Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Each night, when I was very small, my parents and I would kneel and say prayers by my bed, heads bowed, hands clasped together in reverence. On the wall was a painting of the biblical Samuel in a similar attitude, giving homage to what appeared to be a supernova. I had selected that image from a wide selection at the church shop, because the holy man depicted bore my name. Most nights, my father would sing me a lullaby in Latvian, his native language: aijã zuzu lãca berni. It was a story of a mother and father bear bringing honey and berries to their cubs – though I never knew the meaning of the words. The lullaby has stayed with me. It’s the sweetest memory I have of my father. And it’s the only piece of real Latvian culture he left me. It saddens me, but I don’t blame him. I know what he went through, and how frightened he was. He kept as far from the local Latvian community as he could for fear of communist spies. And spies there were. It was not just paranoia. I have removed the post ‘Lemon and Orange’. Much to my surprise it was discovered by the subjects of the article and, though no names were used, there was predictable outrage. It is my tendency to colour reality as brilliantly as possible and in this case I succeeded in making an already seedy series of events appear shockingly squalid. I can only speak for what I witnessed; what I learned second hand seems to have been the product of emotional heat.
When I travelled to Latvia, early this century, I made sure to get a recording of the song. I learnt that it was generally known as ‘The Latvian Lullaby’ and was based on a melody by one of the great composers.
From the liner notes …
‘The Latvian mind imagined that sleep is provided by a dear, sweet little mouse. The mouse is seen as a tiny quiet creature, the colour of the evening dusk, who is able to simultaneously guard boundaries and cross them.’
’As the magical moment of sleep arrives for the children in our arms, we rock them with an age old movement and we sing to them. What else could one do at suck a moment? Sometimes you can’t even call it singing – it’s crooning, humming, lulling – something heartfelt and primordial.’
After my return, Polly was born, but by that time – of course – I’d misplaced the CD. Throughout her short life I’ve been singing her the pigeon-Latvian version I remember from my childhood. My dear friend Ieva - a magnificent woman of honour and intellect, who guided me compassionately through the reunion with my estranged aunt – promised to post me another copy and each day since Polly has been checking the letterbox without result. The months passed and it seemed that the CD had been lost in the mail.
But today, on the eve of Polly’s first day of school, the disc arrived - and from this point on I can invest her with this little silvery flake of her heritage.
[It's a rather beautiful album, by the way.]
All up, it was the result of my naïveté as a personal blogger. I have much to learn about what I should and shouldn’t say – though the urge to tell it warts and all is almost irresistible. [I wonder if James Packer will go for me next?]
I must admit, I have been warned – by Pink Light and by Donald – but I thought the use of pseudonyms would be sufficient.
As a footnote to my previous post, Robert’s boarding house is not – as I suggested – at peace. The management and the police are doing very little to restrain the troublemakers, not all of whom have been imprisoned. More threats have been issued and another resident has been assaulted. Robert is working towards a restraining order.
Most nights, my father would sing me a lullaby in Latvian, his native language: aijã zuzu lãca berni. It was a story of a mother and father bear bringing honey and berries to their cubs – though I never knew the meaning of the words. The lullaby has stayed with me. It’s the sweetest memory I have of my father. And it’s the only piece of real Latvian culture he left me.
It saddens me, but I don’t blame him. I know what he went through, and how frightened he was. He kept as far from the local Latvian community as he could for fear of communist spies. And spies there were. It was not just paranoia.
I have removed the post ‘Lemon and Orange’. Much to my surprise it was discovered by the subjects of the article and, though no names were used, there was predictable outrage. It is my tendency to colour reality as brilliantly as possible and in this case I succeeded in making an already seedy series of events appear shockingly squalid. I can only speak for what I witnessed; what I learned second hand seems to have been the product of emotional heat.
We have all heard stories about the genius guitarist, who lives out his days muddling away in a bedroom, unknown to the world at large, subsisting at some shit job when he could be benefiting the universe with his talent.
Robert is a whole lot like that. Robert, the scientist who inhabits my carport together with his antique industrial machinery. Who also happens to be an historian of aviation and shipping, a metalworker, a carpenter, a chemist, a sailor… the list is long, but very specific. As Lynne suggests, tunnelvision is one of the symptoms that makes unique minds so brilliant. They’re crap at most things, but startlingly talented at others.
Take movies for example. Robert has real trouble dealing with logical inaccuracy, anachronism and discontinuous narrative. If things don’t happen according to a natural timeline, he gets bewildered. Any sort of clever artistic affectation confuses him. Myth Busters is one his bugbears. It was good in the beginning, he says, but its sold out. They’re addressing myths that everyone knows are bunkum. He has zero tolerance for scientific inaccuracy and he invariably sniffs it out, even if something is set thousands of years in the future.
Politicians can’t get a word in edge way. He doesn’t believe a word they say. He despises police too. I put it down to his early days in the Young Socialists – unfortunately it’s impossible to convince him to move on. I've tried to bribe him to register as a voter but, because he claims to remain an anarchist, he refuses.
Moving out of Park Towers in South Melbourne, where he lived with long time female accomplice Lorraine, he found a place in a nearby rooming house. Robert can be difficult to house owing to his packrat-like habits. With no car, he’ll arrive home on his bike with lengths of scaffolding, pumps torn from washing machines, damaged solar panels, sheets of galvanised iron, worn out machine tools, random appliances, all on his back or in his long suffering bag.
Every few months he falls off. It’s obvious why. On sultry summer nights he rides all the way home from Mt Waverley, just because he enjoys it.
We keep finding new bags for him, but they don’t last long, given the industrial-grade use they endure. Shoes too, and clothes, but he’ll never look neat. Lorraine looks after his long hair, trimming and plaiting it. He buys cheap over-ripe fruit from South Melbourne market, if he can’t find anything bin-diving. He’s a vegetarian; we’re always reminding him to watch his protein intake, since he’s so very active, but he still has that vegan-style pallor.
Funny thing. I was at Science Works with Polly one time, watching a time lapse movie of some decomposing bananas. We played a game, guessing at what point Robert would turn up his nose. A vegetable can travel a long way down the track before Robert will judge it putrescent.
Anyway, wherever he settles, there also settles a huge pile of junk which, of course, according to him, is nothing of the sort. Lately, since his latest obsession is metal-work, the salvage has been largely metallic. Obviously, Lorraine reached a point where she was forced to move him on. He’s far worse an accumulator than me. I see it in his eyes as we pass nature strips strewn with hard rubbish.
The rooming house is good for Robert. They won’t let him pile things in the grounds, which is a restriction he requires. He spends little of his pension on rent, little on food, so that every few months he can afford to buy a new piece of heavy machinery to dote over and restore in the carport. His tiny room is jam packed with tools, chains, bearings, cowlings, housings, chucks, finials, meat hooks, beakers, aging computer peripherals and antique machine manuals. There is just room enough left for his futon.
Once, needing to score, Robert pawned his oscillator. Has anyone ever in the universe pawned an oscillator before? I don’t think so. Once Robert spent half a day turning a solid steel flush button on his lathe, because the plastic one in the communal toilet had failed.
Every so often, given the nature of the rooming house, trouble brews. The place is home to old alcoholics, divorced migrant husbands and crinkled thin-lipped junkies. Everyone there has some sort of issue, whether it be mental, physical or circumstantial. Lately it’s been calm, but recently the management - part-timers with nice cars pulling down a full time wage - thoughtlessly sent three red-hot junkie crims along to fill some vacant rooms.
The result was turmoil. They treated the place like a jail. They tried to establish jail-like hierarchies of power with threat and intimidation. They stood over people for money, cigarettes. Robert described them as submorons, who would get pissed and roam noisily downstairs, breaking anything they could find while the house was trying to sleep.
But worst was their treatment of the old blokes. They stole and made threats to kill. Consequently, these poor shattered wrecks began to live in fear. A pall descended on the building.
There were communal meetings and a myriad of complaints were made to the people who, without thinking twice, had cast these spitting vipers into a peacefully functioning home - and then gone on holidays.
Finally, very late one night, a couple of these dickheads were stomping about in the TV room, complaining noisily of having no money, cigarettes or booze; [having blown their cheques on ice]. They’d already knocked on everyone’s door demanding money. When the answer was no, they’d insist the person tell them why. Why don’t you have any money? What have you done with it? The more courageous ones asked what business it was of theirs.
Then they started talking loudly about killing Peter, an old man with only a few months to live; so loudly that Peter would be sure to hear. That was when Robert lost his patience. He stepped out of his room and told them to go out, find some butts on the footpath and roll them up. [I’ve done it, Have you?] But the behaviour downstairs did not abate. Robert emerged again, angrier this time – if you want money go out on the fucking street and sell your arse, then shut the fuck up.
- What did you fucking say, mate?
Robert repeated himself. One of them, Alan, a quintessential crim with feeble mind and tracksuit pants, leapt up the stairs and challenged him. Robert made the mistake of turning his back to re-enter his room. Alan sucker punched him in the head. [A week later the bruises are still bright and crimson] And Robert retaliated.
Because Robert does so much bike riding and heavy lifting - among a thousand other arduous activities - he has a lot of whole-body strength. Alan was shocked to find himself in a headlock, getting his skull pummelled. Robert then braced himself, forced Alan’s body against a wall, and used his feet to compress his chest. Alan was immobilised and gasping for dear life. That was when his mate, Ian, the dominant of the two, crept up and kicked Robert in the head.
The fight must have broken up then, but Robert had a 5 mm tear to his cornea which took three days to heal. Alan was in far worse shape.
Sordid stuff isn’t it? But the upshot was good. The eruption got things moving. One guy was taken off by the cops. The other, due to enter jail in a couple of weeks, went on the lam. The third and most sensible one was given another chance. And management pulled their head out of the sand.
So goes life in the underbelly of South Melbourne. I wonder if the yuppies see much of it? The house of one neighbour is plastered with fascistic signs about trespassing and a number of those false security cameras.
The boarding house has calmed and Robert is functioning again, which is good because basically we couldn’t get by without him. He’s the king of handymen; he can fix just about anything. Show him a random piece of machined metal or plastic and he’ll tell you its precise provenance. It’s unbelievable. We’re blessed to have him. Often, I tell him he should start a business, but he’s too busy restoring his Deckel tool mill.
Living where he does, and having the weaknesses he does, he has encountered vampires. Mindless arseholes who’ve effectively tried to imprison him, believing he can turn pills into heroin, [it wouldn’t surprise me if he could]. Once, I chopped down an invasive camphor laurel tree and he explained to me exactly how to process it into ecstasy. His lifelong dream is to make a single batch of fentanyl [among the very strongest of the synthetic opiates] to last him the remainder of his life.
Because he can’t say no, he’s always fixing people’s TVs and microwaves, and blenders. Though most people don’t pay him, he continues to do it. He’s genuinely sweet, thoughtful, kind. I saw him crying during the long death of Lorraine’s cancerous pet rat.
Robert is utterly unique. Viva Robert! Why does he have to put up with what he does, when he should be raised high upon a golden pedestal?
'the swarf that penetrates' - an introduction to the Weird of Robert
Monday, January 28, 2008
I’ve been experiencing a hiccup with Ambergris, the play I’m writing set on an island off the Queensland coast. [You could call it Almost-Stradbroke.] The problem involves the disappearance of a girl, Lily, about seven years old, who ventures off with some hay to feed a horse and never returns. The play is set three years later, and the issue of the girl’s disappearance is important, but not central.
I’ve hammered out most of the plot, but what happens to the girl has been a sticking point. I haven’t been able to work out an appropriate fate. It can’t be too boring. And it can’t be too weird. [I’ve resolved myself to making this play a little less bizarre than my previous work].
There’s a dog named ‘Chunk’ who was with Lily when she disappeared. He knows something; he keeps returning to a certain place, but no one can figure out why. I also want to suggest, only vaguely, that the girl was ‘taken’ by the island. [with no similarity whatsoever to ‘Lost’] She is innocent, a child of nature. You know what I mean. Fodder for The Green Man.
Anyway, I’m getting close now. I’m thinking about the preservation of corpses.
I was at the Melbourne Museum yesterday with Polly and Lynne, attending The Bee Circus – a weird composite of bee information seminar and circus skills exhibition, performed and devised by kids from circus school. [Polly loved it.]
If I am to preserve Lily, I must decide how. At the Museum there was a replica of some corpses from Pompeii, but that’s far too violent a death. There was a mummy too, but that’s artificial – although the natron is a possibility. [Natron is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride mined by the Egyptians in the Natron Valley. Just as salt sucks red wine from carpets, natron sucks juices from corpses.]
I need something slow and painless. I’m thinking of having her explore a cave system. After falling asleep, she could be gently gassed by some venting of the Earth, some mysterious Gaian afflatus, or else drugged by a dripping mineral opiate.
Then the processes of nature would set to work. Recognising the unique beauty of her spirit, the Earth will opt not to putrefy her, but to preserve her - with moss, limestone, lichen, rust and roots. Or might she be bitten by a snake or a gold and turquoise spider with preservative for venom?
There are a lot of factual options for preservation. Certain soil conditions can be responsible. Aridity. Ice. The twelfth Pandito Hambo Lama achieved preservation through ‘a form of meditation known as shunyata, or emptiness’, [Fortean Times #184], ‘coupled with prolonged starvation and slow self-suffocation using a special belt that connects the neck with the knees in a lotus position’ [Wikipedia]
Doctor Glob’s ‘The Bog People’ is a book dear to my heart. It deals with the marvellously preserved corpses found in European peat bogs. ’There is a strange power in bog water,’ it is said, ‘which prevents decay’.
Perhaps some of the chemical processes may be useful, but not the violence. A lot of these Iron Age preservations were human sacrifices found with garrottes about their necks.
Nowadays we have cryogenics, formalin and Gunther von Hagens' ‘s plastination technique, but perhaps there are natural analogues. My fictional island is rich in minerals, after all …
The most intriguing thing I encountered at the museum was this:
Lynne made the connection. Somehow, she has always been able to track the way my mind wanders. I could easily imagine Lily encased in something like this formation of amethyst, flesh transmuted into gemstone, like something from the pages of Ballard’s The Crystal World.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
It seems that Heath Ledger had his problems with drugs. Well, so what?
As the information leaked out about his sad demise, one could sense the efforts, on one side, to play down the sordid elements. Scattered pills found their way back into the bottle. A rolled up note was found to have no residue. From the other side – that of the ravenous and voyeuristic – we learned that he had just left rehab, was battling addictions to heroin, xanax and stilnox, that he was distressed and sleep-deprived.
Tasty. But why do drugs so often become the centrepiece?
Well, some of us like to watch the mighty descend into the abyss. It reassures us to learn that they are as weak and as freaked out as us. It makes us feeler closer to them. And, of course, we love scandal for its own sake. That’s simply in our nature.
We’re ghoulishly curious when it comes to the stars – those public assets in which we all have a stake. Every detail of Ledger’s death scene has been described in the media, interpreted, analysed and spin doctored by publicists. But with the mention of drugs our interest ramped to a whole other level. This betrays us, just as drugs betray the personal struggles of the famous.
During the Heath Ledger coverage, I read the comment that fame is a sort of mental illness. Perhaps the sensitive, troubled Ledger turned to drugs as a way of self medicating this illness. Perhaps that’s the reason so many celebrated people do take drugs.
“It’s like having Alzheimer’s Disease. You don’t know anyone, but they all know you,” said Tony Curtis. But that’s just part of the story. There’s pressure, stress, loss of freedom, alienation, loneliness, and a tendency for people to become friends with your fame, not with you.
In David Gritten’s book ‘Fame’ he claims that ‘celebrity behaviour is rooted in a type of personality disorder’. Histrionic Personality Disorder to be exact, defined as ‘a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking’. Some of the symptoms are the ‘display of rapidly shifting and shallow expressions of emotions’, behaviour ‘being directed towards obtaining immediate satisfaction, with no tolerance for the frustration of delayed gratification,’ and ‘a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail [e.g. when asked to describe mother, can be no more specific than “she was a beautiful person”’.
You have your Britney Spears, and her sordid public fall from innocence. She’s a red raw case of the fame disease. You have all those actors – Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Brad Renfro, River Phoenix, Robert Downey Junior etc., who have or have had relationships with heroin. Musicians in even greater numbers, writers too, models and sportsmen. And I’m not including cocaine.
It’s so rife, this affliction of our idols and role models, that ‘rehab’ has somehow evolved into a pretty cool concept. In the hip crowd, among the high echelons, and on the press release, well it’s getting kind of groovy, isn’t it?
It would be good to shrug off the prejudice and the stigma associated with drug use, but that’s not really what happening here.
On one side you have the prohibitionists and on the other you have people who admire drug use in their heroes because it’s a la mode. Both are in error. And of all the reasons for taking drugs, imitating the beloved famous is one of the most insidious. I have a particular dislike for it because that’s pretty much what started me off
Hearing that an artist has a drug history, automatically perks my interest. Even now. I can’t help it. And I’m not the only one.
[No matter how great a song it was, I really wish that Lou Reed had never written ‘Heroin’.]
I won’t get into details now, but the creative soul is far more likely to experiment with mind altering drugs. Sometimes, it’s just part and parcel of the thing: the quest for new vistas, for an undiscovered viewpoint, for mystery – and sometimes the result of a painful sensitivity to a crass and blaring world.
It’s true. Often the most interesting ones are the ones who engage with drugs. And when they get famous, we imitate their behaviour.
And when they are infected with fame – well, that can push them deeper. The artistic temperament can be overfed, the ego may rear like the Whore of Babylon. Money and freedom and reputation can increase creative freedom, but expectations, fear of failure and commercial pressures can close it down. Doubts can arise over ones integrity. I’m not sure if Hollywood-grade fame is ever good for an artist, unless he’s one of the few that it actually suits.
Give me Emily Dickinson any day.
The reputation of Heath Ledger will not suffer by his exposure as a drug addict. People will understand how sensitive an artistic soul he was, how troubled, how he missed his daughter, and was deeply disturbed after immersing himself in the role of The Joker. [a claim only a Hollywood actor could make, no?] Probably the only truly damaging revelation was that he was friends with Mary-Kate Olsen.
Lynne suggested that his lack of classical training may have been an influence. A lot of actors, these days, become so deeply immersed in a role that they cannot dissociate themselves. They engage in intense research, force massive weight changes, and wind up misplacing their sense of self. They don’t isolate a personal centre to keep themselves sane.
Anyway, what about the man on the street? Being exposed as drug addict is a entirely different thing for him, isn’t it? We don’t quite get the same level of compassionate understanding.
Our gods of Mt Olympus are not subject to the same laws as we. If they are revealed as drug addicts, we create a moving backstory with which to enrich their posthumous biographies [and the lurid pages of the gossip mags].
[And, by the way, how do they get these drugs? Do they see a doctor? Or is it all done by a PA? Do you think they get their hands dirty like the rest of us?]
There are also the prominent users who are never exposed in the tabloids; who need to keep it quiet and are rich enough to do so. But sometimes rumours filter down. James Packer and Laughlin Murdoch; tight friends who spent a good swathe of time on heroin. Kate Fischer got in on it too, it is said, and only when Packer divorced her and married ‘ex-escort’ Jodhi Meares did he clean up. [Scientology was a factor there too, it is said.] Then you have Elle McPherson, cleanest of the clean, who wouldn’t do a photo shoot unless the coke was laid on. It is said. And Sonia McMahon? Well it’s not relevant at all, but I’ve been told that before she became our first lady, she was an escort too. [I couldn’t resist putting that in.]
All ‘rumours’ of course, but among certain of the high echelons hard drugs will always be de rigeur. The modern aristocracy is isolated from petty considerations that the ordinary populace has to face – like. say, waiting for hours in dark carparks, or doing without for lack of money. Occasionally, the vices of a luminary will be bared to a voracious public, but again you’ll have the backstory and once more our considerate understanding.
Friday, January 25, 2008
I was visiting George’s house one September night during the Eighties. I’m not quite certain of the year, but it was Father’s Day and my father had died not too many years before.
To be honest, we were bored – otherwise the idea of visiting my father’s grave would probably never have arisen. I felt vaguely guilty about not having paid my respects - but now that I actually felt like making the trip, it was pretty late at night..
It was an obstacle that wasn’t going to hinder us. George was up for pretty much anything – it was one of the worthy things about him - and he was amenable to my suggestion. We embarked from Burwood to the Springvale Crematorium, high in spirits, as sober as the day is long.
Finding it closed and locked up tight wasn’t too surprising. But was it really that unusual a thing to visit a graveyard at night? We weren’t certain. We didn’t feel like we were doing anything too bizarre by slipping under the fence and setting out by torchlight over those vast pastures, circumscribed by an infinity of flat dry suburbia, the grave markers all flat to the ground,
But the longer we roamed, the more inappropriate it began to feel. I had a fair idea where my dad was buried, but the landmarks were difficult to recognise by night, and the place was huge. Thinking back, it seems remarkable that we succeeded.
We rested. It had been an effort getting there. I lay flat on my back, and that was how the nervous police first saw me, a freakish looking individual supine on a grave in the dead of the night, looking sullen and thoughtful, his oddly mannered friend lurking nearby with a torch .…
The first thing we saw were lights, bobbing in the distance. We had no idea what they could be. It was a graveyard. The possibilities were legion. Then we heard voices and the whining of dogs. We lay still and quiet, hoping they would pass us by.
But we were the reason for their presence. Only when they were right on top of us did we realise it was the cops, and they were almost as scared as we were. Who knows what pictures their imaginations had drawn in their minds? They screamed at us to lie flat on our faces. I heard one young voice saying he didn’t think he could control the dogs. ‘Don’t look up! Don’t look up! Lay as fucking still as you can!’
I don’t know if I’ve ever been quite so scared. The dogs were growling, choking themselves on their leashes just beyond my vision. It seemed like there were at least four of them but it transpired that there had only been two. Or even one. I think the cops were actually less scared of us than of what the dogs might do if they broke loose. Was it an act? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The police had no interest in anything we had to say. We were marched out of the graveyard, back under the cyclone wire fence, to waiting divisional vans. One for each of us. And two cruisers were parked there as well. Whatever the do-good suburbanite had told them when he rang to report us, it had certainly raised the ire of the local constabulary.
Of course, I took primary blame, explaining that George was just doing me a favour by being there. We spent a few miserable hours in a jail cell. My charge was trespass with illegal intent, which, my lawyer informed me, carried a minimum two year jail sentence. George received something lesser.
My trial date came up before his. I found it hard to believe they were taking it so seriously, but my lawyer advised me to be prepared. I donned my court suit and my court shoes and resolved myself to appearing as normal and as sympathetic as possible.
Though my memory is dim, I recall a few salient parts of the hearing: the prosecutor referring to precedents in Western Australian law, and then calling up an astonishingly decrepit old man with a cane to the witness stand. This cemetery administrator was asked one question. When was the cemetery open? His answer made no sense, but the gist of it was understood by the courtroom.
Then I found myself in the witness box, sworn in and speaking directly with the magistrate,
- Were you, in fact, lying upon a grave?
- Yes, sir. My father’s grave.
He looked to the prosecutor.
- Did you check this?”
- Yes, ah … Your Honour, the defendant’s er … father is buried at the ah … Springvale Crematorium …”
He looked back at me.
- But what were you doing there in the middle of the night?”
- I’d intended to visit the grave with my mother during the day, but didn’t make it. Since it was father’s day, I …
The magistrate turned back to the prosecutor.
- Is this true? Was it father’s day?”
- Umm… yes, Your Honour, but ….”
The magistrate rolled his eyes, banged his gavel, called for the next case
It was a triumphal feeling, getting clear of that one.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
There is a long cycle that rises from relative calm to acute crisis and back again. Currently, thankfully, I’m enjoying one of those more peaceful times.
As usually happens, when I have time to reflect, I begin to worry about my health. I’m too mentally disorganised [and sick] to become a genuine hypochondriac, but I give it a decent shove.
[The origins of the word hypochondriac are described in the book on Mesmerism I’m reading. Mesmer placed the body’s ‘equator’ and ‘common sensorium’ at the hypochondria on the sides of the upper abdomen. Hypochondriacs were people with unbalanced humours who ‘elicited sympathy, not the scorn reserved for malades imaginaires’.]
First, I attempt to reign in my Nicorette habit. I gave up smoking aeons ago, replacing cigarettes with chewing gum. But I’ve been unable to shrug the actual nicotine addiction. If I don’t watch it, I’ll grind up a forty dollar packet of 4 mg gum in less than a week, and that’s not good for the health or the budget. It results in palpitations and bad head. My answer is to snip the tabs into four pieces and ration these out, with the vague intention of one day giving them up entirely …
Then I begin to worry about my fitness and my heart. I have a membership at the Monash Uni pool, which I maintain whether I go or not. Lately, I’ve been badly remiss in that area. My stomach is sagging. I have little endurance. But at last I’ve returned to the water, where I feel the most alive. I’ve been swimming all week and am just beginning to feel less like a bodiless revenant.
Then I will dwell upon my liver, my Achilles heel. Over time, I’ve endured three long and nightmarish interferon treatments in an attempt to rid my system of the HCV virus, but only the last – a combination therapy with ribavirin - came close to doing any permanent good. Tantalisingly close, actually. I’m sure that the next improvement in treatment will see a cure - so with that in mind I’m returning to the liver clinic, to once more bite the bullet.
My appointment is in a few months and in that time I’ll work to prepare myself. Though these days I’m generally an abstemious drinker, even smaller amounts can worry the liver. I’m determined to teetotal. And I’m going to enforce a dietary regime which I’ve tried and failed to maintain for decades. Minimal animal fats. Water by the bucket load. Ersatz coffee …
All these ersatz substances. Ersatz cigarettes. Ersatz heroin. Ersatz cheese. Ersatz peace of mind … I can deal with it, if it helps me feel human… I love the word ersatz by the way. I learnt it from Philip K Dick, who had a fascination with the German language. Literally, it means replacement or substitute, but it came into English use during the World Wars, when the desperate Germans, deprived of raw materials, used what they had to develop substitutes: ersatz rubber, ersatz heating-oil, ersatz tea, ersatz coffee …
People describe one of the symptoms of Hep C as ‘brain fog’. Well I’ve got that in spades and it erodes my ‘basal hedonic tone’ [this describes whether you feel happy or sad]. I’m sure it interferes with my work, and I’m sure that my daily dose of Spasmo-Nemigron [aka suboxone] is also partly to blame. And that’s another thing I have to address.
It was around this time last year that I decided I’d had enough of the sleepy emotionless cotton-wool world of buprenorphine and tried to come off. Obviously, I failed, but the urge is uprearing again and I’m hot to make another attempt. If things can stay commonsensical and calm in my life, then I might have a chance.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I’m Sam Sejavka. I’m a writer and a singer. I’m twenty years old, but in one week’s time I’ll be twenty-one. Allow me to briefly describe my life up to this point.
Half way through my HSC year at St Kevin’s College, I left home and school and took a flat in St Kilda. I was seventeen. Shortly after that, suffering from nervous tension, I spent some weeks in a private psychiatric hospital. Though I never returned to school, I did sit my exams and managed to do pretty well, particularly in English.
I lived a reckless life in St Kilda, spending time with the basest of the creatures who abide there. I wrote all this time, though the results were dubious. I was young and over-stimulated by my new found freedom. I was seeing a girl called Irene, but broke up with her around the turn of the year …
I was evicted for general rowdiness and spent a week or so wandering in St Kilda, staying at hotels. I was undergoing another personality crisis, but this time it was not quite as severe.
I took up a new flat in Armadale and attended university, which I loathed. After two or three months I left, again undergoing a kind of crisis. I had done not a skerrick of work in this time. I found myself completely uninspired.
I moved to Sydney, found a flat in Kings Cross and wrote. I viewed myself as something like the protagonist from Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London - but under a shadow of inexperience and pretension the work I did was pretty well unreadable. [Woe the day I first read William Burroughs]
I made no friends there. I never went out. I became a lonely bum, trying to live his twisted idea of a dream. I must say though that I was brave. I’ve never had quite the same attitude to food since I found myself starving up in Sydney. At times I would go to a nearby homeless shelter to partake of the disgusting food they served there.
Eventually, I could stand it no longer and returned to Melbourne. I rented a house with George in Richmond and lived there six months, leading a wasteful sort of life. We had trouble with hoodlums in that place and left suddenly with the house in a wreck. Though I pined for female company, George and I enjoyed ourselves concocting and realising all manner of eccentric schemes.
I left for a new flat in Armadale. I was determined to write as diligently as I could - and I did for while, but it was forced, meaningless stuff.
Inspired by William Burroughs, and much to alarm of my parents, I joined The Church of Scientology Though my involvement was pretty marginal, [probably because I had no money,] it still remains omne of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.
In September, for five days, I camped out for David Bowie tickets. This was to be a turning point. I was introduced to heroin and LSD, though I’d had my fair share of other drugs previously. I made many friends and by the time of the next queue – this time for actual seating – I could almost have been described as gregarious. I spent those three weeks stoned in as many ways as it is possible to be. This is where the idea of the band was born.
The night of the concert, my basement flat flooded and I could no longer live there [I’d forgotten to turn on the pump]. I moved home and around the turn of the year, The Ears began to practise. In January 1979, I went to a science-fiction writer’s workshop in Sydney where, among others, I met George Turner and a young Lucy Sussex.
I moved into a house with Mick Lewis and Tim McLaughlan [keyboards] and The Ears developed. We played for the first time in February. I returned to Melbourne Uni and could stand it this time only because I found a girl, Elise Valmorbida, with whom I fell madly in love. But I was far too immature to make something like that work and the relationship had decayed to nothing by the end of the year.
The group was playing regularly now. I rented another flat in Armadale, where I decided to once more quit university. Soon after, I moved to a house in Richmond with Mick and Richard Lowenstein. I was a night bird, going out as much as possible and living a life of debauchery. They were the days of the Champion Hotel. The end of the year came and I had frittered it agreeably away. It was 1980, I was nineteen. I was in a group and things were fine in a twisted sort of way.
I stayed in Richmond till March, then moved to Elwood, to the flat where I began this diary. I turned twenty. Our first single was released. I pursued girls. We got a manager, then a different manager. I went to parties. And in August I met Christine.
There followed the most rewarding period of my life thus far. I was not prolific, I was not together, I was just unreasonably happy. We slept together almost every night. I was totally, without qualification, in love. And love was what was most important.
Soon after I met Christine, my father died. But that just healed with time. Then on the twentieth of March, Christine overdosed.
And now it’s the twenty fifth of March; I’m sitting out the front of Milton St, watching some placid old people mulling over the detritus of their lives. Mine is a pain equalled only by the pleasure that it echoes.
As you can imagine, this was a hellish period for me. I was wracked with grief and life seemed drained of all value – so forgive me if the above entry has a rather sententious tone.
It was interesting to read though. A lot of memories sparked. A lot of things forgotten.
After Christine’s death I woke in Troy’s flat next door with no memory whatsoever of the night before. It was barely daylight. I had a terrible sense of impending doom, but my mind was too foggy to work out why. I found my way to the front door; I could see Peter Walsh walking up the path from the back yard where he’d lain unconscious all night. He looked like a zombie. I caught his eye, but there was no reaction. I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I couldn’t think how to open it. I made my way back to the bed and again fell unconscious.
I awoke several hours later in full realisation that something had gone terribly wrong. I looked around frantically and saw Craig McGee in the doorway. Where’s Christine, I asked? She’s dead, he said.
Craig took me to his and Laura’s house, where I slept on the floor for a few days, before going home to my mother’s and doing the same for a fortnight. The heroin, fresh from Thailand, had been unreasonably strong and I took a long time recovering. I’ll never forget that pain and desolation. The last image I had of Christine was slapping her face, trying to wake her. It was just a flash in my memory of that night
To make matters worse, not long after, I began to receive a certain amount of police harassment. This was due to Christine’s father being the head of the police union, and her brother a member. In reflection, it was bound to happen. A fellow named Colin, a keyboard player who I think once burnt down someone’s garage, had been round to Milton St. The police had stopped him, hassled him severely. He said he had the strong impression that they were looking for someone with bright red hair, but not him. [I had bright red hair]. Then, after a gig at the Crystal Ballroom, a couple of cops pulled me into a corner and threatened to kill me if they heard of my further involvement with drugs. I wish I’d taken them more seriously.
Christine’s father, though, was understanding. He called me to the Harding family home and talked to me, not with anger but compassion. The family was less understanding towards the hapless Craig Elrick, who was a reckless spirit, doomed to forever get himself and others into strife …
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Part of the advantage of having a jungle for a garden is the occasional unexpected appearance of new flora and fauna.
In recent times, there’s been unusual activity in the natural world of Mt Waverley: nightmarish earwig infestations, the rise of the native cockroaches, an invasion of revolting black caterpillars which I have been unable to identify - and now a brand new spider.
I’ll leave moot the issue of climate change, though to my mind it is certainly in play.
Like any house in this region, we have our resident daddy long legs and huntsmen, but over the last month in various rooms we have noticed, in corners, clinging to walls, a spider that looks exactly like this:
I don’t have a good enough lens to capture something as small as a spider, so I had to borrow the image.
My photo looks like this:
As you will notice, there are now two of the spiders. They are handsome-looking things, clean, having a kind of design affiliation with the stick insect.
The species is Deinopsis subrufa, the net casting spider, named after its distinctive means of snaring prey. It waits with a unique rectangular net grasped in its four front legs. When potential prey passes – either arachnoid or insectile – it casts the net to effect capture; its victims tangling themselves in the non-sticky silk or cribellate. I haven’t seen this happen, of course, but could these spiders have been feasting on the local daddy long legs, moving from room to room, methodically clearing out our age old co-inhabitants…?
These individuals are male. I have not seen any females, which seem to be almost orange in appearance…
I have not found any mention of these spiders colonising the inside of houses. Have they been forced inside, I wonder, or is this an isolated occurrence? Whatever the case, who could be anything but proud to share his domicile with such a charismatic lifeform?
Friday, January 18, 2008
Everything is aging.
The stacks of books in my room – ebay stock carefully sorted less than a month ago – have begun to fall into each other and form a large muddled pile on which I have begun to lay dirty clothes and newspapers.
Order requires effort to maintain. Entropy is a law of the universe. A system will naturally increase in disorder unless energy is expended to halt the process.
My car is spattered with deep orange possum urine and greasy road dust. I love my old Renault, but at present it looks as decrepit as I feel. Everywhere I settle, there is an immediate accumulation of semi-discarded objects; receipts, nicorette packets, paper bags, coke bottles, plastic doodads … all subject to the slow, steady and eternal rain of dust.
I look at myself in the mirror and see the same thing. I am unshaven, my eyes are rimmed with sleep, my hair is senseless, my clothes are random and speckled with unidentified pollutants.
Clearly, I have failed to maintain these systems. When I regard myself and my decaying environment, I feel an overwhelming sense of futility. I cannot imagine where I will find the drive to set things aright.
As a teenager, I attended a lecture by Quentin Crisp at Melbourne Uni. I took away what I thought was a pearl of wisdom:
Crisp claimed that cleaning one’s room or house was a pointless exercise, as it would merely get dirty again. He had found that after four years the mess finds a plateau and never gets any worse.
Writing this now, I wonder if he was serious, but I took him at his word. Entropy drives ordered systems to chaos – and eventually a state of complete and stable disorder is reached. I believed Crisp when he claimed that the critical period was four years.
But his claim was far from true; there are deeper levels of decay and degradation, dark abysms of filth and debris, nightmarish funnels of choking dust into which the chronically unclean may be sucked with ease. I pity the householders singled out by A Current Affair. The ‘neighbours from hell’ with the ‘filthiest houses in Australia’ … They would sympathise with my plight. Like me, they struggle to source sufficient energy to keep ahead of the laws of nature.
This slow accretion of junk that builds like plaque. Where does it come from? Some of it I do not even recognise … though I know my hands have placed it there …
Philip K Dick, in his wisdom, described it as ‘kipple’. The ‘chickenhead’ John Isidore in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? lives in the abandoned suburbs of a future San Francisco. His apartment falls ‘day by day into greater entropic ruin.’ Things ‘sag in mutual ruin, victims of the despotic force of time. And abandonment.’
‘Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders or gum wrappers of yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around kipple reproduces itself … if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it.’
The first law of kipple: ‘kipple drives out non-kipple’. ‘The entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleisation.’
So, am I doomed? Am I already defeated in this war? Or will I find the energy to impose order on my existence?
Thursday, January 17, 2008
From a pamphlet distributed in pre-revolutionary Paris:
This creature was found in the kingdom of Santa Fe, Peru, in the province of Chili and in the lake of Fagua
It emerged during the night to devour the swine, bulls and cows of the area. Its length is eleven feet; its face is roughly that of a man; its mouth is as wide as its face. It has the horns of a bull and teeth two inches long. Its hair reaches to the ground. It has the ears of an ass, bat-like wings and two tails, one flexible enough to seize prey, the other ending in a dart which helps it kill. Its entire body is covered with scales.
It was netted and brought alive to the viceroy, who each day nourished it with a steer, a cow and three or four swine, [to which it is quite partial].
The viceroy has sent orders along the entire land route to provide for the needs of this unique monster while making it march by stages to the Gulf of Honduras, where it will embark for Havana. From there to the Bermudas, to the Azores. and in three weeks it will disembark at Cadiz. From Cadiz it will be taken by short trips to the royal family.
It is hoped that a female will also be captured so that the species will not die out in Europe. The species seems to be that of harpies, heretofore considered legendary.
At present, I’m reading an historical thesis called ‘Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France’ by Robert Darnton. It tracks the decade immediately prior to the French Revolution, during which science assumed an immense popular appeal.
The citizenry marveled at the flights of hot air balloons and the extraordinary properties of electricity and magnetism. It seemed that the universe was underwrit by all manner of invisible forces and materials.
Science was big news. But the science of that day was a far cry from what it is now. Even the most distinguished thinkers, like Newton, Harvey and Buffon, remained entangled with alchemy and astrology. Beliefs in such things as ‘vegetative forces’, ‘universal mechanisms’ and ‘igneous atoms’ were par for the course – and sat comfortably alongside a fascination for the newly discovered gases: Fixed Air [carbon dioxide], Phlogistinated or Inflammable Air [hydrogen] and Dephlogistinated or Vital Air [oxygen].
Science seemed like magic and vice versa. Paris attracted all manner of mountebanks and charlatans, ready to profit from its popularity. There were water witchers [dowsers], electric eels that cured gout, elastic shoes for walking on water, perpetual motion machines and methods for breathing and traveling underground …
The chimera described above is a product of a time when anything seemed possible. The concept of sexual generation was debated in fantastic style by ‘ovists, animalculists, preformationists and panspermatists’. For a week, the monster was the talk of Paris. The Courier described it as ‘a beautiful opportunity… for the naturalists of the old and new worlds.’ These are sober words, given the prevailing atmosphere, and the widespread belief that Frederick II ‘had produced centaurs and satyrs by experiments with sodomy’.
Mesmerism – the brainchild of the charismatic German Franz Anton Mesmer – fell roughly midway between respected science and utter chicanery. It held that an unseen ‘superfine fluid penetrated and surrounded all bodies’ and was the medium of gravity, heat, light electricity and magnetism. ‘Sickness resulted from an ‘obstacle’ to the flow of fluid through the body, which was analogous to a magnet’. By mesmerising [massaging] the body’s ‘poles’ a crisis was induced – often involving convulsive fits and fainting spells. Thus the obstacle was overcome and natural harmony restored
Mersmerism became a craze, particularly among the upper classes, who flocked to salons where they would connect themselves to a mesmeric tub which emanated ‘fluid’ via ropes and iron rods. Often, by holding hands and presumably massaging each other’s ‘poles’, they would form ‘mesmeric chains’ in order to focus and amplify the healing energies of the universal agent.
Expressions such as ‘mesmerising’ and ‘animal magnetism’ are an echo of how enthusiastically Mesmerism was embraced at the time.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Christine has died of a heroin overdose. One part of my life has also come to an end.
My mother, strangely enough, is singing in the bath.
I am ailing. Since the Friday night she died, my voracious appetite has ceded its place to a cruel inability to eat.
My heart is like a man tensing as the guillotine blade slips towards his neck. It has fallen a thousand times since Friday.
I and Peter Walsh also overdosed – but we woke up. Craig Elrick, who procured the drugs, has been put to blame by Christine’s family. Perhaps they are right, but I can blame no one.
Scraps of my sanity survive. This entire experience is a thousand times more sunken in terror, in horror than my father’s passing six months ago.
I do the crossword – Yearn: to long – Promise: to pledge – Stir: to try and wake that marvellous heart, so warm between her breasts.
The smell of sex from that Friday afternoon was still with me on the Saturday.
Nothing I look at, nothing I do is without her memory. I cannot really face that sliding blade. The hair in her brush, which I have kept …
Clearing out my flat … there was a nightmare of memory under every item of rubbish …
So ends the happiest, most content and oblivious time of my life. There was a funeral, a wake, even a rosary. I can’t believe she’s gone … wearing a black bow, as she slumped against the door … Good god, what shall I do …? My love is dead …
I am very quickly reorganising my life. Soon I will have my house and perhaps the flavour will return to my food.
I’m so scared of ghosts …
Monday, January 14, 2008
I travel in a Brobdingnagian ark of Theatre from an ancient time; housing a enormous troupe of the Comedia dell’arte – or something of a similar period. Huge chambers, decrepit, creaking, filled with slaving technicians and hunched actors. A script appears, very thick, filled with images and useful background material. It is a work by Shakespeare. It has been prepared by Lynne Ellis, who is the director of this vast concern. A huge drawbridge is lowered, opening the cavernous hold of the ark to a dim, windy climate. Workers begin to spew forth.
I overhear a discussion. Talk of Three Judges, who preside over the troupe’s product. I hear Lynne. Things are going to change, she says. From now on, it is the Director who has final say. No ‘Judges’ are going to stand in the way of her artistic verdicts …
Neville, a neighbour from my childhood, is living in a farmhouse near a cool river stained with tannin, the edges choked with tangled blackberries. I am living nearby. I never see Neville, though I know he is there, in a weatherboard house built upon the side of the river valley. He is isolated and bad-tempered.
At night I wander the edges of his property, following lines of stones in the grass. I see a light in the window, which each night seems dimmer. I worry for him. He is fading. I travel nearer the house, but he does not notice. The layout of the grounds is similar to that of my first school in Mt Waverley, Holy Family.
Then, at last, there is no light. I sense that Neville’s spirit has ebbed to near nothing. I call Robert, who, it seems, is Neville’s brother. Robert comes to the river. We speak of gunpowder and dynamite. He tells me that the walls of Neville’s house – which are now of brick – were pumped full of black powder at the time of construction…
I shudder, remembering that I had swum down the river with a stick of dynamite between my teeth, fetching it like a dog from where it had been thrown among the blackberries. I imagine it detonating in my mouth …
There seems to be a chance that Neville’s house will detonate too. We run. We come to a railway station in the open fields – slabs of white concrete bordering the rails, nothing more. It is my favourite railway station in the world.
I run and run. Faster and for longer than I have ever run before. I worry that my body will not hold. I am following Robert down the single rail track, among the gentle hills and greenish yellow farmlands …
Soon, we are following the sandy bed of a dried out creek. The banks are sheer and ten feet high, edged by thick tangles of blackberries. Robert slows. He has encountered a large, disarticulated kangaroo. He looks up. there are two expectant faces peering over the bank. A man and his son. Robert inspects the dismembered animal and scowls. Parts are badly decayed, yet somehow it lives. He warns it in a gentle voice, as he begins to rip the section with the forearms from the section with the head …
I am appalled. I retreat some metres back down the creek bed, looking for another break in the wall of blackberries. Having found one, I use my surprising physical prowess to leap sufficiently high to scale it. I see the open fields. I follow the creek towards the man and his boy. They are farmers. They are deeply interested in sheep. They wish to be indistinguishable from sheep. The man is leaning over the bank, speaking with Robert. He is bedecked with sheep fur … and sheep parts … now the kangaroo in the creek bed is also a sheep. The pair are eager for it and Robert is making a deal … The boy is intensely suspicious of me; he regards me with an evil stare. I am fascinated by his ears. They are elven and edged with ribbons of sheep skin. Elsewhere on his body he wears the hooves and ears and genitalia of sheep …
I had these dreams last night. Strange how a particular night will be filled with fantastic visions, when most are barren. Perhaps it because the house is at peace. Jenny is happier than she has been in a long while and, of course, Polly is following suit …
I’m sure my anti-depressives play a part too. Prozac and Zoloft, I have found, tend to be generators of wild dreams.
Curiously, within my dreams I sometimes recall other dreams which I had forgotten. Landscapes and atmospheres recur. In those paramnesic moments between wakefulness and sleep, while I struggle to remember what I have seen, sometimes a completely different dream will come to mind, one that had left my mind completely …
Railton, the tiny town in Tasmania where my mother grew up, transferred into the wilderness and stifling heat of mainland Australia. The region, once fertile is utterly bereft of life. A thick carpet of soft dust has settled on everything. I feel a deep existential horror of this dust; it is choking and poisonous. It is the dust of long ages and utter neglect. I have seen it in vacuum cleaner bags and in derelict houses that have been closed for decades. It hides sharp objects that if stepped upon can penetrate the toughest of soles… If you push down into it, your fingers may pass through ripe decaying flesh …
It is not the light, fertile dust of nature; it is an unnatural dust, a product of humanity, the remains of our works eroded by time. It has settled upon Railton, where a few hunched grey individuals still live, for want of choice.
I come to the fence of a horse paddock where a girl is standing. She is excited to see someone from the outside world. I explain that I have comer with my mother to revisit her birth place … The girl indicates a kind of barrow or roadside shop … It is disused and covered with dust; there is nothing for sale, nor has there been in living memory. it speaks of a time when there was still life in this place. I find in it an almost infinite melancholy …
This nightmare dust recurs in other dreams too. In a dream Melbourne, which has a wholly different layout to reality. A layout which remains similar, but is built on by each successive dream. There is a suburb of derelict workers’ cottages close to a rail line, bordering the central city. Here I sometimes explore, in abandoned rooms suffocated by the slow rain of dust…
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Yesterday, I was doing some recording with Nadav Rayman of White Noise Carousel. At one point, passing the bathroom, I noticed something unusual … Oh, and one more thing. Tweety Bird caught a mouse today. Polly managed to confiscate its lifeless body and decided to give it a final resting place with a brick and a 'blanket'.
I wasn’t certain whether it was polite to inquire. When I directed an interested glance at Nadav’s partner, Liz, I could see at least some reluctance to discuss the matter. But, of course, there was no way I could resist.
I ought have guessed it would have something to do with cats. They have two: a dark brown Devon Rex whose fur is indistinguishable from astrakhan and a Tangerine Burmese. Since they are flat-dwellers the issue of the cats’ toilet habits is of some concern, therefore they have taken some innovative and, quite frankly, bizarre measures.
What I saw in their bathroom was a device for training cats to use a human toilet. Once the cats are acclimatised to using the pan of litter fitted over the toilet bowl, the central portion of the pan is removed, leaving a doughnut of litter. Later, a further section is removed, leaving a thin ring on the outside, then, finally, the entire device is removed. I would expect that the substance of the litter is steeped in catnip, or something similar.
Apparently, it works. Liz has seen the cats use it, though describes their reaction at being observed as ‘embarrassed’. This I understand. One of the many little things about cats that makes them so appealing is their ability to experience embarrassment. You may accuse me of anthropomorphising, but I have often seen cats embarrassed – particularly the more rarefied breeds. Usually when they fall or do something awkward, something at odds with the dignity and fluency of their physical style. They will turn, look directly at you, and quickly, humourlessly, depart. There is no mistaking it for anything but embarrassment.
Another cat-related device which I recently acquired from a rubbish heap somewhere:
For some reason, this strikes me as fiendishly clever. It’s a cat toy and Tweety Bird loves it to death. There’s a rail around the circumference fitted with a false mouse which moves freely and at lifelike speeds. The mouse disappears in and out of the concealed portions of track, giving the cat an impression that the mouse is fleeing in and out of holes. The device even has a bit of scratchy carpet fixed to the top, but I think this is more of an afterthought. Tweety Bird has never used it.
I don’t know whether this toy – or the cat toilet - are a waste of the planet’s precious resources. They’re rather an elaborate way of enriching the lives of our companion animals, but they’re ingenious and strange and I like them.
To close, here is an wholly irrelevant photo of Polly which I secretly took half an hour ago. She is having a picnic dinner with her friends, including Sea Turtle, Baby Alive and Potting Mix.
Oh, and one more thing. Tweety Bird caught a mouse today. Polly managed to confiscate its lifeless body and decided to give it a final resting place with a brick and a 'blanket'.
Friday, January 11, 2008
As I creep through the rolling dark, seeking sensation,
I am wary of the nebula,
The waters of anaesthesia
I am wary of finger-beetles drawing strength from the void,
Of what drools from the envenomed tips of steel needles
Gnashing on carpet,
I seek the intoxicating texture of velvet.
I find a tiny motorized Pegasus
Sparking with electricity,
A tiny tiny white Pegasus!
Oscillating not two inches from my forehead.
Estimating my skin.
My ducts are cauterised
I am a place for ointment
There was a time when my nerves were bare to the universe of sensation;
When they would whip and writhe at every contact,
When they would thrill to the miracle of flesh,
The miracles of linen and of cardboard,
The miracles of grease and of tinsel,
The miracle of pond-life ...
Once, I had a thousand names for the Apricot,
I had a thousand words for the following sea
A thousand textures in every word
A thousand possibilities in every footfall.
Once, I had a passing but pleasant interest in migratory birds
Now I clench for the baby fingers.
Here they come.
I am a place for ointment
I am thick with skin
A nerveless hide
bristling with dark hairs that reach blindly for the light,
Struggling to recall the scents of Spring.
What’s that feeble tapping,
Down the long corridor?
It is a corpse butler,
Bringing my plate of desiccated pleasure
She beckons from the margins,
like a lemon, like a feather
A nightmare descending like a steel cap.
Once she was bewitching.
Now she is siphoning my intellectual fluids
Into a pan.
In the oily folds, among the polyps,
There is a place for ointment.
Under the steady hand of an Austrian surgeon
I am elaborately transformed
I am proof against the elements
I am spaceworthy,
And perfectly spherical!
I glint in the starlight like a forbidden jewel!
And a final audit is prepared by The Giant Ear
Raised high upon a wooden scaffold by a team in red coveralls
Tuned to my personal emanations
The team leader nods to the unblinking sentinel at my orifice …
Here, he says, is a place for ointment
Here my wasted limb, there my withered sac,
Here, the tiara of cigarette butts,
I left behind
When once I lost my way.
The path back through my memory,
leads to a contaminated landscape
Of hardened orange peels,
You see it?
The life form,
That readies a nest of torn fingernails,
for its degenerate young.
One step too far,
And I am wreathed in spangles,
Lodged in a world too vivid to explain.
These colours strike me dumb.
These songs that circle like crows.
When was there shame as sharp as this?
When were my regrets so sweet?
Flailing like a ribbon in the breeze,
I feel for the comforting banality of warm dishwater…
I find the finger-beetles,
Dull green and silver,
Pottering with my spine.
I find a tiny Pegasus,
fidgeting on my face.
A tiny tiny white Pegasus.
ruling my teeth.
The withered sac, the wrinkled membrane
I am a place for ointment
The stale grey sheets of my cocoon,
May shield me from these recollections.
Yet they may not.
My thought capsule,
Where the green oxygen candles burn in eternal misery
May sustain me -
With my puckered face,
And cratered skull,
I am the Moon of my own pain
Cranking through each day like a disarticulated lobster,
And bursting with putrefaction,
I am wary that my rattling does not attract the cold;
I pray that my shivering does not attract the cold …
My tongue is bogged.
I am a place for ointment.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The human race, unbeknownst to itself, is under the complete control of a race of repulsive parasitic entities, who drink our mental energies and prevent us from evolving into super-beings.
Every few years, I find myself rereading Colin Wilson’s The Mind Parasites. I’m half way through it as I write. It’s a very odd novel. Unique. Genuinely peculiar. Badly flawed by any reasonable standard. But really interesting.
Wilson is a bone fide thinker. He first came to prominence with ‘The Outsider’ a philosophical work that established him as one of the so-called Angry Young Men of the late fifties literary scene in England. [John Osbourne [Look Back in Anger] was another of these].
But from that point on Wilson’s ideas grew stranger - though never any less well thought through or researched.
I became a fan after reading The Occult – the big green paperback that was half history of the paranormal and half philosophical treatise. Then I swallowed up his back catalogue and attended his lectures whenever he came to town.
[Allow me to diverge. It was John Murphy, the brilliant and arcane drummer of such bands as WhirlyWirld and The Associates who really put me onto Wilson. Now, John, at this time, had the most pungent odour problem I have ever experienced. I saved a seat for him at the Northcote town hall where Wilson was due to speak. He arrived, sat down and, slowly, one by one, the people around us began to relocate, creating a buffer zone of two or three empty chairs around the wellspring of an astonishing stench. I don’t know if John even noticed]
Wilson was perfect for me. I’ve always been a disappointed sceptic. I’m too rational to believe in superstition or higher powers but, nonetheless, I am drawn, inexorably, to the mystical and paranormal. Almost like Mulder: I want to believe – but not if the evidence is lacking
Wilson is similar - but he has reasoned his way into a conviction that there is a untapped reservoir of possibility in the human mind. In the realm of instinct and intuition. Or, in his words, Faculty X. He believes we are so immersed in the day to day, in habitual life that we can never realise our true potential - or find what the psychologist Maslow would call ‘Peak Experience’.
He has pointed a finger at the bicameral mind, suggesting that the two very different hemispheres of our brains are consistently out of sync, and that to bring the creative and the rational sides into harmony would force our whole lives into focus. We would see the beauty radiating from every moment of our existence. We would never feel tired. We would instinctively make the right decisions. And even have access to paranormal powers.
The Mind Parasites, on first glance, appears to be a shoddy little science-fiction paperback. It’s set in a very roughly drawn future in which there is rocket flight between continents and people holidaying on the Moon. Here, Wilson is a little like Philip K Dick; he uses a populist genre to present original, quite complex ideas.
Interestingly, it has a Lovecraftian edge too. The protagonist, Austin, an archaeologist, is an expert on pre-Hittite civilization and is digging in Turkey at a place called The Black Mountain. Impossibly deep beneath the Earth, he discovers a vast stone city built by giants and compares it openly with the cyclopean ramped cities of The Great Old Ones described by Lovecraft. Indeed, the book describes Lovecraft as a visionary, who has somehow accurately predicted the future. Perhaps The Mind Parasites ought be considered a peculiar, rather tangential addition to the Cthulhu Mythos.
Austin comes into possession of the papers of a colleague who suicided in peculiar circumstances. The papers describe a race of beings, not of flesh but mental energy, who, around the time of Beethoven and Goethe, took residence in the human mind and proceeded to control it utterly. These ‘Tsathogguans’ feed off our life force, preventing us from realising our true potential by deliberately nurturing depression and perversion. We are a slave race. The work of artists such as De Sade, described as warped in the book, are a direct consequence of the Parasite’s short-circuiting of our natural intellectual and sexual energies.
The book tracks Austin’s bizarre efforts to defeat the Parasites using Husserl’s techniques of Phenomenology. He trains his mind to fully understand itself – and in the process he and his colleagues develop parakinetic talents, telepathy, mind-control and the ability to sync up their consciousnesses. They come to live their lives as one continuous Peak Experience. In effect, they become super-beings doing battle with a cunning extraterrestrial adversary.
Though most of the book is either dissertation or situated deep within the mind, it is still a weirdly pacy read - as these urbane scientists try and ultimately succeed in convincing the world of this madness and then set about defeating it.
I do wonder about these Mind Parasites. It would explain a great deal. If they were real.
I know I have something lurking in the depths of my consciousness, advising me to do things which could have no conceivable benefit. I know I’m always tired. I know I have difficulty thinking clearly. And I can only guess when I last had a Peak Experience.
Could it be these Tsathogguans, who urge me go out and get on – despite the fact that the heroin experience is no longer a pleasurable one for me. Not only have I ceased to enjoy the drug itself, but taking it wracks me with guilt and makes me sick for at least a week afterwards. Yet the urges, the cravings continue – reasonlessly, with nothing but self-destructive intent.
Are the Parasites in residence? Deep in those murky waters? it would make sense.
That oleaginous voice begs most when I am at my weakest. When I am alone in the house and have money. When it’s a certain temperature outside. When I go to Richmond or St Kilda. When I see someone using on the TV. When I go to funerals, or to a band … At these times it is raised its loudest. It knows when I am vulnerable.
The craving voice, researchers say, is the result of a rewiring in the brain of addicted persons. No longer is the pleasure-related dopamine system in play, but the excitatory glutamate system. One uses not for pleasure, but to stop feeling pain. And later, when the whole issue seems resolved? The voice keeps barking out its hollow commands.
Perhaps I could counsel myself in the techniques of Phenomenology, enter the country of the mind and root out this babbling idiot who distracts me from my life? But if long habit has hard-wired it in, what am I to do? At least, if it was an malign alien entity, then I would have something obvious to fight.
And who’s to say that it is not?
Who’s to say The Deadly Spores themselves are not under malign alien control?
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
My new home, hopefully, will be unearthed on Friday. It will have a garden which I shall tend fervently.
My study will have a spacious wooden desk. I will buy clipboards, perhaps even some form of filing system. And there will be a lock on the door.
I will be exceedingly frugal with money. You watch.
I plan to buy many magazines with which I shall keep a watchful eye on the outside world. On days when I feel uninspired I shall cook in my kitchen.
I have started my ‘contact lens’ scheme. I have started my ‘retrieval of money from TEAS’ scheme. Perhaps soon I will sell my stamp album.
I will take singing lessons. I should give up smoking too, but I won’t.
As I rescue more and more of my mind from slumberland, I find that it’s badly, dangerously unhoned – I must train it for this imminent renaissance.
We achieved a modicum of success on Saturday night, and practised on Sunday. That night, I retired early, but Pierre brought a girl, Cathy Hopkins, to my flat in order to pork her. His conversation with her and the treatment she received were dreadful, but strangely entertaining. He abused her verily, and she soaked it in like a hardened and spiteful sponge. ‘Call me names, if you like. I don’t care…’
We organised a new song on Sunday. It has a rousing chorus for which I can find no lyric …
I’ve been with my mother a lot. I can endure her company because she is neutral, unattached. I’ve been wandering a lot too. Dreaming. Reading Gus’s Marvel Comics. Loving Christine …
I used to think my stamp album, was worth something …
Pierre. The word that comes to mind is rake. He was like a wild dog on heat. I remember when I first saw him. It was at a party in a mansion near Kooyong station. The Boys Next Door were playing. He was fully intoxicated, dancing directly in front of the band like the wigged out punk he was. There was something inspiring about a person who could maintain that level of inebriation …
I guess that was part of my problem. The more out of it a person, the higher I rated them. Madness.
I’m a lot different now.
Posted by sam sejavka at 7:56 PM
Monday, January 7, 2008
Now this may seem like an obvious idea, but I have yet to hear it suggested.
Could not the Melbourne public transport authorities - or those of any city on the globe - provide the option of a Green Ticket?
All they would have to do is divide their energy use/carbon emissions by the number of tickets sold, and arrive at some sort of figure for the carbon cost of each ticket. Then, with each purchase of a green ticket, they would undertake to either offset [in the case of buses etc.] or purchase accredited green energy [trains, trams etc] to that arrived at value.
The Green Ticket would be a little more expensive, but every purchase would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And the government might even see fit to cover that extra expense itself…
Sunday, January 6, 2008
‘The loneliness of objects. Their secret lives’ William Gibson.
However banal an object – and few, if any, objects are as banal as this – the human imagination will find a way to use it creatively, to invest it with meaning.
Above, we see Bree modelling an outfit inspired by the breathtaking triviality of the Stripy Bag. Below, the bag elaborately transformed for the market’s higher end [by an artisan from South Melbourne]
Since the mid-eighties, I have been interested in the stripy bag. Lured by the sheer scope of its banality. Fascinated by its everpresence – as the bag. almost certainly, has penetrated every country on this Earth. It has become iconic in the hands and on the backs of refugees. It is a symbol of the uprooted and the dispossessed - and yet there is one, almost definitely, in every second house on the planet.
A few years ago, I tried to write an article on the stripy bag, but I could find out pretty well nothing about it. Befitting, really. Instead, I wrote a short monologue for the theatre which I’ve performed a number of times since…
We are the slaves of objects. We require them for comfort, safety, defence, cleanliness, pleasure, for the sense of self-worth, for influence and for money
We work for them. Play for them. Die for them. We use objects to co-ordinate... other objects. We infuse them with meaning.
We see our future selves in the reaching hands of an infant - whom no amount of objects will satisfy.
We are contingent on them. And they on us. They find us in the crowd and offer themselves up, they lodge themselves in the tissue of our lives, they insinuate themselves into our conversations, they hijack our thoughts.
It is simple and understood. Objects are important. They are pivotal to our existence.
I, myself, am unnaturally adhesive to objects. They swarm about me like stinging insects. I hear their emanations, like... remote machinery. They gather in my house and poison my flow. They nourish and cosset me. They starve and torment me. They accumulate to form the compost from which I assemble my lifestyle...
Some objects are simple, others are fantastically elaborate. Some barely change over time, others are modified. Some are ugly but functional, others we place in museums or galleries. Some are discontinued, while others become perennial favourites. Some have intrinsic value. Some are disposable. Some are well-documented, ruminated upon, the subject of commentaries, technical manuals, reviews, but some...
Some cast no shadow. They are ignored, utterly. They are a booming silence that cries its absence to the world.
The object to which I draw your attention is beneath the cloth.
This is an object that slips under the guard of culture and taste. It seems not to even have a commonly agreed-upon name, yet has the kind of product-recognition that would ramp the blood-pressure of any marketing executive.
In this object, we find a concentrated banality of which we should beware - recalling that evil, in its essence, is banal.
Are you curious? Don’t be. Be the opposite of curious. Be disappointed.
If you’ve never seen one of these before, I’m very sorry for bringing it to your attention.
As near as I can place it, the year is 1983. The place China: ancient nation which gave us Rocketry, Chess, Umbrellas and wheelbarrows has refocused its inventive skills. In our time it is the empire of cheap plastic artifacts, disgorging in torrents. An endless landscape dotted with factories, each one injection moulding or thermoforming a different plastic doo-dad or widget to fill the $2 shops of this world.
1983. Woven polypropylene. A material made by weaving polypropylene tapes to form a lightweight breathable fabric. Bags of this material are sturdy, recyclable, suitable for grains, pet food, minerals and other products, and offer superior protection from moisture, mildew and pests.
I have tried to learn more, but... there is no literature on the subject. I have been able to chip barely a single fact off the great wall of silence.
Considered guesses are all I can offer. 1983. Has the material recently been invented? Has a new development facilitated cheap large-scale production?
Was a middle-echelon employee of a large Plastics Concern doing his laundry, when he had a sudden crystal clear insight into the needs of humans on Earth.
Did he make a little sketch on the back of a consignment form?
But... why the stripes?
And why did he choose red blue and white?
Are they auspicious colours? Used in the flags of France, America, Russia, the UK, Australia. Or are they just the cheapest dyes?
Only he could tell us and today he is - of course - unavailable, a billionaire cloistered in his Ming Dynasty style palace, meditating upon golden carp and chrysanthemums as Stygian extruders churn in the valley below.
Wherever shopping is done. Where laundry is done. Where bag ladies heft their meagre possessions. Where asylum-seekers mill in the holds of fishing vessels; there you will find them.
The bag proliferates, as if on the wave of a massive, yet invisible, advertising campaign -
With no saturation point in sight...
And tell me, do we really have a choice? Are its cheapness, usefulness and ready availability too much for us to resist? You,who ordinarily would never purchase such a bag. How many of you have been forced, by some annoying circumstance, to buy one?
I doubt if anyone, anywhere has ever really made a conscious decision to possess such a thing, yet, inexorably, the bag ekes its way into our lives. Near to immortal, they gather in carports and sheds. With each passing year we own more and more of these bags, sometimes without ever having purchased one
Yes, it is hard to throw out a bag.
But what does it signify that we all share this bag? It spans religious, cultural and monetary divides. It is truly ecumenical - but is it something on which to build a more harmonious world?
No, of course not.
If you haven’t already thought through the implications... of this bag.
Now is the time. Save yourselves. The news is bad.
Outrage at the spread of McDonald’s on the bow-wave of US cultural Imperialism. Outrage at the global Arms trade, taking the spears from the hands of tribesmen and replacing them with AK-47s...
But for the bag... ?
And its silent global conquest?
No comment. Neither in the Age nor the Herald Sun. No mention in the ‘Socialist Worker’ or the ‘Advocate’. Not a peep from S11. Nothing.
But humans often have interesting reactions to nothing.
It lurks stagnantly beneath the public imagination. It slithers beneath the currents of fashion. The bag has no style. Cannot be pinned down to a period or decade. When a terrorist wants to plant a bomb, this is the bag of choice.
Such things - omnipresent, yet impenetrable to research - can provide fertile ground for conspiracy theorists.
1983. Threatened by a global labour shortage, The Gnomes of Zurich identified a huge labour-pool in the Third World. But these potential workers were settled and unwilling to embark upon the difficult process of moving. Higher wages were out of the question, so the powers-that-be developed and distributed a spacious durable product in which all a indigent’s worldly goods could be stored. Suddenly, a cheap highly mobile workforce was available to the world economy..
And who’s to say it isn’t true?
Twenty years the bag has been with us. It is now produced in Iran, Indonesia, Thailand and India as well as China. It is available in a range of sizes and can be found in different patterns. But has it really changed in that time? No. A stable presence in our lives, unnoteworthy in all its aspects.
But subjectively, things have been happening.
When we use an object, a little of ourselves rubs off, and a little of it rubs off on us. A thousand fleeting contacts, glimpses, shared moments. We form associations. An object begins to give off a distinct emotional scent. It is different for everyone, but...
What do you feel when you look at the bag?
For me, it generates a kind of sucking energy that weakens me at the root. If it is a bad day, the bag can make me hate who I am.
It degrades any landscape on which it is imposed. Yet, annoyingly, the eye is drawn to it. Too late, you realise - your day has been... cheapened. And it trivialises what it contains. And it’s always full.
In contemplating this bag, I experience a sudden anxiety, a vertigo, a dream-falling. Like dried egg filtering my vision of the world. Leering faces forming in the dust of my previous selves. Bad decisions clinging like cobwebs to my clothes. All the useless things, the dead-ends, the endless repetitions of mistakes. It trawls up memories of all the tired pointless things that have dogged me all my life. Suddenly they are what defines me.
At once, the barrier between my daily existence and the Void becomes... transparent - and I know somehow that everything I do, have ever done, amounts to a towering zero.
Yes! Bags are useful. They help us organise and compartmentalise. But this bag takes more than it gives. Fresh from the factory, it is an invitation to squalor. A call to Despair. An portent of the End Times.
It symbolises failure, the utter exhaustion of the imagination. If you can: Don’t abide it. Don’t notice it. Don’t recognise it. Don’t use it.
It is a quietly spoken profanity. Look closely. There is nothing there. It is the end of the universe. In a bag.