Prologue to…

 For all the progressive thinking quite a few people do, it just gets worse and worse. As future great Jeff Thiessen of Saskatoon, Canada put it in semi-disgust: “This is not a world run by those who feel, it’s run by those who strive not to feel, since little things like empathy and heartfelt gestures get in the way of the big picture.” Maybe it is all just a fight, maybe compassionate thinking is just the wrong way to go about living. I’m sure that a good 98% of all problems on Earth come about simply because people don’t give a shit about one another, so I try to give a shit. But…

But I could hear, behind my anxious broadcast, the amused laughter of my greatest rival; and there was Shiva in all our heads, saying scornfully, ‘No, little rich boy; there is no third principle; there is only money-and-poverty, and have-and-lack, and right-and-left; there is only me-against-the-world! The world is not ideas, rich boy; the world is no place for dreamers or their dreams; the world, little Snotnose, is things. Things and their makers rule the world; look at Birla, and Tata, and all the powerful: they make things. For things, the country is run. Not for people. For things, America and Russia sent aid; but five hundred million stay hungry. When you have things, then there is time to dream; when you don’t, you fight.’ The Children, listening fascinatedly as we fought… or perhaps not, perhaps even our dialogue failed to hold their interest. And now I: ‘But people are not things; if we come together, if we love each other, if we show that this, just this, this people-together, this Conference, this children-sticking-together-through-thick-and-thin, can be that third way…’ But Shiva, snorting: ‘Little rich boy, that’s all just wind. All that importance-of-the-individual. All that possibility-of-humanity. Today, what people are is just another kind of thing.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

It’s one side of reality, as dreams and beauty are another side of reality, both sides incompatible with each other. I don’t like the idea of being represented by other people’s words when I can surely say what I need to say myself, but I’ll make an exception here because it’s a perfect lead up to…

My interview with Contiki

Who, at least in concept, wouldn’t want to be a tour guide in Europe? I cut loose in this interview, because they would either love me or hate me but I would not be cut because I was too anonymous.

 

Me: “Things are already difficult without all of us treating each other badly on top of that.”
Interviewer: “But that’s human nature mate. Isn’t the big picture more important than individuals?”
Me: I didn’t have any choice on this one, because the day before they had specified a situation in which a girl had to be left behind on tour so that the tour could continue. “Yes but…” In reality, NO! NO! NO! and a thousand times no. The big picture is not bigger than the individual because the big picture is made up of individuals. If one person suffers and ten are cruising, that one person’s suffering doesn’t just disappear because he’s outvoted. He’s still a person with feelings. In hindsight I’m furious I didn’t say this, but my little idiosyncratic views probably dug my grave somewhere else along the line.

 

Interviewer: “Have you read our brochure?”
Me: “No.” It simply hadn’t occurred to me; I really am that simple-minded in a real-world sense. I think I glanced at their website three months ago but that was three months ago. My brother later said, “Why didn’t you just say yes? You’re an inconvenient truther, and not in an Al Gore kind of way.”

 

Me: “I see eye-to-eye with a wide variety of people. I can talk about books with the quieter ones and I can talk about footy or soccer or whatever to more… (pause) simplistic people. (Another pause.) I didn’t mean for that to sound condescending. That’s just a fact. Some people think very deeply about things and some are happy with what they see in front of them, (gestures to the air) right here. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Interviewer: “So are you a here and now person?”
Me: (Thinks) “Yes.”

 

Me: “Most people think intelligence is about making things more complicated. I think real intelligence is about using your intelligence to make things more simple. As simple as you can, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Interviewer: “So you think academics make things more complicated, just to make themselves look more intelligent?”
Me: My contempt for academia is complete, so I answered without hesitation. “Yes.”
Interviewer: (Smiles) “I’d have to agree with you on that.”

 

Interviewer: “How would your friends describe you?”
Me: “They would probably say that I have a lot of kindness. And they would probably say that they’re not sure where I’m coming from at times.” Whoops. At least I know where I’m coming from.

 

Me: “There’s only so much you can say in interviews.” I actually said that. As in, if you talk too much and give too much of yourself away you’re dead. Much like wooing a female, really.

 

Those were the highlights but I was sharp and engaging, it went better than it looks on paper (um, on screen?).

My private verdict: I reckon I’d be an awesome tour guide. I speak four European languages, I would smile and give a shit about each and every person under my charge, I’m fun and laugh and play sports and dance and all that, I speak well and I know heaps of shit about heaps of shit. And, I have an American passport so I would be free to work for their problematic American tours. What the hell else could they possibly want?

Their verdict: No. Sixty other people were better than me.

Post-verdict: Is it a given to feel bitter against the person/place/entity that rejects you? Or am I being mean-spirited? Fuck you Contiki, you den of rip-off tours for drunken pisshead fuckwits. And fuck you Europe, you pretentious lot of holier-than-thou hypocrites. You spent 3,000 years fighting each other and 500 years fucking the globe up (America’s only been doing it for 60, and they’re the assholes? How did Spain and France get off scot free?) and now you have the nerve to turn around and tell us what to do because you’re now too weak and tired to do anything yourselves? All that’s left for you is to be reverse-colonised by the immigrant descendants of the very countries you once colonised. Your day is done.

Bond and Bolivia

God I love Daniel Craig. The nonsexual man-crush I have on him almost rivals the one I have for Barack Obama. I better balance this one out quick… what about Rebecca Twigley, she looks a bit all right, you know, I wouldn’t hesitate.

I really would have preferred for Quantum of Solace to not have been based in “Bolivia” (I’ll get to the reasons for the talking marks in a sec). It was just too distracting for me. I’ve spent the better part of the last three years thinking about Bolivia, and we go to the movies to escape our lives and all that? Call me a social leper but it was my first cinema visit since two I saw in January in… Bolivia, the last of which was with the girl of my dreams who has probably forgotten about the little moments that made her fleetingly love me.

I’m a geography nut, so seeing D.C. hop across a bunch of old rooftops in Siena, Italy or one-handedly breaking some guy’s wrist in Haiti (which was actually filmed in Panama) really floated my boat. If it’s a safe thing to do I want to practice French by living in either Haiti or Mali for half a year. Sounds fucked up but it’s that or pay 100,000 Euros per month in France, and I would take Bolivia over Spain any day of the year so maybe my thinking isn’t so off. I suspect those sorts of countries (fine, I’ll say it: the dirt poor ones) are still in tune with the emotional side of being human in a way that Europe and Australia and Co. no longer are, which undoubtedly makes them more fun (along with their cheaper prices). The reverse argument is that they are poor because they don’t care about the business side of things.

Back to Bond. So what if Haiti was filmed in Panama, same run-down Afro-Latin vibe, who’s counting? But then he went to “Bolivia” and I couldn’t just let go.

I’m not blaming the movie filming itself. It’s too fucked up to try to make a movie in Bolivia: it’s too remote to get in and out of and things move too slowly there to get anything done. But I’m just sayin’, La Paz is much curvier in real life, it’s downright surreal; Bond’s “La Paz” was actually filmed in flat Mexico for a generic Latin feel. But they get the feel kind of ok in the flick. The Bolivian taxis and police uniforms in the flick are spot on.

At least now people understand that Bolivians aren’t all just the braided Indian women who trotted to and fro in the film, just like not all of us are drawling Steve Irwin/Croc Dundee clones. That’s a cliché that annoys quite a few Bolivian women. Thanks Olga Kurylenko, for presenting yourself to the world as hot and Bolivian. Still, she and the General don’t look Bolivian, they just don’t have the eyes for it, although the fleeting servant girl towards the end could have been.

Again, I’m not blaming Bond, cause even Bolivian flicks that represent themselves cast white Mexican soapie actresses as their poster “Bolivians”. That’s the film business, reality gets shunted aside. D.C. and the chick would have certainly died of exposure that night they spent in the Bolivian desert cave; that area on the mountain is bloody freezing. She was wearing a cocktail dress for God’s sake.

They survived a desert night wearing this

They survived a desert night wearing this

The desert scenes were done in northern Chile, only a few hours’ drive from south-west Bolivia. I passed through there by bus this time last year. I willingly chose to pass through the desert at the expense of Argentina’s green fields, because any sense of a place where there are less people, whether in metro Melbourne or the desert of Bond’s “Bolivia”, make me more comfortable. I love the idea of deserts. I got on the bus and as it pulled away across the dusty absence of grass that can be seen in Quantum of Solace I was alone and seeing something untouched. I felt a quiet exhilaration.

Lauryn Hill and me

I’m torn. I don’t believe anyone in the last ten years in any spheres has ever had the same depth of wisdom that Lauryn Hill put into her songwriting but then I contrast the truth, beauty and clarity of her words with the undoubted inner hurt and hatred of her behaviour over the last ten years.

Ask me for my favourite musician and I still say Lauryn Hill even seven years after finding her and ten since she’s been out there, however rooted in the past that seems to make me. That’s even though she released only one album and then that was the end, she burnt out and immediately became irrelevant. And, that’s despite that while twenty-five percent of her songs will move me incredibly both musically and lyrically, I think the other seventy-five percent stinks to high heaven.

I believe that she is a genius. I believe that she is a genius in a poetical way, and a theoretical emotional genius, but one who is terribly flawed because of the genius’ frustration that comes from dealing with uninspired people who don’t have the same genius as herself. I think some of her music has come from that place where the greatest of creative work has come from, from the nothingness, not written by her per se but through her: a religious person would say it comes directly from above and she was a conduit.

I think Lauryn Hill is more than anything the story of a person who got broken. “Some things hurt us so deeply that we never heal from them,” was what someone had to say about her after she closed up shop and withdrew from the world. Evidently she got hurt too badly by Wyclef Jean, but I also wonder if she had that much sensitivity, if she looked around at a world in decay that she tried fixing with her words, and suffered from the malevolence that greeted her at every turn and from her inability to alter the world despite seeing and knowing what was wrong with it. I suspect that she couldn’t take the evilness of the world anymore, she broke, and she was never able to face it again. It turned her spirit bitter and then she started treating people terribly. Then in the time she spent away from the world she lost her sense of reality.

She gave an interview for a mag in 2005. The publication, Trace, told of how she pulled a bunch of diva-ish shit on them, arriving hours late without smiles or contrition and making everyone call her Ms. Hill (including the old band members she was temporarily working with, Pras Michel and Wyclef Jean). But she told the author: “You’ve never met anyone like me,” and he admitted in his article that no, he never had, the depth of her thinking and her discussions was otherworldly.

She played at a special concert at the Vatican in 2003 but instead of waiting for her applause she began her set with these words:

I am sorry if I am about to offend some of you. I did not accept my invitation to celebrate with you the birth of Christ. Instead I ask you why you are not in mourning for him in this place? I want to ask you, what have you got to say about the lives you have broken? What about the families who were expecting God and instead were cheated by the Devil? Who feels sorry for them, the men, women and children damaged psychologically, emotionally and mentally by the sexual perversions and abuse carried out by the people they believed in? Holy God is a witness to the corruption of your leadership, of the exploitation and abuses which are the minimum that can be said for the clergy. There is no acceptable excuse to defend the church.

I was moved not by the undoubted truth of the statement but by its phrasing. I had faith in what she had to say, because she had always said it better than anyone else.

She was called the real talent of The Fugees, probably correctly, and then released her one and only solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I bought it in 2002 and for a few days looked at her pictures in the CD booklet with the certainty that I had never seen a more physically beautiful female, with beautiful music and words to match. The songs Ex-factor, To Zion, Tell Him and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill left me stupefied that such beauty could be so consistently produced by one person, and utterly thankful. Her voice is feminine but deeper, a representation of the depth of her inner wisdom. She was the complete package of beauty in all its forms.

But she lost some of that beauty; she allegedly said that she didn’t care about white people, whether they bought her music or not, they had nothing to do with her, she didn’t need them. There she was playing the tired black card when I had been sure she was above the reverse racism shit that exists in spades among black Americans. I had thought the depth of her feeling placed her above the hatred she preached against but that she evidently practiced. I’m white, I’m just a person who wants to find some truth just like you, Lauryn.

On the net there are now unflattering photos of her having aged with a twisted face to match the probable twisted spirit and twisted mind. She may in theory be an emotional genius but in practice she is an emotional wreck now, who may or may not be bipolar, and the ersatz MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 CD was labelled as “a public breakdown”. But of course I bought it because how could I not hope for more greatness from the woman whose potential for beauty is so vast that that it supersedes the word ‘greatness’? She selfishly justified not having to care about a raspy voice to the people who paid money to hear the quality of her sound, but still had the time in her discourse to drop this gem: “Every time you submit your will to the approval of another person, a part of you dies.” Some called it ramblings, but I give the speaking part of the CD the thumbs up (although not the songs).

Her belated father-in-law Bob Marley was credited with being one of the best lyricists ever. His words are commendable simplicity but the “best ever” acclaim probably came from a bunch of fawning, pot-smoking rasta wannabes. Lauryn Hill is utterly the best musical lyricist to me. Below is her song Selah, a description of the life and the pain she thought she had left behind but that I don’t think she ever did.

 

Nothing can be done against the truth
No matter how we remain in denial
Wasting time, replacing time with each empty excuse
But that’ll only work a little while
Coping with despair
Knowing you’re not there
Ashamed to just admit I’ve been a fool
So I blame it on the sun
Run away from everyone
Hoping to escape this ridicule
Trapped in misery
Wrapped so miserably
In this deception that I’m wearing like a skin

Dying to maintain
Oh I keep trying to explain
A heart that never loved me to begin
Oh I’m such a mess
I have no choice but to confess
That I’ve been desperately trying to belong
Lying to myself and everybody else
Refusing to admit my right was wrong

And then he came
Selah

How beautiful is fruit still in denial of its roots?
My guilty heart behaved so foolishly
This treason from within
That reasons with my sin
Won’t be happy til it sees the death of me
Selfishly addicted
To a life that I depicted
Conflicted cause it’s not reality
Oh what’s left of me
I beg you desperately
Cause me to agree with what I know is best for me
Please save me from myself
I need you to save me from myself
Please save me from myself so I can heal

The choices that I’ve made
Oh have been nothing but mistakes
What a wasted use of space
Should I die before I wake?
In all of my religion
I’ve fortified this prison
Obligated to obey
The demands of bad decisions

Please save me from myself
I need you to save me from myself
Please save me from myself so I can heal

And then he came
Selah

About the human body

Back in the day I had an odd coincidence where I went out with about four women in a row who were either masseuses or studying to be physios. Occasionally I used to get lucky there in the afternoon light of my smallish room – no, not in that sense; I meant that they would sometimes give me a massage.

Oh! In those moments when I wasn’t suddenly thanking God for having been born, I had a fascinating physical revelation that everything within the body seemed to be connected to everything else, so that when one part of the body was touched something else said thank you. I turned around and told Karina that the body is a miracle, isn’t it? About a trillion intricate operations the size of a few atoms naturally regulate everything under the sun to make our bodies work and all this sprang forth from a simple squirt of goo. It’s amazing that the heart beats, that muscles contract so gracefully and work so well in tandem with all the other functions. We get jobs, we buy houses (maybe not so much anymore), we watch TV, we get status, all of it insulation against the fact that all we have is our bodies, that our bodies are the one constant.

Karina is one of the two women I could have married, written off the rest of womankind forever and been utterly happy about it. The other I won’t talk about, even though I always indirectly do anyway. Karina had been brainwashed throughout her thirty-year old life by her mother and her Jehovah’s Witnesses buddies. She was third-year physiotherapy and hence knew all about the body. She put her religious angle onto it and said, “Yes it is a miracle, and it’s a miracle that comes from God.”

She was a dance teacher before she began her studies, who knew first-hand about how the body’s movements can deliver happiness. Her body is frail, her wrists are very thin. The first Friday after we kissed and established the setting I ran my finger and thumb along the bottom half of her slender brown dancer’s leg, a reminder of what was quietly under her clothes. I’ve never touched a person so physically sacred to me, she was who she was because of her person but also because of her body, and there was no need to separate the two.

She wore shoes that showed the top half of her feet. Later as we were walking along a rocky trail she mimed to me the action of climbing in a story she was telling me, raising her leg and laughing. Her leg was small compared to my long one, by my physical standards it was like watching a child acting out a skit. I wanted to keep her then, I wanted her legs to be my own, and for my body to similarly be hers. Maybe one day it might still happen; they aren’t all sad stories.

Holy shit!

Tonight my breathing has become forced, I’m doing everything with a rushed disposition or at least a feel that something major will happen tomorrow that I need to present well for. I’ve just understood what it is:

For once in my life I want something.

I walked into my year 12 and uni exams after everyone else had gone into the room because I didn’t care if I did well or not, the world would continue spinning either way, and if I fucked up then I simply fucked up and I would never think about it again. I blew off people, uni diplomas, so many things that others would smile on me for, simply because I didn’t want them. And then I lost She Who Must Never Be Mentioned (see first entry), the only thing that mattered, and my heart stopped asking for new things.

Today I actually want to do well, I want to display the best part of myself and not just the anonymous part that always ends up being shown. I want, that sometimes-stated cause of suffering. Deep in my heart I had stopped basing my happiness on goals because the pain of not attaining them is too great; I converted my joy into being based on actions, moments, people, on turning my brain off and enjoying what comes from that, music and dancing and other things that should only be vaguely suggested in public. I see things that could be within my grasp and if I miss them it will hurt. Something within me has turned on again after so many years; I’m afraid and expectant and I won’t be able to sleep.

I remember feeling like this.

A half-assed review of L’Étranger

Cup Day night, and I ended up flipping channels until I settled on some discussion show about books with Marieke Hardy (the thinking man’s prrrrr!) and random others. I like books, so why not. Halfway through the show they started talking about one called The Outsider (originally L’Étranger), by Albert Camus: a French guy in colonial Algiers who throughout the book is shown to be a different cat kills an Algerian on a beach for no particular reason and if anything the murder, while being central to the plot, is almost incidental. He did it half in self-defence but basically because he was a naturalistic dude, almost animalistic, and the sun was shining too brightly and temporarily fried his synapses.

It’s a short one; 100 pages. The book consists of two parts, and the panel discussion consisted exclusively of the murder and of the philosophy of the second part of the book when he rots away in prison, is put on trial and rejects society’s mores. The killing was a self-defence related crime and would not have been great shakes in context of 1950s French-Algerian society, but the character, Meursault, had buried his mother a few days earlier without demonstrating that he was sad, so was condemned not for the murder but for having ‘buried his mother with the heart of a criminal’.

It was curious that the book’s talking points – the murder, existentialist philosophy – are the bits that I don’t give a shit about. I had studied it in year 11 French, in French, ten years ago. So I missed the finer details of the writing at the expense of the overall story, which for the first half was him floating around working and shacking up with Marie Cardona and meeting characters in a Kramer from Seinfeld-esque way and generally doing what came into his head on a particular day, and nothing more. For some reason that’s the part of the book I like, the bit where he simply lives without thinking, as opposed to the thinking without living he does in the second half, where he becomes a talking figurehead for Camus’ philosophical wank.

Action says more than words, in our lives and in books. We can be eloquent and have a philosophy but it needs to be backed up by physical proof of what we believe, by happenings. But what usually happens is we all say a bunch of stuff that turns out to be meaningless, but don’t demonstrate anything.

The feminists won’t like Meursault. He’s almost neutral as a human being, with no evil but no particular goodness, and at one point he helps his friend write a letter to an ex-girlfriend so that the friend can have one last screw, slap her around one last time and say with satisfaction that he got even with her. Meursault gives no judgement to the consequence of his own action; he was asked to do it, so he simply did it. He spent the Saturday after his Mum’s funeral swimming, laughing and sexing with Marie without reflection but with simple enjoyment, and spent the Sunday simply perched at his window all day, watching people walk by.

But for some reason I like him. I like the simplicity of his mind, it resonates with me, and for some reason is something I would like to have, to an extent. I usually judge people on their kindness or lack of, and Meursault isn’t a particularly positive or negative person, but something about him touches me and he gets spared in my thinking.