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July 31, 2005

Melbourne dreaming

So I'm sitting here in a tiny floral enclave that reminds me of Paris - the colours are so intense it hurts my eyes to look at them against the grey glare of sky. Today I feel freer than I have done in distant memory. My heart is pumping and fluttering unfettered, shivers of excitement ticking my knees, appetite dropping away to nothing.

Being here feels like being in love.

The grey sky doesn't bother me in the least - I feel drawn to it, seduced by the cold. I never feel as alive as when my cheeks have reddened and my face takes on the whitish pallor of winter. Wet knees aside, there is comfort in this place.

How do I feel now? Calm, excited, exuberant, hopeful, fearful. Maybe I knew instinctively that coming here was going to be a catalyst as only travel is. I need to unlock my possibilities and start to live the life I really want - not just be a spectator to my own performance in a crappy play.

In unknown possibilities, there is, as it happens, true beauty.

Lazy Sundays and circumspection

Today has been one of those days that has been rare in my life, at least over the past few years. After sleeping in, I stepped past the debris of last night (wide eyed beauties buzzing from no sleep, drifting around the lounge room with whiskies in hand and shimmering around to the quiet sounds of classic disco) to rub my eyes at the sunlight that assaulted me outside the front door. Somehow this set the mood for a sleepily efficient day, as i set about the cleaning, washing, sorting and reading that has taken my time. There is something so pure about silence when I'm in the mood - no need for clarity or process, just a simple whispering of thoughts that drift over the cortex now and again, disconnected and seamless.

I spoke at length only once, at lunch with K where we probed the rotten tooth of recent break-ups, comiserated briefly, planned our next line of attack as single girls on the prowl. Amusingly, we discussed the benefits of the Atkins diet (mine) versus the soup diet (hers) and one contender emerged as central to both, whether through restriction or over-consumption. Who would have thought our little orange friend the carrot so contentious?

This afternoon I have wandered solo through the party atmosphere that pervades the house, occasionally tempted to pick up a glass and clink it to set me off on the path, but mostly finding unoccupied corners of the house to burrow in. I even did hand washing today! Hand washing! It wasn't a revelatory experience - I despise washing clothes more than any other household chore - but it mattered in one respect: I said I was going to do it, and I did.

In the current landscape of my feelings, where I am constantly threatened with the abject terror or BEING ORDINARY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, thoughts which have compelled me to lay down my pen and surrender thoughts of success - this matters. I am testing myself with simple goal setting as a precursor to these next big leaps I wish to take. Today, you will resist the crouton. Today, you will read the newspaper properly. Today, you will call the friend you promised to call. Today, yes today, you will get on your knees and wash those clothes by hand. These things may not seem interrelated, but in my mind, by god they are.

Tonight you will practice your shorthand - try that on for size, Flip.

July 29, 2005

Crimes of Writing - Procastination leading to Envy

And there I was all set to spill dazzling and fabulous words all over the page, breathless and tumbling in my adoration, but everyone else has used all my cliches already. The love letter to his mother, the crazed, jumbled world of someone else's interior, the edgy editing and eerie soundtrack that draws you in ... it blew me away in no uncertain terms, knocked me sideways. But there again, i waited for the "right time" as the colours bled out of my brain and the celluloid dream started to fade. Then I read Helen Garner's version and she got it, got it in one. And so did the other guy, and another. While I read the scorn-heaping or worse - bored! - reviews with fascination, my own words packed up and left.

Just go and see it. Let Jonathon Caouette spin his weird and wonderful tales around you and stick daggers in your heart. Long live the dysfunctional family, and long may there be stories to weave about it.

The film, of course, is Tarnation.

Too good not to share

Hello bella,

After a short absence due to dizzying heights of illness and sexual excitement (now there’s a way to start an email) I am back to regale you with more tales and demand some in return. When I left you I was hovering on the brink of Melbourne, peering over the edge of a new precipice as a single woman and getting the rush of excitement and fear that goes with it. Now, but a week or so later, I am a person anew, full of vigour despite my malaise and confusion. Somehow, suddenly, I have climbed out of whatever hole I was perched in and have started feeling the sunshine again.

But enough hyperbole!

Let’s see – I’ll pick up where I left off. Last time I emailed you I had just spent the night snogging madly, the object of my affections being one Jeremy F, a coffee coloured and lean (oh, delicious) Perth ex-pat now working in Melbourne for the ABC. I found myself feeling all flustered and delightful after a dinner, a drink or two and the ubiquitous sinkage into couches in one of Melbourne’s many red-lit bars. Oh, kissing again was so wonderful, so invigorating, exactly what I needed after months of glumly reciprocated affection. We kissed for hours and hours and I went home and climbed into bed all ablaze with frisson – yum!

The days in Melbourne were a happy blur of wandering, shopping, picking at food and reading. I lost my appetite completely and instead became drunk on the newness – the invisibility of me as I swished through the streets, the naughty thrill I felt from handing over my credit card too many times, simply to buy pretty things, the late nights puffing through cold, unfamiliar streets under the dim light cast by the lamps. I spent hours each morning slouching around the house in my underwear, traversing the streets to find cosy little cafés to drink soy lattes and read the newspapers. The guilty pleasure of the Herald Sun cannot be denied!

Long an Egyptophile, I could not resist visiting the Melbourne Museum to stalk quietly through the hush of the Mummies exhibition. It was a revelatory experience and fascinating to see how much emphasis the ancient Egyptians placed on the afterlife, and the preparations they made through life. Trinkets, baubles, jewellery, incantations, herbs, pottery, painted and carved coffins … it all added up to great prospects once one crossed the line out of life. As I stood staring down at Keku, a young woman who apparently lived in Thebes 2550-2700 years ago, I was oddly moved. Though the ritual of death was painstaking and intricate, no one in her time could possibly have predicted that her mummified form would be oohed and aahed over for educational amusement so many years later. It felt strangely invasive, thrilling, secretive … and when I saw an image of her intact skeleton beamed onto the wall, terribly spooky.

This feeling stayed with me as I visited the Dutch Masters exhibition at the Victorian Art Gallery. As I wandered around alone, my eyes were drawn time and time again to the portraits, with the eyes that seemed to bore into me. I would stand gazing at each one for minutes at a time, willing them to give up their secrets, wink, twitch imperceptibly – but they were immutable. The expressions were much like those of the Mona Lisa – a half smirk, wisdom etched, reminding me I would never know their stories. And I don’t know much about art – I am the sort of heathen who likes pretty pictures – but the detailing was tremendous. The glint of light off a glass on a table, the soft gleam in folds of velvet, the twinkle in the eyes, the roiling waters of the sea … time and time again my eyes were fooled and I kept looking closer, closer to make them seem like paintings, not photographs. Dazzling indeed. Fabulous silverware too – one carved goblet had a base in the shape of a windmill, used for drinking games. To put it down you had no choice but to skoll your drink and upend it. Yes, they had an amazingly artistic and playful middle class in the 17th century, while the nobility simply got on with being noble. I know where I would have been upending my windmill.

What else? I went for a long, long walk through the botanic gardens, drifted through the war shrine, ate dinner alone in a restaurant (and unapologetically had steak – a huge juicy lump of it, swilled down with a bursting red!), and went to see the terribly, obnoxiously knowledgable and academic author Robert Dessaix speak on “Beauty‿ (forgive my ignorance but all I understood was that beauty is in the known, the sorts of references and moments that bring tears to the eyes with their simplicity, familiarity and homeliness. The sense of belonging then, as opposed to the kind of jagged thrill one gets from seeing someone really, really really, good looking. I felt quite shallow after that). I caught up with lovely old friend Amanda from Perth, who fired my enthusiasm by taking me trawling around second hand shops full of trinkets, art shops with that fresh paper smell, cafes full of gorgeous people, her tiny courtyard framed by creeping plants and topped with a clear blue sky. I spent time with unfamiliar people, drinking in their stories and watching them get stoned against a cold winter night, sucking down their bongs and sharing stories of the clubbing netherworld. I bought two dresses at once just because I loved them equally and spent a fortune on expensive makeup that made my eyes look sparkly and my skin look clear.

I met up with Caroline, one of my dearest and most distant friends. It is a wonderful friendship, entirely based on mutual understanding, similar passions and unashamed revealing of secrets and delights. We went to see a gorgeously preserved (ouch) broadcast journalist speak on the terrifying world of “baby bartering‿, where ovaries and evolution don’t stand in the way of motherly ambition. We snacked on outrageously good canapés – at openings and exhibitions, it is requisite to have crappy cheese, cheap wine and tired, wilted crackers – and laughed though the presentation surrounded by self-help books on the art of flirting. This was followed by dinner in the infamous Lygon Street, where we met with two more journo friends of Caroline’s and giggled our way through the meal. They regaled me with tales of past relationships and the bitching, backstabbing and vicious world of TV journalism – an eye opening experience. A standout moment was when Caz flippantly asked our deeply attentive waiter if he had any underworld connections (note: something like 25 deaths over the past few years) and our jaws dropped when he said: “Actually, Andrew (Benji) Venamin was my first cousin, and I was a pallbearer at his funeral.‿ Caz, not to be outdone, said “Oh, I’m sorry. *pause*. So do you know Mick Gatto then (note: one of the last surviving members of this sorry crew of renegades) and he said: “Yes, he comes here for dinner every week!‿ At that point, we shut up. Still, he must have liked us, cause despite the many glasses of wine, hot chocolates and ports, he only charged us for our main courses!

Towards the end of the trip, my thoughts and pheromones turned again to J, and we met on Friday for a “date‿. I dressed up vixenish, hair bouncing softly in the cold air and face preened and plucked to perfection. I even wore stay up stockings, so my mood must have been fairly electric! We met for drinks (snogging) then had dinner at a fabulous tapas bar (hand holding and footsies) then it was back to his place for some very dirty action!!! The gods had decided to bestow me with my period the day before, so it was back to the tortured teenager days for me. Still, we had very little sleep in lieu of plenty of x-rated antics and hot heavy breathing, walked into St Kilda in the morning for breakfast, back to his flat for more schnuggles and schmoozing and napping, then back to mine so I could get dressed up all over again. I had that fabulous dirty slapper feeling as I walked through the dark streets towards the tram stop, hair all ruffled and lips red raw, covered in fluff from a renegade wool blanket, feeling so very sexy and switched on again – at last!

Anyway, after dinner with J and Caz, she dropped us off around 2am for the goodbye session, but I unceremoniously fell asleep and woke to soft kisses and cuddles at 6.30am. After farewelling the delightful J, I wandered blearily around the house waiting to be picked up by Frank (I know – it’s terrible). Just before I left, my cousin bounded in with a strangely attractive leather clad club boy, and they proceeded to snort lines in the kitchen and gently mock me as I tried to wake up. At 7.30, the doorbell rang and I picked up my bags.

Addendum: Christ, I didn’t expect to write so much – there is even more to say, albeit brief. Dot points to encourage further questions:

As soon as I was back at work on Monday this week, I got sick again
I had a phone call on Tuesday telling me I had won $4000 worth of stuff in a competition
I got a payrise the same day, but it wasn’t enough
People keep smiling at me in the street
I will be living in Melbourne by the end of the year!

Rest well, and know that I love you.

Flip x

July 8, 2005

Mining letters for blog ... reducing the slog

Last night, yesterday unable to verbalise, I had to cry floods of tears for a few hours on the phone and off and then drink a glass of red and smoke about ten cigarettes one after the other before the fog in my head cleared even a wee bit. I had to keep repeating it to myself – “I have just broken up with Frank. I have broken up with Frank. Frank is no longer my boyfriend? – and so on, and on.

I am hanging on to the knowledge that I have made the right decision and am at present going through the mournful process of informing friends, colleagues, family (yuk) to the almost unanimous response of "what??!! why!!??", which really can only be my fault for clamming up over the past couple of months. But I don't really feel like going over all the ground I've covered and just want to feel warmth and care without a dissection about what went right or wrong … which is precisely why I am avoiding calling my mother. I emailed her to say that we'd broken up and instead of getting straight on the phone, she sent me an email with her phone number with an invitation to call her! Christ. I know she means well, but …

July 4, 2005

Jandek on Corwood

So I am supposed to be at work today but instead decided not to get out of bed - not exactly calling in sick but just noting the fact that i hadn't slept and simply could not rouse any enthusiasm for climbing into the big bad world. Subsequently waking at 11am, the relief I felt at a day of no resonsibility, no talking, was palpable.

On Saturday night, i saw two films at the Revelation Film Festival. The first, Jandek on Corwood, was an amusing and somewhat chilling documentary about one of the world's most prolific but unknown recording artists. Jandek, the international man of mystery, has over a career of many years released more than 25 albums featuring poorly tuned guitar riffs, howls and grunts for the benefit of his somewhat piddling collection of 100 or so fans. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder - that much seems certain.

At the time the film was made, he had been interviewed only once by phone and once (maybe) in person. All we knew about Jandek was that he lived somewhere in Texas, may or may not have friends and recording partners, may or may not have bumped off the equally mysterious Nancy, may or may not be a raving lunatic or a genius - who knows?

Whatever was going through his mind, Jandek's apparent isolation made a chilling impact on his music. While I could not support the claim that he had a rare talent his delivery was genuinely eerie at times. Primal wails, strange yelps, deadpan accapella and the off-key twanging of the guitar sent intermittent shivers up and down my spine. At times the music seemed like the ramblings of a schizoid personality, a discordant trip into the inner workings of a very disturbed and lonely individual. But this, of course, was just conjecture - Jandek could well have been a hobbyist, a socialite, a perfectly happy person with strange taste in music.

What was interesting about the film were the conclusions drawn by the fans, music journalists and avant-garde types who fervently believed in the man's talents (despite an obvious lack) and created their own theories about who he was and what he was trying to achieve. In this world when celebrities are picked over like chicken carcasses and their proclivities, desires and motivations are laid bare, it is fascinating to think that one man could have retained such a mysterious air for so long. And equally fascinating was the determination of the fans to avoid delving too deeply into his whereabouts. Perhaps knowing how fragile and meaningless their interpretations were, and all too aware of the disappointments offered by cold hard reality, they chose to let the fantasy win out.

Perhaps they were wise to do so. Googling yesterday, i discovered that Jandek had in the past two years performed live a number of times. He had shown his face! He had come out from hiding! Perhaps weary about the endless speculation, or suprised out of isolation by the growing realsiation about his cult status, or perhaps enjoying the moment he had been planning all his life, Jandek had unveiled himself to the world.

I cannot tell you how disappointing that was.

July 3, 2005

Age of discontent

So I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs for ages trying to work out what to say … the grey skies and the Beth Orton I have spinning on the CD player aren’t helping this gloomy mood.

I have stopped and started this a number of times as I am feeling oddly mute at present – a rare thing for me. A few things happened this week that have made me even quieter outwardly, but which have turned the inner voice pitch up to screeching point. If you can turn your face from the sun for a few moments and tuck yourself into a ball, I would really love it if you could sit quietly and listen to what I have to say.

Weeks had been slipping past almost unnoticed this year, in a whir of activity, launching me from Monday to Monday with seemingly little progression apart from a growing feeling of unease. Sick of feeling adrift in sea of self-made discontent, I this week went and sat in front of someone and asked them to tell me what was wrong with me. Why was I not feeling happy? Why do I keep feeling disconnected from myself, distant from friends? Why can’t I read properly any more? What do I do when the public perception of me has little or no relation to the person inside, why do I keep feeling sick after I eat? Why, if I am sick to death of going out and getting drunk every week, do I keep doing it over and over again?

A big ask, you might think. Hate to say, but this guy had me all but figured out in a matter of seconds. Quiescent and calm, he asked but a few questions. Under someone else’s crystalline gaze, a few patterns immediately emerged. I had been mothering people for as long as I had been independent. I kept getting into relationships with people who were younger, or needier, or that I could feel useful with. I had long ago decided to focus on my head (rationalisation, work, achievement, ambition) rather than the heart (feelings, friendships, love, risk) and has become pretty good at maintaining an emotional distance from everyone. The problem was, a few things happened that weren’t on the agenda – Frank’s mum died. My house, my only home, fell apart under the weight of selfish people. My relationship started to crumble due to the stresses. My parents grew ever more distant and the world became increasingly fragmented. Suddenly, instead of security, I was faced with a very big jumbled mess. Feeling helpless, I grew quieter and quieter.

When a certain friend told me recently that they thought I was superficial, I thought “What?? Me? You’ve got to be kidding.‿ Dismissed out of hand and forgotten instantly – or so I thought. I started to notice my absence from my own life, remembered the unanswered phone calls, the cancelled plans and deliberate distancing from people who had let me down in one way or another – not really thinking they would care or notice. I thought about the workload that had grown out of control, of filling life with productive pursuits so ask to keep away from the silences and to feel integral to something. I thought of this in the context of my growing feeling of disconnectedness from myself, my ambitions, and how that had translated into a sort of “living on the surface‿ approach. I had become so used to dealing with certainties that taking any sort of risk seemed like a terrifying thing. Then, speaking to this guy, we worked out that I had superficial family relationships, I continually wrote about superficial subjects despite being capable of more, my friends were beginning to regard me as superficial and flaky … you get the picture. Flaky Flip, unfeeling Flip … it came as a shock, especially when I had considered myself warm, sincere.

It is a bit scary to realise that I could grow into a person with such an emotional detachment and a strong protective shield around me without really even noticing, especially when I have given intellectual thought and rational approaches to life so much credence. I have recently felt like a person in two halves and that the people who know me for my successes would have little idea of the person that lies underneath. The choice could have been a lot easier – lucky for me, I can “get on with it‿, do a good job, keep the accolades pouring in regardless of how I am feeling – so I could have done nothing at this juncture. But for me to continue to ignore these uncomfortable feelings would, I think, be akin to starting to rip the soul right out of me. I am feeling so stuck at the moment – do I break up with Frank? Do I leave Perth? Do I go and shout at my parents for injustices they long believe buried and forgotten? The disconnectedness has come from being completely out of tune with how I’m feeling, and letting that feeling be my guide to the choices I make in life.

The few friends I have just started speaking to – who have almost immediately opened up about their own fears and approaches to life - just made me realise that we are a strange generation of people. We are distanced from our families and friends, flung all over the globe in search of fun and entertainment, but especially meaning and direction. We are lucky enough to go and find inspiration from other cultures and exotic destinations, where somehow the food, flowers and patterns bring us more happiness than anything we find on our home ground. For me, though, this journey is all about going inwards instead of outwards – and it’s one hell of a trip that’s only just beginning.