Pearls and swine
"How could you reach the pearl by only looking at the sea? If you seek the pearl, be a diver: the diver needs several qualities: he must trust his rope and his life to the Friend's hand, he must stop breathing, and he must jump."
I feel like there are grinding wheels in my head that need oiling.
I have been working 10, 11, 12 hours a day. I took on too much work because I don't like to say no and lose newish clients. But it was too too much. Editing is work that needs a fine touch. I hate to be doing it so badly. (I don't mind doing it a bit badly, because I realise that I cannot concentrate on it all the time and need distraction, and anyway, I'm good enough that 75% is better than most can do firing on all cylinders. I have no pride in my work. I hate it too much for that.)
It is very lonely. I rarely ever go out or do anything, unless it's to drop Zenella at school or buy the groceries. I barely feel like I'm living at all. Yet I don't want change. I feel worn to nothing. I have tried and what good did it do? Everything I do is thoroughly disappointing and I am dispirited.
I just cannot take pleasure in anything. I should never have come here. I am stuck in a self-fulfilling spiral: I convinced myself I would be unhappy, so I robbed myself of the equipment to become happy; well, not that, but to have a life at all. I cannot make friends because I hate everyone too much to like them. Yet I am charming and funny if I forget to hate. I cannot even keep the friends I do have. I feel they do not really want to know me, and they confirm it when I am in the least difficult by simply dropping me like a hot potato.
I do not indulge in self-pity, only for this few minutes. I am too numb for pity for anybody, least of all myself. I just sit at my desk, pushing words around, trying to get through it, on a journey to nowhere.
It is breaking my heart that I cannot keep myself from confirming others' suspicion that I am hollow and not worth knowing. They are right. What the fuck am I? My world has shrunk to the confines of my house. It never was much wider. I have always been a hikikomori in waiting, just hoping for an excuse to shut the world out, so that it can no longer touch me at all. I have no idea why. It's just my inclination.
Sometimes, when I am in a wishing mood, which is not often, I wish someone would reach in and shake me, take me out of my box and recognise me for the jewel I could surely be. But anyone who does is doing it for them and not even the smallest piece for me. Or if it is for me, I do not recognise it, because it is not what I want or how I want it, and surely, if you are going to do something for someone else, those must be considerations?
I know, I do sound selfish. Well, I am. I have to be if there is to be anyone in this world who thinks I am worthwhile. I have to be if I am to keep alive the small spark that makes me hope that I can still be a man I can be proud of. Because even though I know it is senseless to be vain, I will always want to be a pearl far more than I can ever enjoy being a swine.
Captured happy forever
I am listening to Jimmy Little's cover of Cattle and cane. It's a brilliant song, which reaches across time and place to drag a man back to short pants and snotty nose days.
I remember the warm jam sandwiches on the beach with my mum and my sisters. We ran through the sand, careless in the summer sun, rolled down the dunes, played dog and rabbit on the towans. I do not remember anything about summer that was not fun.
I remember riding on my bike through the back lanes around Hayle. I would cycle for miles and eat my packed lunch in the hedgerow. Sometimes, I would cycle with Eric down to Leedstown and further, always finding new ways, new places, new worlds only two, three miles from home.
I remember football on the rec, huge games thirty-a-side that were more like huge, roiling rucks than the beautiful game. Sometimes older boys would fight with fists while we cheered them on. Once we queued because some girl was having a gangbang but I didn't want that to be my first time so I walked away when I was three away from taking my turn. Maybe I was afraid that she would say no to me. That is who I am: the boy who when the whole village is fucking some chick thinks he will be the one she says no to.
I remember wearing my dad's brothel creepers with my hair stiff with gel, parading up and down the Memorial walk, looking for rockers to taunt. One time, we found them, a gang come down from Truro or somewhere else distant and we punched it out with fists and chains out the back of the Co-op.
I remember walking across the roof of KB's house, out of my brains on the contents of Mr B's liquor cabinet. They never had me round for tea again. My dad made me drink water until I begged for no more and his solicitude was like a kiss.
I remember sitting in a backstreet cafe with H. She was crying because I was leaving. I was not crying but my heart was broken. My beautiful home, my nation, the sea. I had to leave it all. My father had decided to move and I, fifteen, could not choose to stay. I have never had a place to be ever since, always restless and insecure, always wanting more and finding less and less until all I have that I value is a picture of a laughing boy, out on the sand with his sisters, the salt wind blowing his hair, captured happy forever.
What do you do when someone who was gold for you becomes silver? Do you wait for them to slide down to bronze or just let them go? Do you hope that if you polish them enough, try hard and work at it, they will become gold once more? Maybe you start to think that they only looked like they were gold, that they were covered in gold leaf, which flaked away under pressure, leaving the plainer metal that lay beneath.
But surely silver is good enough. You tell yourself that but when you have had gold, silver seems to have little lustre. If you had never felt the gold...
But you did.
I cannot convince myself that it is okay to be second best in her life. I cannot convince myself that it is okay to be just another way to pass the time. I cannot rescue myself from vanity.
I sometimes feel it is my only vice, and that all the other things that are wrong about me are outcomes of being vain.
So anyway, what does it matter? I'm not getting out of here alive. I am going to rot in suburban Brisbane. I am going to spend my days editing dull bullshit about finance and I will die in pieces, what is left still to die.
I can hardly even get up the energy to whine about it and I have nothing else to blog about. I hardly ever bother with the news. I realised some time ago that none of it matters to me. Unless an airliner hits this street, the outside world can barely affect me. I am sealed from it all. The only time it touches me is when I drive around in the Smegma; then the cudchewers of southern Brisbane get to take a shot at me with their insane driving. I have a flicker of recognition when I see in the Sunday Mail that hoons are on the rampage, but when I read the faked outrage of the Mail's hacks, my sympathies begin to shift to the hoons, who at least are having fun. I read the Guardian Weekly, but more and more it seems to be packed with bourgeois whining about the world and how unsightly it is. I just don't believe that any of the people who are doing the whining are willing to take the necessary steps to make this a decent world. I know I'm not.
I wonder whether that is at the heart of it: I just can't be bothered. Can I find the source of that in vanity? Sure I can. I can't be bothered because I think I'm too good for the whole thing.
But what the fuck made me think that I had anything to be vain about in the first place? If I could answer that, I would not be mouldering away in Mansfield, wishing for a plane to hit the street, so I can just expire and consider the whole thing a bad deal.
What the fuck did I think I had that was so special? I thought I was gold, and that you should know when you see gold that it's worth preserving. You'd think I would have learned that I too am silver only on my best days, iron on the rest, but I never have. Maybe I confused wanting to be for being; but maybe, just maybe, I really do have it in my heart, deep inside, and if you open me up, there it is, the smallest nugget, pure and real, maybe, maybe, maybe.
My black sun
I no longer fear dying because I no longer think this life is worth having. I no longer fear dying because I no longer think this life is good. I cannot find joy in it but I do not feel low or angry. I feel exhausted, the little I had gone, wasted. It has dwindled and I am now a shell.
Sometimes I laugh when I watch my children's playing and I say I wouldn't miss that. But I wish they had never been born. What a thing to do to them. I hold their faces in my hands and I think what a cruel thing that they should even exist; what a cruel thing that they should grow to hope, to burn, to live, and lose it all, sooner or later, in their own dark sun of pain.
I want to walk away. I want to run away down a long, lonely path into the silent, bereft wilderness of dwindling years of being hated but not being present to feel it. I am just walking up and down on the spot. I hate everything that I do and everything I could do. I wasted everything I have because I do not know how not to.
I do not know anything. I have packed encyclopaedias into my stupid fat head and I do not know anything. I am no longer sad about it. I do not know how to be sad. I am spinning in a void, my own black sun, shedding no light, cold and dead before I have been born.
A beautiful thing has died and Grant McLennan will never be recognised by the hoi polloi as the great pop genius he was
The beautiful thing is the music of the Go-Betweens. There will not be any more
and a tiny light has gone out in my life, and the life of those who know great pop music when they hear it. Anyone who has heard Cattle and cane and knows what a pop song should sound like will know that there has been a tragedy. The rest of the world will carry on regardless, but fuck them, what do they know?
I recall a bigger brighter world
a world of books
and silent times in thought
and then the railroad
the railroad takes him home
through fields of cattle
through fields of cane
from time to time
the waste memory-wastes
These days I'm not a fan of Nick Cohen -- "leftists" who are more conservative than the conservatives are not my favourite commentators, so I note with glee that he seems to be dwindling into a Melanie Phillips-type windbag. For instance, what the fuck is this?
Multiculturalism inevitably breeds sectarian identities? Does it? And if it does, is that a bad thing, as Cohen seems uncritically to be saying?
I suppose acknowledging diversity does lead to recognition that different people have different identities. Cohen is arguing that it leads to pigeonholing people in carefully marked boxes. (Not that Cohen would dream of that: the strong hint in his writing here and elsewhere is that Muslims are all antidemocratic, antisemitic, anti everything Cohen "stands for" -- he could almost actually be Melanie Phillips on this subject.) People like to belong though. They like to be a thing or another thing. Particularly groups such as Muslims, who have a religion that emphasises universal brotherhood (although sadly not universal sisterhood to the same degree). But the "white" box that Cohen is identifying does not include all whites, obviously. It basically includes chavs. And they will respond to a notion of shared identity that people like me do not recognise, because they are too thick to think about who and what they actually are. They are generally tied to place and circumstance, so microshifts in their fortunes are not escapable. They do not really understand the forces that shape their lives, so they are always willing to listen to a narrative that explains them.
But having a recognisable identity has value for many. If you are of Serb origin, it is helpful that you can recognise other Serbs, who share culture and ethos with you. You can argue, and I'm sure Cohen does, that one should abandon those things as soon as becoming a member of a blended society, but people don't. I'm not suggesting that Serb ghettoes would be a good thing, but a Serbian club is. Having something in common with other people is a basis for friendship and support. What exactly is wrong with that?
The BNP are crap pollies and the people who voted for them are shown to be idiots by their bumbling? This is just plain dim. People don't vote for a BNP candidate because they feel they will be well represented in the council by him or her. You could only write this nonsense if you didn't actually know any chavs, or actually any normal, everyday people of any sort. People do not see councils as representing them, being part of what they are part of, or anything like that. They see them as something completely separate from them, something that sometimes serves them, sometimes gets in their way. They vote BNP because they don't like living with loads of dark people. They would like them to go away and take their weird food with them.
The comparison with the IRA is apt, but not for the reasons Cohen thinks. People identify with the core message of the IRA. That identification does not dwindle because the IRA are vicious thugs. In the same way, Cohen supported and still supports the invasion of Iraq, because he saw core values in the mission that he could get behind. He has not abandoned that support just because the war has been sorrily mishandled or even because the locals want us out of there. (A conclusion he might have drawn when he saw the very large crowds of dancing, cheering Basranites, happy to see UK soldiers' dying when their helicopter was shot down -- these people are not necessarily rounded up by provocateurs; rather, they seem to have gathered spontaneously quite quickly after the crash. You could conclude that they will jump on any opportunity to show us how little they want us there.) It's interesting that he mentions the Mafia. The latter has a great deal of support among the people of Sicily and southern Italy. But they are no friends of the people. Far from it. So why? I doubt Cohen has given a moment's thought to that question. Generally, insurgents of any kind cannot survive if the population does not support them. And that support is rarely engendered by what they do, much more often by what they stand for, so far as the people can discern it.
Respect play to Muslims and that's bad? Well, they are trying to create a base in the East End, where there are many Muslims. Ignoring their concerns would be bad politics, surely? On the one hand, Cohen slams the BNP for being politically cackhanded, and on the other slams Respect for having nous.
I should not be too unkind to Cohen though. He is a talking head, not a thinker. Most of his readers just won't think about what he is writing. It's nod-along stuff. The BNP make very easy targets, and it's not difficult to find something to laugh at in people that clownish. But, as so often in Cohen's commentary, there is no deeper analysis, no sign of any actual thought. There is no real attempt to find an answer to why the BNP are elected. It's easy to suggest that it's because the BNP appeal to a "white" identity. Well, yes, that's clear. It's what they would say about themselves. We could call that level one analysis. Sadly, Cohen rarely ever bothers going even to level two.
I have rarely had goals in any sphere of my life. When I was a kid, I had a vague ambition to be a slacker, which I have fulfilled. I sort of wanted a kid, and I have three. I wanted to live in London; I did. I wanted to travel; I did that a bit. Nothing very stunning. But reading this in 2+2 about having a plan
, it struck me that I am more ambitious about poker than I have been in many areas. My VOST is clear.
My vision is to become a semipro, making as much in an hour playing poker as I can editing, so that I can not edit for ten hours a week. It doesn't sound like much but it is a fairly high target. I'd need to be able to two or three-table $5-$10 games, or beat higher-level games. That isn't easy.
I also have a dream, as many players do. I'd like to play in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and make the final table. It's a different thing from my vision, because the vision is attainable and I'm focused on it. The dream is just a dream. (Not that it's impossible. I think I would need to place in the top three in three tournaments to get to the WSOP and then survive until the final table when I get there. If I'm good enough to do the first part, I have a shot at the second.)
My objective is simple enough: increase my bankroll to $200 within six months, make $1000 within a year and $2000 within 18 months. I will just about be able to play at the level I'm aiming for if I achieve that. And I will be a good enough player not to have my arse kicked. I have corresponding objectives for live play too: be the player the others fear in my fortnightly game within six months, be a player others fear in Brisbane within a year, be the player others fear in SE Queensland within 18 months. That sounds more ambitious but I think that becoming a winning player at $5-$10 would equip me sufficiently to achieve it.
My strategy is simple enough. Focus on learning. Work hard on understanding the concepts behind the plays, instead of just learning the plays and doing them mechanically. Study the game. Study my own mistakes. I'll be focusing on limit, because it suits me more than no-limit. I prefer the structured risk of limit to the open-ended risk of no-limit, so I plan to restrict the latter to social games. I need to learn to eradicate tilt, because I'm prone to it.
Tactics are harder. I will focus more on studying than playing for now because I can't play much in the evenings. In time, I will play more because there's no substitute for experience. When I do play, I need to select tables carefully because I need to be able to win as well as learn. Learning from my mistakes means studying the hands I have played, getting others' advice on them and working out whether what they suggest fits my understanding of the concepts involved. Avoiding tilt means giving up even a good table if I take a bad beat if I don't feel I can shrug it off. I am finding that it works for me to set a limit to how many hands or how long I will play at a stretch. I don't get tempted that way to keep playing when I'm winning or, worse, much worse, to try to win back losses if I'm not playing well.
I enjoy poker. If I don't succeed, I'll have fun trying. And I will only ever have invested $20. That was what I began with. If I go bust, I will consider that I can't make it and call it a day. But I don't expect to. I expect to win.
On possessing gerunds
As I was driving home from dropping Zenella off, I saw a billboard that made me think again about gerunds (well, to be honest, made me think about blogging about gerunds).
The sign said: "Remember your son rebelling with a motorbike. Retirement is payback time." This is a clear example of a gerund's being used without its being possessed. (Anyone who loved that self-reference and hasn't read Goedel, Escher, Bach is directed to do so forthwith.) In the following, I should note, I'm using "correct" in a narrow sense. I do not consider the sentence I am discussing incorrect in a strict sense, because this usage is probably more common than the "correct" one. I mean only that it is incorrect for someone who wishes to use gerunds strictly correctly.
Why is it incorrect? How can you tell? You have to ask yourself a simple question. What are you being asked to remember? Your son, right? Wrong. You are being asked to remember the rebelling your son did, specifically that he bought a motorbike to rebel. If you are struggling with this, ask yourself what circumstances would need to exist for you to be commanded to remember your son. Do those circumstances exist for most people who are reading that billboard? No. Furthermore, the second sentence confirms that what we were talking about in the first sentence was the rebelling, not the son.
So this sentence should read: "Remember your son's rebelling with a motorbike." That would gladden Fowler's heart.
Generally, experience and thought will show you what is a gerund and what just looks like one -- in most cases, a participle. It's important to be clear what each is. A gerund is a noun, which describes the action of a verb. "Rebelling" in this case means "the act of rebelling". Whenever you are talking about the act as a thing, you are using a gerund. Participles are adjectives. They describe the noun that they are attached or adjacent to. "Remember your rebelling son" and "Remember your son's rebelling" are clearly different ideas, describing different things. In the former, the son, clearly; in the latter, the act of rebelling, clearly.
Look at this sentence: "I am preparing for you/your coming". This is an easy one to stumble over. Surely, you might say, you are preparing for me, so it's "I am preparing for you coming". But if so, what is "coming"? What is its part in this sentence? Why, if you are preparing for me, did you not simply say "I am preparing for you"? Well, the reason you didn't is that what you are preparing for is my arrival. See how much easier that sentence is with a word that is unambiguously a noun. A good test for gerunds is to replace them with a similar word that is unambiguously a noun, or even that is not so similar but you feel it works the same: "Remember your son's comeback with a motorbike" is clearly enough the same sort of sentence as the one we're considering.
This would all make things easy if it were not that you can use participles after nouns in some cases. Look at these sentences:
He is not aware of the tax applying to his investment.
He is not aware of the tax's applying to his investment.
Both are perfectly correct, but they do not have the same sense. Sets of sentences like this are why some are careful with gerunds. The distinction in sense is lost if you are not.
The first sentence means he is not aware of the tax that applies to his investment. The tax has not been previously defined. You could in principle replace "applying" with "that applies". "That" clauses -- defining clauses -- function similarly to adjectives. They "define" the noun, just as an adjective does. So it should not be surprising that they can interchange with adjectives. "Which man did you talk to? The man looking like Elvis." This construction is often used in speech but is not incorrect in writing. You would normally write "The man who/that looks like Elvis", which is more euphonous.
The second sentence means that he is not aware that a tax that has already been mentioned applies to his investment. You cannot replace "the tax's applying" with "the tax that applies" for a simple reason: the gerund is not defining the tax. Indeed, in a sense, the tax is defining the gerund!
Smarter monkeys among us will have grasped that there is a simple test you can do to decide whether you have a gerund, which will require possessing, or a participle, which does not, when it follows a noun. Ask whether it can be replaced with a defining clause with "that".
Look again at "Remember your son rebelling with a motorbike." Can it be recast as "Remember your son that rebelled with a motorbike." No. You are not remembering this son rather than another one! Son is already defined by "your".
To wrap up, we can ask "What if I was being asked to remember my son? Would I write the same sentence?" Actually, no. It would still be wrong. Without digressing into a technical discussion of why (but bear in mind that "the man looking like Elvis" is marginal in written English), I'll give the correct sentence and leave it at that. One would write: "Remember your son, rebelling with a motorbike." This construction is analogous with a "which" clause. You are being given more information about a previously defined noun. Which son? Your son. And here's more about him: he rebelled with a motorbike. You will nearly always want a comma when you use a participle after a noun that it describes. Look at "Here comes the king, walking slowly." Compare with "Look at the king, walking slowly" and "Look at the king's walking slowly." In the former, one is directed to look at the king, who is, as an aside, walking slowly. In the latter, one is directed to look at the act of walking slowly that the king is doing. The former is, of course, ambiguous. It can also convey that one is directed to look at the king while walking slowly oneself. You might prefer the first reading because it is more natural. But compare "Look at the king, taking your time". Now you very much prefer the reading that the participle defines you, although the other reading is again possible (as a matter of syntax; it would be hard to make a context in which it was semantically sound).
This leads us to a simple rule of thumb for deciding whether to possess "-ing" words. Ask whether you can write the sentence with a comma between the two nouns. If you are satisfied that you can, you do not have a gerund. If you feel you cannot, possess it.
Heroes of mine
When I was a child of Zenella's age, I wanted to be a miner. It seemed to me impossibly glamorous, a proper vocation for a man, to become a hero of the working class. I did not know that people would think I was too smart for it and that I would lose my vocation, any sense of purpose and, finally, my sense of pride in where I came from.
But I never lost my admiration for the brave men who risk their lives underground. The fear of something's going wrong must be tremendous, ever present, almost paralysing. To be able to withstand that without flinching is something to admire.
I will not say anything about the blackhearted men and women who exploit miners, who allow mines to decay into places of extreme peril in their pursuit of the fast buck. They are not worth even the time it takes to express contempt for them. I will spend my time instead in saying that my thoughts are with the two guys awaiting rescue at Beaconsfield
, who survived for five days without food or good water.
Some say that our heroes are warriors, worse that they are those who send warriors to die for, all too often, schemes that have no great benefit for those who perish in their pursuit. Some say that they are the stars who fill the middle pages, and sometimes the front pages, of our newspapers, mannequins whose purpose does not extend beyond being looked at. But I say that the men and women who build our world, who grub up the means of our subsistence and the materials we build our shelter and infrastructure with, those who maintain our world and the comforts we take for granted, and those who cart away the shit when we are done with it, they are our heroes. Without them, we are monkeys out of the jungle, lost and homeless. They are the heroes in my world and I will raise a glass when the Tasmanian miners are brought from the deepest darkness into the glare of the limelight.