The New Birth


Monday 30 July 2012

We're all in the process of giving birth.
The pain is high but there is no epidural.

The baby we are giving birth to
is a golden child who has
enough teats for us all to suckle.

Sometimes, everything collapsing is not a bad thing.
especially when you have prior warning.

The new to come will be so much better and simpler
than the beast we are now used to,
which alienates everything in its path
us from each other,
us from our best,
us from the earth,
the poor from their share.

There is no epidural, but the clear-headed pethidine
is hope.  Its bubbles are so wide I can lie flat out and fly
right up to the ceiling and see
the whole of the world.

~ ~ ~

(Inspired by Ted Trainer's The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World)

Espiritu de Mexico by Alberto Thirion (CC)

Once Upon a Time


Wednesday 25 July 2012

Once upon a time, long, long ago, lived an emperor. Like all emperors, he had his very own spiffy little kingdom. It was the week before the emperor’s birthday, and to honour the occasion he was having a new set of clothes made. The tailors of the kingdom had been brought together and asked to spare no expense in producing the finest of fine cloths. The tailor that produced the best cloth would receive a fine reward from the emperor.

There were two tailors amongst the group that afterwards everybody agreed they had never seen before and nodded their heads that yes, they did suspect there was something fishy about those two tailors but they didn’t want to say anything at the time. These two tailors won the emperor’s birthday clothing contract. The head tailor’s smooth marketing talk had sold the emperor from the start.

“Sire,” he had bowed low, with an excellent flourish that concealed the glint in his eye. “As you know, the tailors of your kingdom produce cloth and garments of the highest calibre in all of the world; their artistry is beyond compare.

“However, Your Highness, my partner and I have a cloth to offer Your Highness that will surpass even the best cloths of this kingdom. You see, it is a very special cloth, sire. Not only will the emperor’s new apparel be of the most fashionable fit and breathtaking colour, but the cloth is a magical cloth. With it your Majesty will be able to tell who of his kingdom is wise, and who is but a dill. And the magic of the cloth is this – only those who are wise will be able to see it at all!”

The emperor had been astounded at such a thought. His brain had begun ticking at the prospects such a magical cloth could bring. That Minister of Finance who proved so stupid last year and who lost the kingdom so much money? Why, the emperor would have seen that coming before it happened! This cloth was expensive, but surely it would reap its own benefits many times over before the year was out. The wealth of the emperor’s kingdom would increase tenfold when this cloth was exported to every other kingdom. Then the emperor’s kingdom would be secure like never before.

When the emperor had been brought in for his first fitting his expectations were high. He couldn’t wait to see the amazing silk the two tailors had been gushing about. The thread was of the finest count ever, its colour of a teal so sublime that it was both deep and subtle at the same time. They’d want to be – these duds were costing him a fortune. A slight twinge of nervousness had accompanied him. He had felt it running its questions up and down his spine – what if he himself, the emperor, could not see the cloth? But he shook it off. After all, he was the emperor – it was a given that he was wise! The two tailors had come before him, carrying with care the bolt of cloth for his perusal.

If he had been in a cartoon, the emperor would have shook his head to resituate his eye sockets. Instead he blinked several times. When he opened his eyes, there were his two weavers before him, beaming and holding the magical cloth to best effect to catch the light coming through the windows, and which was ... completely invisible. The head weaver picked a piece of invisible lint off the emperor’s cloth.

The emperor felt himself sweating underneath his current season’s costly garments. What should he do? His mind raced backwards and forwards across the possibilities. And then he shook himself back to the present situation. Whatever this meant, if he was indeed a dill, he would not appear so to a couple of merchants. They would go throughout the emperor’s kingdom before day’s end and everyone would know that their emperor was a moron. And then what would happen to him? Out in the cold (literally – it was snowing out there) while his lascivious son seized his throne.

What could he do? He couldn’t do anything. He must keep this to himself – indeed, he must learn to keep this even from himself. The emperor had shoved his thoughts and fears aside, ordered the delivery of a couple of chocolate éclairs, and donned one of his more extroverted personas. He leapt up and began gushing to the tailors his admiration of the intricate detailing, the fine craftsmanship of his new pants, his jacket, and his outer jacket, all crafted in the finest silk and dyed the most illustrious shade of teal.

All the way down through the kingdom from the top to the bottom began a trickle. It began with the queen, who had been feasting her imagination on the new designs she would have produced using the magical cloth. And so when the emperor came before her after his final fitting, sashaying before her in all his glory, she had to almost physically swallow down the fear and dismay that lodged in her throat and in her gut.

She exclaimed, in a louder voice than usual, how amazing, how beautiful, how absolutely delightful the colour, of the emperor’s new clothes. And so down it trickled, to the courtiers and the merchants, all the way down to the servants and the beggar who appeared at the palace gates, how amazing this new cloth was which was going to make the kingdom’s fortune, and usher in a golden age of peace, prosperity and prestige. Nobody wished to miss out on such good times. Even more, they did not wish to be thought stupid by those who were so obviously wise.

In the days before the emperor came before his people in his new clothes, the mood in the kingdom visibly deteriorated. Everybody began sweating under their own collars, with the unvoiced fear that they would turn out to be a dullard in a town full of Rhodes scholars. They began doubting their own ability to see. Their care for their neighbours began to wane as everybody became enveloped in their own fear and began sweating in the juices of their own paranoia.

By the day of the emperor’s birthday, he had pretty much convinced himself that he really could see his beautiful finery. He paraded in front of his mirror, ignoring his appendage floating on the breeze and the cold air on his bum cheeks. He admired the tiny pearls sewn with such finesse all the way down the front of his jacket, and how the long tail of his coat swished out behind him when he turned smartly on his heel.

The day outside was unseasonably sunny for winter. The snow had melted on the counterpanes and the emperor decided to take a turn through his kingdom so that everybody could share in the regality of the occasion of his birthday, and the stunning attire that was going to be the making of them all.

Out into the streets he sauntered. If the emperor noticed that the people outside registered a shock of disbelief followed by a paling of their complexions, immediately followed by a quick plastering-over of joy, he did not let himself notice. His constituents began to crowd around him, some resisting the urge to reach out to finger the beautiful fine silk of his garments, admiring the way the fabric fell around him as he walked through them. The emperor’s saunter turned into a swagger.

As he walked through his kingdom the king was greeted with effusive, excessive greetings, followed in his wake by silence. He felt like a wave flowing through his own ocean, leaving admiration and awe in his wake. Twice around the fountain in the town centre the emperor walked, until there was a break in the crowd and there before him stood a woman, with her young son.

The little boy was four. He had not yet gained the social self-consciousness that comes with age. The little boy just saw it all as it was. And so it was that he saw the emperor, pointed his finger and said in a loud voice that carried across the suddenly-descended silence and through the sunny winter air, “Mummy, why is that man not wearing any clothes?”

And just like that the spell was broken. The emperor ran, red-faced and humbled, back to his palace, where he banished the two swindling tailors from his kingdom, and put his old clothes on in preparation for the evening’s birthday celebrations.

~  * ~

Fairy tales are much more interesting than AAA ratings, inflation and the economy.  Australia’s current rude economic health was a party trumpet that Julia Gillard enjoyed blowing at the recent Rio +20 conference. An applaudable feat of fiscal management in recent years, along with a bunch of giant holes that China keeps desiring the contents of, has seen Australia sail pretty steadily through the storm of the global financial crisis. The economy is as regular a conversational topic in Australian politics and media as the news, sport and weather. After all, it is the indicator of how well we’re doing in turbulent, changeable, volatile times ... isn’t it?

But what happens if our ongoing celebration of Australia’s performance in the global economy just ends up being a celebration of being a few rungs higher up on a ladder that is leaning up against the wrong wall? What if all the talk of the beautiful construction of our economy’s buttons, the fine stitching along its side seams, and the way the cut of the bias makes us look so awesome when we swish is all an exercise in denying what is right in front of us?

When it comes to economics, I’m feeling more and more like that little kid holding his mother’s hand. Nobody seems to be talking about it, but from my limited perspective the very structure of the economy as it stands is like a giant, untenable elephant that no one wants to talk about. And so now, whenever the talk turns to the latest economic forecast, this heavy, clotted, surreal feeling settles onto my chest, like that feeling you get as a kid when you suspect the adults are talking fake, and you can see right through it. But you don’t know what you’re seeing right through to because everything is a big adult mystery that you wouldn’t be able to understand even if you had the language for it.

This is what I’ve been able to piece together, bit by bit, about an alien language I do not speak. A mini Economics 101 by someone who never made it past Year 9, but who can see the truth in fairy tales far faster than any that may exist in our current economic model. And it seems to be a stranger tale than any the Grimms ever came up with.

In simplified terms, the reason why our global economy is not sustainable on any front is because it is one that is based on debt. What that means is that every time a piece of money is printed and put into currency, it comes on loan from those who actually own it – in Australia, the Reserve Bank. Every piece of money put into circulation is first borrowed by somebody who must pay that loan back with interest to the people and corporations that make up the Reserve Bank. This is how they earn their profits.

Which means that the more an economy grows, the more its debt grows alongside it. And the economy must keep growing, to pay back the interest on the money it has borrowed from the banks. If the economy stops growing, it falls into recession and we lose our jobs.

And it means that every time a struggling European country is bailed out with more money, they are also being put into more debt.

Even though I only finished Year 9, this is simple enough for me to work out. It becomes more complex when you talk about the way the economy links in to unemployment, but even I can see that this debt-based system is not a win-win situation for us, or for the environment, or anybody except for the banks who make the profits. Even I can see that this is simply another version of kings and subjects, where a small concentration of the powerful gain at the expense of those who lose. And what is at stake is the loss of everything.

Out in the real world, away from computer spreadsheets, an ideology of continuous economic growth turns us – the subjects of the kingdom – into vultures in the way we view the planet we live on and its resources. And each other. The earth – and us – become as flatpacked as that spreadsheet. Except that there is no column on the spreadsheet for what is important and beautiful, nor is there a column for meaning, nor a column for continuity, nor a column that factors in irreplaceability costs, nor one for climate change. It is a spreadsheet with a virus. All of the things that give us meaning are pushed aside as fuel for that particular machine to run.

When you consider that this particular way of operating economically is not necessary – it’s just how it’s turned out since the beginning of last century, being operated as it is from the top down by the 1% that the Occupy movement was complaining about –turning aside to do things differently becomes a matter not only of necessity, but one of vision. Like that episode in The Simpsons where all the advertising creatures come to life and took over the town, perhaps it’s simply time to look away and find other ways to do it.

Which is exactly what some are beginning to do. Online portals such as Community Exchange ( have invented a new form of currency to practice “a new way of doing money” sans interest, and voices such as Charles Eisenstein ( encourage us to think about new ways of doing money ... which turn out to be old ways. Sacred religious texts from Judaism and Islam both warn against the destructive practice of charging interest. And this is where we find ourselves. This is not left and right political views. It’s about our future. We must find a different way. We have no other choice.

Goodbye, Mr Chips


Monday 23 July 2012

It's a strange name for a printer, Mr Chips.  Indeed, it is a little weird.  It's also a name he has had for five minutes, bestowed only as he has died and purely so that I can have a title for this blog post.  If you compare Samantha, my old laptop, and Lionel, my current desktop, with Mr Chips, you could say that the fact that he has not had a name all through his life has meant that I have not appreciated my old friend, the Epson Color Stylus 740.  But you would be wrong.

Mr Chips has been such a good and faithful servant, taking care of all of my printing needs.  In the time that he has been my servant I have delved around in his insides, because I love getting the most out of my consumables and I was fucked if I was going to listen to Epson once Mr Chips' warranty expired, with their dire prognostications about how Mr Chips was only designed to use Genuine Epson Intellidge cartridges and if I did anything naughty like refilled his cartridges, Mr Chips would repay me by exploding in my face.  (We all know by now that printer companies make their money in consumables.  And this means, in our culture, that because it's about making money therefore you get to scare the people as much as you can bloody well can to get away with as much of their money as you bloody well can).

And so for years I have injected Mr Chips with ink, and it's never done him any harm.  When things went wrong, as they rarely did, I opened him up with a screwdriver like a loving doctor and cleaned his bits, after looking at the excellent tips that used to be contained on several large printer-fix websites before Epson and Canon and HP and all the others got narky about people fixing their own stuff and hence which have now been taken down from the sites I used to frequent way back in the dim past when Mr Chips was sturdy and George W Bush was in the White House and Brokeback Mountain was in the cinema and Mariah Carey was singing far too many songs for anyone's good.  (But if you look hard enough, you can still find those do-it-yourself alternative-health-for-printers sites in other places on the web).

As far as I can discern, Mr Chips is about 13 years old.  He has existed with me through a marriage, and a divorce.  He still has the Set To Soar - Hawthorn Member 2007 sticker on his lid.  I thought that we would be going on for a little longer.  But after today, I think I have to finally concede defeat.  I would be quite happy to continue on with Mr Chips but it seems his waste ink pad (sort of like his lungs, I guess) has finally  given up the ghost.  And, as Mr Chips is ancient when it comes to the required consumption of Western consumables, I can't find any replacement pads for him.  And so this is how it ends - Mr Chips is considered too old for a lung transplant, too far gone for anyone to donate any new lungs for him.

I feel sad.  Partly because I was hoping for Mr Chips to continue until he was 20.  I don't care about having the latest peripherals.  It's tedious and it bores me like batshit, and I hate the guilt of knowing I am contributing, in my small way, to that giant sea of plastic that lives in the ocean.

Like many deaths, it happened suddenly.  And so now Mr Chips sits with his lid still off, from where I tried to operate earlier and failed.  It looks somehow obscene, letting him sit there with his lid off like that.  I think the only decent respect I can pay Mr Chips is to put his lid back on him, so that his long metal rod isn't exposed for all the world to see.

Thanks, Mr Chips, for your long and decent service.  Amen.

The Brave and the Loving Mr Hemingway


Wednesday 18 July 2012

The uber wonderful BrainPickings has managed in one short minute to send tears racing down my face, over my throat and into my purple scarf as I read this post here about Ernest Hemingway and his beloved cats, of which he had 23 at one stage.

When one of them was hit by a car, this is the letter he wrote to his friend:

Dear Gianfranco:

Just after I finished writing you and was putting the letter in the envelope Mary came down from the Torre and said, ‘Something terrible has happened to Willie.’ I went out and found Willie with both his right legs broken: one at the hip, the other below the knee. A car must have run over him or somebody hit him with a club. He had come all the way home on the two feet of one side. It was a multiple compound fracture with much dirt in the wound and fragments protruding. But he purred and seemed sure that I could fix it.

I had René get a bowl of milk for him and René held him and caressed him and Willie was drinking the milk while I shot him through the head. I don’t think he could have suffered and the nerves had been crushed so his legs had not begun to really hurt. Monstruo wished to shoot him for me, but I could not delegate the responsibility or leave a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him…

Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years. Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.

Mount Julian


Though they come with a
positive pox reading,
encased in 20 years of
baked-on grease and a face
even a mother doesn't love & though
you won't post them on Facebook,
love your ugly demons.

Though you push them away,
they are portable wisdom units,
rabbit holes where up is
down and in is out and your
future is waiting to teach you
the opposite of what you think you know
about what you haven't yet learned.

Love your ugly demons.
Though they have wet their pants &
they be smelly & though they be
social defectives with rusty iron
grates & spiky palisades, inside
the fortress is a marshmallow centre
for you to put your arms around.

Danza del Fuego (Dance of Fire) by Miguel Tomas Garcia (creative commons)

Monday 16 July 2012

I'm considering volunteering in a hospice that provides community day care and outreach services to people who are dying.

It's not really something that you would yell from the rooftops, is it?  Not in a world where the weight of denial is so heavy that if we could have seen into the future 20 years ago we would have been in denial about it.  What chance does death have when there are so many other things we need to push away and keep at bay every day just to keep on our piece of the treadmill?

Do you think people can see into the future?  I think sometimes it happens.  There are veils or portals that are thin and some tear through.  I don't know why it doesn't happen more often.  Maybe there are only a small minority of people who are willing to look.

I want to volunteer in a hospice for a few reasons.  Firstly, I think dying in a death-denying culture would be pretty shitty.  I feel bad that I wasn't there more for relatives who have died in the past.  I think a lot of people are lonely and I would like to be able to provide some sort of comfort or assistance in a minor way for those people.

I am drawn to people who are dying because they are being forced to really live.  To let go of their possessions even while they are owning them.  If you look at that in a certain light, it is a very beautiful and fragile thing.

The Nong Olympics


Friday 13 July 2012

On Thursday night Australian time, the 11th stage of the Tour de France saw the riders hitting the Alps and Cadel Evans slipping behind.  Despite a well-timed breakaway attempt, he was caught up by the Sky racing team with Bradley Wiggins looking all sorts of solid and resolute and steady and stuff. 

But still, there is always hope.  Because ~ trying to rein in my romanticism and mushiness ~ there is something about Le Tour de France that instils hope in this crusty old wintery soul.  Despite the drugs.  There is a humanity about the Tour that I think has a whole lot to do with aerial shots of French chateaux, and the crowds of people cheering alongside the road.  The tons of parked campervans.  Even the nong factor.

Thursday night was your standard nong fare.  A guy in a Santa suit.  Another in a Cher-inspired seatbelt number that – thankfully – was accompanied by a flesh-tone bodysuit underneath.  And then there were the Aussies in their AFL guernseys – a Hawthorn supporter, a Richmond supporter and a Geelong supporter, all running for a little while alongside the riders who were regaining their breath on the flat bit before the next 11 degree gradient bit.  The three Aussies ran alongside the riders for their place in the nong-relay sun before the next nongs further ahead took up the invisible baton.

Which is good for them to do it over there, because they simply cannot do that sort of thing here.  Somebody might get hurt. 

Once, when the AFL was not as professional as it is now, those three supporters would have been able to run onto the ground after the game finished.  Which is what happened after every single game, a swarm of duffle-coated kids flying over the fence to run onto the G and have a bit of kick to kick with their footy.  But not now.  If our three Aussies at the Tour ran onto the ground after the game these days, they would be fined up to $21,000 for their misdemeanour, enough to fund a good portion of their romp in the French summer sun.

According to the AFL and the MCG, when you are professional the people who come to watch the game must be treated with suspicion and paranoia from the time they enter the ground after having had their bags searched, to the reminders on the scoreboard to report bad behaviour to an SMS number, to the security people walking around at any one time, to the time they leave. 

Which is why, when a young guy ran onto the ground after last Friday night's Collingwood-Carlton game, nobody batted an eyelash about the possible over-reaction of seven security guards and one policeman all swooping on this guy like a rugby scrum.  

It was a weekend of ground invasions.  There were two people the night after as well, at Etihad Stadium.  It was surmised that perhaps it was a full moon at the time (it wasn't).  I personally think it was more the effects of the Tour than the moon.  People with strange notions in their head about getting amongst it.  One woman, with a bible, a crucifix and a bell, walked along the boundary line, chatting with TV boundary rider Cameron Ling and other officials, before people began realising she shouldn't be there.  Another man ran onto the ground during the game and made it to the centre of the pitch before being tackled by security. 

Despite the fact that all of these people have been arrested, and will be fined several thousands of dollars each, St Kilda coach Scott Watters believes security should be increased, before something bad happens to the players.  I can't help wondering what the Tour riders would think about that, sharing their stadium as they do with the general public along almost every stretch.  But nevertheless, the AFL must consider player security.  Apparently.

After all, think about those millions of incidents that have gone on in the past with AFL or VFL players being injured by fans.  Oh, okay - not millions?  Okay, then, thousands.  Not thousands?  Tens, then.  No, not tens.  None.  There is no recorded incident ever of a spectator injuring a player when running on the ground.  Not even in the days when hundreds of people did it.  Not even now.

But fear is not about the past, is it?  Fear is about what could possibly happen in the future, and what we need to protect against by using force and control and security.  Even if it makes the atmosphere much colder for the spectators partaking in the sport.

That's why watching the Tour is such a contrast.  It's all so deliriously chaotic.  People clustered on the side of alps.  Riders rushing down inclines who could quite easily run off the side of the road (and who sometimes do).  And the nongs.  People making idiots of themselves just for the hell of it.  Because they can.
The organisers of the Tour are just a little more lightened-up when it comes to security, a little less paranoid, and the AFL from inside its bubble could probably do with a bit of a think about that. 

Hi, I'm Sue, and I'm Dairy Intolerant ... I think?


Tuesday 10 July 2012

When my doctor told me three months ago he thought I might be dairy-intolerant, I reacted the way drug addicts react when you try to take away their drug of dependence.  It was that reaction that made me think ~  in the beautiful part of my brain that is reasonable and wants always to see what's really there rather than what I want to be there ~ that perhaps he had a point.

I really struggled for a few days with his suggestion that I quit, but because I have been battling health issues for many years, I *finally* decided to take him up on the challenge.  While having no idea how on earth I was going to do it.

I've had people suggesting I need to cut out dairy to see if I feel better for years.  But I haven't been able to do it until now.

Quitting milk was easy.  I always felt creepily weird about drinking milk anyway.  But cream and cheese were another story. 

It's been about three months since I've cut out dairy.  But I decided from the start that if I wanted to have some, that I would.  And I have, from time to time.  I think it's part of the learning curve.  And I think now that my body has finally got a break from this substance that it is now beginning to be able to show me just how much it doesn't like it.

Still, even after how bad I felt today, and the mounting evidence, I'm still not entirely convinced.  I sit here observing myself being not entirely convinced and it reminds me of the addictive feeling I had with smoking cigarettes, or weed, or eating sugar, or eating wheat, or all of the other million and one things that are required of a person living nowadays who must face up to the fact that this thing here, seems like it's good for them, but it's not.

It takes people a long time to really understand the force of their addictions, does it not?

I've been rather partial to chocolate eclairs over the years.  And over the past three months I've indulged twice.  And twice I noticed about four hours afterwards my head would begin clogging up, both in my brain and in my sinuses.

Last night I had a hankering for potatoes dauphinoise.  Yum.  And so I had them.  Pigged out on cheese and milk.  Had some Twisties to top it off, while watching the Tour de France.

Is it a coincidence that all day today I have felt fatigued, brainfogged, confused, and achey?  And anxious, feeling unable to cope?  And depressed, like I wished I was dead?  That last bit sounds melodramatic, only it's not.  Only melodramatic if you have not experienced it yourself.  I have struggled all day to stay focussed.  I have weeped over inconsequential tasks that were monumental. 

No cheese is worth this.  Not even the deliciously cheesy and wonderful Mersey Valley that went on last night's potatoes.

Is it a coincidence that now, about 27 hours after I ate those potatoes I am beginning to feel all of these symptoms start slowly lifting, like a shroud? Symptoms that when they are there feel permanently stuck on, as if they are my skin?

I wonder how many people have suicided from dairy intolerance.  That would be funny if there weren't so many fucking people in the world whose immune systems are folding their hands across their chests and saying, "Nup.  I've had enough of these toxins and from now on, I'm ramping up the symptoms because you. Are. Dumb. And. Aren't. Listening.  You dumbass."

I think finally I am really starting to see with my own eyes, and feel with my own body, what it has been most likely trying to tell me for years.  It really does not want to eat dairy.

Chocolate eclairs look pretty difficult to make.  But maybe I might give these ones a whirl - gluten-free and I think I will fill the centre with whipped coconut cream. That way I could have my eclair and my sinuses too.

I would like for the synapses in my brain to form a little more quickly - the synapse that starts with a picture of some dairy products on one end, that bypasses my taste buds and goes straight to a picture at the other end of the synapse that is a visual reminder of how hellish I felt today.  It's taking a while.  Sometimes these things do.  Especially when you're a slow learner like me ;)

My university studies have started again for the semester and now suddenly I am doing two subjects plus working.  I'm chafing a little in the saddle at the thought of it (which is completely and utterly to do with health stuff, and therefore anxiety-related thoughts about whether I can cope with the workload.  But I can).

In other news, the jury has definitely swayed to the "yea" when it comes to the question of whether I am intolerant of dairy.   I have decided that while ideally I wish to eliminate dairy completely, eating some cheese on occasion is perfectly acceptable.  And so last night I made potatoes dauphinoise with milk and cheese.  Today, I am fatigued, teary, foggy, anxious, confused and depressed. A link?  I'm starting to think so.

In other other news, it looks like I am in the process of having a small piece accepted for paying publication.  Which is all a bit exciting and disappointing mixed in together, because I worked hard on that piece I wrote and in the end it has been pretty much cut in half in terms of length from what it was.  But oh well, that's the nature of the things that are published in this publication.  And I am very chuffed to get over that hurdle of someone accepting a piece of my work.  May it be the first of many.  I will of course blow my own trumpet and let you know when it happens.

The Tour de France has stolen my heart and my sleep again.  But now that uni has started up and I've doubled my workload there, I'm gonna have to start reining myself in when it comes to time management.

Wish me luck :)



Thursday 5 July 2012

The Patience of Ordinary Things

by Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Waiting for customers at Amber Fort, Jaipur, India, (c) by Steve McCurry

It is easy to be patient today.  I have achieved that transcendent state that comes from not enough sleep but just enough so that I'm not haggard.  So that I am at rest instead of yesterday's torment storm that rattled my mind's chain.  Today, I watch the crisp winter sun burn off the last of the fog that still lingers past lunchtime.  I feel need of nothing today.  It is peace.

4.15 Belgrave to Flinders Street


Monday 2 July 2012

According to the overhead disembodied woman, I'm on the Flinders Street.  Direct.  Train to.  Flinders Street.

To get to the train I have walked past the sign that points the direction to Puffing Billy, the local steam train.  I hear Billy's toot as I go about my business during the day.  I hear him at night on the weekends too, where for a rather expensive amount of money you can ride the train and have dinner and drink wine.

This version of train travel is decidedly less sexier, but as Puffing Billy doesn't travel to Richmond I have to take my chances with Metro.  The train has just taken off, and I'm thinking how genteel Belgrave train travelling is compared to the Sydenham line now that I am living out the other side of town with all the other whiteys.  But then a feral bunch of little delinquents get on a few minutes after I do, saying "fuck" really loud.  As the train starts up they disappear, doing the obligatory walk-between-the-carriages-while-the-train-is-going-to-show-how-fearful-you're-not thing.

Metro Trains has refitted the carriages so that the seats which were once facing outwards, catering for disabled and elderly people have all now gone, but the plates on the wall that say "Please vacate these seats for elderly or disabled passengers" are still there, referring to seats that are not.

The ferals come back again.  They are children, really, 14 or so (which betrays my age more than anything else I could say.  I was like that, with a subterranean fear stored in subterranean shadows and a close-knit group of friends which enabled me to adopt an armoured persona that would yell from one end of the carriage to my friends at the other because I knew it unsettled the boring middle-aged beige freaks that sat in the middle and let me down by their conformity and deflation).  The ferals loudly get off the train at Upper Ferntree Gully. 

The man sitting diagonally opposite me (and who I see later, walking past me at the football at quarter time), looks vaguely familiar through my astigmatism. One of my eyes is more blurred than the other lately, so on the pretext of rubbing the blurry eye I get a quick squiz at him to see if really he is the husband of a woman I went to primary school and high school with.  No, it's not someone I know.  He is rubbing his hands together and looking a bit wistfully out at the rolling terrain rushing past between Ferntree Gully and Boronia stations.  I wish to know what he's thinking about.

Now he gets up and moves so that he's facing the same way as me a few seats over, reading the crappy MX newspaper, which nevertheless once published a version of this post here.  I get a bit paranoid and wonder if he moved because I was looking at him.  He is wearing a green scarf with baubley bits on the ends.

Three teenagers, 13 or 14, get on and stand in the doorway.  They begin a discussion about what will happen if they open the doors while the train is going.  The kid who's standing on his skateboard rocking backwards and forwards is pretty authoritative about the matter.  His dad drove trams, he says, and the mechanics are the same on trains ~ the train will automatically stop if you open the doors all the way.  His friend looks dubious.  It's pretty funny if you open them a little, though, the kid says.

The train is heading in to Bayswater Station.  I'm in familiar territory here in Bayswater.  Years ago my grandma lived a bit further back and several streets over.  The three teenagers get off, and the train leaves the station and passes over Mountain Highway, which always brings back my childhood.  I travelled many times down that road with my cousin, my auntie and uncle.  They lived further up Mountain Highway, the den of childhood imaginative delights where we created out of our own minds, in the space and freedom of the school holidays, entire family groups with complex interactions.  We were singers in a famous band.  In summer we swam in the pool in our nighties.  Once, we pretended we were orphans who lived in the ferns that ran down the side of the house.  Crossing Mountain Highway on the train makes me a little nostalgic for a weekend at Andi's circa 1978.

The guy sitting next to me bar one is multi-tasking his iPhone, playing music through headphones while playing a card game on the screen.  A cursory glance around the carriage shows a majority of people tied to their phones in some way, either through headphones or with heads bowed in reverence to their screens.

A lady gets on with her blonde curly boy.  He is about two, and I smile at him and he smiles back and then he says, "A byss?  A byss?  A byss?" and then whacks himself in the head.  A comic.  He's adorable.  He and his mum play, and we all smile at each other, and then he says to me, "A titutt!"  I feel both pleased by the interaction and sad at my incomprehension, and then they get off at Ringwood.

Kids are a safer bet to smile at without them thinking there's something to mistrust in you.

For a second I think the pretty dark-haired young woman with the red lipstick and red jeans is looking at me, but then I realise she is looking at herself in the window's reflection next to my head.  The sky is starting to darken.  She is looking at me.  She's looking at me, and then she's looking at herself.

Out the window to the right there is a descending sun covered with cloud but bright enough so that I can't look directly at it.  The sky is medium grey.  Though muted, the covered-over sun still shines through the droplets of rain collected on the glass.

We are at Nunawading Station, a congealing mass of dull suburbia.  The word is Aboriginal and means "battlefield" or "ceremonial ground".   

Two middle-aged woman are talking.  I can only hear snatches of their conversation.  One is wearing a fluorescent yellow raincoat and is indignantly saying lots of sentences that begin with "I".  "I know she was there!" she says, and I wonder what it was "she" did to piss this woman off.

A man is standing in the doorway of the carriage talking on his mobile phone.  "Yeah, I'm heading to the city for the rugby," he says in a South African accent, looking out the door as he talks.  "It's the last game of the season," he says.

There is a break in the clouds, a little one.  A patch of blue peeking through the grey.

"Monday will work out fine," the man says into his phone.  It sounds like he is arranging a time for someone to come and collect something from him.  Maybe drugs, but more likely something he's selling on eBay.  He's out on Saturday evening, he says, but Sunday could work, too.

A group of teenagers get on.  One is wearing a pair of those embroidered ugg boots I've seen on eBay.  Fashion trends have been crossing the ocean from England and America ever since the introduction of cinema and radio.  A new hairstyle begun by one person with gumption starts it up, and then everyone else follows suit.  Soon you're a mug if you're not wearing a hairstyle that six months ago would have had you seem a pariah if you were.  Ugg boots are a pretty fashionable streetwear accessory in America.  In Australia they have always been an uber daggy form of wear that only bogans and people like me who don't care wear in public.  But that seems to be changing.

The South African guy has sat down and is looking at his phone.  He looks up at the ceiling, as if he's asking some sort of question, and then nods, as if the air provided him with the answer.  Anthony does that sometimes.  It's very endearing.  It feels intimate watching this man do that though, like it's a very private act that I've walked in on.

RMIT University is advertising on the wall above the South African guy's head the the fact that they provide Australia's first degree in sustainable systems engineering.  "Many talk about sustainable engineering.  Few will do it," they say.

Wow.  The sky has cleared.  The sun comes through a crisp and brisk yellow.  The lines of everything are so distinct in the beautiful winter light.

We slow down before reaching Camberwell Station ("change here for Alamein," Disembodied Woman says).  There are a few large rocks next to the retaining wall.  The rocks look like sandstone, but for a second, when I first glance at them, I think they are giant discarded bread rolls.

Camberwell Station is pretty.  Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries filmed some train scenes here in its inaugural season.  Along the top of the wire fence that separates the train line from the rest of Camberwell is rolling barbed wire, like something out of World War 2.  The only war going on round here is the one between The Corporates and The Rest of Us.

Why aren't we all standing with our noses pressed up against the window watching the sunset that has begun dazzling outside the window in the sky between Camberwell and Glenferrie?  There is something comforting and reassuring about such beauty that nobody can coopt or buy.  It's just there.

A man with a yellow and black Chirnside Park Football Club parka gets on at Glenferrie.  He has a grey and pink fluorescent backpack and spends the whole time looking at his phone.

"Where are you off to?" a naturally-greying woman in a grey coat asks a dark-haired woman with an Australian accent with possibly Sri Lankan heritage.  "Oh, I'm off to the city.  I'm going once a week.  I'm still in the honeymoon phase, enjoying all the coffee and cake I can get in Melbourne.  I'm meeting my husband there.  He works in the city," she says.  "Do you miss it?" the woman later asks.  "I miss the research and the people I worked with," the dark-haired woman says.  She is wearing a tweed jacket in a pinky orange colour that I don't like much.  They got on at Glenferrie and sound like they must work at Swinburne.  That's the place I went to to last year participate in a study researching the effects of a particular substance on anxiety.  They paid me $100 for the time involved in taking blood tests and doing questionnaires.

"... so again, there's not the exchange of ideas," the dark-haired woman is saying.  "Hopefully George will support it too if he comes," the other woman says. "I used to say to people ..."

She is drowned out by Disembodied Woman overhead.  I'm at Richmond Station, and this is where I get off.