On Being the Train Audience and the Studio Audience


Saturday 28 February 2015

The train is about to take off from Belgrave station and my bag bulges on the seat beside me.  If I was a baby, my mum would be accompanied by a hefty haversack full of nappies, wipes, a bib, a change of clothes, and whatever else is contained in nappy bags.  There are an astounding number of things that babies may need in a several-hour outing.  I'm unfortunately no different.  My burgeoning bag contains health-related d-ribose, progesterone cream, and coenzymated vitamin b6.  It also has a book, a 48 page green exercise book, various pens, a phone, tampons (grown-up nappies of a different variety) and a lot of crud on the bottom of a bag which hasn't been cleaned out in ages.

Girls from Mater Christi College, our local private Catholic school, are on the train too.  Two sit down across from me, and one begins to tell the other about some of the classes she had in school today - Maths, French, Orange House assembly and RE (Religious Education).  I wonder what RE looks like at Mater Christi.  Is it cutting edge and political, so that they get a glimpse of, say, a man overturning tables of people who are fucking around with charging interest on their money loans?  Or what about the version of Christianity that appears to emanate from the writings of Origen, in which a belief in reincarnation appears so commonly-held it's not even spelled out?  (At least I guess Catholicism had the decency to come up with a purgatory sandwiched in-between the eternal heaven and eternal hell, where you could work off your accrued karma until you're shiny enough for God to bear to look at you.  But that fear of never quite knowing if you've scored a one-way ticket to eternal hellfire is a wonderful touch when it comes to the minions.  Keeps them in line).

Do Mater Christi girls feel superior to the public school kids?  I would imagine so.  There's an inbuilt superiority/inferiority thing that automatically accrues when you spend more of our society's value symbol on one thing than another, so they must, even if it's unconscious.

A little way down the line, a massive amount of schoolkids get on at Upwey from the local high school, a rather cool-looking art deco brick building up on Burwood Highway that once housed Red Symons and then once housed Wendy Harmer.  One of the boys from Upwey High is yelling several times for Cassidy, but Cassidy, alas, does not appear.

An Upwey High girl in front of me is looking at her phone.  Her and her friend both have freshly brushed, long hair and a decent whack of makeup.  The phone shows what has the feel of a hastily snapped shot, of two boys in the schoolyard.  The way she's looking at it, pensively, cheek-chewing, I reckon she'll be looking at it a few more times this evening.

If Andrea and I had had phones and computers when we were teenagers, we would have filled up our hard drives with gigabytes of photos of Pas on hers, and Dale Cassar on mine.  I would have been quite happy to see the next round of photos Andrea had snapped that week, of Pas playing basketball, of Pas outside the maths room, of Pas saying hello as he walked past.  Pas looked like Stewart Copeland, which was pretty cool, seeing Andrea was in love with him too.  Plus, his name was Stuart too, so double bonus.  Andrea managed her love of Stewart Copeland and her love of Stuart Passingham quite well, I thought.

I apparently enjoyed being in love exclusively with unattainable people.  I was in Year 7, while Dale was in Year 11.  There is nothing now to remember him by except a few grainy memories of yearbook photos where he'd dressed up in makeup for a school play.  Dale left school at the end of that year, and I was mortified until I found Marc Ward to unattainably love the following year.  I would have filled another hard drive taking photos of Marc zooming out of school at lunchtime in his Holden Gemini, of Marc in his fluffy pink jumper, of Marc outside the maths room.  Marc's girlfriend, Suzie Szabo, was in the same year level as him.  I despised her with a warm fear and a cold despising that probably would have required a couple of photos of their own.

Marc was in Year 12.  I was in Year 8.  I liked my unattainable boys a little bit older.  That same year I would also full unattainably in love with Brian Mannix, the lead singer from Uncanny X-Men, for whom I would almost die running across Kings Way in order to reach as he got out of a taxi to go speak on 3XY.  It's not pretty, folks.  It's not pretty.  Several years after that, Andrea and I would go to see the X-Men play at The Village Green.  Andrea would ask for a kiss outside, and Brian would comply.  He would then say that it was the most amazing kiss he'd ever had.  Not that I'm chafing about that or anything.

It's so weird looking at these girls on the train with their phone and thinking about how different things were for us.  Yes, it's a common refrain held to by every generation that everything has changed, changed, changed (which is maybe more about time and memory and changes in ourselves than anything outside of ourselves).  But I think there's some validity in us reeling a little from all of the changes our lives have gone through.  It has been really different for each of the last three or four generations.  It's no wonder our heads spin so that we feel disorientated and need to go lie down and watch seven episodes in a row of Game of Thrones.

Things have changed in the ways teenagers interact.  It's so much more secondhand now.  Andrea and I would have been able to know way more about Pas and Dale and Marc than we could possibly have known back then, even with Marc's brother Carl to query.  We would have all known way more about each other.  And I wonder too if we would have known way less, maybe, in other ways.

Did we all look each other in the eye more back then?  Maybe.  We're definitely more in our own bubbles these days.  I miss the common sense of wider world community that was stronger when I was young.  Still, despite that yearning for the security of something shared, that doesn't mean that it didn't used to hurt to look people in the eye, with the shame I dragged around so intense at times, like a curtain.  It wasn't just the harsh paranoia that came from having an ever so slightly turned eye that people generally didn't notice unless I was drunk.  Looking people in the eye is such an intimate act.  I do understand the poetry of the eyes being the windows to the soul.  Sometimes it feels to me that with the onset of our awesome technology, we spend so much more time with our own eyes plastered to various screens, that looking at each other has grown scary by comparison.  Eek!  This thing I'm looking at ... is alive, and looking back at me!  Not in a box that I can switch off or delete!  This feels weird, man!  I wonder - has looking at each other become more like an invasion?

There are so many more ways to be alone while we're together now.  As a self-conscious, shame-struck teenager, I imagine that would have been better, that would have been worse.  But still, imagine, feeling like your friends were always in your pocket.  Friendships as teenagers are the best.  You need each other in a way you won't again.  Not like that.

The freshly-brushed pensive girl and her friend have got off, and another girl has sat in front of me now.  She has just sprayed a floral scent from her bag.  It's quite nice, actually, but it still causes my central nervous system to launch a weak panic stations alert that some incoming foreign body may possibly be trying to kill me.  I ignore this limbic panic, try to distract it like a child by noting how the high notes of the girl's fragrance don't screech like death metal in my nose the way a visit to the $2 shop would.

There are so many different schools on this train now.  But the uniforms are kind of all the same.  One girl wears dark and light purple and white check.  I would have been stoked to have that for Bentleigh High.  There are so many students that I wonder - are more of them catching trains to school now?  It felt like when I was at high school you went to one of the ones you were zoned to and that was it.  Are parents, in the quest to get their kids ahead, chucking their kids on trains so they can do the program that fits best?  Maybe.  I guess maybe some of these kids are on the way to their other parent's house.  It's all so scattered. And yet from what I can see, school curriculums are way more interesting than the dry, dusty crap served up to me in my high school years.

I talked to my mum about this.  She said she couldn't remember anyone from her high school catching the train, that everyone who accompanied her to classes in the late 50's and early 60's walked or rode.  There's something nice and nostalgic about that idea, that the friends you make at your school share the same space as you.

The David Jonecs ad on the platform at Box Hill has an Asian woman in a matching fuschia bra and undies set that would have earned her grandparents a pittance to make and mine much more to earn wheeling and dealing to get the lowest prices, the lowest prices, the lowest prices, which would then be marked up 400% or more to sell to us in the glorious land of globalisation.

I saw a woman on another train once, years ago, while I was on the way to work as an apprentice, vomit into the cardigan held on her lap.  She got out at the next stop.  As you would.

I get out at Richmond Station and catch the Sandringham train.  I have never been on this line before and it feels like people are doing quite well on it.  There are two men in business attire, separated by a sheet of perspex.   Both are wearing checked shirts on white backgrounds, with minor variations.  Are these shirts like the business version of school uniforms?  What's it with checks?  Do checks convey a sense of purposiveness, of industry, of concentration?

There are two separate phone conversations going on in this train carriage.  Both are about real estate, selling and renovating respectively.  There could possibly be three, but she's speaking Greek so I don't know, my Greek extending to kalimera, kalispera, kalinichta and baklava.  People on this line clean their shoes.  The woman next to me is wearing black and white leopard skin shoes and is reading the free train newspaper, MX, which once published an essay of mine that was a variation of this post here.  And so despite the fact that my shoes are ancient, I feel somewhat validated, until the the woman behind me says on her phone call that she is spending 5.5 grand on a mechanical door.  This once again makes me feel invalidated again until I realise that it's not her personal door, that organising the construction and installation of this door is a part of her job.

I do not like this relentless comparison.  It is particularly limiting.

The other woman has finished talking about her house that is up for sale and is now telling Kerry about how her husband is away at the moment and so life is fantastic.  Apparently they will take photos on the Tuesday.  Will that be enough time, given the opening is on the 7th?  It all sounds so important.  Important enough that those of us not wearing earbuds must be subjected to it.  But they're probably photos of, like, taps.  Or boxes of tampons.  Items for the next Aldi catalogue.

Although that doesn't really fit in with the opening, does it?  Still, never mind.  Thinking of this woman organising photos of something banal makes me feel better.  And really, the fact that I even bother going there with this stupid comparison, that makes me feel worse.

I reach Elsternwick, and here I alight to the ABC studios.  Anth is here to meet me.  We are being The Studio Audience this evening for the first episode of the new season of Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell.  As we enter into the studio, one of the people working there tells me this is exactly the same studio that the musical staple of my childhood, Countdown, was filmed in all those years ago.  I find it patently absurd that I never once went to a Countdown filming.  Brian Mannix was on it often enough, and Elsternwick was closer to where I lived than Richmond was, where we did go several times to see Blankety Blanks tapings.  It's an anomaly, a strangeness, a big chunk missing, something that should have happened in my teenage years but quite incomprehensibly didn't.

But I'm here now instead, at 44, and Shaun Micallef is a much more appropriate replacement, and a bit of a GILFIIHAL (GILF If I Had A Libido), and it's fun, but exhausting, to look at the making of a TV show.  It is tiring, being the ones responsible for laughing.   It is terrifying being the focus of the camera while an introductory skit is being filmed.  The camera, with it's enormous eye, pans from where it's pointed in our direction, where we have been asked to laugh, over to Mr Micallef, who makes some joke that I can't now remember because I was too fucking terrified having to juggle having a camera pointed at me and being required to laugh at the same time.

They didn't end up using the footage.  I was both relieved and disappointed in equal measure :)

But before I am allowed into the studio I must open my bag for inspection, the one bulging not with a gun but with progesterone and pens and b6 and so many wrappers, and old bits of cruddy paper that have been in there so long that they are caked with the unidentifiable crumbs that line the bottom of my bag.  It is terribly embarrassing.  And then some things fall out, and of course one of those things is a tampon.

I guess that's one thing that's changed from when I was a teenager.  I wouldn't have given a shit about how messy the bag was, but I would have been chastened, horrified, by the tampon.  Now, I don't much care that the man inspecting my bag knew for a fact that I insert wrapped cotton into my vagina.  But I did feel rather chastened that he also knows I'm a massive slob.

A Stopper For the Guilt Voice


Monday 23 February 2015

There have been two giant obstacles to me blogging lately.  Anxiety/fatigue is the main one.  The other one is inflamed by the first.  It sits in the shadows till I notice and name it, so it took me a bit to work out what it was.  When I peered closer and thought about it, I identified it.  Oh. That again.  It's guilt, in its broadest sweep.  The guilt that says why do this, where is the value, where is the permission?  The creaking bridge that links those two giant hillocks is an abject feeling of uselessness.  I feel as completely useless as a great hulk of mouldy cheese, purposeless in a world of people busily achieving their quarterly KPIs. A big lumpy Bob Hatfieldy waste of space, while meanwhile my partner works eleventy six hours a week.   And so what right do I have to write?

If I could slice that part of myself out and I only had a blunt knife, I'd consider it.  It's an ongoing issue, this lack of worthiness thang.  I've written about it before on this blog.  It's an ongoing refrain not just of mine but of most everybody who writes, or sculpts, or paints, or does something creative in a culture that despite its Apple ads really does not value innovation from people.

This guilt is the most depressing utilitarianism.  It's the same harsh-scratching grey-robed dullness that says I shouldn't be writing by hand because it's not efficient.  I'm a major fan of writing by hand.  I find that there is something soothing about it so that though the dirgevoice says it's not efficient to write by hand, in actuality, for someone who is a raging fire of anxiety a great deal of the time lately it's quite efficient in the end, thank you very much.  It gives me the space to breathe, for time to slow down, just me and the pen moving across the page, the emptiness of the page something exciting, a container that may be filled by something that I'm not even sure of, even while I'm doing it.

CC pic by Jugni

Efficiency is not worth a great deal if you don't ever get started because you're cowed down by the voice that makes something fun into dreariness and repulsive cubicleness.  Do it this way.  This is the best way.  Only this way.  The world is full of those voices and they're really fucking tedious.  And yet here I have my very own in my own head.  Maybe it's an understandable virus of the age that says the only way for me to produce is to cubicle myself into chunks of bland party cheese.  Maybe I need to inoculate myself out of this idea that the best way is a depressing bland one that vampirically sucks all the joy out. I spent some time this afternoon  reading about well-known writers who also do this apparently insane thing of writing by hand.

I don't even hold to this efficiency-by-number-the-fastest-way-possible-is-the-best-because-time-is-money crap.  And yet it rules over me so much, like seeping wetiko.  It's so boring!  And anyway, why does whether I write or how I write have to be linked to worthiness, based on whether I've achieved enough over the previous week?  To prove my worth of existing on this planet?  Just because that's what I feel like my life has told me doesn't mean I need to hold to it in Inner Susieland.  If the kingdom of heaven is there, and all change flows from our insides outward, then this is exactly the place where I need to be pruning back that particularly ugly bush.  That bush of guilt and holding yourself back because you're not worth it is a giant bush of massive ugly hairy testicles with big bits of pus drooling from them.  Hell, not even pruning that bush ~ chop it down.  No herbicides because Inner Susieland doesn't respond well to those sorts of chemicals.  Cutting into the bastard and chopping out its roots and burning the whole thing in a bonfire that I dance naked in front of afterwards.

Pic by Eris-stock
Sheesh.  That dancing naked in front of a bonfire thing keeps popping up.  Whether I ever had the guts to do it would be another story.  I guess I should head up to Nimbin or somewhere to give it a whirl.  Or I could practice in the backyard.  Burn the house down.

So this voice, that tells me how and when to write, why is it linked to worthiness?  Why does it not ever put forward its case as a way to better health, for example?  If my own productivity is so valuable to it, then why not treat the vessel in a way that will ensure productivity, treat it with care, fill it with the things it loves, as a way to rehabilitation?  Because that would be a bleeding-heart left-wing type of action, and that voice, if it was going to vote, would surely be right in on this Abbott government and whatever other austerity-measure-forcing far right-wing governments it could find in the world that punish the less so the more can keep gorging.  That voice doesn't actually seem to be particularly focused on achieving good outcomes via the best way, but just on smashing me in the face with guilt.  So why listen to a voice that's so lacking in imagination?  I mean, I have to listen to those sorts of voices from the culture all bloody day.

Maybe that cultural familiarity is why I'm not tuned into switching that voice off quicker.  After all, it's not just simply a voice I took from the culture, but one that came ready-packaged from within the bosom of my own family from as early as I can remember, so why the hell would I not have created an extra deep rut for it to burrow into?  And the size of the rut is probably why I do not sometimes think earlier that it's really simply a case of reaching out with my trusty internal remote and switching that fucker's voice off.

That's it.  Simple.  I'm not listening to this thought.  Switch off.  And it is that simple.  But it's not.  The exhaustion comes from the relentless dirgelike way that it's back again the next day, and when you're a little exhausted to begin with you're weakened, dear boys and girls.  Susie is life-tired.  Sometimes, all the will in the world can't rise up because the plain exhaustion is there already, disengaging me from reaching for the remote and switching off an energy-draining voice.  It's the relentless surrounding culture, it's Tony Abbott, it's the ongoing lack of response from editors when I put my all into pieces and pitches that aren't accepted.  It's the inability of others to know what I need to do to be able to do even the little that I do.  It's the constant rushing drain of return not exceeding investment.  That's why some days I can't even get to the remote at all.  All sick people know this space.  That's why the breezy recommendations from those who are not here are so teeth grinding to hear at times.

Despite the beliefs of the relentless positivity brigade, switching off the negative voices isn't the end of the story.  You could be excused from thinking, by reading the derisive way we comment to each other on online news spaces, that everyone is simply lazy, that willpower and force and application and a good positive outlook are all that's needed to get you to where you need to go.  It's the neoliberal sexual fantasy.  That way, whatever misfortune occurs to you can be blamed on you. But it's not that simple.  Never that simple that a satisfactory result of a complicated situation is going to be something that would spurt from the same spout as the sort of kneejerk reactive blamethink we see on the net, and that we may even engage in ourselves ~ even if it's only from inside our own heads to ourselves.

We need more than willpower and application, good though they are.  We need new containers to pour ourselves into.  Completely new jars, whose frame will shape whatever new society we are going to come up with next.  One that's worthy of us pouring ourselves into, and that recognises our inherent worth.  Those sorts of containers contain natural stoppers that block out those voices that are so destructive and do so much damage.  The ones that say some should get at the expense of others.  There's classier containers than that.  Like the one that says that what happens to the least of these is what happens to the most of these  That's the type of container I'm dreaming of.

CC pic Byrev

The Light of the Shadow


Sunday 1 February 2015

The evil that is manifesting in our world is an expression that light is nearby, just as shadows are themselves expressions of light. A strong light is the best shadow-projector; in the source of light there is darkness enough for any amount of projections. We tend to think of shadows as the absence of light instead of one of its manifold expressions. Only when the full light shines in the darkness is the full intensity of the darkness made manifest. Joining the shadow with its light is, spiritually speaking, to be in possession of great wealth. A medieval proverb says, “Light over darkness is the Antichrist; Light through the darkness is the Christ.” Light is ultimately revealed through darkness; it needs darkness, for otherwise, how could it appear as light?

 Paul Levy, Dispelling Wetiko

Pic by Lolowaro974