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January 2, 2002
Major news on a Monday, please
The TV has been consigned to the back shed, not that I ever really watched the thing. There might be a radio somewhere in the house, but I wouldn't want to bet on it. I just have no idea what's going on in the world. It's taken me years to get to this point, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it.
Of course, I do tend to read the paper, but only on Tuesday. And I don't even read the paper in a diligent, thorough way: I just turn immediately to the cryptic crossword.
In the old days, before I figured out that there were different compilers and some were better than others, I used to do every cryptic I came across. I can't do that any more: almost all of the compilers in The Age are too easy and too boring. The one exception to this is the wonderful work of DS, whose crossword appears, as you've no doubt guessed, on Tuesday. And every so often, en route to DS, I'll glance at the front page. Especially if there's a big colour photo of something interesting on it.
So if you're about to do something that's going to make headlines all around the world, and you'd like me to know about it, do it on a Monday. That way you'll make the front page on a Tuesday, and I might even find out about it.
January 10, 2002
All the seasons of voluntary poverty
There's a line in My Dinner With Andre when Andre asks what it does to us to "live in an environment where something as massive as the seasons and the cold and the winter don't in any way affect us."
Well, it must do something. But I've found a way to keep in touch with what's going on with the weather: voluntary poverty. I live in an old house with no insulation, no heating or cooling, and an outside loo. If it's cold outside, it's even colder inside. If it's hot outside, well, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.
And for all its wintry inconvenience, even that outside loo has an advantage. The short walk from there back to the house offers a clear view of the Western sky, where all of Melbourne's weather comes from. And keeping a regular eye on Melbourne's sky is part of my elaborate fantasy that I'm somehow Fitzroy's equivalent to a weatherbeaten local fisherman. "Look," I'll say, often to no one in particular, "some curvaceous cirrocumulus."
Well, I used to say stuff like that, until someone pointed out that the "cirrocumulus" I was pointing to was, in fact, not high-level cloud. Nor was it, in fact, a cloud at all. It was, in fact, a pigeon.
But, as Tolstoy said, about seven thousand pages into War and Peace: whatever, dude. But it still feels somehow right to have some idea about what's going on in the sky. I especially like to know what the moon is up to, perhaps because doing so reminds me of journeys across Asia, when I took lots of long rides in buses and trains, and often at night. I travelled with a small alarm clock, but found that I didn't much use it. I preferred to look at the moon. Watching its slow journey across the sky gave me a rough idea of the time, and a rough idea was all I needed.
Owing to all my sky and pigeon watching, I've also got a rough idea that we've stumbled into a little bit of summer. (What tipped me off was the absence of clouds, the blazing blue sky and the thirsty pigeons.) It's long overdue: it's several weeks after the summer solstice, and several months after Melbourne normally gets hot weather. We've now had not one but several hot days, thus scotching rumours that this season was shaping up to be The Summer That Will Not Come.
And when it's hot, I read. I seem to have rediscovered reading. At the moment I'm dividing my attention between M. Mitchell Waldrop's Complexity, Illiad's User Friendly, Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, Geoff Bartlett's Comedians in the Mist, Giles Smith's Lost In Music, and I'm re-reading the first book in the Sandman series: Preludes and Nocturnes. And I've just finished Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices (which I loved), Eddie Izzard's Dress To Kill and the Patrick Humphries biography of Richard Thompson.
The best exchange in The Invention of Love is towards the end, when Oscar Wilde finally makes his grand appearance on the stage. (He's been mentioned throughout the play, but we have to wait until the end to see him.) He has a conversation with A.E. Housman, the poet who wrote A Shropshire Lad, and whose lifestyle had nothing in common with Wilde's, apart from the fact that they both went to Oxford.
Wilde sums up his life by saying:
I banged Ruskin's and Pater's heads together, and from the moral severity of one and the aesthetic soul of the other I made art a philosophy that can look the twentieth century in the eye. I had genius, brilliance, daring, I took charge of my own myth. I dipped my staff into the comb of wild honey. I tasted forbidden sweetness and drank the stolen waters. I lived at the turning point of the world where everything was waking up - the New Drama, the New Novel, New Journalism, New Hedonism, New Paganism, even the New Woman. Where were you when all this was happening?
And Housman makes the incredible reply:
So. I'm at home, getting some reading done. Got a problem with that, Mr Wilde?
January 29, 2002
Some popular responses to the world
Hedonism. Eat, love, laugh, enjoy. People seem to either do this naturally, or completely forget to.
Strange, detailed obsessions. A very popular approach in England, the nation that invented trainspotting and stamp collecting.
Buddhism. So much of life hurts. Here's a way of dealing with it that makes you feel clever.
Alternative realities. The technology is now available to ignore the world completely. Armed with mouse or a remote control, it becomes possible to never have to speak to another human being.
Art. The transformation of one's feelings, thoughts and experiences into beauty and wonder. Enormously time consuming and difficult.
Hardcore, militant politics. If you're going to miss the point, there's something to be said for missing it completely.
Depression. At a low level, this keeps a lot of people functioning. Useful for surviving unsatisfying jobs and partners. Inexplicably popular.
February 5, 2002
The shocking truth about novels
... is that I'm reading a new one, and possibly for the first time since I lived down beside Torquay, more than two years ago. It feels good to be back.
When I left school, what I really wanted to do was write music, but that seemed too scary, or too hard, so instead I decided to educate myself and read all the world's great novels. For several years, from about the age of 19, that's more or less all I did. It nearly drove me crazy.
Time passed on; I went to university and came out the other side with a renewed interest in never reading anything ever again.
But more time passed, and eventually I got interested in reading again. But not so much in novels: I became far more interested with biographies, and books about ideas: science, history, language, even a few things about computing and the net. I wanted information about the world, and how it got to be this way. Novels weren't helping very much, so I more or less gave up on them.
What got me interested in Christopher Brookmyre's A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away, I'm embarrassed to say, is the blurb on the back: "Terrorism - it's the new rock `n' roll."
I read the first dozen pages with suspicion: do I wish to get emotionally involved with these characters, with this story? Those 12 pages have now turned into 200, and I'm reeling. This thing is making me want to have another go at my own novel.
What I love about Brookmyre's novel is that I recognise the world he's writing about. I love that a lot. And I get most of the cultural references, and I love how he uses the language and imagery of Quake and Doom. And I'm not going to say anything more, about this or any other topic, until I've finished reading it.
February 15, 2002
Other kinds of journey: from comfort to obscurity
A partial list of where I've come from and where I'm going:
suburban dreamtime ... inner city saga
March 11, 2002
The relative hunger of artists
There are different kinds of artists, and film people are the hungriest of them all. Film is the most expensive medium to work in, it requires the most number of people to make and it has the biggest effect on an audience. And the competition to get work in it is enormous. So to get to the top of that profession requires a serious commitment, and vast reservoirs of talent and drive.
Consider what a film director has to do, and what a film director has to know. They have to know exactly what every member of their team does, and how to get the best out of them all. And they have to solve a lot of problems, and all of the time. Where should the camera go? What's the point of this scene? What do you do with a petulant actor who's threatening to walk out? How do you get clearance to use a particular location? Where do you find the money? How best do you spend that money?
And then there are the hours: you have to work incredibly late at night and start incredibly early in the morning. You have to be prepared to go wherever it takes you: Alaska in the winter, Alice Springs in summer and Wagga Wagga at three in the morning.
By contrast, an oil painter needs very little: a canvas, an easel, some paints and brushes. This kind of artist can sit in the garden and make art there. There will still be living expenses, which all of us have, but the equipment isn't hugely expensive.
Personally, I was never too interested in sitting in a garden with a paintbrush. But then I never much wanted to be a film director, either.
Somewhere in the middle, I'm thinking. Or perhaps off to one side. Perhaps a long way off to the side.
March 15, 2002
Crustybubble: a survivor's story
One of my random quotes is about depression. I'm feeling up at the moment, so I want to try and describe what depression is like.
The main thing is that the phone doesn't ring.
There are other things about it, but that's the main one. The phone just doesn't ring.
So, let's just imagine that you're at home, and you've been home for some time, and the phone hasn't rung in several weeks. These days, my name for this state of affairs is depression. But for a while there I experimented with calling it other things, such as "Trevor" and "Crustybubble," but I ended up just calling it depression. I just didn't have the energy to try to get "Crustybubble" accepted by medical authorities.
But in retrospect, I should've tried harder. I just think the word looks better, especially in headlines. And if you need proof, try these: "Crustybubble afflicts one in five Australians" and "Top tips for bursting the Crustybubble."
Crustybubble works by tricking you into thinking that all the pain and sadness isn't just a passing emotion; that it's actually reality.
So once you're locked into a cycle of sadness there's no point trying to fight it, or get out of it, because this is now your life, and always will be. And your new view of reality is that the pain will never stop; that no one will ever want to talk to you again; that you will never achieve anything ... and that you may as well as get used to this state of affairs.
Accepting this warped view of things means that you're in the running to win Crustybubble's booby prize: the belief that at least you're being sensible, and reasonable, and behaving like an adult.
As far as booby prizes go, this is one of the most useless in existence. But as far as clever tricks go, Crustybubble's ability to distort reality is one of the most effective.
But there are ways out of it. First, do anything you can to make contact with people. Do anything you can think of to make the phone ring. (Handy tip: this may mean ringing other people first.)
And secondly, call it Crustybubble. Even the worst afflictions are lessened by being called something completely ludicrous.
Sometimes I wonder if using a big flash computer is actually helping me or not. It's great for adding things, but not so useful for finishing things.
I'm doing another little bit of housesitting (just for three nights); and all I have here is a tape recorder and access to a guitar and a piano. And I've written more music this afternoon than I have all year.
March 31, 2002
Stuff I never knew about notebook protectors
Saturday morning with Stig O. Walsh, founder and honorary chair of the Walsh Prize. We went to the Paddo Market, primarily to have a long, involved conversation about the ideal thickness of leather notebook protectors.
The standard model is relatively thick leather, which Stig regards as less than ideal. In fact, Stig tends to regard the standard model as a kind of disgrace, if not actually a heinous blasphemy, or some kind of sinister, unpleasant joke being carefully aimed at him.
So he'd come to an agreement with the Paddo stallholder to have a Special Edition Walsh ModelTM made, which is exactly the same size and colour as the standard model, but a slightly thinner leather. Walsh, understandably, was delighted with his Special Edition Walsh ModelTM, which is very much in keeping with the nature of Walsh. But after hours of conversation about notebook protectors, I found myself wondering if, in fact, we were both going deranged.
In the end, though, I bought a standard model, as a souvenir of this completely ridiculous conversation. I put it into my jeans pocket, and forgot about it until some time later, when I sat down on it. At that moment, I realised why I should've listened to Stig. The Special Edition Walsh ModelTM is more expensive, but it is sleeker, and it is sexier. And, more to the point, it leaves much less of a bruise on the backside.
Also got to meet Stig O.'s son, Stigson, who's now five days old. He was feeding or sleeping for most of the time I was there, but when he looked up he seemed astonishingly alert and happy. He's looking like an early contender for this year's Walsh Prize, especially in the nepotism division. And Lindy looked serene and calm and gorgeous. Motherhood seems to agree with her, and possibly because it provides her with a convenient reason to opt out of marathon discussions with her husband about notebook protectors.
At some point today I found myself listening to Celtic FM, which was astoundingly amateurish. They had a special phone-in competition to mark the end of daylight saving tonight. All you had to do to win a not-very-valuable prize was ring up and tell them in what direction the clocks were moving.
"Hey," I thought, "that's the worst radio I've heard since listening to Ulladulla's local road and weather conditions yesterday." Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be an unpopular competition. After twenty minutes of trying to get someone, anyone, to ring up and win the prize, the DJ admitted that he'd only had two calls, and both guesses had been wrong. The DJ spoke in a strong Irish accent, not that that's relevant.
Afterwards, on the way to Geri and Houston's wedding, I turned the radio on again. Then I focussed on the draining task of driving an antique Kombi up and down steep hills on the way to South Head, which was surprisingly difficult to find. Only after getting there did I realise that I'd spent half an hour listening to two people converse in a language that I couldn't even recognise, and I hadn't noticed.
One of many highlights of the wedding was an absolutely stunning speech from Julia Zemiro. Julia shared a house with Geri for six years, and spoke with great humour and vulnerability about that time. She revealed a great deal about Geri, but, even better, she was also very revealing about herself.
I've seen Julia perform improvised theatre dozens of times. She's a wonderful improviser: very fast, very flexible, very dazzling. She can speak gibberish better than anyone I've ever seen, and can do an enormous range of characters and accents. And the best thing I've ever seen her do was this speech. For the first time, she didn't hide behind a character. She stood before us and was completely honest about herself. It was spellbinding.
I spent a bit of time talking to Bernard Zuel, of The Sydney Morning Herald, and at some point there I realised that many of the people I know in Melbourne are intriguing failures, and that many of the people I know in Sydney are actually getting paid to do what they love. That seems like a huge difference.
But perhaps Sydney people are more aware of the need to, as it were, sell themselves. People here are much more conscious of the need to market themselves, whereas Melbourne people are simply at some other point on the space-time continuum. And, as a general rule, staying there.
Just before arriving at the wedding, the road swooped down towards South Head, and for the first time on this visit to Sydney, the harbour suddenly came into full view. And just at that moment the rain lifted and the sun came out, and I was hit by the full pyrotechnic beauty of a stunning harbour view. Melbourne, for all the fascination of its intriguing failures, doesn't have anything like that. Maybe I should move back here.
So. I drove 900 kilometres in an antique Kombi to be at the wedding, and it was well worth it. Geri was the first real friend I made in Sydney, and I was very proud to be at her big day. As a wonderful additional bonus, I also finally got to meet Houston. A while back I did some anagrams of "Geri and Houston," and the first one I came up with was "resounding oath," which seemed appropriate at the time, and even more appropriate today.
April 13, 2002
Relocation, relocation, relocation
Reading Po Bronson's The Nudist on the Late Shift. The title reveals an awareness of marketing, but the book is actually about people in the computer industry, and what drives them. Bronson's good at conveying what Silicon Valley feels like, and why people are excited to be there. His skills in this area are so good that, for a moment, I considered moving to Silicon Valley and trying to find some venture capitalists.
Apparently that's what people do: they hatch a great new software idea, and move to Silicon Valley to find wealthy, adventurous people to bankroll them. So, for a brief moment, that's what I wanted to do, except my idea was to get rid of the middle man (the great new software idea) and just get the funding.
The book starts with this:
By car, by plane, they come. They just show up. They've given up their lives elsewhere to come here. They come for the tremendous opportunity, believing that in no other place in the world right now can one person accomplish so much with talent, initiative, and a good idea.
Reading this so soon after being in Sydney makes me wonder where I should be living. What I really want to do is write: songs, stories, jokes. What I've already done a lot of is travelling, and wandering, and moving house. I've done a lot of all that stuff. Always looking for greener mirages, for somewhere better, for something else.
For the first time in my life, I'm starting to think that the best place to get some writing done is where I am right now: at home, in Fitzroy, surrounded by a pile of books, with a guitar just nearby, and with a Melbourne sky outside threatening a long winter.
I've never felt this before. It's a profoundly weird feeling.
May 8, 2002
Lunch today with Kirsty, though she didn't eat anything, and I had breakfast, owing to the fact that I'd just woken up.
OK. Fine. Let's just say I had breakfast with Kirsty, and leave it at that.
Kirsty's a potter. I asked her what she most likes about pottery, and this is what she said: "I like its humanity. Pottery can't be made on an assembly line. It can't be mass manufactured. It's been made by a real human being."
These are all very good reasons. But she also made an observation, and one that intrigued me: "people like to pick up pottery."
For some reason I can't get that out of my head. Partly that's because I immediately knew it was true. If I see an object that I like, or which I'm curious about, my first instinct is to pick it up and to look at it from all sides. Then there's the inevitable weighing up of the object, which involves passing it slowly from one hand to another, and looking generally thoughtful. (Another optical illusion, by the way: this process tends to look more philosophical than it actually is.)
So. What I want to do with whatever creativity I have is to write. It's a kind of metaphorical pottery.
Last night I saw From Hell and Quills. Quills bored me to tears, so I left half an hour or so before the ending. The acting was good and some of the actors were terrific - you've got to admire any film with both Michael Caine and Kate Winslet - but I just couldn't get interested in the Marquis de Sade's character.
While walking home I was reminded of something that Joyce Grenfell apparently said to Clive James: "those who regard themselves as gifted have fewer, not more, excuses for behaving badly."
The Marquis, it would seem, regarded himself as extraordinarily gifted, yet his "art" appears to amount to nothing more than demeaning and destroying anyone who tries to help him. Yawn.
To my surprise, I quite liked From Hell. Sure, after a few moments I wanted to stand up and yell "it's a lie!", but that passed away soon enough. What I was reacting to was the establishing shot of London, which actually makes the city look beautiful. (Uh ... what?) We see St. Paul's Cathedral in the middle of a spire-studded landscape, and the whole thing has been laid out to make London look as if it's on a hill. London is most definitely not on a hill. And it's not a terrifically beautiful city either, and I'm sure that's been the case for some time now.
There's another shot, much later in the film, which also features St. Paul's Cathedral. It's possibly the only scene in the film which was shot outdoors and in daylight. In it the cathedral towers majestically above the grime of the street. In the middle of the shot is a railway bridge, and as a train rumbles past it produces a dense cloud of black smoke, which largely obscures the view of the cathedral.
On Sunday I drove down to the beach and went on a three or four hour walk. I enjoyed myself so much I've been wondering why I don't do it far more often.
June 27, 2002
Sunday afternoon, and time for a long walk. I set off in a random direction, and spent several hours walking around Brunswick. I was trying to find a sign that read "danger trams," which I couldn't locate, but that was just a pretext. Every so often I like to walk around the place, if only to appreciate where I am now.
I used to live in Brunswick. At the time I did my best to ignore its shortcomings, and I can report modest success at this endeavour. Time has passed, though, and now when I go there shortcomings leap out from all directions. Brunswick is a parade of shortcomings. Every winter it has a Festival of Shortcomings. The weather turns cold and people walk around looking miserable. It's an incredibly bad festival.
As a place to live, Brunswick has two advantages. It's close to the city and it's close to Melbourne University. Unfortunately, its list of advantages gets to two, and comes to a conspicuous halt. A few years ago the council ran a competition to find a third advantage, but there were no prizes given out. Rumour had it that there were no entries.
Brunswick has the look of a place exhausted by its history. It's always been a poor area, and this is obvious in any direction you look, even if you look up. The Brunswick sky is choked by a dense network of swaying power lines. Even the tiniest streets are decked out with strand after strand of electricity. No one, it seems, ever cared enough about the place to consider other options.
Or maybe it's just one more indication that Brunswick has never been particularly well planned. If you walk to Brunswick from the city, a moment comes when your heart sinks. That's how you know you've arrived in Brunswick. Just north of the CBD is the Victoria Market, which is wonderful, and then you keep going up Elizabeth Street to arrive at the western edge of Melbourne University. By now the road has become Royal Parade, and it's a royal road indeed. It's extensively covered by trees and lined with beautiful old houses. North of the university the beautiful houses continue, as do the trees, but instead of a university there's the impressive vista of Princes Park. I've seen tourists look at this road, and break into applause. Some weep at its beauty. This is one of Melbourne's best areas, and like the best areas of New York, it comes to an abrupt end.
You cross Brunswick Road, and Royal Parade immediately surrenders. It casts aside its aristocratic name and changes into the dread spectre of Sydney Road. Four wide, tree-lined lanes shrink to two. The park disappears, and is replaced by a landscape of factories. Everywhere you look are trucks and traffic and trams. It's noisy. It's crowded. It's poor. All of a sudden, there are no trees.
And this is where I used to live. I walked past my old house, and shook my head in disbelief. What the hell was I thinking, I wondered.
Well, I got to here and realised that I'd asked a question that I had no ready answer for. So I thought some more. And then a little more ...
A series of visionary dreams
I finished my Arts degree in 1992. By early 1993, I was completely lost. Or, if I can use a nautical term, I was adrift. Eventually I figured out that I needed a plan, a direction, a goal. Lacking all these things, I did the best thing I could think of: I slept in. But not out of laziness: I was sleeping in deliberately, on purpose. My plan was to have a series of visionary dreams. Just the ticket, I thought, for working out where I should go and what I should do when I got there.
If it's not clear by now, then let it be clear from this point on: I was never very good at the practical side of things. In retrospect, I can safely say that having a series of visionary dreams was a terrible idea. And, sadly, it was not to be my last terrible idea. Life, it seems, is a process of stumbling from one terrible idea to another, with occasional breaks for coffee.
One morning I was woken by the phone. As soon as I picked it up I realised that I'd just forgotten yet another visionary dream. (This was typical of the time. I never remembered any of my visionary dreams, and now doubt I ever had one.) On the phone was my girlfriend of the time, and she was excited. She told me that she'd got a new house in Brunswick. It was a big house, with lots and lots of room. "It's a shop top," she said, which was a kind of house that I'd never heard of. It sounded interesting. She wanted me to move in with her. The visionary dream thing wasn't working, and I didn't have anything else to do, such as research the idea. "Sure," I said.
The house was right on Sydney Road, a few steps past the sign that read "Sydney - 880 kilometres." As promised, it was right above a shop. A friend helped me move in. Like me, he was from a decent home in a decent suburb. We arrived in daylight, which was definitely a mistake, as every shortcoming was on stark display. The noise was incredible. One of the housemates, Army, had one of the rooms at the front of the house. She took to wearing earmuffs. Her boyfriend, Navy, took a different approach. He tried to imagine that the waves of traffic were like waves at the beach. This worked only when the lights outside the house were green. When they turned red, all the trucks going to and from Sydney would brake to an ear-splitting halt. Navy would be lying awake, breathing in storm clouds of carbon monoxide, and trying to pretend that screeching brakes was a natural phenomena, like rock pools and low tide. I'm not sure what happened to Navy, but there was a rumour that he went on to develop an impressive range of mental-health issues.
Next door was an anarchist bookshop. I never went in there, because it seemed to operate on a policy of maximum intimidation. There were posters and books on display, and all of them were coated in a thick sheen of anger. Images of guns and barricades and warfare were omnipresent. Perhaps as a result, this bookshop had become a target for vandalism. It seemed that every week someone would throw a brick through the front window. Strangely, most of the broken glass ended up on the footpath. For a time, this was puzzling.
At school I had a teacher, George Wilson, who had a standard threat of "it's straight to Skid Row for you, lad." He'd say this only about minor transgressions, such as when someone spoke without raising their hand first, or when they'd provided a particularly lame excuse for not having done their homework. It wasn't his serious threat, and there was a healthy dose of absurdity in the way he said it. He was gently pointing out that life offered choices, and some choices could lead to disaster.
So when I arrived in that shop top house on the most polluted road in Melbourne, I knew instantly where I was. I'd arrived in Skid Row.
That house was the first time in my life that I'd consciously taken a backwards step. I'd finished a degree, but I was incapable of seeing this as a benefit. I wasn't looking for a way forward, or taking steps in that direction. As a result, I went backwards. I'd tried to have a series of visionary dreams, and I'd ended up living next door to an anarchist bookshop that broke its own windows.
The visionary dreams thing was a charming idea, but it wasn't really what I needed. What I really needed was to wake up. In retrospect, in a funny kind of way, Brunswick helped me do that.
July 22, 2002
On the death of Andy Ingham
Exactly a year ago I was in Brunswick, reading a note with a stunned expression on my face. The note was on the front door of the Brunswick Library and it said that there was a funeral service for Andy Ingham being held elsewhere in the building. I didn't much like Andy, and he hated me, but the news of his death was an enormous shock. I'd seen him only a few months before ... but I'll come to that. Other things have to be mentioned first.
Andy and I fought over the same woman. He lost the fight. But the woman in question turned out to be a nightmare, so maybe we both lost.
When I first met her she had been going out with Andy for five years, and still was. I knew nothing about this, because she had accidentally-on-purpose forgotten to mention anything about him or their relationship. I distinctly remember the first time I met him, in the Lounge in Swanston Street. "So who are you?" I asked, and noticed the disbelief in his eyes. It was immediately obvious what she hadn't told me. "Well," he eventually said, "I'm the mayor of Brunswick." "Oh," I replied. Conversation suddenly became more difficult. "Well then," I said, "what's it like being a mayor?" He rolled his eyes. It didn't matter.
The next few months were tense. Eventually it became obvious that she didn't want to choose between us. So I moved to Sydney, and invited her to come with me. She spent a few weeks in turmoil, and then she accepted. He visited us a few months later, but by then the struggle was over, and I had her all to myself.
In retrospect, the best thing about that time was the chance to listen to a whole pile of new music. She had an impressive collection of cassettes, and insisted on playing me everything that I hadn't heard. One of those tapes was Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. It took a few listens, but it changed my life. I wouldn't be the same person now without that record. And I wouldn't have heard it without Andy. Not only did he have great taste in music, but he shared that taste with her, and she with me. I owe a substantial chunk of my musical education to him.
A few months before Andy died I went to the opening of an art exhibition in the Brunswick Town Hall, where he was still working. I saw him across a crowded room, surrounded by a crowd of admirers. It was the ideal opportunity to say hi, on his turf, and to thank him for making all those great tapes. But I didn't do that, and I've regretted it ever since. He was diagnosed with cancer not long after, and died a few weeks later. He was 46.
I still think about him. He's one of a number of people who I remember with total clarity. He was ten years older than me, and had a world view I'd never encountered before. He was very committed to the idea of local government, and totally committed to the community of Brunswick. He was very astute in his observations of people. And, when we weren't arguing over a particular woman, he could be brilliantly entertaining.
And when I saw that note on the Brunswick library I realised that I would never get the chance to say these things to him. And that still hurts. You've got to thank people while you can.
August 7, 2002
Things that have always puzzled me: Star Trek costumes
When I was last in New York City, I stayed with The Mighty Vengeance Of Ho. She'd been in America for several years, and had come to hate just about everything about it.
One of the few aspects of American culture she liked was Star Trek. I sat down with her and tried to watch an episode, but couldn't get very far. I hadn't seen Star Trek since childhood, and I was struck by how silly the plot was. And the dialogue was just embarrassing. It scaled new heights of pomposity, and loudly refused to come down again.
"Hey, Mighty Vengeance Of Ho," I said, "what do you think of this dialogue?"
"It's all right," she said, her attention still devoted to the screen.
"So you don't think it's ridiculous?"
The Mighty Vengeance Of Ho turned to look at me, contempt now boiling in the mighty vengeance of her heart.
"No, I don't," she said. She'd gritted her teeth and now looked impressively threatening.
Even so, I pushed it further. And eventually she said The Great Puzzling Thing: "you don't watch Star Trek for the dialogue. You watch Star Trek for the costumes."
She delivered this claim with complete conviction, and with the unstated threat of execution if I asked any more questions. I therefore retreated into a silent world of reflection. There I stayed for some time.
I'm puzzled by many things, of course, and this reason for watching this show is one of them.
November 29, 2002
Dreaming of new technology
I've noticed that I'm dreaming in a different way. I suspect the oversupply of new technology is the culprit.
In the old days, dreaming would be a simple thing. I'd fall asleep and dream that I was in a mountain valley on a cloudy day. I'd look up at the high mountain behind me, and start walking. As I walked along a pram would roll down the lefthand slope, and just miss me. I'd keep walking, and eventually leave the mountains. I'd cross a railway line and eventually I'd get to the sea and wake up.
That's how I used to dream.
Not any more. At the start of my dreams now I'd be in a mountain valley on a cloudy day. I'd look up at the high mountain behind me, and start walking. As I walked along a pram would roll down from the lefthand slope and just miss me. Then I'd be back at the start on a cloudy day. As I walked along a pram of a different colour would come rolling down. Then I'd be back at the start and a pram would roll down from a different direction. Then I'd be back at the start and prams of different colours would arrive from all directions. Sometimes they missed me, but they didn't always miss.
There'd also be plenty of variations later on, when I got to the railway line. Sometimes there'd be a train. Sometimes the train would change shape. Sometimes I'd hear the train, and smell the train, but I wouldn't see the train. Then I'd be hit by a loud, smelly, invisible thing.
Sometimes I'd walk all the way to the sea. Sometimes a train would take me there. Sometimes the sea would be a different colour. Sometimes the sea wouldn't be there.
In the old days, my dreams would have a clear beginning, middle and end. They'd start in a particular place, move to the middle, and come to an ending. It would be like watching a videotape.
Now my dreams start, and start, and start, and start, and eventually they end, and end, and end, and end. It's not just a simple dream any more: there are deleted scenes and outtakes and alternative versions. The whole thing is like watching a particularly inept Director's Cut Special Edition DVD.
The world is so full of technology that I'm waking up exhausted.
November 30, 2002
Computer assisted autism
Observation: many of the books scattered nearby have titles like "The Linux Cookbook," "Perl for Website Management," and "In The Beginning Was The Command Line." It all makes for a huge leap from what I read as a child, which was "The Famous Five."
Recently I've installed the Debian distribution of Linux, and have been trying to learn about that, and also various things about Perl, CSS, SSH, PHP, and so on. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that all this stuff is having a negative impact on my life, or a sinister impact, or both.
Now, for all those people who don't know what CSS is, or SSH, or PHP, I extend my hand in warm greeting. I wouldn't have a clue either. To me all this stuff is ACR.
Alien Cheese Recipes. That's what I'm dealing with here. Incomprehensible instructions, as likely as not to be what aliens use to prepare cheese. A month or so ago I tried to install Movable Type without doing a degree in Computer Science first. (Ah: the folly of middle age.) I was steadily following the manual, and then I read this:
If you are setting permissions through a Unix shell, simply use the command:
It was exactly at this point that I wanted to unleash demons on the Movable Type people. Winged demons. Winged demons with fangs. Winged demons with fangs and a thirst for programmer blood. "Simply use the command," they say. Well, this is how my terrified mind interpreted that instruction:
Okay. It's now a month later and I've discovered what "chmod" actually does. I've even got some kind of notion about the "755" thing, too. In fact, I've discovered that all these Alien Cheese Recipes can eventually be understood. It takes a while, but it can be done.
But there's a price, and it's a heavy price.
You develop autism. And the more you learn about computers, the more thoroughly you develop it.
So, in the interests of my mental health, I'm going to spend less time on computer-based tasks that are far beyond my current ability. I'm also tempted to reread "Five Go To Smuggler's Top," just to see if that helps. I have a fairly clear memory of understanding that book, and I'm feeling the need to revisit that sensation.
December 17, 2002
The Tao of Blackburn
My clearest memory of Blackburn is of arriving back there in the middle of the night. I'd been away for a year or more and had just flown in from London. I shared a taxi from Tullamarine with someone who lived a few streets away. We arrived at her house and I walked the last few hundred metres back home.
After the taxi pulled away, I was suddenly struck by the total lack of sensory input. I was in the bellbird area, which meant that there were no footpaths and no streetlights. The place was so completely silent that, for one perverse moment, I feared for my safety. There were trees everywhere, but no wind to rustle them. No cars drove, no dogs barked, no bellbirds sang. Blackburn seemed very deeply asleep. That's how I remember it, and how I remember my life there: a deep, ongoing sleep.
At the time, in my brief moments of waking, the sleeping world around me made me furious. When I was seventeen, I believed that the world owed me an interesting life. The drowsy streets of Blackburn, however, blocked my view of it, and I, an annoyed, frustrated teenager, was not pleased.
But time goes on, and then it goes on some more. And just when you get used to this arrangement, the sequels start. And eventually you arrive where you began, as T.S. Eliot said, and know the place for the first time. But even this knowledge fades, because still time moves forward.
Blackburn is where I grew up. It's a leafy suburb in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It has two features of interest: a lake and a mountain. Unfortunately, the lake is tiny, barely more than an ambitious puddle, and the mountain is so small it's effectively invisible. In fact, it's not even a mountain. It's just a grassy slope, a minor dent, a gesture. On top of it is a monastery and a cricket oval. Neither ever attracted a crowd. I'd often walk up to the oval, the family dog in tow, and sit below the lone gum tree on Bedford Street. I'd look out over the landscape of trees, and plan elaborate strategies of escape. I called this tiny hill "Mount Box Hill South." As far as I know, I'm the only person, alive or dead, who has ever done that.
The most appealing walk in the area follows Gardiner's Creek from the lake to the mountain. Along the way are two busy roads, but once they've been left behind, tranquility returns. Parts of this walk have a curious effect on the imagination. You can get a glimpse of what the place was like before the houses were built, before the cars and driveways arrived, before boredom took these gentle hills. Blackburn, it seems, gradually formed around a piece of wilderness, and somehow a tiny piece of that wilderness remains. Even now I'd like to live in a garden, near a river, and be able to walk to a writing desk without seeing a car. It's a very Blackburn ambition.
The local Sorbonne
Blackburn also had one other, much less well known attraction. Incredible as it may seem, this complacent, comfortable suburb had a French Quarter.
Blackburn's French Quarter was my room. On one wall was a jigsaw puzzle of Notre Dame Cathedral, and below it was a bookshelf, known to the Blackburn cognoscenti as "The Sorbonne." For a few minutes in the late seventies, I even considered wearing a beret. But the seventies weren't a good time to wear a beret. The seventies weren't a good time for many things, at least for me, and mainly because I spent them in Blackburn.
One of my early escape attempts took me to the exotically named Nunawading. Nunawading's name was the only exotic thing about Nunawading. It was right next door to Blackburn, so in many ways it was just like Blackburn, only more so. It's a place of furniture warehouses and car lots. It has no mountain and no lake. Nunawading makes a pointless waste of time look like a real place. It doesn't even have a French Quarter. It has a Blackburn Quarter. The unpleasant irony is that Nunawading's Blackburn Quarter is actually Blackburn.
The art of leaving, and leaving again
Eventually, of course, I left Blackburn for good. And when I left, I really left. Leaving was so liberating that I kept repeating the experience. Wherever I went, whatever I did, I'd leave. Moving house became my career. Whenever something bad happened, I'd move. Whenever something good happened, I'd move. If I woke up and the sky was clear, or the sky was overcast, or the sky was still there, I'd move. I became a skilled practitioner of this subtle art.
Part of the motivation was fear of Blackburn, fear of complacency, fear of stillness. Staying in one place seemed boring. For a long time, all I could remember of Blackburn was a vague, ongoing feeling of despair and outrage. I'm from Blackburn, I'd say, as if admitting that I enjoyed sitting on a pile of manure, proudly waving at passersby. Once I started running from Blackburn, I kept running. I write these words in Yackandandah, hundreds of kilometres away. Still running.
Taoism is a religion of the natural world. It's about living in harmony with the elements, and balance and flow. And, like the creek that runs through its centre, Blackburn flows. It doesn't flow very fast, and it doesn't flow in a spectacular way, but it flows all the same. By the time I flowed through Blackburn, and arrived somewhere else, Blackburn had well and truly flowed through me. If there's something of the Tao in that, then so be it. If there's nothing of the Tao in that, then so be it also.
As a teenager, I wasn't interested in Taoism. What I wanted was Zen: a clear target to aim for, discipline, focus. All of these were unavailable in the Zen-free streets of Blackburn. I wandered forever through a leafy suburb, locked in a futile search for sudden enlightenment. It took a long time to stop noticing the absence of Zen and to start noticing what was there.
What was there was a lake, a mountain, a walk between them. As a teenager, it wasn't enough. As an adult, I can see that it was better than growing up in Nunawading. At any rate, much time has passed. Sequels have come and gone, and more time approaches. My fear of Blackburn, and my anger towards it, have changed. As the years have passed, they somehow turned into a few grains of compassion, a glimmer of clarity. For this is the Tao of Blackburn: anger and fear may fade, but the lake and the mountain remain.
February 5, 2003
Anything you want it to be
I'm back in Fitzroy and I've just come back from a stroll around the neighbourhood. I walked through Carlton, across Princes Park, and ended up at the Royal Park Golf Course. I hadn't intended to play golf, but I changed my mind once I got there. I didn't have any clubs, and I didn't have any golf balls, but it didn't seem to matter. Visibility on the course was poor, but I think that's because I was there in the middle of the night.
I wasn't really playing proper golf, anyway. I was playing a variation of my own invention. This involves walking from the club house to the first tee, and then following the course all the way round to the ninth green. This is surprisingly difficult when you can't see any signs pointing you in the right direction. I got to the first green without difficulty, but then had to do an extensive search before I found the sign pointing to the second tee.
The sign said:
Walk along this path for quite a while, then cross the train line, then find the tram stop, and it's just near that, sort of. If you can't find it, you haven't gone far enough. Good luck.
So I walked along the path, and crossed the train line, and looked around, and kept walking. Then I walked some more, and a bit more after that. Eventually, I found the second tee. It was in a different suburb. It's possible that it was in a different city. It was a very long way. After one hole of imaginary golf, I was exhausted.
But the lengthy stroll committed me to the idea, so I walked around the rest of the course, and eventually came to a resting position on the ninth green.
I lay on my back and looked up at the stars. Normally a vast number are visible, but there are bushfires in the north, and the smoke has reached Melbourne. Only three stars were clearly visible, and another dozen or so put forth a weak glimmer.
Despite being only a few miles from the centre of the city, it was very quiet. A sprinkler gently watered a nearby lawn, a bat flew overhead, an occasional police siren was heard in the distance.
And I thought over my game of imaginary golf, and felt satisfied with the way I'd played. I hadn't lost any golf balls. I hadn't mishit any shots and lost my temper. I hadn't attacked the shrubbery with a five iron. And I'd played the entire course while wearing black jeans and black boots and a black tshirt.
The problem with real golf is guilt by association. By swinging a club in leafy surrounds you're engaging in the same activity as people who wear tartan trousers and a jaunty peaked cap. There's no such problem with imaginary golf. You can wear anything you want. You can change the rules. You can change the objective, the prize money, the point. It can be anything you want it to be.
As I lay there looking at the sky, I suddenly realised that this is pretty much how I feel about life.
February 9, 2003
Letter from a shed in Yackandandah
Over the last few months I've swerved away from writing overtly autobiographical stuff. I'm not really sure why. But ever since I started this blog a number of people have suggested that I put up letters or emails that I've sent them. Personally, I remain unconvinced that this is a good idea, but I'm willing to try it.
This particular letter was written two months ago to a friend who lives in a flat in Sydney. She once lived in a Buddhist monastery, and she has a large and impressive collection of indoor plants.
The Kombi Van
December 9, 2002
(No phone, only email)
"That's what you said last time," is what you said when I promised you a letter when I last saw you in Sydney. "That JD," I thought. "She remembers stuff." Anyway I've just stumbled out of bed, and have put the typewriter on the bed, and have resolved not to go anywhere else, or do anything else, until I've finished this letter. Twice promised, and now begun.
So I'm in Yackandandah. The very place where, more than a century ago, interesting historical stuff happened. It's a beautiful part of the world, and I still find myself smiling at all kinds of thing when I'm here. As I walked back along the road last night I noticed a bunch of rabbits and an echidna. The rabbits all took off immediately, but the echidna merely looked confused. I walked a little faster to catch up with it and found it trying to hide in a clump of grass a tiny fraction higher than it was. "I can still see you," I said, and the echidna reluctantly shuffled forward a few inches.
A big part of the reason for being here is to make sure that my health is going to improve. I had this big virus thing attack me about four months ago, and I can still feel some of its after effects. A few weeks ago I met a student who had the worst case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I've ever seen, and she said that everyone she's ever met with it all had one thing in common: they got a big virus thing and never recovered from it. They were too busy or too ambitious or too something, and as a result they developed something far worse. And I thought: "hmmm. Better make sure that doesn't happen to me."
So coming here has been great for that. As well as leaving Fitzroy's pollution behind, I'm getting a lot more exercise and generally feeling pretty good. I'm walking everywhere and exploring a new part of the country.
But the other reason for being here is to move forward on the becoming-a-real-writer front. And on this front I can report only mixed success. I've definitely got a problem with being interested in too many different things. I have a journalist friend who says "pick one thing, and devote your entire attention to that." And I'm still fighting that advice. Even though I know it's good advice. It's also exactly the same advice that my page of The Secret Language of Birthdays offers. So it's advice that's been specifically tailored to me and my situation on a number of levels. And yet, and yet. I ignore it still.
So if I want to write cryptic crosswords (as I do and as I've done) then I should focus just on that. But if I want to write songs (which has always been a greater interest) then I should ditch the cryptics and just focus on songs. And so on. Whichever way it goes, it means ditching a lot of interests. I'm still reluctant to do that. And I take heart from Betty Friedan, who said that "abilities are also needs." It seems to me that if I'm interested in something, or good at something, then I should find some way of incorporating it into my life.
Unfortunately, I say this while unemployed. And I say it from a perspective of a long, twenty year history of depression. And what's been happening over the last two years is that a lot of my depression has lifted, but I still have many of the habits of it. It's frustrating. And no one tells you that recovering from an illness is also confusing. There have been times lately when I've noticed that I'm calm and happy and positive, but part of my brain is saying "what the hell is this?"
For the last year I've been writing an online journal, and for the first time in my life have been getting a small but steady supply of encouragement. I've also been getting questions that I have no ready answer for. One of those questions is "why are you doing this?" To begin with, I just didn't know. It took quite a while to figure out an answer, which was "I'm writing my way out of depression."
And the thing is: it works. At least for me, it really does work. I've written things up, and got them (as it were) out of the house, and in front of a small public. And, increasingly, people email me to say that such-and-such is terrific, or could they have more about this-or-that. That never happened before. I'm glad it's happening now.
But taking it to the next stage is much harder, and it's where a long history of depression is distinctly unhelpful. It seems to me that one of these days I'm going to have to submit a piece to a newspaper editor, and I'm going to have to finish a song, and I'm going to have to start, and finish, a big project. (A novel, an album, a book of some kind.) It means that I need concentration, and determination, and an ability to override setbacks. These are all things that I have avoided with near religious intensity virtually all my life. Now I realise how much I need them. And I also think: I'm glad I'm only 38. At least I've figured out some really essential stuff while I'm still young. Even as I describe the difficulties that I have now, I'm also aware that the game isn't over yet. I still have time to turn things around.
So. Change of subject. When I last saw you I described your presence as "calm and clear." You're a person with lots of information at your fingertips, and a willingness to calmly refer to it if necessary. And you've got a lot of plants. And a wonderful view. And some very, very good music.
Well, well. The life you lead. I was really impressed by the way you've arranged your living ... er, arrangements. I stood there, surrounded by plants, and thought: "why don't I live like this?"
So what I'm trying to do now is get my life, my garden, into order. It seems that the point of psychotherapy is to get you to a stage where you're aware of all the things that made you, that shaped you, and then you decide what it is that you want. If things from the past haven't worked for you, then you can consciously put them aside and choose something else, some other way of living, some other way of being.
So after a childhood of anger and confusion, and a long adult experience of depression and confusion, I think I'd rather live in a calm and clear fashion. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of what that looks like, for what it might feel like, and for showing me that it exists at all ...
Yours, temporarily at least, from a shed with a view,
May 3, 2003
The care and feeding of concrete and moss
As the not-so-proud renter of one of the world's worst backyards, I have a particular dislike of the phrase "not in my backyard." As far as I'm concerned, the problems of the world are welcome in mine, as long as we can find some way to fit them all in. It's a small backyard. You walk through the back door into a tattered wonderland of urban minimalism.
To date I've spoken little about what's out there, apart from the drainpipe, which, as long term readers know, leads somewhere interesting. As far as inner city backyards go, ours is depressing. It's a tiny display of concrete, bounded by a fence on one side and a series of ramshackle sheds on the other.
The sheds are used occasionally as a last ditch storage area, but their main function is to provide a place for the Terror From The North to roost. The Terror From The North is the vine growing from next door. It's rearranged the corrugated iron on top of the sheds, and it's eaten most of the guttering. It shows every indication of still being hungry.
The Terror From The North means that our backyard is almost always wet. Long after it stops raining, water keeps dripping on the concrete, because there's not enough guttering left to guide the water anywhere else.
When I first moved into this house, I expressed frustration with the ever present moisture snuggling on our concrete. I expected Guan-Ji to see my point and to agree emphatically. Instead he just shrugged and said "I prefer to think of it as a water feature."
It was his way of saying that there was no chance of getting the roof or the gutter fixed, and to accept this.
As time went on, I started thinking that what our damp concrete yard needed was some kind of greenery of its own. Earlier tenants had made a half hearted attempt to create a garden bed with some old bricks and a few bucketloads of soil rich in noxious weeds. Eventually I dug the weeds out and added more soil, and planted tomatoes, jasmine and a sacred bamboo.
They were the first things I'd ever planted, and the process was a kind of religious conversion. I suddenly started caring about these plants a great deal. I liked the sacred bamboo so much that I'd regularly walk outside to see how it was doing. "Regularly" as in "every few minutes."
After starting the garden, I grew accustomed to looking after plants and learning more about them. Doing this felt like growing another pair of eyes. Everywhere I went I noticed plants that had grown to maturity without any contribution from myself at all. In front of my startled eyes, another Fitzroy appeared.
Hasten quickly, astroturf of the future
A couple of weeks ago Arena planted some nasturtiums around the tomato. (Nasturtiums are a kind of flower, but I only found that out a couple of weeks ago.) Initially, not much happened. In fact, nothing happened. It was all very disappointing. When she was away over Easter, nasturtiums sprang up everywhere. It was all very exciting. I emailed her daily reports of their activities and included some digital photos. It was a great time to be in our backyard, and she wasn't there to see the action.
But she was back in time to see the next, unexpected development. As if inspired by the nasturtiums, the concrete itself sprang to life. Despite its forbidding exterior, it now sports a light covering of moss. It's a rare concrete that can grow moss, so I guess I should feel honoured and proud.
But what I actually feel is greed. I'm hoping that the moss gets to astroturf thickness in a matter of weeks, so I can install a mini golf course.
There's only enough room for one hole, but never mind. It'll be the only course in the world where you can putt a ball into the only known entrance to the Elaborate Underworld Beneath.
May 9, 2003
By a pond in Massachusetts
I had a friend at school whose parents worked at a university. Apparently they were both lecturers, but that didn't mean much to me when I was in the first year of high school. I didn't know what a university was, or what one might do there, or why. The whole university thing seemed mysterious, so I ignored it for at least another ten years. This leads me to today's theme: ignorance.
This particular friend had gone to the same primary school as I did, and lived in the same area. One day we walked home together, and on the way we talked about what we were reading. I was particularly keen to talk about books, because I was absurdly proud of what I was doing in that area. Seeing that I'd just started high school, I'd recently become much more ambitious in my relationship with the printed page, more organised, more adult.
Accordingly I'd made the decision to reread all twenty-three Famous Five books. For an extra point of difficulty, I was going to do it in order. I casually revealed this daring plan, and then boastfully admitted that I was making steady, organised, adult progress.
To my surprise, my friend failed to gasp in awe. He neglected to salute the audacity and scope of my plan. In fact, he made no comment at all. To fill the gap in the conversation, I asked him what he was reading. His answer was All The Presidents Men, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He was twelve, I was eleven, and I gave up Enid Blyton that afternoon. It was the exact moment I started to improve my reading habits.
In the years since then, I've often wondered how much ground I've actually covered. I seem to have read a lot, but very little of what I feel I should've read. I've read a little bit of Shakespeare, but never a whole play, a little bit of Dickens, but never a whole novel, and nothing of just about everyone else. I've never read Pride and Prejudice, or Wuthering Heights, or Ulysses. Gathered around me are three large bookshelves stacked high with famous books that I've never opened. They sit there, as they've sat there for years, unread, unloved, unknown.
At the moment I'm making a tiny dint in this wilderness of neglect. I've started on Walden, Henry Thoreau's epic of life by a pond. It's the toughest book I've ever attempted. Thoreau can't seem to remember who he's writing for. Sometimes it seems that he's addressing a particular reader, and sometimes it seems that he's standing on a soapbox, yelling about the cost of the soapbox. There's also a great deal of demented muttering, carelessly aimed at an unspecified target.
The upshot of all this is that Thoreau comes across as a mid-nineteenth century Unabomber. His major gripe about society is that he doesn't possess enough firepower to destroy it completely. At the same time, it's also clear that he loves frogs, and is partial to a good swamp. His book is full of startling individual sentences and awful pages. Trying to make sense of a paragraph is generally impossible. Reading two paragraphs in the same hour is akin to running a marathon. It now seems that I spurned Enid Blyton and started Thoreau on the same day. Two decades of torture later, I've only just finished the first chapter. It's a very long chapter, and I dread to think of how much longer the rest of the book is going to take.
There'll be more SoFo, but there might be a short break of twenty or thirty years first. For reasons of my own, I have to finish this book, even though I have one of my own to write. Walden is a real place, of course, but I'm thinking it would be nice if it was also a season. Then I could put up a sign saying "closed for Walden."
May 13, 2003
Safely to the bean field
After an epic struggle with the first 150 pages of Walden, I've made it safely to Thoreau's bean field. I'm not entirely sure what's happened so far, but Thoreau seems to still be living by a pond. Technically, I'm not quite halfway through the book, but I'm close enough to mark the occasion. He's finally stopped talking about the price of solitude and the amount of space people need between them, and has turned his attention to beans. Things are looking up.
At one point last week it looked as if I would do nothing else with my life but battle with this book. But I'm pleased to report that the battle continues, and that I am not yet dead on the battlefield.
May 31, 2004
Ten days, reduced to two words
A good few years ago I sat in a hall in the Blue Mountains for ten days. I was doing the Vipassana meditation course, which involved not speaking for the first nine and a half days, and then chatting up all the women I'd been looking at for the previous, well, nine and a half days.
Every morning we were woken at 4am by a handstruck bell, and silently invited to attend the first meditation session of the day, which went for an exhausting two hours in the pre-dawn darkness. On the first morning, doing my best to take the course seriously, I got up and slowly shuffled into the hall.
A few moments later, the teacher started the session by thanking us for joining him. This seemed slightly puzzling until he revealed that this session was optional. (There were six compulsory hours of meditation every day, but the early morning session wasn't one of them.) I immediately shot a rueful glance at the door, and spent the next two hours meditating on what I'd left behind: a warm bed.
The morning after that, and for all subsequent mornings of my time there, I stayed in bed as long as possible. I only attended the compulsory sessions, and spent as much time as I could lying down. In this way, I managed to survive the course. I didn't become a black belt meditator, but I also didn't do what a couple of people did, which was jump the fence in the middle of the night and bolt back to civilisation.
Every night, after a meagre dinner, we watched a video of Vipassana's founder, a small gentleman who spoke slowly and burped often. He discussed a wide variety of topics, and at one point said that our presence at the course meant that we had "dipped a toe in the Ganges of reality." He also had a couple of catchphrases to do with the technique of meditation, and which were perhaps applicable to other areas of life.
"Start again," he would say, "start again."
December 29, 2006
A quiet view of distant mountains
This time last year I was staying at a farm in Rupanyup, a small country town set amid a great many fields of wheat. Towards the end of the day I went out for a walk. As they say in the classics, it was quiet out there. There was the occasional twittering of an occasional bird, and a hint of wind, but nothing else.
I followed a fence between two of those fields of wheat, and noticed the distinctive skyline of the Grampians some miles south. I walked for a bit, eventually coming to a road, and then I walked back the way I'd come. There had been rumours of snakes, and the field was so large that the farmhouse was invisible from the other side of it. So I followed the fence all the way back, as the Grampians faded from view, as darkness fell.
While on this walk I wrote a haiku. To be honest, I was rather hoping I could come up with a sonnet, say, or an impressive opening section of a novel in rhyme, say, but all I came up with was a single, simple haiku.
This then marks the one-year anniversary of an early evening stroll along the side of a paddock, and the five-year anniversary of the beginning of SoFo:
Troubled times in an
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