Therapy and a wander

I’ve always thought looking for answers in the past rather pointless. There’s nothing you can do about the past, memory is always biased and faulty, and at worst you end up blaming others for your shortcomings.

There’s nothing too dramatic in my past that I remember. No one abused me. I never lacked the necessities of life. I grew up with 3 great brothers and hard-working and loving parents. I had grandparents who always helped, cooked, fixed and babysat.

If you know me now, you’ll know I meditate a lot. I’ve become advanced in qigong. Qigong is mostly hard work. Occasionally though you have a noteworthy experience during practice.

Recently I had what I would describe as a melancholic wander through my past, which was quite unplanned, and a little alarming. Skipping from memory to memory, like a child between rocks in a river.

“Tibetan nomades of Ladakh – The river by eli, on Flickr”

My love of music and making music, and the complete indifference of my family (apart from my youngest brother) to it. Yearning to have this passion in me recognised by someone close to me. I wrote and recorded a song for my grandfather when his close friend died, which wasn’t – and couldn’t – be ignored completely. I got a quiet thank you.

My grandfather telling me a friend was a no-hoper and not to hang around him. My friend who I laughed with and felt so good around. Grandad, who cooked for us each weekend, laughed with us and supported us, now trying to bully me into “dropping” a friend. My heart beating fast in a panic at this unexpected attack that cut straight through my defences and stuck in my guts.

My academic achievements being great, but not celebrated, just kind of expected.  I was in the top few per cent. As my school years progressed I continued to do well, but felt unappreciated for the effort. So I tried less. I could have done anything in University but I chose something not very glamorous. My family kept talking about high status careers, medicine, law etc.

I remember as a teenager Mum taking the wrong turn on the way to my friend’s place in Wonga Park. Being frustrated that she wasn’t going the right way, that she wasn’t listening to me. Dropping the F-bomb in the car like a disrespectful prat! Another memory when Dad was lost during a car rally and I insisted I knew better and nagged and nagged until he stopped the car and gave me such a hiding another man stopped his car and intervened. I remember being right most of the time, but it didn’t always seem like a blessing. My dad was always frustrated and had a temper. I had a “temper like him”. I remember playing tennis with him. He never seemed to enjoy our hits. I was a bit unconventional. Dad and I got along okay I guess, but it wasn’t until later on in life that I started finding mentors to help me.

Natasha in German class at high school being surprised at my academic achievement. “Quiet Achiever”, she said. I’d learnt not to celebrate my strengths too openly. Like my father’s shelf of trophies he never talked about.

My meditative stroll continues through the pain and confusion of teenage-hood and girls. The first girl I kissed at the age of 15 at some party. We’d been drinking alcohol from a cask. I have no idea what her name was, but want to remember her as Emma. The kiss was cold, wet and limp. It was over in a blink and she was gone. She spewed 10 minutes later.

Now I’m sitting in Graphics Design class at boy’s school. A class from a girl’s school was there and they were bantering with some of the other bigger and hairier guys. A laughing girl came over to chat to me. The confusion. The embarrassment. Was she laughing at me? Was I ridiculous? What the fuck do I say? Who is this? Am I cool? I froze, choked and overheated. In my head I was a screaming mess.

Still further backwards in time. Michelle. A girl blossoming into a young woman that summer, whilst me at the same age, still a boy. I think she called me “a spunk”. I was hooked. She was blonde, had curves and I felt funny seeing her in bathers. I remember following her around the camp ground like a puppy. God I wanted her, but had no idea what do to, and no one to talk to about it. I remember at the end of holidays, after loading the station wagon and trailer with dad, crying the first 50 kilometres of the trip home and no one noticing. I longed for next summer. When next summer came, she had moved on. I remember lying on the beach, sun on my back, squinting in the brightness and seeing her lying on the sand with some other boy. She grabbed his hand and pulled it up her body just below her breast. I felt stupid.

That same holiday I remember my mother and her friend casually talking about how strong my younger brother was. I commented that I was strong, felt strong myself, and they laughed and dismissed me. I was a small kid. Mum stressed about me growing. I learnt that not being small was important. “You may be a late blossomer”, she said. What? I’m no good now I assumed. I was sickly and had allergies but it never bothered me as much as it bothered her. My younger brothers were more successful at teenage hood than I was by all accounts. Sometimes you just suck apparently. I eventually reached average height.

I remember breaking up with another girl, crying in the car, then the shower, curled up in a ball. Feeling so lonely. Deciding to not see my friends for a while and go my own way. Drinking and fucking my way back to normal.

Everyone has wounds. You just get on with it, don’t you? Count your – many – blessings, don’t whinge and blunder onwards. As you fall from childhood to adulthood jarring appraisals lie waiting for everyone. Those little surprises mark you with twisted and strange beliefs about yourself and the world. There is value in looking at these painful memories through a mature lens, seeing how mundane and common – yet formative – they were.

This mad, sad wandering in my past fades away. I’m riding back from my mate Steve’s house in the dying light on my racer. As I head up Verona St hill the road narrows and the trees encroach over the road. Everything goes pitch black in the dark; the heart races and I peddle quicker and quicker.

Disagreeable doors

I get quite angry with inanimate objects when I’m frustrated and under pressure. I expect compliance dammit!

Funny. Because yesterday didn’t start that way.

It started perfectly at 6:00am with a strong black coffee, some stretching, exercising and a little meditation, followed by 30 minutes of writing my tech blog.

And then during the morning the commitments and responsibilities and expectations started rolling in. Kids to drop off, work issues to solve via phone, Internet access problems, kids to drop off somewhere else… I was hammered the entire morning.

Riddled With it

Too many balls in the air. Too many open loops in my head. Too many doors to open. Too many metaphors.

I expect the physical world to help out in these situations and it didn’t

Today I have two scars to prove it. Skin off my arm when I expected the back door to get out of my way and the handle caught my upper bicep, and skin off my shin where the bottom corner of the car door got me.

Keys got stuck in my jeans pocket. Instead of pulling them out gently I ripped them out and now my USB stick, shaped like a bullet (bought at Mona), won’t connect to my key ring any more.

The bottom drawer in my bedroom had the audacity to get stuck as I was closing it. Instead of coaxing it straight and sliding it in, I applied increasing pressure until it gave. Bang!

When I’m stressed and overwhelmed my body/mind stops paying attention and I walk straight lines expecting compliance from the physical universe.

One of the first words – if not the first – my twin boys learnt was “Door”. Pushing them down suburban streets in a pram they would point at every garage and yell, “Door!” One of them was obsessed with opening and closing doors at home. Of course fingers were jammed and tears manifest.

In my head, I yearn for so much. To learn, travel, earn and grow. I love opening doors just like my boys do.

There are doors I love (like this blog), doors I’d like to love, and doors I feel compelled to return to over and over again.

I open as many as I can and then… I’m overrun. And then the other day actual doors started physically hurting me.

The world can be quite disagreeable to my needs sometimes.

Swarm

“Bat Triptych by Phil, on Flickr”

This day has been trouble

and I ease along

birds fly in the scrapers

and take flight in form.

 

Hunting alone

being held down

From below they swarm

And we mirror up.

 

I may not add one hour to my life

but I can take one away pretty easily

 

This single hour

slips through my hands

 

This dark swarming we share,

Winged in black velvet

Unthinking

Dark

 

while above the birds fly in formation

Commuter

I thought I’d see if I could record a demo in a day. Here is the result.

I’ve been loving Daft Punk so I thought I’d go where I shouldn’t with a vocoder.

The result is a lyric that is pretty much indecipherable, but it was fun making.

(Photo is “commuter deck” by arileu via Flickr)

The song is dedicated to muppets like me who get up every day and navigate Melbourne train stations, put up with regular signal failures, get diverted to Flinders St so Metro can meet its targets, have their station skipped, have the pleasure of paying a couple of hundred dollars each month to then get pulled up by ticket inspectors with a zero tolerance for mistakes and a complete blindness to your history as a good “customer”.

Here’s to those nights when the train stops halfway home because of our antiquated infrastructure, when you get to have a surprise dinner in Hawthorn and wait for your spouse to pick you up, or you have to hang around the city until things sort themselves out.

Commuters take cars off our roads, carbon out of our air, and generally act in a civic manner. These virtues should be ignored.

We should be punished. We deserve the oppression. There are no limits to a state when enforcing a $10 fare.

(…except it’s easier to go after concessional card holders like students because that light goes on at the turnstiles)

Hunting Alone

I caught her eye briefly in the lift. She was well-dressed in a dark red, chequered jacket. Her hair was tightly organised. Creased make-up partially concealed her age.

I pitied her. She looked like she had worked here forever. I pitied this servitude. She’d lived and breathed – and become – the organisation. Here but for the grace of a bureaucrat. Stupid cow.

Then I hated myself and blushed with self-revulsion.

There was a time when people joined for life. This lady knew more about my work than I ever would. She’d know the essence, where I would only ever see functions, processes, people and “culture”. She’d know the reason the place existed.

Here I was. An uppity virtual worker. A portfolio careerist, restless and twitchy.

Treasure Hunt – (manpsing) Manpreet via Flickr

Thereafter all day I saw my desperation reflected back to me in the aversive eyes of fellow suits.

In this city of millions, I hunted alone.

No clan or tribe, but the writer of my own destiny.

Every disappointment and opportunity.

Paralysed by my freedoms.

Reality glares back at me with owl eyes.

Why do we hunt alone when we all want the same things?

Cracked feet

My mother once said she imagined me working outdoors in the sun. She only said it once but I remember.

I work in an office now at a desk. That’s what most people do who work in computing.

So I work out at the gym and try and do some gardening when the weather is nice. I try and get out with the kids. Try and balance things out.

People who stay inside too much seem to get sick more. Offices always seem to harbour germs. I’m not paranoid about this but some people are. Yesterday somebody was talking about the issue of how to get out of the toilets without touching the door handle.

My greatest office health conundrum is trying to work out the category of rubbish for a tissue that you’ve just blown your nose with. Is it “landfill”, “recycle”, or…. “organic”? Ewwww….

So I practice meditation quite a bit these days and one of the most compelling and relaxing images I can invoke is where my feet are in crystal clear water (could be Pambula Beach, or the Ovens River) and I can see my feet shimmering through the ripples. At the same time I can feel the sun shining on my head, shoulders and upper back. The much maligned sun that everyone is scared of.

Sun on my head, water on my feet.

And then I think of summer holidays when I was a child. We were lucky to have school teachers for parents, so whilst our holidays weren’t as grand as others, they were regular.

Tathra, Pambula Beach, Holiday Hub, early 80s - by Colin Lawton

A transformation occurred between the first week of January and Australia day. We’d live in a tent by Pambula beach. The first night you’d be trying to go to sleep, but other campground-ers would stumble by and startle you. And the ocean was so noisy, the water pulling and pushing. You’d never hear it during the day but at night it roared from 100 metres away. An occasional breeze would knock the canvas against a tent pole and make a small bang. You’d talk to your brothers, get told off, and eventually start to relax with the smell of sand and dune grass mixing with the smells of other families’ dinners and your brother’s farts. And you’d sink into the deepest sleep.

You’d wake with a sore back and the sun (hopefully) dancing shapes of light across the walls. A daily routine of eating, swimming, exploring and cricket would develop. Living outside all the time. Making friends with strangers. Falling in love with girls. Disappearing down the beach at night to sit around campfires.

You’d start by wearing thongs, but after a short while the rubber would wear a blister between your biggest toes. The side of your foot would soon follow, so you’d start to walk barefoot. Feeling the warm sand, the soft grass, the occasional stab of a bindi. Running on the beach sand, soft and hard, chasing tennis balls with electricians tape on one side (to make the ball swing).

Your feet would hurt and then the soles would become the colour of dirt. The sides of your feet would crack. After a while your heels might crack and it would hurt for a bit and you’d need to wear socks and shoes for a day or two.

And then, that two weeks that felt like forever, would be over. People said I looked aboriginal by the end of it, my skin darkened, flakes of dry skin peeling off, a cracked nose and ear lobes. And of course, my cracked feet.

And a feeling of heavy sadness that there were 50 weeks until we would do it all again.

Cooktown

Cooktown will always be a special place for me. The first trip I made there in the early 90s left an indelible impression.

A university mate and I decided two weeks out to go. There were no cheap airfares back then. And there were no spare seats on flights for our trip up so we took a bus to Cairns, and bought a Qantas ticket for the trip home.

I remember the 48-hour bus trip. Slowly stewing in “tracky dacks”. Albury, Goondiwindi, Brisbane. Changing buses. Mackay, Townsville. The humidity. I’d never been this far from home. Up in the far north. Near the pointy bit.

My friend was a Spanish-born Australian. A traveller with experience. I was out on the road for the first time. We went out to Magnetic Island and walked the length of it. Bussed up through Mission Beach to a backpackers in Cairns. My friend wanted to go out and party but I was pretty damned nervous about that. We went up to Kuranda and out to the reef on a schooner, which made most people chunder. And then we caught a 4WD bus up towards Cooktown.

Cape Tribulation was a remote and feral stop-over back then. Shared dormitories under the rainforest. Dirt, Forest, Beach, Reef. I remember a European girl giggling at me, making me feel so self-conscious. She was olive skinned and gorgeous. The next day on the beach I watched as she bent and stretched her dress over her head revealing her naked, tanned body. Holding back, shy and lost, at a distance.

Fishing on Cooktown Wharf (Fayes4Art via Flickr)

The bus to Cooktown took in the Black Mountains and the aboriginal township of Wujal Wujal. It was not the Australia I knew. I stayed on the bus. Peering through the window.

We arrived at the backpackers in Cooktown via a gravel road. The backpackers was on the edge of town. The view over the Endeavour River was amazing especially later in the day.

It’s the last town on the east coast. The 4WD track north of town still teases my imagination; the last hours through wilderness to the Cape.

One evening we were down at the jetty. The water was brimming with the kind of fish you might eat back in Victoria. But here you jigged a hand-line and caught the fish for bait; to then haul in bigger fish. A little kid, tanned and shirtless, had a triple-headed hook on his line. It was big. He cast in at one end of the wharf and waited. A big fish surfaced and he started running behind us, the line over our heads. I thought with bemusement, silly kid you’ll never catch a fish this way. There wasn’t any bait on the line! Then the hook caught. I wish I could remember what kind of fish it was. It was about a metre long. Possibly a mackerel. The line pulled taut. People ducked. The hook held, and then it didn’t. The hook flew over our heads. This little kid, about eight years old, let fly, “Fuckin’ cunt!”.

The backpackers had a special celebration that night (for some reason), and the owner barbequed up some Red Emperor fish. They were smoked, smooth and soft, melting away in our mouths. We sat around with other backpackers talking about ghosts and how the town was full of them. People from Europe and Asia had died here during the Gold Rush. The local aboriginals had been cannibals we heard, adding to the exotic drama, who hunted down the new arrivals.

The next day my friend and an English backpacker walked the botanical gardens to Cherry Tree Bay. It was a hot walk through somewhat barren gardens. The little cove hid a beach. Completely quiet and isolated. We had snorkels and flippers. The others had knives too. We agreed to swim across the bay, as it seemed so small. I’d never swum in deep ocean water before. For the first time on the trip I jumped in instead of watching.

The ocean floor was simple to look at. To my right the sand came up higher to shore and was lighter. The waves broke further on. To my left the floor sloped down into the deep blue. The others were confident and swam ahead while I followed in a state of mild anxiety and excitement.

I saw the manta ray first, concealed on the ocean floor. It’s impressive tail and eyes protruding from the sand. I grabbed a flipper in front of me and pulled. The guys joined me to tread water and peer down at our giant find. There was some loose coral rock back where we had started swimming from so one of the guys swam back to get a bit. Above the manta ray we let the rock gently fall. The beast was startled. An explosion of sand from the flat. The ray turned, its pectoral fins rippled with energy, and it faded into the deep. We took a deep breath, laughed and swore quite a bit.

Christmas

I’ve been watching the weather forecast for the last few days and this year’s Christmas day looks good. December in Melbourne. It could be 40 degrees and a stinker or 16 and pelting down.

Mince pies and choccy balls (Melinda Pankhurst via Flickr)

As boys, Christmas was the same ritual each year. The youngest would wake us all up to go get mum and dad and we’d all congregate bleary-eyed in the lounge room. We’d have left pillow slips out with our names pinned to them and they’d have been stuffed with presents. Dad and mum would exchange gifts. Some years we’d have cinnamon and sugar on toast as a special treat.

Well-dressed, we’d jump into our Kingswood (or Urvan later on – early betrayers of local industry) and drive up to church. We’d be late and have to sit in the foyer where they’d put extra seats. Ceiling fans, 60s organ, and self-conscious congregation singing.

Then it’d be straight to Nana and Grandad’s. We’d sit in their lounge room eating chips and Loy’s soft drink. Grandad would disappear and miss Santa arriving – an over-acting Santa – who handed us more presents. A hot meal of turkey, ham, beef, and chicken would follow. Pulling crackers. Wearing paper crowns. Nana would pour brandy (with a little sugar) on her plum pudding and Grandad would try and walk it in before the flame went out. There would be coins hidden in the pudding. Amazingly no one ever choked on one. I think I was the only one who liked the taste. Others had cream sponge, lemon meringue pie and ice cream.

With bellies full we’d play backyard cricket. Two of us were around the same skill-level would hurl balls at the youngest. He’d have to score 100 before we got him out 10 times. In later years the sledging and pitch tampering escalated as the bodies matured.

And later in the day, exhausted we would visit dad’s side of the family. Everyone would be ratty and tired but it would be fun to watch dad’s brothers wind him up and see him laugh away his worries.

The first Christmas without Grandad was a confusing affair. We tried to cover over his absence, but that only made it more obvious. It was good to celebrate all those Christmas days that had come before though.

Time passes and has passed.

Careers and girls and travel. Wives. Children. Businesses. Deeper Water.

Each year we still come together. The strands of divergent lives wound back together for 25th December. We slip back into our roles, painfully resigning to the occasion. You are a part of family and alive. You can pretend you are that son and that brother for one day.

The real excitement now is being a father. Seeing the excitement and joy on children’s faces. Winding them up with amazing stories and sugar and letting them run wild.

To sit back with full bellies and watch. And remember Christmas’s past. And keep the good times rolling.

Seed

All that is the rose is in the seed. Tilled in dark soil, cared and observed, now filling with colour. Beauty from plainness. Reds, Pinks, Yellows and Blacks.

A boy, not unlike me, perches against the seat-belt, waiting for the plane to bounce against the runway. It feels strange and exciting that first flight. The banking of the plane and tilting of the horizon. Like those TAA ads, but from the inside.

Passing warmth (Seth Rader via Flickr)

The garden delights. The family takes the station wagon to Queensland. Weeds grow and the ground bakes. The flowers brown. Bees linger then move on. Undergrowth climbs and strangles.

Egged on by friends, he watches films about toxic avengers. School bus conversations about this “real world”. Trying to be serious like dad and watch David Johnston and Jana Wendt at Eyewitness news. A friend’s dad’s porn stash. A fist to the face. Rooted. Untended and wild. Scrub.

A tip truck lands a metre of tan bark on the nature strip. The boy ponders how you measure a metre of the stuff. Soil is turned. Browned branches are secateured. Thorns punish the perpetrators.

Abandoned as complete, he pretends. His first job excites all. Females confound. New days are work. Lying in fresh grass staring at the blue sky is his happiest memory. He can’t feel. Obscured and alone. Fading.

Buds pop secretly overnight on old stems. The skeletal spaces dotted with new green. Patient tending. Blood and bone. The rose bush returns not to its youth. Odd bends and scars mark bad seasons. Perhaps it is, or adds, character.

Lost but for chance. An elder. A friend’s advice. A new age guru. Tony Robbins or something. Someone who sees a rose where he sees shit. Or nothing. A clearing of space. An uncrowded hour. More hacking at the muck, scouring of plaque.

Clearing. Empty and fragile. Porcelain brave. Shafts of light through lines. Hacked pure but returning. Enduring.

Salvation makes him beautiful.

Money

I saw an old lady the other day as I was walking up the exit ramp at Camberwell Train Station. I was listening to The Fauves with my lime green ear buds. She was stopping people as they walked by. I guessed she needed directions.

She was well-dressed and pushing one of those tartan old lady trolleys. She looked eighty years old or more. Others had stopped for her so I scurried past but I didn’t feel comfortable. There was something strange in the way people were interacting with her. I continued up the ramp to cross Cookson St and get my double espresso from Collective Espresso. Then I stopped.

A girl who always catches the same train and occasionally catches my eye was walking straight behind me. At my surprising stop she looked down to her right and did this awkward loop around me having to walk the wrong way down the footpath for a few metres before turning to cross the road. I must have had on my intimidating tie.

The old lady wasn’t asking for directions. The body language of people who approached her suggested she was asking for money. People approached her with genuine interest and then backed away as though she was a homeless beggar.

I never give money to beggars. Actually that is wrong. I used to sometimes. Then I remembered seeing one spending my dollars on a Slurpee instead of a train ticket and my heart hardened. Now my kind, wonderful wife does the heavy lifting in the charity stakes and gives when her heart tells her too.

Standing at the curb. Should I go back? I figured I would be spared embarrassment because she possibly hadn’t seen me walk past the first time. I took out my ear buds, checked my wallet and walked back down the ramp and made deliberate eye contact.

“How’s it going?”

“Would you have some money to charge up a Myki?”

“Sure. Everybody should be able to get around”

“God Bless you dear”

Money Queen (@Doug88888 via Flickr)

Later the same day I was crossing the Yarra River at Southgate Bridge. There was a young man sitting on the ground near the Flinders Street station entrance. He had a sign that said “Homeless, Hungry, Hopeful”. There were hundreds of people walking by each minute. It was peak hour. He had a lot of foot traffic, a great location for begging and he’d even done some signage with basic alliteration. It was definitely his location.

He was dirty, unkempt and in old clothes. Sitting cross-legged with his face angled down, his manky hair over his face. Looked like a proper beggar. I had no idea on his story. He looked homeless and a real desperate case. But he also looked like he was cultivating the desperate look and this annoyed me. He had a technique to his trade.

A colleague later mentioned he knew of this guy. He’d passed him many times on his way to work in Southbank. Together we figured he might be “doubling his dole”. If he replaced his current signage with “Double my Dole” I doubt he’d collect much!

In any case, this had obviously become a regular hustle for the guy. Maximising his meagre returns. A basic human instinct.

Now I know nothing of homelessness. But some quick googling suggests 4000 homeless people in Melbourne and 20,000 in Victoria. And this is one guy. There must be a hell of a lot we homed-people don’t see.

It didn’t really concern me as I walked off that I was going to see the face of Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud, talk about architecture. You know… homes.

Without Money (Toban Black via Flickr)

The next day I went for coffee with my work mates. When I had to pay I looked at my empty wallet.

“Shit, my wife cleaned me out this out this morning. Can you spot me?”

“Sure.”

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