Inspiration, stuff and nonsense - #3

Sunday, March 29, 2009 | |

My little emo Six Word Story, thanks to John Mayer on Twitter.

This is ceremony, thanks to 1001 Rules For My Unborn Son.

Bam! Self-affirming self-high-five thanks to Tina Fey and 30 Rock.

All's I got is time

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At the beginning of March I set myself a task - to write one short story a week for the month. I hadn't engaged in any sort of creative writing since university (at best), and it's been an absolute joy to craft characters, create situations and weave real life anecdotes into narratives again. Last week I faltered, and haven't been able to finish my third story yet. I have myriad excuses - work, inner turmoil, lethargy - but I can't help but feel like I've failed. I know I haven't, or at least have to convince myself it's so. I've been mentally shuffling cards for the last few years - not writing, not reading as much as I should, focussing on endeavours outside of the written word - and I know that what I'm doing is going to slowly build muscle memory up top... I've just got to keep with it. I don't know how I went so long without devouring words; I so desperately want to do it all the time these days. I have legal pad, daily screeds of text, books piling up and printed journal articles everywhere. I need to write and read and craft characters and talk about how peculiar their habits are, I've just got to make time and enjoy it.


Back to Good Planets Are Hard To Find - Think Before You Print today. I can't wait.

Inspiration, stuff and nonsense - #2

Sunday, March 15, 2009 | |

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I like to suck in smells

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My first ever memory is triggered by the very particular smell of sweat, cigarettes and deodorant mixed together; it's the smell of my father. I'm three and he's holding me in his arms, my back flush with his forearms and my head cupped in his hands; I can feel the wind rushing past my dangling legs as he looks me in the eyes and repeats, "I'm sorry baby, I'm really sorry. I'm so, so sorry." His large hands almost completely envelope my head, and his brunette, blue-eyed and mildly weathered face, which I dare say is starting to match my own these days, stares at me with such intensity and earnest that there is no way I could ever forget it. He's circling my grandparents' house where my mother and I lived, because behind him I can see the underside of the long white-stained deck; the sun is shining through in streams that now remind me of jail bars. He rounds the corner and I can see the clothesline and the un-pruned fig tree fly past, then it's out to the driveway as mandarin, lemon and grapefruit trees pass by my periphery backwards - like riding on the local bus service's disorientating seats. I can hear the cicadas chirping in the family bougainvillea creeper above the front archway, which is flowering in the summer sun. My father looks over his shoulder and picks up the pace, keeping my mother's angry and shrill voice in the background at bay. "I'm sorry baby, I'm really sorry," he repeats once again, before pulling me close and burying my head into his shoulder and neck with his enormous hand. Twenty-two years later, I can be at bars or on the street at the pedestrian lights or waiting in line at the post office - if a man that smells like sweat and cigarettes and deodorant is in close proximity, I am three. Eight years ago, I found out from my Grandma that this was the day my parents finally split; I was horrified. He thinks my first memory is of a foil balloon at my second-ever Christmas; I pulled that idea from a photograph.

I used to truly devour the smell of play dough. Whether it was the homemade kind that my mother would make up in batches, or the store-bought, trademarked crap that Jane next door had, I remember grabbing it with both hands, shoving my face into it and inhaling with all my might. It was so intoxicatingly good that I can still remember being six years old, and looking down at my tiny hands and the large red glob clutched between them, imprinted with two small nostril marks from inhaling so fervently. Mum's stuff always smelled the best - I could smell it long before she made it. The Domestic Purposes Benefit never allowed for Skellerup or other such iodised luxuries, and I remember the excitement I would feel when I smelled her open the salt in the bulk section; she always tried to hide it from me but I knew exactly what she was doing. Later that day, I would be jumping around the driveway, my Skip-It scraping on the concrete, or double-bouncing Jane on the trampoline, when a sweet and smoky smell would waft past my nose. She'd be inside, up to her elbows in red food colouring, giving me something to occupy myself for as long as it took me to either get it dirty, leave it to dry out, or eat it. Jane's stuff never tasted as good, nor did it feel as good to play with, but these days you'll still catch me knuckle deep in it at Christmas time with my cousins, sucking in its pharmaceutical aroma like some sort of nostalgia junkie who is wishing for simpler times - being six and making playdough dinners with Jane's PlayDoh Spaghetti-O. Last time I saw her, we had pupils as big as dinner plates, and not a shit show of eating anything; we avoided eye contact.

Geoff always smelled like hair product and Jack Daniels, because Geoff wasn't like the rest of us. We - the unwashed, unkempt masses - smelled like grease and Jim Beam. Jim Beam was heavenly and disgusting, amazing on the night but never the next day, and ready and waiting for such grand occasions as Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Work or university would finish, bottles would be purchased, coke complements were procured, and the ripped-jeansed, barefooted, Pantera-tattooed masses would descend upon the basement bedroom we all seemed to call home. Reeking like roll-your-own cigarettes, spilt beer and that indefinable boy's bedroom stench, we would pile onto stacks of mattresses, fold ourselves into oversized and overused armchairs and start guzzling down the devil's nectar. The smell - so buttery, so smoky and so tantalising - still warms me in ways that my current friends do not understand. The first glug of the 40-ounce pouring brings joy to my heart; the foam on the top of the glass caused by carbonated deliciousness still makes my eyes smile. Back then, I would sit there, thin and smoking, holding my brew like a bible, wondering how I so swiftly morphed from poptart to grunger, from jock's favourite to groupie; Jim Beam was to blame. We'd down vessel after vessel, each less precise and more potent than the last, and laugh, cheer, jam and sing. Often we'd be kicked out, and en route to the neighbouring beach, I'd bury my face in my cup and inhale the sweet scent of Kentucky's finest. I'd smile a wry smile that due to a covered mouth, few would notice. I'd finally found people who I liked - people who liked me, who liked being themselves; one sip, one sniff, and I'm there again, accepted. Most of the great unwashed live in Melbourne these days, and no amount of Jim will ever bring them, or that feeling, back.

I used to be so good at smoking. I showed real promise; had real talent. I was such a dab hand in fact, that even years later my very presence still induces irrepressible cravings in those who have known me longest. Those were the days, sitting in that office with the windows wound up and the door closed, sucking down each special filter like a precious flower that blooms for one day in every million. Every day, each new packet purchased would provide the same series of pleasures - the overbearing aroma of cracking open the box, the twiggy smell of each stick as they were pulled from the pack, the first strike of a new box of white-tipped matches; the potency of the soon-to-be-secondhand waft that would escape off the end of each shaft. Hell, I even loved the smell of my ashtrays - of which I had many - thanks to the work of many discarded vanilla Coke bottles, fresh from the vending machine downstairs. Every morning, my office would smell a little worse than the last - latent smoke would hang in the air and in the sofas. Unlocking the door would be like releasing the devil's potpourri into the atmosphere; I loved it. And the closer it got to deadline day, the more likely I was to suck in the stench of the place than I was to actually smoke- money was tight and contributors were generous, giving my poor office a two-hour reprieve from my chain-smoked tailors twice a week. If the walls could talk, you could've put money on their want to cough. It was par for the course back in those days - we thought young writers were supposed to be disgruntled chain-smokers with a penchant for curse words and self-destruction. I quit six weeks after my contract expired.

There are smells I suck in for pleasure, smells I inhale as if ingesting them, smells that make me feel warm and nice inside and smells that make me six again. Then there are triggers. Triggers and smells differ in my mind. Smells hark back to fonder times, they're nostalgic; they're fun. Triggers are like that last drink that blows you into oblivion - that last moment before tunnel vision and hatred beset you, leaving you in a crumpled heap on the floor of her bathroom with the door locked. For me, smelling miso soup, coke zero or the chew of Winterfrost-flavoured gum are triggers; put more than one of them together and I'm doomed. One whiff of this unholy triumverate and I'm 23, working on a magazine I have no love for and swiftly wasting away. The three-packet-a-day Winterfrost habit, the odd colouring of a cup used for coffee, coke and miso without being washed inbetween, the 500-calorie but 90-minutes-exercise rules I would place on myself; these triggering smells bring back the memories of that disastrous year. I wouldn't eat for half the week - between Monday morning and Thursday after deadline, my life would consist of those three food items - one to kill cravings, one for what I believed to be sustenance, and the other to mask the awful smell of ketosis that would escape from my depths like a rotting corpse; in many ways, I guess I was. Each day I got a little closer to disappearing - each packet of that candy-cane-tasting gum brought me one more visible rib, a little more visible collarbone, another notch of my belt; each number that melted off the reading on the scale brought me a little closer to perfection, a concept that to this day I grapple with both understanding and shaking off. It wasn’t the first time these behaviours had surfaced, but I like to think they were the last. These days I'm doing better - Winterfrost got discontinued, full-sugared Dr. Pepper is too good to deny, and Cruskits beat miso hands down, but those smells - those triggers - always leave me fantasising, idealising and remembering what it was to be that person. She was unhappy, confused and an emotional wreck, capable of lying to all around her without so much as a blink, but she sure looked good in photos. Sure, last week I asked a friend who took my picture to delete it, on account of my thighs looking like 'a burst sausage', and sure, this week I bought a lot of gum, but I rescinded on my photo request. And I still have most of the gum.

Recently I've realised that I love one of my favourite smells with such regularity and exhilaration that it's impossible to attach just one memory to it. Of all of life's little pleasures - those raindrops on roses situations that make even the hardest of hearts skip a beat - new stationery is on top of my list. It's the whole experience that makes it - creasing a new staple-bound workbook for the first time, the neatness of page corners not tainted by my cack-handed writing, the promise of what will follow after I press pen to paper - and the smell. New workbooks, new diaries, new jotter pads - they all pop with a crisp brilliance that makes me want to fill each page with sparkling prose, witty commentary and bizarre lists that I will surely leave somewhere for another ephemera aficionado to find. For me, this need for the new and dazzling in life permeates both on the page and off. On the page, my desire for this fix shows itself in my room full of unfilled moleskines, visual diaries pored over and forgotten, and list notepads craving for a new morsel of organisation; discarded. Off the page I'm much the same - launching into new projects with untold fervour, inhaling my love for new places, people and things like lines off a table, and discarding old, boring or undeveloped ideas at breakneck speed. I wish I could follow through with these things I so readily douse myself in; I wish I had the passion and drive to always inhale life deeply, with both nostrils and a full chest's load. I want aftershaves to encompass me, restaurants to entice me, and intoxicants to reel me in so that my words may envelop me. May I have the smell of baking with cinnamon, polished wood furniture, peeled citrus fruit and freshly washed hair around me for years to come. May I be drunk on the world's bouquet evermore.

Inspiration, stuff and nonsense - #1

Monday, March 9, 2009 | |

A Softer World
Source: A Softer World

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Source: Alec Hutchinson

On plane trips, scarves and feeling wistful

Sunday, March 8, 2009 | |

Cruising altitude had long passed the ten thousands, and the rain and low-lying fog of his hometown were all but forgotten as the plane sailed just high enough to let the sun shine over the wing and onto the clouds. He aimed his lens out of his window and thought to himself, “Why can I always see the wing, no matter where I sit? And why do I always take the same photo, every time?” Today the view was stunning – clouds as fluffy as whipped cream licked upwards and onwards, sun-kissed by soft rays that no one on the ground today would believe existed. He put away his camera and pulled his jacket sleeves over his hands, tugging at the cuffs. The thick blue elastane had long faded to grey, and the fibres, brittle with age, were tattered and pulling. He thought of how his trouser legs were doing the same, and how he never thought to allow himself the luxury of new clothes, but didn’t give the holiday in Wellington a second thought.

The stewardess had only just come around with the sauvignon blanc and cheese platter - two pieces of waxy cheddar and a few green grapes. He had just begun to enjoy this light pampering when the seatbelt light flicked back on and descent into the windy city began. Hearing the clink of the drinks trolley fast approaching, he slammed back the rest of the wine and held the cheese in his hand. Upon receiving an odd look from the hostess who offered to take his empty cup and plastic platter, he plucked up his best Down Country Bloke accent and chuckled, "Well I could've bloody travelled with that Branson bugger but I didn't - your free cheese is just too bloody delicious love." She smiled awkwardly and moved on. “Now she knows I’m a weirdo for sure,” he muttered, staring out once again at the wing.

It was late afternoon as the wheels extended out in anticipation of tarmac - he could already see from Lyall Bay's windsock welcoming party that the day was going to be as wily as home. He had escaped nothing, but knew by now not to count on the capital's weather. He thought of how bitterly cold windy days could be in this city, and how cold his exposed skin tended to get. He reached down and realised he’d forgotten his scarf; he always forgot his scarf. Chuckling at his own foolishness, he looked out the window to see airline baggage handlers holding their hats as the plane trafficked in; he was already on his feet when the seatbelt light blinked off.
He rescued his bag, the second on the conveyor belt, just in time for the suited and serious to start swarming the track. "If you all stood back just a little bit," he thought to himself, "you would all be able to see whose bag is coming up next and wouldn’t have to crowd; simple." Swinging his bag over his shoulder, he shuffled outside behind a slow-moving and bewildered tourist pushing a rickety trolley and peering at a city map; he pulled his cigarette pouch from his pocket and made use of the time presented to him. "The bus doesn't leave for another 20 minutes brother, you stroll on," he said, assuming the man – who promptly sped up –could not understand him.

The trip into town on the airbus always made him wistful. As always, the wind was rushing through the bus tunnel, and the assault of sideways rain was waiting at the other end. The combined efforts of 40 pairs of lungs and one opportunistic tagger left the inside of the bus windows looking like unintelligent cave drawings; RUKA WUZ HERE - how very insightful. He loved how bleak everything seemed from in here, and how starkly different he felt once out on the street. He smiled awkwardly and looked out the window, clearing the condensation with his jacket sleeve. "There is so much paper in this town," he thought to himself as the batteries on his discman died. Posters, leaflets, post-its - any kind of paper expression you can think of lines the streets in this town. It was as if, he thought, the closer you are to the Government, the more likely they are to read your pasted-up anarchistic sentiment. He began to feel worried about how disinterested he was in politics, literature, art; everything. He'd spent his entire adult life chasing a liberal, passionate and creative ideal that he had now realised was constructed out of rote learned, lecturer-poached beliefs. He scanned another passing wall, and noticed a large statement in graffiti: THINK FOR YOURSELF – DON’T TRUST THE INSTITUTIONS. Did the paranoid anarchists of post-it-note fame have it right?

The bus soon reached the city, and he alighted near Cuba Street. His friends were set to finish work in 30 minutes and he had time on his hands. Soon he had re-juiced his music, and began to walk with the spring in his step that comes from having a beat to bounce to. He loved this part of town, and always felt calmest, happiest and free when walking by himself, taking in the colours and smells of this vibrant area. The Irish pub was alive with music, laughter and the clinking of glasses; men with yellowing teeth and burgeoning bellies cackled at each other’s jokes and kept one eye on the telly. Across the way a Chinese health store was closing - the owner was delicately moving medical sculptures to make way for the sliding security gate. Four school-aged girls in headscarves and singlets huddled together and ran as one, screaming about the cold and giggling infectiously. He was again in love with this city of meagre dreams.

The diner where he met his friends was as cheap as it was charming; kitsch as it was catastrophic. Retro thermoses lined the walls, each something to behold and something to examine individually. Many were traditional tartan, others shone in stark 70s yellow, but the Charles ‘n’ Di wedding commemoration was the biggest treasure. Settling into his green leather chair to wait for company, he looked out the window into the wet – he hoped they weren’t going out tonight. They arrived and plied him for news of home instantly. “Is she still going out with him? Have you seen my mother? Is the weather as shit as it is down here? Who are you living with now? Is she hot?” The way they’d all meet up and instantly start finishing each other’s sentences loudly reminded him that the more things change, the more they stay the same; that old chestnut. His friends informed him that there were to be drinks at their flat tonight in his honour. “All 15 of our friends are coming!” they laughed. “Not your usual party back home, but enough to keep someone like you interested.”

The hill leading to their house was large and confusing to him; he’d been to flats a million times here but always in the valley. As the city lights faded into twinkles and the taxi wound ever higher into the tight windy roads of Hataitai, he leaned over to the driver and enquired – “We can barely fit through ourselves, what happens if a car comes the other way?” The driver sped up without looking back at him and said coldly, “They give way to me”. If he were more honest with himself, he’d say that this flat was like any other flat, that these rooms were like any other rooms, that the view was just like the one in his old place last year, and that the girls were just as pretty. Instead this villa was a palace – equipped with rich wooden floors, a long sheltered deck and a view of the city that made him audibly sigh. His friends’ rooms were large with high ceilings and thick curtains, resplendent in maroons and browns. Both rooms were home to a number of discarded vintage shirts, piles of university readings and Polaroid photos; he felt artier already just being here. The girls here were great too – they wore floral prints and dainty shoes, and liked posters with sparrows and Matryoshka dolls. Two boys and two girls lived here – how wonderfully nuclear.

Before long the lounge was full of interesting, interested people who he swore had been handcrafted for his enjoyment and emotional fulfillment. He mingled for a while before taking a particular liking to a spritely blonde who was studying linguistics and played French horn. He was sipping on red wine and telling wry, self-depreciating jokes whilst she giggled away, scrunching up her nose and flinging her head back with glee. Her bubbly persona was absolutely infectious, and as soon as he had finished his third wine, his usually closed-lipped smile was reborn as a grin, saved mostly for when she gave him a post-joke pat on the arm. His friends left him to it, but often gave him knowing smiles and winks from their respective corners; she was too busy maintaining eye contact and re-crossing her legs to notice being noticed.

Four hours later, she followed him to the deck, where he lit up a cigarette. There were no lights, but as he sank into the comfort of the outdoor couch, his eyes adjusted and he was able to see well. Lingering back a few steps, she followed his lead and slunk down beside him, resting her head in his armpit. He put his arm around her and nestled his nose into her hair. They sat in that same position and chatted into the night, long after the party had wound down and weary drunks had headed into the night. Thanks to a very political upbringing, this girl was well travelled, knowledgeable and astute, and conversation with her was easier than he ever thought imaginable. She was funny and delicate, friendly and affectionate, and best of all, she was ladylike. He loved how she repositioned her legs onto the couch so gracefully to bring herself closer to him– there weren’t many ladies back home, and this one’s grace was as intoxicating as his near-finished bottle. When he told her how ladylike he thought she was, she lifted her head and kissed him on the cheek, then pulled his arm further around her. “I need to work in the morning, so I’m going to leave here soon, but I’ll be around tomorrow, and I’d like to see you again.“ Part of him was disappointed she couldn’t stay, but he comforted in the knowledge that she was also that kind of lady.

Walking her down to the road to wait for her taxi, he noticed that she was shivering from the cold. Her slight little body was covered in goosebumps and her arms were crossed, frigid in the night air. “I hope you don’t find me too painfully chivalrous here, you can take my jacket tonight if you want,” he said. He pulled at the sleeves and looked at the ground, stuttering, ‘It’s tatty, old and gross though, so you don’t have to-“; she stopped him with a kiss on the lips. Smiling, he took the jacket off and helped her into it. She scrunched up her nose, grinned and pulled the sleeves over her hands; “it feels lived in and loved”, she said, “and I like it”. He crossed his own arms to brave the cold, just in time to see the taxi pull up next to them. He gave her a kiss on the forehead, then her lips. She grabbed his hands and squeezed his palms through the cuffs on his jacket; “thank you, for all of this”, she whispered. As she got in and disappeared down the hill, he thought to himself, “If I get nothing more out of this weekend, this will make it all worth it”.
As he skipped inside for one last drink, he sighed, and to no one in particular he said, "Man, I love this town".