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.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Play it again

Tuesday 31 July:

Auspices all over the shop today, at least in terms of the semi-arbitrary yet frankly somehow spooky confluence of evidence that lessons are not easily learned which is summoned up by the fact that today happens to be the 101st anniversary of Passchendaele, it's 56 years since the vanguard of the vanguard of Australian forces set foot in Vietnam, (56 also being today's lucky number astrologically speaking) and it's also the tenth anniversary of Australia's withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. Right now is a good time for thinking about plans, goals and projects, such as tomorrow's pew cushion fabric repair bee which is to follow the 10:30am service at St Nicholas's Church. And thus it is that today brings a big shift in your thinking and it's almost certainly positive! However, this should subside as your body gets used to the extra pep from rising estrogen. Mood: Refreshed

The most important thing that happened today is I listened to this song 44 times between 6am and now

I say 'listened' but of course the active listening faded in and out across all those repetitions, most of which took place in the context of me travelling to and from work, walking around the building, working at my desk. Nevertheless I tuned in for extended periods to wonder, first of all, what is it about songs, certain songs and songs in general, that they induce in me this craving for repetition? There is nothing else that I enjoy doing that I want to do in this way, ie obsessive periodic binging on repetitions of a single brief experience. I don't remember now whether I wrote about this at the time, but earlier this year I read David Byrne's book How Music Works, expecting that he would address this and a couple of other questions I had about music. He didn't though. I enjoyed the book very much, once I understood it was really a kind of autobiography, but it left me none the wiser about how it is that music works.

I would listen with pleasure and interest to anything James Blake recorded and put out there, and part of what's got me about this cover of Vincent is simply the rich and intimate colours in his surpassingly beautiful and interesting voice (which is recorded much better in the version on Apple Music than it is in this Youtube clip) but the choice of this song - this terrible, maudlin, grotesque, bloated, overrated, tacky bit of the seventies that should have stayed buried - is fascinating in ways I can't quite get a handle on. Part of it revolves around the question of cool. And so the other thing I wondered is, Can this be this an example of a gesture that is so intensely dorky that it goes all the way to the distant end of dork and out the other side into an undiscovered realm of coolness? I don't know: I doubt it, but at the same time, I'm pretty sure that nothing is ever cooler than straight sincerity and not apologising for liking something obviously uncool. That said there isn't any song from the 1970s which is dorkier than Vincent. Not one. It is the limit case.

I'm done with dropped gloves. I know this because I've spotted some lovely ones and I just sailed on past them. It felt right. These three are the last gloves that I photographed: I've grandfathered them into my blog out of a faint feeling that I had made some kind of commitment to somebody, in paying these fallen ones a moment's attention on their great transitions from useful objects intimately applied to human bodies to unregarded pieces of flat sodden garbage.

Friday, 27 July 2018


Yesterday the finance department had her birthday, so at three o'clock this happened:

Afterwards I overheard the head curator, his voice ringing with a deep, quiet satisfaction, telling someone that he thought it was the best afternoon tea we've ever had.  It certainly took a lengthy period of sustained effort to dispose of it all and by the time I returned to my desk there was only enough time left in the day to prepare for the morning's tasks and challenges by reading out tomorrow's horoscopes pertaining to the two Sagittarians, the Scorpio and the two Aquariuses dispersed around the office. The latter three scoffed, but all of them listened. More fool the scoffers! After all, it's not as if we don't all work in a building which is entirely planned around, and determined by, overlapping investments in superstition and magical thinking around numerology, dates (11am, 11/11), the occult power of anniversaries, and ceremonies invoking the position of the sun relative to the earth. I don't say all this like it's a bad thing, of course. Modernist iterations of archaic rituals makes the world go round. It's not all about momentum and gravitation!  

I really value and enjoy reading my daily horoscope and I put total faith in the messages it has for me. But in order to form a properly complete picture of what life has in store for me I do like to supplement the straight-out star sign stuff with material drawn from the daily reports produced by my hormonal tracker, and sometimes with the contents of a fortune cookie (although the last one of these I cracked open said 'Be easy under circumstances' - hm.) Since I cannot find an app which will just seamlessly merge these sources of information for me I am going to do it myself for a week or two and see if the insights generated bring me to the next level. And if I'm going to compile my own futurological texts I might as well throw in some info about what's going down in Pinvin and which battles of the past happen to have some semi-arbitrary association with this one day of the year.

Friday 27 July

With your estrogen levels finally on the rise, you're in the right place at the right time today, Laura! Mercury is retrograde so use your improving mood and memory to commemorate the ceasefire on the  Korean peninsula, which happened 65 years ago today. What are the odds! This is a good time to bet on yourself: if you feel like you're taking a risk, then you're doing the right thing. Should cramps strike, you might try a cup of chamomile tea; otherwise, head to the Coach and Horses Pub on the Pershore Road for a fun origami class and put your increased spatial awareness to work. Lucky colour: Pink