Monday, August 31, 2009

Smokey was right

Today I felt beautiful, just for a moment. I stepped outside myself and looked in and I thought that I could see good. It didn't last. If I am good, how come I am being punished?
I felt good, like I had honey to roll around in my mouth. 
Smokey was right. That's all I'll say about that.
The monkey is laughing laughing laughing. He says, you are a fool and this is your reward for it. You are a fool to think you can be loved. You deserve the desert and here it is. Enjoy!
You know, if I could wish just one thing, I would wish to have never believed I was golden at all, so that my life would not be one long process of finding out how wrong I was.
And please, please, spare me from your belief, your shaky, hollow belief that I am. Because the monkey knows and he laughs at you too. He is crueller than you are kind and he knows much more than you let yourself know. Or me either.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I need Gmail to introduce a whinetrap (some would say, I'm sure, that this blog could do with a whine filter too). I tell you, it's not my fault though. I'm English and we have it in the genes. We can't help ourselves: the slightest hint of adversity and a noise like a fleet of mosquitoes fills the air. We are not called the whinging Poms for nothing.
I often send emails I wish I could recall and re-word. It's part of the cost of being impulsive. It could be worse, I suppose. I could have married in haste and... oh wait.
So in a bid to introduce some responsibility to my decision making -- because life doesn't have a whinetrap for people who make stupid choices too quickly -- I am thinking about stalling my trip home some. It's for good reasons, which I won't rehearse here, because anyone who actually cares already knows what they are. It's sensible. I don't like being sensible, but after all, I am not really 12, despite appearances.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A cup of coffee

I am thinking about a time I was on a beach on a beautiful spring day with K. It doesn't matter when this was, because the best times in life are cut out from time and set aside.

The sun is shining on us as we are sitting on the beach, and I am able to kiss her, and although it has been some time since we have seen each other, it doesn't feel like it. It seems easy and natural, like we do this all the time.

But we don't, and she says to me that she won't do it again. She wants me to understand how difficult it is, and I understand that, but I don't know how not to want a good thing: I don't have enough good in my life to think it is worth setting aside something that feels this good for any reason.

Birds are skimming across the water. They are just carrying on with their lives, as birds do. Not for the first time, I am envious of the other animals of our world. They are not weighed down with others' choices. They do what they are able. Maybe I do too, and I want it to be others' fault that I cannot be happy. That is what B thinks. She thinks I want that because it is easy.

But it isn't easy. Being unhappy is the hardest thing that you can do. You want it to change so much but you are Sisyphus, struggling to get your rock up your hill, knowing that you can never succeed, but will have it roll down and crush you.

I wish sometimes that I had better heart, like Camus' Sisyphus, and could face the waste my life is cheerfully. I did once. I grew into melancholy, and yes, I think that others helped me into it. It does not absolve me of anything to say that.

So I am touching her face and I am feeling like this is something I should do. It is something I should have because it is part of me to love her. I want to tell her that but I know that to be beloved can be like having a loaded gun at your head. I think she loves me too -- I'd say I know it, but knowing it implies imposing my belief about someone else's feelings on them and I am not about that: I know only too well that people think that there are ways you should and shouldn't feel, and I am determined in this life to let people feel whatever they feel about me, without my drawing a box for them to be in, without becoming a cage for them to sit in.

When we parted, I could not look behind me. I did not want to see whether she had waited to see me go or had gone as soon as I had started to walk away. I do not know which would have hurt more.

Earlier, when we were talking, she had squeezed my hand three times sometimes, as though to reassure me. I don't know whether it was to tell me she shared the feeling I expressed, or to make me feel better about it, because I hadn't remembered her ever doing it and didn't know what it meant. But as I came home, I could still feel the imprint of her hand in mine, and it felt like a small fire, warm and real.


That night, I did not sleep well. I did not want the dream that I knew awaited me. I would be sitting on a bench in the garden of my stone cottage. But the bees had long deserted the pear tree. No one had cared for it and it had died, leaving only the wood in the form of a tree.

And I would be sitting on my bench hoping that somewhere inside the tree was a living core that wouldn't have died, and I can't say why, because it is too much for anyone to read, and I can only let it echo out in a small closed corner of my being.

And the wind and rain would have melted away the cement because it was not well made, and one by one the stones had fallen down, until there were almost more in the rubble than in the wall.

And I realised that my garden had stopped being a place where I felt content, and had become a testament to illusions that I could not make real: that I can be worth loving, worth cherishing and that there is any place in my life where the sun will shine.

But I know too that other nights I will have other dreams, and in some, she will remember my voice as she is walking out of the lychgate, and want to hear it just once more, and turn, and as we talk, she will nourish the tree that needs only enough care to keep itself alive -- because pear trees are hardy -- and she will forget that there even are wind and rain to pull down the walls of the gardens we build to hold our dreams in, and we will sit together drinking still lemonade on a glorious day, the last of summer, and our lives will not lack anything because we are here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So I'm in the taxi, and the driver is saying his mate used to be in the SAS and now he has a job as a cleaner. But they also consult him on security.

Because obviously that's what you do. When you want to consider security, you ask the office cleaner for his views.

So this afternoon, there's a knock at the door and I go, and it's an old friend of Mrs Zen's, although I have to say I didn't realise that until she said who she was.

So she is having marriage problems and she wants to know whether she can stay or does Mrs Z know of anywhere she could stay. So obviously I'm all sorry to hear about your marriage, and thinking oh fuck. So she's saying yes, he's a very bad man. He has abused her some, and is aggressive and mean to her, but is nice as pie in front of the children and outsiders.

That's a bit odd, because I think if you are angry with someone it's not just cunning, but somewhat sociopathic to bottle it up until there's no one else around.

So she says he had girlfriends and he's into drugs. And here's the thing, he's connected with bike gangs, and she's afraid he will get bikers to kill her.

I am beginning to wonder whether the stress of a bad breakup may not have disturbed this woman's equilibrium, if you know what I mean.

And I think you do.

So I ask her in and it's all very sad. I want to help but I want to be helpful, not just nod and go oh dear.

The police are surveilling him, she is saying.

Oh, I say.

Yeah, they are going to trap him, and when that happens I can get the kids.

Why don't you have the kids now? You are the mother. The court would give you them.

Court? They don't talk to me. My daughter thinks I'm psychotic.

I am thinking that perhaps having her to stay might be problematic in some ways.

So you've seen the police? I say, thinking that if she had seen them, she might contact them. I am beginning to think that possibly there is more than meets the eye.

Well, okay, obviously there's more than meets the eye, but I am thinking that perhaps she has something to fear from the police herself.

So she says she has been hiding, in Melbourne and Sydney, but now she had come to Brisbane because it's the last place he would think she would be. She is utterly convinced that he will hurt her if he can.

And the police have been following her in each place. How do you know it was the police? I say.

You wouldn't understand, she says, you're a man. A woman would get it. It's intuition. A feeling.

My feeling is that she is entirely bonkers. I don't like to be judgemental but she continues to tell me that she put a keylogger on his computer. And a virus. And then had someone retrieve deleted files.

But she doesn't know whether they have evidence of the girlfriends she believed he had or of his drug dealing, because the hard disk is at her parents', where she can't go, but she knows it's there because she felt the computer guy was being shifty.

So the plan is to stay in hiding until the police arrest her husband. I ask her how long she would be doing this before giving up. She doesn't know. Six months? I say hopefully. She doesn't say anything.

So, I say, look, I'm not making a judgement but have you considered the possibility that because you have a stressful situation with your husband, you really really want the police to sort it out for you.

You're saying I'm paranoid, aren't you? she says.

No, I say, I'm not saying anything. I'm saying you have a bad situation and of course you need to resolve it. But sometimes people feel they cannot resolve situations on their own. They turn to external sources. Some turn to God. So maybe you really needed the police? And of course I mean that she may have invented the police who she believes are gathering evidence on her old man and will haul him off when they have whatever they are trying to get. She has no idea, it seems. Just drugs. (Which is weird; she never names a drug. She says she thinks he's addicted to something but doesn't even take a stab at what. See, this is what distinguishes the truth from a story: it's the detail that is not constucted. If someone is really doing drugs, you likely know which ones. If not which particular drug then the type. But when you have a story in which the addiction is incidental, there is no particular drug. He's just addicted to something.)

They're there, she says.

Yes, but how do you know?

It's intuition. You men don't understand.

I understand you have a bad situation, I say, and whatever the truth of the whole drug thing, you have to resolve that. You need to get your children back.

But, you know, I'm being all sensible and practical, which is fucking annoying for her because she just wants someone to go you poor thing.

She weeps a little. I am strongly convinced she is a nut, but I am thinking she doesn't need to have been a nut before her breakup. So when I'm asking her whether there's anything she could think that she would find difficult in a family court, I'm asking whether she has been on medication or whatever. She pretends not to understand what I mean.

And I worry some that it is reasonable to believe that her story is entirely correct (and there was more, including her feeling that an interstate biker network was hunting for her, an unexplained inability to go to her parents' house, her knowledge that people were coming and going from her house on drug business without her ever actually seeing even one of them, and ditto girlfriends) so maybe I should have just done that.

But I'm a writer, fuck it, at heart anyway, so I want to know the story.

And the taxi driver is telling me that the Spanish flu, he's read a lot about it, and people who died of it were mostly malnourished. But I read the other day that it killed the most healthy because it created a cytokine storm -- in which your immune cells overreact to a reaction and are overproduced and destroy your own healthy cells. He will have none of that bullshit. He has read several books.

I've only read this and that, so I drop it, and we chat contentedly about the role of sickness in winning wars, and he is very content to have an informed yet willing to listen rather than talk audience, which I am, and I'm able to half-listen and make the occasional encouraging comment or question, while the quiet streets of our suburbs roll past me.

Most -- I'd say all, but I think I can remember one or two who didn't -- taxi drivers will talk here. An older guy tells me about his son's urging him to get a reverse mortgage, so that he have a comfortable retirement. Yeah, I say, better to enjoy it now. But he wanders into a financial wasteland of chat and i'm able to tune him out because I know finance and I can be pretty sure of the map ahead.

The shy Indian guy tells me he lives in Aspley. That's odd, I say, because there's a ton of Indians on the southside and not so much in the north. So he laughs some because I mention Sunnybank, where there are a lot of Indians, and Chinese too. So much so that I'd doubt Sunnybank is majority white. But in Mansfield there are a lot of southern Indians and Sri Lankans. The southern Indians are mainly Christian, as far as I know.

There are no Christian Indians in Aspley, he tells me in a way that makes Aspley sound much more like the North-West Frontier than it in fact is.

He is telling me about his village. Five thousand people and he knew them all. Here he knows no one at all. He is sad about it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

About A

You know how some people just toil away in your life? They love you and they give and you rarely get the chance to give back (or if you give back, you don't really realise you are doing it). Being a parent mostly puts you in that role, but we all (I hope it's all of us) have people who work to make us happy, without show or fuss, they just do it. You hope that your partner will be one of them, but they aren't always, and I think in that case you appreciate even more those who are there for you.

Which is a long way round saying that I wanted to make a note of appreciation for A, who has been there for me, despite having more than enough in her own life to concern her, and has given me far more than she has ever had in return.

I have never met, and probably will never meet, A in the flesh, but it's a sign of our times and how we live that she is as good a friend as I've had in this life. I would never willingly let her go.

And how did that happen? Well, you know the good thing about A? There are no fullstops for her. She has made no conclusions and doesn't count anything out. I don't think she actually realises that is true about her, but it is. Some of us can be content because we will settle in one place or another. But some of us find it harder, because we are always wondering what else there could be, what could change, how we could more readily have what we feel we need.

You can't not like someone who has not closed the book.

As for me, I have been wearing contact lenses. I have to say, I have been feeling somewhat fresher for it.

You know, you have to smoke weed to ever get to a place where you'd post this, but you know what? It actually does you good.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Something crazy and I don't know whether it is good or bad, but it's different happened, and there's a scent of pears in the air.

It will end in tears, I know, but still they could be tears of joy. What else is worth pursuing in this world? I have never found anything I wanted more than to love and be loved. The rest is hollow and joyless, but if I have smiles and kisses, I have gold. That's what I believe, and if you believe it too, you are a friend of mine, and so long as that is what we are trying to achieve for each other, how can we go wrong?

Well, we can go wrong, I know. We can hurt each other and others, and few of us at heart want that. But I believe that a good heart counts. I can't surrender that belief, and I can't surrender my belief that love is all, and that whatever we do to increase each other's happiness, if it is done out of our common affection, cannot be judged amiss in any tribunal.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nothing whole

I am scared about going home because everything turns to shit. Well, not everything. Some things are shit to start with.

I am scared that my life is broken beyond fixing, and even more scared that one day I'll just take leave of my senses. And scareder still that I never will.

I have lost any ability to think of myself as someone who even has a life. It is just something that happens to me. Nothing good happens to me. Anything that seems like it will be good is quickly burned. I know, I do most of the burning, but I seem to be living in a world that is full of forgiveness, but none for me. Every mistep leads to more.

I feel lost without any signpost. I am scared that even going home will be entering perdition.

I am so lonely. I feel like I was abandoned on this planet and that somewhere there must be people who recognise in me a kindred spirit, but if there are, they've never found me. I find I am cursed like Cassandra. I can understand everything, but I can't do anything about it. I could resolve your life easily (but you wouldn't listen -- that's Cassandra's lot) but mine? It doesn't seem to have anywhere left to go. I have spent years turning inwards, becoming less and less, smaller and smaller. I barely have anything left that I trust. It's no wonder that no one wants me: I don't really exist -- just a whiff of smoke and an idea that there has been someone there, but nothing substantial, nothing whole.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A night at the football

So we're in the Aussie Nash before the game, and C is saying that the only drug he does regularly is this one, and he points at his beer.

Because he likes to do this weird thing that reminds me of those ultra-portentous American docos, where facts are not permitted to seem humble, but must be dressed up with increased drama.

And I say, no man, you are what, thirty...
Thirty-three, he says.
So you should be doing hookers and blow, I say. And Chinese girls.

Because I have yellow fever and I'm pretty sure C does too. I mean, who doesn't though?

Isn't coke really dangerous and addictive though? he is saying, which is a bit wtf, because you don't do serious research before doing coke. You just do it if you can get it.

Well yeah, I say. I guess feeling really fucking good about yourself could be addictive, but I don't see how it's dangerous.

Well, I say. You could burn out your nose.

I ask the barmaid for two schooners of heavy. Heavy is bitter. But not bitter in the way English bitter is bitter. It's odd though, when I first went to the pub, bitter is what you drank. I mean, if you said beer, you meant bitter beer. Now lager has crushed bitter. It is better out of a can. If I had to guess the reason it won, that would be in the mix. And it is light.

She gives me a look that you would consider saucy if you were not me, which you're not, so you may. But I figure this is just what barmaids do, right? They make you feel you are attractive as part of their shtick. They are told to smile and when they are not rushed off their feet, they remember to do what they are told.

So we are drinking heavy and talking about shit. I don't talk about the thing I want to talk about, because I can't talk about it with him. He would only say something incomprehensible and possibly stupid. I don't hold it against him but he's not someone I'd bother talking to about anything that was troubling me.

Nor though is M, who I went to the football with. I mean, I'd go blah and blah, and he'd just not seem all that interested, because that's his demeanour. And what would be the point anyway? I would not feel unburdened and he would feel obliged to express his opinion, perhaps. And to be honest, I don't care what anyone thinks.

So why say I want to talk about it? Because I am vain. And I have a tiresome desire to express what has meaning for me.

So I have to tell you that Australian Rules football is incomprehensible and does not have enough nuance for someone brought up on real football. The best thing about it is that there are men in bright yellow kit whose job is to chase the players around the park, haranguing them as instructed by their coach.

And I now know what malt is. If you already know, look away for this paragraph. So you let barley sprout and then kill the sprouts by applying heat. It's one of those things you can imagine the accident that led to its discovery.

And I know -- I mean, I knew before, but this made it something I viscerally know -- why Australia is so grimly determined to succeed in sports. The twins had their sports day. It was horrible. They made the kids run sprints (which were far too long for them at a hundred metres -- terribly discouraging for Naughtyman, who is not very strong in the legs and has therapy for it) with heats and finals. So the kids do not understand that winning and losing is not a reflection on you, but on what you consist of. S, a girl in Zenita's class, is much bigger than Zenita, and nearly a year older, so she can run considerably faster. I try to explain to them that you cannot choose how fast you can run. You can only choose to do your best. Or not. This proceeded for a couple of hours. I'm not kidding: I sat for two hours on an increasingly hot day (28C in the middle of winter -- I'm not shitting you, it felt every degree of that) watching children get humiliated, and so did my kids.

England is better. We had fun sports days when I was a primary schoolkid. The events were designed to level physical advantages and disadvantages. The fast would be paired with the slow in the threelegged; the balancing act in egg and spoon prizes rapid grasp of technique over footspeed; and the sack race needs a skill that you do not often use, so it can be something of a lottery who turns out to be good at it. Everyone got to do all of them. But a lot of Australian culture, using the term widely, is powered by humiliation and the desire to avoid it. Fear is the most reliable motivator here. As I am watching the football, it occurs to me that the roles are very simply defined in Aussie Rules, and players are ultimately judged by how often they fail to do the simple things they are asked to do, rather than how often they succeed. But this may be because I don't understand the significance of the statistics used to measure success game by game.

I now also know that it is less easy to convince someone to do something they want to do than to do something they don't. Doing what you don't want to feels noble, but doing what you want feels indulgent. At least, that's how it feels to me, and I imagine that I'm human too.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More about rulesetting

I often think about the connected questions of why I should be good and how I can know what is or isn't good. Unbelievers are often challenged by those who have easy moral codes (although those codes sometimes strike us as the source of wrong action). They say, how can you not have rules? How can you teach your children right from wrong? But of course I do have rules of a sort (I believe strongly in the need for rules, as it happens, which should not surprise those who know I earn my living by applying rules to others' work).

This is what I wrote about rules in writing:

In my profession, the rules are essential. My knowledge of them is what I live on. My ability to employ words that obey them is what allows me to say I can write (by which I do not, as some seem to think, mean to say merely that I know how to put words on paper but that I am confident they are the right words – or at least properly chosen out of the words that can be right). The rules are not, though, the straitjacket that (mostly unskilled) wouldbes like to make out. They are the natural consequence of the desire to communicate – guidelines in a concrete sense. I sometimes use the metaphor that they are the road language drives along, not the speed limit or the prohibition against drunkenness. Of course the road is sometimes poorly signposted. You don’t always know where you’re going.

But you should be able to tell when you’re driving on the grass.

I think life works the same way. I could equally have said that in life, the rules are essential. We need to have them to create order from lives that are sometimes chaotic and confusing. Our ability to use them (and understand their provenance, which is a step sadly missing in most people's understanding of morality) is what allows us to live lives that work. (I am not saying though that we need them imposed from above, or that we need them prima facie in any sense, although I am not arrogant enough to believe that the best approach is to disregard others' wisdom and just make it up as I go along: I had a sunday school education, and my moral code, such as it is, is basically Christian, and I believe the ethos expressed in the New Testament by Jesus -- and not the horrid, womanhating bullshit mysticism of St Paul, designed to enslave us, not free us -- is powerful and useful.) They are not the straitjacket that some (many, sadly) like to make them. They are the natural consequence of the desire to live with each other. I see them as guidelines, rather than laws, that help you navigate life, rather than imposing ways of living on you.
You cannot always obey the "rules" you set yourself, or accept for yourself, whichever you have done. But they are not meant to be rods to break our backs on -- and those who think they are, who serve gods who demand that you break yourself in an extended moral trial, are deserving of pity, not admiration. (And those who use them as cudgels deserve nothing more than contempt, as I mentioned here.)

Of course, it isn't even easy. Even people who lead dull lives, such as me, are confronted sometimes by difficult choices. Sometimes, those choices would be made much easier by having a code to refer to (and the desire for regulation of your life is strong in many Muslims' lives, for instance, although I believe that is born more out of a desire not to offend their (extremely easily offended) god than a need to live an untroubled life). And deciding whether the outcomes of our choices even are good or bad can be difficult, because not only can we not see the future but we cannot make others behave in ways we want -- and our outcomes are never in our hands alone. But is easier better? I think back a few years, when I drove far into the grass (away from any recognisable road, let's be honest) with S. By any moral standard, what I did was wrong. We were both married, after all, with all that entails.

But what I did was right. It cannot be wrong to rescue yourself from bitter unhappiness if you think you see the chance. I cannot believe it can be.

Was I doing wrong to Mrs Zen? Well, she thinks I was, and of course I see the merit in her belief. She believed I had a contract with her that precluded consorting with other women -- and of course I believe I did too (although it should be noted that contract law has an understanding that contracts should not necessarily be enforced when they are entirely detrimental to the contracting parties, nor should they be considered binding if they are made under duress). I also believe though that this is a contract that is renewed all the time -- one that is refreshed by our continued desire to hold to it, and diminished by failures on both sides to uphold it. I made promises (and I don't take promises lightly, because I strongly believe they are central to living in societies that require trust to operate, as any human society does, ultimately), but I did not vow to accept hurt for someone else's ideal. And I didn't promise that nothing would change no matter how shit things became. What would be the use in that? I don't see any value in the promise itself: only in its outcomes.

That, for me, is the central idea in rulesetting. The rules are not valuable in themselves: their worth lies entirely in their ability to allow you to create good in this life (just as the rules of English are entirely meaningless in the abstract, but exist only to make communication work well). Would applying a law to my life have helped me with difficult choices? No. It would have served as a way not even to think about them. I could have just not gone there, patted myself on the back for my moral uprightness and I don't know what would have happened, but I can't think that it would have brought me much happiness.

Nor would I have felt particularly that I had done a moral act. Quite the opposite, because all I would have achieved is to avoid acting morally or otherwise by abdicating my responsibility for choosing. All I would have gained from it would be to increase my unhappiness. Perhaps it would have increased Mrs Zen's some, but I can't really see how: is it really better to have a faithful, deeply unhappy husband or a less faithful but more content one? Are we really all about one single facet of ourselves, or are we composites?

Well, we are what we are, and that is fallible, precious beings who cannot hope to get everything right, and can only hope that what we choose will be better than the alternatives, and, so long as we choose as best we can, who can judge us for that but ourselves, by our own lights?

Friday, August 14, 2009


Some things are just crushing in this life, and they are nearly always things that others choose for me, rather than what I choose. Indeed, I rarely get to choose to have what I want, when it really matters. Others get to choose that, and for whatever reason, that has rarely been good for me.

So I have been disappointed and the monkey is dancing in his cage. He knows why it hurts. I am not enough.

I was not enough of a son for my dad to want to make sacrifices for me when I was a kid; not enough of a boyfriend for the women I loved not to chuck me when it became difficult; not enough of a husband to be worth cherishing; not enough of a friend to be worth keeping; not enough of a lover to want to, well, whatever lovers are supposed to do when they are star crossed.

My whole life is a long series of lessons in not being enough for the people in my life. I want to be wonderful, inspiring. I guess we all do. We all feel we are special.

But I am always disappointing, leaden where you hope I'll be gold, a seeming bad bet that no one wants to roll the dice on.

And I don't blame them. I am not worth gambling on. I've never gambled on myself, so why would anyone else bother? I can rationalise it all I like, that I have a side that wants me to fail, that undermines me, but the truth is, I am just a leaden, dull person and I am having what that brings you. I thought the wrong, the foolish part of me was the monkey, but really, the fool is the deluded clown who sees gold in a core that is empty, bitter and cold.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I'm in a daze. I can't whip three thoughts into line. I was worn out from long, long days, and now I feel fine.

I feel fine! I've got to tell you, some of the time I feel like skipping. A weight has been taken from my shoulders. There will be other weights but sometimes you have to stop thinking beyond the day in hand and let it all slide.

I tried to do some figures the other day -- poker figures -- but I felt slow and old. Maths is the only thing that I find I stumble over where I once wouldn't. Sometimes I wonder whether I have less acuity than I did, but I think I only ever had sharp wits, rather than a sharp mind.

(But yesterday I did a special thing for a sub. Headlines in our paper's system are measured in ems, and I get a score in ems for how well a head fits. If you fit it precisely, you see no score at all. I had a headline in two decks and nailed it first take with no over or under. You wouldn't do that often.)

So I trudged through it, cutting and pasting figures in a spreadsheet, and pretending to be learning. And two hours ish of push/fold. Well, the best route to overcoming fear of incompetence is becoming competent. Or become full of shit.

Which seems easier.

But getting through it feels better, and understanding, or at the very least feeling you understand, feels better still.

I've never been a person who is happier not to know, and I don't feel bad about it, although it's as much use as a sixth toe.

But I am not killing myself over it. I know it is just another road to walk along, and how can you break yourself to pieces over how fast you can walk?


I look in the mirror and some old guy looks back at me, but wait, I feel like I'm 24 so can't we just pretend?

Anyway, you know the good thing about being manic? It's like you really see the good in everyone else, and you know what I realise? These are not two poles. This is who I am and the rest is when I'm off my game.

And yeah, I've spent five years drowning in it, basically insane, but there's always a road out, which you can walk, no matter how fast you can walk. I've been crushed into a ball, hollowed out and beaten. I reached a point of no return, and I've returned.

What feels weird is that I cannot get down. I feel free from the need for it. Some of that was growing in me when I had arranged to go home but jeez I have had good medicine for what has ailed me.

And you know what that is? Sometimes you have a headline, and you cannot squeeze or poke it, because it's a whole em out. You just have to change a word. It's easy when you have reached the moment when you know that (or it may be hard to do, but it's easy to accept that that is what you are doing); it becomes easy to believe that is what you were always going to do. You do not know that you will write a good head, but that's of no consequence. You are content that you are doing what you are doing, and sometimes, when you have further realised that you must wipe out the whole line and begin again, you are content too with that.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Always the last to realise

This is the song that I would dance to if I had someone to dance with. It's almost like they wrote it for me. You know how that is with songs?

Underneath a Bodhi tree
That is where she brought me
That is where she bound me
Nobody found me

I became Dr Zen because I was lonely.


Do you know who you are? Do you know what you consist of? I work with the belief that I am actually somebody, and that ultimately I would discover, uncover, that somebody and be pleased with what I found.

I do the right thing as much as I can. I'm strongly moral and I feel good about being better than others who indulge themselves.

But then I look at myself and see nothing good about me. I see a liar, a cheat, a fool, a weak, insipid clown. And I'm afraid that if I peel away the accretions of this life that it seems someone has cloaked me in, I will find nothing at all, and doing the right thing was just a pointless, stupid way to ensure that I would drown in the shit that is the consequence of martyring yourself to not just getting what you need.

I became Dr Zen because I was afraid.


I know that deep within me there is that child whose heart was broken, and I love that child.
I know that in some corner of this vile man there is a beautiful soul that is crushed by it all, and I love that small light.
(I know that if I hold you in my arms, and we are far enough away from all this world, if that were possible, I know that you will see that I can be what you believe in, and I love you too.)

I became Dr Zen because I wanted to love myself, because no one else does, and truly, no one else ever will.

I know, sometimes a person thinks they do, but they have always only loved some thing that I can provide. And that is why I don't just provide those things. I could easily regain Mrs Zen's love, but it would be love for the act of being loveable. It's an easy path. But I want more than that, and I don't care how greedy it is to want it. I wanted more than the trinkets and easy pleasures and I've suffered for it and why should I settle for having failed?

I became Dr Zen so that I could write this post and not care what you think about it.


Can we start from tomorrow? Can we drop the cloaks we have been wearing and let ourselves take the risk that we are worthwhile? Can we rid ourselves of our monkeys, our bad selves, our nagging voices that tell us how bad it is to love to be free?

No, of course we can't. My only problem in this life is that I cannot bend the universe even slightly to my will. In so many ways it is not me, it's you. Everyone else seems to think that that is true about them. Which part of my education lacked that I can't?

I have been in a spin. Someone has made me feel. I had been doing very well at remaining numb until I got myself home. Someone has made me feel good though, and even if it is destined for tears, shouldn't we all feel good some of the time?

Did you ever have someone you wanted to touch? I don't necessarily mean you want to touch them with your fingers. I mean someone you wanted to feel your presence, so that you mattered? (And we are not talking about someone you wanted something from, not just some woman you wanted to sleep with you, or some guy who had something you wanted or needed even.) Did you ever have someone that if you touched them, you know, you would be real?

Do you know how it is to be a virtual particle, always in search of your antimatter, that special substance that will make you, however briefly, a spinning planet all of your own?

Does any of this make sense? It doesn't make sense even to me. I realise that at some point you have to stop caring what makes sense because that has made me crazy.

And I became Dr Zen because rage is alien to me. When I feel like I can let it go, you will never hear from me again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mr and Mrs Zen have a pleasant discussion

It's tax time.
You want me to do your tax?
(with air of entitlement) Yeah.
Okay. Can you get me a notice of assessment?
Can you get me a notice of assessment? You know, the thing they send you every year to tell you what they owe you.
A. Notice. Of. Assessment. The. Thing. You. Get. Every. Year.
There's no need to talk to me like that.

(three weeks pass)
Did you find that notice of assessment?
The notice of assessment. For your tax.
I didn't look.
Why didn't you look? I need it for your tax. Your tax. It's time to do it now.
I don't know where it is.
Try looking in your documents file.

(three days later)
Did you find your notice of assessment?
The tax thing.

(Zen gets file)
Here. It's a document from the tax. You need it to prove your identity.
You need it so you can lodge your form. So I can lodge your form.

(hands over document)
This isn't a notice of assessment. It's a refund notice.
Will it do?
Let's hope so.

(a day later)
Oh shit. I am going to need her health insurance details.

Hey, can you get your health insurance policy for me?

(fifteen minutes later)
Can you get your health insurance policy for me?
Your health insurance policy. You know, the policy. For your health insurance.
(which you bought behind my back, using money that I couldn't afford)

(five minutes later)
What do you mean? I don't know what you mean.
Your policy.
I have a card.
Okay, give me the fucking card.
There's no need to talk to me like that.
Just give me the fucking card. I knew this would be an uphill battle. But how hard is it to just go and get the policy?

(two minutes later)
I can't find my card. I have this document though.
That's your policy.
Why didn't you say that's what you wanted?
Why didn't you say that you wanted this document?
I told you I wanted your policy.
I didn't know this was my policy. It says certificate of something.
Yeah, that's your policy.
I don't like your tone. You don't have to talk to me like that.
(incoherent bellowing)
No, I knew it would be trouble asking you for it.
(further bellowing)
No, I need it for your tax. Which I'm doing for you. Because you cannot be fucked doing it.
(bellowing reaches new pitch)
Just fuck off.
Don't tell me to fuck off.
Fuck off and leave me to do your tax.
You know, if you tell me to fuck off, then I'll "fuck off".
Don't threaten me. And just fuck off.
(and don't fucking tempt me)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

From A to S: a history

This side of my blood relatives, I have loved five women. Each broke my heart in turn. (I wonder whether there should be an "only" in there? But we are strictly talking about love, not people I am or have been fond of or like a lot.)

The first, and she was barely a woman, was A. We must have made an odd couple because she was barely five feet and I am well over six. But she was cute as a button, and posh. It was a big deal for me to have a posh gf, because this was in my first year at university and there's some backstory. When I moved to Gloucestershire, I went to the local comprehensive's sixth form. The students were fairly evenly divided between "snobs" and "dossers". The snobs were kids who would go to university, and worked hard to get there. The dossers weren't. So I hung out with the dossers, because I wanted to be cool much more than I wanted to be educated, and that was a mistake. The dossers were guys like A, a friend who lived on my housing development (I'd say estate, but I don't want to give the impression it was a council estate). He was set for a life as a clerk, and didn't want more. I didn't know what I wanted, and could not see past the end of the week I was in. Now I have perspective, of course.

Anyway, one of the snobs was H. She was a teacher's daughter, which counts as being posh in a country town. She was also part of the Christian Fellowship. So I joined that.

Why would I do that? I can sum up my reasons in one word: tits. Well, I was 16. My biggest dream was that I would get to fondle big tits. I was an uncomplicated boy.

H was not fooled by my conversion to evangelical Christianity, possibly because I was less enthusiastic in the clapalong singalongs than I might have been, maybe just because I was stupid enough to hang out with the bad crowd.

But A liked me, even though I was rough. I mean rough in behaviour and speech (I had a fairly broad country accent then, although you may not pick it now), not in looks, because I think I was decent to look at. I had a baby face and the same green eyes I have now (possibly less bloodshot and red around the rims).

We were both virgins, and I still feel honoured that she let me have sex with her. That wasn't why I loved her, btw (although obv. it doesn't hurt if you want to get on my good side). I loved her because she was so sweet. I like bubbly people. I'm probably not as dour as I seem to readers of this blog, but I suppose I would come across as fairly serious-minded, gauche, uncomfortable maybe. A was the opposite. She was always comfortable in any company. And she loved me (which is also a plus).

I am inclined not to be reasonable with romance. If I love you, I don't really do half measures. So we got as far as looking at engagement rings, and when she decided to defer her studies for a year, I decided just to leave university. Which was dumb.

So I was crushed when she told me she thought that having a nonstudent boyfriend would get in the way of her studies.

I got over her though, and went to another university, which was actually a more fun place, so I don't have too many regrets. While I was there I met S (prepare for S confusion -- we'll call this one S1). S1 was far from sweet. She was challenging. She was bucktoothed, ugly and had a bad dye job. But she was fun, and she loved fucking.

I don't mean she liked doing it the way all young people love it. I mean, she loved it. She would insist on being fucked literally for hours. And she would moan and howl the whole time, to the point that I was summoned to the campus accommodation officer to be admonished because my neighbours had complained. I am not kidding. I think people on the beach three miles away probably wondered what the noise was.

She didn't like foreplay. She didn't think she needed it and she was right. She would come round to my room and say "fuck me" and I would, of course, oblige. She did not stop for periods, never had a headache, was never too tired. I was 21 and I felt like I was on fire whenever I saw her.

We were together for, I think, a year, and when I went home for the summer vacation, she stayed on campus. I'm not sure why. She had fallen out with her father some, because he didn't approve of me (on account of not being Jewish and being a serious contender for marriage), so maybe she wasn't welcome at home. She was in any case two or three years older than our year's cohort. I visited her on campus and she had a great flat, one of the plum places, which she would keep in the upcoming year.

I told my mum about the flat. She said, yeah, she's probably fucking the accommodation officer. Oh, how we laughed. But she was. She married him.

I got over her fairly easily, for two reasons. One, I was smart enough to know that burning lust is not a foundation for loving someone long term. And two, I was still at university and they pack those places with young women.

The same wasn't true of my hometown, where I lived for a while. The UK was suffering a recession and jobs for underqualified linguistics graduates were thin on the ground. So I moved (back) to London and into a shared house, where I met K.

If A was sweet and S1 was hot, K was both, the full deal. I was half in love with her from the moment I saw her. She wasn't just beautiful, she was everything I wasn't: confident, outgoing, interesting. It took me back to my primary school days, when my babysitter and her friends had seemed to live in a different world from me: so worldly and smart. I didn't see how K could like me, so even if I had been able to pursue her, I didn't. I hoped somehow she would grow to like me, and resigned myself to a hopeless crush, like those I had had at school, too shy to approach the girls I liked.

I remember vividly one night she was dressed up to go out, and I commented on how she had dolled herself up. I have a hot date, she said, and I felt a lurch in my stomach. I was literally gutted, twisted with jealousy. A hot date! Not even an everyday date. I don't think I had ever even been on a date as such. (Such is my life that that can be possible!)

I was so envious that another man could have even the possibility of sleeping with her. She was luscious: that's the best word I can find for her, but I can think of plenty of others. She was womanly too. I've always liked women who are feminine and she epitomised womanhood for me: she had a body that begged to be touched, a smile that could (and did) break hearts. She was fresh: always clean, always positive and happy (maybe I romanticise her looking back, and certainly I remember sparking her temper, but her mood was pretty much always buoyant). She was uncomplicated: not dumb or lacking complexity, but untroubled, able to cope. I admire the ability to take things in your stride, because I lack it.

Man, I loved her! I loved holding her, looking at her, just being with her. I felt at ease with her. She was nice. I know that in this cynical world we are supposed to despise niceness, but there was nothing about her to despise.

When she was mine, I was entirely captivated. I could barely think of anyone or anything else. But there was a shadow over us: she had a visa that was due to run out, and she was slated to come back to Australia. She did, and I visited, and I don't think that it soured or went bad at all, but she was put in a tough spot. I wanted to come to Australia to be with her, but it seemed to her, I think, that I was risking too much for an uncertain reward.

I wish now that I had done more, found a way to make it happen. I don't even know that it was possible though. The worst of it is that I resolved not to be timid again in this spot, where when faced with a similar one later in life, I should have been, but wasn't, and compounded my mistake.

I never got over K. I still have a flame burning for her and I think I always will. She inspired me to want to be better than I am.

Mrs Zen didn't. The best about her was that she needed me so much. And I needed her in return. My love for her was steadier, and I thought it would last. I had been so hurt by K that I came to believe that it was better to restrain and cage my heart, to ensure that I didn't fall into the abyss that passion seemed to be. I made some rash decisions because of that but that's not to say that I didn't love Mrs Zen or that marrying her was a mistake. I don't believe it was, although for sure staying with her probably was. We split up at one point, and I should have stayed split up.

But I am much less smart than I am needy, and I loved her. I find love very hard to surrender. It feels like failure to let it go. She was loveable enough: you would like her a lot if you met her, because she is very personable.

I dunno. Is every choice we make rational? I know mine aren't. I just do whatever and often find myself afterwards saying, why the fuck did I do that? But it seemed right when I chose it. In poker, we call working from the results back being results oriented, and that's a huge sin.

So anyway, how did Mrs Zen break my heart? She stopped being the woman I loved. Or, more accurately, she stayed being that woman, but I needed her to change. I suppose she did change, but only to become more entrenched in the things that in small measure were good about her, but when they became more dominant were terrible.

It doesn't help that when you have children, your life becomes more insular. Or mine did. Particularly when I moved here. I had few friends, and spent a lot of time with Mrs Zen. She has never been interested in things that engage me, which had not been a problem. But now she didn't want to know at all.

I don't know. I suppose most marriages stop working, and then you have to figure out where to go when that happens. Mine is more complicated than some, because it is not as simple for either of us to give up on the other as it would be if I was Australian or she English. That creates a pressure all of its own.

So of course I am not over Mrs Zen either. It's not really that I do not love her either. We mostly get along okay. She has phases of trying to make our lives bearable. And there is, after all, a limit to how much you can be angry with someone for being who they are. Mrs Zen also has reason to have feel I have broken her heart, more I daresay, and I do not feel good about it.

Which leads me to S2. Each of the women I have loved have involved a different kind of love: first love, lust, passion, abiding love and in the case of S2, infatuation. When I first started talking to S2, I wanted to ensnare her, to take her way beyond her comfort zone and make her in some way dependent on me. I didn't like her much and I had realised she was, I dunno, intrigued by me. I was in a bad place, and I needed to be needed, as you can read here. But when I got to know her better, I found her better and better to know. S2 is messy: smart and capable if she would let herself be, but, well fuck it, I don't know how you can put it, mentally unhealthy.

Well, that worked for me. I became infatuated with her. I spent a lot of time spinning webs of words for her, and her for me. She is a fine writer, and she was great to talk to. I am not sure whether she was entirely unsure how captivating she can be, or knew it and was playing me. She is certainly unhinged enough for either to be true.

I adored how needy she was, in a different way from Mrs Zen. A common theme for me in my relationships with people is that I need to be needed, to be appreciated and wanted. I daresay there's some deeprooted childhood thing, but whatever it is, that's who I am.

Is it weird to love someone you have never met? It didn't feel weird. It felt real enough to me. But partly that is because I wanted to reach out and touch S2, to transcend the limitations of the digital. I do not crave online friends, after all; I crave the real.

S2 broke my heart through sheer unreasonableness and, simply put, by allowing me to believe I could illuminate her world and then making it clear that I didn't. If someone sets you on fire, it's hard to moderate yourself to lukewarm. Well, hard for me, apparently not for her. And being lectured on the benefits of lukewarmth does not do it for me: I am left scratching my head and going, why would we want to be cool to the touch when we can be ablaze? I suppose I do not understand people who want to rein themselves in. We only live a short while. Nor do I understand unkindness. I can be mean: but only to people who expect meanness, who court it. I hate to be unkind to someone who expects me to be good to them. Sometimes you have to, but when you are unkind purely because you are inconsiderate or thoughtless, that seems a failing to me in a social animal.

Not that I am never unkind. I intend to write a post soon about my understanding of kindness, because I feel burdened by how unkind I have been in my life. I realise that this is what led the Buddha to talk about karma. I think he was wilier than he seems at first glance, because it is largely unkindness (in the sense that I intend to discuss) that has weighed me down: not just unkindness to others, of course, but also to myself. I hope no one who I talk about in this post would feel that I have been unkind to them here: I loved them, after all.