One day after a fight with someone I love I drag my childhood journals out from their hiding place and, like a modern-day Stalin, I rewrite history. I plough through hundreds of pages: the perfumed, pastel pages of my early teens, the scratchy, scrapbook paper I favoured later on, the no-nonsense, blue-lined binder books of recent years. I skim-read each page with a furrowed brow, revisiting words that once spilled out of me. Sprawling blue biro scrawl ringing with false confidence, jagged red pen lines that make angry imprints in the page. Neat resolutions in perfectly-formed script that leans slightly to the right. Story ideas in liquid gold ink. List after list after list. Lists of things done and Things To Do, experiences had and those desired, things I needed, wanted, loved. Things that, once done would cause everything else to fall into place. In some parts nostalgia makes me smile like an indulgent parent, in other parts I cringe—at the awkward earnestness unique to adolescents, or because I recognise a pattern. I see the same mistakes and fears played out over and over, karmic lessons that refuse to be learned. I wonder if we ever stand the slightest chance of changing our own character.As I read, I think about how I would like to be remembered—or, more specifically, how I am afraid of being remembered. If tomorrow I carelessly step into the path of highway traffic, or am stabbed in the throat by a customer who finds the store's refund policy offensive, someone I love will be left with the task of sifting through my belongings. It is almost certain that the uncensored scribbles in my journals—always intended for my eyes only—will be read, but without the benefit of context. Because of a momentary lapse of concentration or the inexplicable rage of a tiny-minded shopper, the smallest, ugliest parts of myself will become known to the ones who meant the most to me while I was alive. And they will give weight to those words, the way people do the words of the dead, while I—pasted thinly onto the highway or having expired from a scissor wound to the throat—will be helpless, unable to tell them otherwise.Some of these words were not meant to survive I decide, tearing chosen pages into shreds. As the hours wear on, I add to a growing pile of mental confetti beside me. Like a sculptor carving granite, I chip away at a picture of the person I was until she is someone I can stand. Someone I can live with. The girl that remains is by no means dull and perfect, nor would I want her to be. I let some of the bad stuff—selected rants and insecurities—remain, but those I deem unforgiveable I shred mercilessly.I finish just after 2AM. All of a sudden I am aware of an ache in my back from too many hours spent hunched over, peering down into my past. My eyes sting from being open too long, seeing too much time compressed into too few pages. The covers of my journals sag, their contents now depleted. At my feet a mountain (or molehill) of thoughts I wish I'd never had sits, torn into pieces and ready to blow away in the slightest breeze from my bedroom window.I stretch and sigh. My work is done.
These are the days inbetween. The space between the full stop and the initial capital of the next sentence. The silence inbetween computer keyboard symphonies. thisiswhatinspirationsoundslike.
There are so many things I should be doing. Writing book reviews promised to magazines. Pounding the pavement that little bit harder in the hope that it might relent and exhale viable employment from its cool, concrete depths. Running solitary marathons on treadmills that take me nowhere, as I chase the hollow satisfaction of fitness, brought about by manufactured sweat.
Then there are all the things I could be doing. Taking up an invitation to visit a friend in Caracas. Making faint, shifting footprints in white sand beaches. Trying out broken Spanish, overdosing on empanadas. Or I could build walls of books and cement the cracks with notes. Surrounded by stories, in a structure fortified by names and knowledge, I could write a book.
But I don't do these things. Any of them. Trapped inbetween, I tread water, jog on the spot.
2005 is nearly over, in retail we are gearing up for the senseless frenzy that comes before the year's death rattle. Now is not the time to begin new projects. These are wasted months, more about surviving than thriving. Helping flustered last-minute shoppers find presents nobody needs, ignoring the absurdity of anthems about snow and open fires that are piped through the shopping centre while outside, the heat melts my car dashboard.
I wait, inbetween this year and the next, inbetween school and the rest of my life. I hold my breath.
Nothing can begin now, not yet.
I am becoming a hunchback. Constantly curled over the keyboard like a question mark, my body has forgotten how to stand up straight. The sun is alien to me. A strange luminosity I squint at through my windscreen on my way to work or school. My skin—translucent at the best of times—is an even whiter shade of pale these days and all this caffeine can't be doing me any good.Thanks to prolongued (computer) terminal exposure, I can no longer see more than a couple of feet in front of me. When I try to focus on a point a greater distance away, my lenses struggle and give up, probably figuring that everything I will ever need to see is available in .jpeg or .tiff format anyway. That vague fluttering I saw at the bottom of the stairs on campus this morning could have been a long-lost friend waving. It could have been a plastic bag caught on the railing. I'll never know. It doesn't matter much anyway, I stopped answering my phone last weekend. There's just no point: "No I'm busy. Yes tomorrow night too." If anyone does manage to engage me in conversation, I spend most of it trying to remember if it was Frank Kermode or Samuel Coleridge who said that Kent was the most individualised of Shakespeare's characters, whether or not the em dash is before the semi colon in the hierarchy of pauses and mentally re-writing leads for my article on relationships and culture shock.I'm perpetually grumpy. I'm existing on toasted cheese sandwiches. I'm starting to get used to the headaches.I'll call you when it's over.
"you're getting happier by the minute, and they wouldn't have a clue, bout what its like to be lazy when you've got too much to do..." (The Whitlams)
After hours, this place isn't nearly as scary as it should be. Sanitised fluroescent light chases the shadows out of every crevice along the abandoned corridor. I can hear fingerstrokes on a keyboard two rooms away from where I sit, and the streamlined vowels of two international students who sit, hunched over a single computer, whispering rapidly to one another in a language I don't understand.
I have set a trap for myself: I can't set foot outside this room until I have at least three decent ideas for freelance projects to take to my meeting with Fergus tomorrow. Fergus is the producer of ABC TV's spin-off digital radio station. I've had a week to come up with something but have spent my time frivilously: working, gigging, drinking, dining with mates, watching cartoons. Checking out the closing flick at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival (a stirring tale about Triads, the name given to the Hong Kong mafia). Standing on a balcony ten stories above Melbourne in the wee hours of a Monday morning, filling my lungs with aromatic herb and engaging in intense conversations, the content of which I will later forget entirely.
But no more. I'm here until I come up with something. Even if it takes all night. And it just might, at this rate...
"fingertips have memories, mine can't forget the curves of your body..." (Harvey Danger)
I feel as if I should be quoting Anais Nin when referencing our brief affair, not a nerdy Seattle pop-rock band, but then it is not the job of mere words to live up to our experiences.
I've never believed in fate, always finding it somewhat idealistic and anthropocentric. I mean, how important are our lives and the directions they take anyway, to anyone other than ourselves and our immediate circles? But divine intervention or no, since I got back I can't help but meditate on the sequence of events that led to our meeting and smile.
If I hadn't wrenched myself out of my comfort zone just one more time, which I did with the support of a brand new friend, I wouldn't have ditched town that weekend to attend an obscure island music festival off the coast of Norway.
If the Canadian who accompanied me to the festival hadn't left me scarfing barbequeued salmon with our neighbours and, promising he'd "be right back" disappeared into his tent indefinately, I wouldn't have ventured beyond our campsite that afternoon.
If I hadn't wandered off down the island's main dirt road, vaguely recalling there was a source of drinking water nearby, I wouldn't have walked past the tent where you sat, drinking beer and chatting to a mutual acquaintance of ours who called my name as I walked by and introduced us.
We lost each other then. If I hadn't have sprinted back to the mainstage just before midnight, while trying to escape a sleazy pursuer I'd met on the ferry, I wouldn't have run straight into you.
The world did not turn as it did for us, but even so: if it wasn't for all of these things, we would never have met.
We met in a land where the sun never sets and in my mind, each meeting with you bleeds into the next like an endless, perfect day. There are flashes of colour, sound and sensation that sometimes warm me from within like that first sharp draft of whisky and, at other times, sting like an asphalt graze, sorrow or what-might-have-beens.
Your eyes, sea-blue and filled with intent, peering pointedly at me from under a forehead lined with 29 years of love and life and one heartbreak. The way you played the guitar perfectly and sang slightly off-key. My fingers, wrapped in yours and buried in your pockets for warmth as we waited for the ferry home the day after the festival. The smoky taste and pang of remorse when I realised that the sliver of meat I'd just nibbled off the fork you held out to me was whale. The invisible trail, which felt like hot, bubbling champagne, that your hands left behind on my skin. Wearing your t-shirt to bed in Oslo (when only a country, and not half the globe, seperated us) just so I could smell you. Arriving back in Melbourne, days later, unpacking to find your scent was fading and feeling irrationally, disproportionately sad.
Just as I know that you can't go home again, I know that trying to find you or Norway again and expecting either one of you to be the same is futile. I know that the very thing that makes first times so exquisite, prevents you from ever revisiting them. That is their magic. That is their price.
I know all this but, at least for now, I can't accept it.
put that nostalgia away, you're scaring the children...
I must have streaked my eyelids with lead this morning, instead of mascara because I can't keep them open."air cushioned soles, i bought them on the portobello road on a saturday..."(blur)I should be writing an essay on censorship and the interests it seeks to preserve as well as those it denies with specific reference to Eminem and the Sex Pistols."...i stop and stare awhile, a common pastime when conversation goes astray..."(blur)But I keep rewarding myself for every sentence typed with thrilling fact-finding missions in cyberspace, searching for things to do on my first weekend in London which--fuck me--is THIS weekend."...but please don't give up on me yet, don't think i'm walking out of this..."
I keep drifting away, on a raft that nostalgia built, to the mid to late nineties when Blur and Oasis were engulfed in a bitter(ly ironic) Britpop war and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker was the new Elvis (Presley, not Costello) at least, as far as I was concerned."...i don't really want to change a thing, i want to stay this way forever..."(blur)Its the place names mainly. Damon references London like a street directory: Portobello Road (Blue Jeans) and Primrose Hill (For Tomorrow) and the underground (Advert). Suddenly I can feel the prickle of a pleated wool skirt on my bare knees and contempt for an inspid blonde with an irony deficiency who shushes me during assembly builds at the back of my throat like a phlegmatic cough."...blue, blue jeans i wear them every day..."(blur)I can taste the weekend. I'm writing notes to the girl sitting next to me about the places I want to go. Italy, France, Jamaica, Scotland. And I want to drink beer in London's Bar Italia because Pulp wrote a song about it."...there's no particular reason to change..."(blur)I can't wait till high school is over. For my life to begin. What I don't know yet is that this takes time. Maybe forever. That way into the discernable future, I'll still feel like a clueless teen most days, minus the itchy skirt.
"...my thoughts are getting banal, but i can't help it, i won't pull out hair another day..."(blur)You know what's funny? Blur albums--this one, Modern Life Is Rubbish, in particular--weren't happy, despite the killer hooks. Lyrically its an acridly-cynical posturing on how stale the world has become."...you know its to be with you..."(blur)So why do I break into a knowing grin just hearing those songs in my head again?"...you know its to be with you."(blur)I'll turn in now, make a messy tower of books and incoherent notes. Promise myself I'll finish this essay tomorrow, because I have to. I'll tuck Modern Life away, in a shadowy corner at the bottom of my CD rack where it will sleep under the dusts of time (as I choose to call the scary tumbleweeds of dust I haven't got around to vacuuming, gives it a more romantic feel dontcha think?) But there is a room in a distant corner of my mind where those songs will play forever. Every now and then someone goes out for more beer and leaves the door open just a crack, enough for me to hear. Hear and remember. But I couldn't enter, even if I wanted to. Leslie Hartley 's past is another country; mine is another room. The floorboards are sticky from spilled vodka and raspberry and countless girls who look just like me (maybe a little chubbier, minus the lead mascara and the beginnings of crow's feet) squelch across them with blind confidence, sure they know exactly what their lives will hold and equally sure that that's a good thing.
the chair that haunts me
If Woody Allen had been born 29 weeks premature, this is where he would have sat.
This is what I’m thinking now—staring at a tiny director’s chair in the display window of a novelty store—but only to keep from thinking of you. (Last night I dreamed I was at my grandparents’ anniversary bash, and you were the waiter. You brought a huge shiny silver tray of cheesecake crowned with berries to our table but I never got to have any).
The chair is 10cm tall, made of balsa wood and green canvas. The word ‘director’ is stencilled across its back in black. You’d like it. At least, I think you would. Your with your nose constantly in film mags at work. You with your preference for subtlety and heart onscreen (you loved Eternal Sunshine but said that Being John Malkovich left you cold. You revelled in Lost In Translation and called it a "slow-burner"). You who told me last night that you’re despairing of finishing the short film your currently working on before your lead actor goes to San Diego to study drama.
Its your birthday next Monday. I know we don’t do presents as a rule, but I wanted to buy this for you (inbetween thoughts of cheesecake and Woody Allen). Its the kind of thoughtfully specific gift that says something more than the sum of its parts. If chairs could talk, this one would say it all for me.
This chair would say: "Happy Birthday," because its a polite, well-brought-up chair that understands the social importance of small talk.
And because it also understands that there is a time for honesty and clarity, the chair would then say: "I enjoy our conversations. I get you."
Because the chair knows that no human is truly happy unless they follow their bliss, it would add: "I believe in you. You can do anything you want."
Then, in a moment of weakness, the chair might go too far and say: "I like you. More than I want to. When we stood in the car park the other night and talked about your plans for your birthday weekend and when we’d see each other next, I fantasised about following you back to the silver Mitsubishi you'd borrowed from a friend and doing unspeakable things to you in the back seat."
The chair is a slut. The chair totally embarrassed itself and for what? It is not in full possession of the facts. It has forgotten that I leave for Europe in a couple of weeks, and that you leave on a indefinately long working holiday in England less than two months after my return. And it is conveniently ignoring the fact that we have a very close mutual friend (you and I, not me and the chair) who—although she has agreed with you that it is over, and has found many men since to occupy her time—is not over you.
The chair is an idiot.
I scowl at it and walk out of the shopping centre in broad, determined strides. My steps contain only a hint of wistfulness, visible only to those who are looking for it.