The trouble with pulling the covers over your head and hiding from reality is that reality has a nasty habit of sticking around. As soon as you’re foolish enough to peek out from under the bedclothes, there it is, sitting at the foot of the bed, smirking at you. In these situations your options are really very limited. You can pull the covers back over your head and whimper pathetically, or you can muster up enough foolish rage to kick that bastard off the end of your bed. OK, you’ll just get a sore toe, and reality will leap on top of you and strangle you, but at least you put up a good fight. Give yourself a pat on the back and then fall to your knees and plead for mercy.
I would just like to take this opportunity to point out that Little Rose, Alexandra and the Fairy Baglady, Espresso, A Love Poem Without Hesitation, Katie, and this next piece, One Day Jessie (for want of a better title) are all pieces of fiction. That’s right, I made them up. I know that several of you have probably taken them (particularly A Love Poem) too seriously, and at least two of you have probably already read yourselves into one or two of the pieces… but you’re way off baby. OK, so I have an imagination deficit, and so I do draw on my own experiences, so yes, there are a few aspects that were prompted or inspired by Real Life. But I’ve expanded them, and put them in a different context and turned them on their heads and added pretty colours. They’re Not About You.
Why am I getting so defensive? Oh shuddup, leave me alone.
I don’t know why I’m writing so much fiction at the moment. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it. I think it’s probably got something to do with the fact that I’m supposed to be putting together a 10 page NON-fiction writing sample, and since I’m the master of procrastination I’ve spend the last few days dribbling silly pieces of plotless fiction.
I'm just kinda playing around. Finding out what I can and can't do, finding out what I enjoy. Feel free to tell me to shut up and get a life. And yes, I do realise that most of these pieces are not finished. I have issues with plot, ok? I'm working on it.
Given the fictitious nature of the last few entries I’m going to dedicate this weekend’s blog to Bec, who probably doesn’t even read Beautiful Monsters but what the heck.
I don’t think I’ve posted this next piece on my blog, but some of you will have read it before – it was part of my application for the children’s writing workshop. I just found it while I was rummaging through my C drive, and I don’t think I’ll ever turn it into anything decent, so it’s going where all half-decent ideas go when they die – onto my blog.
One day Jessie
There wasn’t any warning. At least, not the sort you’d expect (changes in the tone of voice, or a growing interest in dolls). No, it all happened overnight, quite without warning. One day Jessie Jones woke up and he was a girl.
Jessie lay in bed for a while, contemplating his new gender. He wasn’t particularly shocked – although he was only nine years old, he had become accustomed to Strange Occurrences Without Explanations. Anyway, the event didn’t seem to be accompanied by dramatic or painful changes. He simple woke up to the indisputable fact that he was no longer a boy.
Jessie swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and wriggled his toes round and around. He got up, and crept into the bathroom, just to be sure. The face peering at him from the mirror was the same face he had glanced at every morning of his life. The same big brown eyes blinked at him. The same tangled hair hung over his ears like strands of sun-bleached toi toi. His cheeks, his nose and his tongue were all there, in the right places. Even his name was the same, but all of a sudden, it was short for Jessica.
Unfortunately the reassuring normalcy ended abruptly when Jessie went to get dressed. He reached into the second drawer down, and pulled out a pink and white speckled dress.
“I can’t play soccer in THAT,” said Jessie, and dropped the dress in disgust. He rummaged through the drawers, and eventually uncovered a pair of jeans. They had purple ribbons sewn around the bottoms, and they sparkled, but at least they weren’t a dress. Jessie pulled on the jeans, and the plainest purple t-shirt he could find, and slunk down the stairs.
Jessie’s dad was muttering behind a huge wall of newspaper. He seemed to be prone to grumpiness in the mornings, and anyway, Jessie didn’t feel ready to point out to his father that he had recently acquired a daughter.
His mum was leaning against the kitchen bench, stirring a cup of coffee.
“Good morning,” she said, and she didn’t seem at all surprised to see Jessie wearing purple and sparkling. Jessie scowled at his feet and didn’t say good morning back. His mum frowned at his jeans. “Those are a bit small for you, aren’t they. Perhaps we’ll go shopping this morning.”
“That’d be great!” Jessie grinned. Maybe he could get some proper clothes. He’d never live it down if he turned up at the park wearing purple. At least his breakfast hadn’t changed. Cornflakes, soggy and sweet, just how he liked them.
After breakfast, his mum brushed his hair. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d bothered to brush his hair on a Saturday. And she seemed to be doing a very thorough job this morning. Jessie winced as she attacked a knot.
“Hmmm,” said his mum, as she combed the straggly ends. “Perhaps we should go to the hairdressers too, you look like a wild child.”
In the car, Jessie fidgeted all the way to town. What if he saw someone he knew? What would they say when they realised he was a girl? He didn’t even notice when his mum pulled into a park, and she had to call out his name twice before he got out of the car.
Luckily, there was only one other person having their hair cut, a woman that Jessie didn’t know. She had short hair, with streaks of brown and red and blond, and even a few splashes of blue. A hairdresser was spiking it up with mousse. Jessie stared at the woman with rainbow hair. She had golden cat’s eyes with black slashes for pupils, and she gave him a short spiky wink.
“Can I have my hair done like that?” asked Jessie, but his mum just laughed. The hairdresser tied a cape around his shoulders, washed his hair with shampoo that smelled like peaches.
“Just a trim,” said his mum. The hair dresser cut his hair in a neat line just below chin length. “That looks nicer, doesn’t it?” asked his mum. Jessie didn’t think it looked very nice at all, it looked girlier, that was all. But he didn’t say anything.
“Have you ever thought about growing it long,” asked the hairdresser, as she combed his hair again. “You’ve got such lovely hair.” Jessie glared at his lovely hair. The woman with the rainbow spikes had disappeared. He sulked all the way to the department store.
“Chin up,” said his mum. “It won’t take long to grow. Anyway, that bob suits you. Very sophisticated.” She smiled at him, and steered him towards the girl’s clothing section. Most of the clothes seemed to be pink and purple, or forget-me-not blue. There were t-shirts with beaming fairies printed on them, and skirts covered in clouds of pastel flowers. Jessie screwed up his nose, and searched around for something he could get dirty in. He found a rack with tracksuits. The tops were covered in cutesy kittens, but the pants were plan.
“These are sweet,” said his mum, holding up a pink tracksuit. “But mum,” said Jessie, “I don’t even like pink.” He found a blue tracksuit in his size, and couple of t-shirts.
“Well, I guess that’s ok,” said his mum. She was smiling at him with her mouth, but her eyes looked puzzled.
The other guys had already started kicking the ball around when Jessie arrived. He ran up to join them, but Jonathan Richards stepped out in front of him with his hands on his hips.
“Go away, we don’t want you here,” he growled. “But...” Jessie cried, “I can play soccer better than any of you!” Jonathan just laughed, “Girl’s can’t play soccer.” The rest of the boys kicked the ball away to the other end of the field. Jessie stood still for a moment, and bit his lip. Then he walked slowly away.
Beside the field was a thick tangled patch of macrocarpa trees. Jessie used to hide there when he was little and he needed a secret place to cry in. Right now he wanted to be somewhere dark and secret, and he headed towards the trees. He knew that if he walked into the shadowy spaces between the trees, the guys playing soccer in the sunlight wouldn’t be able to see him.
He was just settling down under one of the biggest trees, when something fell on his head. Something big and rubbery. He reached up and pulled off a big plastic spider.
“Hey,” said squeaky voice. “This is my tree!” Jessie looked up, and saw a grubby little kid hanging out of the branches. Jessie stared. The kid had clumps of short red hair that stuck out in all directions. It was wearing brown tights, and something that looked like it was made from leaves stitched together. The kid dangled upside down, with its legs hooked over a branch, and stared back at Jessie.
Katie was staggering onto the bus with a cello in one hand, a screaming three-year-old in the other, and half a dozen library books under her arm, when her cellphone rang.
“Oh fick.” She smiled apologetically to the bus driver, balanced the cello on the steps, shouted, “Hi, just hold on a sec,” into the phone, threw some money at the driver, dropped three of the library books, dragged the child and the cello to the nearest empty seat, went back to pick up the library books, apologised to the driver, and collapsed into the seat beside Chloe. She breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t until a couple of minutes later that she noticed the tiny voice that seemed to be coming from her coat pocket. “Katie? Kaaaaaatie, are you there? What’s going on?” She reached into her pocket and stared at the phone.
“Hello? Oh, Jaqs, hi.”
“Yeah, hi. Um, Katie? It’s about the money.”
Katie suppressed a groan. “Uh huh.”
“Well, it’s just… I’m just a little screwed for cash at the moment.”
Katie sighed. “Yeah, I know.”
“Do you think I could…”
“Yeah. Sure. Just as soon as you can, ok?”
Jacqueline’s sigh of relief whistled down the phone. “Thanks Katie. You’re a darling. I’ll make it up to you somehow.”
The bus was pulling into their stop. Katie gave the books to Chloe. “Carry these for mummy, ok?” The little girl tottered behind her, brown eyes huge above the stack of books. They managed to get off the bus without spilling anything.
Luke was sitting on the doorstep. He strolled down to the gate when he saw them. “Well hello little munchkin!” He grinned at Chloe.
Katie stood her cello on its end and rested her arms on top of it. “Hi Luke.” She looked at Katie, almost hidden behind the library books. “Hey, you couldn’t…”
“Sure,” Luke smiled. We’ll drop them off later, won’t we munchkin?” He opened the gate, and relieved Chloe of the library books. Katie smiled gratefully and kissed Chloe good bye.
She was early for a change. As she walked down the street she tried to do the sums in her head. Whichever way she looked at it, there just wasn’t enough.
Just then a familiar building caught her eye. The neon sign was switched on, but dull in the midday sunlight. The afternoon shift would just be starting. She wondered who was on. Suddenly, without really thinking about it, she was ducking across the street and into the dingy stairwell. She waited a moment for her eyes to adjust, and waved towards the dark corner where she knew the camera was concealed. Tuesday. Jolene was probably on the desk. At the top of the stairs she hesitated for a moment, chewing on her lip. It was too late to go back now. She pushed open the door.
Jolene was leaning back in her chair, her hands behind her head. “Well, if it isn’t Kimberly. Have you come to give us a concert?”
Katie glared at her.
“Ok, ok, just making conversation. When do you want to start?”
Katie thought about it. She’d need to get a couple of things sorted first. “Thursday. Late shift?”
Jolene leaned forward to write it down. “Ok love. Mark has been asking for you…” she looked up, but Katie was already disappearing through the doorway.
I want meeting you to be like falling in love. Like a flame leaping from the end of a match. Maybe we won’t notice for a few days. By then the fire will be a warm glow that begins deep inside us and seeps through our translucent skin. We will be like paper lanterns, we will cause the shadows to dance around us.
Weeks later we will both write about the moment. I will write about the small sound of surprise that escapes from your lips. How your fingers brush against my palm for a moment and the warmth of your skin catches me by surprise. You will write about the faint pink that creeps into my cheeks. You will write about how I duck my head, and you can’t quite make out the colour of my eyes.
I love the way one side of your mouth curls up higher than the other when you smile. The crinkles at the corners of your eyes remind me of the pukeko’s tiny footprints, spiralling closer and closer to heaven. I want to tell you the story about the pukeko. I want to leave a trail of tiny, intricate footprints across your skin.
I will brush the hair out of your eyes, and tell you that you saved my life. You will laugh, your eyes dancing. Then you’ll touch my cheek with your hand and say, “You wanted to live.”
Everything I know about love I have learnt from you. Your words have become imprinted on my fingertips. With every breath I inhale the rhythm of your voice. I want to touch your lips as you speak the language I already know by heart.
You leave so suddenly, I barely have a chance to say goodbye. I want to run after you, I want to say “please, wait… next time it might be too late.”
Later I will turn over your photo, and feel the heat of your image against my palm. I will leaf through books about gemstones, searching for a name that describes the colour of your eyes. I will write lines of poetry on the back of bus tickets and envelopes, and then I will tear them into tiny pieces and watch them flutter to the ground.
I will run into you occasionally, walking down the street or browsing in a bookshop. We will stop for a few minutes, talk about the weather, your latest book, a mutual friend. Sometimes you will look at me as though you want to ask a question, but then you’ll shake your head, and look away. I’ll murmur something about how busy everyone is at this time of year, and you’ll agree - you really should be getting on.
As I walk away it will feel like tearing up the most beautiful poem I’ve ever written. I’ll resist the urge to glance back over my shoulder. I’ll look straight ahead, and try to smile.
Over the years I will forget the words we exchanged, and the poems I scribbled on scraps of paper. But every so often you will catch me by surprise as I turn over a book and see your smile, captured in black and white.
Suddenly I’ll be aware of every movement of my heart, my arms shaking slightly. My hands grieving the loss of your touch.
Andy put his head in his hands. It was the ninth time he’d put his head in his hands in less than an hour. Sophie glanced at him worriedly.
“Did I say something wrong?” she asked nervously. Andy’s head sank to the table with a thud that rattled the coffee cups. He wrapped his arms over his head and groaned. “Hey, are you ok?” she asked. He made a small movement, which she interpreted as a nod. Sophie frowned. “Your coffee is getting cold.”
She stared down into her own cup. The pale scum on the surface reminded her of that river they’d been to a few weeks ago, the dark water swollen and muddy after a week’s heavy rain. Drifts of foam gathered in the still waters close to the bank. Sophie had wondered if someone had emptied a crate of soap into the river, but Jackie said it was natural, something to do with plant matter.
Sophie dragged her spoon through the foam, making small swirling patterns. “I had this dream about Jackie,” she said. “We were at this night-club, and she was dancing with Tina, really, um… well, they were really close. But then you were there, and you said she was just doing it to make me jealous, because really she was in love with me. So when Jackie went to get a drink, I started dancing with Tina. And then I realised that actually I was in love with Tina, but I couldn’t tell her, so I ran outside, and Jackie was out on the street, but then she changed into Matt and walked away. What do you think it means? Maybe I should just call Jackie. But what if she realises… surely if she felt anything she would have called me by now. But maybe she… hey Andy? Are you ok?”
Andy’s head was still on the table, but his shoulders were shaking and he was making muffled snorting noises. After a few moments he managed to pull himself together, and raised his head. His expression was serious, but the corners of his mouth twitched, just a little.
“Sophie,” he said. “What would we do without you?”
Sometimes I cannot believe humanity. Our capacity to do evil. Our will to survive the unbearable. Our ability to laugh, even in the face of tragedy.
In my family, we used to summarise British humour as “a man is walking down the street and his pants fall down,” and American humour as “a man is walking down the street and a piano falls on his head.” Personally, I never found either brand of humour very funny. Perhaps I have an underdeveloped sense of humour? But I don’t think so, I laugh plenty. So what do I find funny? Wordplay, clever juxtaposition, unexpected absurdity, irony, intelligent playfulness, jokes that point out how ridiculous a situation is.
There are some jokes that just fail to be funny… and then there are jokes that feel like a punch in the stomach, that leave me wanting to retch over the toilet bowl. I’m not sure exactly what makes the difference… I think it is something to do with whether the person in the joke could laugh about it afterwards.
As someone living with a disability, I have found some jokes about disability that are so funny they leave me with tears streaming down my face and my stomach aching from laughing so hard. These are the jokes that point out the absurdity of situations that are painful to go through, but bizarrely humorous in retrospect.
On the other hand I remember, years ago, someone telling me a joke about rape. I still feel sick remembering it. The joke reinforced myths and stereotypes about rape, and completely discounted the pain that survivors experience.
While I was trawling the net, looking for things to write about, I came across a page of September 11 humour. The subheading said, “helping us to heal.” Humour can be a wonderful tool for healing, and I have no problem with people laughing together after a tragedy. But this site was filled with jokes about Afghanistan. All the jokes relied on the assumption that it was funny that people in Afghanistan were getting pounded with bombs. I read about three of the “jokes” before I felt too nauseous to continue.
Why aren’t these jokes funny? Because I can’t imagine a wounded Afghan child laughing at the jokes – now, or in ten years time.
The nature of comedy
“Comedy is tragedy plus time.”
“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
- Charlie Chaplin
“Through humour, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”
- Bill Cosby
“There is humour in the spectre of the worst disaster in our nation's history. All I have to do is sweep away the debris of shock to find it… Comedy is defiance. It's a snort of contempt in the face of fear and anxiety. And it's the laughter that allows hope to creep back on the inhale.”
- Will Durst
“And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'tis that I may not weep”
Why is it funny if an anvil falls on the head of a cartoon character? Maybe we laugh at the absurdity of it, the improbability of it ever occurring. Maybe we laugh out of nervous discomfort. Maybe relief or superiority, because it’s happening to someone else, not to us. Maybe we laugh when tension is suddenly relieved, or maybe we laugh to cause a release of tension. Maybe we laugh because the only other option is too cry, and we cannot bear any more sorrow. Humour changes the meaning, so the event has less power over us, and puts the situation into a different perspective. Maybe a sense of humour is a defence against the madness of the world overpowering us.
It’s just a joke, isn’t it?
“I think humour is a very serious thing. I use it as a way of weakening the reader's defences so that I can more easily take him to something more.”
- Billy Collins.
The following is one of my favourite passages from one of my favourite books, Dare, Truth or Promise, by Paula Boock (Longacre Press, 1997). The scene is a school hall at lunchtime. Students have turned up for a “Comedy Club” performance. They’ve just been told to tear up their tickets, which say PCC on them. One of the performers, Louie, has just told the students that they have torn up their “Politically Correct Card.” The performance begins…
‘What we want to know in the Comedy Club, is who first stuck their dirty great political boot into comedians? Humour is universal, right? It’s politics that causes all the trouble. If laughter was really the international currency, we’d have no – ’
‘Mogadishu!’ exclaimed Mo.
‘Bless you,’ replied Louie, and the audience laughed.
‘Croats and Kurds!’
‘A fabulous vegetarian dish, a traditional staple in the Middle East and Europe.’
‘Rwanda!’ cried Mo, in desperation.
Louie took off flitting around the stage singing, ‘The Famous Flying Fairy,’ in a falsetto.
‘Gaza Strip,’ accused Mo, hands on hips.
Music to ‘Hey Big Spender’ came over the sound system and Louie wriggled her body at the audience. ‘What a nightclub!’
‘I mean it, everything is funny, isn’t it? How many good jokes have our generation lost to political correctness? Like the one about the Irish abortion clinic – you know, the one that had a nine-month waiting list?’
The crowd laughed and Louie continued. ‘We want to reclaim those jokes, reclaim the days when humour was innocent and we could say the word cripple – woops, did I say that?’ She put a hand over her mouth. ‘I really meant physically challenged, of course. Like Mr Wallis is follicly challenged, and Mrs Lamont is, well, comically challenged.
‘I hate all this political correctness. Don’t you? It’s so phony. I mean, since when, to get into a government department did you have to be a black, crippled lesbian? Woops! I should say, a physically challenged, alternatively sexually oriented, woman of colour?
‘And what’s wrong with a few Irish jokes, or Catholic jokes, or Jewish jokes for that matter? What is it about Jewish jokes that so got up their noses? Oops – did I say noses?’
It went on like that for a while, and the audience laughed more and more at Louie’s jokes, often spluttering at how awful they were. Willa smiled at first, but she started to go cold after a while. She wished she hadn’t torn up her politically correct card. Then she was angry with Louie. Didn’t she see that it wasn’t going back to a more innocent time, it was going back to a more bigoted time? Didn’t she see that Kevin used exactly the same jokes at Burger Giant, only they were against blondes, or women with big boobs, or just about women in general? Willa shuffled her feet as Louie went on about how ‘Confucius say, No such thing as rape – woman with skirt up run faster than man with trousers down.’ It was unbelievable that the audience were all laughing at that. Even Geena was howling. It stank. She’d liked Louie, but now she thought she was a real jerk.
Willa stood up and started to move out of her row. Louie was talking about Africa now, and saying something about how their stomachs looked pretty big to her. Geena looked surprised she was leaving so Willa gave her a little wave and kept going. To get to the exit she had to pass right in front of Louie, who was saying ‘What’s the worst selling book in the history of the world? Huh?’ Halfway through it she caught Willa’s eye. Louie faltered in her words for a second, then continued. ‘The Rwandan cookbook!’ Willa didn’t smile. She had the feeling eyes were still on her however, and as she closed the door she saw Louie glancing that way. Tough…
…It was only fifteen minutes later that Willa noticed girls returning to the form room who had been at the Comedy Club. But they were talking quietly and intensely, and looked very serious, nothing like the audience she had left. She was puzzled, and although she tried to keep working on her maths equations, she was keeping an eye out for Geena.
Eventually she arrived, and made a beeline for Willa.
‘You missed it. You missed the most amazing thing, Willa.’
Behind her a group of girls followed. ‘You walked out, didn’t you?’ asked one of them, Vika.
‘Yeah, I did,’ replied Willa cautiously. She didn’t want to get into an argument about it.
‘Wow. I didn’t even think about it.’
‘It was spooky,’ said another.
‘What? What?’ Willa demanded of Geena.
Geena sat down on a chair. ‘Not long after you left Louie Angelou got really carried away, and the jokes started getting worse and worse. And just when everyone began to feel uncomfortable about them - ’
‘I was still laughing!’ admitted one of the others.
‘ – these pictures started rolling on the big screen behind her. Really ugly things like the bodies of dead Jews at Auschwitz and stuff, and soldiers ransacking villages in Africa. It was gross.’
‘And then,’ jumped in Vika, ‘there was this awful silence, like not a word, except for Louie saying “A jokes a joke, right?” and this soundtrack started up, of us laughing. It was us, they must have been taping us laughing at Louie before, and it was revolting, these pictures and the sound of our laughter. There was film of child prostitutes in Asia and all these mental patients left behind in war zones. I thought I was going to be sick.’
‘It was brilliant,’ said Geena, simply. ‘Just brilliant.’
Willa smiled down at her page. The maths equations smiled back.”
But sometimes, you’ve gotta laugh
“I'm the commander, I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”
- G. W. Bush
Sometimes George W. Bush makes me laugh. I’m not sure why this is. I think it’s the nervous, uncomfortable kind of laughter. Needing to relieve the tension, because otherwise I’ll be paralysed by fear.
Bush isn’t funny. He’s the ignorant, prejudiced, power-hungry president of the most powerful nation in the world. That’s not funny. The attack on Afghanistan, war on Iraq, that’s not funny. Terrorism is not funny. But sometimes, I just have to laugh. Sometimes I have to say, “this is so ridiculous, it’s funny.”
A while ago, the US Department for Homeland Security put together this helpful website. “Terrorism forces us to make a choice. Don’t be afraid, be ready.” The weird graphics and paranoid messages on ready.gov were just begging for spoofs. Lots of people wrote their own captions for the graphics, and posted them on the net. I thought some of them were really funny. Some people find them offensive. You be the judge. All the pictures are actual graphics from the government site.
If you spot a terrorist arrow, pin it against the wall with your shoulder.
If you’re travelling along a deserted road and you see a nuclear explosion, pull over to the side of the road and take photos. No one is going to believe you without evidence.
The state of Missouri has only three hospitals. Unfortunately we can’t remember the names of the towns we put them in. Sorry about that.
If you are sprayed with an unknown substance, stand still and think about a cool design for a new tattoo.
Hurricanes, animal corpses and your potential new tattoo have a lot in common. Think about it.
Time travel is an excellent option after a terrorist attack. Remember, you must reach exactly 88 mph and hit the dangling power line in order for the flux capacitor to operate properly.
If a terrorist arrow follows you home, try to act casual.
Carry your desk and an old computer with you at all times. That way, if the sky starts to fall, you can shelter under your desk.
If you see a radioactive terrorist, do not run, they can smell fear. Try to outstare the terrorist. Position yourself so that your groin will absorb as much radiation as possible. After exactly 5 minutes 12 seconds your penis will double in size. Hooray! Unfortunately you may also become sterile.
After exposure to radiation you may find you have mutated to giant proportions. Follow your giant penis to the nearest two-storey door – Careful, you may still need to duck as you go through.
If you hear the Backstreet Boys, Michael Bolton or Yanni on the radio, cower in the corner or run like hell.
And remember, stay the hell away from Texas.
Tragedy – the flipside of the coin of life
Some things are beyond laughter.
Jokes about Afghanistan and Iraq are sickening, because the attacks on those countries were so brutal they left no room for mirth.
Today is the Second International Day of Action Against Depleted Uranium. I thought I’d do some research, since I didn’t know much about DU.
Now I feel sick. My hands are shaking and my knees feel weak. I wish I could crawl away and hide. Images hover at the edges of my mind, too painful to view directly. I feel helpless. I want to get away, I want to find comfort in oblivion. I don’t want to be a part of a world that is so cruel, so awful.
In Iraq, the earth, water, air, plant and animal life is already contaminated after DU weapons were used in the 1991 Gulf War.
The aftermath of DU weapons has been a massive increase in cancers (including the rarest forms of leukaemia) and severe birth defects. The deformities are most common in areas where the use of DU weapons was the most intense.
In Basra, babies are born with no eyes, no brain, no limbs, or tiny twisted little arms and legs, or internal organs on the outside of their bodies. Iraqi health officials also recorded a 200 percent increase in cancers after 1991. Basra was close to the battlefields during the 1991 war.
US officials still deny that DU weapons have any lasting health or environmental effects. Experts at the Pentagon estimate that up to 2200 tons of DU could were used during the attack on Iraq earlier this year. In the 1991 Gulf War only 375 tons of DU was used. In 1991 most of the combat took place in Iraq’s southeastern tip. This time the fighting engulfed some of the country's most densely populated areas.
When confronted with issues like this, it is easy to feel despair and helplessness, but we mustn’t give in to these feelings. It’s so easy to think “what can one person do?” but there are millions of people thinking the same thoughts, and feeling the same helplessness. If we all join together, there is so much we can achieve.
Hamed Ameri’s skull won’t stop growing
This is the language of war.
Can you hear it?
Not trumpets or drums nor the
thrumming of machines nor the
thud of the big guns. Not the
soldier crooning to his sweetie
as he polishes his boots.
This is the sound a child makes
who is born with no head. This
is the sound a woman makes who
labours to bear a child without
mouth, without ears, without
fingers, a child whose head
swells like a pumpkin.
Can you hear it?
This is the sound of bone cells
in frenzy. This is the sound of
an eyeball rolling like bruised
fruit in the socket.
This is the sound the child hears
who has no ears. This is the sound
of war. This is the blaring of
trumpets and the clapping of
satisfied shareholders. This is the
whistling of the scientist in his
laboratory. This is the babble of
many tongues as they are
simultaneously translated in the
glass towers in the stone city.
This is the burping of fat men
and the scratching of their pens
signatory to all conventions.
Can you hear it?
The soft rush of water as the
babies slip onto the table,
crying though they have no mouths
listening though they have no ears
their tendril fingers twisted in
threads of meaning.
- Fiona Farrell
Sometimes we need to be confronted with the horror of what is happening in the world. As Stalin said “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic.” Sometimes we need to be confronted with the small, personal tragedies. We need to be reminded that some things can never be laughed at. Sometimes we need enough of a shock that we actually make some changes, in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.
I should really be working on some paintings. I should really be writing my verse narrative. I should really be getting ready for work… I really shouldn’t be blogging at all. So I’m going to be lazy and post some photos.
Somehow I managed to use up most of a film down in Dunedin, even though I spent most of the week indoors studying or at the festival. No, I didn’t take any photos with Sean Tan or Paula Boock, because that seemed too lame. Oh shush, there’s photos on the net if you really want to see how spunky they both are (very). And anyway, I was drunk on the fact that Kate kept introducing me as “a talented writer” and so I hoped they might see me as an equal, rather than an adoring fan.
Of course, it might have spoiled the effect somewhat when I begged for their autographs.
Moon setting over Frances Hodgkins House. Frances was an abstract painter, for those of you who haven’t done NZ art history… do your own google search, I can’t be bothered :)
“Rongo” stone memorial to the prisoners who were brought to Dunedin from Parihaka. The prisoners had been practising passive resistance to the confiscation of their lands. Under the guidance of the leaders Te Whiti and Tohu, they ploughed up the lands, pulled out surveyors pegs, and built fences. Hundreds of the ploughmen and fencers were arrested and held without trial. In fact, my great great great grandfather was one of the government officials who arrested them and then changed the law so they didn’t have to be tried. He knew very well that no court could sentence them for trespassing on their own lands. The gaols in Taranaki soon filled up, so the prisoners were sent to Wellington, Christchurch, Hokitika and Dunedin.
View from inside a nearby cave. There’s some debate as to whether the prisoners were actually held in these caves – there’s not enough evidence to prove or disprove the claim. But there is evidence that an unusually large percentage of the prisoners died while they were in Dunedin.
Entrance to another cave.
Dear Raed is back, with pictures.
I’m re-reading Gulf by Robert Westall (have I blogged about this before? I can't find it in my archives). This blog contains spoilers for the book, but I figure most of you don't read children's lit anyway.
Gulf is incredibly believable and moving. The story is narrated by an English boy, Tom. His younger brother, Figgis, is extremely sensitive to other people’s feelings and experiences. When the Gulf War starts, Figgis begins to pick up the feelings and thoughts of a young Iraqi boy, Latif, who goes off to join the fighting. The connection between the boys gets stronger and stronger until Figgis is just a shell, a body shared with Latif. He ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where he builds a barricade in the corner of the room, and huddles their, always watching the sky.
After some of my experiences in psychiatric hospitals, I know that sometimes people are diagnosed with illnesses when in fact they are incredibly sensitive, and often incredibly intelligent. If a boy did start picking up the experiences of a boy in Iraq, yeah, he probably would be sent to a hospital. But he’d be very lucky to encounter someone like Dr Rashid, the kind and understanding doctor in the book.
The characters are revealed in clever and subtle ways. Especially interesting was the way that every character had a different view of Saddam. Some saw him as a hero, others as the ultimate tyrant. Tom describes him as “…human. Like a used-car dealer you wouldn’t trust an inch, and yet you might have a drink with him in a pub, and listen to his stories.”
It’s amazing, because although there are no direct descriptions of Iraq, a very vivid picture of the place and the people is built up through the actions of Figgis holed up in a corner of the hospital. I think perhaps it’s more effective than a story simply told through the eyes of a kid in Iraq.
The ending is incredibly sad. After Latif dies, Figgis turns into your average bratty kid wanting bigger and better toys, a new mountain-bike, a CD walkman. I almost wished he had died instead. The saddest bit is when Tom says "And suddenly I'm scared; because nobody seems to give a damn about anything outside our house any more…” I cried for the last few pages.
We’re writing fairy tales in class. Personally I hate fairytales, I think they’re really disturbing. They’re morbid, sinister, they're filled with abuse and murder and awful stereotypes... they’re just bad and wrong in every possible way. For this exercise we had to work out the essential plot of a fairytale, and then transplant it in a modern context - see if you can guess which ones these ones were based on. The first one is a bit disturbing [the usual warning, self-harm and stuff, content may offend] but hey, the original is pretty disturbing too, even the most superficial reading of it. The second one is happier, and it’s fairly obvious what it’s based on. The fairy baglady idea was stolen from Iona.
Not so far away and not so long from now, lived seven brothers and one sister. The children lived happily with their mother in a little house on the edge of suburbia. After school the brothers rode their bikes down the steep street and the sister skipped rope along the footpath. On sunny weekends there were plenty of tall trees to climb, when it rained there were stories to read, and on Sunday mornings the house smelt of freshly baked muffins. Their mother always let little Rose lick the spoon, and the brothers scooped the last of the mixture out of the bowl with their fingers.
But one day the children came home from school, and there was a tall man sitting at the kitchen table. When he smiled at the children all of his white teeth glinted. The brothers smiled back politely, but Rose burst into tears and hid behind her brothers.
That autumn the tall man married the children’s mother, and came to live with them. Every morning at breakfast he sat at the head of the table and smiled at the children until they squirmed in their seats.
One night, after everyone had gone to bed, the stepfather crept into the children’s bedroom. In the morning the eldest brother was gone. All week his mother cried for him, but the stepfather put his arm around her and whispered, “All is well, all is well, I’m here to care for you and all is
The next week, late at night, the stepfather crept into the children’s bedroom again, and in the morning one of the brothers was gone. This time his mother cried for six days, but the stepfather put his arm around her and whispered, “All is well, all is well, I’m here to care for you and all is well.”
This continued for seven weeks until all of the brothers had disappeared. Then their mother had no tears left to cry. When the stepfather was at work, she took little Rose to her grandmother’s house on the other side of town.
Rose’s grandmother wouldn’t let her climb trees because it was dangerous. She couldn’t skip rope because it wasn’t ladylike. There were no stories to read on rainy days, and no muffins on Sunday mornings. Rose was very lonely. There was only one tree outside her grandmother’s house, and Rose sat underneath it day after day. When the wind rustled through the leaves it reminded her of her brothers laughing. When rain fell she turned her face to the sky, closed her eyes, and imagined the raindrops were her brothers kissing her goodnight.
One winter, her grandmother died. People came to organise the funeral, sell the furniture and auction off the house, but no body noticed Rose. She slipped out the back door and started across the city.
The footpaths hurt her feet, and tall grey buildings towered all around her. She walked all day, plodding down deserted alleyways and running across busy intersections. She did not know where to go, but she longed so much to see her brothers.
When the sun set behind the skyscrapers, she had not found her childhood home, so she curled up in a doorway and slept. She dreamed that she was a tree, and her brothers were sleeping in her branches.
For three days Rose wandered through the city. Then, on the third day, just as the sun was setting, she came to her own neighbourhood, her own street, and her childhood home. She was exhausted, so she curled up beneath a tree in the backyard and fell asleep.
That night she dreamed that she heard her brothers calling out to her "Little Rose, little Rose," but when she awoke and turned around there was no one there. She fell asleep and again she dreamed that her brothers were calling to her but when she awoke she was alone. The third time Rose curled up and closed her eyes she only pretended to go to sleep. Soon she heard the voices of her brothers calling to her. Quickly she turned around. The moon was shining brightly, and on a branch of the tree she could see seven weta. Rose gasped, and reached out towards the nearest weta, but he scratched her with his claws. Rose turned away and started to cry. As she wept she heard her youngest brother call out to her. "Go away little Rose, do not look on us. We are fierce and hideous, fit only to hide in this tree and creep about at night."
Rose wept all the more bitterly, because she did not think her brothers were fierce and hideous. Suddenly, she had an idea. She ran to the house, and climbed in through the bathroom window. Lying beside the handbasin was the stepfather's shaving mirror. Rose put it in her pocket and climbed back outside. She took the mirror to the tree where the weta were trembling with grief because they thought they had driven their lovely sister away.
Rose called to her youngest brother to come out and look into the mirror, but when he looked into the mirror, all he could see was a monster with a huge plated head, black jaws and sharp claws. The youngest brother was hurt and angry, and he threw a rock at the mirror so it broke into tiny pieces.
Again Rose turned away and cried, and again her youngest brother called out to her, "Go away little Rose, do not look on us. We are fierce and hideous."
Rose was heartbroken, she longed so much for her brother to hold her in his arms. In despair she took one of the splinters of mirror and cut seven deep gashes in her arm. Dark red blood spilled from her arm and gathered in a pool on the ground. At the sight of the blood Rose grew quite weak and fainted.
Her brothers gasped in horror, and crept towards where she was lying. "Oh little Rose," cried the youngest brother. "What have we done to you?" But just as he spoke these words, he caught sight of his face reflected in the pool of blood. It was not the face of a monster, but the face of a beautiful young man.
When they realised that they were human again, six of the brothers wept with relief. But the youngest brother wept with sorrow, because he thought his sister was dead. His tears ran down his face, and fell onto Rose's cheeks. The moment they touched her skin she opened her eyes, and smiled at her brother.
The sun was beginning to climb above the horizon. Rose's brothers carried her to the house. When the stepfather saw that the brothers were human again he was afraid, and he ran from the house and away down the street. But Rose ran into the bedroom, and there she found her mother chained and blindfolded. Rose released her, and took off the blindfold. When she saw Rose and all her brothers, their mother wept tears of joy. Soon the house was once again filled with the sound of laughter and the smell of muffins baking.
Alexandra and the Fairy Baglady
Far above the city, in a shining glass tower, lived a beautiful girl named Alexandra. She had long golden hair that flowed over her shoulders like honey, and blue eyes as bright as the sea on a sunny day.
Her parents were very strict. After school she was sent to singing and piano lessons, ballet, horse riding and tennis, and in the evenings she had to do her homework in her room. Her report cards were crammed with A's and her walls were covered in certificates and medals, but she was very unhappy. She never had time to go to the movies or hang out in the mall. She never had time to make any friends.
One day at school she overheard some of the other girls talking about the school ball. There was going to be a great band playing, and the girls were all buying new outfits to wear. Alexandra was sad. Even if she was allowed to go to the ball, she had no one to go with and nothing to wear.
The next day on the way to school she saw an old woman huddled on a park bench. She was wearing tatty clothes and her grubby hands clutched dozens of plastic bags. But she was smiling and singing a happy tune to herself. Alexandra went and sat beside the baglady, and joined in her song with a beautiful harmony. All morning they talked together, and Alexandra shared her lunch with the woman. The baglady had many fantastic stories to tell about her life.
Suddenly Alexandra realised that she was late for her singing lesson. She leapt to her feet. But the woman reached out and touched her arm - for she was no ordinary baglady. Indeed, she was Alexandra's fairy baglady, and she promised to grant Alexandra's dearest wish.
Alexandra closed her eyes, and wished with all her heart that she might go to the ball. Then she kissed the fairy baglady goodbye and hurried away to her lesson.
Alexandra didn't see the woman after that. Days past, and she gave up hoping that she would go to the ball. The rest of the school was buzzing with excitement, but Alexandra hid her tears behind her books.
Then, on the night of the ball, after Alexandra had gone to her room, she heard a tapping noise outside her window. She opened the window, and in tumbled her fairy baglady. Alexandra cried out in surprise, but the baglady put a finger to her lips. She reached into one of her bags, and pulled out a dress that shimmered like peacock feathers and glowed like paua. Alexandra gasped. The dress was exactly her size, and she hurried to put it on.
Then her fairy baglady reached into another bag, and pulled out a pair of scissors and a can of hairspray. She hacked away at Alexandra's hair, and then spiked it up with tons of hairspray. Alexandra looked in the mirror and grinned. Then her face fell, as she realised she could never sneak past her parents with her hair in spikes. But her fairy baglady was reaching into her bags once again, and drawing out abseiling ropes and a harness. Soon Alexandra was on her way to the ball.
When Alexandra arrived at the ball the room fell silent and everyone stared in amazement. The captain of the rugby team, who was the most handsome boy in the school, stepped forward and asked Alexandra to dance. Alexandra smiled politely, and shook her head. She made her way across the room. In the far corner was a small dark haired girl. She was wearing a simple black dress, she had a tie noted around her neck and her hair was knotted in a pony tail.
Alexandra walked straight up to the girl, and grinned. "My name's Lexy," she said. "Wanna dance?" The girl grinned back, and held out her hand. Alexandra took the girl's hand, and lead her to the dance floor. All night they danced together. Alexandra had never been so happy in her life.
NB There were no pumpkins, mice or spells involved, so they kept dancing long after midnight. Lexy was grounded for a year when her parents saw her hair, but she abseiled down the tower and ran away to university with the dark haired girl, whose name was Samantha, and they found a flat together, adopted seven cats and lived happily ever after.
Writers... I'm in love with them all. I just want to run up to them, throw my arms around them, kiss them on both cheeks.
One of the highlights of the festival was "Illustrious Energy," a discussion about the influence of Chinese heritage and culture. Alison Wong read an extract from a novel she is working on, and it was absolutely exquisite. I can't wait to read the book!
Another highlight was "In Her Own Write," with Paula Boock, Fiona Farrell, Patricia Grace, Sarah Quigley and Kate de Goldi. They all talked about why they write, and how they find time to do it. Paula Boock got the audience to vote on whether she should accept another (well paid) TV scriptwriting job, or whether she should write another novel. The audience response was as divided as her own mind, so that wasn't much help. But she read an extract from the novel in progress, and a few people changed their votes after that!
Then Kate invited me to a cafe with Paula. I was over the moon. I got really shy and clung to Kate and didn't say anything... and then I drank too much wine (these days it seems any wine is too much) and ranted loudly about Costa Rica, and forgot all of the questions I wanted to ask Paula. But she was absolutely delightful. Incredibly intelligent, insightful, kind, thoughtful, and utterly gorgeous.
This weekend has totally convinced me that I want to keep writing - I don't think that I could live with out writing. But I'm still utterly confused about how to go about getting there. So many questions are still banging around in my head. How much should I change my work to conform to what (male) editors want? Should I get a degree? Should I keep doing workshops? Should I get a "real" job? Why am I writing? What do I want to achieve through my work? Over the past few days I have had the opportunity to talk to so many wonderful writers, but I'm no closer to finding any answers. It seems that everyone is asking the same questions, and the answers are varied and often elusive.
Fiona Farrell said to me "You've got to live first. Work, travel..." Life is the fuel of writing. But I don't seem to be capable of any full time work at the moment, and without a "real" job, how can I find the money to travel?
It seems that most people start writing professionally in their late 20's or later. Even Paula, who still seems so young, published her first book when she was about 26. So what am I meant to do in the meantime? Do I just keep writing and piling up rejection slips? Or do I put the writing aside, and focus on "life," whatever that is, and go back to the writing when I've matured? I don't know what I want to do, let alone what I should do.
Part of me feels as though I've crammed more "life" than most people into my 21 years. I've travelled, I've done volunteer work, I've lived in a third world country, I've struggled with a severe (and life-threatening) illness, I've survived abuse, I've played in an orchestra, acted on stage, tramped around the country... what more am I supposed to do? How much do I need to live?
I don't know what I want to do with my life... next year, next month, even next week. I'm so torn between all the things I could do, all the things I want to do, I'm scared I might end up doing nothing at all.
I feel like I’ve gone to heaven (and there wasn’t even any dying involved).
The Wordstruck festival started today. Kate and Fiona (Farrell) greeted me with a hug, and after the session I had lunch with them (and Gavin Bishop, Robyn Belton, Fleur Beale…) and Shaun Tan, who is an absolute sweetie (and very spunky too). And Kate introduced me to everyone as “a fantastic/very good writer,” so I was glowing all over. And the food was lovely too (I had potato and bok choi soup with chilli).
I pretended to be a kid in mufti (or a teacher, or something that wasn’t a red thumb standing out) and went to the school’s sessions.
Shaun Tan explained how his illustrations come about (he wanders around photographing interesting plumbing…) He passed on a very cool quote (Picasso I think) about how art – and stories – are the lies that tell us the truth.
The high school session was the best. The theme was Freedom of Speech, and the speakers were Paula Boock, David Hill, Lynley Hood, Sam Mahon and William Taylor. They were all fantastic. David Hill talked about how, in Paula’s first book, she was persuaded to remove “the F word.” Paula stood up after him and said “David was absolutely right about Out Walked Mel… But the word was FUCK! (And all the high school kids burst into applause). Paula talked quite a bit about television script writing. Apparently, in every episode they have to include a “water cooler moment.” You know the ones, the bit that everyone in the office is talking about around the water cooler the next day.
And then I went to the 24 hour book sale in the regent theatre. Golly. My pack weighs a TON and I only spent $11. And some of the books are practically NEW!
And THEN I found this place called the Arc café. They have vegan food, couches and booths as well as tables, live music in the evenings and spoken word nights, free internet access, original artworks on the walls, GE free graffiti in the toilets, and a reading library. Could it get any better?
The only bad thing about paradise is the cold. And actually, it’s not really a bad thing at all. I’d much rather be cold than hot… It makes me feel alert, alive, inspired… life seems brighter.
Then there’s the fact that I keep getting lost. I spent an hour scrambling around in the greenbelt while night fell and mist swirled around. And I get lost in the streets too… I feel a bit like Alice, I keep setting out in what looks like the right direction, but I end up somewhere else entirely.
Tonight someone came up to me on the street corner and said “Fionnaigh?!” She looked so familiar, I knew I must have been friends with her at some point. We walked together for a while, talking about what we were studying and where we were living, and then we parted outside the university library. I have no idea what her name is or where I know her from. School, it appears, but which school? Primary, intermediate or high school? I’m such a doofus… especially when it comes to remembering people.
Well, better run. I’m meeting a couple of my friends from school/kindy for dinner (Thai) in a few minutes.
Well, here I am in Dunedin. And, quite frankly, I’m disappointed. Y’all said it was gonna be cold. I went out and bought winter clothes especially. Well, it’s not, and right now I’m feeling overdressed and slightly cheated. All the locals keep shaking their heads and saying “it’s not usually like this.” Yeah right. It’s all just a practical joke, I bet.
Actually, it’s starting to cool down this afternoon. The only reason I’m hot and sticky right now is because I’m in one of the computer suites. I borrowed my friend’s ID and password so I don’t spend a fortune on cyber cafes while I’m down here. Cheers mate!
Dunedin reminds me of Europe, the old neo-gothic buildings, and the trees… It’s nice to be in a city where the seasonal changes are actually visible. The trees are a blaze of gold and red, and there are thick drifts of crunch brown leaves to wade through. And Otago feels like how I imagined university would be when I was a kid. Somehow it feels like more of a community than Vic, I can’t put my finger on why.
This morning I discovered the university bookshop. I wandered around drooling for hours. My wishlist is huge, and growing… Darwin’s Worms, Grammars of Creation, Radical Evil, Holding Up the Sky, Displacing Whiteness, The Feeling of What Happens, Chasing Ideas, The World of the Autistic Child, When Bad Things Happen to Other People, Art Tomorrow… So far it adds up to $921.65, and I’m only halfway through the non-fiction section. If only I had unlimited money…
The house I’m staying in is practically a palace! My room is about half the size of our entire flat. And there are loads of bedrooms, not to mention multiple sunrooms, studies, hallways and bathrooms. My god, the bathrooms! It’s a really old house, but the bathrooms have been done up quite recently. My room has an en suite, and the shower has about eleven different buttons and dials and settings, with jets of water coming from all directions. For about half an hour I huddled in the corner, gingerly prodding the buttons with a stick, terrified that if I made one wrong move I might start World War Three.
I’m really enjoying hanging out with a family (four kids, from primary school to university age) and having plenty of time to write and read. I’ve just finished reading Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones. Thoughts in the “continue reading” section.
Hey, speaking of books, there’s a 24 hour booksale on Friday. For some reason I find the idea of buying books at 2am particularly delicious…
[No, no, must be strong, must not spend entire income on books]
Thoughts on Hexwood
Hmmm… It’s very very clever. But it’s not the sort of thing I’d normally read, and I didn’t enjoy is as much as I enjoy some books. I guess I prefer books that are made rich through character and language rather than through events and situations. And I tend to prefer books in a realistic setting, or perhaps with a slight twists (I’m thinking angels in French vineyards or ghosts in Latin America).
The other worlds, the interaction and travel between them didn’t interest me at all, and didn’t seem to add anything to the story. The idea of the bannus interested me, but mostly because I was interested in how she’d pulled it off as a writer. What order did she write it in?
I liked the characters of Ann and Mordion, but I was frustrated at the end when everyone emerged as their “true selves.” If the bannus couldn’t force anyone to act against their nature, I wanted to know more about how the characters they had become fitted in with who they really were. Now that would have been interesting. I also wished some of the characters had been developed more earlier on in the book. And it really disturbed me that the bannus had so much character! This seemed to make everything rather murky, especially from an ethical point of view, but this was never really explored.
The only thing that really grabbed me was the idea of magic as something that had a sense of order behind it. I really liked the way Mordion didn’t just learn spells by rote, but explored the theory behind them and so he could use the rules to work out new spells.
Hexwood was interesting, but not really my thing. Perhaps I'm just not clever enough for fantasy. Perhaps I just don't get it. I’d rather read a Brief History of time for the ideas, and Elizabeth Knox is probably the closest to fantasy you'll catch me going. But hey, I can cross off another name from our reading list.
I’m off to Dunedin. Golly. I’m trying to assemble all the information I know about Dunedin. It’s where Scarfies was set, and Dare Truth or Promise. There’s a university there, and the steepest street in the world.
And it's cold.
I’m going there for the Wordstruck Festival, and some of my favourite writers will be guests; Paula Boock, Fiona Farrell, and Cilla McQueen. And of course the incredibly talented and very sweet (so I am told) Shaun Tan. Kate has promised to introduce me to him. I’m trying to decide if it’s too lame to take books down to get autographed…
I’m taking a stack of children’s books to read. Kate shakes her head at me, “No more reading, Fionnaigh, you’ve got to start writing,” and then turns around and tells the rest of the class to do more reading.
This week I’m in my element. We’re doing verse narrative. At last, an assignment that makes sense to me! I wish I had an extra ten hours in every day, just to write. I find myself trying to explain my definition of poetry to my classmates. After the workshop half the class come up to me and ask if I’ll give them some feedback on their work.
My dad sends me an email. The subject line is simply the surname of an old friend. The email is one line, “I guess you know all about this,” and then a link to a Herald story. I don’t know all about it. For a moment I panic, I think it might be a link to an obituary. It’s not. It’s about a call for an inquiry into his sacking. I’m relieved, and then sad. I miss him. The old David, who used to send endearing emails and delicious poems. His scratchy voice down the phoneline to Costa Rica. Red wine and the ever-present haze of cigarette smoke. The first time we hugged, squeezing each other through thick layers of winter clothing. Before he started taking so many drugs. Before he became so self-centred. Before he drifted away. I spend a wistful half an hour reading through Usenet archives.
Got to let go. There were some good times, but now… everything has changed.
The article also made me think about how much I say online. David was sacked as a result of the messages he posted on a newsgroup (detailing his actions). The same newsgroup that I have posted hundreds of messages to, some of them saying very very dumb things. I started posting when I was 16, and I was very naïve about the public nature of the group. It really didn’t sink in that anyone anywhere in the world (with internet access) could read what I was writing. Or that there might be some crossover between my “real” life and my online life. I got into some shit when my father came a cross a post in which I mentioned smoking pot…
I do try to be careful about what I post. Especially when it comes to other people. I don’t mind mentioning someone if they already have an online presence, but I try to make most references to other people fairly anonymous. I should probably be more careful when writing about things that have happened at work. Although confidentiality has not been explicitly mentioned for either of my jobs, I think it is probably assumed.
I have made mistakes, plenty of them. It’s just so easy, just a click of the mouse and my words fly off into the world for all to see. Now I find myself deleting quite a lot, sometimes before it makes it onto my blog, sometimes soon after I have posted it. I really want to continue to post personal writing. I guess it’s a matter of finding a balance. I’m learning all the time, and I hope I’m making fewer mistakes these days.
In 26 hours I’m off to Dunedin. Hurrah! I only have to do a million things between now and tomorrow (I have no idea how they’re all going to fit, especially seeing as there's only an hour of today left). Maybe I should actually do some of it, instead of loitering online.
Cold southern updates, coming soon to a blog near you.
(They do have cyber cafes down there, don’t they?!)
Contains brief non-graphic mention of self-injury and abuse related stuff.
Did you know that there are cocktails that have maple syrup in? And there are cocktails that involve feijoa AND ginger AT THE SAME TIME! Wow. Why did nobody ever tell me? Where did all my money go, and why is the floor spinning like that? Oh no, wait, that’s the ceiling… ooooh look at all the pretty stars…
I can’t believe that so many wonderful people are part of my life. That they seem to be sticking around by choice. That they seem to respect me, for who I am, right now, even with all the messy bits. I feel a bit like Jane from Pride and Prejudice, “How can one person bear so much happiness?” It scares me. I’m scared that I’m wanting too much. I’m waiting for something to go horribly wrong. I’ll mess things up, somehow, irreparably, and everyone will hate me.
Last night, someone observed that I live my life “nakedly.” I think it’s because I believe that I will inevitably lose people, I’m too messed up to have lasting friendships. I’m scared that once I start caring about someone, they’ll see through the masks I wear. They’ll see the yucky black emptiness inside, and they’ll be repulsed and run away. So sometimes I show people the yucky stuff early on, before I start caring too much. That way it hurts less when they run. Only lately, people haven’t been running. And it scares me! I don’t know what to do next. Because I’m starting to care about people, a lot. And part of me believes that eventually, I will mess things up, and the more I care about people, the more it’s going to hurt.
I’m encountering new ways of being with people, and I feel lost. I don’t know how to accept affection from guys. I’m used to sex being the price I pay for being held, for feeling loved. Unwanted sex is an awful price to pay, but familiar. And familiar feels safe, in some ways. Just being held, with no conditions, that scares me. My own feelings scare me. Guilt and confusion, that I want to be touched, that I want to reach out, to hold on, but I don’t want sex. I feel selfish, for wanting to take one, but not wanting to give the other.
I cut myself a couple of days ago, just a tiny bit, not deep, just enough to ease some of the tension. And it was such a relief. But then I had the whole “do I conceal this” issue. And at first I thought I would, but then I thought, no, this is where I’m at right now, this is who I am. If I’m cold I’ll wear long sleeves, if I’m hot I’ll wear short (and if I can find a way to print this blogger contains self-injury in italics across my forehead, then I’ll do that).
I expected someone to get angry. “How dare you come along to a party like that. How could you be so selfish and manipulative.” But no one did. In fact people were incredibly kind and supportive. This is going to take me a while to get used to…
I don’t believe I deserve so much goodness in my life. But I’m so grateful.
Someone recently pointed out to me that all the messy stuff, the abuse and the effects of it, is part of my life. It’s not something that happened to my life, that messed up my life, that interrupted my life, threw me off the rails and stopped me from getting on with my life. It actually is a part of my life. As soon as he said it I realised how true it was. It’s a scary thought. But also incredibly liberating. This is my life. Not something vague over there that I am struggling to get back to. Right here now, each of these moments is my life. And some of them are messed up, but that’s ok. That doesn’t make me bad, awful and wrong, that just means there are some messed up bits in my life. I think I’m beginning to accept that I can’t get back to what my life “could have been” if nothing bad had happened. Because bad stuff did happen, and my life isn’t like that. And it never will be. But it’s like this, and to succeed all I have to do is keep living it.
The same someone actually managed to make me a chocolate drink that was stronger than any I have ever made for myself. No, really. The consistency was closer to chocolate mousse than to chocolate milk. I was very impressed. He claimed that our spoons were bigger than his. Yeah, that’s what they all say.
I’ve just been reminded why I want to write poetry. And it’s got nothing to do with publication or exclusive workshops or prizes or recognition (though all of those would be nice too). It’s got everything to do with another human being reading my words and saying “Yeah. That’s what it’s like. Thank you.”
Thank you sweetie for reminding me. (And may I add that you manage to be incredibly coherent even in a state of severe inebriation. I take my hat off… or I would, if I was wearing a hat).
This blog is rapidly deteriorating into cheesiness, so I’m going to end it before I have an allergic reaction (my relationship with dairy is not one of my strong points). I just wanted to say that you’re all wonderful. Thank you.
Hugs and eprops and chocolate fish all round.
I can smell a crisis coming… Deadlines deadlines deadlines, they’re all looming over me. Got to get images, statement and bio to the gallery for exhibition publicity. Got to write eight short stories. Send in applications for courses next term. First Aid training. Pentecost service. It never rains but it pours.
I should be working on stuff right now, but my brain has turned to a sticky mess that vaguely resembles custard. I’m severely sleep deprived, I feel like I’m coming down with a cold, life is getting on top of me. I seem to be managing to piss off most of the people around me. I’m forgetting to do things, I’m saying everything wrong.
I want a break. I want to put everything on hold and take off into the hills for a few days. I want to take a break without getting any further behind.
Heading for the hill would also mean I couldn’t compulsively spend all my money. I bought a new bookshelf, set it up in my office, and moved all my books into here. How is it, that I have an extra book shelf now, but my books only *just* fit. Yesterday I said “I’m not going to buy any more books, I don’t have any room.” So what do I do today? I buy seven books (one new, six from the library book sale).
The new book is An English Sampler by Fred D’Aguiar. He’s the guy who came up with my favourite definition of poetry, "Poetry is that art of the remarkable; the simultaneous compression of language and the endless expansion of meaning."
"A shooting star’s exact brightness shedded everywhere;
Across two hundred yards of pasture the shell pond’s
Wind-pleated water for who could skip flat stones
The most; the tang of tamarind in the air, on the tongue;
That country under the moon’s phosphorescence
Was vacant papyrus, my defining sight, its calligraphy."
Two of the second-hand books are picture books that I bought because they only cost $1, and they have pretty pictures. I figure I can cut them out and stick them on the wall. And they have tigers and cats so I can take them along to the Stonesoup lunch tomorrow and distribute them among cat lovers.
Oooooooh Stonesoup lunch… I’m so excited. Finally, I get to meet some of my fellow bloggers, and one or two lurkers.
Meantime I should probably try to get some sleep.
The usual warning thingee; this post mentions abuse and self-harm. Nothing very graphic. Viewer discretion advised nonetheless.
With all the psychiatric labels that have been thrown at me, the institutions that I have failed to survive within, the people who have called me hopeless, manipulative, an emotional screwball… it’s easy to think of myself as a complete and utter mess. And most of the time I do. I hate myself, more than anything. But recently I have been trying to face some of the things that have happened in my past. And it’s really hard, and I’ve been having sleepless nights and ghastly nightmares, I’ve been feeling physically sick and emotionally exhausted. But at the same time, it feels as though pieces of my life are falling into place, like a jigsaw that finally makes sense.
I’m not screwed up. Some awful things happened to me, and I coped with them however I could. And sometimes I still use those extreme coping mechanisms, because they’ve worked in the past, and they’re familiar.
People, children, have some ingenious ways of coping with the impossible and the unbearable. I’ve just been reading First Person Plural; My Life as a Multiple by Cameron West. It’s a memoir about life with Dissociative Identity Disorder. It’s pretty intense, but well worth reading if you’re in a safe space. Cam’s multiple personalities developed as a result of repeated sexual abuse that occurred when he was a child. Most of his alters didn’t emerge until later in life, probably when he was strong enough to deal with what had happened to him. The abuse was too painful for one person to bear, so he compartmentalised the pain. His alters endured the pain for him, and kept secrets that weren’t safe to share.
I found it really hard reading Cam’s story; it stirred up so many emotions. I’ve never been through anything as extreme as his experiences, but I still found I could relate to a lot of what he was going through.
Then there was the pain. A breaking and entering where even the senses are torn apart. The act of rape on an eight-year-old body is a matter of the needle giving because the camel can’t. The child gives, because the body can and the mind of the violator can’t.
- Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Sexual abuse doesn’t make sense. It can’t be happening. And because a child can’t make it stop she has to change herself so the world will make sense again.
I remember feeling as though I split apart. I was up in the corner of the room, looking back at the two figures on the bed. I was so far away.
For a few years I forgot that anything had happened. At the same time, it was as though I was reliving the experience over and over with different guys. Each time it was like I drifted away and the little girl was there, and she still didn’t know how to make it stop. So it just kept happening, again and again and again. I thought I was such a dirty worthless slut.
Forgetting is a good way of coping when it gets too much. Blocking it out, drifting away, going numb. But sometimes that leaves huge gaps in my past, dark spaces in my memory. Sometimes I drift away and I don’t know how to get back.
Sometimes I eat to cope. I guess it is a way of controlling my body. Protecting myself. If I’m fat then no one will be attracted to me and nothing bad will happen. Other times I panic and starve myself for a few days because I think that if no one wants to have sex with me then no one will care about me, no one will show me affection.
Cutting has always helped more than anything else. It brings me back when I am numb, but it also numbs me when feelings get too intense. It eases tension and calms me. It is a way to take control of the pain, and to redefine the boundaries of my body. It’s way of punishing myself. It’s a way of communicating my pain.
I find myself wanting to cut, just to get through this time. I know it will help. I know it will ease the pain. I also know that it upsets the people around me. I don’t know if that is a good enough reason to stop me.
I don’t know if I care.
Two of my flatmates moved out a couple of weeks ago. Tommy and I have been thinking for a while that it’s a bit much having four people in this house… it’s just too small, it gets too messy and we get in each other’s faces. So we decided to find another flatmate for one of the rooms, and I’m renting the other room as an office. I’ve moved the desk and computer through, and a new bookshelf is arriving tomorrow, so all my books will be shelved instead of stacked in precarious piles.
I’m sleeping in the office tonight. Partly because I can’t reach my bed, and even if I could it’s buried under debris that used to be in my desk drawers. Mostly because I can’t bear to be separated from my computer. I don’t want her to be scared, all alone in this new place. This will be the last night we spend together.
I’ve been bracing myself for this separation for a long time. I know it’s the right thing to do. We’ve become too dependent on each other. We need time apart, space to find ourselves.
It’s not going to be easy. I’ll miss her humming softly as I drift off to sleep, her bright green light winking at me across the room. But I know that whenever I need her she’ll be waiting for me… just across the hallway.
I need five famous poems. Why? Have you read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech? If not, you should hunt down a copy, or follow the link to an extract. It’s very cool. Sad and sweet and endearing.
Kate (my tutor) has set me an assignment. I have to write a narrative poem, following the format of Love That Dog.
The poems Mrs Stretchberry uses are;
The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
The Tiger by William Blake
Dog by Valerie Worth
The Pasture by Robert Frost
Street Music by Arnold Adoff
Love That Boy by Walter Dean Myers
I have to choose a few poems to use in my own narrative. Any ideas? Most of my favourites are obscure poems by women from Aotearoa. I need to choose some poems that are at least slightly famous (Sign of Salute by Kate Camp is probably unfamiliar to most New Zealanders, let alone to people from other countries). I need to choose some poems by dead people. And especially, because of the particular narrative I’m trying to develop, I need to choose some poems by men.
So… your input would be appreciated. What is your favourite poem? The poem you have come across most often? The first poem you remember encountering? What poems did you study in school?
Entries on the back of a envelope, chocolate fish to anyone who suggests a poem that ends up in my final narrative.
My most five significant pieces of music and the reasons why…
Gabriel Faure; Pelleas et Melisande, Sicilienne
This is one of my favourite pieces of music, but I really can’t explain why. In fact I love the whole CD (which includes the requiem, with Kiri te Kanawa). It’s so emotionally charged, and so incredibly beautiful. That’s not really a reason why, is it? But this music has always been a part of my life, and its effect is always soothing and uplifting.
Cat Stevens: Where Do the Children Play?
To me, this will always be the soundtrack to abuse. The sound of a life splitting apart, leaving childhood far behind. Normal life continuing, but inside, a huge silence, a black emptiness. “When you crack the sky, scrapers fill the air. Will you keep on building higher 'til there's no more room up there? Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry? Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die? I know we've come a long way, We're changing day to day, But tell me, where do the children play?”
Hinemoana Baker: Ngaa Wehenga
Usually when a song is in Maori I try to understand what the lyrics mean. For some reason I’ve never really tried with Ngaa Wehenga. The song has so many layers of meaning for me already – perhaps I don’t want to understand any more. I just listen to the sounds, without trying to separate them into words and grasp their meanings. This song makes me think of my first counsellor, Lesli, and of the sadness I felt when we I left her to move to Wellington. She was the first person to show me empathy, understanding and acceptance. She gave me hope that I could find healing and peace. She gave me a voice to communicate my pain. Listening to Ngaa Wehenga I am reminded of the tears we cried when we said goodbye, but also the beauty of parting, because it meant a time of new growth. I needed to let go of her in order to stand on my own.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins
This was my grandmother’s favourite piece of music, and we played it at her funeral. When I hear this piece I remember how much we loved each other. I think of us as the two violins singing to each other, separate, but alike in so many ways.
Simon and Garfunkel; The Concert in Central Park
Ok, so this isn’t actually a song, it’s a whole album… but I couldn’t pick one. Every single track on this CD has some significance for me. And it was recorded a couple of months after I was born (and only a few kilometres away, relatively speaking) so it really had been the soundtrack for my whole life. Listening to this music the memories come tumbling over each other. The houses I have lived in, the streets I have walked, the friends who have come and gone throughout my life. “Now the years are rolling by me, they are rocking evenly, I am older than I once was, but that’s not unusual, no it isn’t strange, after changes upon changes we are more or less the same.”
Last night I could’ve been leaning against the bar sipping a glass of wine, surrounded by half the queer women in Wellington, listening to the sharp tongued / honey sweet rock goddess Charlotte Sometimes… But, I wasn’t.
Mid-afternoon Iona phoned and invited me to come over to watch a DVD. Something about singing and sillyness and a king… But I was in a dazed and confused state (I was functioning on two hours sleep, I’d just been bounced by a hyperactive dog, and I was still trying to work out where X was or wasn’t after a perplexing conversation…) All the details blurred out, my mind focussing on that one word, DVD, which in my mind is associated with vampires and Alyson Hannigan. For a few moments I weighed up the options. Charlotte Yates VS DVD. Delicious melodies VS staring at a screen. Intriguing lyrics VS staring at a screen that may at some point during the evening involve vampires and Alyson Hannigan. Stunning musicianship VS staring at a screen that will definitely involve warmth and curling up on couches and purring cats and cups of tea and lovely company and a total absence of Smoky Bar Syndrome. The DVD won.
It turned out to be a 1979 animation of Return of the King. I’ve seen some brilliant and ingenious animation over the years… and, in my capacity as a babysitter I have been witness to some pretty damn awful animation. Return of the King was firmly in the latter camp. This was not the clever arty sort of animation you might encounter in a film festival or down at the Embassy. This was the other sort. The sort of animation you expect the kids to be watching on a Saturday morning while they eat their cocopops.
Later on A filled me in on the details. Apparently someone had animated the first book and a half of LOTR but it flopped and so the sequel never happened. And then Rankin and Bass stepped in. Apparently these guys had already done a kiddy cartoon version of The Hobbit. That explained a lot. They must have blown their entire budget before they started on Return of the King.
Because the story begins with the third book of a trilogy (and the earlier animation only got halfway through the second book) a lot of exposition is required. Rankin and Bass get around this by introducing rather an ingenious device. Beware the Minstrel of DOOM!!! Oh, sorry, did I say doom? I meant the minstrel of Gondor. Think “Last week on Lord of the Rings,” with loads of confusing flashbacks and flashforwards, set to an endearing little ballad called “Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.”
Lord of the rings should never have been made into a cartoon, let alone a musical cartoon. Oh God it was painful! The lyrics were so clever they rhymed. “Beware, the power is a power never known / beware, the power that was simple now has grown.” Worst of all was a song called “Tomorrow will be a better day.” This works better with cute orphans then with big nosed hobbits.
Oh yeah, and then there were the noses. Big fat noses. Curved beak-like noses. Long pointy noses. And the big bushy eyebrows – even the spider had big bushy eyebrows.
Beware the noses of Doom!
Elrond wandered around with a dazed expression on his face, and a ring of stars orbiting his head as though he’d recently been hit by a frying-pan.
And I didn’t know what to make of those blue CareBears with sharp pointy teeth.
This movie was supposedly aimed at kids, but even as an adult who is familiar with the books I got totally lost. The story leaped and jumped around with no explanation whatsoever. Sometimes the dialogue didn’t match what was happening in the pictures, and none of it matched the book. Key elements of the plot were left out entirely, while other parts of the movie were totally made up. I have doubts about whether anyone involved actually read the book.
Animation sequences got recycled over and over. The movie jerked along at an average rate of one frame per second. I think at some points the animators got bored and wandered off to pay a round of scrabble, leaving Gandalf to dribble a confusing monologue without his lips even moving.
And then at the end Gandalf suddenly informed us that the hobbits are gradually getting taller and turning into humans. Aw… Huh?
Best reviews I found on the net;
“Most disturbing is the fact that Merry is voiced by Casey Kasem, which makes for a confusing cartoon experience. Hearing Shaggy's voice coming from a hobbit can send an unwary Gen-Xer into fits of hysterics. Zoiks! Like, it's the Nazgul, Scoob!”
“These singers are left in charge of conveying almost all the emotion and plot of Frodo and Sam's end of the story, and they do it with the subtlety and grace of a three year old who's just discovered that he can make noise by clanging pots together. Imagine reading the Rings trilogy while someone next to you screams at every page, ‘The Ring is evil! It corrupts people! Frodo has to destroy it!’ and you will still not begin to understand how intrusive these songs are.”
“Try the Return of the King drinking game. Everyone on one half of the room has to drink a shot everytime Galdalf says “The tide has turned yet again.” Everyone on the other half of the room has to have a shot when Sam says the word “Accursed,” or shakes his fist at the sky.”
I’m the sort of person who feels really bad if someone asks for something and I don’t/can’t/won’t give it. I feel guilty and it plagues me for years. This was a problem in Costa Rica, where the streets were filled with people begging. I still haven't worked out how to deal with it. In San Carlos people would come up to me when I was eating with friends in a cafe, and I would cringe with shame while they looked at me with pleading eyes. That sort of thing happened every day, over and over. Sometimes I gave some money. Sometimes I didn’t. I figured if I gave money to everyone, I would soon run out, and then what would I do?
In San Jose there were often people lying to tourists to get money, saying they’d been robbed or something, and you’d see them in different parts of the city day after day after day telling the same story to new tourists. I never gave money to people in San Jose. Except children.
The times I don’t give money when people ask, I tend to console myself with all the ways I do give. I’ve been doing volunteer work as long as I can remember, like working for Trade Aid. In Costa Rica I volunteered with SVOSH, doing free eye tests and giving out donated glasses in the poorer areas of San Carlos. That was incredibly rewarding… and also depressing and exhausting, and some people spat in our faces (usually metaphorically). These days I give donations to the people's center, and to UNICEF. I don't know if I do this because I am a "good person" or because I suffer from Catholic Guilt (I rather suspect the latter, which is strange because I was raised an atheist).
Back home in Aoteroa, I usually give people money if they ask. People ask so seldom, compared to in Costa Rica. Sometimes I’ll sit down and talk to someone, ask how they ended up in this situation, or just talk about their day. If I have money to spare, I’ll give it to them.
There’s this one guy who I’m really fond of. He’s sometimes called Tarzan, or the Blanket Man, I can't remember is other name. I’ve talked to him quite a few times – he’s never asked me for money though, and I’ve never given him any. These days I’m usually in too much of a rush to hang out with him, but when I have more time I might go and hang out again, share lunch or something.
I wrote him a poem once. I’ve never given it to him, I’m not sure how he’d take it.
He spins a spade around
like a taiaha
this is his weapon
against the system
we break open the earth
and plant broccoli
this is our
call me brother
when he smiles
it’s like before Maui
caught the sun.
As a substitute for actually dreaming up something to write about, I’m going to post a bunch of travel photos. Why? Because I’m getting itchy feet. Because I’m plagued by travel lust. Because nobody has asked to see my travel photos for ages. Because I want a digital camera so I can take pictures of things that I see during the day, but I don’t have one, so I have to make do with scanning old photos. Because I can, and you can’t stop me (except maybe Iona).
So, here it is. Beautiful Monsters goes on the Big OE.
Last night involved Buffy, Pizza, a British political thriller from the 80’s, a discussion of the problems of windmills and the national grid, and an offer of matchmaking. All in all a good evening, even if I was forced to leave Angel locked up with the sun creeping closer, Buffy fighting some crazy chick who claimed to be the slayer, and Willow slumped over her books (aw she’s so cute).
A Very British Coup was depressing though. Very funny, in a dreadful, too close to the truth sort of way. Very funny because of some of the contemporary parallels. Power crisis (note to foreign viewers, we’re having one here), dangerous fields of corn, the whole how dare you talk back to the US thing.
It was depressing because it was funny. The whole idea of a British Prime Minister dismantling nuclear weapons is so absurd that it’s funny. And that’s depressing.
The world seems to be run by a bunch of paranoid “realists.” They’re constantly suspicious about everyone else, they constantly feel insecure, and they view every move as a threat to security. The only way they know to feel secure is to build big weapons and point them at each other. This has advantages, because it creates a whole arms industry, employment, capital, blah blah blah.
Is disarmament possible? Does anyone really feel secure in the presence of nuclear weapons? Not content to be able to blow up the planet once, we now have enough weapons to blow up many planets. The security threat hasn’t gone away, it has only increased.
At the moment disarmament seems impossible. It would be extremely difficult to ensure that disarmament obligations were met by all states. It’s almost impossible to regulate trade and production. No one trusts anyone else, so someone somewhere is bound to do something covert, or at least be accused of it.
I’m proud to live in a country that challenges the legitimacy of nuclear weapons by enacting a nuclear free policy. The nuclear free sentiment among people in Aotearoa is so strong it is unlikely the legislation will ever change.
Last night I came home feeling depressed, not because of the state of the world, but because of my own failure to do more about it. In the past I have been very involved in the peace movement, environmental and human rights campaigns. At the moment I barely seem to have the energy to keep my head above water. I’m struggling to do a few hours of paid work a week and a few hours of study… let alone the volunteer work I used to enjoy so much. Most nights I look back on the day and I cannot say that I have achieved anything worthwhile.
I keep telling myself it’s ok. I’ve been unwell, it’s ok to need a rest. It doesn’t make sense though! For eight years I have struggled with severe mental illness, but I have still managed to do some amazing things. Now that I’ve finally found some effective medication and things are starting to level out, I feel, well… flat. Deflated.
Know what the weirdest thing is? I still have moments when I want to cut myself, but I just don’t seem to have the guts to do it anymore. And I’m disappointed that I can’t. I feel as though I’m a wimp or something… like I’m not as passionate as I used to be.
Part of me misses the whirlwind.
Wow. My first ever attempt at writing slash. I would have liked my first time to be with Willow, but I haven’t really watched enough Buffy to write something plausible. Anyway, I’m only up to early season two, and there is a shortage of cute girls to pair her with. So, no Alyson Hannigan lesbian erotica. In fact, no erotica at all really, just a few chaste kisses. Hey shuddup, it’s my first time, I’m a little nervous.
Ladies and Gentlemen and everyone else, I present to you a few scenes that took place after the end of Dead Poet’s Society (it's quite long, click on continue reading for the whole story).
It was Charlie who told me. It was Charlie who understood my love for Neil. My pain. In that moment I looked into his eyes for the first time. Before he even spoke I knew.
I had to get out, I had to breathe. Snow was still falling. It was so still, so beautiful. My fingers ached with cold, but inside, I was numb.
How could so much beauty be possible without Neil?
It was Charlie who understood, all along.
I must have been blind.
The whole world is colourless. The freshly fallen snow has concealed any footprints. Any signs of life, any stains of blood are buried under the ice. The world seems frozen still.
Down by the lake there is a shadow, a dark smudge in the snow. There is the slightest movement, the faintest mist of breath.
Todd’s lips are blue with cold. He is crying, but no sound comes from him, no tears. Pain is frozen on his face. Suddenly he collapses to his knees, as though the last strength has departed from his body. His head sinks into his hands, his shoulders shake for a few moments. Then, for a long time, he is still.
The realisation seeps slowly through the fog of tears. He is not alone. Someone is crouching in the snow in front of him. Pitts? Knox?
“G-go away. I n-need to be alone.”
Silence. The shadow doesn’t move. Slowly, Todd lifts his eyes.
He is naked. He is so thin, the pale snow seems to glow through his arms, his chest. He is rocking slightly on his heals, his clasped hands resting in front of him.
“T-t-they said you were dead.”
“Are you dead?”
He reaches forward, places his finger against Todd’s lips.
His touch is like the wind rustling between the trees.
“I read your poem.”
“B-but, I ripped it up.”
“I know. It was good, Todd, it was really good.”
“No, it was stupid.”
“It was about me, wasn’t it.”
Todd looks away.
His hands are cool, lighter than breath, stroking Todd’s hair. The boy won’t meet his eyes.
When Todd finally looks up, there are tears in his eyes.
“Why did you do it, Neil?”
“I was trapped.”
“They blamed Mr Keating.”
“And you blamed my father.”
“It was his fault.”
“No. Jesus, don’t you understand Todd? For the first time I took control of my own life. It was my choice. It was the only moment in my life that I felt completely free.”
“It didn’t have to be like that. You could have talked to your father. Mr Keating could have talked to him.”
“Oh yeah, that’s rich.”
“We could have worked something out, Neil. We could have… It’s not FAIR!” Todd’s arm flies out as though to strike Neil, but then he crumples onto the ground. “It’s not fair,” he sobs. “It’s not fair.”
Neil waits until the boy stops shaking, and then reaches out to touch his shoulder. Todd looks up at him. For a moment they are frozen, so many emotions passing between them, so many unspoken words. Then Neil leans forward and kisses him.
Todd leans into the kiss, and Neil wraps his arms around him, draws him close.
Neil’s body is firm, but not solid. Todd is surprised to find he can lean against him. If he closes his eyes it feels as though the air is thick enough to support him.
He slips a hand around Neil’s neck, caresses him gently. Neil moans softly.
“Let’s go to your room.”
O savage and tender aching! O madness amorous! O trembling! O to escape utterly from others’ anchors and holds! To drive free! To love free! To dash reckless and dangerous! To ascend – to leap to the heavens of the love indicated to me! To rise thither with my inebriate Soul! To be lost, if it must be so! To feed the remainder of life with one hour of fullness and freedom! With one brief hour of madness and joy.
“Charlie! What are you doing here?”
“My father bribed them to give me a second change. Lucky me. And it’s Nwanda to you, Meeks.”
“Hey guys, come here. Char- Nwanda is back.”
“Pitts, Noxious, how’re you doing?”
“Great, fine. Wow. You’re really back?”
“Yup. Where’s the fink?”
“Moved. Different floor.”
“In his room,” says Meeks. “He hardly ever leaves, and when he does he wanders around outside talking to himself.”
“What does Nolan say to that.”
“Nothing, they leave him be. I think they’re afraid he might break… hey, no, don’t go in there.”
“Todd?” Charlie knocks gently on the door.
“It’s me, Charlie.”
There is silence for several minutes, and then the door opens slowly.
“Todd! Jesus, you look as pale as a ghost.”
Todd has his dressing gown wrapped around him. He stands in the doorway, a sullen look on his face.
“Fine. Suit yourself.” Charlie steps back, but keeps his eyes on Todd until the door slowly closes again.
Another knock on the door. Todd ignores it. After a pause, someone opens the door. Charlie.
“Meet me down at the cave, tonight.”
“I-I c-can’t,” stammers Todd.
“Just be there.”
When Todd arrives Charlie is leaning back against the wall of the cave, smoking a pipe. The smoke spreads into a haze that blurs the edges of his body.
“He’s been with you, hasn’t he.”
The boys stare at each other in silence.
“Did he tell you about us?”
“W-what do you mean?”
“I was in love with Neil,” says Charlie. “I used to believe he loved me back, but he was just playing around with me. He was too scared to love me back.”
Neil stares at him.
“Then you came along. Know when I realised I’d lost him? Your poem. Your sweaty toothed madman. The look on Neil’s face when you finished that poem… I knew I’d already lost him.”
“It’s n-not true, Charlie, why are you saying this?”
“I’m worried about you Todd. You can’t keep living with the dead. You’ll fade away.”
Todd is silent.
“He’s trying to control you, because he couldn’t take control of his own life. His whole life was an act, a lie. He lied to his father. He lied to Mr Keating. He even lied to you, Todd.”
“That’s not true!” Todd cries, and he whirls around to leave. At the entrance of the cave he pauses for a moment.
“You’ve got to keep living, Todd,” whispers Charlie.
“Why did you go?” Neil is sitting in the window, waiting for him.
“I w-wanted to see Charlie.”
“He wants to take you away from me.”
“No Neil, no.”
“You can’t trust him,” says Neil, jumping down from the windowsill. “You can’t trust anyone.”
Todd shakes his head.
“I love you,” says Neil. Come and be with me.”
Todd steps towards him. The window is open, and he shivers in the cold air.
“Stay with me.” He is looking towards the window. “It’s so easy.”
Todd stares at him, and then leaps away.
“No Neil, no!”
“I love you Todd.”
Todd sinks to the ground.
“I can’t Neil. I can’t be with you. I want to live.”
For a moment Neil looks as if he is going to laugh. Then he covers his face with his hands and shakes his head.
“I’m sorry Neil. I’m so sorry.” Todd walks away. When he gets back to his room, Neil is gone.
“Charlie?” Todd knocks softly.
“Yeah, come in.”
Todd pushes the door closed behind him. Charlie is lying on the bed with his hands behind his head, but when he sees Todd he leaps up.
“I w-wanted to say I’m sorry. The p-past few weeks. I’ve been a jerk.”
“You can say that again,” Charlie grins.
Todd sits down on the end of the bed, and wraps his arms around his knees.
“I was a jerk too, Todd, the whole of last term. Keating was right, I was foolish. I was mad with jealousy.”
“Jealous of me? smiles Todd.
“We thought you were the meek one, Todd, but you’re not. Neil was the scared one. Acting was the only way he could face up to his father. He never knew how to be himself without a costume. He lived for an illusion.”
For a long time, the boys don’t speak. It is Todd who finally breaks the silence.”
“Know something Charlie?”
“The name is Nwanda.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“No. It’s not Nwanda I’m falling in love with. It’s you. Charlie.” And he leans over to kiss him.
I used to listen to your breathing for hours after you fell asleep at night. I used to think you were the most beautiful person. You were so strong, so passionate. You let your passions overcome you.
The jigsaw puzzle was your life. With trembling hands you placed the last four pieces and stared in horror at the face at the window. You opened the window to escape from the sound of glass breaking. You sacrificed everything to escape.
I loved you. But I couldn’t escape with you.
From pent-up aching rivers… From bashful pains – singing them; Singing something yet unfound, though I have diligently sought it, many a long year;
Singing the true song of the Soul, fitful, at random.
Charlie showed me that I could choose life. He told me I have so much to contribute. That the powerful play goes on, and I may contribute a verse. That we may contribute a verse.
Carpe diem. Make our lives extraordinary.
A man is driving along in a car with his son beside him. Suddenly someone pulls out in front of him, and there’s a terrible accident. The man dies instantly, and the boy is rushed to hospital. The surgeon walks into the operating theatre, looks at the child and says “I can’t operate, this boy is my son.” How can this be?
Some responses to comments:
Yes, everyone in the world has a mad uncle, if not then they’re in denial.
There is no one who can’t get lunch with me, it’s just the last couple of weeks I’ve been busy (work, study) and stressed, mostly with family matters (geez, my grandfather was in so much agony they had to put him in restraints to stop him thrashing around and disconnecting the machines…) so I haven’t been able to schedule lunch dates everyday. But, things are settling down, so if you persist…
I've added a picture of the woolen cat to the "blogs I have not joined" post.
I am always up for a hot chocolate, anytime, anywhere, all offers accepted.
And all of you, stay out of my cleavage!
I had a traumatic visit to the doctor this afternoon, and afterwards my knees were shaking and I had to hide in a dark corner until I stopped wanting to cry. I went and hung out in an internet café until I could stand without wobbling. Then I ate lots of dairy chocolate, which I’m allergic to, so then I had really bad hayfever and felt even more miserable.
Luckily today was my writing workshop. I tried really hard to sulk for the whole class so people would feel sorry for me and give me hugs... but I just couldn't manage it. Lasted for about seven minutes and then I was teasing Kate, rolling around on the floor laughing, throwing things, eating cake, and shouting at the top of my voice (just your average children's writing course). I love our course, I laugh more on a Monday afternoon I do the rest of the week put together.
Today Bob Kerr visited our class. He was funnier than I expected him to be – I’ve only read one of his books and it’s called “After the War.” I really want to illustrate my own picture books. So much more control! (And, as Bob pointed out, you don’t have to give half the royalties to someone else). Of course, somewhere along the lines I’d probably have to learn to draw people…
Speaking about learning things, I’m trying to work out what to study next semester. So far I’ve narrowed the options down to ten papers:
New Zealand Politics – Power, equity and diversity
Maori Culture, Performance and Technology
Prayer, Meditation, Trance and Ecstasy: A Study of the Techniques of Spiritual Transformation
Writing the Landscape
Environment and resources
Fundamentals of geology
Cultural Encounters: The Literature, Film and Theatre of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific
Media, Society and Politics
I really should decide what I’m going to major in at some point. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. Can you tell?
Maybe I don’t have to do anything with my life. I could just be eccentric like my uncle. By the way, the uncle hunt went well. We found the section, it’s only five minutes walk from my house. We had to scramble up a muddy bank and then crawl through some bushes, and suddenly we were standing in front of a pile of… ah… rummage. Bicycle wheels with broken spokes. Rusted car bonnets. Pieces of corrugated iron. Car batteries. A toilet balanced precariously on top of it all. Then we pushed our way through a tunnel of harakeke and found ourselves facing more um, well… junk. An even bigger pile. And in the middle of it, a small shed. Pinned to the door was a 1999 closure notice from the City Council – “This dwelling is unfit for habitation.” We pushed the door open and we were almost buried in an avalanche of ancient computer monitors, toasters, electric jugs and bicycle parts. No uncle. But we did find a gas cooker set up in the shelter of a stainless steel sink, and nearby some empty eggshells. Fresh uncle signs. This was obviously the right habitat.
I left a note on the door, next to the closure notice. And what do you know, this evening my uncle turned up. I fed him soup and tea, and then I listened for hours while he told me all sorts of interesting stories. Like, did you know that if you take apart a nine volt battery you can make two three cell batteries which can be used in some kinds of portable phones (and this is much cheaper than just buying the correct batteries). I’m scared. What if it’s genetic? If I ever start talking about phone batteries for more than a few minutes, please, please, stop me.
I hope no one is still trying to figure out the "riddle."
You’d be amazed the answers people come up with, involving adoption, second marriages, sperm donors, ghosts, genetic engineering…
But of course it’s simple, the surgeon is the boy’s mother.
It’s been one of those days. You know the kind. Like that day you went to that party. You know? The one when you should have worn a costume that was cute and sexy, that way you wouldn’t have been so hot, and people might have talked to you. (Think Willow in an Eskimo suit. That’s cute. Now think someone who is not as endearing as Willow wearing a pumpkin suit and getting laughed at). The one when your boyfriend fell in love with that gorgeous Swedish chick. And then your best friend said “well I don’t blame him, cos damn she’s hot.” The one when you resolved to get a new best friend. Right after you spent your life savings on anything involving vodka.
Suddenly you notice a glint of gold embedded in the grime of the footpath. It’s a $1 coin. You crouch down and look at it.
You remember the days when there were $1 notes. You remember the days when banknotes were made out of paper. You remember the days when $1 could get you a helluva lot of 1 cent lollies. Those were the days.
You flip the coin.
WHY are there so many webrings devoted to KNITTNG?! And why do they get so many hits? It almost makes me want to start knitting something. I did once, you know. Knit something. When I was about nine I knitted a small cat and then took arty photographs of it. See?
I seriously considered joining the Blogs by Women webring, but… well for a start I don’t believe in the whole gender dichotomy thing. “Women” is a myth. And secondly, it would just seem like I was copying Iona, which I feel like I seem to be doing a lot lately, although I’m not actually copying her, she’s just got such damn good taste.
I’d like to join the Svensk Politic webring, but I’m not sure if they’d let me. Let’s see… This is a building I walked past in Stockholm. It maybe be called Stadshuset, or maybe that’s somewhere else. I’m sure at some stage this building had some connection to politics. The only thing I can remember how to say in Swedish is “Do you speak Swedish?” which isn’t very helpful, really. “Do you speak English?” might be slightly more useful.
Maybe I should join the God bless the USA webring? *ROTFL* Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean that. I mean, some of my best friends are… oh no, wait, they’re not. Um… hey, guess what? I have an American passport… No really, my dad was studying at this university… oh nevermind.
Of course there are always Buffy webrings. Plenty of them to choose from. But, given that this is only the second time I’ve mentioned Buffy, it could lead to a lot of disappointments. On the other hand I could set up a discreet shrine to Alyson Hannigan in the corner of my site.
She’s so damn cute it’s unbearable.
I’ve lost my uncle. Very careless, I know, but he’s hard to keep track of these days. He doesn’t have a landline, just a huge and ancient cellphone (which cannot be moved without the help of a wheelbarrow) and he checks the messages every so often. Sometimes every day, sometimes every month. He lives in a garage, which is almost completely obscured by gorse. It’s on a section, somewhere near here, but unfortunately I can’t remember how to get there. I’ve only been there once, when I was about six, and I only remember that there was no toilet and I had to pee into a bucket.
My uncle turns up randomly, often the night before an exam or a major assignment, and talks for hours about radio waves. He is completely clueless when it comes to realising that people don’t really care that much. I feed him toast, cups of tea, and any leftovers that are lying around. When it’s starting to get late I drop broad hints about study and early mornings. Finally, sometime after midnight when I’ve run out of excuses, I just go to bed – he’s usually gone by the morning.
In return for the toast and tea he keeps us well stocked in toasters and electric jugs (we have six electric jugs in the linen cupboard). He finds them in skips and on roadsides, along with miscellaneous pieces of washing machines and bicycles, printers and stereos prematurely discarded. He pulls a thumbtack out of the rollers, adds something small and shiny, and his gadgets whir happily. You can almost hear him purring along with them.
When I was going out with a queer boy (who was infinitely cooler than I was) he got very embarrassed because we ran into my uncle in the supermarket. My uncle has a bushy beard, slightly tatty clothes, and his socks pulled up over his trousers (so they don’t get caught in the gears – he has been known to cycle more than 300 km in a day). He is definitely not Cool. When we saw him that day, he was in the produce section. He was using the supermarket scales to weigh a large piece of equipment that he identified as a cellphone. (My boyfriend broke up with me soon afterwards).
I actually like my uncle a lot. I don’t always get what he’s on about, but he’s a decent enough guy. And useful. He fixed our washing machine (he found a matching part from one that had been discarded on the other side of town).
But now I’ve lost him. His father (my grandfather) has been in hospital for a couple of weeks, and we’ve been leaving messages for my uncle on his cellphone, but he hasn’t responded. My mother is worried that he’s gone off on one of his long bike rides and fallen into a ditch. Or that he is slumped over in his garage and no one will notice because no one goes there.
Luckily an old activist contact of mine thinks that she can find his section. She gave him a lift there once when she saw him lugging a huge quantity of cement up the hill. I’m going to meet her tomorrow afternoon, and we’re going to go Uncle Hunting. You’re welcome to join us. Bring boots, gloves and thick trousers, on account of the gorse. And any old cellphones (older than ten years) you happen to have lying around. We might be able to use them as bait.
Phlogiston Phlogiston burning bright,
Sculling wine in the deep of night.
Note for viewers – Phlogiston is a small fluffy tiger who likes theatre, music, and a good Chardonnay. Oh, and a bit of bondage from time to time.
How to tell if your fluffy tiger is into BD/SM
He likes to be hung around your neck. On a chain.
You hear strange noises coming from his room at night. You can’t for the life of you work out what is causing that whipping noise.
His inbox is filled with messages like “Drunk sluts to SM/BD.”
An excessive number of suspicious plain brown packages keep arriving in the mail.
You find strange contraptions made of rubber and metal lying around in the basement.
How to tell if your fluffy tiger has an alcohol problem
Your tiger keeps trying to climb into other people’s wine glasses.
You get kicked out of bars a lot.
Your recycling bin is overflowing with glass bottles and you didn’t empty all of them yourself.
Your tiger displays secretive behaviour to hide his drinking.
Your tiger is hostile and defensive when you try to confront him about alcohol.
You find black and orange hairs in your whisky.
This note was faxed to me by Kaz. The internet services at her work have been cut off for the afternoon (see the china shop for details) and she asked me to post this.
Can’t think straight, splitting headache. Hands shaking, blurry vision. Feel cold and shaky but I’m sweating. Maybe I’m getting the flu’? Some of my workmates seem a bit off colour, someone in particular is very irritable this afternoon. Maybe something is going around?
I think I’m coping pretty well with the limited internet hours. Popped out of the office a couple of times to “pick something up” and dashed down the road to a cyber café to check my email. Shayne from level three was there, we pretended not to notice each other. Running out of excuses now.
Don’t know if I’m really getting any more work done. Keep dropping things. Perhaps the flu’ is affecting my coordination? That can happen you know.
The second time I popped down to the cyber café Jon had emailed me this quiz, “are you an internet addict.” My score was in the highest range. It must have been rigged. The questions must have been biased towards the high end. One of the questions was about how much money you spend on internet cafes on an average day, then you have to multiply it by the number of days in the year. That was scary. I think I must’ve done the maths wrong. That’s probably what screwed up my test score.
My sister, Saz (who is not a horticulturalist) sent me some information about internet addiction support groups. Why is everyone picking on me? I don’t have a problem, ok? Anyway, I had a quick look to humour her. Trouble is, all the support groups and sources of information are online. Didn’t have time to read them properly, and can’t do it at work because the internet is cut off again (which is all my fault, me and my dumbass “jokes” that always backfire). Not that I’d actually *want* to read it all. I mean, it’s not like I’m addicted or anything.
Gotta go, boss is heading over. Must look industrious.
Wine facts for beginners
Pinot gris (grey pinot) may seem like an illogical name for a white wine, but then “white wine” isn’t really a logical name for a drink that is greenish-yellow. Anyway, it’s not named after the colour of the drink, but the colour of the grapes, which have a greyish blush.
Pinot gris belongs to the same family as pinot noir and pinot blanc (named pinot because the bunches are a similar shape to pinecones). Under the skin, all three grapes are genetically identical, and they’re all capable of swapping skins without any provocation. Seriously, they just change from a pinot noir to a pinot gris. Sometimes a mixture of types will grow on the same vine. Weird shit. Luckily, although these varieties are genetically identical, they are not palatably identical once transformed into alcohol. Pinot gris is vastly superior. To any other wine. Except perhaps a really good Gewurz. Speaking about wine, I drank far too much last night (I blame the tiger) which could explain the abundance of weird dreams.
Esbjorn* and I went to see Spirited Away, in which there were lots of vampires. Suddenly in the middle of the movie Esbjorn turned to me and said “In vain I have struggled, it will not do, my feelings will not be repressed. I must tell you how much I ardently admire and love you.” I blushed. “Gosh,” I said, “this is rather awkward, isn’t it?” There followed an extremely awkward silence lasting for some minutes. “Esbjorn,” I said at last, “I must, um, tell you, that, um… I kind of um have a crush on Aloysius*.” At that precise moment Aloysius materialised at my shoulder and said “I thought you knew. I’m gay.” Aloysius proceeded to turn into a vampire and started to bite Esbjorn. I slipped out the back of the movie theatre and cried all the way home.
Have I been watching too much Buffy, or what?
*Names have been changed to conceal true identities.
I would never eat peanut butter straight from the jar. Not because it’s gross. Because I still cling to an irrational belief dating back to my childhood, that if I eat peanut butter from the jar I will die. I have vivid memories of various adults telling me “don’t eat peanut butter by itself, you’ll choke.” For similar reasons I am terrified of apple skins.
And pineapples. Someone told me that if I ate the wrong bits (the core, or those round prickly things at the outside of the flesh) it would cut my mouth. I had visions of blood streaming from my mouth and intense agonizing pain.
But fish, well, fish was the worst of all. Several grownups helpfully informed me that if I swallowed a fishbone it would get stuck in my throat and I would choke. I still chew each mouthful of fish for at least 10 minutes before swallowing.
Funnily enough, all my irrational beliefs centered on food. I never believed in strange concepts such as “Santa Claus.” Oh, sure, I put a stocking out each year, but that was just commonsense. Your parents are going to buy you presents anyway, but if they have to fill up a stocking as well then there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll increase the number of presents that you’ll receive. This works especially well when you’re an only child. Curly blond hair and chubbiness is also useful (although this is likely to have more influence on aunts and elderly neighbours than your parents).
When I was about five I had a huge argument with my best friend (two years older than me). I made the mistake of claiming that Santa Claus was in fact a mother or father sneaking in after dark. I think it took about six years for her to forgive me.
Who would want to believe in Santa anyway? Big fat guy with an unhealthy obsession with children (and you know your mother always told you, never take sweets from strangers). Sounds like a nightmare, not a fairytale, if you ask me.
[This children’s writing course is proving to be good therapy. When I started the course I had about two or three memories from my childhood, the rest was completely blank. Now it is al starting to come back.]