Given that some time has passed and it makes me sad that no one can stumble on this blog any more, not to mention that at least three of my very small readership gave up because they couldn't get a feed any more, I intend to reopen it to the outside world shortly. I mean, it doesn't really matter to me because I've always written it strictly for myself, but I do feel a bit meh that no one can stumble on my archives and enjoy some of the things I've written. I know I moved a lot of it to Monkey Banana, but it doesn't feel the same to me.
I'm not sure though. There are decent reasons to keep it hidden too. I'd welcome views if anyone has them.
So R, the daycare woman, smiles and I smile and I wish I was brave enough to say to her, you should bottle that smile, because it seems like that would be nice and I like to brighten people's day. (No, really. Sometimes.)
But then I get to thinking, that's more likely to frighten her than brighten anything, and I put the notion away to the back of the mental cupboard. Because I am thinking, does anyone else have this problem about themselves, that they just don't know how others see them?
I imagine everyone has some idea how they are presenting themselves, what others see when they look at them. I don't mean what they physically see: I can be objective enough to recognise that they see a big man, carrying some middleage spread, greyhaired and a bit worn, fairly unwrinkled for a man of his age (less sun than most as a kid, rather than miracle skin, although until age started to creep patches of wtf over it, I had good skin), ordinary at best. I mean what they think of you.
The best I can come up with is slightly dull. But that doesn't really answer my question, because what I am asking is more like why anyone would bother with me. Because no one does and it bothers me.
I am not entirely lonely. Even on days that I don't see another person, I have company. I talk for hours with people online. I have no idea why they bother though. What am I giving them? Do they all simply enjoy being charitable? I know why I'm talking to them. I enjoy talking to A because she is wise and openminded and she will put up with me when I whine. I enjoy talking to P because she and I have surprisingly lots in common, and she is funny without trying too hard. I enjoy talking to S, although she doesn't often bother, because she feels like my intellectual peer, she is manipulative and clever, and because she writes so nicely that you can't help revelling in it. I enjoy talking to boots because he is a oneoff and I think that he is aware he's talking shit but cannot help smuggling the odd diamond into it. I enjoy talking to Tom because he does not think thinking is a crime, and he is an oldschool conversationalist, always able to think up stories or illuminations that add value. And I enjoy talking to K because she is the single nicest person to spend time with that I've ever known, and I value niceness above everything else, because underneath my shell is a small boy, who flinches at the anger and pain that fuel our world, and basks in the warmth of someone pleasant.
R seems nice, but all she sees is another dad, I'm sure, an old guy who she would laugh at the thought of spending time with. I am just physically lonely. I need someone proximate, someone I can hold, make feel good, lavish kisses on. I need a girlfriend because I want to be needed, and not just by a child who wants me to give it something, which the four people who do need me most all are. Someone said to me the other day what a pity it is that I need someone else to love me to feel validated (or words to that effect), but it's equally the case that I need someone to want me to love them. The monkey does not tell me that no one can love me. I know people love me, for whatever reason they do. It would be hard to force yourself to believe that when people say otherwise. He tells me that I have nothing to offer. That's much harder for people to prove to you.
I didn't always feel like that, and I am not condemned always to feel it. Of course I don't believe I would be fixed simply by acquiring a girlfriend, or by becoming acclaimed for one thing or another. But in the year before I first moved to Australia, I had a strong self-image. You would have liked me then. I knew what people saw when they looked at me and I knew they liked it. How did I do that? I became myself. I'll write about it some time, but the essence of it was I shed the accreted shit of my first *mumbles* years. I meditated, I ate well, I focused on what was good about me and I was convinced there was plenty. I had a job I enjoyed, friends who I enjoyed being with and didn't feel I had to try hard with. Simple.
So. But someone said to me, and I hope they won't mind my quoting them:
you feel trapped by forces beyond your control... This is making you see things all wrong, including the way you look at yourself.
and I know it's true. In the year before I came to Australia, I made myself happy. I was fucking great. I have to believe I still am, if I want to live, because I am sick of dying. It has been too little fun and the result has been, well, dying, which is not like life, however much you try to convince yourself that it is.
I find it quite sad that there are "creative" people who think they are doing "work" that needs paying for, rather than following a vocation. The notion that Sony and BMG are some sort of charitable foundation that helps small artists to share their vision is pretty laughable. They have turned what used to be a vibrant creative commons into a drab spectacle, whose aim is not to delight or even entertain us, but to turn our common heritage into money.
What strikes me about this particular proposal is that Labour, the party of the people, is pushing a measure that so clearly opposes our views. The people don't have a problem with filesharing: most of us do it or would do it. Very few people haven't downloaded something without paying for it, or do not have a ripped and burned CD. We are not clamouring for measures against filesharers, any more than we begged for ID cards or CCTVs. Once upon a time, Labour could claim it was willing to serve us because it would pass measures that we supported and business, sometimes, not so much. But not any more. It cannot even pretend to be for us. And if it's not for us, why should we want it?
When the likes of Mandelson ask themselves why we -- I don't mean myself, I mean the general population -- are supporting shitheads like the BNP, maybe he should note that the BNP appeal to us in terms of what we want. They are making appeal to those among us who don't like all the darkskinned people with their scary food, frightening religions, dangerous ideas. We may not like the values the BNP appeals to, but they are values held by the people, not values business would like imposed on us. We have on the whole stopped believing Labour is on our side. Who could believe that now? We didn't want their war in Iraq. We don't want their slavish worship of corporations, which we mistrust. We don't want their economic policy, which we do not feel has made us any better off. They are focused on doing what they think is good for us, not what we think is good for us.
As for this measure, well, the problem for Sony et al is that their business model was based around controlling the means of distribution of culture. We could argue about whether the commodification of culture is a good or bad thing, but the fact of it is that it was made into a commodity. However, technology has made it impossible to sustain that business model, just as technology has destroyed other business models. Because the big media companies are huge, unwieldy bureaucracies, which share with other corporations the problem that success in achieving status depends on being good at being in a corporation rather than being talented at all, they cannot adapt. You see the same problem facing other media companies, and their response is equally poor: Murdoch, facing the end of the subscription business model, wants to squeeze it and cannot see how to make money from the Net.
So this is the last gasp of that model, and the corps involved are doing what they do know how to do: use their influence with government to squeeze the last bit of juice out of it. It serves nothing but the bottom line. You can't "fix" the "problem" of filesharing. The day of controlling distribution of culture is done. You can't make money out of it any more.
I am asleep in my chair and I wake to the sound of footsteps. Zenita is in the hallway, groggy with sleep.
I have lost my water bottle, she is saying. She looks lost.
Rather than try to find it, I pour her a fresh bottle and take it to her bedroom. I am thinking that we are all sometimes lost in the hallway, and how good it is to be the person who finds her and gives her what she needs.
I stroke her hair as she drinks the water.
When we were at Alex Headland, the twins were playing in the pool with an older girl. The older girl says, I am Tiana, but you can call me Ti. So Naughtyman says, it's your nickname. And he says his nickname is a short version of his name.
Zenita says, in her excited voice, my nickname is Curly Wurly. But only we call her that. It is like her family name. Her hair is curly and blonde, a lot like Mrs Zen's. Zenita is not much like me to look at. You could be forgiven for thinking that I love Zenella so much out of vanity, because she looks and acts so much like me, but I love Zenita just as much. I am not endlessly seeking a mirror, although I sometimes feel that it would be good to find one in a person, someone who understood me.
That they are different increases the joy we find in them. Being a father has revealed to me things about myself that were mysterious to me: not all of them are good things, but I think it is good that I have learnt that I am not limited in my ability to love. When Zenella was born, I loved her so much I didn't believe it was possible to love anyone else, that I had reached my capacity. How could it ever be possible to have that much love in me? But I do.
I dreamt of you last night. The monkey is not totally in control. Sometimes I wrest the wheel of the car from him and drive free. It was brief but joyous. We were laughing together as you showed me some clothes you had bought. The time you were giving me was only for me and I was happy.
I remember a day when I came to meet you at the hospital you were working at. You were very businesslike and offhand with me, but I wasn't offended. I wasn't doing anything special and you were, but you were sparing time to be with me.
That was one of the days that made me love you the way I do. You were so proud of yourself, what you were capable of, who you are. And I was proud of you too. My high opinion of you wasn't based simply on your good looks!
You merited it. And I am hurting because you still do. I want to believe I do too. I want to believe that you too have a song inside you that sings my name and that you cannot ignore it. I know that those songs are full of danger for us: mine is too. But mine is full of joy: the simple joy I have in seeing your name in my inbox, the joy of knowing I can make you smile. I want to believe I bring you joy too. And if I do, I don't want you to put it aside.
It's rare. Do you remember, on our trip, we stopped to take a walk. In the forest, we saw a lyre bird. Not clearly, just among the trees, so that we were not sure. I have never seen one since. And as we drove, near the state border, an echidna crossed the road in front of us. You do not know when these things will happen. It was not convenient! It would have been better had he walked across our path as we walked in the bush. But he was in that road, and we had to stop and look, because they too are rare.
I don't know any other way to say it. I am sorry that it is hurting you too, and I know it must be. But I cannot help hoping that I am right that my name sings in you, however softly, and that you will listen to that song, will not be able to close your ears to it, because the chorus -- man! the chorus! -- is fucking great.
The sun has come out this morning and there will be blue skies. But I will sit in the dark in my basement and count off another lonely day.
I suppose that in the hours I spend on my own a stray thought of you will enter my head, but I will do my best to chase it away, and remind myself that I did not deserve any part of you.
I cannot stop loving you, any more than the uncomprehending animals can not love the sunshine. But the sunshine doesn't care. It does not even know it makes them content.
I know the memory of your face will fade. I can look at your photo and remind myself but that is not the same. When you touch a photo it is flat and meaningless. But you made me sing inside and the song may grow faint, but won't fade to nothing.
I am sorry I'm not feeling inspired this morning. Even the sunshine has not warmed me. Realising it is illusory, that there was no sun, I was just making believe there was, makes it harder to bear that it has stopped shining, when you would think it would make it better. But it's no comfort to know you do not love me. And I know you would say you do. But love is not just a word, not just something you say to someone to make them feel good. Love is what would hurt you too much to do this. Even pity would hurt too much.
I often wondered about S. She didn't pay any price for knowing me, but I did for knowing her, and she didn't care about that. She quickly found other things to fill her days and had not a scrap of remorse for hurting me. Eventually you realise it's you. When you are stuck in a tough spot, of course you appeal to the universe, to your god if you have one, that you did not deserve it. And it answers back, if you listen carefully, and says, you did. No matter how much love you have for them, no matter how great a desire to make them happy, you are too small to be anything more than a ripple in the sea of their life.
I talk about a monkey, but really, it's just my sense of how it is that talks to me. It says, how could you imagine...? And really, given how little imagination I have, how could I?
In my dream, we are sitting on a park bench laughing, pretending that we are strangers telling each other jokes. You are more beautiful in my dream than you ever were, but that simply reflects the reality that you have ripened like a pear in the sun.
But I will not dream about you any more. The monkey forbids it. He knows that I do not deserve the comfort of dreams. You know it too and I'm sorry for that.
Just for a moment, foolishly, I believed he was wrong. I believed that you would choose to love me and the broken pieces of my life would be reassembled into a shape that was not hideous. I do not wish you had not made me believe that. I only wish you had not been so weak. It is the only thing I didn't like about you. Do you remember I wrote about it?
I was right. Sick read, eh? I'm sorry that I don't have any more poems in me for you. I'm just not feeling inspired today.
GOING TO AUSTRALIA.
wail and weep creep
creep into my arms unravel all your splendid charms
I know a word. I know a joke about how all I had spilled about I know a good joke.
we're like sheep bound into life by a million words commitments & promises we can't let go,
and what we truly feel we cannot let it show.
wail and weep, creep, your motherfucking heart is weak.
But I know that when once you look into the depths of where you want to be you will see,
It's fashionable these days to see religion as the root of all evil, and to see believers as at best misguided fools, at worst vicious creeps who use their beliefs as tools in hatred. When we look at the American right, or at the Islamists who would gladly murder each of us had they the chance, it's easy to credit this picture.
I am reminded of my brief acquaintance with Brisbane's secular humanists. I consider myself a humanist, in that I believe that humans have value, that we can rely on ourselves to sustain ourselves, that we are capable of creating a world that is good for all of us to live in. Fundamentally, in my view, humanism is an expression of faith in ourselves, and however misguided that faith can at times feel, I have never abandoned it. However, these people focused on the "secular" part of their name, to the point that "religionhating humanists" would have been more accurate -- even "inhumanists", because when you despise a person's ideas that they hold dear to that extent, you are hating them; and given how many of us have beliefs that are not wholly rational, not wholly grounded in science, that will lead you to hating all of us, the antithesis of humanism.
I think many -- most -- believers would not recognise them in the picture some sceptics paint. Theirs is not the wrathful, unpleasant God that seems to motivate the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Mahmoud Ahmedinajad, but a God of comfort, who helps them cope with a sometimes confusing and difficult life. Who among us has not woken in the middle of the night, troubled, and wished to have a friend to share the burden? At times, I have wished I could believe in someone stronger -- and I am mostly rational, I think.
It is easy to have the wrong idea. I remember attending a Catholic mass, many years ago now. I was expecting a stern, rather solemn service, but it was nothing of the sort. It was much more like the friendly, open gatherings that I had attended as a child after Sunday school, when we would take the morning service at the Methodist church. The people had a genuine sense of community and togetherness, which I found touching. I don't know whether it is a tradition of Catholics or just of that church that they wish peace on each other in the service, but they did so with genuine warmth, even to me, who they knew to be a nonbeliever.
In Africa, I found people whose religion permeated their lives day to day, who observed the strictures of Islam closely, but simply as part of the fabric of their existence, not as an imposition. They too were unconcerned that I was not a Muslim, and indeed their understanding of Islam led them to be kind and helpful to strangers. I could not help thinking that if this is how religious people are led to behave, let us all be religious. For them, Allah was not a forbidding moraliser. He understood them, understood and accepted their frailty, and gave credit for their doing their best. Their Allah was a human god.
I was reminded powerfully of the concept of the god of comfort when someone used to be a friend of mine told me about her favourite hymn. This is my kind of god speaking! This is your older brother, the comforting arm around your shoulders, a friend who does not wish you to suffer for your inability to meet the strictures of tough rules, who loves you for who you are, understanding that you are doing your best:
Come as you are. That’s how I want you. Come as you are. Feel quite at home. Close to my heart, Loved and forgiven, Come as you are, Why stand alone.
No need to fear, Love sets no limits, No need to fear, Love never ends. Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened Rest in my love, Trust me again.
I came to call sinners, Not just the virtuous, I came to bring peace, Not to condemn. Each time you fail, To live by my promise, Why do you think I’d love you the less.
Come as you are, That’s how I love you, Come as you are, Trust me again. Nothing can change the love that I bear you, All will be well, Come as you are.
The striking note for me in that hymn is in the final verse. Here is a god who does not demand that you fear him, are awed by him or are obedient to him. Rather, he approaches you as a supplicant, asking for your trust. This god knows what he offers us.
This is rather different from the often stirring and passionate hymns that we sang as children. I am impressed by the deep compassion that the man who wrote this hymn believes his god represents. I will not despise a religion that holds as its central figure an entity who far from setting us a tough moral course wants only to love us.
There are, of course, other ways to express the belief in a god of comfort. My own favourite hymn -- which I enjoyed to sing above all others when I was a child, more even than I vow to thee my country, which is something like the national hymn of England -- was written by a man at death's door, who was able to transcend his fear of death by appealing to his god to comfort him.
I am particularly moved by the verse in which Lyte asks that God come "not in terrors, as the King of kings, But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings". This was the god of my Methodist friends: a god of kindness and charity, a god to alleviate the pain of this world as much as to assuage fear of the next.
I will end with the words of my favourite hymn, which I find as moving as any poetry, and beneath them, a lovely version by Hayley Westenra, which I hope that even if you are not a believer, you can enjoy all the same.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word; But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord, Familiar, condescending, patient, free. Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings, But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings, Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea— Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile; And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile, Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee, On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour. What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
It sometimes surprises -- sometimes angers -- people who get to know me that I don't suffer from jealousy. I'm not a possessive type, even though it's fair to say I'm needy. (And as I'll explain, I have things I am jealous of.)
But I am prey to envy.
Hold on though. Aren't those the same thing? Although dictionaries define them as synonyms, I don't understand them to be, and I think the distinction is fairly simply explained.
You are jealous of the things that belong to you, and envious of the things that aren't. It's easy to understand with an example. If you are married and feel bad about your partner sleeping with someone else, you are jealous. If you feel bad about someone else's partner sleeping with them, you are envious. Jealousy is most often wanting no one else to have, or to take, what is yours; envy is most often wanting to have, or to take, what is someone else's.
Isn't it natural though, that you should want people who belong to you, whom you love, to belong to you alone? I suppose it is, but my conception of love is different from that, and I've never been able to feel that way. I see it like this: people have needs, a spectrum of desires and wants, complexes of things that fulfil them. Any given person can provide some of those things but only if we are simple enough or in principle lucky enough do they provide all of them. I do not mind that I am not sufficient to fill every corner of a person's life: if they said I did, I would wonder whether they had somehow diminished themselves to make it true, or whether they were simply lying to make me happy. I know this is not a common view: most of us feel we should be enough for each other. We are sold the myth that we will be. But how much of our disappointment is born in clinging to that story, even though life proves it untrue?
Often -- usually, I suppose -- the needs we cannot meet are simply questions of interest: our partners love football and we don't, or they like to talk about television but we do not watch the same shows. Sometimes they are questions of unwillingness: we want something our partner cannot or will not provide. If Mrs Zen was a bisexual, how could I ever provide everything she needs? I could not, and I would not mind at all if she had a girlfriend in that case.
Don't I have rights though? Isn't she in some sense my property? The thought makes me shudder. Love for me could never be a cage. When I love you, I want to help you actualise yourself. That is what love is, in part, for me. It is not coin I purchase you with.
But -- there is a but -- if I am meeting your needs, if I am giving you the things you want, and you look in other places for them all the same, then I feel I have reason to be upset. I am jealous of the other who is in my place because I feel usurped. It's important to me though that this is not something in theory, that it is not that I could give you what you need. I must actually be doing it. I am not at all of the belief that I should be jealous on principle. If I could but didn't bother, then I have nothing to be jealous of.
So what about envy? Don't get me started! I am kidding, of course. These days, I don't envy much, and I feel that my envy complements my jealousy, because I tend only to envy the spaces others don't fill. I do not want to take what others have so much as I want to take what they are not interested in, or what is similar to what they have but could be spared.
Is it even really envy to want what others don't want? All you are envying is the opportunity, and that opportunity is for you, no one else. Well I suppose it is: you envy the outcomes as well as the opportunities, the things the outcomes bring, the enjoyment of the things. There is no completely virtuous ambition. And however sprawling our suburban universes are, the human world is crowded and the spaces we fill are spaces that others could fill, and that leads us to the jealousy that we began this piece by denying we ever feel.
There was a small but amusing brouhaha earlier this week because American humourist Bill Maher received the "Dawkins Prize" for being top atheist of the year, and some on the right disapproved, as far as I can tell, because he's not really hardcore atheist enough, but it got me to thinking.
I'm not a huge fan of the hardcore religionhating of the likes of Dawkins and that's largely because I see it as just the other side of the same coin as fundamentalist religion. Both seem to me to be products of belief that we wish to impose on others for their own good. (And it seems a key feature of beliefs of the type I am thinking of that they are not considered simply beliefs about what is good or right for us, but about what is good for others.) Neither is entirely rational.
By which I mean that believing there is a god of a particular type who wants particular things may not be reasonable, but believing that there is definitely not one is not either. Why not? Surely it's a fairy story?
Like most rationally minded types, I am a sceptic. Which means I don't accept what I'm told, but question it, and see whether it stands up to scrutiny. A sceptic's message to the world is "convince me not to doubt that". It doesn't seem to me as though Richard Dawkins has any doubt at all. Even if God personally told him he existed, and demonstrated it, he would put it down to a hallucination. I agree with Dawkins that science is sufficient to describe the world, but I allow the doubt that sufficiency is, erm, sufficient to exclude other explanations. I'll discuss why a bit later.
So I ask myself what I believe in. We should be clear that all of us, no matter how sceptical or rational, have many things we believe, although we usually describe them as things we know. There are objectively justified beliefs, such as that Moscow is capital of Russia, which I believe because so many people not only say so but present evidence that it is so. (It's not enough just that they say so, obviously. In medieval England, everyone would say there was a god.) There is more to say about this, but I'm seeking only to establish that this kind of belief exists and is reasonable. There are subjectively justified beliefs, such as that Paris is the capital of France. I have been to Paris and everyone there seemed to be acting on the belief that it was the capital. We must be careful here, because it is possible to believe things based on subjective evidence that can be faulty. If God speaks to me in a dream, I must take into account the context of dreams and the value of the evidence presented to me in that context. In any case, we are seeking here only to establish that there are things I believe with good reason: there is a lake in the centre of Reykjavik (not only did I see it but others say it's there), I believe I am in a room in suburban Brisbane, I believe I have two arms, two legs, and so on. I must presume that I am at least somewhat sane and that my senses mostly work if I am to hold these beliefs, but without those presumptions, it is impossible to talk about reason anyway.
There are also beliefs that are matters of discernment. I believe Fragile by Wire is a great song, and I can justify that belief some, but I am aware that this is a different kind of belief from believing that Paris is the capital of France. This is key in any discussion of belief, because many of humans' problems derive from not being sufficiently clear what beliefs really are objective. It's clear that an Islamist, for instance, believes that his belief in Allah is objective, as readily justified as my belief that there is a road from Brisbane to Logan, and that if I do not concur, I am denying something that is plainly true.
So although I can categorise different beliefs, it's evident that the categories can overlap, depending whose perspective you take. But in this case, we are taking mine, and talking mostly about what I do or don't believe. In this respect, what is interesting is the more ragbag group of beliefs that we have that are not so easily justified. Largely this is because they are not so easily resolved into binary questions. It's easy to say whether you believe the Australian flag is mostly blue. Yes it is or no it's not. Yes it's mostly blue, no it's not mostly red. The evidence is there to be seen, so long as we agree that we are looking at the Aussie flag. And beliefs that are opinions cannot be gainsaid, because if I say I believe that Fragile is a good song, you cannot say I don't, unless you think I am lying -- and it is fundamental to communication by human speech that we assume that people we communicate with are ceteris paribus telling the truth. Beliefs that we justify subjectively are tougher, because the evidence may not exist for you that exists for me, or we may interpret it differently.
Still harder are metaphysical beliefs. I have long considered that I do not have many beliefs of this type: beliefs about how things are or how we should be. For me it is more a question of how things can be. I do not have fixed beliefs, on the whole. I have a sliding scale of what I think is reasonable.
Take religion. (No, really, take it, ho ho.) If you believe that the universe has a creator, I consider you likely wrong but your belief not unreasonable. I don't see how a belief that some huge transcendental, essentially unknowable being created the universe is much more or less tenable than one that the universe simply sprang into being for no reason at all. Further along the spectrum would be the belief that that being takes any interest in you personally, and further still that it cares whether you pursue a particular form of rather human morality. In other words, it is scarcely reasonable that you should believe that a transcendental ineffable being should care whether you masturbate or cheat on your taxes. (It seems like this belief serves other purposes: to prevent you from doing what you want, to keep you from rationalising actions that serve you better than whoever invented this belief for you to hold.)
It's barely tenable that a being of this sort can "love" you. What would that even mean? As far as I can tell, most Christians see God's love for them as basically the same as human love. But human love, as we could reasonably demonstrate, is based in being human. (I understand, of course, that this is why we are said to have been created in God's image, so that human love can be a shadow of divine love, rather than something that otherwise would seem hard to scale up.) But I find it hard to believe, or consider the belief reasonable, that a being who loves me would, rather than simply endowing me with an eternal life of bliss, set me a test first. I wouldn't do that to someone I love, after all. I am yet to see a convincing argument why eternal bliss has an entrance exam that doesn't make God seem to be a sadist or a fool; neither of which is even close to possible, of course.
That this same being should not only set you a test to see whether you deserve something that it seems to me you'd just give freely to someone you loved is bad enough, but some believe he makes that test very strict: he cares whether women show their faces, cares what clothes you wear, having weirdly created you with parts he thinks you should hide, cares whether you listen to music.
So no, I don't believe in that. None of it is even close to reasonable, and without having had a religious upbringing, I have no good reason to adopt any of it. If Dawkins restricted himself to saying that some sorts of religious belief are pernicious, I'd agree with him. But he doesn't. Some religious belief is reasonable, not least because of the benefits it can bring. Life can be incomprehensible and difficult, and while it's easy to find horrors in religious thought, excuses for egregious behaviour, it's just as easy to find comfort, warmth, generosity, kindness. We should not wholly despise beliefs, however false we think they are, that have outcomes that match those we desire.
So take the universe and everything in it. I do have beliefs about that, but I think they are largely objectively justifiable parts of human knowledge. I have no reason to doubt that there are protons, but that is not what we are considering here. We are considering not whether there are protons but what protons are. So I believe there is a universe that has existed for, whatever it is, about 16 billion years, but I don't know what and why it is, how it got there, and I don't have any beliefs about any of that. I find it reasonable to believe it is a block universe: where everything that has happened, will happen, is happening, even could happen exists at the same time; or that there are multiple universes, each coming into being at the collapse of a wave function or whatever. I could believe that it has no end, and even, although I find it tougher, that it has no beginning.
I can believe that I am made up of atoms and nothing else, that I only seem to have a consciousness but am really just the reflection of a purely automatic process, but can I say I do believe that? It makes sense to me; it seems reasonable to believe it; so I suppose I do in a sense believe it. But not in the same sense that the Pope believes Jesus was the son of God. I could readily change my views to any other reasonable belief. If you said to me, we are distinct spirits in material bodies, my mind is not closed to that. I'd take some convincing but that is not the same as saying I cannot be convinced.
Does this mean my beliefs have no value? It depends what you mean by value, I suppose. I don't "stand for" anything. I wouldn't kill you for my belief that I don't really exist. I don't feel much urge to have others believe what I believe. One of the great problems of human belief, it seems to me, is that people are not content to consider what is right for them, or good for them and theirs, but feel the need to insist on imposing that belief on others. Which can be irksome, particularly when those people have access to the levers of power, or represent a constituency that those with power feel they need to satisfy.
I do have beliefs that mean something to me, which I would not surrender lightly. I suppose they are rather metaphysical, and I know I cannot substantiate them, at least not easily. I believe in love. I believe it exists and has a power to bring us together, to tear us apart, to comfort us and to remove all our comfort. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that you could give up everything else but love, and still somehow survive.
I also believe in us. I am a humanist and however disappointing we may sometimes be, I am never so disappointed that I am unable to think us worthwhile. That means I believe in you too. I believe you are worth something, and I hope that those who know me well would say that I do what I can to prove that. In this way I will impose my beliefs on you -- I am not immune to it after all.
So we watched State of play on DVD, and that was very disappointing. The British thriller serial it is based on is taut, brilliantly acted and convincing, so what did they do? They took it and Hollywooded it. Where the British show was understated, the film is overwrought. Where Paul Abbot wrote it tight, the Hollywood scriptwriters loosened it up, using button-pushing cliches instead of accurate observations. What makes Abbot's work great is that you can imagine you are eavesdropping conversations. Flawed but believable, real characters say things you might say in the circumstances. When Ben Affleck's character glowers at Russell Crowe and says "I'm trouble", I literally groaned. And not with pleasure.
Affleck's character is typical of what's wrong with the film. (Note in the following that with minor embellishments, at least for the first half, the film follows the plot of the series pretty closely.) Collins is hounded by the press after the death of his researcher so he fetches up on the doorstep of Cal, the hack hero of the piece. So he comes to Cal and gives him a spiel that he is his only friend. The impression you get is that no one likes Collins because he's a bellend. In the series, David Morrissey's Collins is no bellend. He's likeable when he wants to be, but mostly he isn't nice to people because he doesn't need them. It's clear how he has made his way to the top. You can imagine his manoeuvring in the dirty game of politics. Affleck seems naive, incapable. Morrissey is knowing, dismissive. His moment of weakness in the press conference is shocking in the TV series, and grows more shocking when you learn, scene on scene, how out of character it is.
I won't even try to explain why the scenes between Cal and Collins' wife are wrong, because they are so wrong they defy explanation. What possessed them to cast characters with so little chemistry as Russell Crowe and Robin Wright Penn? What possessed them to write the scenes as melodrama? What possessed them to cast Crowe at all? He's woeful. Where John Simm played Cal as nimble and clever, impish, righteous and driven, but not unsympathetic, primarily giving the impression of a man who thinks it over, Crowe plays him as a side of beef. Bring me John Cusack! I cried. The interplay between Della and Cal is entirely lost, not least because Rachel MacAdams was not provided a character at all and does not know what to do with the cliche she has had foisted on her. No one does. They even make Helen Mirren look bad.
It's astonishing that this trash got good reviews. Even if I hadn't seen the TV series, which I highly recommend if you can get hold of it, I would have hated this film. It's not even amusing to listen to Crowe's accent wander over the continental United States or to wonder whether Ben Affleck would at any point try to convey an emotion, although as an academic exercise in figuring out how you can really destroy a good idea, it succeeded brilliantly.
Sometimes I have thought I will walk out of the door, go around the corner and never come back. I do not know what is around the corner but the day when I would have been afraid to find out is gone.
You would never hear from me again. I think I would fade. Faster for some than for others, but it would not take long before no one remembered me except as a name, something like a smell that they sometimes thought they knew when they smelled it, but when it was gone, they realised they did not know at all.
I've thought about doing that for this person or that. Simply never bothering them again, so that it is as though I had walked away. One of the great pities of my life is that I am vain, so the truth that they would not care that I had disappeared prevents me from doing it. I want to be cared about. That is the heart of the vanity that partly powers my life.
I say powers my life, but my life barely has any motion. Other people decide what I may or may not have in it, and mostly they do not care what I want. Or if they care, they utterly disregard it. I don't know why that is. I don't even want much. I never have, really.
I have been in my basement for nine hours today. If I hope to finish this book on schedule, I will need to stay in here for another five hours. Earlier, Naughtyman came down with a packet of pasta. He wanted me to make him macaroni. It would only take 15 minutes but I won't do it. It's not the time. I don't want to be around Mrs Zen. I am not feeling able to put a nice spin on life for her, and she is in the mood to needle me. At least I am safe in my basement. Very little can affect me here.
I am a terrible father. You could imagine that I am planning to suffer for my children--because for sure I am going to suffer and it is because I want to be part of their lives. It would be easy to walk away, and I would at least have some hope of finding someone to be with. But I can't. I have to be with them. And I realise I am not noble; I am not suffering for them. I am suffering because I do not want to lose them and because I have hopes for them that I fear will be destroyed by Mrs Zen. I do not know what those hopes are, but I know that I want them to know I love them, and I don't know how they would know that if I disappeared.
I don't know why I am writing this. I am just so flat. Someone reached out to me a couple of days ago, and I was able to be there for them, and it felt really good--I was at the peak of a manic spell and I felt capable and strong. Then they confronted me hard with reality and the wind went out of my sails.
Whenever I feel any hint of joy, any hint of the possibility of happiness, I get smacked down. Even my job, a hint of life in that I got to get out of the house and go to an office, even that someone decided I wasn't going to be allowed to have.
I don't think Mrs Zen appreciates, even realises, how much I feel I gave up by accepting being a freelance so that I could make a living, and so that I could support her when she needed it. It's a large part of why my life went so sour here. I don't care what she appreciates any more, to be honest with you, and I am able to surrender bitterness because I simply don't care about her any more than I need to just to get by. I feel deeply ashamed that that is true, as though I have committed a crime in it, but I don't see the point in being dishonest to myself about it.
They also took my pleasure in blogging. It had dwindled for one reason or another, but I still liked to express myself. Now I can't. Now I have to watch as people who don't like me poke and pry, try to find things to hate me for. And I write some great things, but they don't make any impression on the people I write them for, and I realise that I made a big mistake on the day I stopped writing only for myself and started believing that I had any power at all just because I can turn a pretty phrase.
I do not. I feel completely disempowered. I have totally lost the ability to tell what is right. Because if this is right, I just never knew. I look at how some people have treated me, and I think if this is right, I just don't have a clue. Because I cannot stop believing that the world will be just to me--not merely that it should be just, but that at least as far as I'm concerned, it is just--and I do not understand how I deserved it. I must have done, but I do not know how.
I cannot stop feeling like this. I try, but I see the years ahead of me and they're so ugly and barren. And I know I could have been happy but no one wants it for me who can make it be. I don't blame them for it. We are all doing the best we can by our lights.
I made myself very sad transferring my posts to Monkey Banana. I read some and I enjoyed how funny I used to be, how warm and friendly I was, how good I felt I was to know. That person disappeared. I don't know where he went. I want this one to disappear too. I don't like him and no one else does either.
This is my way of saying goodbye. I will not disappear, but this person will. I cannot sustain him any more, that bewildered boy. I let him down and gave him this future and I know that that cannot be just. It just cannot. He didn't hurt anybody. He never had it in him. I will mostly be blogging on Monkey Banana because I intend to bury him in an avalanche of lies and that isn't what I do here.
I mean that I will stop loving him. It is the only way I know that I can stay alive.
A researcher from Channel 7's Today Tonight wants to talk to me about it. If I tell you that Today Tonight is the visual equivalent of the Courier-Mail, you can guess what I think about that.
Also the Australian. I have to say that Fagan is a fool. Of course I was improving the copy! I linked to it elsewhere and you'll see it's in pretty good shape. I wrote a five-minute email to my blog about the paper. Who has never written an email critical of their workplace? Anyone want to claim they've never written their mates to complain about a shitty day at work, or how boring their job is that day? No, didn't think so.
So I'm at 110 on Stein Rd before I hit the dip and I think if I hit 120 the car will leave the ground.
And how fucking cool will that be! To fly on a sunny day, to fly away.
There is a man ahead in the road. I slow down. He is a man in a turban. You see all sorts of things, but this is odd. A man in a turban in the exurbs, just walking up Stein Rd.
I am listening to the mix I made for this trip and it's perfect for the day. This spring has been quite lovely here: there has been some rain and the trees are green and alive, the jacarandas are in bloom and there are hints of wildflowers. Through the polarised lenses of my new shades, the world is warm and inviting.
The first song up is How I escaped my certain fate by Mission of Burma. It's to set the tone (because this is a postpunk mix, with most of the songs dating from the early eighties, when punk mutated into a creative and intelligent artform that to this day speaks to me because it was made by (mostly) men like me, or who at least I flatter myself are like me). I am singing -- shouting -- along:
Can I count on you if I fall apart if I fall if I fall apart?
And I did fall apart, and I had no one I could sing that to, because I was too crazy to love anyone enough to trust them or for them to trust me, except the person I did love, who was crazier than even I was.
Next up is Fragile, which is S's song. I mean, it's a song that makes me think about her. I have probably mentioned it before but I have songs like that: it's not that they invoke memories in particular; it's more that they invoke the person. I didn't put it in my mix because of her though, but because it is such a perfect example of what punk became when clever, arty boys took on the form and made it into a more arch commentary on our times. What I think I love about this genre above all (apart from the crunchy guitars) is its willingness to be complicated. It appealed to me as a young man, that other young men should be glad to say about themselves that they were confused, unhappy, alienated, scared of their own feelings and those of others:
I have a feeling of love scorches where it lands Fragile
Which is quite so. But what can follow such a great song? Well, you can't have a postpunk mix without Joy Division, that's clear. I chose Transmission, because this mix is upbeat on the whole, although I'm feeling a bit more like Atmosphere these days. But Transmission is fairly early Joy Division, so it has more punk bite and less of the deep, hollow high art that they later created. Also, who doesn't love to sing along with that great last verse and chorus:
Well I could call out when the going gets tough The things that we've learned are no longer enough No language, just sound, is all we need know To synchronize love to the beat of the show And we could dance Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio
It feels good to be out on a spring day, the tank full, the car running well. Freakscene is burning the air. I don't know whether it counts as postpunk but, well, it came after punk and couldn't exist without it. It's one of those archetypal indie songs, which everyone into this kind of music knows intimately. And I think we are only ever truly sad when we cannot think of anyone we could sing this to:
Sometimes I don't thrill you Sometimes I think I'll kill you Just don't let me fuck up will you 'Cause when I need a friend it's still you
And suddenly I recall the dream I had last night. I had put it to the back of my mind because it was a bit frightening. Lightsabre cocksucking blues, by Mclusky, is next up, but it's not right for this moment, so I forward it on. The next song is not right either, but the dream is short enough for me to recall it and move on mentally, or try to. So while He's a whore, by Big Black, is playing, and I am singing along at the absolute top of my voice, because I'm a whore! And I'll do anything for money, and I'm not in the least bit ashamed of it, I am thinking it over. I am in a car with K. It's not this car. And it's weird that I'm driving, because I think she will be someone like Mrs Zen, who does not like to be driven, but likes to drive, and I've never really cared, so I just be the passenger, but maybe K has wanted me to take control, and I feel like I'm in control. And we are negotiating the promises we will make and the lies we will tell -- the promises for us and the lies for others, because if we promise each other, we will have to lie to others, and let me tell you something, I never did much of either before I came to this place, because I didn't like to make promises I couldn't keep, and I was proud to be honest -- and it feels good because I am in a car with K! And it doesn't feel unreal or forced, as dreams obviously often do. It feels like it could some time happen, is not impossible or unlikely.
It's a bigger car than mine, that's what is different, so that we are not touching each other, and it would be a strain to bother. But that's okay, because we are together in a way that doesn't need touching.
Then, out of the blue, there is a voice in my head. A weary voice that sounds like someone who has been patient with me, and still has reserves of love for me that I cannot fathom, but is disappointed. And although I could not articulate why, I know exactly why. And all it says is my name, David, just like that, barely louder than a whisper. It's a real voice. I am not dreaming it; I am hearing it as though someone has awoken me by talking to me.
I should probably consider swearing off the weed because God does not often talk to me in my dreams. But it feels good; this morning I felt uplifted, because I realise that even I am not beyond redemption, that what I have failed to do is allow my heart to set my course, and that made me unable to stay in one piece.
Next is Tom boy, by Bettie Serveert. The more widely travelled reader will recognise that that is a Dutch name, and Bettie Serveert are, I fear no contradiction, the only good band ever to come of Holland, with the possible exception of Focus, but they only had one decent song, amirite? Tom boy is one of my songs for Naughtyman (the other is The broads by Minotaur Shock) and it's a belter. Tom boy is an outsider anthem, an extended fuck you from Carol van Dijk to the haters, or at least it seems to be:
They call me a Tom Boy and I let them 'Cause only a Tom Boy could forget them And simply change it They call me a Tom Boy and I love it 'Cause only a Tom Boy could stand above it By simply changing
I suppose you could complain that I strayed from the postpunk vibe, but for me it's not as narrow as punky sort of bands that happened along in 1978-80, but would be wide enough to encompass alt.rock bands that could not have existed without punk. So R.E.M. scrape in, because before they became a sucky stadium-oriented borefest, they were a smart postpunk band. I chose Superman because a/ I love covers that surpass the original and b/ I feel it applies:
I am, I am, I am Superman and I know what's happening I am, I am, I am Superman and I can do anything You don't really love that guy you make it with now do you? I know you don't love that guy 'Cause I can see right through you
It seems like exactly how I feel about life just now. I am not feeling downtrodden or hurt, although I should be. I'm feeling capable and alive. Yes, the serotonin is through the roof. I must have eaten some good cheese! This is why I'm never, and I mean never, getting treatment for whatever ails me. Well, there are two reasons. One, depression sucks, obv., but mania is as good as it gets. Some mornings it's like someone pumped me full of coke (the white stuff, not the horrid fizzy drink) and set me loose. I really wish you could be with me right now, if you think you would like to be with me, because I am great to be around, as long as you like to listen instead of talk. I become capable of anything, and so warm you could use me as a stove! This is a good time to hit me up for a loan, or ask me to help you move home, because I feel boundless and able.
It's when I make my best plans. And I've had the creeping notion that I will visit America. I've always wanted to, and I started thinking about it a lot. Partly, that's because I have been having (very mild and I'm pretty sure muscular) chest pains. And I started thinking, I could die soon and I'd really regret not seeing San Francisco. So I will, if I can get the money together, maybe next month, maybe early next year (and maybe never, of course). Maybe also Portland, Oregon, and Vegas if I can, and if I'm welcome in the first and have the money for the latter.
Vegas! Mecca, innit.
But maybe not. I told Mrs Zen and she was pretty pissed off. She wants me to want family holidays, not to do things for myself. That's not totally unreasonable but hello? We've been married for 14 years and you never noticed I am the kind of person who needs to do things without you? It's not even about her. I am that kind of person. You could call it self-absorption, if you like. You could call it selfishness. But I am just someone who feels I spend a lot of my time satisfying others in one way or another and sometimes want to satisfy myself.
Aren't we all, if we're honest?
It's odd, listening to Sixteen again, by the Buzzcocks, because it's punk, plain and simple, yet it fits very well into this sort of mix. But the Buzzcocks were not about anarchy or anger; they were all about love. Pete Shelley wrote some truly great love songs, all about the kind of love that exhilarates and excites you: headlong, wonderful love, forbidden, crazy love, loving someone you shouldn't, loving someone who doesn't love you. Ah me, but of course I chose none of his love songs. I think Sixteen again is all about how we never age if we never let ourselves, how inside us we still hold those gauche children, their hearts yet to be broken. Well, maybe not, but I was another year older yesterday and I do sometimes wish I could turn the clock back.
And then I stop with that shit, because there is nothing wrong either with being older and wiser, and in some ways I am, and I know that I can be sixteen again if...
Long before the Cure became dreary Goff whingers, they were teen punks. They actually weren't very good punks and would have disappeared without trace, likely, without Boys don't cry. It's something of an update on Tears of a clown:
I try to laugh about it Cover it all up with lies I try and Laugh about it Hiding the tears in my eyes 'cause boys don't cry
But we do, sometimes. We are required to shoulder our burdens manfully, and we usually succeed, and we learn to be strong in a way that makes us somewhat rigid. But if we allow it, there is still within us something fragile, which when it is touched, can leave us unable to maintain our facade. Sometimes it is as little as a song that has meaning for us that will be the last straw; sometimes we need to be severely hurt; sometimes we can only allow ourselves to grieve when we have real cause for grief.
For me, it is the realisation that I could find happiness but never will that creates a yearning in me so deep and broad that I cannot prevent tears from falling. Sometimes, it feels like between you and others there are chasms infinitely deep, infinitely wide, so that you cannot ever hope to reach across them, and sometimes you realise that they are just as wide as the width of two arms and all you need is that they reach out at the same time. Yet you cannot find the way to have them do it; which is not to cry over -- what is truly heartrending is the impossibility of knowing whether there is a way.
Having had a snivel, we feel washed out, so what's better than So run down, by the Psychedelic Furs? The Furs are all about our wasted lives, the shit we bother with that is meaningless and empty:
sometimes she says she loves me i just don't believe it all day she says my set it plays love songs all day it sells toothpaste razors band-aids it sells love and it sells hairspray ha ha all day monday monday
I once saw the Furs at Glasto. I was off my face on acid and Butler was about thirty feet tall with a coat of neon lightbulbs. I don't remember any of the songs they played and it's entirely possible that I was completely deaf at the time.
Winding down, I choose Bed of nails, by Husker Du. The Warehouse album that features it is like a journal of heartbreak: wistful, yearning, hurt in parts, uplifting too. Bed of nails is the sound of a man who has been cast down a well and does not know how he can climb back out. I know that sound. It is also about how you are forced sometimes to tiptoe on a highwire, to keep everything just so, to hold it together so that your life can be liveable. Who writes stuff like this:
Sometimes i just pretend that all the lies are true And i know i might depend on you But if my concentration breaks I'm washed away with pain And then my feet begin to bleed upon my only bed of nails And i'm stuck here in the middle of a sea of lies Inside my bed of nails From years and years of practice I know just how to stand Alone with perfect balance, hand in hand Prepared with boards and hammers And several bags of nails I could build a wall to lean on Roof above my mind I can see you've got your own plans Please don't drive your nails into this heart of mine
It's wrenching stuff, but I think what moves me most is that Bob Mould was able to climb out of his well and become happy.
I finish off with The hardest walk, by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Man, that is the sound of my youth! Phil Spector with feedback, the Ronettes with a heroin habit. Looking back, particularly with the accretion of the rest of their (awful) records, it's hard to recall how invigorating and wonderful Psychocandy was. Until you listen to it! And man, it still rings the same bell for me.
And this is such a fucking great song! I want you to love it too. Give it a shot:
And I'm stuck in a shack Down the back of the sea Oh and I'm alive and I'm alone Inside a sick sick dream Oh is it me Is it me that feels so weak I cannot deceive but I find it hard to speak
The hardest walk you could ever take Is the walk you take from A to B to C
I walk Oh honey I talk Don't want you to want me Don't want you to need me
That last verse... man, it's as good as pop gets, confused, desperate, in love, and if your life has been like mine, your heart sings along and you find yourself pulling into your drive in this quiet suburb, scaring the neighbours' dogs because you cannot stop yourself from singing along as though your life depended on it, and if it depends on anything, it does.
So you know, there it is. The engine's running, the tank is full and I'm going for a drive. Hop in. Don't worry about where we're going. We'll know when we get there, baby.
If by some chance I've made these songs sound worth a listen (and you actually made it to the end of that blather, or more realistically, skimmed down to the link), the mix is here. In the unlikely event that copyright holders find this and don't like me sharing their music with my friends, the email addy is top right etc etc.
There is absolutely no way Barack Obama, who has continued Bush's "war on terror", should be given the Nobel Peace Prize. It's as bad as Kissinger.
Almost every day, we read about American planes and troops murdering civilians in Afghan villages. Far from seeking peace in Afghanistan, Obama has extended the war there. Read the article! "He is currently considering whether to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan". This is a man of peace! Nor has he ended the war in Iraq. America is still there, still killing.
He has called for nuclear disarmament, which is great, but as far as I know, he has disbanded not a single nuclear weapon.
Worst of all, Obama has backed a policy of "preventive detention". He's for banging up men forever without any trial. This is a man of peace!
Okay, it was a dodgy field. Piedad Cordoba has question marks over her integrity; Ingrid Betancourt would have been slightly controversial too; Hu Jia is not really a peacemaker and choosing him would severely upset the Chinese, but probably made the best choice. But Obama? Ugh.
Here is a perfect example of why Joe Queenan does not suck. I'm a big fan of his film writing because he brings the bitch fullon and does not put the brakes on.
And it's about time someone pointed out that Jack Black's sucking is no accident. I defy anyone to explain why he should continue to have a career in films, given that he seems no more able than anyone you could pick at random in the average bus queue.
So I had a run-in with the clippers and now I could be an extra in a Guy Ritchie film. If he was casting ugly people.
Why do I flatter myself that anyone would want me? What do I have to offer? I am as interesting to talk to as I am good to look at. I am not even good at companionable silence because before long the vacuum becomes too much for me and I fill it with noise.
At least I don't look so old. Mrs Zen sheared off most of the whitest hair, and my roots are still dark. It has taken, oooooh, at least 18 months, two years off. So now I only look 57.
No. I am not actually 57. Some days I even feel relatively young.
But I am not. I am old and I'm in a shitty spot.
Do you know, I still think I should in some ways be desirable. It's tragic. The last five, six jobs I applied for, I thought I should have a great chance of all of them. None of them even replied to my application. Not even fuck off.
No woman wants me. I fear I will never kiss a woman again, never touch a woman, never feel good again. You'd think I would. You'd think there'd at least be a woman who was desperate, someone who thought, fuck, he'll do. But even the women who want me don't want me.
I know, you should not wallow in self-pity. I do know that.
But when I wake up tomorrow, I have to be me. I have to live this life. I am feeling down because it is like I have been jailed and can see the blue sky through the bars. I know it doesn't have to be like this. Things could be a lot better. I know that, because I've seen it. I've had the sun on my face and it felt great. But then they slammed the door and days like today, I fear they threw away the key.
Recently, Marek Edelman, a great hero who stands as a beacon of integrity in dark times, died. It's (sadly, and you have to ask yourself why) a little-bruited piece of World War II history that the Jews of Warsaw fought back against the Nazis in a hopeless, desperate partisan action. They did not succeed but as Edelman himself said:
Those who were killed in action had done their duty to the end, to the last drop of blood that soaked into the pavements of the Warsaw ghetto.
It's easy to paint the Jewish people as villains in the Middle East, and for sure, there are among them greedy men and women who use others' fear and love of nation as tools to plunder for their own purses, just as there are in all nations, but the desire for security, and the understanding that Jews could not rely on us for their safety but must provide it for themselves were born in the destroyed ghetto.
It is a matter of great shame for us--not just for the Germans but for all of us, we were no better and if we have illusions that the UK's Jews would have survived had we lost the war, we should dispel them; and we too would have helped herd them onto trucks, staffed the camps and in many cases enthusiastically joined the killing--that a people could find that the neighbours they had had for centuries could consider them vermin to be exterminated. But the lesson we should draw from it--as I think Edelman would emphasise--is that we must not forget that we are capable of this. We should be alarmed at how the Roma are treated, particularly in Italy, and at how Muslims across Europe are talked about by some in the same way Jews were in the old Europe.
I urge you to read Edelman's compelling account of the Warsaw Uprising. It is not high literature but it is ferociously moving. But it is not just another story of man's inhumanity to man--although of course it is that--but a tribute to the enormous courage and love for each other the resisters had, shining examples to us all.
She is beautiful to me, like no other. I don't know why. But if I have a type, she is my type.
If you say to me, what should a woman's hair be like, I will tell you, like her hair. If you say to me, what should a woman's eyes be like, I will tell you, like her eyes. And if you say to me, whose face thrills you just to look at it, I will tell you, her face thrills me just to look at it. And I could do that all day long and never tire of it.
But if I can make her smile, I do not know a better thing to see. When I dream, I dream that I will make her smile, and these are the sweetest dreams a man can have.
She is beautiful to me, because something beautiful inside her reached out to something inside me, and we chimed like bells. And that part of me that sings her name will resonate forever, a beautiful slice of the music of the spheres, the way her name rings out within me.
So I was talking to a friend today and she was telling me where in France she would like to visit. Which got me to thinking and sighing, because our family has always loved France, and it's a beautiful place. And it's hard to pick one particular part of France you would like to see, because it is full of great spots. I have only seen a fraction of it. It's often struck me that the pity of our lives is that we have to choose from a near infinity of wonderful things we could do and see; yet, as soon as I think that, I say to myself that that is rather the glory of it. We must try to choose well. We must have big dreams, of places, things and people that are meaningful for us, and we must strive to fulfil them.
This seems a thing that even a man who sees no real purpose to life can find purpose in.
So what big dream do I have? So far as places go, I have long had a dream that I will live in Siena. I do not mean that I will merely visit it; that is easy. I mean that I will live in it, be a part of it.
Siena is a beautiful town, well preserved and reeking with history. You miss that kind of thing when you live here in Australia. Brisbane is all about the new. It is not very lived in: indeed, when a building starts to look a bit pre-loved, it is ripped down and replaced. There is very little left of colonial Brisbane, which is a pity, because what there is is striking. We Brits knew how to make a place look good.
Its traditions run deep: the colourful pageantry of the Palio, the town's horse race, contested by teams representing the town's historic quarters, is a grand spectacle (James Bond buffs will recognise it as the event that frames the opening of Quantum of solace). I am ever impressed by people who bother. I remember when I was a child, how deeply I loved the carnival that livened up our town. I was once part of a float -- I think I was a vampire, which you may think apt -- and I adored the effort that I was part of, the joint work of putting yourself on show as part of something traditional.
It is also sited in an area of outstanding beauty, or so I'm told. I have never been to Tuscany, but of course I have seen pictures and television. Neither will do it justice. There is something about being in a place that is immune to being re-created, even in TV, which seems to flatten and de-spirit a place.
And when I have been in Italy, the people seemed to be enjoying it. They seem to have a lust for life that English people somewhat lack. They enjoy food, vino and company, and are focused on the family. (Perhaps too much so: we hear that young Italian men like to live with their mamma until they are in their 30s--I think that would have been too much even for parents as forebearing as mine!)
So I think it would be good to live among them. Perhaps my view is somewhat coloured by Tim Parks' book, A season with Verona, which did not pretend that Italians are unflawed, but leaves you feeling that they are lively characters, if nothing else. And that seems like something desirable to me.
I do not know what life holds in store for me, but I do believe that dreams are like stars that you can follow. Sometimes, you are lost in a storm, and the clouds obscure the stars and all you can do is work to stay afloat. But storms pass--or one can hope so--and the stars are still there, and dreams, if they are big enough and sweet enough, do not fade away just because the wind has been blowing some.
For those of you who cannot get enough of me, I am also going to be blogging in a more family-friendly way, iykwim. The quality of the posting will not be improved, but you won't see me calling anyone a motherfucker.
Not often anyway. So rush over to monkey banana for more tedious blather with a lot less motherfucker and probably nothing ever about anyone I work for, have worked for or might work for.
Pauvre Tracey Emin! It's to weep over. We learn that Ms Emin will leave the UK if she is made to pay half her earnings over 150K in tax.
Yes, you read that right. The government, that filthy brigade of thieves, intends to have Ms Emin starve in her garret. She will barely be able to afford a couple of lines of coke on a Friday night. No wonder she looks so unhappy in the photo attached to the article, as though someone had belaboured her about the mush for some minutes with a week-old kipper.
Ms Emin is quoted as saying:
I'm simply not willing to pay tax at 50% … I reckon it would mean me paying about 65p in every pound with tax, National Insurance and so on
You often see this misunderstanding. One wonders why the interviewer does not stop her right there, and say, well, Ms Emin, surely you are aware that you would not pay 65p in every pound? You would pay much less on most of your pounds, just as the rest of us, not fortunate enough to earn in excess of 150K, do.
Ms Emin cannot paint. By which I do not mean to say, oh, she's no Vermeer. I mean, as far as I know, she is no more able to paint than I am. She is a dab hand at sewing, for sure, but few seamstresses can hope to make such a lavish living. In other words, Ms Emin has been fortunate. Maybe she is talented, I do not know. I have no critical faculty for judging the worth of works of art that consist of names of men one has entertained in the boudoir (or car, as it may be).
Ms Emin contrasts France with the UK:
At least in France their politicians have always understood the importance of culture and they have traditionally helped out artists with subsidy and some tax advantages.
To which one might respond that perhaps the UK government feels that a woman with two homes, one a very nice dacha in Provence, with attached studio, who is able to employ "staff" to help her with the arduous business of producing "art", is less in need of subsidy than the many who have no home at all.
Maybe they do not consider the re-creation of an unmade bed to be particularly cultured. Pauvre Tracey! To be so unappreciated by such Philistines! To have to muddle through with only half of every pound more than 150K she acquires and to know that the government wishes to snatch the outcome of her slaving away at, erm, putting junk on a bed or whatever.
Welcome to monkey banana. If you're curious, a monkey banana is a banana that sits in its peel, just the way a monkey likes it. Small children also. Like monkey bananas, I mean, not sit in peel.
Last night I dreamt you love me. Not like a dog, although that too would be good, because when we say we love a dog, we are saying we are responsible for their wellbeing, and I do not have anyone who cares much that I am well. Nothing as casual as that: you love me in a way that is inescapable and does not permit you to choose not to.
For me, "I love you" are not just words, they are a mandate, a compulsion to do whatever I can to bring you happiness. I cannot imagine another way to love (and of course I know that is likely a failing on my part) and I know that people who I do not care whether they are happy, even if I do not wish them unhappiness, I do not love.
So in my dreams you are always smiling because there is no cause for unhappiness in your life. It is as beautiful as I would wish it to be for you. For me too, there is no sadness. You love me and that is enough for me to be happy. I am as simple as that. I do not know why the world conspires to make something so simple so impossible.
It is okay. I know that dreams are not real. I know that you would rather drown in unhappiness than allow yourself a degree of freedom. It is natural that we dream that others are not how they are. If the change in them is slight, they are good dreams; if it is very big, I do not think they are dreams at all: they are directives we send to our lives to stop hurting us the way they do. My dreams are good. You are just who you are in them with the only thing added that you love me.
We are not doing anything special. We are just laughing because we have a simple joy that the other exists. This is the happiest dream I ever have had because in it I am content just to be. It makes me happy even that I am able to imagine that that is possible, even if in the cold light of day I know it is not.
In the dream I have of you, I hold you and it feels like the whole of the warmth of the summer afternoon we are sharing emanates from you. I feel like I will not let you go and you will not ever want to be let go, because you are as safe with me as I am with you. It makes me happy to imagine that we have a harbour, a place of rest, and that I need not consist of anything beyond what I consist in, that that is enough, and you are enough for me.
Man, I love that boy! We were going wrong, I don't know why, but he didn't like me, and I started just doing the right thing, and now we are in love with each other. He comes to me and asks for cuddles; he looks to me for succour and I am there for him.
Man, I love him! You think you love your boy but you don't love yours like I love that boy!
So M is saying to me, we are judge, jury and executioner with our own families, and I agree with him. Because I believe that too. I am a pacifist, a gentle, kind man, but let me tell you.
Let me tell you. If someone fiddled with Zenella or Zenita, I would take the knife from the kitchen door, go to their house and hack them down.
I will kill you if you hurt my girls. And I won't feel bad about it. I will laugh as I kill you.
You underestimate us. Small men. Quiet men. Our little, pointless lives. We live them and we're forgotten by all that do not love us.
Mrs Zen says, before you had kids you were never like that.
Yeah, true. Before I had kids, I never knew the depths of love. I never knew how much you could love a person. I never knew what I was.
I would kill you in front of the police station, in front of fifty witnesses, in front of a TV crew, on the six o'clock news. And I would laugh while I did it.
And if you are good to my kids? If you love my beautiful Naughtyman? If you hold him close and make him feel good to be alive?
Well, you need not ask. We will be friends forever. We will be lovers because we love him.
Let us love each other! I have plenty to spare. I realised, in the course of having children, that I am a man who has enormous reservoirs of love. I am not as small as I thought.
I was among friends today. I felt warm and loved, comfortable, at home. Everything I said was good, sure footed, real, right on the money. I didn't fuck up in any way. I nailed every conversation, every aside. I made everyone who interacted with me feel better for it. I uplifted and warmed everyone who was there. They were lucky, would have felt lucky, to be there, to know me.
My Naughtyman, my star, came and sat on my knee, and he didn't say anything, he just laid his head on my shoulder, he didn't have to say anything, I understood him perfectly. I didn't care about anything bad about my life just at that moment; all I knew was how much I love that boy. My life will never be bad. Never. My life will never be bad if I am loved. I truly believe that.