Politic

I wake up bad. My balance is off. My shoulder hits the doorframe on the way. My eyes are red.

The wind is pounding against the weatherboards like an ocean. The cracks and gaps in our old house whistle.

I walk on tiptoes to be quiet while little cool inflows tickle my feet. The boys are still asleep. One is still and silent, the other snorting like an angry walrus, but both are peaceful.

Silence outside. Why am I awake? What woke me?

I hear the trees a mile away rustling, scraping and banging. The unseen rushing closer. The house groans.

I look up at the ceiling expecting it to peel away dramatically. There’s creaks and pops in the structure I haven’t heard before. Then the gusts move on south and I settle.

I edge the central heating up a little and wander into the kitchen for a glass of water.

I used to attach emotional or spiritual significance to waking up at night. I’d try and remember and analyse my dreams. Now? It’s just business as usual.

Next week I may get a few nights run of a full night’s sleep. But it won’t last.

One morning soon I’ll wake up and the government will have changed.

Bla bla bla (Pablo Fernández via Flickr)

One side still reeling from the original sin three years ago of boning their own leader, and then having to repeat the dysfunction to undo the job. Didn’t they realise that it’s our job to vote a leader out! Here… let me show you how it works…

The other side competently sitting on their hands, carefully hedging and clipping their words, knowing that everything can be rebooted once they’re in.

Ugh. It’s all too much.

I imagine on that future morning I’ll stumble and fumble around in the early morning light thinking wow the country has changed hands. That’s kind of a big deal. Shouldn’t I care?

Maybe after one, two of three coffees.

I suspect that the winners will still have to deal with boat people and a deficit. There will be competent management, we will send troops if asked to Syria, some kind of broadband network will be built and Chinese influence will continue to grow.

Aboriginal life expectancy won’t change, small-minded white chauvinist bigots will still have a platform, footballers will still fuck up, many people who want to work will be dependent on welfare, the Rineharts, Palmers, Murdochs and Packers will push their agendas through back doors, nobody will get punished – ever – for the Iraq War, the AWB scandal, Siev-X, participating in NSA surveillance, trying to bring down our government, and abandoning whistle-blowers. Pokies – designed to dishonestly manipulate and extract money from weak-minded people – will continue to kill. And the country will continue its fucking obsession with building highways and fuck-ugly apartment towers.

All these things, like a full nights sleep, will fade from memory.

Lack of sleep can make you grumpy.

If only the cricket was still on…

Tag

Measurement (Maessive via Flickr)

Back to the start.

A room full of doctors, midwives and specialists. My wife and I. Noise. Rushing. Crying. Blood.

There they are. Twin sons crying at the shock of suddenly being.

We have agreed on their names but not which one is which, so I make a decision and name them. A nurse almost labels them the “wrong” way. I correct her. But I was stressed and in a dumbfounded, new-dad state, so maybe I mixed them up.

They are James and William.

Everyone in that hospital room that day, everyone who visited and everyone who later stopped my wife at the shops to ask dumb twin questions, would already have known several James and Williams. They probably thought, “Does he look like a James? Does he look like a William?” as if this is not a completely insane question. They might notice we shorten William to Wil with one ‘l’ and that reminds them of Wil Anderson the comedian rather than Will Ferrell the comedian.

I notice I do this myself to help remember people’s names. Some people just look like a Steven, Jess or Arthur. But once – when they were zero days old – they just looked like a newborn.

From the very first day you are born you are tagged (literally and figuratively) by people having expectations. You have the beginning of a past and history. You have joined the world of named things. The world of this and that. The world of form.

The twins are identical so we later used – hopefully subtle – colour-coding to help people tell them apart. Initially James wore mainly blue and Wil green, but then we switched and James became more earthly colours like red and brown and Wil blue and green. It’s persisted in the colour of the frames of their glasses. Colour of course carries emotional content. So this small decision changed people’s perception of them.

People also look at my wife and I and make judgements about what James and Wil are like based on what we are like

This sort of “expectation” analysis will drive you mad if you continue. It’s not a bad state of affairs. It is just the nature of the world we live in.

From the day they are born kids start looking for and learning evidence of who they are. The evidence enforces who they think they are, their strengths and limitations. They file away their successes and failures based on how other people react to and perceive them. Do they then eventually become the expectation that is reflected back at them?

This structure of habit and memory ossifies and builds up like coral. Fixes and hardens. Eventually the structure will become so monolithic that it is difficult to experience who they were in those early days when they had little or no identity. They will have become completely identified with the named world. Living in and being part of it. Filed, tagged, labelled and closed away. They will believe, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.

But. That brief moment when they took their first breath. No history. No labels. No expectations from, or of, them. Just being.

No expectations or limitations. Mind and body open to all experiences and possibilities.

To be able to re-capture that feeling.

********

James wants our next holiday to be on the moon.

Bones on the Beach

I’m here on the Coral Coast of Fiji. We’ve been here 6 days: 2 days of sunshine, 2 days of deluge and 2 days of cyclonic winds.

The sea swell is huge. It threatens to breach the coral reef that runs out a few hundred metres from shore. Swollen and distorted, the sea level beyond the reef looks higher than the coral lagoon.

This wonderful coral pond, caught between the ocean and the land, with its blue sea stars, sea worms, sea snakes, angelfish, trevally, sea snails, hermit crabs. It’s abundance.

Wild weather from our holiday in Fiji

I’m Australian and therefore unused to this density of life. I’ve grown up drifting down long silent highways of enormous starry skies. Then being scared shitless by a lone roo! Or fishing for hours for only a few bites. I come from a big, scary and silent place. No wonder we all clamber together in noisy cities by the coast.

Here in Fiji where there’s so much life there must also be death. The shore is strewn with pieces of whitened coral. They look like little bones scattered around an exposed grave. I’m reminded of Fiji’s history of cannibalism; paradise for sure.

The distant Pacific Ocean is really smashing the reef. Thoughts of tsunami news footage.

Life gets wild and stormy. Things can turn ugly quickly and but for the grace of god you’re gone. Storms come and you hunker down in your ship and hang on. Silly thoughts for a holiday.

But a few days later my son will cut himself, get an infection, and require 3 nights in hospital. At those times you yearn for the safety of the shore. To feel stuck in the endless middle ground of life. In the illusion of safety.

After the storm I tiptoe out into the lagoon. Jumping startled at the equally startled fish. Flinching when my foot lands on a sharp rock. Awestruck when a school of fish dance around my legs. Walking this thin blue line between the wild ocean and the placid shore.

Trying not to think too much before the moment is gone.

Cricklewood

Tree 8 250cmX60cm

Artwork by Steve Weller (www.steveweller.net)

Last night I dreamed of home.

The home I lived in from the age of 8. Cricklewood

The sun was in the trees and there was a light breeze. The light flickered between tiny medallions of blue sky, lush green and golden light.

It’s such a big place. My family won’t fill it. I grew up in a family of 6 and now I’m father in a family of four. There’s too much space to live in this house.

Such a big garden. The stair case which winds down from the second floor to the split level, on to the bottom floor near my bed room. So much fun to run down. Ghosts thumping down the wooden stairs between the lounge room and the kitchen. The secret cupboard behind the wall in the lounge. The secret cupboard under the stairs. Secrets. Memories.

And now I’m in my mum’s old room on the top floor looking out through the deep garden at the mountains off in the distance.

If we have to move in I guess we can make do. It feels bitter sweet. Like I never left home. But it’s such a great house. Built by a famous architect. So many great memories. A great place to grow up and to grow my kids.

I start to stir. Reality.

Cricklewood is sold, fool! The land has been redeveloped. The house itself has been restored and renovated.  Three town houses now share the block. The sound of the wind in the old trees is no more. The dancing shadows of green, blue and gold are gone.

I understand my mum’s sadness for the first time. Such a lovely place in the suburbs. Such a luxuriant block and garden. Such a great place for a family. Lots of memories, good and bad. All mostly let go.

I’m back in a half dream state. I’m outside the house levitating in the air. The tree near the house is tall strong and vibrant. I look towards the house and there is tree bark in lines up the outside wall. The house has become the tree has become the dream.

Back in the land of the living we’ve just started renovations at our place.

I have a cold and am on strange medications…

 

Photography by Steve Weller.

Spinning wheels on the long road

The cursor blinks at me. It’s 6:19AM. Writing time.

Immediately I remember 3 things I need to do today so I open up my email and send a reminder to work. I resist the urge to look at my Inbox.

I’ve been getting into the habit of writing in the hour before the kids wake up and have a few different writing projects.

It’s 6:20AM and I’m trying to get into flow.

“Flow” was introduced to me on a work-sponsored course by The Resilience Institute. The dude who did the most work on flow is Mihály Csíkszentmihályi – pronounced “chick-sent-me-high”. Sometimes when writing, time falls back, mental distractions disappear, and inspiration and joy comes. When playing sport or music I sometimes get a sense of being totally absorbed and somehow energized by an activity.

Some activities like commuting or ironing take energy away while others actually give you energy. If you are one of the sad people who reduce humans to carbon-based machines it doesn’t make sense. How can you expend energy on a task and gain energy overall from it? It’s like you’re a car and when you drive a particular road the petrol tank fills itself up.

The driving metaphor is wrong though. Time to jump.

Mongolia: The Orkhon River By flickr.Marcus (via Flickr)

Flow is like a river. You find a good current in the middle of a strong stream and are being carried along effortlessly. You’ve found a good moment.

But life is a long game of many moments.  Sometimes flow stops. Even worse sometimes you’re almost in flow.

You’re stuck in an eddy of muddy water. You are absorbed in a computer game, Facebook or The Biggest loser. You’ve sat down to watch TV in the evening and sort of hated every show but sat there anyway. You have many aspects of flow but no sense of control or joy; maybe a dull contentment. You’re sitting at the pokies of your mind. And at times when I’ve hated my life, or been incredibly angry, this state has been preferable.

Or alternatively you go too hard are crashing over rapids trying not to be smashed to smithereens. It’s a big night out, doing shots, drugs, grabbing at strippers, driving too quickly, picking fights, base jumping, drug taking. It’s like The Hangover. You wake up and wonder what the hell happened.

This flow stuff is tricksy.

We are charting a constantly changing river. Around each bend it could end. Trying to find the good water. Sometimes we get stuck in the worst form of ourselves. Other times we almost destroy ourselves.

In a previous season of Mad Men Peggy and Father Gill are chatting and she says “Nuclear war. We could be gone tomorrow.” His response: “Isn’t that always the case?”

We are in the river and it’s such a long way to the ocean.

I was in flow from about 6:30 to 6:50 this morning.

Symphony of the dissonant dots

Japanophile v.3 (M Domondon via Flickr)

Orchestras have always put me to sleep and it’s not because they bore me.

I focus on the violins then perhaps my friend on the bassoon. Then I might sit back and try and experience the entire orchestra as a whole.

The lights are down and everyone is quiet. I switch between appreciating the individual and the whole. It gets me sleepy.

A sleep born of harmony. My skin goes tingly as I exhale all the tension out. It’s the kind of rest that begets more rest. It’s the first part of a beach holiday that makes you confusingly more tired. It’s winding down and tuning in.

My master always talks about “circle” and “dot” thinking. In my analogy the violinist or bassoonist is the dot and the orchestra is the circle.

I’m very “dot”. I do things. I pick up skills and knowledge. I mostly show up on time to work. I set a budget. I tie a shoelace. I make a decent coffee. I go to gym. I can pick the intro to Nothing Else Matters on guitar. I do many “dot things”. I spend most of my life “in the dot”.

A shipping container is one plain dot in an intricate global logistics network (the “circle”) that enables our modern life. Because of it I can drink Italian coffee, listen to music on my iPhone and turn on a fan on a hot night.

A cheap-arse Broadcom network adapter is one part of a large global Internet that enables me to see photos of my brother at a movie premiere in New York, to write this blog, and to enjoy pornography!

When “dots” are in harmony with the “circle”, amazing things happen: Pyramids. Revolutions. Civilizations. Ecosystems. Solar Systems.

Consider a big “circle”. The country. The planet. The universe perhaps. If you ignore  24-hour news hysteria and your own drunken-monkey mind you’ll notice “things” generally work out. Nature pulls towards something like harmony.

The orchestra is made up of 100 or so instruments. Imagine that one player starts playing out of tune. Would you notice the 99 other instruments playing sweet music or the one playing out of tune?

It’s easy to focus on the annoying guy at work, having to wait 20 minutes for a tram,  overwhelm at work or the struggle for money.

So many things command our attention. It’s like the world is filling up with dots. But no matter how many dots you have it never comes close to filling the circle.

And the circle is indifferent to these dissonant dots. It calls its own tune.

C.T.L

photo-1Two years ago.

I woke to the sound of my mobile phone vibrating by my bed. It was a little early but not too early. It was my youngest brother. It’s time, he said.

I was lethargic. Everything was in slow motion. The kids woke as usual at 7:00am and I helped get them breakfast. They were two; the same age I was when my grandpa died. They were messy eaters and it took a long time to feed them.

The four of us jumped in our car and headed off. Hoping we would be there in time, but dreading getting there.

The traffic was peak hour and progress was halting. I could feel simultaneously sweat gathering with frustration tempered by my tiredness at being woken early.

We drove past the place of our wedding with barely a glance. I’m glad he was there for that. I’m glad he outlived his mother. Thoughts raced. I wondered if my other brothers had got there yet.

The last part of the drive was quick. We got off the main roads and raced through northern suburb streets. My youngest brother was sitting on the front doorstep.

“He’s gone”, he said.

I felt like he was pranking because it sounded so melodramatic. Some finality. Some relief. Sympathy for my brother who was there to hear dad’s halting, slowing breaths.

I went to spend some time with his body and to forgive and release him as completely as I could through tears.

I remembered the good times. Walking through from the car to the ground at VFL Park, holding his hand with Rohan. Putting up the family tent every summer holiday. Him building our cubby house with Grandad. Hitting a tennis ball with him; his high backhand. His videography. His cask wine. His secret stash of muesli-flakes and scotch finger biscuits. The pained look on his face when we hurt ourselves. His bad dress sense. His complete, almost self-defeating modesty and humility. His frustration and his commitment.

I remember when him and mum were separating the first time. I was studying for year 12 and self-absorbed. He said he missed his dad. It was the only time he talked about his father to me. Typical Aussie bloke!

Well I miss you dad and I hope you are at peace.

Nature Boy

Sometimes I wish I’d stayed in London. Occasionally I dream of the place. I dream of the narrow streets, the wet weather, the green gardens, the endless architecture and damned culture and sophistication. I even fondly remember the garbage bags, the tube and the gypsy cabs.

But I never think fondly of the London night sky. In my memory, it glows yellow. The seemingly permanent low clouds reflecting the glowing city. Claustrophobia.

London night view (kosalabandara via Flickr)

As a child, I remember the awe of seeing the unencumbered night sky for the first time. We were on holiday, out in the country, and I was old enough to be up after dark. Mum and dad were hustling my brothers and I from the Kingswood to the cabin and were flustered. They were trying to get us to bed. But I looked up and saw the naked stars for the first time. The expanse and depth. The universe. Awe.

London’s phosphorescent mist though was conjured from a medieval scene. Nature had long been diminished.

Humanity has been collapsing inevitably into cities for decades. Young families chase opportunity in the tight spaces of cities and suburbs.

Sometimes I just ache to be out of the city. To breathe.

A three day road trip to Tweed heads would seems like boredom to some, but country roads, clean air, and good company sound like heaven on earth. Camping with a mate. Swimming in the Ocean.

All of the cells in my body relax. I no longer care about my mortgage or my family.

In the ‘burbs there are parks, but the landscape is dead. Suburban parks that are under-watered, over-planned and joyless places. Nature does not belong in the suburbs; it has to lurk in the shadows and creeks. It is dominated by traffic, shopping centres, and fence-lines.

My male friends change when down the coast or hiking in the forest or walking the land. They shine.

In nature you realise how unimportant you really are, how petty most of your desires are, how pointless most of your anxieties are, and how generous the natural world is.

So whenever I start to yearn for those heady London days again, I remember the cloaked night sky. I remember that while I was there part of me wanted to leave so badly.

The thing about thinking about everything and nothing.

My wife did a boot camp out at Wonga Park. Boxer Sam Soliman had her jumping side-to-side over a log. He timed 3 minutes but the stopwatch didn’t even work, didn’t even have batteries.

My old personal trainer use to change the weight up when I wasn’t looking and fool me into doing personal bests. But then I started to guess when he was doing it, and I couldn’t do personal bests any more.

In some activities there is just too much damned time to think.

In a basketball game I played last century, we were down to 3 players with less than a minute to go, needing 3 points to win. The opposition covered the other two who had been shooting three-pointers all night, leaving me free. Andy and Ash couldn’t get a shot off, so they passed to me, and I turned and netted it and we won. No time to think. Ever had a time when you nailed it because you didn’t have time to think? And then when you tried to repeat it…

As Paul Kelly says in his most excellent “How To Make Gravy: A to Z, A Mongrel Memoir” when he tries to learn how to kick an Aussie football with his left foot.

The art of kicking is all about getting the drop of the ball right. My right hand does this instinctively. There’s hardly any gap between where I let go of the ball and where it hits the boot. Not so on the left. I have to think about it more, guiding the ball down. The drop always seems longer. And the longer the drop, the greater the margin for error. I’m running around an oval in Cairns trying not to think about how I release the ball from my left hand. When it goes well I’m not thinking about anything.

I love Stick Cricket. You have so little time to pick what shot to play. As soon as you start guessing what is coming next you start losing. As soon as you start thinking of anything much at all, your reactions slow down. Playing a game to get out of your mind though might not be far off crap TV and Internet porn as avoidance.

In the best Aussie novel of all time, Dirt Music by Tim Winton, Georgie consumes the Internet:

When Georgie sat down before the terminal she was gone in her seat, like a pensioner at the pokies, gone for all money. Into that welter of useless information night after night to confront people and notions she could do without. She didn’t know why she bothered except that it ate time […] It was an infinite sequence of opening portals, or menus and corridors that let you into brief painless encounters, where what passed for life was a listless kind of browsing. World without consequence, amen. And in it she felt as light as an angel. Besides, it kept her off the sauce.

Getting out of your mind, or staying in it.

Examining every belief, indeed noticing beliefs at all, and deciding whether to pluck them from the fishing net of your memory to throw back into the sea.

But not trying hard. Letting go. Noticing shards and remnants of reflex and feeling: the way you behave around an old school friend; the way a pretty girl makes you blush; the way you tell yourself, like a flailing Biggest Loser contestant, “That’s good enough”.

I’m listening to A Bug Free Mind, by Andy Shaw. He starts with this suggestion: Think of a really great time in your life and nothing else for fifteen seconds. Try it.

I’m also studying a silent qigong meditation that will take 20 weeks to learn. Trying to reach what the Taoists call the Ding State. Thinking of Nothing. And Everything. Of All Things. Maybe. I’ll know it when I get there apparently.

I’m doing a lot of thinking about thinking.

Don’t think of a white elephant.

Cut and Run

There was a time when I could hit the big reset button. The old cut-and-run. I’ve done it twice.

The first cut-and-run spilled from a brew of friend, girl, jealousy and strangely, a burning will to do the right thing, or at least not the wrong thing.

I cut the two of them out of my life. I just stopped calling. I didn’t return calls. It was like pruning a lemon tree. Faith was required; faith that something – some fruit – would grow back on the empty limbs. I didn’t burn bridges. There were no self-righteous confrontations. I just cut myself off.

I remember weeks of aching loneliness. A big part of my life had been hollowed out. I think my hair started receding. It was stressful. It felt like it took more courage than I had. Alone with my thoughts way too much, undefined in the world. Things got weird.

But into that self-created hole many good things fell. I started a band, I discovered women. I met my future wife. I went exploring. I burst through some psychic wormhole to the other side. The tree had grown back and it was recognisable as me, but it was no longer the same tree.

I wonder if anybody noticed or if people worried about me. I guess not everyone makes it back from dark places.

I had cut-and-run as an act of self-preservation.

I then chose to do it all again and for no exact reason.

****************

My brothers were all moving on in their lives. I was living with a mate in Northcote. I’d been doing the same jobs for a while. Somebody told me about dot-com riches that could be made in the UK. I had until I turned 28 to have my working holiday visa stamped and I didn’t want to miss out. But mostly, and for no reason I could pinpoint, everything – and everyone – seemed to be giving me the shits.

I made my travel plans in the blink of an eye even though I am crap at that sort of thing! My behaviour was so out of the ordinary. I wasn’t in control. A wild ocean was drawing me in, and I let myself be taken out on the current knowing all the loneliness and craziness it would bring. (You don’t struggle in a rip or you drown.) I woke up having night sweats in the lead up to leaving and when I said goodbye to my housemate I was trying not to cry. I then cut myself off from my world again.

I remember looking at the TV map on the 747-400 as it soared over Uzbekistan and feeling scared shitless and excited all at once. I was going somewhere where nobody knew me and I liked this very much. I was going to an apartment promised me by a guy I’d worked with once, with no job and a few thousand dollars in the bank.

I remember the day I arrived… sweaty… crossing town on the Underground with my bags… my apartment not ready… being put up by the electrician who was working on the apartment…  ripped off by a taxi driver… sleeping on a stretcher in the spare room of a family house…. living with a Danish couple, an Aussie couple and an eccentric landlord… waking up at 4:00am to a blazing summer sun… buying my first tube ticket… taking the tourist doubledecker around town… finding out that poms don’t drink black tea.

I was on my feet quickly. I landed a dot-com job within a fortnight and the Danish couple got kicked out for me. (Apparently their food stunk – pork knuckles or something).

Then, as expected, the loneliness and craziness of self-imposed isolation arrived like old friends. The craziness came as deranged and illogical thoughts. Thoughts that you are alone because you’re a loser, unlikable, that this is your life and nothing good can grow here. Thoughts that to an outsider would seem crazed.

I mean I grew a fucking goatee!

So I filled my life with walking. I walked from Crouch End to Hampstead Heath. Ali Pally. Camden. Dodgy cafes. Dodgy Pubs. Along the river. I lost about 10 kilograms and got chronic back problems but I kept walking. I crowded out my crazed thoughts with continual action.

And as with the first cut-and-run, good things eventually came. I made great friends. I had adventures I will never write down. My career flourished and my future wife joined me in the UK.

I remember seeing her smile as she came through Heathrow Terminal 4. She had a new purple streak in her hair. She was toned and tanned; at least compared to the English! I loved her so fiercely at that point I surprised myself. I couldn’t believe she had put up with all my shit and had flown over!

We ended up working and living together. We travelled to exotic corners of the planet, then finally back home where we got busy building a family.

****************

The cut-and-run. Finding yourself alone amongst strangers. Starting again. Refusing to lie down and give up. Tolerating and beating craziness. Then remarkably finding a way back home, through places never imagined.

Or as my grandma simply used to say, “Things have a way of working out”.

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