Saturday, 18 August 2018


Not even dot points. It's been one of those days. So just photographs.

I wish I knew how to quit you, you dropped gloves. I actually saw the other of this leather one, a hundred metres or so further along 

Two very bad things made worse together

WTAF excuse me?!?

It's fun going places with him

Fried tofu and eggplant baguette. Not a kebab, but not cold mung beans in water, either. This is lunch when I have not had the wherewithal to bring food to work and do not have the energy to walk down the hill and back up again, and all I can do is go across to the Botanic Gardens cafe. It's delicious, but with the coffee it's $16.50

The day after a long visit to the hairdresser which did not go as I had envisaged. It's mostly all washed out now

I was half-contemplating buying this top, then I thought I'll just make one. But I probably won't do that. The sleeves are set onto armholes so deep that if I raised my arm, not only would my bra be visible, so would my belly button. And yet it is an extremely boring garment. 

This is a hopeless photograph, let me explain it to you. The vehicle on the left is a plumber's van and on it is written the slogan "Pissistently At Your Service"

The last of a sequence of forty-six pictures exactly the same. I think it's the inside of the pocket of my red corduroy trousers.


Friday, 17 August 2018

Statuary Friday Vol 2 No 3 (Winter 2018)

Ok here's my project or perhaps it's a meme: though I doubt if anything qualifies as a meme if only one person is onto it. Well, anyway, every Friday I do a different piece of sculpture selected from the vast numbers littered around lovely Melbourne. My only criteria are: it must be outdoors, it must be more or less permanent, and it must be in a publicly accessible location.

#2.3 Courage

Whitlam Park, Napier Street, Fitzroy

Napier Street runs the entire length of Fitzroy, parallel to the three-ring shitshow that is Brunswick Street, through high-rise housing commission, schools and community centres, I'm A Super Big Deal You Know apartment buildings where warehouses used to be, pubs, cafes and terraces of what I think might be some of the oldest housing in Melbourne outside of the city. It's an interesting street, and thanks largely to the City of Yarra's iron-fisted approach to forbidding non-residents from using on-street parking spaces, it feels like a quiet neighbourhood backwater, which it isn't really. This little pocket of green is on the corner by the Town Hall.

Napier Street is the bike rat run for this part of town and I ride on it at least twice weekly, sometimes on sociable missions but more usually because I am pelting furiously along trying to get to some appointment on time. I can convey to you the usual state of mind I bring to the passing glances I always throw at this statue by telling you that one afternoon last week in Napier Street I heard a helicopter overhead, and I squinted up and saw it, and right then, indivisibly, I felt a gust of paranoia and my mind's eye saw Ray Liotta's twitching bloodshot coked-up eyes staring up through his windscreen.* A moment of existential unease, derived from registering in one mental moment the feeling of an authentic emotion coupled with the strongest possible evidence that I was shaping my consciousness into a form derived from a moment in popular culture. Well, as they say in Readers' Digest, 'Life's Like That'.

So, this statue. I've looked at it a lot. I am very out of practice with statuary blogging, and it shows in the terribleness of these photographs, but the statue-blogging urges have been making themselves felt so here we are. Like everything else I write here, it's not going to unfold in the same manner as it did ten years ago.

I intend, in this era, not to fall into the thoughtless cheap snark that once upon a time came all too easily. So already I need to just say outright, without being stupid about it, that I don't enjoy this object. I see its merits, particularly as a highly technically accomplished piece of figure modelling and casting in bronze, but it really isn't my cup of tea

So that 'not my cup of tea' business is my starting point. Why isn't it? Given that I know I like, understand and appreciate so many things about contemporary artwork that isn't embarrassed to depict a human body naturalistically, and to be committed enough to do a good job of this, which implies continual practice and refinement of a specific set of traditional studio skills, and is frank about thinking that there's still plenty to be said using this representational language, and is confident that the things that can be said with these forms are things that the denizens of Napier Street are going to be interested in taking up an ongoing conversation about for as long as this statue stands on this corner.

Well, for one thing, through no fault of its own this artwork has fallen afoul of a particularly bad case of a presentation practice that I think of as a malaise, a madness almost, which to some degree contaminates every contemporary commission of a heroic figure. I'm talking about the appending of insane, anxious, ruinous, over-explanatory plaques to artworks that just never, ever need to be explained in this plodding and didactic manner. If they're portraits of some real person, then that person's name is enough and any viewer who wants more biographical information than whatever the statue itself can convey (which is lots, usually) - well, you know what it is that such a viewer is able to do.


And there's been a visible resurgence of portrait statutes over the last half-decade, entirely due to the centenary of the first world war and the money thus made available to communities wishing to memorialise a local figure. Often these statues are pretty dire. Stop in Euroa some time and you'll see what I mean. But despite their direness, they've undoubtedly taught new generations of viewers how to read the visual language of heroic statuary, whether it's in portrait mode or allegorical, like this. 

And thus we peel our way down to the next layer of it's not my cup of tea. The statue has 'Courage' written on it, twice. The figure is holding a medal. It's a big medal, and colourful! He's looking at his medal. He's been captured in what is inarguably a universal gesture of self-revelation - taking off an outer skin - and you'll still see that even if you don't recognize in his garb the specific content and gay iconology of the Wizard of Oz, which of course, in Napier Street, everybody will. 

Where this next level of overly didactic obviousness leaves me, I find, is in a paradoxical place: as the outer garments are stripped away, what should be revealed inside is the form of the subtlest, most expressive, most powerful, perverse, recognisable, mutable, vulnerable and enduring object in the human world and history. This undressing is a shedding of acculturated skins, not a striptease. The invitation is not an invitation to viewers as voyeurs, but to viewers as empaths. What would it be like to be inside this skin, inside this skin? A wonderful question. But does the artwork, the actual, real object, not the claims made about it, does it keep up its end of the conversation, does its form speak to me in these terms? I find it doesn't. It's been irrevocably coated, glazed, in dictated meanings. It makes me anxious, you know?

I'm not seeing camp. I'm seeing kitsch.

*if Goodfellas is not the actual greatest movie ever, it's close enough as makes no difference

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Look after yourself

That's what the doctor said to me today, at the end of a shattering session. In saying to me this simplest of the phrases that can be said to a person who's in trouble, she took all the things we'd talked about and melded them together, compressing all their messy complications back into their natural, indivisible relationship.

It was cold as I left the consulting rooms. I was cold, and tired of being cold, and I felt horrible inside, as I had all day. I had eaten a bowl of muesli at my desk at 7:30am, then a much too large and milky strong coffee had put me off any more food. I had found some dark chocolate squares in my desk, and eaten those. At about three o'clock I had forced myself to eat some vita-weats and half a banana. I thought about the doctor's advice and wondered whether there was something I could eat which would make me feel like I was looking after myself. As I rode along I imagined what this might be: a meat pie, warm, fragrant, with flaky pastry and sloppy inside. I contemplated an image, experimentally, of myself going into a shop and buying a pie out of a pie warmer, and going outside and raising it to my lips, breathing in the steam. I realised I was drawing on a mental picture indelibly laid down when I was a child, and I'd heard the parent of a friend retail what even then I was able to recognise as a well-worn family story about my friend's grandparents when they were young. The story was that the grandfather, at maybe twenty years old, had had all of his own teeth extracted by a dentist, preparatory to having a set of false ones installed, and when the grandmother had gone to meet him after this session, she had come to him while he stood on a street in Footscray, eating a meat pie with his wounded, newly toothless mouth.

I suppose there was probably an element of perversity, masochistic austerity even, to what I did eat next. I didn't eat a pie, which would have made me feel very ill, but I knew I needed to eat something in order to do yoga at 6pm without feeling faint, and I also had to organize Leonard's dinner, so I stopped at a convenience store and bought some potatoes to make into chips for him, and picked up a 'paleo bar' for myself: expensive, processed, unpleasant to eat, stupid, sweet but bland, faddish, soulless, sad food, swallowed down with a side serve of negativity on a windy footpath. 

As I rode off I thought about the previous afternoon's essay club. This had been an island of peaceful equilibrium in a long period of disturbance, discomfort and surreality. To borrow and adapt a concept recently expounded to me, I have been experiencing a dissonance between who I feel I really am and who I feel that I am expected to be (even though both feelings belong to parts or moods of myself), and recently I have had periods of intensity to this feeling that have made me feel vulnerable, almost persecuted. Food and eating are often physically difficult in this state. The discrepancy between the atmospheric pressure and the pressure within my body makes me very cautious about loading up my belly. I eat enough and I eat healthy food, but it's fuel, and what I can't usually stomach is food that is conspicuously comforting to eat. Going about knowing that I feel bad essentially because one aspect of myself is picking on another is exhausting and depressing, not least because of the complicated and tense internal self-observation involved in the situation. Going to sleep is often the greatest relief, because it means oblivion and relinquishment of the pressure to watch, evaluate and judge.  Sleep is good, work is often pretty okay too, because it absorbs so much attention that not enough of my mind is free for the continuance of this relentless inner scrutiny. Like craft camp and a couple of other things, essay club is a very good thing, and a part of its goodness is that I enjoy the snacks.

Essay club: I don't exactly know why, although I think I can guess, it induces in me a rapprochement between the scrutineer and the scrutinee, and for as long as it lasts, the tension evaporates as if it had never existed. Yesterday's conversation was about Anthony Bourdain. We read this breakthrough essay that he published in the New Yorker in 1999 and this long profile which appeared last year in the same organ. I hadn't known anything about Bourdain and I had been startled by the widespread public grieving which followed his death. I also listened to an old episode of WTF where he was Marc Maron's guest, and I had time to watch a single conspicuously journeyman episode of his TV stuff. (He went to Berlin and ate a great deal of meat and potatoes and talked to some very obvious people [none of whom were women], in obvious ways, about this food.) It wasn't much exposure but it was definitely enough to make me resolve to explore this Bourdain person a good deal further, largely because he embodied so very many of the traits and antecedents of manliness as it's practiced and aspired to by the kinds of men who live powerful and influential lives in my world. Orwell, Hunter S. Thompson, Burroughs, meat, filth, profanity, gonzo, Asia via Blade Runner, restlessness, punk, swagger, drugs; but also, discipline, work ethic, hierarchies, curiosity about others as an ethical stance.  In terms of how this translated to food and eating as an expression of culture and relationality, I think his constant attention to the question of who made the food and why, and the connection between the answer to this question and how good the food is to eat, is important. I'm interested in how he achieved a practical reconciliation between this sophisticated perspective on food and his relentless addiction to meat, which hurts the inside of a body, especially in the quantities he seemed to ingest it. Accepting hospitality in whatever form it comes is a timeless human grace, it seems to me, but at the same time, the words Bourdain used to explain how it felt to absorb the tidal wave of hospitality that hit him wherever he went is as evocative a phrase as anything ever uttered in the analytic context: he described it as being 'food fucked'. 

Bourdain's lifelong and absolute contempt for vegetarianism is boorish and unoriginal in conception and expression, but I freely concede that when it comes to the oral pleasures of eating and the provision and taking of comfort via food, it is difficult for vegetarian cooking to pull off effects that are available very easily to cooking that involves meat. It's been at least ten years since I ate an actual carnivorous meat pie but I remember the taste, the richness, the grease and how good it can be to eat. (There is no vegetarian equivalent to rich greasy meaty junk food, kebabs, scarfed down after an evening of drinking. What could there be? Tetra-Pak tofu? lol. The best I can come up with is a brilliant cheese, such as the French cow's milk cheese called Langres, which blows my mind in an apocalyptic detonation of pleasure every time I eat it, but it's really not post-binge street food, although technically it might be I guess in that can be obtained from the fromagerie and booze shop in Lygon St until quite late in the evening.) I also recall the taste of a hot, spicy, oily bratwurst bursting out of its skin and spitting darts of hot fat into my mouth; I remember barbecued lamb, juicy meat cooked in a tandoori oven, steak and kidney pudding. I don't want to eat any of these things, partly because eating meat has always seemed so perversely unnecessary to me, but also because I know I'd only feel sick inside, all that heaviness sitting like lead in the centre of my body in a space already rendered contorted and sore with stress and anxiety. And yet if it is only about the satisfaction, the feeling of being nurtured and nourished and yes looked after by what one is eating, then the eating of properly cooked meat can't be surpassed. I recently shared in a dinner that was meat-free because of my presence and even allowing for this never being a situation conducive to simple pleasure, purely at the level of food and orality I found it a dismal eating experience: much of it was cold and raw, it had no richness and sloppiness. I felt embarrassed on behalf of vegetarianism.  

Outside of the intermittent oases of essay club, craft camp and cognate feasts, the comfort food moments in my life follow on from physical activity that leaves me feeling light and empty inside. The toasted cheese and tomato sandwich I buy and scoff on Wednesday morning is a treat that I only indulge in after a demanding dawn training session, not because that's when I have 'earned it' or some similarly mingy, abstemious notion, but because the almost nauseous lightness of my belly in the aftermath is the only time I can tolerate, and therefore relish, all that golden, oozing bread and salt and grease. Likewise, post-yoga I feel empty and this means I can eat, and profoundly enjoy, one of the immense hunks of pure soul food that is four oily crumbling freshly fried falafel balls smothered in hummus, tahini, salad, pickles and chilli, and crammed into a soft pillow of puffy white grilled pita bread, made with genuine and palpable enthusiasm and goodwill by the people at Very Good Felafel in Sydney Road, Brunswick.

Looking after myself

Monday, 6 August 2018


I got off lightly. Two weeks for new glasses; on my left hip there is a bump, like another, smaller hip; and it's entirely possible that by this time tomorrow I'll be able to raise my left arm above my head with just the mildest trace of pain. Falling and landing hard makes you timid and since Friday I've felt hesitant and frightened in the doing of a variety of things I would normally do with unthinking confidence. That'll be gone soon, too.

I rode to work today, saw my doctor this afternoon and went to yoga this evening and I'm feeling the benefit of all of that. I needed to talk to my doctor about what the experience of falling asleep has become since I began to take the sleeping pills she prescribed for me. Going to sleep feels like something is being done to me, something which I have little role in and no power over, and which happens so quickly and completely that I can't resist it. And it feels like it might be a kind of ecstasy, this giving of myself up to oblivion: but it's accomplished and over so quickly that I'm never able to catch and fix enough of the experience to really be sure what it is that happens to me. No doubt this is coloured by my understanding of how the medication works. But I know this feeling is not entirely down to my imagination, in retrospect constructing an experience of nightly loss of consciousness that is always, to a greater or lesser extent, violently blissful.

Saturday night was a case in point. I was still really sore, so I ran another very hot bath and poured into it the now usual decoction of lavender oil, epsom salts, honey and oats. I took my sleeping pill, and on the little footstool by the bath I set out some books, a sliced-up pear and a glass with two fingers of whisky. Too much. I read the books, ate the pear and drank all the whisky, and I soon began to feel that I had to sleep. I got out of the bath and dried myself and brushed my teeth. I was hot, drowsy, flushed; I felt soft and pliable; my face and neck were damp, either from bathwater or from sweat, and tendrils of hair stuck to my skin. I got into bed, closed my eyes and I saw a tsunami of sleep rush towards me, and crash on me and bleed through me from the bottom to the top, bearing my unconscious body upward.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Blogging one-handed

Friday 3 August:

Couldn't make much sense of any of today's Woo feeds - the hormone horoscope is still blathering on about rising estrogen making one's face more symmetrical for a week, which is too silly even for me, horoscope was noncommittal, Tarot confusing at first and then made me blush, and honestly, by Friday, if I have to look once more at the Australian War Memorial website I am going to hurt somebody, I assume today is the anniversary of some hideous futile exercise in slaughter on the Western Front and well, Pinvin does Pinvin same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. Only the fortune cookie spoke, with clarity and penetration, to my innermost soul:


Yep so when I arrived at work at dawn and saw this glove at the foot of the north steps, I thought, It's a sign

But then nothing else happened until about 4:30pm when I was on my way home and I stacked my bike, hard, on the wet asphalt shared path around the Melbourne Uni colleges. I braked as a car came out of a driveway and skidded on the wet fucking heritage bluestones, and down I went on my left side. Out of nowhere there appeared a large audience of wide-eyed college inmates who listened respectfully while I lay on the ground for a while saying Fuck, For fuck's sake, Jesus fucking christ  etc. I sort of had to shout to hear myself swearing over Patti Smith who was still in my headphones, loudly asserting that the night belongs to lovers. One's perception of time warps and stretches in the midst of these events and while I was lying on the ground, adjusting to this sudden new perspective on Parkville, I thought of the morning's fortune cookie and I also remembered this. I had been riding slowly enough to realise I was going down and to try hold onto my bike when I fell and not put my hands out, but at the last second the reflex was irresistible and I flung my left hand out to break my fall. So the shock of impact went all the way up that arm and shoulder. This is how collarbones get broken and I am very lucky to have nothing worse than pain and swelling. There is going to be a nightmarishly good bruise on my left hip.

Didn't have the nous to take crash scene photos but
if you want I can stage some reenactment shots
After a while the kids helped me get out from under my bike and handed me the pieces of my glasses, which are completely fucking destroyed. Once I got up I went through a few more observations about Fuck me fucking dead etc again and established that I hadn't hit my head and no bones were broken. I had jeans and gloves and a raincoat on - the raincoat is dead, but miraculously I have no cuts except a tiny little slit above my left eyebrow presumably from broken spectacles glass, and a few bits of gravel got into the heel of my left hand, which is so swollen and sore that I can't move my fingers without intense pain. It wasn't a pleasant ride home, particularly as I couldn't see all that well, but I made it, I collected Lenny from school and got straight into a boiling hot porridge and honey bath, and stewed myself in there until all the adrenalin had been leached away. 

Leonard has watched two hours of television and the Uber Eats guy has just brought us some chips. As soon as I can get Lenny off to bed I am going to take myself to the same destination, with a large bowl of cherries and a not-small glass of whisky. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Deskside manners

Twice in the last few months I've suggested Stephen Potter's One-Upmanship to friends (hello those friends, if you're reading) and a little farther back I quoted from it, with great satisfaction, and that quotation was also a recommendation at large, because if you like this blog then you are probably going to really like Stephen Potter. Or are you? This book, it's poised in a very strange and particular space recommendation-wise. I love it, love it so, I know it by heart, but I am just never sure whether other people are going to find it funny or if it's just going to strike them as lame, stale, laboured attempts at humour pinned to a rather sad view of human relations.  In the event I haven't had the nerve to find out what my friends might think of it. I haven't been game to insist on loaning out my own copy and it's out of print, so I can't make a present of it without it all becoming way more complicated than should ever happen with the sharing of pleasure in an obscure fragment of comic genius.

I thought of Potter today, and his excellent advice on Patientship gambits carefully designed to counter 'the natural one-downness of the unclothed' when I found myself, yet again, unexpectedly and not particularly enthusiastically standing semi-naked in a small room with a man I barely know for company. Well, I suppose I asked for it by going to the GP; last night, while completing my evening ritual of staring searchingly into the bathroom mirror and wondering who I am, I noticed a change in the shape and colour of a patch of pigmentation on my left cheek.
The blob has been there since I was pregnant but it has definitely grown
Surprisingly enough, to me at least, the doctor said it's not cancer, and all this only took about two and a half minutes and the consultation was going to cost $75 so he suggested I take off almost all my clothes and he tied a magnifying glass to his head and looked at every bit of my body, using a torch to spotlight one section at a time. It was altogether a really great experience.

I hadn't had the foresight to plan a counterattack but I'm quite proud that I did locate the presence of mind, while being checked out, to talk at length about my cousin who has had many skin cancers removed from the skin of his bald head, all the while keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the likewise very bald head of the doctor. Not a refined ploy but a good deal better than nothing.

So, in the twenty years that this book has been a part of my life, Potter has repeatedly been useful to me in what I am not afraid to describe as a spiritual capacity: at times when people were being shits, when I have felt that I am being got at, when someone was unpleasantly winning at whatever petty contest was implicitly going down, and they were doing it at my expense, I have now and then been able to use the material in this book to think my way back to a different vantage point, and from there see the deep, rich, full absurdity of the scenario -- and that perspective is always available --  and then has been me who wins, and because my victory occurs on a higher plane it is conclusive.

And yet I do not know if or how this book can be recommended to other readers. Will it work on other people the way it has worked on me? Do they have to possess not only the same sense of humour, but also the same cultural field, mapped out of materials basically acquired from reading all of the British paperbacks published between 1935 and 1960 and retrieved decades later from the bookshelves of a damp fibro sleepout behind a suburban Australian house?

Considering this question I'm all the more grateful for and impressed by the courage of the person who introduced me to the book; this was a member of the group of men who lectured in English at La Trobe who were magnetic, brilliant, hilarious, wonderful teachers, and he was always the one who had the infallible knack of putting together the most interesting collections of books to read. One-Upmanship he put into his subject on modern comedy, and I remember him somewhat anxiously saying in a tutorial more or less what I've just said to you, i.e. that it was not an altogether settled matter in his mind that the book is in fact funny. With hindsight now, having been in his position, I wouldn't have had either the gumption to require fifty students to read it, nor, I'm actually very ashamed to say, the confidence in said students' capacity to make sense of the book let alone find it satisfying and hilarious.