles of dust in the sunlight.


Snow! Snow! There was snow in the night! Wheeeee!


Back in Christchurch now, so I can send this. Gddm it’s cold here. Brrrrrrr!! I’m off to buy wooly stockings…


Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:52 AM

July 12, 2004

The terrible truth about cereal…

Whilst it is kind of flattering that beautiful monsters traffic has increased by about 500% in recent days, and the mention on is neat, the angry emails are a just little bit scary. A couple of the emails aren’t worth a public response (you people are really very very disturbing) but some of the comments I want to reply to. And, unfortunately, I can’t reply on WHEDONesque because they’re not taking new sign ups. So I’ll just have to post here…

I’d just like to say a big THANK you to orphea & acp for noticing that a) cheese is not supposed to be taken that seriously, and b) if we’re going to insist on assigning genders then I’m a “she” not a “he”.

Of course there are always more than two possibilities, that was supposed to be part of the humour of the piece – I was taking the micky out of the academic establishment and it’s instance on limited options, and finding meaning in everything… of course it is possible to prove just about anything if you twist things the right way. The piece was a light hearted exercise to wind down my brain after a stressful exam period. I was also making fun of myself, for being so obsessed with Buffy.

Yes, it can be argued that the cheese man has some deeper meaning, but it is also possible that he really means nothing.

My essay on cheese does not claim to be the truth, the whole truth, or even a few little hole-riddled crumbs of the cheesy truth.

I can’t believe it is really necessary to point this out.

But apparently it is.

Scary confession time…

There is no essay on cereal. I just said that as a joke. I honestly had no idea so many people would be reading the article and taking it so seriously. I’m sorry. I hope you don’t all lynch me.

Oh, and apologies to barbara, who I seem to have unwittingly plagiarised. Great minds think alike? And fools seldom differ…

Posted by Fionnaigh at 08:43 PM

The Big Wave

Extracts are from the book by Pearl S. Buck

My grandfather fell in love with Japan. When I was a toddler he brought me back a tiny kimono made from silky red material. But the old fashioned bookseller’s stamp and the publication date suggest that this must have been chosen for my mother, not for me. The paper is stained and spotted with age.

On the cover the children’s clothes swirl like eddies of foam. The old man’s eyes and mouth gape with darkness. The black water swoops down on the earth like a dragon.

A silver-green band of bright sky appeared like a low dawn above the sea.
“May the gods save us,” Kino heard his father mutter. The castle bell began to toll again, deep and pleading.

I’ve always been afraid of the sea. Even though I love it, crave it, even though I feel trapped by the land. I am always waiting, in every silent pause, for the sea to roll back towards the horizon, the purple rim of the ocean lifting and rising against the clouds.

Depression always comes to me as a dark, clawing wave, tearing everything apart. Destroying every sign of life.

Under the deep waters of the ocean, miles down under the cold, the earth had yielded at last to the fire. It groaned and split open and the cold water fell into the middle of the boiling rocks. Steam burst out and lifted the ocean high into the sky in a big wave. It rushed towards the shore, green and solid, frothing into white at its edges. It rose, higher and higher, lifting up hands and claws.

Now I sit on the south coast. The swell is huge today, every wave seems to tower higher than those before, and with every peak my breath freezes inside my chest, and I am waiting. I am waiting for the wave to swallow everything.

You say you don’t want this life. Your words leave me numb and shaking. My mind is filled with all the cliches that pissed me off so much when they fell from other people’s lips. “It will get better” I can hear myself saying. “I promise…” What the hell would I know?

Life is always stronger than death. Jiya will feel when he wakes that he can never be happy again. He will cry and cry and we must let him cry. But he cannot always cry. After a few days he will stop crying all the time. He will cry only part of the time. He will sit sad and quiet. We must allow him to be sad and we must not make him speak. But we will do our work and live as we always do. Then one day he will be hungry and he will eat something that his mother cooks, something special, and he will begin to feel better. He will not cry any more in the day time but only at night. We must let him cry at night. But all the time his body will be renewing itself. His blood flowing in his veins, his growing bones, his mind beginning to think again, will make him live.
“He cannot forget his father and mother and his brother!” Kino exclaimed.
“He cannot and he should not forget them,” Kino’s father said. “Just as he lived with them alive, he will live with them dead. Someday he will accept their death as part of his life. He will weep no more. He will carry them in his memory and his thoughts. His flesh and blood are part of them. So long as he is alive, they, too, will live in him. The big wave came, but it went away. The sun shines again, birds sing, and earth flowers. Look out over the sea now!”
Kino looked out the open door and he saw the ocean sparkling and smooth. The sky was blue again, a few clouds on the horizon were the only sign of what had passed.

My waves have subsided now, and the earth has begun to flower. I am glad. I came so close to slipping away under the waters, but now I am glad for the sun and the blue sky. I am glad for such small blessings as the smudgy child-sized handprint that I cannot bear to clean off the wall, and the words a new friendship brings me that I string together like a necklace close to my heart. I am glad for the way the sun turns tear soaked eyelashes into rainbows, and the smell of lavender crushed between my fingers.

Now I am waiting again. Waiting for the phone to ring, for someone to tell me how I can help... for someone to tell me that you’ve gone through with it. Life goes on outside but I am waiting.

I’m slipping down the muddy hillside and the waves are creeping higher.

I’ve found a satellite image of Japan at night. A dusting of gold leaf. The edges glow. It’s beautiful. And here, Wellington is a tiny glowing speak. All I can think of is a thousand dark kilometers of ocean spreading between.

I think that I'm falling...

maybe love?

We're all talk...

take my hand

don't let go...


It is night. Kilometres below a city sparkles like an intricate necklace at the throat of a continent. I love the sense of being somewhere else that is nowhere and could be anywhere as we speed through the night. I feel as though I’m paused on the edge of something. A landscape of possibility waits to take shape from the darkness.


I think that I’m falling…

maybe love
is like a wave

don’t let go.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 07:50 PM

July 11, 2004

Beautiful Monsters Radio Debut

The Soul Music programme on Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, which I took part in will be transmitted on Tuesday 20th of July at 1.30pm. You can listen to it on line with RealPlayer at (I think) 12:30am Wednesday morning Aotearoa time.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 11:31 AM

July 01, 2004

Ah ha!

An Analysis of Cheese as Metaphor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Warning! Contains spoilers for Buffy season… er… various. Proceed at own risk.

Remember the cheese cuy in Restless? There has been a great deal of speculation about the metaphysical and psychological importance of the cheese guy, but many devoted Whedon fans argue emphatically that the cheese man means nothing cos Joss says so. “The cheese man means nothing. He is the only thing in the show that means nothing.” Ah ha! See? This can mean only one of two possibilities. Either Joss is trying to throw us off the scent... or he is in denial. So I have made it my mission to discover and reveal the secrets of the cheese guy. And I think I may have cracked it.

The secret may in fact lie in the wisdom of nursery rhymes. And for this tip off I must acknowledge one Seth Good, who, it appears, must be a student in a pop studies course at Purdue. Seth points out that the cheese man is obviously carefully placed to trigger a resonance with the children’s song, The Farmer in the Dell. The song ends with the words “The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, The cheese stands alone, The cheese stands alone, Hi-ho, the derry-o, The cheese stands alone.” Clearly an echo of the words of the first slayer, who growls “We ... are ... alone!” Buffy responds by looking at an image of the Scoobies, and saying, “I am not alone.” Effectively she is saying, “I am not cheese.” She is not yet ready to accept this aspect of her identity. When the cheese guy appears and dangles the cheeses in front of her, Buffy says, “That's it. I'm waking up.” She doesn’t want to be faced with what she is. Cheese.

Let’s turn for a moment to the dreams of the other Scoobies, and the central role of the cheese guy. When he first appears, in Willow’s dream, he says to her, “I've made a little space for the cheese slices.” Obviously the most important issue in Willow and Buffy’s relationship is finding space for each other amidst all the relationships and slaying and other commitments. Then, in Xander’s dream, the cheese man holds up the plate of cheese slices and says, “These ... will not protect you.” This is an important dynamic in Xander and Buffy’s relationship, and ultimately the cheese (Buffy) will not be able to protect him from the loss of an eye and a lover. To Giles the cheese man says, “I wear the cheese. It does not wear me.” The key issue in Giles and Buffy’s relationship is about control and authority. Who wears the cheese? All of these relationships clearly point to the fact that Buffy is the cheese.

In fact the metaphor spreads beyond the confines of Restless. I am not able to go into every use of the cheese metaphor at this point, but I would like to list a few examples.

Way back in season one we can find references to the cheese metaphor. In Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, Xander makes a comment about string cheese. What he is actually making a comment about is Buffy, and the fact that he is jealous that she has a crush on another guy.

The cheese metaphor crops again in Bewitched, Bewildered and Bothered Buffy that rat feels “a sudden need for cheese.” This is the need to return to her true form, as Buffy/slayer/cheese.

In Dead Man’s Party, Giles votes for a smelly cheese night (focussing on Buffy) but the others are not ready to totally forgive her yet.

In The Freshman Olivia says “Rupert, is this Bleu cheese or is it just cheese that's gone blue?” She is questioning their relationship – she is subconsciously and prophetically beginning to have doubts about whether there is a place for her in Giles’s life, which is already so full with other cheese (Buffy and slaying).

In The Initiative. It cannot be insignificant that when Riley asks Willow to help him get to know Buffy, the first thing Willow replies is, “She likes cheese.” What she is in fact saying though is that Buffy is the cheese. And perhaps Willow is saying that Buffy is starting to find some kind of self-acceptance. Riley must realise the full significance of Willow’s statement, because later in the episode he says to Buffy, “Did Willow tell you I like cheese?” By doing this he is letting Buffy know that he likes her.

In Doomed Spike mocks Xander for “delivering melted cheese on bread. Doing your part to keep America constipated.” Spike is rubbing in the fact that Xander is merely a sidekick, Buffy is the only real cheese. And in fact sometimes Xander actually slows Buffy down.

In Once More With Feeling Xander sings, “She eats these skeezy cheeses that I can't describe.” Perhaps he is suggesting that Anya sometimes turns to cheeses other than Buffy, and this disturbs him.

In Wrecked, Willow talks about keeping stinky yak cheese in her bra. She is acknowledging that she has made another, inferior, cheese (magic) more important than Buffy.

In Storyteller, Andrew and Jonathan dream about the cheese man. This symbolises the fact that they will return to Sunnydale, the home turf of Buffy.

And, finally, it should be noted that David Boreanaz (Angel) likes Cheese Steaks (Buffy).

Finally I would like to discuss the expansion of the cheese metaphor to include Dawn. One of the first hints that Dawn will appear comes in Graduation Day Part 2, when Faith foretells the coming of “Little Miss Muffet.” The reference to the old nursery rhyme is continued in Real Me, when the crazy guy mumbles about curds and whey. Curds and whey are of course bi-products of the cheese making process. The milk is curdled, separated, into curds and whey. The crazy guy can see that although Buffy and Dawn share the same blood, they are made from the same milk, that milk has become curdled. He sees the changes in reality that lead to the separation of curds and whey, the separate form that Buffy has taken on. Buffy needs to be cut, pressed, hardened, salted and ripened (she needs to go through a death and resurrection) before she will once again be stable in her mature state as cheese.

To conclude, let us return to the original children’s song, The Farmer in the Dell. The song was originally sung by colonial children in America, to accompany a game. Marcia Faye McGee has written from the painful sense of isolation that could be triggered by the calls of “The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone.” This is the refrain that occurs over and over throughout every season of Buffy. The cheese stands alone. Buffy stands alone. But it does not have to be so. The loneliness of the cheese can be shared, and thus extinguished. The farmer takes a wife, The wife takes a child, The child takes a nurse, The nurse takes a cow, The cow takes a dog, The dog takes a cat, The cat takes a rat, The rat takes the cheese, and the cheese reaches out and takes all the potential slayers in the world, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Next week: The use of cereal as a plot device.

The terrible truth about cereal…

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:44 PM