Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).


 

Springtime, my treasures! Is there anything more wonderful? The ancient trees, spreading new leaves; the emerald woodlands, tumbling with greenery; flowers blossoming in every colour, and Nature herself rising from an icy sleep. It is the truest renaissance of all life, and the cradle of all possibility. It’s also a splendid time to explore one’s sexuality and frolic in the garden of pleasure, if one is so inclined.

Nature’s gifts are rarer than ever now, in a world so intensely polluted by human greed. So enjoy them while you can, darling. The flower wilts as quickly as it blooms.

Speaking of enjoyment (and of flowers in every colour), it was my immense and overwhelming pleasure to be a part of NUPSA’s Pride activities last week. Alas, a schedule packed with international travel, coaching appointments, awards galas, television interviews and spiritual retreats (not to mention dodging the Catholic Church, who’ve had their heavenly hit squad after me for years) allows little time for something as quotidian as a pub trivia night. But I’m so glad I was able to come this time, and share an evening of good fun (and good wine) with you all.

 

One very lucky student even walked away with an autographed portrait, darling!
A little piece of Penny for him to treasure.

 

I’m off to Canada now for the next three weeks, then over to India for a spell – the Lama’s in a pickle again, and has been asking for me – so I won’t be attending another student event for some time, unfortunately. But rest assured, dear children: I shall always be here in spirit (as I’m a dab hand at astral projection these days), and on hand to guide you through life’s darkest dilemmas, whenever you need me.

So take your medicine, feed the birds, and I shall sing you a song.

 

Dear Penny,

I’m six months into my degree now, and although things are going well, I get the impression my supervisor doesn’t like me. He doesn’t have any concerns about my work so far – he’s just very grumpy and short with me whenever we meet, and never seems impressed with my progress, no matter how hard I try.

As someone who’s very popular and well liked, could you give me some tips on winning him over?

Sincerely,

Sick of Being Glared At

 

Dear SOBGA,

The first thing to understand about popularity (a beast of which I have a certain mastery, yes) is that it seldom comes when called. Those who spend their lives seeking to capture it seldom do so – and the more desperate the pursuit, the more elusive the prey. It’s a strange and curious animal, more often drawn to those with little concern for it at all. Those whose identity and sense of self are so powerful, so magnetic, so clearly defined, that their very presence is intoxicating to those around them.

Making someone like you, then, is a complicated prospect. ‘Tis the great Hollywood paradox: only those who spurn the adoration of others shall possess it.

My first suggestion is to decide whether you really need this supervisor of yours to like you. It seems he has no obvious objection to the work you’re doing, nor anything that would signal professional conflict, so would their good graces really enhance your relationship in any significant way? Would your efforts not be better spent on winning yourself over – on being the person you want you to be?

I do not ask these questions with any sort of judgement. Not at all, dear heart. Your choices are your own, as they should be. I speak only as a woman who spent much of her childhood eagerly (and pointlessly) pursuing the unqualified approval of those around her – particularly those much older, and in positions of authority. It took me many years to realise that these people were just as flawed as I was, and that while I could still learn from them (and most assuredly did so), I could never become the perfect incarnation of all their dreams and expectations.

I could not be a hundred women at once, and so the only alternative was to be the person I was, Penny Sidecar* Grundle, and to embody her completely. To want what I wanted and believe what I believed, without reservation or apology.

One cannot live as an amalgam, darling. And proxies are such wearisome things.

But if gaining your supervisor’s affection (and not simply their professional respect) is what you really want, there are two methods of achieving this. One is the long game: make small talk, tell them stories, commiserate on the state of the world, and bring cookies to each meeting. Ask them about their cat. They’ll likely have at least three.

This method is low-risk, but it takes time. Small, friendly gestures, little by little, chipping away at cold marble until the statue resembles a person (and not just some dusty old waistcoat draped over an armchair).

If, however, time is an issue, and you’d like to skip ahead to a sense of warm conviviality almost immediately, this too is possible – but the risk is considerably higher. To do it, you’ll need your supervisor’s overwhelming gratitude. Namely, you need to save their life.

Now, despite what you may see on television, saving someone’s life is actually quite difficult. It often requires some conspicuous bravery or effort, and (if nothing else) extremely fortunate timing, as you never really know just when or where someone will suddenly find themselves in grave peril. The best thing to do here, then, is to engineer the peril yourself – or at least the illusion of it – so you can swoop in with great heroism and transform your relationship with them forever.

When orchestrating a perilous situation, keep it simple, darling. No ticking bomb, no runaway steam train, no piano falling from a great height, and certainly nothing that would cause rampant, unchecked devastation. A simple kidnapping will get the job done in a pinch, and with minimal fuss. All you really need is a balaclava or hockey mask (or a dark-tone wrap or shawl, for something less ‘thuggish’), a roll of duct tape and a sturdy chair. Ideally, the whole thing should cost you less than $80, which is quite reasonable on a student budget.

You will, of course, need a close friend to play the part of kidnapper. I have a method actor who does this for me when required – he just finished a West End run of Reservoir Dogs, in fact (my kidnappings are first rate, darling) – but I appreciate this may not be an option for you, so don’t place too fine a point on it.

As for the act itself: some may favour a swift clock to the back of the head, but I find this unspeakably gauche, and entirely unnecessary. For a non-violent approach, try drinking them under the table instead. Offer them a glass of port (they’ll likely have at least three), and once they’ve nodded off, just slip them in a coat bag and transport them as required.

And if drinking an inveterate alcoholic under the table proves impossible, well… you do still have the empty bottle in your hand, I suppose.

I won’t inundate you with too many details from here – kidnappings are, more than anything, a creative endeavour, so you should really make them your own – but I will briefly add that you should ensure two things: that a) your supervisor sees you save them, and knows you saved them (this is the point of the exercise, after all), and that b) they do not encourage the police to pursue any serious investigation of the matter, and thereby discover your ruse.

The best way to do this is to unearth some gruesome skeleton from their closet in advance (a marital indiscretion, academic misconduct, or another kidnapping they might have staged previously), and have the kidnapper threaten to expose this should they ever get caught. Essentially, give your kidnapping a twist of blackmail, and it’s bound to shine.

So, my darling, to summarise: you can either bring sweet pastries to all your meetings for the next six months, or you can stage a tasteful abduction under cover of night. I know which one I’d pick, but as I said earlier… your choices are your own.

 

* I have been asked, on more than one occasion, about the origins of my middle name. I could tell you that my mother was a socialite and self-taught mixologist, with a knack for barbiturates and a habit of French cocktails, but ultimately, all of that is incidental: Sidecar is an old family name.

 


Got a question for Penny? Write to us at nupsa@newcastle.edu.au and see it answered!

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