Tuesday, December 8, 2015

eventually, insomnia, my love.

In my golden memories of late-childhood I recall sleeping. I slept the deep bone-sleep of the child who spent days perfecting handstands between eating rounds of white-bread sandwiches washed down with milo.  I slept listening to 3XY radio and  I slept with the dropped book squished somewhere against my hot little body. 

Then in the mornings, once I’d been good and earned my reading-rights by getting up for breakfast, washing myself and doing a house-work job like dusting with an old singlet of Dad’s, I’d be allowed to go back to my room, to sleep-read, which is possibly the most delicious sensation I know—pages are read, face drops onto arm or pillow, wake, read more, drop off dreaming the next part of the story…
I don’t sleep like that now, not with that heavy sense of ease and rightfulness.  These days I doubt sleep, and perhaps knowing this sleep in turn is skittish with me, thin like the meanness of dieting, jumpy like a new love, uncertain and fleet of foot.

And yet, and yet… my body gets tired but I love what night-wakefulness can do If I let it.  There is no fight sometimes against 3am, no fight and no hope-for-sleep and no anything so sometimes I simply mediate a huge blue flower across the dark expanse of my forehead.  Sometimes I get up from the kicked sheets and beaten pillow, and these times are sublime.
There is the night being washed.   Who is doing this washing, how does it happen always this way?  The utter clarity in the chill air, my toes scrunching on the warmer greyed-wood of the deck, and the possums have stilled in my presence.  Night-flower-scent, delicate, moreso than under the sun of daytime.  Jasmine and honeysuckle and the gorgeous sexiness of orange roses.

Or 5am, my mind yearning towards coffee and the sharpening into day, perhaps I do some words or read.  I go again to the back veranda to sail in a brief dream-burst upon tiny wooden boats silhouetted on a sky that is striated pink-- a mobile that takes me briefly into fantasies of the spice isles, where I lurch against rigging as my grin splits my face in two and my lips catch salt-spume.

Eventually, in insomnia, I wonder why I would sleep when there are waking dreams?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

come shrug with me

Parents used to have more social time with friends in the sixties, seventies and eighties than parents do now.
As kids we ate a yellow TV dinner whilst they entertained with tinned things on ritz crackers, BenEan wine (or if you were classy, Mateusse), Neil Diamond on the record player and a blue haze of Stuveysent smoke.  They laughed and ignored us, we survived it. Mothers and Fathers, hear my Call to Arms.  Come and hang out. I will not cook from Nigella nor entertain your kids.  I will wear lipstick and I may make lewd innuendo in front of your darlings.  Ring the doorbell.  You might get a ritz cracker with a tinned oyster while our kids hunt for snails in the garden. When there is whining or dobbing we’ll ignore them, and They Will Survive.

Ok, so in truth MY mum and Dad did a bit of the above, though the meal would have been a cooked one for us kids…but yellow, like maybe fish fingers.

But I recall them entertaining. Be it a drop in from neighbour Margaret that lasted for three hours and a packet of mint slices, or the more posh dinners, or the family arvo teas or BBQs, the house often had people in it.  Any kids present were left to their own devices. We got up to some mischief, got bored, whined, dobbed, but weren’te given the huge amount of air-time that prevents ‘grown-ups’ from having a bloody life.

I have decided to become a big supporter of Childhood Boredom, something I’m learning to instil finally (hopefully not late) in my son who as an only child has ruled the bloody roost for too long!

The best gift my Mum gave me as a kid was boredom.  She’s an interesting person.  But she didn’t load me up with pre-set interesting play.  I didn’t go to Kindergarten, I dagged around behind her doing bits of housework.  I got bored. I found things to do. I was eager when schooling started.  Later I learned to make things, draw, colour, hook rugs, tapestry, annoy my brother, have a fight, survive it etc.
So yeah, forget waiting for an invite for some posh nosh.  Forget me setting up a fun learning activity for the kids.  Come over. We’ll talk in the kitchen and let them work it out. I won’t ignore them if they damage themselves, but unless they’re bleeding, murdering or setting fires I’m going to take a deep breath (and a deeper slug from the wine-glass) and then I’m going to shrug. 

Don’t you think it’s time we all learned to shrug again?  Ahh, the shrug, that lovely loose physical manifestation of ‘care factor?’ and ‘I dunno!’…

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On re-reading the journals of Anais Nin

Recently I was scanning my bookshelves and found an old 1964 edition of the ‘1931-1934 Journal of Anais Nin’.

The last time I attempted to read some of her journals was about 17 years ago. I had graduated with a literature major, knew I wanted to stay at university longer and do an honors thesis in literature, and was tossing up between attempting something on Nin or something on the poetry of Coleridge.

Neither won. Broke and sick of the struggle, I gave up the attempts to stay in academia and went out to get a job. I continued reading the Anais Nin journals, and continued my personal war with her.
At 23 my moral certitude was high and I railed against her even as I begrudgingly admired her. I was too young to know I could admire her but not want to be her. So I seethed at the lies of omission in her journals, how she fails to cite her husband Hugo as the patron of her lifestyle, the source of the income she passes on to an increasing friendship circle of hungry writers and artists.

Now I’m finding it a joy to read this journal. Maybe my moral certitudes have been softened by my observance of life. People’s marriages are complex and interior worlds, everyone is fallible, and an individual struggling to be heard as an artist to me now has a ‘moral’ right to grow their creative flow as much as to protect another person.

The journal I’m reading covers one of the most fecund times in literary history, a period between the great wars and more specifically a period in France where the communication of psychology, the relative ease of writers banding together to print their works, and political tensions combined to create strong opinions and heady thoughts.  This was café society at its purest, and amongst her friends Anais counted Antonin Artuad, Henry Miller and Otto Rank.

It is the conversations between Henry and Anais that I am now finding so rich and fulfilling to re-hear. Reading these  is awakening the critic and the feminist and the writer within who have been dormant for a while out of necessity.  Their conversation is a distillation of ideologies emerging at the time about how men write, and how women write. Henry is the almost caricatured male: active, vulgar, sexual, pugilistic, drawn to the ugly, writing the male orgasm in all its linear trajectory.  Anais is the archetypal female, writing her unconscious, immersed in sensual observation, artifice, and writing narrative that expands like ripples on a pond. Their arguments and friendship reflect at times the misogynist talking to the feminist, at other times the duality of a whole and healthy psyche, the male and female at one.

During the time she wrote this journal she begins her first novel that will be published (‘A spy in the House of Love'). Henry is writing his famous novel ‘Tropic of Capricorn’.
Both of these novels are their attempts to write June Miller, Henry’s wife, out of their systems, to write until she is understood and in some way therefore diminished. That both love her and are sexually fascinated and repulsed by her underpins their own explosive sexual and literary affair over these years.

During this journal Anais also undergoes analysis, first with a Dr Allendy, then with Otto Rank, a student of Sigmund Freud. Her aptitude for psychology as an analysand leads her into a study of it under Dr Rank, and her work from this time draws heavily on Jungian  symbolism and is nourished by early psychoanalytic theory.  I believe it leaves a legacy that female writers have followed down the twentieth century and beyond.

Reading the journals again, and feeling this time such pleasure in her strengthening personal self, her burgeoning intellect, her crystallization as a writer of something very fine, I am happy to feel compassion for a woman of her times, a woman writing herself into an existence out of the ordinary, out of what was given her by men in a still-tightly bound society.

In reading the journals again I have been able to reflect on my own shifts since those first attempts years ago. It is good to realize you have changed; it’s so incremental a process that it can be easily left unseen.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The train, the rain, and ‘Pomes Penyeach’

I love train travel. Even the morning commute across two trains from West to East I used to love. I love the sway of them, the rumble of them, the narrowness of them forcing all these bodies together as a reminder that in each separate skull exists a universe of memories, ancestry and experiences. I don’t even mind that sometimes people on them are strange or smelly.

I have a train-affectation others might find strange. On train trips, long or short, I always have that arts-student staple: a ‘slim volume of poetry’. I started collecting battered old ‘slim volumes’ when I was in my late teens, often buying them from the Lake Bookhouse in Daylesford, and usually buying ones with loving inscriptions in the front leaves. The inscriptions could sway me to buy something more than knowledge of the poet. I loved that people used to give each other slim volumes of poetry and write messages in them too.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I also fell very romantically in love (and with a surprising subtlety of inaction) with a man in his (very) late forties. He would perform at a place I often went, and scatter poetry recitation between music making with a glib and puckish sense of mischief. I adored him and knew nothing would or could ever happen, so I didn’t feel the need to test my developing wiliness on him! He must have known of my crush, and he always treated me respectfully, coming over at breaks to chat about books and music.

When I turned 21 he gave me a used 1960’s copy of James Joyce’s ‘Pomes Penyeach’. On the third page in and in a broad stroke of ink he’d written, 'To A, with love,...'

The book though old was entirely unmarked save on thing: A single page had its corner folded. On that page was an asterix above the poem title. And the final word of the poem was underlined. To this day I wonder if he was telling me something, or if the notation was inherited with the second-hand book. The wondering was always OK and still is. On trains, reading the poem again, my heart feels warm and pleased with the gift he gave my young and chaotic self.


Thee moon’s greygolden meshes make
All night a veil,
The shorelamps in the sleeping lake
Laburnum tendrils trail.

The sly reeds whisper to the night
A name- her name-
And all my soul is a delight
A swoon of shame

(James Joyce, Zurich, 1916)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

reading Rilke at 3am

as I battle the dreaded insomnia again, and again, and again in its usual cycle of (hopefully) around three months, I find myself crashing in my blue-room, a kind of study-come-boudoir with a very  comfy couch bed and a the ever-present pattern of leaves on the window from a large tree outside.  At 3am, or 4am, I'll creep in, too restless to inflict my twitchy feet on Husband, but clearly also too restless to attempt sleep.
With the light on soft and a dim view of the street, I again, as always come Autumn, pick up poetry. Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us that all is sacred, can be sublime. That he does this with reference to a God he knows but has no secular faith in, that he does this as merely a conduit to the sensual and only then the sublime, is why I must return.  He knew secular faith but could not feel it, he felt the sensual world and mastered a prose that steps back from being a knowing guide - it is his observance alone that takes us freely to our own realizations, Yes, that is so, just like that- YES!

I am stunned, always, by the modernity of him, and yet how well he fits an epoch of deep introspection, critical thought and a tradition of intellectual questioning.

All that nestled in the sheer beauty and familiarity of his prose, so new, so sure, so skin-felt and heart-drummed. To be so taken up, out and through by words still quite stuns me.
I can imagine no better antidote to 3am restlessness. If you haven't, please do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Twintown drinking

It’s the same old pub in the same old town. He can smell the fryers out the back doing their turnover of bacon, burgers and parmas. Late arvo light shafts in and shines on the trophies and pictures of local footy players that adorn the walls. Kids are playing a desultory game of pool on the torn up table. His mouthful of fish and chips taste sharp with salt and lemon and the glass he’s holding, has stuck, hilariously he thinks, to its tacky coaster.
                ‘Fortune’s Legacy’ won today and everything is good because he’s going to leave, live like a king, maybe go to Sydney and buy an apartment and be close to his daughter and grandkids.    Everything in the pub looks different now,  haloed with an aura of sentimentality that blooms from his chest, making his beer taste like heaven and the weathered faces around seem very dear.

                His heart fills fit to bust and his glance slides along the twinkling row of bottles on the top shelf, rainbow coloured spirits and liqueurs, the sea blue of Curacao like the sea near his daughter’s home, tawny Scotch as welcoming as those soft leather armchairs in posh lobbies, Vodka that glints like diamonds!
                ‘My shout!’ he yells out deliriously, and waves his arm towards these riches of colour. ‘My shout! Anything you bloody want, me horse won the race!’


The fryer gives off a greasy smoke than always stinks up the pub with fug that smells like rancid fish.  It’s late arvo and dirty sepia light pushes past the small windows, showing the grime of a million cigarettes smoked over a hundred years.  Million- yeah right.  He was meant to win one.

                His parma is cold, the cheese congealed and the sauce a hard crust like blood on an old wound.  He reckons it was yesterdays, reheated under the Baine Marie, they do that here. Over and over the same food, the same songs on the jukebox.   Same group of kids, just different versions of them, always playing pool and drinking.  Now he’ll never bloody leave. He stares into his beer, annoyed by the smug faces around him with their same beaten look and their same stupid stories.

                He reckons he might just have enough for another pint, and filches around his pocket, where the ticket is. Stupid fucking horse.  He has three bucks in loose change left, not enough even for a pot.  The dark walls, smoke and stink close in and the clatter of voices merry with drink makes him angrier by the moment.  Time to go.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Source

You were a sunny child, into tree houses and throwing pinecomb bombs, part of the rough and tumble mix of neighbourhood life. Loud, scabby-kneed, natural. Then something happened which you now realize was a catalyst in changing your shape, your personality, towards something more inclined to sit always outside the circle; you became introverted. 

In 1976 when you were five you got Scarlet Fever. It must have been bad because as Dad took you ino the local doctors you left your body and saw him carrying you, small and slumped in your flame red dressing gown. You saw the shocked faces in the waiting room and how the receptionist rushed you straight into Dr Glassspole’s office. Your face! Suppurating red sores where only an hour before your freckled skin had been.

During the six week recovery you saw the EverReady Bunny come through your pink and orange floral wallpaper, quite a few times. You saw an angel that looked like Glenda from the Wizard of OZ.  Sores popped pus into your ears and you got an ear infection. Trolls gambolled beneath your bed; fever and shakes; you rode life-sized My Pretty Ponies, shakes and fever.

From then on your ears were vulnerable to tinnitus, a low whining that made you feel as though a mosquito was trapped in your head.  You also had a form of synaesthesia, that weird little crossing of neurological pathways and misfired synapses: words could have tastes so viscerally real it made you pull faces and salivate. Once someone said ‘due diligence’ in a meeting and you gagged on the taste of Coca Cola syrup, so strong and present it was as if you had sucked Cola laybacks from the post-mix gun behind a bar.

So now you have this aural sensitivity that makes sound, especially voices, a tangle of threads to be unpicked. Chatter spools all over the floor like old ladies crochet yarns. You understand conversations better from outside the circle. You hear better from the front of the room. It got you labelled Geek years ago, something you cultivated with talk of seeing angels, demons and ghosts.  .  But they weren’t. They were people. Doing things that looked real. It just took you til adulthood to figure it out.

The first time you helped the police you tried to do it anonymously, but you were so naive about the perfect accuracy of your ‘tip’ you became a suspect. Oh irony, it has a salty sweet taste but it will always smell like brackish water.

You had slept and you had followed a woman, through brush, who seemed to be following a grey metal lock-box held out in front of her. You saw the grey van with its bong-smokers parked on the gravel in-road. You saw its license plate number. You saw the signage on an old warehouse nearby.
You saw the slick sepia river, the tree stump at its edge. You saw a beautiful woman in heels being led by a lock-box that yearned towards the water.

Then,  a week later,  her face and shining hair were on the news.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Source dreams

A prologue

Come with me, walk carefully and quietly. Stay back! We follow a woman as she steps carefully in high heels through the mud and undergrowth.  She is in the wrong shoes for this job, but it’s her lunch break and the only time unaccounted for. 
The water smells brackish, shallow and mineral-rich.  Will it be deep enough beneath that surface that is slick with oily stains?   Watch your step; there is so much rubbish, detritus of trysts and parties: cans, glass and condoms. Follow her.  Watch her.  You may need to remember this moment.  Her hair is sable-brown and neatly rolled in a French pleat.

 A man is dead, and there is a box to remove from the world, a grey metal lock-box she holds out in front carefully, like a tray of canapés being proffered. Stories trail behind her, little lost and secret stories. They cling to her pencil skirt and whine for attention.  No time for them.  Not now. Her heart beat is a bass-heavy thump but in her head is a crazed jazz treble: logistics, logins, passwords, email accounts. Another box, this time in a bank. Two PO boxes in two towns, and at the huge hospital on Broad street one body.  
One beloved, known, mapped by her fingers body.   A man is dead and the box must disappear.

Watch her. Follow her. You may need to remember this moment…

Monday, February 2, 2015

Little Boy Hansel

It is full dark and the trees whip and whisper.  Way up, up high, the orange street lights try to hold back the sky. There is no-one about--is there?  No squares of warmth and voice fall beyond the darkened window panes that sit behind long and low front yards. 
He is 107 centimetres tall and not yet six years old.

In his t-shirt pocket is a little plastic bag of coins.  He waves the blue arc of torch-beam like a light- saber through the cold night, the dark night, the excited night.  In response it asks: 'Little boy, little little-little boy, can you remember the rules?'
He toes the kerb, looks left and right, then bolts across the road, a river of risk, and leaps onto the safety of the kerb (embankment), punching the air with his beam, legs pumping along the path, one house, two house three house, four!

In his head his Mum's mantra: 'careful in the car-park, ask the staff for help, any treat you choose, my big boy...'

She stands in the shadows under a tree and lights a cigarette, able to see him nearly all of the way.  Prouder than she'll be when he starts school or performs a solo. Remembering, as she puffs her mum-blues out into the cold air, her own adventures in creeks (Rivers and Dams!) and tunnels (Secret Caves of Treasure), but remembering too that just short years older than him and the adult world had proved itself capable of a darkness worse than storm-drains.

Puff. Risk. Managed. Puff. But. Still.

The air stills, her neighbours pull away in their heavy-duty car and she imagines him suddenly mangled beneath it.

The beams trail away, replaced by a swinging solid line of blue. Here he comes, whistling on his lollypop, pleased and proud.  Whistle-Toot and in he tumbles, back to TV and bath-time and all the overblown baby-rituals of coddling.

So many risks ahead, most of them unmanageable. This his first.