Monday, 16 February 2009

A week of headaches

There were two topics I wanted to write about last week, and both of them ended up being too hard for me. First there was that thorny personal issue of smoking - and the quitting thereof. Nearly four days I spent not smoking, with nicotine patch firmly planted on arse (alternate cheeks on alternate days). Then I snapped - and it has been a low dose of my wife's clove cigarettes ever since. I have achieved a marked reduction, and I know the next time I suck on a non-clove cigarette I'll think it is disgusting. However, my lungs are still torched and I feel like the loser I always feel like when I fail to quit yet again. The second topic was the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Now why the hell would I want to touch that subject? A topic so complex, with such a mired history, that it is close to impossible to get the facts right. And even if by a miracle you could get the facts right, there are just too many people out there on both sides that will slam you down whatever opinion you may dare to put forward. Well there are two reasons I wanted to write something about it. The first was that I had just finished the near 500 page collection of Robert Fisk articles 'The Age of the Warrior'. The Israeli / Palestine conflict runs through that collection like a never ending car crash. I am deeply affected by books - and after obsessively reading these articles I was miserable, depressed, angry. To write something about it would be to help expunge the hopelessness and disempowerment I felt after finishing it. (The last book that provoked such powerful feelings in me was 'The Shock Doctrine' by Naomi Klein). The second reason was the constantly repeated double deatholizer figures from the last Israeli incursion into Gaza. 13 Israeli dead, 1300 Palestinian dead. Without going into further detail right now - there is just something horribly wrong in that ratio.

Yet I couldn't write anything about either topic. Damn it - I still can't. It is 9:30am and I've just come back upstairs after opening my first beer of the day. Just thinking about writing about these two topics has caused me to start drinking earlier than usual (only a few hours earlier - but still...) Before I left Australia I disposed of my rather large and disparate library. This is not the time to discuss that, only that I have few regrets about doing so. One of those regrets just occurred. I had a number of books by the fantastic author Céline (aka Louis-Ferdinand Céline, aka Louis-Ferdinand Destouches). He is responsible for my over use of ellipses... One of these books had a forward by Kurt Vonnegut Jr - one of the best forwards I've ever read. He complains that writing this forward is giving him continual headaches - I wish I could quote him correctly here. Celine has often been denounced as an anti-semite. Kurt Vonnegut was a great admirer of Celine's work - yet obviously was in no way an anti-semite. I can see the cause of the headaches. I've been having headaches all week. No all of them to do with nicotine withdrawal.

Back to a safe topic. Dreams. I've been putting on nicotine patches before I go to bed to cut off that morning cigarette urge at the root so to speak. And one of the side-effects of this is that my dreams have become much more vivid, intense, and personally interesting. Yesterday I started reading 'In Evil Hour' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Last night I was treated to a retelling of the first 30 pages of the book in a stylized filmatic form. The priest, the mayor, the judge made their appearances. The action was no longer in Spain, but contemporary Faulconbridge / Springwood - the towns in the Blue Mountains I grew up in as a teenager. In some parts the dialogue was spoken like an awful high-school performance of Beckett. Other parts were depicted as a cartoon (a la Kill Bill). And one beautiful entrance (the Judge) was sung in a distinctly Gilbert and Sullivan fashion. In parts of the performance I was one of the actors - in other parts I was watching the whole thing on my laptop whilst charging it up before the train ride to my old school. As often happens now when my high school slips into my dreams, I remember that I have graduated from University and no longer need to debase myself into going to my much disliked place of earlier learning. I remember feeling happy in the dream when I realized this - 'Great, I've got a day off!' - I remember thinking. I awoke with the dream not finished and had an urge to roll over and sink back down perchance to sneak another episode. After all, John Goodman had mysteriously made an appearance. My wife was making the coffee, however, and the guilt of my selfishness rolled me out of bed.

10:30am - second beer. The headache is back. The patch is my left cheek today. Why do I want to write about Palestine / Israel? Why don't I want to write about it? OK. Let's bite the bullet here (no pun intended). The Israeli military invasion of Gaza disgusted me. Like every time you see the vastly more powerful, the vastly more resourced antagonist, pummel, pound and annihilate a weaker opponent. Like when a pack of big kids beat up the small one. When a burly drunken husband smacks the shit out of his wife or daughter. Even trivially - in a professional boxing match when one opponent just far out-classes the other. When the cat plays with the half-dead mouse. There is something disgusting in watching naked power reigning down upon the weaker opponent. There is a myth about Australian's that we always bet on the underdog (it is a myth - there are plenty of Australians both as individuals and as a government that relish playing the role of the bully). Yet there is that visceral feeling of disgust I get when I see unmatched opponents. I guess I'm not a sadist at heart. 13 Israelis dead. 1300 Palestinians dead. The ratio does not diminish the deaths of those Israelis. A death-is-a-death-is-a-death. Irreversible no matter what your nationality, creed, religion, occupation etc... But that number - 1300. Almost 200 people died in the recent (on-going) Australian bushfires. This is, quite rightly, seen as a national disaster. The Australian papers have been overflowing on the subject. It is an awful number of deaths. More than 200 children were killed in the recent Gaza invasion. That number is mentioned here and there in the press, and is now quickly being forgotten. But a death-is-a-death-is-a-death...

Why don't I want to write about this stuff? Because there are plenty of people that as soon as you sympathize with the Palestinians will accuse you of being on 'their' side. To criticize the Israeli invasion of Gaza is synonymous with being anti-Israeli, and then it is just a short step to being anti-semetic, and then someone is going to bring up the Holocaust. And this familiar slope is just so much bullshit I don't want to get dragged into. Don't I know that 'they' were firing rockets into Israel? Yes - I know that. Does it justify killing 1300 people. No. Am I supporting those terrorists Hamas? No, I am not supporting the democratically elected Hamas government. When Hamas (or other factions) kill Israelis (or other Palestinians) I don't support it. Believe it or not - you can hold a position where you neither support what the Israeli government does, or the Hamas government, or the Fatah government, or the US government. There is a position where you don't support any of the major players - but still find the sheer death and suffering caused unbearable to watch. And find the lies, misinformation, demonizing and endless justifications from all sides sickening. And this is when the headaches start. So much easier not read about it, not think about it, not try to understand. Because when I try to understand - I get sick. And why should I get sick over something that I largely cannot do anything about? It's too late. I already know about it - and it has been banging around in my head for weeks, months, years - and the best I can do is try to learn why this happens. Why this continues to happen. And what it is about humans that makes this - and so much much worse - possible. Robert Fisk has just published another column which makes a fair stab at why writing about this stuff is something most sane people would want to avoid. It is so much better than what I can do.

Is this my third or my fourth beer now? It isn't quite midday. I should be ashamed of myself. I want a cigarette - but I asked my wife to take all the open packets out of the house to her workplace this morning. My headache is real and getting worse. Screw this writing shit. The next piece is going to be about another dream. Who reads this stuff anyway? (And if there happens to be some Vietnamese government censor out there who does read my blog - keep up the good work - I hope you are getting something out of it!).

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

I want to tell you about a girl...

A long time ago - before I even turned 18 - I fell in love with a girl. She wasn't the first girl I fell in love with, nor the last. Yet at the time I felt very deeply that I was in love with this girl. She came from a well-to-do Hong Kong / Australian family. My own family was a traditional long distant import from Europe that in the last generation had crawled into the middle classes. She was beautiful in the way that symmetrically faced young asian women often are to young white males. More than beautiful, however, she was smart. No, not smart. Many people are smart. I was smart. She was ridiculously intelligent. One of the best of the elite students in the country that year. Great at mathematics, great at English, great at wherever her intelligence was directed. And more than smart, she was kind, modest, with a subtle humour and flawless manners. Entirely dedicated to her family. Everything that a well-to-do family could ever hope for in a daughter. It was hardly surprising I fell in love with her - the only mystery was that so many others hadn't. Or perhaps they had, but she never had a boyfriend, nor seemed to show any interest in getting one. Perhaps like me, suitors were simply too intimidated to actually express their feelings to her.

I dreamt of her last night - and this morning it has brought back a handful of disjointed broken memories. Memories of non-connected events that no more create a picture of her than the reflections of a broken mirror. Indeed, like that broken mirror, it shows nothing more than a collection of miniature reflections of myself rather than any image of her at all.

I cannot exactly remember how we met. I cannot remember the first time we talked. Our meeting was, I do know, through a mutual female friend who I shall call Sally. I remember the only time I ever went to this girl's house was with Sally. It must have been my 2nd year in University. We had all know each other for quite a while then - and we were allowed to sleep over in the room outside the girl's bedroom. We all stayed up late that night, but at some point the girl had to go to bed and retreated to her bedroom and shut the door. Sally and I were outside, perhaps on a fold-out bed or sofa and we started fooling around. Both of us were still virgins back then, and rarely did either of us have this opportunity, this night-time proximity with the opposite sex. I cannot imagine that this fooling around went very far. Kisses and wandering hands under clothes and giggles and arousal. However, we must have been giggling a lot and when we heard the noise from the room we both stopped dead. Behind the closed door the girl was crying - sobbing into her pillow. We both felt bad. And then we both felt even worse, for neither of us could bring ourselves to go comfort the crying girl. Our friend. The girl I was supposed to be in love with. It was the first time I realized that the girl who was everything a well-to-do family could ask for was also extremely lonely.

Another memory - much later - now I must have been in 4th year University. By now I had lost my virginity (by coincidence - and disastrously - with Sally). A year and a half in a private residential college had turned me into a drinker. Third year University in the United States had reinforced my taste for alcohol, introduced me to soft drugs and broadened my knowledge of flirtation, love, obsession and sex. I was now a tutor at a famous University whilst I hammered away on a minor dissertation and attended classes on philosophy and sociology of science. The girl was now clearly a woman, and more than half way through her medical degree. She still had not ever had a boyfriend. I was still in love with her. I had still never told her so. I was a more confident creature now, and after pacing up and down the rooms of my share-house for days on end I thought this was the time! I really had to face rejection and ask her out.

We were the type of friends who did not meet often - but when we did it was usually alone and we would just talk for hours. And those talks were fresh, honest, interesting, frank, and simply some of the best conversations of my life. It was unusual for me to phone her up - but not unheard of. So without really knowing how to ask her, I picked up the phone and dialed her number. She still lived with her parents. I have no memory of how I asked. I imagine that a few seconds after asking I had no memory of how I asked. But ask I did, and the answer I remember clearly. It wasn't an out-right rejection, and certainly it wasn't an acceptance. It was simply that it wasn't possible. Someone had asked her out yesterday - and she had said yes to him. After four years of keeping my mouth shut - the possibility had slipped by less than 24 hours before.

I was devastated. Not on the phone of course, that would have been impolite. But once that receiver went down I was in shock. The irony of the timing. Whilst I was pacing up-and-down someone had beaten me to the question. Not just someone even - but one of my own bloody students. I had a third of a bottle of scotch in my room - I drank it listening but not listening to Nick Cave on repeat. My friend and neighbour came to enquire what was going on - as one does when you hear your neighbour playing Nick Cave on repeat. God bless him, he brought me over another bottle of scotch and left me alone to stare at the wall and continue drinking. This was the first time, but not the last, that I had the experience of drinking to excess without the pleasure of getting drunk.

Jump forward another year. During the early months of a PhD degree that I would never finish. The girlfriends and sexual encounters I had had were starting to pile up - partly helped by my having learnt basic massage a number of years before, but not yet the ethics that should go with that skill. The woman came over to my house to talk - as we always had before - but this time I ended up giving her a back massage. And there she now was underneath me - her naked back under my caressing hands - the curve of her breasts pressed into my mattress - the long black hair swept in a whirlwind over her left shoulder. She was still going out with my now ex-student. I was still insanely jealous of him - though to my credit he did receive the excellent marks he so fully deserved from my class. And here was his girlfriend, the object of my years of desire, all but naked underneath me, on my bed, in my room. And I know my heart beat wildly. And I know my hormones were boiling. And I know there was a deep intimacy between us at that moment that bordered on the sexual. And I, and I, for once, did not take advantage. And once finished I climbed off her, and she half turned to me and said 'she wanted to ask me something...' and then she didn't ask. The question died in her throat and lived forever in my mind as the thing unasked. The question that I wish to this day she had asked. Then she was dressed again, and the day was for us over.

I'm not sure if it was months later, or years, but she got married to the same man who had asked her out a day before I had asked her. I was at the wedding reception. I left the Great Hall of the University where the reception was held, barely saying goodbye to the proud parents standing at the grand entrance and I ran. I ran to the quadrangle a few minutes away, crumpled into one of the sandstone arches and wept uncontrollably. A demented self-pitying wretch - I wept for what could never have been. Ever.

Years later we met for lunch. She was now a doctor in a hospital. We ate Japanese and later walked down to a park near to where she and her husband lived. As always, our talk was frank and wide reaching and I talked of some of the events remembered above. I said how much I had loved her. And she said that it wasn't love. That I hadn't known her well enough to love her. And perhaps, perhaps, she was right.

Compiling the final list of invitations to my own wedding celebration I crossed her off the list of people to invite. She and her husband had moved to the United States. She has already had her first child and is now a medical specialist. I know this last fact because I did some google stalking whilst compiling the invitations. I haven't contacted her for years - I haven't got a contact email, address or phone number. I would have to go through Sally to get one, and since I didn't when I heard she was pregnant, when I heard she had had a child, I didn't now. I would love to meet again, to talk, the engage once more with that clear sharp insightful mind. But to ask her to my wedding celebrations seemed just one-step-too-much-all-about-me.

And then last night I had the dream. She was as beautiful as I had always seen her - with white braiding through her jet black hair. Hair that in the harsh light of Sydney reflected so bright that it almost seemed white itself - a observation I mentioned to her. Her smile was pure, unabashed happiness. She was walking with me, my parents just ahead of us. We were walking away from the wedding rehearsal - our wedding rehearsal. My father had jokingly asked why she was marrying me - and she jokingly said 'because of all the great sex we shall have.' And the strangest thing was that it was all entirely news to me. Somehow I had been transported to a world where this woman - this woman I loved for so long was actually about to marry me. Then she playfully kissed me and I suddenly thought of how I had wanted and desired and prayed for that kiss so long.

I woke up next to my own perfectly real wife. The wife who I love very dearly and I lay dazed, turning the dream over in my mind. What the hell was that about? How could my subconscious be so unendurably cruel as to put this upon me? To use a past love - was it love? - to create a gorgeous perfect moment - to create what could never ever have been - and impale me upon it. Deep down, do I really hate myself this much?

Monday, 2 February 2009

rolling dreams

I've been dreaming again. Nights and early mornings of multiple features that leave me confused and wondering what is going on up there. And why my subconscious is so much more imaginative that my feeble day time consciousness is...

I woke up on the side of the road - half under a parked car. The sharp cold gravel stuck to my naked skin and had to be forcibly brushed and picked off. Some time after I realized I was actually wearing black shorts - which was good. I started walking home - possibly to the old family house in Faulconbridge. I found useful objects along the way - wire and clips that you hang pictures off the wall with. Later, I found a pile of useful discarded tools on the grass verge. Screw-drivers, drill bits, saws etc... I thought these would be useful and started to collect them up. In the back of my mind I could see they would be useful in creating ART. Then this bloke turned up who obviously owned this stuff - who was just leaving it there whilst getting more tools - and I put the load down again. I turned to walk away then stopped. I turned and apologized to the bloke and stuck my hand out to shake his - which he accepted. A few polite words, then I was back walking home.

Arriving home I found the house abandoned. The front door had the remains of some kind of attempt to barricade it shut - the door was open. Walking into the first room down the corridor I was met by the family red setter who bounded madly around the room as red setters do no matter what mood they are in. Half his tail lay on the floor, a foot of bedragled red hair that had a surprising weight to it when I picked it up. I had the impression that he had gnawed his own tail off. As I walked through the house the feeling of abandoment of continued. The backroom was littered with more red dog hair, piled high by the wind from the open back door. More signs of failed barricades. A large plastic tub filled with fetid liquid and amophous white globs propped the back fly screen open. Abandonment. Invasion. Fear.

This was one of a number of dreams from last night. Each I vividly remembered as I lay semi-conscious, mulling over the contents of my mind. Figuring out which houses were represented, which people. Now, of course, all the others are forgotten. If I am lucky, some random object or thought will resurrect one of them in my memory today - but more likely they are gone for good now. Perhaps I should keep the notepad next to the bed like so many people do - jot down these strange and disturbing images.