Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Like fences, like cages, clothes are double-edged, ambivalent; keeping the world out, protecting the wearer, but also raising barriers between people, ornamentation, buffers, fences.

Without clothes, people unfold, and when clothes are shared against the world (a doona), this is when conversations are real, shorn of pretences and swagger.

My ex surfaced in my mind today for the first time in a little while. The memories have lost their sharpness, and I can look back wistfully, without pain. Why I loved it was that it was so different to other relationships, other us's; swimming in the yarra at night, walking the streets of eltham at 2am, purposely losing ourselves in suburbia and then trying to find our way home, playing cards/scrabble and giving each other shit, in a satisfying, joke kind of way, walking the streets of the city, jumbled talking, visiting the sofitel toilets (best free view in melbourne), the road trip that brought us together, the hostel in byron bay where we first got together, with our fellow road-tripper asleep in the same room, the way that - even after the breakup - we could still catch up at uni on a hot day, talk, invade a sports-store and try bad clothes on, decide to go to brighton, ditching our other committments, walk along the beach for hours, finally find overpriced icecream and eat it watching the sun dwindling over the bay, talk of life and death on the boulders of the breakwater as night fell, devour noodles on the train home. I waited nearby while she broke it off with her new-boy-of-the-moment, and all was fine in the world.

And yet, the flaws. I didn't have the freedom to be boring; I couldn't allow myself to be self-critical, absent, irritating, or the us we'd (I'd?) built would dissolve. It was like an extension of the road trip, a journeying away while being here, centred in Melbourne, built around routine, uni, holidays, and in that respect, it was a continual process of wooing.

What I want is to be able to lie in bed for hours, sleepily nuzzling, a warm haze, with no need to move, to talk, to be of interest or not; to be like the pictures you see of animal couples sprawled in their nests, the warmth and nearness of the other providing everything, only chittering occasionally.

All-day counselling training session today; I was tired as shit (alcohol and sleep don't mix, even in small quantities) and struggling to take an interest. That was, until we got into the self-criticism/group criticism scenario. It's week 8 of the course, more than half-way, so it was time to take stock. What were our strengths? Weaknesses? Plans to overcome the weaknesses? This would have been fine, if it hadn't been a group situation. Sitting in a circle, waiting for our turns to present ourselves critically before the court of public opinion, it felt a little Communist - on the surface, a chance for views to be expressed openly, tips offered for skill tweaking. Underneath, a sea of rising tension, flowing around the group as eyes swivelled to the new nexus. In our group, there's a dissatisfied housewife doing something for herself for a change (although, ironically, through helping people), 30-40, 15y-o kid, touches you when she speaks to you or makes a joke, sensitive, smily; her turn came, and the tension exploded - the more we heaped compliments, the more the tears welled, until one well-intended comment - 'you started off a bit unsure, but your empathy is really shining through now' - set off tears, and we, the awkward public/participants, dawdled, hemmed and hawed, fled the room. In the aftermath, a knot gathered in the tea room, trying to unpick what had just happened; we're still strangers, strangers who share intimacies for an hour a week, but strangers nonetheless.

Back in the room, my turn in the spotlight arrives and passes painlessly. One of our trainers comments that I've got a fierce inner critic, like her, and that gives me a good level of self-awareness; it turns out most of us in the class have one, a scathing internal dialogue riding our backs and commenting on our lives. I think about this: effectively, my self-critic immunised me from the external criticism. I discount outside criticisms because I feel that I've already done the job, I know myself intimately, without rose-tints. My thought process goes on: Other people can't know me as well as I do, so their views aren't particularly useful. Of course, that's not true all the time - every now and again, someone points out another previously imperceptible (to me) faultline.

The trainers put themselves under the same spotlight, but of course, no-one offers any 'constructive' criticism; the compliments are glowing. I've enjoyed the course and I feel it's been well taught, but I kept quiet. Last week, a friend in the course quit; after one class, she was approached by the trainers, and one in particular let her have it. You're not pulling your weight; you're not contributing to the group, you'll really have to pull your socks up. Shocked, feeling isolated, she quit, disillusioned with the way the trainers - presumably good, empathic counsellors when on the phone - targetted her and made her feel inadequate. Sure, she's shy, but she could have been a good counsellor. Maybe there's more I don't know, but when the trainers told us she had quit, they offered unknown personal reasons for her departure. So I was tempted to bring it up as the trainers critiqued themselves, but wasn't prepared to do so in a group situation. I still don't know whether to tackle them on the topic; I trust my friend, but I don't know her that well, and I don't know the trainers that well either. We'll see.

More thinking as the day wraps up, and I talk to an older woman in my course, someone who I had not previously paid much attention to; I knew she was overly anxious about the course, frantically studious with her homework (all the adults were, funnily enough - unfamiliarity with study), in her mid 60's, the type of person I don't think of as having a past; she's always been this way, I can't picture her life outside grandchildren. We talk about HECS, of all things, and she unfolds before me, delivers a tight political commentary, refers to her past as a Whitlamite free educatee, and my perceptions are changed. It's disturbing - I used to pride myself on not simplifying my thinking about people by using their class/age/sex/ethnicity as funnels to an easy end-point, and here I am, challenged and awed by the death of a bad assumption. I don't know how I think old people got old; perhaps by bypassing real life and heading straight for gnarled faces, exchanging life for timelessness.

OK, so it's forty years after the social and sexual revolution, we've internalised our freedoms from the constraints of religion and its sexual mores, the middle class has risen up and pacified the world via suburbia and boredom, we're (mostly) pleasantly wealthy, freed from the shackles of ideological thinking post-cold war, post-christianity, and the only time we hit the streets is if we go to war in a country a long way away. Back here, it's peacetime; it's always peacetime, prosperity, the battle of ideas replaced by the battle of the bulge. We, the young of wealthy Australia, are the humans best positioned to live fully, in a geographical and historical sense.

So, why are we characterised by cynicism? How is it that a bleak view of the world is the new default? Sure, the traditional big pictures are boring and soul destroying - politics is uninteresting, insipid men attacking other equally bland men over things that don't matter, religion is a refuge for kiddy-sex addicts and hidebound dogmatists and work is a forty-year ride to oblivion in a nursing home. The old ways are boring, but the new as yet undiscovered. And so cynicism becomes the status quo; pessimism tempered with biting humor. What a yawn. I'd like to think cynicism was left behind at high school, when we were shuttled through the system, before we were able to think for ourselves, but it's still common, and it's still boring me to tears.

It's as if people are terrified of being earnest, scared of caring about anything. Cynicism is almost an ideology, in that it simpifies your thinking for you. Death? War? No surprise there. Budgets? Spirituality? Boredom. Everything has a base motive. Maybe it's just a final accomodation of the implications of darwinian thought, perhaps just a watered down nihilism for people without the stomach to embrace the void. Whatever it is, it really, really shits me.

More specific examples? I find it interesting that celebrities are the new weather - the talking point we all have in common, regardless of class/sex/age. Sport as well, in Australia at least. Perhaps we hold to these things because they are real, and they are now, now, now, no thought of past or future, no need to attach these things to metanarratives. But if you're postmodernly njoying banalities as a way to pass time, you're attributing meaning to something you know is meaningless. And perhaps life has no, or little, meaning. I don't know. But cynicism, disillusionment, these things are, must be, waypoints, not endpoints.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

God, it's good to feel normal again. I love the sensation of sinking into days, flitting through moments without an overarching theme (somber or otherwise).

Monday, May 17, 2004

I blame it on being brought up without a tv: if there are words near me, I read them. And if there are no words to read, I get fidgety, jumpy. I read a lot of books growing up, and its a hard habit to break. This little obsession manifests itself in odd places - driving the car, I read ads compulsively. In the tram, I analyse the use of words in stickers. But the worst is during breakfast, when there's no paper to read. Often, I have to make to with the cereal packet. Yup, I'm serious. I actively read the packet. I could cite you the difference in sugar levels between NutraGrain and Special K without thinking about it. It's pretty damn sad, but it has turned up one item of interest: cereal packet philosopy. Special K advises you to Keep It Simple, to live a balanced life, while Just Right advises you to take "me time" out of each day. "Make the decision to take time out for just five minutes and see how self-empowered you feel," it suggests. "Once you start to feel better, this can help you perform better." Gee, thanks Kelloggs. I wouldn't have made it without you. Why are there these nuggets of pop-psychology here for us? Do they know that we are at our most vulnerable shortly after awakening, the most receptive for new-agey me-me-me ideas when dreading work? Have they employed focus groups? And the disturbing thing is the way these popular philosophies - think about yourself more, take time out for you, balance your hectic life - mesh so seamlessly with the product. Just Right bills itself as a balance between heavy and light, a model for our lives. "When life is one big juggling act, feeling that little extra sense of vitality can mean the difference between getting through your day and getting through your day and really enjoying it." And you can select your morning pep-up talk according to what type of person you are. A red-blooded, competitive male? Choose NutraGrain, to have your competitive drive reflected back to you and validated. Want your kids to eat right? Choose Corn Flakes, to have the packet admonish your kids not to skip breakfast, the most important meal of the day (apparently). Because nameless studies show that "kids who have a nutritious breakfast every morning are more likely to pay attention at school and have more energy to take on life's adventures!"

No, I don't know if I'm being serious or not. But I'm sure there's a thesis in there somewhere.

Strange - I've been less inclined to post here now I'm all mended. Melancholy helps me write; I think a lot of writers are the same. If you're happy, you're outside, external; writing is intensely me, me, me.

Anyway, things have been happening, kind of. I'm thoroughly enjoying living in the now, without much thought to backwards or forwards. It's a kind of relief to sink into the present - like playing sport. The immediacy is liberating. So I can't really lift out too many noteworthy events. One thing I want to write about but can't; still in progress, could jinx it by writing it. And another incident I held back from to prevent potential embarassment has now been cleared, so here goes:

At the rubber-cock party, the sex-jokes were flying thick and fast, following the penis around the room. Alternately fellated and flicked at unsuspecting victims, the girls were going nuts with it. All above board, until a certain housemate o' mine took the joke too far. I think it's probably because he's male it came off so badly, but it was also - debatably - in poor taste. Unzipping his fly, he put the cock through it and posed behind a random girl with a tasteless look on his face for a photo. He picked the worst possible person for it: one of the hostesses of the party, who recently finished up with a bad relationship. She cracked it, enforced the deletion of the photo, and spent the rest of the party crying in her bedroom. Instantly transformed from jokester to pariah, my housemate spent an uncomfortable hour on the couch enduring withering stares while waiting to see if she had deigned to receive his apology letter. At the time, a painful experience; the next day, a rich source of comedy.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Damn, but I love house parties. Not just parties in a house, but parties in which my house(mates) come along with me. It makes the night a lot more fun if you can talk shit, have a refuge to fall back on, debrief afterwards. Selected excerpt: A sticky rubber cock from Club X employed as a light switch; party newbies ushered into the bathroom and asked to turn on the light. Tasteless, but enjoyable. You can tell it was a girls party.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Right, this post definitely deserves a Self-Indulgent sticker, or a parental advisory: introverted language may bore some readers.

Ok, so this humble blog received a nice comment from a good friend of mine, suggesting that the real reason these last few months have been so difficult for me is because I don't like myself very much. I must confess I half pooh-poohed it (it's really hard to use 'pooh-poohed' well, isn't it? No wonder we don't see it around as much). Dislike myself? Me? Most of this site is taken up by my ramblings about my psyche and little world - a dose of rampant egotism would seem to be more my problem. But I started thinking about it, really thinking about it, and, well, she's right. Thanks, Mel. So here's my take; me, by me, from a semi-detached perspective.

I appear to be nervous a lot of the time; I fidget a lot, scratch my head, gnaw on my nails. In effect, I'm consuming myself, and other people. I consume other people's vitality and life and always always I try to escape the shackles of self. These are a few of my favourite things: travel, sex, thinking, people, self-reinvention/new activities. These things lift me out of my little socket, give me a glimpse of other ways of being. My dad's like this as well; he needs newness, he absorbs it.

I'm fleeing from living intensely, I think, running from the possiblity of exuding life, taking chances, being confident. Not confidence in the social sense - I can navigate most social situations reasonably easily - but confidence in terms of satisfaction with self. And yet the people I loathe are the people who ooze out of themselves, who talk of themselves incessantly, anoint themselves with praise, these people who are the suns in this world, the centres of gravity and light. But, strangely, I'm often atracted by these people, swung like a new moon into their orbit, to reflect back their radiance and steal a little of it myself; reflected glow. I do this less than I used to, now that I am more clearly defined, but I can still feel the pull.

Sometimes I can be a sun, manipulate social situations, exert charm on others , effervesce, bubble over, and I love these times. But when it's done, when it's over, I become littler than ever. It feels odd, the comedown; a realisation of who I am (or who I think I am; small, meek, embarassing). It's a concertina of buzz and recoil, reminding me of true bipolar people.

For three years, Farrago was my dream. It was an escape. My ex was a dream; she was an escape, too - I thrilled to immerse myself in her, sought out those moments of selflessness (in the sense of a void, the immense relief of a vacuum). But now I am stuck looking drearily in the mirror, no dreams with their promises, nothing bubbling up; perhaps my idea of starting up a street press might turn into a dream, but for some reason it doesn't offer the same promise of an 'else' as the other two dreams did. Other than that, the promise of escape at the end of the year, either into a possible traineeship with a newspaper when I graduate (and then into career, using the skills and the confidence and the money and the absorption of my time to batter my self-image into a workable self, a clearly articulated self with corners and soft spots and mazes) or immersing myself elsewhere, teaching English in Indonesia and China, dreams of transforming myself, renewing, making new connections; friends, lovers, me.

At the same time, I'm the happiest with myself I've ever been, and the most bored with thinking about myself. And after all, who am I to complain? Some people have too clear a sense of self, too high a priority on their needs and wants and the power to satisfy their whims. Others have nothing at all. I did a listen-in at the counselling service, listening to another counsellor tackle the lives of those who ring in, listening to the sounds of hollowness and emptiness, listening to a man whose last important human contact was maybe three years ago, who was watching the tv while the tv stared back at him, who had shopped and washed clothes and finished the tasks of his day by 11am and was staring down the barrel of the void. My god.

So I suppose we all need dreams. But I want to live intensely, now, to be content with the present and not with the future. To be content with me, now, and not in a year.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Sitting in my telephone counselling course last friday, one day after another blowout, another hurt, I know the lecture is going to be hard. The topic is 'Grief and Loss'. The speaker, a woman of rich empathy, nearly makes me burst when she starts talking about how we deal with significant loss. I'm narrowly saved by the hand-out, staring at the words, trying to lose myself in the black and white flickers of meaning. Then, this surfaces to ground me:

"Grange Westburg speaks of ten stages in the grief process:"
1) State of shock, where the grieving person is stunned, dazed or in denial
- Been there. Too much to comprehend in one sitting.
2) The expression of emotion either in the form of tears, fear or anger
- Night tears and bright anger and pain. Mostly finished with that.
3) Feelings of loneliness
- So, so true. Surrounded by people, but still feeling desperately alone.
4) Physical symptoms like headaches, chest pains and disturbed sleeping patterns
- Tick for the sleeping patterns. Bed at 10pm or 4am; all the same.
5) Feeling of depression, gloom and hopelessness
- No surprises there.
6) Feelings of guilt. If only...
- Less guilt than bewildered self-criticism. What did I do wrong? I thought everything was grand and positive.
7) Possible feelings of resentment or hostility to other people/the lost object
- Well, yeah. Obviously.
8) Inability to return to usual activities, usually accompanied by ambivalent feelings
- Joy in life? Little-to-none. I've had to force smiles and generate positivity for long enough for it to feel natural. This is lifting, though. I danced till 5.30 this morning, drunk as a lord.
9) The gradual emergence of hope as the proportion of 'good' days increases.
- Spot on for where I'm at. God, it sounds like an addiction, or illness. Good days, bad days. Fuck, but she got to me where I hurt the most.
10) The struggle to readjust to reality where the person is able to live with the grief and loss.
- Nearly, nearly, nearly.

Despite the clinical phrases, my heart still leapt at these words. It was such a relief to see my experience quantified and placed in a framework, even though it's intended for the bereaved. The steps aren't meant to be linear, which is good, cos it makes me feel less like an AA attendee, but to read step 9 was a small awakening. Grief doesn't have to apply only to death. This has been a big, big loss for me. I think it's been even harder than dealing with my brother's death. Probably because, as the handout says, "the intensity of grief depends on the unique mix of attachment to, investment in and dependency on the lost object and how it happened". I loved my brother, albeit in a detached, he's-always-been-there kind of way. But although we were close, I was just coming out of my shyness and he was still solidifying his personality, firming, when the cancer took hold and then took him away. The pain was nothing like this. I didn't rely on him for self-worth; it hurt, dragged me down to see him suffering, but this has hurt so, so much more. I feel guilty for not grieving more for Stuart, but I can't deny the reality of my pain over the past two months. It's cut me to shreds, destroyed my pleasure in life. I've felt absolutely alone in this. But I hope something good comes from it; I hope I'm stronger, better able to survive. Otherwise, it'll have been pretty pointless.
Although my interest in Radiohead waned alongside my teen angst, the band was hugely important to me for a long time. Thom Yorke seemed to know and be able to articulate my awkward, inexplicable soul pains, and his keening validated my fledgling sense of world weariness. I sank into the complexities of OK Computer, but as a perennially late adopter of cool-music, I missed the tour by a matter of months, and have been feeling the absence ever since - a tangible could-have-been. But no longer - I saw them last night. And even though I dropped away from them after the muted, imprecise Amnesiac, not even bothering to buy Hail to the Thief, on stage, they were absolutely extraordinary. My love affair came flooding back undiminished, after seeing the tragicomic figure of Thom Yorke capering and lurching around the stage, a tiny figure (from where I was, anyway) filling an enormous stadium with his pains and sense of strangeness.

I couldn't speak after the intensity of Idioteque and the maudlin Talk Show Host (which I was desperately hoping they'd play, just for the line 'you want me? fucking well come and find me'), and their new songs - although unfamiliar - translated amazingly well to stage. Radiohead have almost made the transition to electro band, but the best, most human electronic music I've ever heard. It's Thom's voice that demands the attention, backed by the band's ambience and crashing bass swells. His voice is so perfect, perfect not in the sense of being flawless, jewel-like, but in the sense of being beautifully flawed, human, reflecting our aspirations offset by our realities.

The band's career, to me, seems to be a long, tortuous journey into Thom's subconcious. The Kid A/Amnesiac, and to a lesser extent, Hail to the Thief songs placed Thom firmly at the centre, with the other band members relegated to fiddling with electronic boxes, producing huge waves of beat and ambience, through which Thom managed to thread his startling voice. The OK Computer and Bends songs seemed to involve the whole band more, at least visually.

20 minutes in, I was in a trance, and so were the people near me. Utterly, utterly absorbing, a darkness of melody punctuated by small glimpses of light in the guise of joyous little riffs. Now that it's over, I feel a little more complete. That's a tick next to a life goal, right there. (And I'm glad I bought tickets for the first night, avoiding the disappointment of Thom cancelling the second...)