Piercing The Armour

I don’t know where to put my sadness. Like junk mail piling up in an abandoned letterbox, random sketches of human frailty accumulate in my soul.
There was an ad on TV years ago for Sustagen Gold, a “protein-rich, powerhouse of sustained energy” milk drink. The ad was aimed at busy people who didn’t have time to eat properly in a city that was thwarting them at every turn. In one scene, pedestrians rush past a business man whose briefcase has spilled out on the road at a busy crossing. He struggles to gather his possessions, including a green apple that has fallen from his case. I was probably 8 or 9 years old when this ad was playing on TV and I can still pull the image from my mind. I was struck by the vulnerability of the man. The apple represented his private life, laid bare on a city street. My sister and I felt so sorry for the briefcase man. Every time the ad came on, he tugged at our heart strings. People eating alone in restaurants killed us too.

Sustagen_Gold_Man

In order to get through life you need to armour plate your soul a little. We can’t be shedding a tear every time a man in a suit drops his apple. But occasionally a dagger of sadness can still pierce your heart.

Last Friday, on my commute home from work, I took notes about a fellow passenger:
A young boy sits next to me on the Light Rail. He is the stereotypical “nerd”: pale, delicate, coke-bottle glasses. Gives credence to the term “nose buried in a book”. Head down, he is sucking up words like an anteater, snout scanning back and forth across the print. He wants to eat those words, they mean something to him, but his eyesight is failing him. How cruel is life? People who care nothing for words with the ability to read fine print. And my neighbour, this vulnerable boy – bully bait – who only wants to devour his story, but his handicap is…well, handicapping him. He pauses often, and then returns. He wants to know the story. Finally I understand large print books and audio books. Why should anyone miss out? The able bodied are arrogant and selfish. So many people fall just short of the mark. Real happiness is just beyond their reach.

Womble_Reading

In an attempt to illustrate what the boy looked like, I have photoshopped a Womble reading. It doesn’t really do it justice, but I think it is a sweet image.

Losing History

Each and every one of us, is actually two of us.

The one that everyone else knows and the one you know yourself. You don’t even need to know yourself for others to know you.
A baby is a person but they have no capacity for knowing that they are a person yet. A person in a coma is still a person, but they have forgotten it. They can’t consciously retrieve their knowledge of self.
We can exist and not exist at the same time.
It is an obsession of mine to store evidence of self. Exhibits of a life lived. Under my bed there are boxes of old cards and letters. Funny notes that my best buddy and I traded in Year 8 Maths class. Beautiful birthday cards with heartfelt messages. Post cards from my Mattie on his overseas travels. The gift of words.
For each of my children, I have started their own evidence box which they can build on in their future. I kept hospital bracelets from the day they were born. First birthday cards and pre-school reports. The evolution of their art styles, from primitive scribbles to the astounding flair of today.
When my Mum and Dad moved out of the house that they had lived in for over thirty years, my sisters and I finally had to take ownership of all the things that we had left in storage at the Pares house. It was an Extreme Sports version of a trip down Memory Lane. Memory Sand Dunes on a Quad Bike.
Quad rider in sand dunes roost
A lifetime of tangible history to be sorted through in one day. By the end of the day we were wantonly destroying the evidence – tossing boxes and boxes straight into the bin. In a way it was liberating, because I faced one of my greatest fears and survived.
The fear of Losing History.
House fires strike terror in my heart. Losing photographs is like losing a part of yourself. Visual evidence for an unreliable memory. I have often tried to imagine how I would recover if I lost all of my diaries in a fire or other accident.
HouseFire
I have been keeping hand-written diaries on and off since I was 10 years old and religiously since I was 20. For the last 19 years every single day of my life is accounted for. The level of detail may vary, but there is nothing less than half a page at least that records where I was, what I was up to and what I was thinking. My Alzheimer’s Insurance Policy. I fear that if I lost my library of life history I would be cut adrift, like an astronaut free-falling through space.
astronaut 002
Recently my phone broke and because I don’t have a degree in iPhonology, I lost everything. Most photos were posted on Instagram or had been saved elsewhere, but the thing I found upsetting was that I lost all of my text message conversations. Text threads are relationship histories. The jokes you shared, the places you met, apologies made, support given. I enjoyed meandering through my friendships in text.
I read a very interesting article about homeless people who hoard their possessions. The article posited that having already lost everything once before, the homeless hoarders were safeguarding against future loss. Stockpiling a sense of security. This is how I feel about words. I am building a fort against the loss of history.

Abandoned Writings

My “Primal Zodiac” sign is the Sugar Glider. That’s what you get when you cross a Sagittarius with a Rabbit. Astrology is basically psychological profiling and I am fascinated and intrigued by the human personality. Much of the Sugar Glider profile is spot on:

“Sugar Gliders long for new experiences in life and get bored with routine fairly quickly….Often they will start projects just to abandon them when something more interesting comes along”

Tell me about it.

I haven’t had time to write much since returning to work, so here is something I prepared early. More than five years ago now. It’s overly verbose, so feel free to abandon it if something more interesting comes along….

Sugar-Glider

I’ve lived both sides of the morning – the pure and the impure. But unlike the two sides of a coin, where the differences are negligible, here the difference is as vast as the ocean and the earth.

Pure mornings: yesterday. A daft sense of pride and achievement, merely for heeding the obnoxious squawk of the alarm. Further smugness as I silently shut the back door and prance down the back steps with the deftness of a cat burglar. A swelling of spirit as I round the corner and witness the first signs of my city shaking herself to life, unfurling with the kineticism of a budding flower – tenuous in the beginning, but rapidly accelerating.

I approach my first human landmark, the old lady proprietress of the crumbling Mixed Business. Flesh coloured knee-high stockings constrict her varicosed calves, flattening the black hairs under the band. Her feet look oddly hoofed, rubber thongs cleaving her stockinged toes. With surprising vigour, she sluices a bucket of steaming hot water across the footpath, smiling conspiratorially. I feel a sense of camaraderie with this hard-working early riser. Considerately I side step onto the kerb and nod my good morning. It’s a positive start to the day.

Impure mornings: today. I am desperate to be home under cover of darkness. Twenty minutes ago, the first blush of pink in the sky seemed like a cruel joke. A garbage truck doing its morning rounds keeps pace with my slow weave through the narrow back alley, the sound of a million bottles being minced is unnervingly shrill.  I am almost home when I pass the old Greek lady from the corner shop. Dejectedly she slops a filthy bucket of water down the gutter and stares straight past me, looking through the telescope of her wasted life. I feel the burden of her sadness jump on my back as I pass, like a hobo jumping from a train carriage. With intense weariness I drag my wasted body up the back stairs and into a house that feels like a stranger. My shoes hit the floor with the weight of a barbell and the softness of the bed only stands as a counterpoint to the ridiculous ache in my bones. I set the alarm for 9.00am. Soon I will have to call in sick. 

I never made that call. I did deals with myself, made promises, hit the snooze alarm with the regularity of a pokie addict on their lucky machine. But in the end, I decided that I would rather lose my job than dial that number. Once the decision was made, a huge boulder was rolled off my chest. Turning my pillow over to the cold side, I abandoned myself to the luxury of a weekday sleep in. But just as it was on the tomb of Christ, the boulder was rolled back on and anxiety robbed me of my sleep. I felt a rising panic fluttering in my chest, like a lost bird trapped inside a house. Suddenly I needed to be up. 

As a seasoned hangover survivor, I have come to recognise a pattern in the physiology of the sickness. Usually I have a nausea-free grace period when I first get out of bed, a small window of time that will allow me to do an inventory of my possessions: wallet, jacket, keys. I’ll put a coffee on, take out the garbage and if I’m lucky, pick my clothes up off the floor and hang them on the back of the chair. But it all comes unraveled in the shower. It’s the heat. The infernal heat and steam, massaging me to the brink of regurgitation. I know myself well enough to keep a bucket in the shower to catch my waterfall vomits. 

Once I’m well enough to hold down a piece of vegemite toast, I take to daydreaming on the verandah. Taking an under used country lane in my mind, I meander onto the topic of stand-up comedians. They worried me. What kind of bizarre confidence did they have in their own being? Where in this lifetime did they find the guts to do what they did? It scares me to imagine myself in that role. I imagine myself pacing around the backstage area – waiting to face the audience. I can hear the clapping from the last act before me. There’s a harried stage manager with a clipboard and a headset impatiently motioning for me to go on. I stop short of stepping out into the light and making eye contact with the front row because my heart is racing to fast too go on with the inane fantasy. I decide that I’d need a lot of alcohol to be a stand-up comedian. Come to think of it, I need a lot of alcohol to do anything. 

It was getting later in the afternoon and I was probably at the peak of my remorse period. For the first half of the day I’d been too sick to feel anything other than a blind desire for the pain to go away. After throwing up in the shower I was completely devoid of energy  – I couldn’t even stand up straight to brush my teeth at the bathroom sink. I basically crawled back into bed and fell asleep in my towel, after gulping and gagging on 4 Nurofens. My phone rang four or five times, but I ostriched it under my pillow.  The grinding wheels of guilt finally gave me the momentum needed to propel myself out of bed. First thing is always to make the bed. Even if the rest of the room is in total disarray, a made bed brings order to the room. Like a neat and tidy tugboat in a rubbish strewn harbour, my little bed floated on the shabby, blue bedroom carpet. The process of discarding the pillows and shaking out the sheets had uncovered my phone, wallet and one sock. The tiny screen on my embarrassingly outdated phone showed 5 missed calls and 3 voice messages, but  was shelved for later digestion. The wallet revealed something altogether more unusual – a neat and very thick wad of slippery yellow notes. Fifties! Maybe 20 of them. My fuzzy head couldn’t handle any kind of guesswork, so I had to take the wad out and count it with the deliberation of a teenage teller. 50, 100, 150, 200, 250, 300…. two thousand dollars.

A ridiculous thought flashed through my mind that maybe it wasn’t my wallet. Somehow a switch must have happened at the bar and I was holding a rich mans wallet. But I quickly realized how stupid this was, as the wallet also contained all of my personal effects – my cards and tickets, receipts and business cards – the random sort of life litter that accumulates in wallets and bags. Not to mention that it was the very same shabby leather disgrace that I’d been welding into my body shape for the last ten years. It’s hardly likely that I could have accidentally switched that for the class of wallet that would contain $2000 dollars in a neat wad of fifties.

So the wallet was definitely mine, but the money wasn’t. This situation called for cigarettes and coffee. 

Sitting back in my favourite reflective spot, an upturned milk crate in the shady corner of the tiny stone balcony, I began to retrace my steps. It was something that my Mum had taught me when I was young and I often returned to it. She’d tell me to close my eyes, and then with her hands she’d mold my hands to mimic holding something round and soft. That was my big ball of wool. She’d say “Imagine that everywhere you go in one day is traced out in this big ball of knitting yarn, criss-crossing your path from bed, to bathroom, to kitchen, to bus stop and so on and so on, all day long. Now, the very spot where you stand right now, you are holding the end of the wool. Follow that trail of wool back and you will find what you are looking for”. The end of my piece of wool was wrapped around two thousand dollars and I needed to trace it back. I must have fallen asleep with the wallet in my pocket and it fell out in bed, or perhaps I threw it on the bed before climbing in, and that’s how it ended up tangled in the sheets. Either way…it was there that I found it.  So when was the last time I used the wallet? I can’t remember paying a cab driver…no, that’s right – I walked home. I’d been having what could only be loosely defined as a “conversation” with some Bukowski barfly wanna-be at the Sly Fox, and I’d used the excuse of needing a cigarette to get some relief outside. That’s when I realized that it must be dawn already. I felt the safety of the deep night bleach away from me and the cigarette that I had been savouring suddenly tasted foul. I knew that my jacket was still hanging over the back of a chair inside, but considering that my wallet, keys and phone were on my person, I decided that the jacket would have to be collateral damage. A riff on the old “rather chew my own arm off”. From there it was a short stumble home, my objective to arrive home under cover of darkness. Or at least dawn-ness. I would need to follow the wool back further.

 

Shadow Friend

Years and years ago I worked for a great company that was owned and operated by a fellow named Tim, from Devon. He’d been in Australia since 1977, but he was still as British as they come. This was my first real job and it gave me the wrong impression of what the workforce was really all about because Tim was lots of fun and very idiosyncratic. Lunch time always involved wine. I didn’t always partake, but the opportunity to drink every day at work was there.

Tim had a lot of British friends too. In my last few years at the company, it was just Tim and I,  and Mike from Liverpool. Mike was an ideas machine. Every day he would come up with a new concept. It might be a film or TV idea, a blueprint for a franchise restaurant or some sort of gadget. The three of us became great friends and would often spend lunch time drinking and sharing ideas. I came up with an idea for a short, animated film and Mike was very encouraging and told me to write it down. I scribbled it down on paper and kept it for years.

Now I have typed it up, and here it is:

Sport is a mangy old dog; faithful companion of Old Jim, a homeless man who sleeps most nights in the cemetery where he is relatively safe and protected from the elements.

One morning, Sport is killed by a hit and run driver while he is out walking with Old Jim. Devastated by the loss of his only friend, Old Jim buries Sport in a secluded spot in the cemetery. But as Old Jim struggles to dig the hole while his dead dog lies in the shade of a tree, he doesn’t notice that Sport’s shadow struggles to separate itself from its dead host body and hides behind a tree.

Sport’s shadow watches the touching funeral ceremony with a cocked head and continues to follow Old Jim around the cemetery as he beds down for the night. Several times Old Jim thinks that he’s seen Sport’s shadow bounding along beside him, but he puts it down to a trick of the mind (or whatever it is that he’s clutching in that brown paper bag!).

Over the next few days, Sport’s shadow follows Old Jim around and tries to find a way back into the old mans life. Outside the bottle shop, Sport’s shadow has a fight with the shadow of a bulldog tied up to the corner post. Sport’s shadow also frolics with the shadow of a little child (as only children are observant enough to notice a rogue shadow).

At night, Sport’s shadow cuddles up to the sleeping figure of Old Jim. Sport’s shadow is feeling dejected and then it notices that the edges of the shadows in the cemetery are amorphous…almost undulating. Sport goes closer to inspect and slowly it is revealed that the darkness is actually composed of thousands of shadows huddled closely together…they are the shadow-souls of all the people buried in the cemetery. In a beautiful scene, the shadows walk slowly out and separate from their mass to non-verbally invite Sport’s shadow into their fold.

The next morning, Sport’s shadow does not try to engage with Old Jim the person…but with Old Jim’s shadow.

The shadow of Old Jim embraces the shadow of Sport with open arms, and in the final scenes we see the shadows of Old Jim and Sport meld into one – their spirits are reconnected in shadow.

The last vision we have is of Old Jim stumbling down the road, his shadow trailing behind him…with the wagging tail of a dog!

Old_Jim_Sketch

Gold Star Girl

It’s a testament to how important children’s illustrated books are that I can still remember the name of a bear from one of my favourite stories. His name was Jason Everett Bear and the book was “I’m Terrific”. Jason Everett Bear thought he was pretty special and he was always awarding himself gold stars and singing his own praises. His friends didn’t appreciate him being so boastful, so he changed his tack and became wilfully bad. Eventually he managed to find his equilibrium and just be himself. I have happy memories of enjoying the story and illustrations with my Mum.
Jason_Everett_Bear
The purpose of the story was to teach children good character. On one of the book sites online, the themes were tagged as “Pride and Vanity”.  Jason Everett Bear was a little shit. His character flaws weren’t subtle so that even a child could see he wasn’t someone you’d like to be.
I understood the message loud and clear, but the thing I remember most was the gold stars. In one illustration, Jason Everett Bear has covered himself head to to in gold stars. I could relate to the idea of rewards. I was a sucker for stickers.
When I was in Primary School, teachers marked their students work and warded them with stickers and stamps. These were graded and they meant something. There was the ubiquitous and over-used smiley face and buzzy bee of infants school (it didn’t take much to get one of those. Showing up was generally enough), but as you moved up through the years there were words added that let you know what the teacher really thought.
“Very Good” or “Excellent”. I know which one I preferred. But the thing that really set my heart aflutter was the stickers. Compared to those rudimentary self-inking stamps in the limited colour palette of crude tattoos, stickers were big and colourful and sometimes (the best ones) – shiny. There was nothing like getting your book back and finding one of those babies on the page.
Teachers_Stamps
Stickers
Eventually I realised that stickers were just one of the many tricks in a teacher’s arsenal (trick arsenal?). They were bought in boxes from Teacher Supply Stores. But I’ve never lost that need for approval. I need stickers, I need gold stars, I need to feel good.
These days the gold stars are internalised. I am the giver and receiver of my own gold stars. I’ve sort of become Jason Everett Bear. And the gold stars aren’t there just to give me a buzz, they keep the whole machine running. Otherwise I’d be happy to just watch TV for the rest of my life.
I give myself a gold star for writing a blog post, but unfortunately it works in the opposite way too. Like demerit points. When I don’t write a post, I take a star away.
gold-star-graphic

The Radio In My Head

Holidays are over. Today is my first day back at work. In many ways, it’s a relief. I’ve been worrying over this event for days now and using it as my Licence to Laziness. Sleep in? Sure – why not? I’ll be back to work soon. Another day on the lounge? Why you must….you won’t be doing this come Monday. My brain waves have been tuned in to Coast FM. Cruising.
Now I’m trying to tune the radio in my head back to its regular station and I’m having a bit of trouble. Being between stations on the dial is frustrating and confusing. Ideally I strive for that crystal clear sound, where my radio station is voiced by an intelligent and insightful commentator. The No Repeat Work Day. I use the radio analogy to help me justify why I often like to be quiet and alone. I’m just trying to hear my radio program. Good conversation is a gift. Senseless prattle and brash, arrogant, over-opiniated voice hammering interferes with the radio in my head.
So in 2015 I aim to listen mainly to quality programming, to silence the static and tune in to what the universe is trying to tell me.
For what is writing if not transcribing the voice in your head?
Radio_In_My_Head

Summer Holiday Vignettes

There is a note in my phone that reads:

Life is like a string of fairy lights. A series of bright spots strung together by predictable tunnels of gloom. 

fairy-lights

The bright spots are the bits we live for. Struggling through a mundane work day, I would often find myself day dreaming about summer holidays and all the lovely things that this time of the year brings. Most of that is behind me now, and I am savouring my last free days before I return to work. The memories have been made and it is my duty to keep them alive in the multiplex of my mind. For when it all comes down to it, the bright spots should be all that we remember. It is the lights of the fairy lights that make them beautiful, and not the cables and circuitry that hold it all together.

So here are my Summer Holiday Vignettes. The moments that are worth remembering, the moments that add up to a life well led.

Sharing a “Breezer Bucket” on the balcony of the Lyric theatre with my Mum, my sister Tiges and my oldest friend, Jackie Patch on her annual visit home from China. It was my first day of holidays, and Mum was taking Phoebs and her friend Charlotte to see “Dirty Dancing”. The girls were excited and dressed in their finery. The night was light and airy with a soft breeze that only being close to water will bring you. Everything was ahead of us, it was just the beginning of the holiday season. We sipped our candy pink drinks and talked about nothing and everything. While they were at the show, enjoying Fake Swayze, we met the one and only Miss Marines at another pub for more drinks and more talk. After the show we all caught the Light Rail home together and ate Mum’s box of Quality Streets. Reminiscing about chocolate is a pathway to childhood memories.

Dinner Al Fresco and Al Raino in Johnson Park. Tiges and Josh wanted to get rid of all of their Soda Pony food before closing over Christmas, so they invited us for a “cookout” in the park (they didn’t call it a cookout, but I like the term). When we arrived the boys were doing laps around the picnic table in their pyjamas, clutching lego and vibrating with excitement. We had the best table because no one else was vying for it like they do in the day. The food was serious – way better than I was expecting. It was the Soda Pony menu in the park. We crowded around the barbecue like buzzards and ate burritos fresh off the hotplate. Hot beans, guacamole and beer. Happy cousins banding together. Then the rain came and no one cared because we were all together and having fun.

Christmas Eve in Mollymook. I’ve always loved Christmas Eve, more full of anticipation than a dark raincloud of a summer day. It’s even better when you’re in a holiday town with your family. After sleeping in late, we spent the rest of the day we were on the move, weaving in and out of different activities and different groupings. Last minute shopping in Milton, a raucous game of 10 Pin Bowling in Ulladulla with the three generations, walking Maxine with Dad and the little boys. Dad and I drank a Corona outside on high wooden stools at our holiday house and it was the beginning of a party. When we returned to the main house, everyone was there, the fridge was full of beer and it was a perfect night of fun. Angus wore a big faux-fur blanket around his shoulders and became “The Bison”, thrilling the little boys as he raced around in character. Eating Mum’s Moussaka in the courtyard (“There’s vomit on his sweater already, Mum’s Moussaka”) and then dipping back into that never ending tin of Quality Streets.

Saray’s Pop-Up Alleyway restaurant. After a fun night boozin’ with old buddies, we had the choice: Townie or Sarays. The Townie might have been in with a chance if there wasn’t terrible live music blasting out onto the street – Pide triumphed. We pooled our cash and ordered 4 pizzas between 6, but they’d shut the restaurant down and we had nowhere to eat except on the street. Veve and I were both wandering around independently, sussing out the best doorway to huddle in when we ran into each other in the Buzz Bar alleyway. Our eyes met – perfect! Veve sweet talked the Buzz Bar manager into letting us use his outdoor tables and I ordered a round of 6 bottled beers just before they shut for the night. We then organised the three small tables into one long table with 6 seats and put a beer at each place. When the pizzas were ready, the gang found us waiting in our private pop-up restaurant. Six old friends feasted together, surrounded by beautiful street art and away from the hustle of Enmore Rd. It was a magical moment, like the scene from “Lady and The Tramp”.

Lady-The-Tramp-lady-and-tramp-33813097-1024-768

What is a beach house without a nautically-inspired, distressed wooden photo frame? Or a star-fish hanging on the wall for that matter? Makers of ceramic lighthouses always know that they have a market for their goods as long as people are decorating their holiday houses.

Summer_Holiday_Vignettes

A Very Stable Christmas

There are two times of the year where I go a bit cuckoo. Actually, there’s more than two…but there are two that I can set my watch by. The Easter Long Weekend and the week between Christmas and New Year. Bad times for Adrenaline Boots.
The Easter one is a bit inexplicable, but my sisters get it. All three of us dread Good Friday and I think of the 4-day weekend as a transmutational telephone booth. Step in as one person, and come out as another. I am never unchanged by the Easter Long Weekend.
The week between Christmas and New Year is just one big, long, anti-climactic comedown. A balloon that gets gradually softer and wrinklier.
But this year I have decided to make a change…and I’m starting with the man in the mirror. This year I have dubbed
“A Very Stable Christmas”.
Here is my recipe for good Christmas mental health:
No Christmas Tree. A good christmas tree is a thing of beauty. I fetishize Christmas decorations, looove a good bauble. What I hate is taking the tree down after it’s all over. De-pressing. I have saved myself a bit of heartache and hot, sweaty labour.
Christmas_Tree_Comparison
LAST YEAR                                                              THIS YEAR
Ok – so Phoebs wouldn’t allow “no” Christmas tree. But that little white sticky thing is fairly negligible.
Reduce Gift Giving. I absolutely love buying presents for people. Choosing the perfect gift for someone you love is exciting. But right in the middle of the December retail frenzy is no time for thoughtful and reflective present selection. Plus it’s a bad time to be spending shitloads of money. I’m a freelancer who doesn’t get paid over this period. Blowing all our cash is not a smart idea. Presents for kids and parents and partners is enough. I can spoil my friends and sisters on their birthdays.
Limit the Partying. The hardest one to stick to, but the one guaranteed to give the best results. A month of late nights and excessive drinking is sure to make anyone a cranky little fucker. Choose your moments, drink plenty of soda water.
Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we are blessed with both Christmas and the Summer Holidays in tandem. It should be a wonderful time to socialise and relax. Wishing you all A Very Stable Christmas.