Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Five years of university - it's such a long time, but compared to high school, it's floated by so fast. Now that I'm nearly at the end I keep wondering if I did all those things that I thought I would like to do. I don't recognise myself except in vague hints when I look back at the naïve, gangly-limbed 18 year old of 1999. I've done the one thing I most wanted to do while at uni (farrago) but other than that? I always thought I'd be in at least one play; doesn't look like happening now. I did audition for one recently, but I wasn't particularly good - the one lasting memory I have of the audition is of my partner, a sultry goth with a penchant for purple makeup of all kinds, taking matters into her own hands and kissing me for quite a long time, when everyone else was just hinting at it. A surprise move, and one that failed dismally - neither of us got the part - but hey, it was kinda fun. Other things? Sport - I played squash for a couple of years (just limbering up for my corporate climb) but nothing major. I met a lot of people. I had a Long Term Relationship. And a Short-Term Relationship ending in tears (see February). Actually, my relationships appear to be decreasing in length every time - two years, then six months, then six weeks, and now I am (hopefully) the holiday boy for a Brit heading back in a month. This trend no doubt parallels my declining attention span…

This post is a little disjointed, but I'll get back on track. So. Uni phase in life nearly over. Have learnt much about: world, writing, people, love (not that much), sex (a little), death (too much), me, music, sport (god, but I used to hate sport at school. I'm a late blooming Australian). Along the way, I've lost a religion, a number of friends (attrition, not fallouts. I hope), my naïveté (useless thing), and my personality puppy-fat. Presumably, I'm now honed, a sharp, mean living machine, ready for the challenges of forty years of work and a retirement home. God. I think I still need a Life Direction. All the great people seem to have one. Or are they just ad-libbing as well?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

It can be a real thrill to have a brief encounter with someone and realise that they are a complete and utter git. Rather than toying with ambiguities, the positives and negatives about a first impression, it's wonderful to occasionally be able to loathe someone in an instant. Sound nasty? Maybe, but hear me out. So yesterday I was snowboarding at Mt Buller - great weather, forgiving, slushy snow (useful if you aren't that good) and good company and for a little while we've taken time out at the edge of a run staring out into the distance, mountains of eucalypts and there is peace and then I catch movement in the corner of my eye and a boarder is weaving towards us in little edgy spurts and a moment of shock - he can't be meaning to hit us, surely - and then he's over a little jump, right on the very edge of the run, and talking, commentating on himself - "He's over the jump and nearly runs over the guy with his fucking head in the way", all this in a blink, and he really does miss my head by a mere 5 cm or so and he's past and we're shocked but still able to muster the requisite two fingers at his receding form. What a cock. I particularly liked the way he spoke in third person - quite creative.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Been thinking bout the nature of friendship just now, about the ebbs and swells of people around me over the years. Although friends are the new family, according to trendwatchers (family? didn't that implode back in the sixties), I don't buy it. I find it easy to get along with most people, enough so to generate familiarity, in-jokes, conversation on demand if I want to but at the same time, I wonder how much these things mean. Earlier this year, after a previously blogged unfortunate incident involving a Thai drink, salmonella and stomach eruptions, I was groaning in my bed while bad, bad things were shifting in my belly, plotting a sudden rush to my gullet and my friends-and-housemates were of minimal use or comfort; some help, but not much. I had to return to the family home to get a proper fuss made of me. While I'm glad to be living free and central, the ties of friendship just don't have the same kinds of obligations as blood. Sadly. A little off track there... oh. And as for my two weeks of depression prior to job application going in - interest minimal from non-related parties. It shits me when this happens, because I've generally been the counselor-type for my friends; I take an interest, try to work the serotonin receptors, console, pat, hug, blah-de-blah. OK, so I choose to do this, because I like it and I like the insides of people (it feels more real) but at the same time, reciprosity is lacking. Perhaps it's because I'm mostly sunny and smily even when not. Ah, who knows.


Small excitement: Snuck into a uni ball on Wednesday night for the second year running (seriously, who pays $75 to get drunk and dance to the Nutbush?) only to realise that I am now in my fourth or fifth year of uni (it blurs the further in you get) and that there is a distinct, clear and definite divide between me and the first/second/perhaps third years who filled the room. So, the ball itself was mediocre; fully subsidised drinking, bad dancing, painful music. We were herded from the ballroom by a security man genetically engineered for stupidity and aggression (small, piggish eyes/fat face/reveling in the authority he really, really doesn't deserve) and gingerly stepped over vomit to escape.

But then, in the line for the afterparty at Cherry, a wondrous occurence: a pretty girl made eyes at me, and I not only Did Not Freak but made conversation, found she was English, interesting, rather beautiful, and here for four weeks only (in that order). I immediately promoted myself to holiday fling and spent the rest of the night talking, dancing and (yay) kissing sweetly while dancing on the slightly raised bit on the Cherry dancefloor (before realising that the cloud of gyrating bodies had moved on and we were the main attraction). We fled to Stalactitites for four am coffee and talk and wonder. Oh, joy. Not only this, but I got to see her again on Friday and bounced off walls and ceilings on Saturday and Sunday on the strength of this meeting and boasted wildly and liberally and freely. And thanked my lucky stars for this: it is Quite Rare that I am pursued in any form, even rarer that I manage to get past the wall of um and what-do-you-do's, rarer still that I meet a girl prepared to forgive my paranoia - she gives me number; drunk, terrified of not seeing her again, I ring it immediately, to check if it is - it rings in her hand and I am suddenly hugely embarassed. I have no class, whatsoever. Presumably, I've transmuted that into charm (can't think of another plausible explanation). So, life is good. I didn't see it coming, which makes it wonderfuller still.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

(from sunday)

Today I wandered the city, trying to learn it. Moving from Perth, our family only ever lived in the suburbs, and so it wasn't until year 9 that I began to know the city, during my school's City Campus program. The City Campus - it still exists, on Flinders Lane - is a curious inversion of the common tradition among upper crust private schools to ship the leaders and football stars of tomorrow off to the countryside to install self reliance and group cohesion, with the intended result a solid old boy's/girl's club. We outer-suburbans caught the train into the city every day, like commuters, like workers - an alternate form of preparation for real life, I suppose. I can't remember what we were meant to learn in the classroom (there were beanbags - a venture into alternate educational realms?), but I remember coming to terms with something alive and thrumming, something big, vast and - peculiarly - both human and inhuman. We negotiated the city like tourists, each lunchtime a stop-start venture into the streets and lanes. Until someone told me how to remember the order of the CBD streets, I'd lose myself regularly and be forced to stand midstream, people cascading around me, gazing around with a look of barely shielded terror. Now I know: Spencer, King-William, Queen-Elizabeth (the nod to royalty), Swanston, Russell, Exhibition (presumably named after the famed Melbourne exhibition of the 1850's?) and Spring. On Elizabeth St, we waited for traffic lights and watched men sidle into Club X with a crab's sideways dart, weighed down by a thick urgency. Once, we even saw one exit - someone's grandfather, sheepish after a solo orgasm, the private turned public, and we followed him to see how long it would take for him to disappear into the crowd, before we couldn't distinguish him from the suit next to him. A little while - broken stride, residue of guilt, the stink of his sex - but a shift of pace, a resetting of shoulders and the man was gone. At the Vic Market, I was overcome by the antithesis of supermarket - smell, squalor, noise, old Italian men, Chinese women with singsong voices, custard apples, baby chickens huddled in cages, touristware and bad Australiana, fruit prices fluctuating wildly from stall to stall - and hurried through, casting glances of disbelief. Surely a relic from a previous age? The City Baths on Swanston St and warnings from teachers to be careful in the changeroom, supposedly a beat. The man with the odd smile behind the counter of Bernard's Magic Shop, who watched us closely.

That was a while ago. Becoming comfortable with a metropolis after the trees and air of the green wedge took time, and I was never fully comfortable or happy with the idea of a city, the artifact furthest from nature and origins we've yet created until I left its safety for a month after school, scooting through Brunei (forest researcher cousin gone native) -Singapore (a waystation - does anyone go there for its own sake?) - Malaysia (Dad grew up there back when it was British Malaya, producer of fine rubber) - Thailand (everyone else was). Back, bearded and amazed by other places, I still felt a deep peace the first few days I was back, new at uni but an old hand at the city, a known place, a home. I remember feeling a sense of pride at my city (quickly followed up by wondering why I felt proud of little ol' Melbourne). But no aberration - every time I've been away since (sullen London, beautiful Ireland, pastiche Rome), I've felt the same way about Melbourne. I love the place. A new city, brash but also a little uncertain, defined not by its boulevards and streets but by its laneways and alleys, the small nooks and streetart, life at street level, the floors above restricted to workers and the apartment dwelling nouveau riche, beginning to expand past Batman's grid southwards, surging past the evil of Crown down St Kilda Rd, a second CBD sprouting. Sydney has two, bisected by the harbour; Melbourne as well, perhaps soon. One night, lost on purpose with two friends, we found the Docklands development, with sleek apartment towers ringing the new harbour. I know it's only for the rich (rents start round 500/wk for a single bedroom), but still, it's beautiful. Even if we are trying to imitate Sydney.

You probably already know this, but if you walk to the Hotel Sofitel (Spring St end of Collins St), take the lift to the 35th floor (don't let the staff see your fear) and visit the toilets, you'll encounter the best free view in Melbourne. A floor-to-ceiling window allows you to see the entire of the eastern suburbs, inner stretching to hazy outer, the MCG laid bare, the Yarra, Fitzroy Gardens, Studley Park. Below, to the left, a new apartment tower culminates in a swimming pool. A month ago, I waved to two guys sitting by the pool - a tentative wave back, followed by suspicious glances followed by a short conversation followed by lap swimming followed by more suspicious glances followed by a short, sharp jab of two fingers in my direction. Today, a girl circumnavigated the pool, bathers a colour not so far from flesh; two businessman, drying their hands for longer than necessary at the window. "Reckon she's topless?" - from the most fatherlike, surprisingly. A meditative silence. "Nah. Pity". They leave; another two from the same conference enter. Cue sound of pissing. "Hey Geoff. Do you think she's swimming topless?" Urinal flushing. "Nup, more's the pity. Come summertime though, there'd be something to see." Exit.

Later, in Chinatown, I find a store specialising in abalone. Cans from floor to ceiling, the label design colourful and stylised for the Asian market - a photo of the muscular underside of an ab (a remarkably ugly creature), silhouettes of divers, the cheap paper bordering on crepe. The prices are astronomical - minimum of 35 bucks for a single 500 gram can, and I wonder how on earth the owner gets away with charging premium export prices in Australia. I've gone ab-diving before, great fun, and we cooked them up with garlic and soy and a touch of lemon in hot oil and they were delicious, but other times, prepared more simply, they were underwhelming. The owner won't let me take a photo and clicks his tongue at me for asking.

I spent an hour or so exploring the alleys near Chinatown, and further afield, near the massive building on Lonsdale St that looks a little like a hammerhead shark crossbred with a Dalek (not an insult - it looks amazing, though perhaps the analogy isn't the best). The alleys wind back and forth, break into a dogleg, lead past tiny dumpling houses, obscure Chinese societies, shuttered doors deep in Melbourne's bowels promising a live band on Friday/Saturday nights, but only as part of a mysterious acronym society, original cobblestones, miniscule carparks tucked away behind churches, sheltered doorways and evidence of temporary homes, and one special alleyway I'd found a year ago with street signs altered into philosophical one-liners (when one is the river, one is the sea) that a nearby bouncer told me was the work of a Melbourne City councilor.

The Vic Market was winding down as I came near, but crates of noisome pig ears and withering lettuce lay in wait for the final shoppers. Notes: a pleased couple carrying a birdcage containing a budgie, a tiny dog careening through shops, an old homeless guy with hopeless eyes and a nervous circling pattern developed over years, three buskers reluctantly leaving the best corner in the market, one of their group counting their takings on a table - a city of coins, silver and gold columns rising up.

Before long, the sun dipped below the horizon and the chill of early night fell across the city and I hurried home, happy, well-fed on the buzz and thrum.

I've always wanted to spend 24 hours in the city, to see what I would see; maybe sometime soon I'll have the guts.

Friday, August 13, 2004

It's the last day for applications for journalism traineeships at the newspaper I want to work for. I think this must have been why I've been so down. It's the prospect of change - if I'm lucky/skilled enough to land one, I'll be a worker, the uni phase complete. If not, I'll go traveling. Either way, a big chunk of my life is wavering, becoming fluid and insubstantial.


Large and loud party at our house on the weekend; for a while, the threat was of underwhelming numbers, but then they came and our house thrummed and sang through the night.


Three English boys couchsurfed at our house all last week; every morning a hangover, every night a blast. Nothing cures depression like the filmy imposition of alcohol, the simple inability to think beyond the present. Interesting cultural interaction though - they're all from Cambridge, so I was readying my cultural cringe and inferiority complexes only to find that hey, they were articulate, they knew what was going on, but not on a level above and beyond. Reassuring. Although there were unflattering contrasts in terms of how much work a uni degree is at Melbourne versus Cambridge, which is undoubtedly true. Also three Americans, friends-of-housemate landed on us as well, and we had a beautiful western mélange, complete with accent misunderstandings galore and an unfortunate incident involving a Jewish English boy and a well-battered hunk of shark. In England, fish (of fish n chip fame) is only ever cod.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

(from saturday)

i'm edgy and shaky and cold and i don't quite know why i'm depressed. spent the day a-wasting in front of a computer playing a game, throwback to my insular teens, refuge in this bland place where i am in control of everything, where i have initiative, where the world makes sense. it's something i do every now and again, hide away like this, submerge in a meaningless little place.

my house is freezing, i'm typing with gloves on. the final semester of uni is scaring me more than i thought it would. i'm 23. this is time to do something with my life, but the things i think most valuable, the things i most want to do - influence people with my writing, start up a street press, eventualy write a book - are not things that i can see myself doing or even beginning. too much dreaming, too little doing. initiative, this is a downfall, a weakness of mine i know too well. i have to cajole myself, coax, build up a storm of wanting to make myself step into the great unknown. either that, or throw myself into something, completely unprepared, and try my best, like learning to swim after the boat sinks. i'm learning to cook now because i have to; learnt page layout last year because i had to.

if i get a job next year, i'll be fine, in one sense. i know and understand systems and how to work within them; a process of learning, feeling out constraints, working creatively within them, even excelling, in some way, sooner or later. but in another way, i'll be stuck, dead in the water. it's so easy to relinquish decisions, give up the difficulties of freedom in exchange for the security of a system. decisions don't scare me, but i never spend much time deliberating on something. big decisions seem to be intuitively processed and i already know which way i'm leaning, but little decisions, which restaurant to go to, what to fill my day with, these i find harder; no resorting to emotional processing for these things, these supposed wants.

it's why i like travel so much, i think, because i can take both more time and less time with decisions; i can turn over the options of what to do that day to whim, or give it more time, the time i don't think it deserves in real, tethered life.

this year has been strange for me. during uni, i've mostly been emotionally serene, post-teen angst. not this year. up and down.

thinking: for a long time, my main project in life was to form a strong sense of self. my early years, i was almost subhuman. i can't remember thinking conciously before 12, can't remember making decisions till a couple of years after that. a dreamer, a boy with no sense of self, a boy who forgot his own name in primary school because he didn't identify with it, didn't make the connection between outside labels and inside self. teens - loneliness at times, shy, sci-fi/fantasy books and computer games, escaping into realms safer than real life and people

since then, i've formed, developed some shape and structure. like a recent convert to life, i became insatiable, greedy for the things denied me: people, truth, emotion, love, sex, travel, the outward things in the outward world.

so now i'm formed, largely in a rejection of the things i didn't like about me before, i'm 23, i'm smart enough - though in an intuitive, logical-leap kinda way, not in terms of sharpness - and i know myself intimately, strengths and weaknesses (having been through an unusually rigorous process of formation, perhaps?). now i need a new project for the next phase of life. i'm here, but what do i apply this 'i' to? i don't know, and i'm terrified of not knowing. uncertainty is the edge between exhilaration and terror, and it's my choice which way the scale tips. if i get a job, will i ever leave the system which nurtures and protects me? ultimate freedom is terrifying, and that's why channeling it into small packages of travel is so fun.

i think why i do this, why i write here is to clarify, to send things out not leave them in. to write something is to make it real. to take it out of the clamour of the mind and test it against reality using real letters and real words. for me, writing is believing.

Monday, August 02, 2004

O, and while i'm on my high horse, it must really irritate developers and real estate agents throughout the trendy, professional inner city suburbs that the public housing programs of the sixties and seventies have left huge commission flats dotting the profitable landscape, keeping house prices down. then again, perhaps the new wealth flooding into bohemia and poverty-land like the touch of colour - prostitutes on gertrude st, african immigrants, cheap vietnamese food, the thrill of occasionally stepping over needles - as long as it's suitably distant from their refurbished warehouses and cleverly wrought apartments.


And for good measure, how's this: while I've just argued for the existence of class in 'classless' Australia, I'll supplement this by arguing that race is also class, effectively, in our nation. Convicts arrive, classless, criminals all, but then the 'squattocracy' arises and class divisions begin to ferment - until a thousand million potatoes die in Ireland and the poor Irish flood over here and shunt all of the classes up a notch so they can take the bottom rung and start climbing. Around the same time, the Chinese scent gold and rush over to hunt for it, generating the 'yellow peril' fear along the way. Post WW2, the southern Europeans - Italians and Greeks - provide cheap labour for our nation building projects before settling into the big cities and becoming aspirational. Then Asian immigration; Vietnamese, Hong Kongese and many others. So a new ethnicity floods into terra nullius, becomes immediately scorned and hated by the upper classes, who have been here longer, and begin working their way up. Many third generation Italians now live in Templestowe, distant both physically and mentally from the time when Carlton was poor and Brunswick was Italian.

(I've left Aborigines out, because for most of the time Europeans have been here, they've been effectively outside the class system altogether, in a similar way to the Indian dalits (untouchables).)
i've never really believed the egalitarian myth about australia, and just recently i've been thinking bout it again. sure, we're meant to be all middle class now, or most of us, but through counselling/soup van, i get to meet people with whom i have almost nothing in common. even football, the melbourne universal, fails to get me through - i don't know enough to even feign an interest. i know a lack of common ground does not equal a class divide, but this does: i went round to the house of one of the guys who regularly came to the van on a saturday morning, in an effort to get to know him better. he offered me cask wine at 10 am, a dank room dominated by the ghoulish flickering of the telly. cigarette smoke infused into the walls/paint peeling/dark, small, damp on the walls, unclean, unclean. he and his friend drank and we tried - awkwardly - to talk, conversation in fits and starts, with even my conversational staple of ask about the other person a lot failing occasionally; the present and immediate past a no-go zone, with my lack of familiarity preventing me further in. then bang, we hit paydirt - the underworld, and his connections to it, a long time ago. he won't talk about it much, letting looks and silences speak, multiply implications, but it's fascinating, and before long he's talking about growing up in richmond, thirty years ago before the onslaught of yuppies. abrupt: what school did you go to, and i tell him: an new-ish private school with aspirations, nothing special, nothing with a boy's club culture or installation of class mores, but the words 'private school' are enough and he looks at me, a long pause with narrowed eyes. "thirty years ago, i would have punched your lights out for going to a private school", he says, and a drawn silence settles in around us, before he grins. "but that was a long time ago".

more than this: on my internship, i tagged along as a couple of reporters went to cover the boy who was pushed in front of a train in mooroolbark, a surprisingly well treed housing estate enclave in the far east of melbourne. as an aside, the 'leafy eastern suburbs' of kew-balwyn-camberwell-toorak is a code for european trees; poplars, oaks, the things we brought with us; further east, they've gone native, aussie drawl and eucalypts. serious - you can notice it. so, mooroolbark - a fiercely parochial suburb-town within a city; a sense of self, defined against the worse places up and down the train line. this is what the kids told me; thirty, forty of them, drinking at midday, mourning their mate, who seemed to be a hero, an older role model, protective of friends, who stepped in to defend a girl's honour only to be pushed in front of a train. the guy they all thought did the deed was not from mooroolbark, maybe from lilydale, a worse place, a place of violence. here was (previously) serene, hanging out satdays at the station, drinking, living, sticking together, a little tribe who had lost one of their leaders.

as i talked - or tried to talk - to the kids (12-22?), i couldn't help but notice the little flashpoints, the near fights - a girl drove off two others who were supposedly laughing about bourkey's death, little clusters of "so i says to him, and then he says to me", little antagonisms which seem to be a common thread of this thing i have noticed, this class thing, class in the sense of difference, and also, no doubt, of money. on trains, the transport of the poor, there is this frequently, the young mothers with prams and a partner, bickering, arguing openly and publicly. while this may seem to be me making value judgements, one thing from mooroolbark that stuck with me was a girl, 15, 16 maybe, arguing with her mother - as an equal. the argument ranged widely - i didn't say that to him, you should know that of all people, what about you mum, what did you say - and the thing that has stayed with me is how close they were. they fought, and the ease with which they did it indicates much practice, but they were also close, and they were equals, without the distance between parents and children that i think is found in monied households, in the middle/upper classes. i'd never talk like that with my mother.

the famous communications scholar harrold innis wrote a book on the 'bias of communication', in which he charted the history of humankind via its communicative methods. he notes that the print cultures that arose after gutenberg's revolution are characterised by class and hierarchy, which he argues derives from the innately distanced nature of print; print is a solo thing, a distanced thing. previously, he argued, oral culture existed: orality meant that communication was more fluid, more immediate, and that the flow on effects were that there was less distinction between children and adults than in literate societies - children saw sex (slept in the same bed as adults) saw death, grew up earlier. now, in the age of television, orality is back, in a new form: television is oral, immediate, and also visual, a medium which favours emotion over print's rational thought. television is the medium of our time, and the class distinction i think exists is to some extent created by television, by its socialising effects, and in the inner eastern suburbs, there is this uneasy coexistence of print culture and television culture, enough to ensure this distance and these distinctions between groups of we melbournians.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

today is my day to be as hung over as fuck. saturday night trickled back in over the course of the day, bringing some groans with it (we danced to that?), and an oddity or two (why did the junkie in the shopping trolley sing happy birthday while strumming an entirely different tune on his guitar? for that matter, what was he doing in a trolley at all?)

i'd signed myself up for a counselling shift for today, anticipating a non-drunken evening leading into a clear-headed, emotionally sound session which would wipe away the dirty feeling left by my last phone encounter. sitting in the chair, waiting for the phone to ring - it's got a terror-inducing sound, a sudden shrill buzzzing which scares me at the best of times - i just wanted to go home. scenario played out in head: you think you feel bad? i feel worse.

the phone rings. i press the button. my hangover vanishes, in a swirl of fear and adrenaline. gone for good. yes, counselling is the one true Cure for a Hangover, longed for by countless generations.


ok: 'bad boy' is a compliment applied to celebrity men with dark eyes and knowing looks, the type you'd love to have a satisfying affair with. 'bad man' is a pejorative; lurkers in parks, drug dealers, etc. something about the charm of boyishness and mischeviousness transforms 'bad' into a positive. maybe it's a class thing. rich actors/singers can't be bad, not really, not deep down.