Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

I got my results on Thursday - about what I expected, no surprise. I would have liked one or two marks more for the large and evil research project, but it was fair.


Went to Meredith on the weekend - it was great. It's probably the least prepared I've ever been for any kind of going-away camping trip. I took: a few clothes, one lightweight waterproof thing which wasn't, a towel and a toothbrush. And fifty dollars. I scrounged: a return lift, half a tent to sleep in, a blow up mattress, a sleeping bag, food and some beer, straining the tolerance of friends along the way. A half slab of beer cost an exorbitant 26 bucks, which left me with a paltry 24 dollars to feed myself for the weekend.

Who rocked? Sage Francis, for one. He's this all-American middle aged man with a chubby face which makes him look dangerously friendly and the belly of the overly fed, who wears a lurid shirt and cheap shorts on stage. In short, he's the archetypal American tourist, sans video camera. But he's got a heavy rage, a deep, abiding, self-directed rage that inverts his all-Americanism, twists his santa face into knots and forces him to spit out clever vitriol. "I'm the thinking man's thinking man," he rapped on one track (accompanied solely by a discman). Furiously inventive and inventively furious, he hauled his crowd of gutless liberals over the coals of their own beliefs - you hate the system? Do something about it. On a couple of tracks he bordered on advocating violence, spinning his song into a role play about beating down a cop - yet another curious contrast, this time between black gangster, cop-killin' ghetto rap and white anarchist political violence. Dancing on his culture's grave, he satirized pop culture by indulging in its excesses, miming along to naff 80's songs before breaking them across his knee and merging them into his own darker concoctions. Francis is a contemporary and a collaborator of Buck 65, the evidence clear in his beats. But where Buck 65 is introspective, self-consumed, concave, Francis bristles outwards, convex - he began and ended his set with a long, droning, "You can't kill me, motherfucker." For all his anger, we consumed him like any other, except for the crowd bogans, who didn't get it and shouted 'get off the fucking stage'.

I suppose that's the danger of a cross genre festival - the bogan contingent who parade their hard-earned beer bellies around topless and proud, trundling their token chicks beside them. On Saturday night, I half-heard this: Hey Frank, punch me. Frank, a swarthy guy with a cap and a few muscles, blinked twice, then happily obliged with a veeerryy slow wind up (a result of drinking all day in the sun) and pow - a massive punch to his friend's chest. His friend (call him Bill) blinks twice, slowly absorbing the strength of the blow - nothing token about it. Bill swivels slightly, draws back and punches Frank harder. Frank winces a little but stays standing. Eyes narrowed, he draws back a huge blow and lands it smack on Bill's solar plexus. There's a small woof before Bill topples backwards in slow motion, spraying couches, beer bottles and angry patrons in all directions. The look on his face was priceless - how did I get here? Why does my stomach hurt? I didn't get to see the end, but it didn't look good for their friendship.

Another reason the Fight-Club ripoff might have been in slow motion was the mental state of the observer. Sheltering from a bad act at P's tent, I was offered a bit of a tasty brownie cake with the disclaimer that "It's got a little bit of hash in it - not much, just a little." Famished and scrounging, I kept nibbling at the cake without really thinking about the fact that the entire little encampment I was in had been laid out flat on their backs by sampling a full strength version of a hash cookie the night before. Midway through Hilltop Hoods, it hit me, a tidal wave that nearly knocked me flat. A little hash? A little?! Good god. I remember trying to conduct conversations that sounded like they were in Old English. The crowd loomed in, I freaked out and fled to watch the sunset, until the Dirty Three came on and blew my little mind. Amazing, absolutely amazing. A lightening storm behind them, an entranced crowd in front, they made wonderful, beautiful music, emotional soundscapes, the wiry violinist capering across the stage, sending shivers down my spine with each draw of his bow.


I left my job on Tuesday, for the last time. Well, for the last time until I beg for it back after returning impoverished by Japan's cost of living. Nothing like a truly rich country to make you realise we're really only in the Western world because we speak English, possess a lot of rocks that can be turned into metal or carbon dioxide and heat, and a couple of rich agricultural regions. Anyway, I was quite sad to leave - it's been a great job, perhaps the first in my (admittedly short) working life that I've either looked forward to going to or at least not dreaded. I was thinking about the nature of work though - the notion of work seems to thrive on the premise of professionalism, which to me means not getting attached to your workmates. If you do that, you'll end up a crony capitalist - a dirty phrase more politely rendered as a desire to get your friends to work with you. So true professionalism means engaging in relationships which are deliberately shallow, which possess only enough depth to smooth the transactions of information and tasks. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Perhaps I just wish I could do that whole professional thing properly, as part of my usual paranoia about my underdeveloped Work Personality. Then again, if you're going to spend a significant expanse of time with a few people, it's kinda hard not to get to know people.


I had my interview for Nova today - hopefully did well enough to get a job. The interviewer looked like a hardass - steel grey hair at forty - but his face broke into a smile readily enough. He played a little game with me called word association: When was the last time you were frustrated with someone you live with - (recently) - how do you deal with stress - take a break - and so on, for 17 questions. I had to keep my wits about me so as not to blurt out 'badly' in response to the stress question, which is probably truer. Then I had a nastier question - talk about a time when you made a mistake and how you rectified it at work. He seemed less interested in anything journalism related and more interested in my undistinguished and happily long-dead career as a Food and Beverage Attendant Grade Two with Spotless Services (recently voted the worst managed corporation in Australia, I believe, which is certainly true from the inside), so I drummed up a minor incident where I fucked up the food and then salvaged the situation with a suitable amount of groveling and the signing of my first child into corporate slavery (take him! Make him your own!).

Monday, December 06, 2004


We walked into Earthcore along the river bank, as the light was dimming; an hour's walk from the car, fending off mosquitoes with gum switches and taking a brief break for a swim. We were a bit stressed from the journey in and didn't really get into it for a couple of hours, on the outer, wandering through - tourists (look at her! What on earth has she done to her hair? Don't the Japanese go hard when they hit raves? God, that guy is messy already, not even midnight). People spruiked their various chemicals at us. Slowly, the night swelled up and sucked us in.

I danced all night, I think, except for one segment which saw us lose J., who'd just finished his honours year and was testing his mental stamina against a formidable array of chemicals. Seeing him at raves reminds me a bit of the medieval Carnival, in which the Natural Social Hierarchy was inverted and chaos reigned for a week, letting off frustrations at the system before they built up to dangerous levels. As those who know him even slightly can attest, J. is usually managerial and controlled in his approach to life; his room is the wet dream of a time and motion consultant, except for those times when he lets his inner turbulence - seen in full swing during his teenage years - out of its constraints for just a little while. We lost him somewhere, just after he'd decided to really test out the limits of his control by chasing two tabs of acid down with a hefty dose of ketamine. When we found him, he was dancing in front of the largest speaker on the main stage, somewhere else. We reined him in and already it was clear that for once the chemicals had won out. His eyes were stark and detached, pupils huge against the staring white backdrop; he spoke slowly, from a long, long way away. "I'm really glad you guys came and found me ... I kinda lost myself," he said. "So where did you go?" I ask. He didn't seem to hear the question. "I've been thinking," he said, "thinking about life and you know, for once, I don't really know if there's a point to it." I wanted to laugh it off; tell him to come dance, that's the meaning of life right now, to feel a part of something, to feel the surge and pulse of youth and exuberance but I couldn't because I'd been feeling the same way. I'd been loving it for hours, immersed in my own little world, dancing freely, panting a little, once or twice pausing to smile at the sky; the dust was terrible, and a firetruck sprayed the ground, creating a Glastonbury mud fest; we slipped off shoes, danced harder, spattering mud, harder, sweating freely, and then bang, somehow I was out of it, ejected from the now and the us and the mud, a shell trying to participate, and I caught glimpses of where it was I came from, in me and in the faces of those around me but the sustained feeling of being inside something had gone, and instead came a form of despair. All I could think was that the distance between myself and anyone, everyone else was further than the farthest star, and that the great human tragedy played out in everyone's life is an attempt to surmount that distance, the only distance it is impossible to breach, and I thought, why is it that a lot of the time I feel like half a person? Is it that I'm hanging out for an Almighty Lover, The Girl, the single defining and fulfilling love, the love that is impossible by the nature of us. For the first time I understood the need for religion, for the transcendence that it appears to offer or really does offer, and that the often-desperate need for Something Greater in Western lives especially is maybe just an attempt to pioneer the last true frontier, the impossible frontier between you and I. The despair engulfed me for a while, made me look out from behind dispassionate eyes and then it receded, went into an antechamber. When I found J. he was obvious in the same state of mind; challenging himself via the intermediary of the drug, despairing as to the point of life and asking himself whether he - of solid purpose - had purpose and meaning at all. We walked back to the camp we'd borrowed to store our bags - a friend of a friend - and we sat and talked of meaning, and I struggled to give enough of any kind of assurance. He talked of his birth, adolescence and death: the only sureties he knew - the past, and eventual future; he wanted to be buried in coastal western Victoria, where his ancestors are buried, and this continuity gave him some sense of structure - strange to me, but enough for him. As we were talking, a man walked into the encampment and challenged us, wondering what we were doing there, and it could have been awkward - it was his tent, his van, and we didn't know him - but we talked it to a standstill and J. crawled into one of his tents for a sleep.

Afterwards, I thought that ketamine was like an existential crisis in a pill. Great for housebound wives of driven marketing executives; don't kill him, slip one into his whiskey instead and before you know it, he'll have downshifted to small-town coastal NSW and bought a tackle shop. Or bought the traditional blonde and a motorbike. Either way, he'll be out of your life.

The rest of us danced until the sky began lightening in the east. The dawn light was a welcome relief, spilling over the flotsam of the night, exposing the cracks and crevices in the wondrous creatures of the night, highlighting quivering eyes, remnant affection, autopilot dancing; here and there, a frenzied dancer on a mission of their own. The main floor was filled for the dawn set, as it always is; seething, gyrating, but we were out of the system, washed up and left behind by the bass, chemicals settling; two fifty-year-old's conducting the crowd, greying hair flicking across old features and I felt a surge of distaste for this scene. Full daylight arrived, and I felt as if I'd been on a long journey.


I was mildly teased by Spruce for attending a rave - isn't that a bit nineties, she said, mock-pouting. Sure was - the ten thousand or so people who turned up on a weekend away from Melbourne's (s)wankier clubs and inner-city suburbs, ten thousand serotonin junkies and instant friends (just add MDMA!), unreconstructed hippies, topless gymbos and us, very much not part of the scene. It's a token effort on my behalf to slightly misspend my youth so I can look back on it fondly and tell my kids never to do the same with a satisfying sense of hypocrisy. At the same time, I never know whether I enjoy these things or not; the intention is to feel part of something, but all I come to is a realisation that I don't really like these people


King of the drug-fucked mystics, Timothy Leary, once said that the brain's sole purpose is as a filter; it filters out the information streaming into us that we don't need to survive, and he was partly right (why is it that anyone who believes anything strongly is only ever partly right? The nature of theory versus practice, I suppose). Obviously, the brain does a lot more than just filter, but filtering - selecting the useful information and discarding the useless - is essential to survival. Our sensory ranges - visible light spectums; audio frequencies, for example - have been selected for survival; within those sensory ranges, our brains select the most pertinent information and exclude the rest. I suppose that's how we sleep - our brains adjust their tolerance for outside information.


Vulnerability is invulnerability, I think. Honesty is only dangerous in overly large doses, like asprin. In year 9 art class, there was a boy with simple malice who took my diary and ripped it and filled it with paint, this at a time when the school was attempting to instill pride and personal tidiness via the medium of a diary; awards were given for clean diaries and penalties for unclean. I came back and found it and rage crept up inside me. The boy smirked at me with a clean malice and I gave it back to him and asked him to do it again, do it more, go on, hurt me while I watch and he couldn't. It doesn't sound like much, but it must be in some way important, or else I wouldn't remember it. Since then I've adapted that strategy: I figure if I know myself intimately, my strengths and above all, my weaknesses, very little criticism hurts. If you are already entirely familiar with your weaknesses, you become a little less hurt by criticism, by suggestions for change.


I once saw a doco on Johnny Holmes, he of the extraordinary penis, and an 'adult film historian' was interviewed; his face shielded by massive dark glasses, his flesh sagging - perhaps even a slight palsy in his right hand? We watched, a little shocked. Next, a porno maker himself, no glasses, entirely exposed beneath the film lights; face drawn, puckered like an arsehole, a shock of white hair - he must have been sixty, the age of wisdom - but it was his eyes that drew us in, eyes steeped in flesh, cumshots and clitorises, eyes like wrinkled black holes, gutter eyes, sin slits. Just think of all the fucking he would have seen.


After Earthcore, I flew to Tasmania with my family. It's possible I'm getting too old for family holidays, but hell, I love my family; they're warm, easy going, comfortable. I've never been to Tassie before - beautiful place, absolutely beautiful - the world heritage area rivaling any New Zealand Lord of the Rings scenery. It's not often I get interested in botany, but the cool rainforests down there are unbelievable; quiet glens, moss dripping off tall gums, vines twining with gnarled roots. We walked a lot; one day we climbed Cradle Mountain (enough snow up there for a snowfight), another, along Lake St Clair.

This year I've met a lot of Tasmanian ex-pats who fled to Melbourne's universities and they're all friendlier than your average Melburnian. But the Tasmanians in Tasmania are still more friendly; after going to church for the first time in quite a while, the priest cornered us, determined we were strangers and then immediately made us friends. Opening his arms wide, he herded us into a sea of Tasmanian hospitality; we were plied with tea, lent small children, interrogated at length on Melbourne, asked eagerly what we thought of Tasmania and in general, made at home. I don't think I've ever experienced anything like it. The borrowed small child, Bella, was perhaps the cutest little girl I've ever seen; 4, maybe 5 and I've no doubt she's the basis for all female characters in anime - huge wide eyes, an endearing smile and a willingness to play Barbie with a tall stranger for half an hour (though her nearby nonna kept a watchful eye). A surge of cluckiness followed.

I was thinking: perhaps the reason we make jokes about Tasmanian incest stems from our absent mainland insularity. I found it quite disconcerting to be assaulted by such raw, freely given friendliness. I didn't know how to handle it, what frame of reference to put it in, and while it didn't take long to shed the sense of personal space and self-containment, I can see why we tag them as inbred; because that kind of friendliness, that kind of interest is just not healthy.