Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

I don't know whether it's a good feeling or bad, the vestiges of love, the reminders. The death of something living is always sad, I suppose, no matter how ill formed. Still, nothing helps me move on like a realization that the once-loved has moved on and found another. Hope is such a persistent and stupid beast, like a labrador. You think it's conquered, but it never is.


I did my first session of phone counseling for a couple of months today; I don't know what's been holding me back. Laziness, to start, then essays, then inertia and perhaps fear - I thought other people were something I could handle, that counseling was something my cockiness and general steadiness would lend itself well to without being overrun by the perils of distant feelings, the other. But the sociopath got to me; the suicidal waif got to me; the poor woman in the grip of schizophrenia, these voices broke through. I was nervous waiting for the first call, scared and unsettled - thank god it was a simple referral, and thank god for the light entertainment afforded by the man who rang next, asking to be sent out a technician to fix his phone.

Snatch of conversation:
"Ah, are you aware that (name) is a phone counseling service, sir?"
"Yes, yes. So can you send one out?"
"Can you send one out?"
"Ah. A phone counseling service generally doesn't deal with your phone issues. Unless you need to be counseled about your issues with your phone, I suggest the Yellow Pages" (I didn't actually say the second part of that sentence, but would have liked to)
"Yes, yes. Can you find me one anyway?

What could I say in the face of such tenacious optimism. Perhaps we were in fact a carefully concealed phone technician service. So I googled Telstra's phone number for him and sent him on his way. Strange.

Then the real stuff started: the aftermath of a violent husband and the eternal issue of child-sharing - a nasty tug-of-war in full swing. A lonely caller, who had just found love from a chatline; a couple of weeks in, and marriage apparently ahead. An anxious man, worried about his sanity. Then, my final call, the waif, breaking my heart again. Whoever she is, wherever she is, I hope she's ok. Such terrible naivete, such hatred of life in a young heart, such hopelessness. I had to sell her life, had to sell it like it was a product - here are the benefits, miss. Here are the negatives of not buying the pitch. Have you ever tried to do it? A difficult thing, a very difficult thing. It made me wonder why, exactly, I am still alive, and how it is that I answer every day the sole philosophical question Bertrand Russell (I think) considered truly relevant: why do we not commit suicide right now? Talking to her, building a little rapport, a little trust, a first fragile laugh, I wished I could appear where she was and hold her and tell her life gets better and shake her till she agreed. But in reality, I extracted a promise of continued life and left her, somehow, somehow hanging up the phone and walking away to my life and the sun outside and the trees and the hum of traffic.


One of my housemates says that he reaffirms that he wants to be with his girlfriend every day, he makes that decision over again and this I think is wonderful - it avoids a relationship becoming humdrum and stale, stops it receding into background noise and the safety of the assumed. My waif made me think this applies equally to life. Life as background noise is not a life at all.


My travel plans are encountering significant hurdles. Strangely, Japanese English teaching schools don't seem to want to employ me based on my ability to speak my native language. They want things like a degree (one subject short, goddammit) and experience; Nova, apparently the McDonalds of English teaching schools (staff turnover high, standards low) rejected my brother citing a glut and will no doubt reject me. This presents a problem. One website recommends without recommending, in a careful balancing act, that non-degree holders possibly consider possibly directing their web browsers to instant online degree websites, which we did. I hadn't realised I could be a professor of an Accredited Institution in a mere 7 days for 300 bucks US. Nice. The degree website refers to the respect bestowed on those with letters in front of their name in Europe (restaurant bookings become available! Flight upgrades appear! Sex! Money! Love! Respect! Jobs!) and entice the dissatisfied with testimonials and a promise to give you the degree based on your current life/work experience. This is a serious possibility - the well-known traditional Japanese xenophobia manifests itself clearly in the visa system, making damn sure you have a degree before you slink into Japan and take all the low paying jobs. Despite the fact Japan's population is aging rapidly and they're gonna have to confront mass immigration of foreigners (aliens, I believe they call them still) sooner or later. But not soon enough for us. Another possibility is a working holiday visa, easier to get and no degree required (but you must leave within six months). That could work alright. The third possibility is to deny Japan the pleasure of our company and the vast array of skills we have and instead hit Indonesia, a much more welcoming country, albeit with less desire for English (the children of rich Jakartans?) before - and this is tentative, still waiting to see if it could intersect with reality - Southeast Asia, China, Russia, hopping on the Transiberian railway to Europe, if possible, England and then home. But I'd still rather live in Japan. So: if you know any devious, underhand methods of earning money in Japan, or a good place to get a job on a working visa, please tell me.


I had a peculiarly lucid bout of insomnia on Sunday night and am still recovering. It was vast and timeless and really rather strange, as if I'd somehow skipped into an alternate personality in which the world was a plaything and I was cruel, and keenly aware of my cruelty. My new housemate suggests that the timing of these bouts (roughly monthly) is the male equivalent of a period, a mental flushing out. I don't buy her story though.


I'm going to lose Ryan soon, and I will be sad. I've become quite attached to my tanned Californian housemate (along with many of Melbourne's girls) and he's become a good friend, despite the large supply of envy I've accumulated. Still, it's been wonderful getting to know him and to have had my anti-Americanism challenged daily. I don't quite know what to write, except that I'll miss him, and so will the rest of our little house. We made a board game for him with 200 questions about his time here and played it ceremoniously. 'Remember the time you ate an entire durian for $7 bucks and nearly died?' 'What about that time you assumed J's identity in order to masquerade as an Australian for a youth camp?' Me, I'll remember a bike trip down the Great Ocean Road I otherwise would never have done, a road trip to Sydney, cheap wine, large and dangerous noogie sessions in the lounge room during essay cabin fever. He's taught me how to cook, the benefits of adding peanut butter to any meal, the difference between a burrito and tortilla, and the joy of immersing yourself in a new place - while many American students cluster together in colleges or their own sharehouses, Ryan threw himself into an authentic Melbournian sharehouse, critical mass, reclaim the streets, various environmentally things (yes, he was a bit of a hippy) and about ten other things I've always thought about doing but never have. Impressive. So, Ry, here's to you. Thanks for an awesome year.


God, I'm sick of being a complete wuss. Here's the scene: a warehouse party down some nameless Brunswick street in which I know no-one, having vaguely wangled myself an invite (or at least an address, which is all you really need), the music is wild and joyous, the bass suitably large, the beer and entry cheap and I get lightly tiddled and beg extra friends to quit bed and come join the party at 2am and they do. Then, next to me appears a vision - a girl full of life, dancing freely and openly and I am immediately intoxicated with her dancing. Flirting begins; a couple of arch glances tossed backwards, a couple of heartening rebuffs of those who try to dance in close, another glance aimed and caught, and it's not my imagination, it can't be and a slow circling emerges and then, crisis, inertia strikes home and I realise I will have to Make The First Move and my wuss-hood leaps to the fore and I struggle with myself (what if I've misjudged it? what if I'm an idiot?) and collapsing, retreat to the toilet to assert some self-mastery and gather strength. Returning, she's left with her friends. Idiot. Idiot, idiot, idiot.


Anyway, I've got to go and write an article now on a young lawyer who combines interesting corporate work with pro bono refugee work. In my hoped-for profession, I imagine I'll be doing a lot of this - interviewing successes, chronicling with admiration the way their shoulders brush the air aside, the way they make things happen for them, mould life around them. Media sociologist Henry Mayer once noted that "people who would blush if they told history in terms of kings are apparently unaware of what they do when they talk of media institutions and empires ... the image is one of constant thrust, of deliberate and conscious action. Nothing, so to speak, happens to those people - they make things happen" I'm guilty of the same characterizations of people who I think of as successes - it seems so effortless, so logical, so, well, beyond me. I hope I don't end up as a sycophant to the stars. Maybe I'll end up embittered, like one of my journalism lecturers who very clearly did not like what life had dealt him or what he had made of it, and seemed to take some pleasure in criticizing the productions of the successful. It's very easy to take pleasure in a success story's downfall.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A couple of things:

I decided not to try for a journalism traineeship this year; Japan beckons. I had a first round interview, which went reasonably well, but I just can't make the transition between student and worker without being elsewhere first, and the interviewers were understanding. One amusing/embarrassing interview moment: I asked whether it was true that a couple of trainees this year had quit (going on what a friend had told me) and received a flat 'no'. Face saving, backpedaling and diversionary tactics ensued. (Bad source of information, I say, reddening slightly). One tip they gave: pay attention to pop culture this year (noticing the large hole in my knowledge). Good tip, hard to follow. I just don't seem to be able to care about celebrity culture/reality TV/ any TV at all. I'll have to take night classes. Or I could just ask Mel. Anyway, I applied to teach English as a gaijin the same day. I'm glad I made this decision


I finally met Guy Symposiast in the flesh after following the blog he shares with Elanor for quite a while. We had one of those slightly awkward social moments of the oh-so-you're-the-flesh-version that only the internet can create.


After searching five music shops, finally I have laid my hands on Prefuse 73's One Word Extinguisher. And god , was it worth the frustration and effort. A wonderful mixture of electro and hip hop without pretension, clever, catchy, danceable. I'm only a year late in getting onto it, which is good for me.


I'm seemingly the last blogger in Australia to pick up on Pandagate (an amusing come-uppance for the Young Liberals who delighted in attempting to derail our Farrago last year). You can follow it at if you like. I'm late to the table because I don't really care anymore. The one thing a year in student union politics has taught me is that politics is a horrible, horrible profession and should be stopped. If the people involved in union politics achieve their dreams and hit the big league after reaching a critical mass of machinations and backstabbing, we are doomed. No, really. Politics makes people ridiculous caricatures of themselves, in the same way that love does, but in a much less pleasant way. Presumably, it's a thrill to those involved, but give me a love life any day. (Dose of cynicism gleaned from sleeping in our office last year to defend it from marauding union politicians and their private security guards). One thing that I did find interesting is the crossover between bloggers and the mainstream press; Pandagate drew in our defender of all that is right and true, Andrew Bolt himself, and the whole explosion was sparked by an Age story. And I thought that was confined to the US.

While bitching about politics, I read recently that Peter Beattie took the Queensland opposition leader along to an innovation conference in the interest of creating a bipartisan approach to Queensland, the Smart State. Now, that is sadly rare in Australian politics. Why don't we plump for the European consensus model of politics? Australian society has diversified/fragmented enough to make it possible, I reckon. Yes, it makes reporting politics more difficult, and following politics almost impossible, but it's a better model all round; moving away from confrontation politics to negotiation politics. Rather than two monolithic parties vying for control (a duopoly), why not a multitude of smaller parties coming together on occasion and then splitting off, to create a better approximation of democracy (the free market competition thing). We hint at it in the Senate, but not down below, where the Bills come from. The only Coalitions we get in Australia are city Liberals and country Liberals (although they like to be called the Nationals). But if Howard does away with compulsory voting as looks likely, he'll emasculate Labor's vote and entrench conservatism forevermore, unless Labor gets all jiggy with the Greens and remnant Democrats. Even then, I doubt there are enough lefties in Australia to swing an election. While I had thought that ditching compulsory voting would - as it does in uni elections - result in only those were passionate about issues voting, which would exclude many status-quo conservatives, apparently the opposite would occur. The leftovers of the working class and ethnic minorities wouldn't vote out of apathy, or a failure to realise that their interests are better served by voting, as in the US, and representatives of conservative white suburbia would rule. So maybe that'll force the rapid Australian uptake of coalition politics. Actually, I suppose you could consider the ALP a coalition already, what with the warring left and right wings who occasionally come together.


I've realised that what I wanted to do with this blog was create something a little voyeuristic, something you feel a little guilty reading but read it anyway. Why? Cos I love the snatches of other people's conversation in the street or in a bar that waft to me; I love small pieces of paper that people have doodled on and left in trains; I love sampling other people's lives, so I feel I should give something voyeuristic back. Utterly selfless, I know, but that's just how I am. Hah.

So, towards that end, here's another dose of disclosure. The six boys in my house started the year almost entirely single; one has been in a long termer the whole year, but the rest of us were free. But gradually, one by one, they succumbed to the lure of monogamy, veering away from singletopia until there was only R. and I left; R's singledom can be explained by his US citizenship and exchange-student status, whereas mine, well, I don't have any excuse. Perhaps it's the fear of being broadcast live to air on serepax. Anyhow, we were stalwartly and sadly single, and spent many hours bewailing this fact during the last few weeks of study. But then it happened - as if from nowhere, a veritable string of dates appeared on R's social calendar. It seriously happened overnight, which boosts my theory of dating cycles - when you're hot, you're hot and when you're not, you are not. Clearly, I am currently not attractive to girls at present (no pheronomes?), whereas R is definitely hot. No surprise, really - he is hot, in every sense, and is here for a limited-time-only, whereas despite being voted Mr. Marriageable a couple of years ago by a gaggle of girls who are friends with J's sister (hey, I'll take whatever kudos I can get), it is not my time to shine. Needless to say, this has prompted a massive wave of jealousy on my behalf, which has not been helped by R's tendency to gloat and wear smug smiles all day. So now I am isolated and alone in my singledom, while the rest of the house swans around wreathed in the grins of certainty, walking with the support of whatever stage of love or lust they're immersed in. Fuckers.

This unfortunate turn of events has not been helped by the repeated appearance of a certain person from earlier this year; see, I was half-dating someone who'd half-broken up with her boy, she returned to him, we became friends and the story would end there, except for her returned boyfriend's astonishing ability to turn up anywhere I am and turn me into a blithering mess. I am not good at these situations, and the most recent one - in which I was talking to her outside the uni library, waiting for a downpour to stop when he materialised and trapped me against the wall. I wanted to run but was stopped by the vertical wall of water falling outside and I fidgeted frantically until I decided it was worth getting wet to flee.

I know he's not terrifying, I know he doesn't desire my giblets, I know he's over it, but good god, if he keeps just APPEARING like that, I'll age prematurely or have a small breakdown. I will, I promise. I can feel it. I really can. It reminds me of first year, when I somehow became friendly with a guy who came from the Count Dracula region in Romania and one time I played squash with him, his girlfriend arrived and he proceeded to SUCK ON HER NIPPLE while looking at me and I escaped that particular little situation and was desperately looking for someone, anyone, to tell about it and when I did and began to unload, what happened but he was right behind me, when I had almost run across the entire campus willy-nilly and must have overheard. That was freaky. This is also freaky. God is punishing me for something. Rather than smite me, which would waste energy or something, the Almighty is being sneaky and giving said boyfriend super powers as long as he uses them to make my life a nervous hell. Nowhere is safe. Nowhere.

Monday, November 08, 2004

It’s done! It’s finished! It’s over! The monstrous piece of work that has consumed me for the last three weeks has been Handed In and Ticked Off. A week ago, the research project (like a mini thesis) weighed in at a princely 800 words out of the supposed 8000, creating major panic. Yesterday, it hit 13,000, creating a second major panic. When it struck midnight (not that my little alarm clock has the strength to strike anything), the beast had been slashed to a mere 11,500 words, with a thousand words in references which didn’t count. The battle was nearly over and I was preparing to retire to bed, when the dastardly creature arose once more from the dead. A phrase from an oft-read but little absorbed essay guide leaps out: References Must Be Included in the Word Count. That put me at a solid 3500 bonus words, in stark contrast with the little-absorbed guide’s admonition to obey the word count or die. The future appeared bleak, and an acceptance of my fate appeared the only solution. My supervisor would recognise the sheer blazing brilliance of my words and the impossibility of cutting such genius off mid-swing and mark me higher for not restraining my verbosity. Or something. Perhaps I could get a sticker from a cereal box: 25% extra free!

Then zen hit reality, and I lied through my teeth on the word count: 9857 words, I wrote, and tapping out those four digits was the biggest lie I think I’ve ever written. I even took into account elementary marketing techniques –10,000 is far too big a number, whereas 9857 is fine and acceptable. I handed it in, winced at the conclusion for one last time, and let all my troubles float away.

Anyway, I know that an account of essay mayhem is not particularly exciting reading, but I’ve tried to spice it up a little. Hopefully my life will become more exciting now. If not, I’ll have nothing to blame it on.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

This is what happened:

I wrote her an email two weeks ago and carefully loaded it with an emotion word or two near the end (the ludicrous games I play) and waited for a while and got an email back of the strictly friend variety; warm, interested, detached, nothing more. An easy enough message to understand, really. I was a little low after that - not much else going on at the moment, essay boredom and all - and so I moped for a little while, making myself a little wallow of self-pity.

And then it happened, just like that.

I remember when I was at a fair, as a kid. Strangely, the specifics don't seem to matter - it's a generic, timeless memory. I remember this: the feel of my sugar-sticky hands enclosing the string of a helium balloon, and I was holding it tightly because I could feel a faint tugging, its longing to be away. Every other kid had a balloon and we all held them tightly as we walked and gawked. Just before the end of the day, I lost concentration - just for a flash, staring at a magic fairyfloss machine - and the string slipped out of my grasp and the balloon slipped upwards, performing little jigs in this breeze and that and I nearly cried, watching that balloon turn into a tiny speck, and every child around me craned their necks with me and we stood and squinted until the dot became the sky and the cloud and the flock of birds.

Yes, the analogy is brazenly, utterly cliched, but it felt exactly like that. I was riding to uni on an undistinguished day when I became aware that I'd left something behind me. It was one of those moments where you aren't quite sure when it was that something changed; you know it may have been a second ago, or it may have been two weeks. But you know that something has changed - you notice this first as a suspicion that the world has quietly altered, and then it dawns that it was you.

This time I didn't watch it flee.

When English speakers use 'melancholy' they intend it to mean slightly sad, autumn-moody, introspective, listing to one side (or at least I do). I've heard that the Russian equivalent is more ambivalent, more nuanced: lilting sadness, I think it translates to, the sweetbitter-bittersweet taste that time leaves in your mouth on a Monday when balloons merge with the sky.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I've been a little flat, what with the essay-from-hell, a dearth of love interests for our hero and the continual debate over What Happens Next After Uni. And then, the long-awaited upswing.

Friday was to be a write-off as far as monsieur essay was concerned - I was shortlisted for the inaugural student journalism prize run by the press club, and it was to be presented as part of a journalism conference which cost me 65 bucks and a lost day of essay mayhem. It was almost like a rather expensive lottery. But I completely forgot about why I was there when four of Melbourne's most influential men sat down for an editor's panel discussion; incoming Age editor, Andrew Jaspan - the man of mystery - followed by Peter Blunden of the Hun, Marco Bass from the ABC and the news chief from Seven whose name I forget. Jaspan was the main attraction, and he knew it; an imported editor from England/Scotland, a pick from the top that was rumored to have caused significant dissent in the Age newsroom. Newspapers are parochial beasts by nature, Australian newspapers especially so, and to call in an editor who knew nothing of Melbourne - well! First impressions: looked a little ratty in a hands-on editor kinda way - he did edit the Scotsman, a very well respected paper. He was given the mike first by the ABC's Jon Faine (it was being broadcast live), who navigated the proceedings and directed nasty questions at each editor in turn with consumate skill. Jaspan began with a disclaimer; hasn't been in Melbourne long, hasn't figured out what he'll do differently with our beloved-but-slightly-ailing broadsheet, was impressed by the resources and skills of his journalists and pleased with the large number of investigative journo's at his command (all five of them). All flowers and sun until Faine stepped in, needling him about giving the polio vaccine story from last week the full page-one tabloid-style treatment, something The Age Does Not Do. Or didn't. Faine aimed enough questions to provoke a snap: "You'd better get used to it," and Faine appeared well pleased at provoking such a response. Welcome to Melbourne. Next, to Blunden, who weathered the usual high-culture barbs about sleazy tabloid low-culture by continually referring Faine to the 1.5 million satisfied readers daily (biggest in Straya!). And what about the public interest? Well, sport, crime and oddities do interest those 1.5 million readers; a nice little retort from Blunden which neatly sabotaged ye olde version of the public interest as a refined, old-white-powerful-male 'public' interest. I'll skip to question time, when the audience of journos and wannabe journos started pestering Jaspan with questions, ignoring the other editors. Where did he stand on Tasmanian issues? (Erm. Ah. Isn't this Melbourne?) What about investigative journalism (strong support) Will you turn The Age into a tabloid-sized broadsheet, as most serious English papers are doing? (Won't rule it out - will look at it, definitely). Very Interesting to see and hear editors scrutinized in such ways; politicians and sports stars and thinkers get interviewed and challenged publicly all the time, but editors rarely endure the stings of public attention, except when the circulation figures come in.

Anyway, back to me. Surprisingly, I won. I was ecstatic - I had hoped to win, but didn't think I would make it, so when Ian Henderson himself (my namedrop for today) shook my hand (I'll never wash again) and ushered me to the mike, I did some fast on the spot thinking and produced a wonderful clunker of an acceptance speech: "Er, I didn't expect to win, so I haven't prepared anything, but I'm really quite excited. Thank you." Groan. I deployed a large smile to cover my exit and fled back to my seat, legs shaking. Since then, I've thought of possible alternative acceptance speechs. "Would anyone like to offer me a job?" (considering the number of high-up newspaper hacks in the room). A later thought: "I'd like to thank god. And my mum." But maybe no-one would have laughed. I also made myself look silly by not knowing who a few journalists who thanked me were, despite their prominently positioned name-tags (curse not having a TV) and being questioned by a polite woman who carried herself as if I should know who she was (still no idea).

Inside my little winner's envelope was a cheque (nice) and a letter inviting me to two weeks work experience with the ABC. I thought I was about as high as I could get minus drugs, but then I coincidentally encountered the editorial training manager of the paper I've applied for, who whispered the good news of an interview. Two things of Career-Beginning Joy in a single day. I tried to do essay work after that, but it was such an anticlimax that I wasted hours stapling my notes into neat piles for ready access and bouncing around the house and bragging politely to yawning housemates.

Oh - in my brief look around the room from the privileged dais (previously occupied by Jon Faine, Don Watson and other word and letter specialists) I saw a few small, encouraging smiles from jaded journos and a phalanx of death-stares from my fellow journalism students. One girl in particular would have contently butchered me on the spot; arms-folded-eyes-slitted, she managed to both shrink within herself and expand her little shroud across the room. The glory of competition in full swing.

Here's what I wrote:

Well, enough self-aggrandising for today. I'll be back with another installment of woe-is-me this time tomorrow. Stay tuned.


Incidentally, did you know that small towns with a high number of country music radio stations have a higher suicide rate than those mercifully free of the musical scourge?


Oh, and if Bush wins, there is no god. I always find it funny that the version of democracy Americans want to export is riddled with special-interests, populism, pre-emptive wars, etc, etc. It's like a dictatorship except you outsource the torture and nastiness to other countries, who then take responsibility. Hey, Chile - kill some popular lefties. Oi, Central America - oppression is IN.

God, I sound like John Pilger.