Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I have made my blog private. I need to be able to post about whatever I want to without people who do not care about me trawling through it to find things to dislike about me (I make an exception for Gunt). I didn't want those people to read it and I feel like it hamstrings me to have to worry about people who aren't at all warm towards me just hating on it.

I have also learnt my lesson: that there are people who might read my blog who I really, really don't want to. I'm no longer willing to take that risk. My personal journal is too personal for that, I realise, and too dangerous for me in ways that will be very hard to control.

I am not intending to undo this but I may start another blog on more general topics. I don't know.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Famous for 15 seconds

Granny Zen will be so proud. At last, she will say, that useless lump of a boy has amounted to something.

Yes, I have made the newspaper.

No, it's not for winning a big poker tournament, writing a wonderful book or my charitable service to, erm, something charitable.

It's for being victimised by the jobsworths at Queensland Newspapers. Oh well. At least they spelled my nym right.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mist on the West Lake

So it's not all doom and gloom chez Zen. My good friend A has spent hours (weeks, months?) making my China travel diary into a book. It feels really good to have someone show so much faith in my writing. I have put a badge in the sidebar that allows interested parties to preview the book and it can be seen here.

I am really left without words to express how much I appreciate what A has done. It has uplifted me at a pretty glum time. Thanks A.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I will whisper

Dear you

I wish you were here with me now. We could just sit and say nothing. I really need that right now. Not sex, not anything active or complicated. I just need someone to be with me who wants to be with me. It seems each passing day I become humbler and must want less.

I don't dream even of kisses. Just to be able to live and not have to deal with seething discontent for all my days. Just to be able to live.

I held my son in my arms and I thought that soon there will be a last time. And I cannot help thinking it just isn't fair, because I love him more. I love you more too. And I hope I have not had my last time with you, but I am too small these days even for hope.

And I look at Zenita, and she is saying again how happy she is -- how happy I have helped make her -- and I can't stop myself from thinking, but I will make you sad soon enough.

I am sorry I do not have anything beautiful to say for you. I am feeling like my voice is very small, and my big mouth already got me into trouble. I did not know there were people so ugly they would want to hurt someone as small as me, but there are, and I am left only with whispers.

So I'll whisper what I have to say to you, and if you are sitting close enough by, you and only you will hear it, and only then will I know that I have an audience that will not want to hurt me for what I have to say.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the morning

In the morning, a noise awakens me. It is Naughtyman. He is getting into bed with me. I wrap my arms around him. He feels thin, insubstantial, a bundle of wires.

I love you, Naughtyman, I say, and he moves in a little closer, till we are like one melded lump of dad and son.

Dad, you're always so warm. Because you stay in bed for sooooo long. Naughtyman is early to bed, early to rise.

I'm English, I say. We have to be warm because of the cold winters.

He is squirming to get free. I don't want to let him go but there is too much besides me in his life to keep him here.

Friday, September 25, 2009


This blog has had 43 hits today. That's pretty normal. 39 of them are unique visitors, and 17 are returning visitors. That's a bit misleading, because it doesn't mean 17 returned from yesterday. Sometimes a person hit on a search thing, and then looks again five minutes later.

There are 10 actual returning readers. One is me. One is someone at the newspaper, who is slowly raping me by reading my archives. The cowardly shit doesn't have the balls to email me though, or to leave a comment. One is maybe Julie Novak (hi Julie if that's you!). I'm not sure whether she would be glorifying in taking away my livelihood or just checking that I don't say anything bad about her. Another is someone in Julie's circle -- dunno, colleague friend, and maybe another the same. I actually have nearly more readers among Julie Novak's circle than I do in my own.

And this was worth getting me sacked for? That five, six people would know that some anonymous guy thinks you are an idiot? This was worth my children's daytrips, their summer clothes, their treats?

Ugh. That I have to share a world with people like her! No matter who is "right". No matter what way of living is the best for humankind, no matter what scales we ever find to measure that, mine is moral. I know that because I am moral. I hurt no one, took nothing from anyone, I wrote something silly for my five readers.

No one's child goes without a thing they have coveted because of anything I did.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On being a word whore

Obviously losing my job is on my mind, so I'm going to say some more about it. I'm not going to whine about how petty the people involved are or anything like that (although given how minor the offence was, the wild overreaction -- although it is exactly what I would expect, sadly -- has dented my faith in humanity just a little). I thought I might though take the opportunity to talk about being a whore.

Okay, so I don't get to have the sex life of a whore but I do an activity for money without much caring who I do it with. I don't think it's admirable, but it's still honourable. I put the same care and effort into each job, regardless who I do it for, and I think that's a good thing.

I had cause to think about this when the woman who sacked me, Anna Reynolds, was telling me that it was sooooooo terrible that I said bad things about the paper (Ms Reynolds doesn't know me very well, or she may have realised that I exaggerate, I piss and whine, I glory in overegging the pudding, but whatever, she doesn't know me at all, and doesn't care to; I'm just the problem sub who upset a columnist). So she is saying "it's not a good fit". And I'm thinking, what a weird thing to say.

Because it would make sense if I made decisions to do with policy, or to do with what went in the paper, or it actually mattered what I thought about the stuff in the paper. (Or if I expressed the same opinions in the newsroom or to people who work for the paper, so that I depressed morale in some way; but I did no such thing.) But none of that actually does matter. A sub doesn't make decisions except for in matters of English, and English is a medium, entirely agnostic to what is written in it. In the same way, I might scoff at the columnists (and I'm pretty sure that Ms Reynolds, who I credit with some intelligence herself, does not think that some of the blatherers in the Mail are worth reading) but I treat their work with care.

I've worked on some terrible things in my time. I worked for a vanity publisher for a couple of years as a freelance. I have no shame! Some were decent -- just not particularly saleable -- but others were truly terrible. Do I feel bad about being part of exploiting them? Yeah, but I did an honest job for them. Their books remained terrible -- nothing I could do about the lack of plot in a novel or the incoherence of a thesis in nonfiction -- but they became well written.

I worked for a set of shipping magazines that consisted entirely of wall-to-wall advertorials, which made no pretence of being anything else. I edit books now that leave me mystified why they were ever commissioned. But no matter. It's not for me to care why. I don't commission them.

Is this truly hard to understand? A lot of subs enjoy their work -- and I enjoy subbing over copy editing too -- because it is satisfying to them, but do they think the papers they work for are good? Are you kidding? You think subs on the Sun think the Sun is a great newspaper? LOL. You have to remember when you ask that question that most subs are very intelligent. Many have graduated from being journos and are, in general, well read and attentive to language. They are not Sun readers, in other words. (The Courier-Mail is not as bad as the Sun by a long chalk. Although I think the columnists in particular are weak, and the selection of front-of-book stories really lacks, there is a lot of decent content: it's a full-spectrum paper like an English broadsheet, rather than a tabloid. Its problem, for my money, lies in its politics and its desire to knock down rather than build--which isn't uncommon among newspapers. It's reminiscent of the English Daily Mail--and I would put money on it that most of the subs on the Mail would make a bad "fit" in Ms Reynolds' view, because it carries so much stuff that is plainly supposed to pander to its readership, and is wholly transparent to anyone smart enough to sub it.)

Saying that a sub should "fit" a newspaper is a bit like saying a house painter should like your house. But what does it matter if they do, so long as they paint it well? So of course I know Ms Reynolds is smart enough to know this as well as I do, but if she doesn't have an important-sounding reason, she is going to have to tell me the truth: she fired me because a huge drama was caused out of very little and when there's a drama in a corporation, heads must roll, and my head is pretty small in the big scheme of things (and small details like that it's my living, that the punishment doesn't by any means fit the crime, that there were several better ways of handling it, all mean nothing because the opportunity has presented for drama and serious decisions, and anyway, sacking people is a regular job for an executive at News Limited, so what should they care that the person they hurt is actually a human being, who was more or less blamelessly doing a good job, making them look good?). After all, who would seriously get upset that a whore does not much like his john? So long as you fuck me, what does that matter?

On stimulus

To do myself justice, I am going to discuss the commentary that caused me to write the post that so infuriated the Institute of Public Affairs or Julie Novak to instigate my sacking.

(I'd suggest that you follow the link so that you can refer to Ms Novak's commentary as you read, because I will not reproduce it in full here because I fear that a woman as vindictive as she is may attempt to pursue legal action for breach of her copyright if I do. I mean, who knows? If your reaction to someone's telling his five readers you wrote screeching nonsense is to get him sacked, there really isn't anything too low for you to consider for revenge. She has already taken the food from my children's table -- I imagine it would be no big thing to her to try to bankrupt me into the bargain. I apologise for its mutilated form: I believe it would probably be okay to have published it in full with commentary, but I won't risk it.)

The first thing you'll notice is that it's reasonably tightly subbed (the head is mine, btw). That's because I'm a professional. Whatever my personal views, I do not allow them to intrude on my work, and I give the same care to Ms Novak's nonsense as I would to something closer to my own views.

With ... has engineered a great escape for the Australian economy.

At least in the short term, one would have to allow that the Australian economy seems to have escaped the worst of the global recession. Now, of course, Ms Novak does not want to credit the Australian government for this, but I feel she would have been first in the queue to claim it was responsible were we to have suffered a severe recession.

My view is that applying stimulus was the correct move, and the good economic results bear this out. That's not to say that there are no downsides to the stimulus, nor that the government's economic policy is entirely satisfactory. But I think it was a lot better than some of the alternatives. I note that the Institute of Public Affairs, which Ms Novak works for, suggested a large tax cut rather than stimulus, and promotes austerity. These measures are favoured by most rightwing parties the world round, and I think we can be thankful that few of them were in power in the major economies. Rightwingers think tax cuts are the solution to everything, but you have to consider that in a world economy whose major problem was a deficit in demand -- spending -- giving more money to the agents who were refusing to spend does not seem a particularly smart idea. Of course, Australia, like most Western nations, has tried a tax cut as well as stimulus: the money it handed me and my family was in effect a tax cut. But I rather think Ms Novak believes that that money should instead have been handed to the rich. (I won't put words into her mouth though.)

As for austerity, well, that was tried in the Great Depression, and was largely responsible for the "Great" part of that name, and as though to prove that history does repeat itself, in Japan after its banking crisis, which resulted in economic times so bad Japan calls them the "Lost Decade".

I do not expect Ms Novak to know much economics though. She has elsewhere repeated the canard that the American financial crisis was caused by President Clinton's forcing reluctant banks to lend to poor blacks. While I would agree with her that the Clinton administration was irresponsible in its regulation of the finance industry, the crisis was caused by a collapsing asset bubble, whose inflation was barely affected, let alone caused, by community schemes such as that blamed by the American right, desperate not to allow the finger to be pointed where it ought to be: irresponsible, greedy lenders and successive governments that encouraged that greed, undermining the soundness of US financial regulation. My understanding -- limited, I confess -- of the Australian banking sector is that it is more tightly regulated, and I take it to be a consequence that Australian banks did not suffer as badly as others.

I will touch on a couple of fundamental errors in economics that Ms Novak makes below.

Retail sales remain buoyant, as they have been for 15 years

I cannot speak for the past 15 years, but retail sales are not buoyant. The July figures showed another decline.

and surveys ... expenditure measure of gross domestic product has increased for the past two quarters.

It's slightly confusing to describe GDP as an "expenditure measure" (although it is), but I would not have been permitted to recast this. We were recently sent an email telling us not to rewrite columnists, and I didn't have either the time or the access to Ms Novak to discuss a reformulation.

For the layperson, GDP is best understood as a measure of the productivity of an economy, and stating it that way would make it clearer why it is considered it important that it not fall.

... a body that includes an Australian government appointee.

The insinuation here is quite incredible: that the OECD only congratulated the government because of a Rudd fifth columnist. The subordinate clause in this sentence should have been stricken, and in anything approaching a neutral newspaper, it would have been.

Of course, anything approaching a neutral newspaper would not be publishing yet another comment piece by a neoliberal extremist. This is not the first I've subbed, and not even the craziest.

However ... a beneficial impact on economic growth?

Well, let's be honest, they give you a pretty broad hint. If economic growth is measured by increase in GDP, and GDP has as a component government spending, then if the government increases spending and GDP increases, perhaps it is reasonable to suggest causation?

Indeed, no serious economist, no matter their ideology, would care to debate that. (Actually, on reflection, I should note that some "serious" economists actually do debate that, but they can only do so by indulging in economics errors that you wouldn't make if you paid attention in a Year 10 class.) It's clearly the case. What you might argue is the degree of benefit and whether other measures may have brought more benefit. To suggest that the stimulus did not bring growth is, well, let's just say it can only be intended to fool the rubes, because Ms Novak cannot expect to be taken seriously by anyone with even a bit of a clue.

There are some grounds...

Okay. So we've outlined the benefits of the stimulus and now we're going to give grounds for discounting them. Fair enough.

I enjoyed Ms Novak's reference to "irrational exuberance". Given that this, on the part of the market, is the root cause of the crisis, it's deliciously cheeky to accuse Rudd of it.

Let's ... take from your wallet $3636. ...

Two things struck me when I read this and the following par. First, and most importantly, the government gave many of us much more than $900. I know I got more. Perhaps Ms Novak is too rich to have benefited as much as some, or does not have children. There are reasons the government targeted families with children, of course, and we could argue the merit of those reasons. But "boo hoo" is not in itself a sound argument, we should note. Second, the government has not taken $3636 from anyone, at least not yet.

Ms Novak frames this as though the government has committed highway robbery. Again, this can only be for the benefit of the rubes. It may be that we end up paying the money back in full, with interest (and this aspect of Ms Novak's thesis has at least some tiny bit of merit, although I'm sorry to say, not much, because it is simply the case that were we to allow our economy to slide into depression, the cost to us would be much, much more than 3K a head; but let's discuss that when we get to it).

I immediately give you back $900 ...

I then spend $2227 of your money on things that take my fancy.

Here is the thing. What caused the global recession? I don't mean the ultimate causes: the asset bubble or the poor blacks' buying houses, whichever you take it to be. I mean, why was there a recession?

No one was spending money.

That's what a recession is. If GDP is a measure of expenditure, and it falls, this is equivalent to saying there isn't enough money being spent. Let's not get into a lesson in economics on why this is thought to be a bad thing. We'll agree that it is. I am pretty sure that Ms Novak would not argue that a fall in GDP is a good thing for Australia.

In effect, recessions are caused by falls in demand. Less demand, less need for production; less need for production, less need for people to do the producing.

So we need someone to spend money. The idea behind a stimulus is that the government steps into the breach and keeps the economy from faltering. We can argue, if we must, over whether there are other ways to increase spending (and if we must, we will be led to conclude that those other ways are less effective than government spending, which has been shown so often you'd think even the looniest rightards would just give up and concede it), but you just cannot expect that you could do nothing at all and everything would work out fine.

This is a fallacy in economics as it is in other areas of life. Doing nothing is doing something: it is refusing to take all the other options you could take.

Some lobbyist ... (let's call it what it is, a tax)

Well, let's not! You could, if you chose, say that the government had made you give it a loan, but it hasn't taxed you and it's quite ridiculous to suggest it has.

It should imply taxation. I mean, let's get this clear: the government is going to have to pay for its spending, and it's very unlikely that increased revenues in a recovery will cover it, although that is not impossible (I will also allow that it may not be desirable that it should). There is no reason that the government should not tax those who benefit most from a strengthening economy, particularly if they are not using their money as productively as, say, I would. The assumption that the very wealthy use their riches productively ought to be challenged, and given that they benefited most from the asset bubble and its associated wealth production, it is not unreasonable that they should pay for its outcome.

I do not expect Ms Novak to agree. She is not paid to think that the wealthy should pay for anything. Far from it.

towards housing insulation batts would somehow save the Earth.

Ms Novak has some sort of issue with insulation batts.

And school gyms. (I am for both, on the whole. I think reducing the amount of energy we consume is a good idea, although my understanding is that the IPA is a global warming denying institution -- my apologies if this has been misreported -- so possibly Ms Novak thinks that we should not concern ourselves with that. I also think school gyms are a good idea because a healthy body promotes a healthy mind. Perhaps if Australians did more exercise, they would not write turgid shit like this?)

I think we should point two things out though. First, we can argue that the government should attempt to spend its money in the most productive manner. I would agree with Ms Novak on this score in general terms. By all means, let's scrutinise the stimulus spending and insist that it does the job it's supposed to. I'm all for that. But it should spend it, and ultimately it does not matter what it spends it on. One could employ men to dig ditches and that would have the desired effect. The productive use of our money is an added extra in the stimulus, not a sine qua non. Second, Ms Novak seems extraordinarily not to understand that money is not destroyed when it is spent! The housing batt people are not going to burn it, Julie! They are going to pay their people with it, and those people will go and buy other things. That's how economies work.

The purpose of the stimulus is to create demand for things. It doesn't really matter what you demand, so long as you ask for something. Then the economy will produce that something: be it batts, gyms, tanks, ponies. And the people who are engaged in producing it will have jobs (and Julie, note, jobs are on the whole fungible -- in general terms it doesn't matter to GDP what people do so long as they do something). They will spend money in shops, and the people working in the shops will spend money on this that and the other, and the economy will continue to spin. That's the point.

Yes, it's nice if we get some roads and the like out of it. If Ms Novak had spent these words arguing that we should more tightly focus the stimulus on infrastructure and more tightly control costs so that we got more for our money, I would not have said she wrote screeching rubbish. I might not have agreed but at least she would be arguing about what we should do with the stimulus money, not, horrors!, arguing incoherently that we should not have it.

I forgot to mention at the outset that 14 out of every dollar I spend is on my own administration costs.

You would imagine, reading this, that the government pays its "administration costs" by building a bonfire and burning 50-buck notes. Luckily for us, and for Ms Novak herself, who it turns out was responsible for some of the government's "administration costs", it doesn't. It pays public servants.

Now you may not believe public servants do anything much productive, and for sure, when I worked at the Department of Education, half the people there didn't seem to be doing anything at all but their money is as good as anyone else's. When Mr Public Officer buys a schooner of VB, he pays the same money as Mr Factory Worker. And at least the element of cost that he represents is turned into value for the brewery, which is able to pay its own factory workers with it.

While this scenario ... to bolster a market economy.

Erm no. It doesn't even discuss how a stimulus does or doesn't bolster an economy! It completely avoids that question.

Again, let's point this out, just in case anyone has actually read all this and not got it: the stimulus bolsters the economy by providing demand that the economy then meets. In meeting the demand, the economy must produce goods and services: whether they be batts, schooners of VB or people working in little offices inventing costs for school gyms out of thin air.

Whether other methods could produce this demand, whether the right areas of the economy are stimulated, whether the amount was too much, too little or just right, these are all questions that could be asked. None of them was though.

Because money trees do not exist

It's funny that Ms Novak said this, because at this point I was of the belief that she did think that there were money trees.

Here's a thing. Apples grow on trees, as we all know. And when you consume an apple, it is gone. It is a scarce resource.

Money does not grow on trees, as we all know. But when you consume money, it is not gone. It is merely passed on. It is not a scarce resource in the same way an apple is.

Yes, I am saying you must compare apples with apples!

and most governments recognise that printing new money simply stokes inflation ... someplace else.

The first part of this sentence is incorrect as a matter of fact. The problem word is "simply". I will not digress further into the weeds of economics, and will simply allow that the government cannot pay back its stimulus by printing money, which is true.

It will have to get the money from some place else. But where?

We have discussed one option earlier, but we don't need to soak the rich for all of it. Why not?

Consider a simple model of what a government does in the economy. Money circulates in the economy -- let's imagine that each dollar does a circuit of an actual circle -- and at points in that circle, the government dips in and takes out some dollars. At other points, it puts dollars back in. Let's say the government takes a fixed percentage of the dollars (it doesn't, of course, because it adjusts its take year on year, but the adjustments can be quite fine).

If you have a recession, the amount of money going round that circle becomes less, and the government cannot take enough out to cover what it wants to put in. Its revenues fall but it's hard to cut its spending -- particularly bearing in mind that recessions are caused by agents in the economy not spending enough!

But if you have a boom, the amount of money going round that circle becomes more, and the government's take increases to more than its spending. Now it is also an agent in an economy that has enough agents that are spending.

Do you see? What a miracle! Increased economic activity allows the government to cover its borrowing. By not allowing the economy to stagnate, the government brings forward the recovery, which will increase its revenues. So it borrows today and pays back tomorrow.

That's the plan, anyway. I am willing to entertain Ms Novak's riposte to this, which will be that the government will then extract money that could be used for private investment. This is true, but private investment will only happen if there is demand for it. Ms Novak would have it that the government should decrease its tax take in times of plenty, so that the money can be invested productively (ignoring again that the government is not actually going to burn the money it takes in taxes!), but is not willing to accept that the times of plenty are, in part, a result of the borrowing that the government must now cover. This is the nub of it: the economy must climb from some point or another to reach this time of plenty. If we allow it to collapse into recession, that climb is both longer and slower. Sure, when we get there, we will have more spending money, but we are not getting there any time soon. Ms Novak, I believe, will have it that the peak of those good times will be lower for the drag of taxation. But she will have us live in an economy that does not demand the investment she thinks the government is preventing.

Someone always ... would otherwise be the case.

Again, this would only be true if the government did not spend, did not invest, did not do any economic activities. It would be true that the economic pie would be smaller if the government did less with its money than you or me, but I see nothing in this commentary or in Ms Novak's collected works that suggests she can argue that it does. This is a fierce battleground in economics, to be sure, and I am not willing to take it on here given that Ms Novak simply assumed her side of it, rather than stating its merits.

I will leave the rest, because I have spent too long on this already, bar saying that this:

On the spending side, the scenario above illustrates clearly that government is merely in the business of shuffling funds from the private sector into activities it perceives to be beneficial.

is true, and the government would argue that it is in the business of doing things that are beneficial, and I would agree with it. I don't believe the rich are all that interested in benefiting me at all, and certainly investing their money in rent seeking doesn't help me.

and this:

However, what is overlooked is the economy-wide perspective suggesting that economic activity and jobs will be lost in other industries that endured a tax burden instead. More pink batts or school gyms, and less of everything else.

is not true if the people who make batts are willing to buy other goods, which they are.

Here is something the right pretends not to understand. If I tax you at 20% and you earn 100 units, I take 20, you keep 80. If you earn 200 units, your "tax burden" is 40, double, but you keep 160, also double. If my actions increase your ability to make money, you gain. Not the whole of the amount of the increase, but a lot of it.

We should focus on arguing whether the government increases the amount that you gain, not on what you must pay it for doing so. And we allowed at the beginning of this piece that the government's actions have helped us avoid a recession that would cause your 100 units to become 90 units!

It's not rocket science. My mum could understand that.

and this:
By refusing to withdraw its stimulus, the Rudd Government is looking to portray itself as the economic Pied Piper right up to the next election, but continuation of the stimulus will merely direct scarce resources to less productive uses.

simply repeats what she has been suggesting, that money is scarce in the way apples are, and that creating demand is not "productive". She has not shown either to be the case. Indeed, the meat of her commentary was simply the suggestion that the government is taking 3K from everyone to spend on pink batts, and that's bad. Well, to be honest, if no one wants anything else, if no one will spend money on anything else, well, it's a good thing the government wants pink batts. It will keep us afloat until we do want other things.

And you'll note, if you read the entire commentary, as I urge you to do, that Ms Novak at no point suggests what would be more "productive" than making pink batts. You would think that they are just things the government will be burning on the same bonfire as its "administrative costs".

Rather me than Jay

I feel bad that Mrs Zen will not now be able to have the holidays I promised her, the daytrips that she was excited about researching and booking.

Because I did a stupid thing, a moment's inattention, and was foolish enough to write something mean about someone horrible enough to hurt me and everyone in my life for it (although of course I didn't know that Julie Novak, or the Institute of Public Affairs, whichever caused me to lose my job, was actually small enough to want me to suffer that for writing something that no more than five people would ever have read -- and none would have cared about), Mrs Zen will be made unhappy. I feel sorry for that. She has not deserved her life. People are what they are. They do what they are capable of and sometimes that disappoints, or even angers, us, but they are still constrained by the limits of their selves.

I wonder what Ms Novak would say to Mrs Zen. She probably feels nothing more than vindication and would express that to her. How dare a nobody smear her on the web -- a "public forum" as Anna Reynolds, the woman who sacked me, put it, as pompously as I think only a corporate executive could? Of course, I am used to that "public forum" -- which is, all in all, nothing of the sort: it is accessible to the public but it is not broadcast, and, frankly, this blog isn't intended to be part of any wider debate -- and the rules that tend to govern it. I've been smeared dozens of times, and I don't mind it. I respond in kind and everyone enjoys themselves immensely.

I am reminded of a guy whose name I have forgotten. He used to post in the writing newsgroups. He wasn't very good at the combat prose that gained you kudos there. Jay something? Really, I can't remember. So he developed a new tactic: he outed people who flamed him. He would publish their names, their addresses, their telephone numbers. How sad. He had been so thoroughly defeated in the marketplace of ideas that he had to resort to that.

In my world, there is no worse thing than to be Jay something. I don't have economic power; I don't have influence, no cushy sinecure at a thinktank, no managing editorship at a newspaper; I don't even have an actual job. But I don't need to bring a knife to a battle of wits. I'm glad about that. I'd rather be me than Jay.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

About blogging about work

I realise of course that I shouldn't talk about work (and I'm not going to make a habit of it) because there's a spate recently of people getting victimised because they have blogged about their jobs and some turd has found it necessary to hunt them down. I am only a casual at the paper and if some humourless toad was to get upset that I laugh at their story, their headline, their column, I could pay a price for that. (And I'm sorry to say, there is no shortage of humourless toads in this country. I am sure there are funloving great people too, but they don't live around here.)

I noticed that earlier today someone had searched for the "Institute of Public Affairs" and a post I'd made about the paper had come up at the top of the search (the blogs are not ranked on how interesting or funny they are, sadly, but on how recently they have excoriated the clowns at the IPA). I don't know whether it was someone curious what's being said about that particular "thinktank" (most likely given the provenance of the hits) or someone from the thinktank itself, checking to see whether there is something they can get outraged about (because, after all, that's what rightards do: get outraged about basically nothing so that they can get up a head of steam that will allow them to make other people's lives just a tad more shitty so they can feel good about themselves). And I'm pretty easily identifiable from the post -- my name is in the system on the story. It's not by any means the first time that I've written something about my work that could backfire on me though. It's just one of those things bloggers have to accept is a possibility if they ever say anything about their work -- and how can you not if you blog about your life?

There are already five or six people I wouldn't like to read this blog (I won't say who they are but it's reasonably obvious), and the only reason I don't cover my tracks more carefully is that it's so unlikely they'll find it, or realise who I am from whatever brief contact they do make with it.

But I also have a self-destructive urge that makes me prize brazenness over caution.

I am nervous though when I see Australian IPs, particularly if they come back for repeated visits. If I had my way, Australian residents would oblige me by emailing or commenting to let me know who they are (and I thank Our man in Canberra for doing precisely that). Actually, if I truly had my way, I'd exclude Australians, bar one, from reading it. They're not going to like it anyway. I never watch terrestrial telly, so I don't have opinions about MasterChef or Rover, or whatever, and I don't care for the sports. So that's culture out, and the politics is grindingly boring. The Liberals make the Tories look like moderates, and Labor out-New Labours New Labour. Both are collections of tedious managerialists who would bore your average accountant to sleep.

So anyway, I can't live in fear, and I don't. I write whatever I want to and I'm not going to stop, within the limits that I already have (and yes, I do have limits; I know it's hard to believe). But whining about how bad the Courier-Mail is would soon get tedious (even more tedious than the usual content) because once you've said it's a provincial newspaper that focuses on the concerns of the right-leaning middle class, most readers have formed an impression that will be wholly accurate. And I have other things to write about: so let's do that.

UPDATE: So I was right. The woman in question, Julie Novak, is a humourless toad. Instead of writing to me to say that she was upset about what I had written for my five readers, she got me sacked.

I was really content with my job. I don't like the politics of the newspaper, but I'm a professional and I did a professional job there. But they are cowards, I'm afraid. The woman didn't like what I wrote, rang up and demanded I got sacked, and I got sacked. Now I will really struggle to feed my children because I said Julie Novak wrote screeching rubbish. Which she did.

At the paper

I am soooooooooooooooo bored today. Tuesday is my least favourite day here. It goes very slowly. It's also the day I sub a lot of the columns, and they suck. The Courier-Mail is a very rightwing paper and it's what you could call a "knocking" paper. It just relentlessly bashes everything and everybody. It appeals to the miserable middle classes, who spend their entire lives worried about being robbed, mostly by people at the margins: blacks, teens, foreigners. It's not fond of the government (which is currently formed by the centre-right Labor party at both national and state level) and it spends a lot of its time inventing scandals to be outraged about.
Not that the politicians here aren't corrupt, but the Mail insists on endlessly blathering about minor rorts that no one in their right mind would care about (much like the "expenses scandal" in the UK, which was just a way to express public rage at politicians). Yesterday's front-page story, I shit you not, was about coppers using a police van to go to a drinks party, and running nude through a suburban street -- presumably as some kind of weird pig ritual, I don't know (at least it made a change from endless stories about rugby league). No one sane could read the Courier-Mail without going "don't give a fuck about that" on every page.
The columnists are the worst of it though. The humourists are relentlessly unfunny and the wowsers moralise sternly while considering facts as bothersome, and as useful, as mosquitoes. I am subbing a column at the moment by Julie Novak, a rightard from the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, which is generously dubbed a thinktank -- although Ms Novak shows no sign of thinking in her incoherent screeching about how we're all going to be taxed to pay for the stimulus, which has allowed Australia to avoid recession, a triumph for Prime Minister Rudd that the right resents so much it's choking on it. I have read the column three times and I still don't see the "argument" she is making. Like so many rightists, all she has to say is "taxes are bad". Yeah, we know, and the more you earn, the worse you think they are. We all think that, Julie, but some of us are glad to have schools, hospitals and roads, and we don't even mind the occasional handout to the indolent and darkskinned. Fuck it, we're all in it together, hey?
That sentiment is lost on Ms Novak and her like, of course. They see themselves as islands, and others are entirely separate entities from them, who just want to suck the dollars from their wallets. Ms Novak ignores that without the despised masses, the corporations that fund her salary would not have the income she resents Rudd taxing. They are not "creating wealth" in a vacuum. They are making it because they exploit us. We are, despite what Ms Novak thinks, in it together. Without us, they are nothing. We, on the other hand, probably could live without them. And her. Because I may only be helping produce a newspaper, but I'm good for something, whereas all she's producing is hot air.

UPDATE: Actually, I say the columnists are the worst, but I don't think they actually are. I think the executives are worse. I understand the bind they are in though, truly. They probably agree with most of what I say above (although of course it was a bit strongly worded -- however, how should I know that they would ever read it? my blog literally has five readers and they all know I go off a bit when the wind is in my sails: it's fun! It's not a serious critique of their goddamned paper, which is just what it is: a rightleaning provincial paper that does what papers of that type do. But they are stuck with it. If you want to progress, you have to pursue a party line. And grovelling to advertisers (and columnists) is part of the game -- I have to be honest, if they had asked me to withdraw my post and apologise to Ms Novak, as decent people would have done, I would have done it: as I say, I write to amuse myself and my few readers, not to upset Anna Reynolds. But my idea of decency and theirs, like mine and Ms Novak's, differ. I would also have apologised for writing it in work time. I was feeling bored and I actually emailed it in. I'm sure that they never use office resources for anything but company business, hey?

Monday, September 21, 2009


My right index finger has swollen up like a balloon. I have no idea why. I woke up this morning and it was livid and purple.

It feels odd that people will read this long after the pus (yes, sorry, there was pus -- in a shade of green that might look nice in a t-shirt, but you don't want leaking from above your nail) has gone and the finger is back to normal. Some poor soul will doubtless searhc for "index finger" or "balloon purple" or who knows what and will be served the sorry tale of my swollen digit.

"Digit." Fuck but that word makes me laugh. My sister J had a longtime bf who was a big fan of Lock, stock and two smoking barrels and, a Cockney himself, would delight in quoting that anyone who crossed him would lose a digit. Now I can't see that word without hearing his voice.

J has had few boyfriends, but each has been of a type, I think: mummy's boys. When she was, I'm not sure, 16, I think, she attempted to scandalise our parents by moving her bf, N, into her bedroom in their house. They were resolutely unfazed though and treated him like a second son. A first one, really, because they were going through a phase of treating me like shit.

N died though (after they had split; she wasn't the cause or anything). I wondered how it must feel for J to have had a bf die like that. I've never known it, although I once lied to a gf that an ex had had a fatal car accident to excuse some other thing I did. I will leave it to you to imagine what I could possibly have done that I needed to be bereaved to excuse it.

J was cut up about it. She never felt that her relationship with N was resolved -- his mother was involved somehow in their split. The details are hazy. But I know she felt she had lost something because there was a talk with N that she had never had. I wonder though whether a thinking person must always be left with the feeling that they lack resolution. Our lives have so many possibilities, so many stories that they could reveal; we are bound to wonder what some of them may have held for us. The sadness in my life is, or has been, that those possibilities have narrowed to a small set of unhappy endings, so that I have forgotten that I can at least try to enjoy the book before I get to the final chapter. And there are other things to resolve: I still need to publish a book, to play poker professionally, to live in Siena, to sit in my walled garden at peace with myself and the world. N's death robbed J of the possibility of resolution: I need to take care not to rob myself of it from sheer cowardice, indolence and fear.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let me tell you

Let me tell you about her voice. Her voice is like honey when I am troubled; it eases the splinters of my mind. Let me tell you how it thrills me when she says my name; how she makes the word I've hated into a mantra that uplifts me.

Let me tell you about her laugh. Her laugh is like a gentle waterfall; tumbling and free. When I can make her laugh, I revel in it. And I won't ever make her cry.

Let me tell you about her smile. I can't tell you about her smile. Even my words have limits. How can a smile have captured sunshine? How can gold be not a thing you wear but a thing you entail? And her smile is forever golden to me; I would pay all I have to make her smile, but I have so little, only the precious words that run dry when I think how to say, I love her smile.

Let me tell you about my dream. We are together on a warm afternoon and I can feel her hot skin next to mine. Somehow I have become beautiful because I am beautiful in her eyes, and she is beautiful in mine. We are laughing together, relaxed and unhurried. We have nowhere to be, nothing to do but lie in the warmth of each other's laughter.

I will never stop loving her. No court can bid me; no human law compel. I will never stop dreaming I am beautiful in her eyes, and she will forever be beautiful in mine.

My Friday mix

So this is one of my favourite times in my life: we are in the car driving to Coorparoo to get chips for the kids on a Friday night. They are excited, glad to have finished their week and happy that they will soon be sharing a can of fizzy drink, chips and scallops (potato scallops--they are all three vegetarians).

I play a CD in the car that I made earlier. It's a mix of stuff that is moving me this week or at least felt like it might be nice to play in the car this afternoon and in the next few days.

So I lead off with Plans by Dinosaur Jr. If you like Dinosaur Jr, you're going to like the new album Farm. Many thought previous work Beyond was a return to form, but this is better. It has all the old Dinosaur trademarks: Lou and Murph mesh to make an arsemoving (well, arsetwitching, I don't think anyone actually has ever moved to Dinosaur Jr) rhythm section, J Mascis's languid, intricate guitar sings and he murmurs something or other about something or other. Plans is the standout for me: everything is in its right place and this is more emotional than you'd expect from anything that could even feasibly be described as grunge (we are not talking about the entirely faked emoting of the likes of Pearl Jam; this is genuinely affecting and wonderful music).

I was talking to someone earlier today about why I think this is superior to Pink, who she likes.

The thing is, Pink is fungible.

She has ability but so do thousands of other women like her. She doesn't contribute much to it but looks and the ability to fake the right attitude. I know those things have their value, but it's just an act. It doesn't mean it's not an enjoyable act -- and it's great that you enjoy it.

But Pink could be replaced easily by another Pink. J Mascis is not replaceable. Lots of women pout and dance like Pink. No one plays the guitar like J, and his lazy, touching love songs are deeper than anything anyone would ask Pink to do.

Next up is London belongs to me by St Etienne. This is the sound of good times in my home city (well, where else would be? Here? Don't make me laugh). It is wistful and gorgeous, and with the passing of time, it sounds like a warm memory of youth.

I also put on I'm a lady by Santogold. I'm not sure she's my cup of tea, but I like the mix she did with Diplo to promote the album. Her own work is more indie than the crossover style that the Top ranking mix uses, but I'm a lady works in both idioms. She was much hyped a couple of years back, but I think that she'd need to choose either to go more for the hybrid electropop style that is in vogue recently or more for the coffee-table end of things, if she was to become as big as, say, Pink.

Malcolm Middleton is half of Arab Strap and his own music bears comparison with them. If you know the Strap and are expecting Middleton to indulge in miserable bastid kitchen sink minidramas, you are not going to be disappointed. Solemn thirsty has offkilter martial drums and a sweet guitar lick, plus a guest vocalist (who, I don't know) whose sweet Scottish accent gives me what our American cousins might describe as wood. (Yeah, I know, it doesn't take much; I'm still virile, ladies!)

Equally downbeat, but more tender, is Trashing days by the Notwist. Germans are most renowned in my world for making pumping techo (which they're very good at) and hilariously bad new wave. But this is something quite different: a gentle technopop that blends heart-on-your-sleeve emotion with sweet melodies. Trashing days is a particular favourite of mine: as far as I can tell, it's about the horror of living in a small town when you are a sensitive boy, which I know about all too well. If you like your music lovely and fragile, you may like this.

I included a couple by the XX, who I mentioned a few days ago. They make restrained but soulful pop, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The chick has a huge voice in the Tracey Thorn line and the guy does a smoochy jazz voice, which complements her some. The music is minimal, suggestive but not overwhelming. But that would only make them Everything But the Girl crossed with Young Marble Giants, amirite? Yes, but these components are put to good use in smartly turned little pop masterpieces. Crystallised and Shelter are as good as anything the aforesaid YMG did, and that's high praise, in case you're not aware -- in indie circles, YMG are up there with the Smiths and Gang of Four and bands of that calibre.

So I needed a Beatles track, because I've been enjoying them a lot recently. I could have gone for I feel fine, which is as good an example of "Merseybeat" as was ever made, or Here there everywhere, probably my favourite Beatles song (and perversely a McCartney song, whereas I'm much more of a Lennon man), or perhaps the wonderful A day in the life, or even You've got to hide your love away, which seems apt. But I went for Across the universe, because it seems to be playing in my head all the time. It is the soundtrack of my love story, or some of the good parts of it anyway. And of course it's a brilliant piece of pop, which the Beatles did as much as anyone to create as an expressive and profound form of music.

Having taken it down, you gots to bring it up, and I don't do buildup, I just floor it. Next I have the On the road to Paris version of Pogo by Digitalism. It's an instrumental version of Digitalism's standout electro belter. I could imagine getting down to this, actually, if I had someone I wanted to dance with.

After that is Stockholm syndrome by Yo La Tengo. I'm sure I've mentioned before how much I love this song. It speaks to me in a way few songs do, but I don't know whether it's the lilting melody, the sweet, broken vocals or simply its beautiful lyrics:

No, don't warn me
I know it's wrong, but I swear it won't take long
And I know, you know,
It makes me sigh; I do believe in love

Another season, but the same old feelings
Another reason could be
I'm tired of aching, summer's what you make it
But I'll believe what I want to believe

Which does make me sigh.

Because I have not been able to find Husker Du's version of Ticket to ride, which they did for the NME, and P has not been around much and I can't bug her to get it for me from Soulseek, I plumped for their cover of Love is all around. If you don't know it, it's the Mary Tyler Moore Theme. Yes, really.

Then there is JJ. I went for the sway and drive of the quasi-Balearic My life, my swag, because it is generous and uplifting. There's a whole Scandy thing going on right now, a reinvention of pop, summery and sweet, made by people who have have imbibed dance music, understand it and can use it as part of a pop sensibility that is not dance (but I guess it's danceable) but is not the kind of pap that Hollywood churns out ten to the dozen (sorry Pink fans, but yes, we do mean your favourite's entire output).

So I wrap up with Love by Lennon. Because love is all, and he knew it, and if you know it too, you can sing along and lose yourself in a world that never has existed and never will outside our dreams. But what dreams!

I doubt this (rather dull and too long) post has excited anyone into a massive desire to hear my Friday mix, but you never know. If you do feel so moved, it's available here. (If copyright holders should stumble across this and have a huge problem with me promoting their music to my three readers, contact me at the email addy top right and who knows, maybe I won't just tell you to fuck off.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Deep in my dreaming sleep, I am touching her, and she unfolds underneath my fingers. When I wake she will be lost, gone forever, and I do not want to see the day.

Deep in my sleep, I am kissing her, and she parts like waves under my soft tongue. What words this tongue would say if it knew human speech, but outside this dream, I am struck dumb, and there are no words I can use to make her mine.

As the sun comes, I am paralysed, inert, drained like a battery you used and cast aside, once powerful and alive, now just a shell of metal, filled with useless acid, dead to the world.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dr Zen has yet another "grown-up" conversation

So Mrs Zen says, when we come back in two years.
And I'm like wtf, you're not doing this again. There is no fucking way we're coming back in two years.
So I have to live apart from my family? she is saying. As though that was actually a big deal and I didn't have a family of my own, which I say to her, but you have family there too. Our children have family there too.
So I'm like, but look, in June next year I'll have 30K Australian and the 3K my dad has given me. That's a ton of money and it will still be hard. From what fucking pile of fairy dust am I pulling the equivalent of another 30K in two years?

She doesn't say anything.

No, I am saying, you don't think you need 30K because you think we will just move back to this house.

And I'm thinking, this is who you are, what you do, you don't listen, don't care.

We are never doing that, I'm saying. Are you fucking crazy? I mean, there's a chance we'll move back to another Australian city, but there's like a one percent chance I would ever agree to live in Brisbane again and absolutely zero chance that I would live in this house.

My cage. The place where I lost my mind. Where I became unmanned. Yeah right.

I'm like, you seriously need to think your options over. I knew you would do this if I gave it more time, but I think you need to do that. Because there is no fucking way I am committing to coming back in two years. I'll allow it's a possibility but I'm not saying ever that we're doing that.

She says, but you fucking hate me and you want me to give up my family. And I'm thinking, I don't really do hating people, and that's all I can think about that.

But I say, you can blame me as much as you like but it's you that isn't bothering, won't try. Which is all true. I'm not perfect but I didn't want this and would, at any point, have fixed it if she had been willing.

She says, you are living some sort of fantasy. Which is truer than she thinks, but I say, yes, I am living in a fantasy. I fantasise each day that this will be the day you wake the fuck up and realise you are 42 and not 12.

But it will never happen.

Ugh, women! I know you'll never do rational thought but for fuck's sake, can you at least try to get in touch with reality? I don't hate anybody here. I am sorry for the wrong I have done Mrs Zen: she has given up a lot of her life for a man who didn't deserve her to give up her life. But it's done. The task is not to gouge away at me in the hope I will agree that I am to blame for how shit she feels -- I am not to blame and I will not agree to give up every shred of happiness I have to assuage her anger about how her fairy tale turned to shit. The task is to maintain a liveable life for the sake of three people who have harmed no one and need, deserve, two whole people to be their parents. I want that. I'm trying to make it happen, but you know what? The tango really is fucking hard when only one of you is dancing.

Pretty thighs, pretty eyes

So I am sitting on the bus on the way to town and a young woman gets on and sits opposite from me. I want to catch her eye and smile, because I am trying to do the "I am friendly" look, rather than scowl the whole time, but it's probably a good thing I don't manage it, because "I am friendly" and "I am a psycho killer" are not readily distinguishable.

I am just idly eyeing her, as men do then they have nothing occupying their thoughts and there is something pretty to look at, and I'm struck by her thigh, because she has crossed her legs and summer is coming so her skirt is short. She has a lot of thigh but I like that. I'm not keen on skinny women: my idea of beauty is healthiness. I like women who glow with wellbeing. If you're too thin, you look sickly to me. Men seem to be obsessed over childlike women -- but give me a ripened, radiant grown woman any time and you can keep your stick-thin consumptives.

I stop looking at her because there's a point at which idle gaze becomes dirty old man's leer. And I'm feeling old today. The other day, I went for a skin cancer check. The skin guy ran a light over me. That's a sign of ageing, he said. That rash is just age spots, he said. That mole? Just age.

So I'm not dying of skin cancer. I'm dying of age.

And I found myself being tested again this morning: this time my eyes, because I have been trying out some contact lenses. The optometrist squirted some dye into my eyes and peered into them.

Your eyes are good, she said.

Thanks, I said. I had not realised she wasn't paying me a compliment. But I have pretty eyes, everyone says so, which is why I am returning to wearing contacts. I want to catch the eye of women on the bus, and smile like a psycho killer, because I feel like I have withered into a shell and that's no good.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Dear you

I want to write for you some of the poetry that sings inside me just because you're you. I want to say simple words that seem enormous enough to encompass love, as though I could pin down the million quicksilver emotions that love is to me.

I want to tell you that for all these years, I have had a tiny, untrammelled joy when I heard your name, that the small thoughts of you that have entered my life have seemed bright rays of sunshine in storms, and caresses when I have known calm.

I am fractured and broken, ugly and scarred. I am only fragments of a man but you are the warm glue that pours into my cracks and makes me feel for a moment whole, and I can dream that wholeness is a possibility. I am cast down, always weeping, and you are a cloth that mops up the tears and you raise me up. You have made me believe I am big enough to be loved, that enough remains, despite the blows of fate and the humblings of a life that bites, scratches and tears at me, that you can find good.

How beautiful you are! I could, if you would permit it, sit and watch you for hours. I would kiss you endlessly and never think of the hours that passed. I find you beautiful in every way. You were luscious when we were young together -- juicy and fresh, so sweet to the taste -- and you have ripened into rare gold. I have never wanted anyone as much as I want you. It is like someone parched my throat and now you are the only drink that will quell my thirst.

The song I sing will say you are beautiful, and I defy the world to condemn me for saying so. I defy the world to condemn me for loving you. What do they know, unless they know how it has been for you to warm me? You are the pear in my tree, the sweet fruit that life has brought forth. Who could not love you?

This is the song I sing about the love of my life.

I want them to write it, inscribe it, cast it in lead; I want to live a life that glorifies me simply so you can be glorified too. I want them to write in my book that he did what he could, that he tried and failed, maybe, but tried all the same, and he loved you. I want that written in my book; settle it there now and it will never be scrubbed out.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Broken pictures

Sometimes you wake up and realise you are not who you thought you were, to the extent that being who you thought you were would mean pretending. It happened to me. I thought I was decent, loyal, reliable. And mostly I am, but mostly is not black and white. I thought I could be described in straight lines, but I found out I am more complicated than that.

I am better off though, or I will be, if I ever swim out of this rough sea and reach dry land. I think I am wiser for it. I have stopped wanting to hurt myself for falling short, and started to think about how I can build on the truth to make myself into someone I can admire.

I had a picture of myself that was flawed, and it was painful to try to make the world, and how I acted within it, fit that picture. For instance, I thought I would make a good father. I would learn from my own father's mistakes and I would do a good job of it. Well no. I am not very good at it. I'm lazy and inattentive, easily distracted, sometimes unable to take the positive approach that I know is right and occasionally unwilling to make the sacrifices that their long-term security demands.

But I do what I can within my limitations and I am able to accept that that is not going to make me wonderdad. But shouldn't I forgive myself for that? I forgive others for their failings. If I know they are doing what they are able, I am content to consider they are good people for it. I think when you have a certain view of morality, which I had and to some extent do have, it's easy to refuse yourself the standards you would readily allow others. You believe you have to be better so that you are able to consider yourself unique, important.

I like to think that I am good at helping others accept that they are not describable with a pencil sketch, that they are rather variegated, and if they can only accept what they consist of and are capable of, they will love themselves more for the beautifully coloured mess they are than the sharply defined lines they aim to make their reflection. But I rarely succeed. We like to imagine that underneath the splodges of rainbow are thin graphite lines that are the outline of who we really are. And then we start hacking away at what we consider doesn't fit, sometimes maiming those round us because they are part of the colour we are trying to expunge.

I know I have! Always in the pursuit of the "right thing", a mythical course of action that is both correct at the time and can only have good consequences. Yeah right. And agonising over it worked for me too. Accepting that you cannot figure out how your life will unwind if you choose this or that makes it a lot easier just to do what feels right and live with it. And I've found at least that I can avoid feeling I have to keep trying to cram everyone else into the "right" box as though those consequences can somehow be forced to be good.

So, right now, I have a couple of areas where I do not know what the right thing to do is, to say the least, in part because the right thing is often not something that can be set out in a single imperative, but is complicated enough that there can be several right things, each right in a different way. (Luckily, if I can use that word, it's pretty clear that in each area, whatever I do is going to end in tears, so I don't have the usual problem of trying to figure out which course won't be a disaster. I have the luxury of already being in the shit.)

And maybe I will have to accept that I am not a particularly pretty picture. Part of wanting to be calligraphy rather than Pollock is simple vanity. I think vanity is born out of lack of being loved, or the lack of being able to feel loved, however you come to lack it, and the consequently inability to love yourself. The vain care a lot about what picture others see when they look at them. So can I put vanity aside and accept that whatever has splashed on me now is me? I don't know but I know that I was not vain when I felt loved, and I suppose that was because I was reassured that someone who mattered to me thought that my picture was pleasant to look at and I was able to believe that they thought it better than the sketch.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Good day

So I do a lot of whining on this blog, and it wears you down always to be complaining about what is, after all, a fairly comfortable, easy life. So just for once I'm going to journalise a good day (which would have been better if I had written the uberpost I was planning, but you know how it is, road to hell and all that).

So this morning I woke up and had morning thoughts. Usually, first thing, in the short space between waking up and Mrs Zen phoning me as my alarm, I have thoughts that I do not allow myself in the rest of my day. The what-ifs, the suggestions to myself, the many small things that I love to think about but in the rest of the day would get in the way. Sometimes I just mull over my dreams, if I can remember them. Today I had an exquisite five minutes, because I had had a short, but lovely dream. I won't recount it except to say that it began with K completely naked on a bed.

So I spent the morning listening to Motown and doing the washing. It's funny how mundane tasks can take you out of yourself. You relax into it and it feels good to let go your concerns and just do something.

All day I chatted with two people who love me. We didn't talk about anything special but it's nice just to be in the company of people who want to read your bullshit and bullshit back in return. One wrote me something very kind and deeply moving, which I do not feel worthy of.

Also, my poker buddy B emailed me. He has been missing me because I haven't been on AIM. He has recently split up with his gf and sent me a photo of his hairdresser, who is cutting his hair next week. She is smoking hot so I am crossing my fingers. I encourage him because it is better to bounce back when you've been hurt than it ever would be to wallow in it.

I also heard from S, another poker buddy, who had a Vegas marriage (I don't think it was actually in Vegas but you get the idea) followed by a Vegas divorce. He has been blanking me some, but I think it's because he's afraid of having let me down, because I had given him some advice on his gf issues and that didn't end so well. So he says he's doing fine and that makes me happy.

In the afternoon, I pick up my kids from afterschool care. As I walk up, I see that Zenella is dancing in the playground with a friend. She looks carefree and content, which warms my heart to see.

In the car on the way to the chipshop, Zenita is talking about love. She says, I love Naughtyman so much it makes my heart beat fast. I want to say, yes, I know what an enormous, ungovernable force love can be, and sweetheart, take that into your heart and hold it there, because whatever we are, whether we are just bundles of molecules that kid themselves they are real or spirits riding in a vehicle that ages and dies (and I'm willing to believe either is true), we love and it's the best thing that can happen to us.

After tea, Mrs Zen is complaining of shoulder pain and I give her a massage. I close my eyes and put my loving spirit into my fingers. You have to do this if you want to do it well and tbh I don't find it hard. Mrs Zen is not good to me but there is no reason I should not be good to her. It feels good to be decent to people (be ready for my uberpost, which is on exactly this topic) because the good builds in you and you feel good for yourself because you have accumulated good feeling.

I know, it sounds like some ridiculous hippie shit, but I am feeling good about myself so you are going to have to bear it a bit.

Now I am downstairs, relaxed and happy, playing poker (successfully so far) and watching videos (when I'm done with this). I am hoping that someone I want to talk to will appear online a little later, but I don't feel stressed about it, which is unlike me. I have some slight sadness that a good friend who I may have expected to say hello did not, yet again, but I am trying to understand her and not judge, which is hard because I do have a part of me that just feels hurt at being left in the cold, but people have their reasons.

So that's what it is. I know it's boring, but you know what? I really like boring days that feel good. I can push aside the things that make me unhappy and relax. But this is what small words, well meant, can do. I am going to dedicate my day to K and A because knowing them is what has made this a good day for me, and as long as I know you, I know I will have feeling good within my grasp.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

XX marks the spot

Wait wait, I have to tell you, I thought JJ's album was good, but The xx blows it away.

If I made my dreams come true, and held the woman I love in my arms, this is the album we'd be playing. It's like the Young Marble Giants discovered sex. It's just the burning, beautiful sound of wanting someone on a long, dark night.

While I'm on the subject, here is something for those of you who appreciate yearning. After As it is when it was, I think this is my favourite song of all time (I mean the one that remains my favourite and doesn't change each week!).

It feels good to know that whatever happens, I have a few golden minutes and the songs I love have meaning they lack without someone to love.

Now I think about it, maybe it would be a close-run thing with this, a song with so much meaning for me that I cannot bear to listen to it often, just when the mood is right:

And As it is when it was? I don't know why but I have loved this song more than any other since I first heard it. Sometimes I love others more, but this is the song that if I'm pushed, I say is my favourite. Unfortunately, there's only this live version on youtube, and at that it's the slightly weird Pumped full of drugs show, but anyway:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dad can't make me sad

So Zenita comes out of her bedroom and she says to Mrs Zen, I've got a smiley face and I can't stop smiling.

It's past her bedtime, way past, but it's hard to be upset with a child who has a smiley face.

She comes over to kiss me goodnight, and she says, you can't make me sad.

So I say, in a stern voice, no computers for three days. Nope, she says. Not sad.
So I say, sterner still, no lollies for a month. Nope, she says, you can't make me sad.
I pinch her back and she laughs because it tickles.

Mum, she says, Dad can't make me sad.

Well, I'll try not to.

Earlier, Zenella had put on a "show" for us. She likes an audience. In the dark, she dances with glowsticks the only light. Zenita goes, wait wait, it's my bit, and she does a dance they have clearly choreographed. But she breaks it off and comes to hug me. She can't help herself. I do not, as it happens, play favourites, but I am Zenita's favourite, I know. It is an awesome responsibility to be the person someone loves most in this world.

I will not ever let them feel I do not love them. That's the way your dad can make you sad. No matter what happens to me, no matter what cost I have to pay for it, they'll never feel that, not even for a moment. It is not a difficult task for me. If I love you, I will, other things being equal, love you for good, and I have no problem letting you feel it. Because no other currency matters to me, nothing else is worth hoarding, and I know, if you have love, you're rich, and if you don't, you're damned to a poverty that nothing else can alleviate.

All I do is dream

So two hours have passed when I wake in my chair and I have missed the programs I planned to watch. I am not concerned. I plan to go down to bed and dream of K. The night before, I dreamed of her so vividly I could feel her skin under my hands and against my body, but the dream was curiously unfinished.

Often I dream in serials. When I was a child, I would dream whole adventures, in which I would fight to save something or other (I'm not sure what).

And I was sure part two would be good
But weirdly, I didn't dream of her. I had a fractured curious dream, in which I took a piss in a fridge, and marinated some tofu. I don't doubt there are those of us who think the taste of tofu would be greatly improved for a couple of hours in a bath of wee, but it's not something I commonly do.
I felt distinctly disappointed. But after all, maybe my subconscious is telling me something, although the only message I can figure out seems to be, don't waste your hours and days dreaming of women you cannot have when you could be enjoying a good hard piss in the refrigerator.

Monday, September 07, 2009

In my spare time, I also do bad poetry

I can't remember whether I usually link out to poems when I write them,
because it has been quite a long time since I wrote one, but if I don't
linkwhore my own work, who the hell is going to?


At least this one isn't lifted from a gmail chat, although that doesn't
mean it's any more profound than anything else I say or write. I liked
it though.

I wanted to say thanks too to the people who have written kind things to
me about my writing. I know that most people are able to motivate
themselves from within, but if I was most people, I wouldn't be me.

Monday morning, grey skies, cold

It is 20 to 11 and our street is quiet. An elderly couple in sports gear is walking slowly down the middle of the road.

A while ago Zenita rang me. Whenever she is away she will phone. She just peels away from the rest of them and phones me. I never know what to say. I am not good on the telephone at all, and I struggle with small talk with adults, let alone small children.

I think it is because I prefer to observe than interrogate. I let the world come to me passively and allow it to be what it is, and hope that that process will reveal it to me. It does, but I think that it is a way to learn what it is but not what to do with it.

More than once, people have said that I don't seem interested. Mrs Zen says that people think I don't care about them. I want to say to her, I have no idea what they think because I have no idea what my image is to them. I do not trust her judgement about that either. She is very good at seeing my flaws. Sometimes I say to her that it is painful for a person to hear always what is wrong with them, that it makes me unhappy for her not to be able to see any good in me.

And she doesn't respond, or if she does, she'll say I know there's lots of good in you. And I'm thinking, yeah, but you can't say what any of it is.

The bigger problem is that I'm inclined to agree with her view. What can you think about a man who is unable successfully to make small talk with a child who loves him?

It is 10 to 11 and I hate to be lonely, because when I feel that I'm on my own, I start to pity myself. But no one was around who wanted to talk to me and I don't have people I can telephone or hang out with. I have had to be self-reliant and I'm not good at it.

I know that I will now receive at least one message that will suggest that I can develop that ability, and I will be stuck once again with having to say over and over, patiently and unavailing, that I just can't. I only seem to be capable because you don't know me very well and I can bullshit over the cracks.

That's the problem with a blog. I can tell you about my life, but it can't answer back.

It is 11. In two hours, I will walk to the bus stop to go to work. Maybe I will read a book. I have started reading novels again. Nothing heavy. I read a John LeCarre the other day. It seemed like the work of someone who wanted to write something but didn't quite have it down. But what do I know? I'm never going to see my name on the front of a book. To achieve that, you need a well of self-belief. You need not to be discouraged when people tell you your work is boring, because you are convinced of your own worth.

It doesn't matter how much talent you have or even whether what you have written is any good. It matters how much you believe it. I seem to recall Mrs Zen saying more than once that she would try to get my book published or my poetry, and I was really pleased, because what greater sign could she have given me that she believed in me?

But she never did a thing.

It is 10 past 11. I am going to read my book. I don't know how it is that I bring sorrow to everyone who knows me. I don't try to. I don't know whether that's the same as saying that you try not to.

Sweet dreams

So I have the facility that I can start on a train of thought while I'm awake and dream the rest of it when I sleep, a type of lucid dreaming that reinforces how I feel about people in my life.

So last night I am thinking about the WCW, which I do when she is around, but it's not working at all. Nothing is working.

What is wrong with a body when hot women do not work your crank?

Well, cherchez la femme, as our French friends say, and when I fell asleep I dreamt of K and felt my head spin with desire.

So tonight I will think about her, the two of us in a dark room, my hands on her shoulders. I will feel the warmth of her body, and if I am gentle, the throb of her heart in the blood vessels under my finger. I will whisper in her ear, reciting the words of the poem that filled my head when I was on the bus this afternoon.

I will fill her head with foolish talk about things that she has forbidden herself, but this is my dream, so we will kiss, and I will feel myself melt away, all the wearying accretions of life will drop away, and I will touch her, and I do not even know the words for the place you can be in, but I will be there, and fast asleep, dreaming that I feel her breasts against my bare chest and I do not know which heart I feel beating and I do not care.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Mr Potato Head can talk, and he says

Hello, is this thing on?


Okay, so anyway, I was looking at a page of webfoolery and I was thinking, hmm, I'll blog this and then I'm like, wtf, where did my blog this button go? Because it's gone. Did someone delete it or did the interminable updates of Firefox kill it in some way?

So the page I was blogging was Daniel Brandt's Wikinerd parade. OMFG. Is it like a requirement of nerddom that you must have a misshapen head? No wonder they don't have social lives.

OMG! I don't have a social life! Does that mean I have a misshapen head? Now I'm worried. I can live with being plain, but ugly! Ugly! I am suddenly feeling the urge to phone my mother.

"Mum, I'm not repulsive to womankind, am I?"
"Well son, I wouldn't go as far as repulsive to all womankind. Wasn't there some woman a few years ago who thought that you were only slightly disgusting?"

Okay, maybe not.

I have to tell you that S2 is a wikinerd of some repute, but I am glad to say that her head is not overly misshapen. Yes, I am vain enough to insist that my e-flings are attractive in reality as well as in the cyberworld.


So this afternoon, the wife's cousin's wife was round, sharing illegally acquired software with us. Obsessive readers of this blog will remember that I have something of a crush on the WCW, which Mrs Zen has noticed. She is not attractive, but hey, I'm not shallow, you know. It's her personal-- okay, no it isn't. I'm pretty sure she doesn't actually have a personality. It's because she seems dirty. She actually smoulders and I really like that.

I don't think she does it on purpose. But when I see her, I think, I am willing to put money on it that her husband (who is in many ways the anti-Zen, and I tease Mrs Zen that what she wants in this life is that I should be him -- and it's cruel teasing because it is soooooo true, because he is the epitome, the living epitome, of staid, a man entirely untroubled by thought) would not appreciate that, and I'm willing to wager that he has never, will never, could never ring her bell, light her fire, make her unable to breathe.

I could. I would find a way. I would find the secret thing that she cannot resist.

I wish there was a way to communicate that to her. But life is all about never getting to say what you think you should say. Life is about never having what you think you should have. It's about fencing yourself in and congratulating yourself on how nicely you made the fence. It's about no one knowing, no one caring, what your secret is -- and you say well done to yourself for keeping it tucked away.


By this point, maybe you are thinking, is there no other woman in Dr Zen's life who would tell him he does not have a misshapen head? Does he really have to approach his mother with that?

Well, actually, I'd like to ask B, one of the women at work, who I have the distinct impression goes out of her way not to catch my eye. I want to say, hello, did you decide on first meeting that I was a/ clearly too ugly/boring/retarded to bother with and b/ obviously attracted to you so must not be encouraged? Because I'm not kidding you, this woman is plainly not catching my eye.

(b) is true though, although she has thin legs. Why wouldn't I like thin legs? Well, here's an odd thing. I can actually trace my dislike of abnormally thin legs to a specific incident. When I was a kid, 15 or whatever -- which the observant will have noticed was a good time in my life, when I actually began to feel attractive to women -- I went on a school exchange to Germany. I was a big hit with the German women (who to this day I have rated very highly as the fine specimens of womankind they are, should any lonely German women living in Brisbane be reading this, and let's face it, fraueleins, you will not meet many halfway passable Englishmen who find a German accent sexy), but more importantly, one of the girls on the exchange was clearly interested in me. And it had to be clearly, because I really do need a written invitation. So, as you do (and we do, when we're boys, in case you were wondering), I am canvassing my friends on whether this girl is as nice as I think she is. And I think she's nice: she's quite pretty, funny, worldly -- maybe a bit scary for a gentle, shy boy (let me tell you a story -- it says it all about who I was, and who I am, let's be honest -- when I was, I dunno, 13, 14, my sister made a friend with a new girl at school, who was the only black girl in our town. There were two of them, B and A-M, and their mother, who was entirely white, but had married a Nigerian chief. A-M was quite stunning, flawlessly beautiful and erect in the way I think only black girls are capable of being -- do you know what I mean? straightbacked yet sinuous. Man, she was something! And I really really fancied her, but I was far too shy to say so. We talked a fair bit, because we were contemporaries or nearly so (I think she was a year older) and I spent some time at her house, and we got on well, although she was quite a lot more sophisticated than I was. She showed me her writing journal, and shared some of her hopes with me, and she seemed as interesting to me as she was nice. I would dearly have liked to ask her out, but that was impossible for me. So I wrote her a note. I just wrote "i fancy you". She never replied and doubtless thought I was entirely pathetic, but that was all I could ever have managed.), but all in all, nice. And one goes, omg no. Look at her legs! Her legs are sick.

These were his exact words. Her legs are sick! And you know, I had not even noticed her legs. But once he'd said it, I'm entirely enable to see anything but that she has sick legs.

But at least I recognise that was childish and I'm willing to forgive B her thin legs, not least becasue she has artfully sticky out hair. By which I mean, she must spend hours fixing her hair so it sticks out at angles just so. And I do admire people who take care of themselves. I used to. In my early thirties (yes, I am older than 30, but I have relatively few miles on the clock, so you need not fear that I won't go like a 17-year-old -- back, knees and heart allowing, of course), I became a metrosexual, and it suited me quite well. I used more face products than the average woman, wore contacts, kept in decent shape, dressed nicely, even bathed some.

And if you are thinking is Dr Zen really so shallow that he would have his head turned just because a woman spends some time on her hair? Well, you should know, yes, he is.

Or no. Because of course there's more to it. The thing is, a woman who tends herself wants something. And what she wants is to be admired. It is so easily done. And what sin can there be in giving someone what they want at no cost?

Also, she is pretty and has big tits for a small girl.

I know, shoot me. But it's a long seven and a half hours if you don't lust a little.


But you are paid to subedit (whatever that is), Dr Zen, are you not?

You know, I've always retained some vestige of dignity by believing that if I am hired, you are not paying for hours of my life, but you are paying me to do a job. So I feel that if I do the job as well as anyone else, I have given what I owe you, and I need not worry that I spend half my time doing something else. Yah, I would do a "better" job if I was able to focus entirely on what I'm supposed to be doing.

But how are you supposed to focus if you have a lively mind? I think this is why I never much warm to my fellow editors. To be any good at editing, you need focus. You need to carry a mass of detail, keep it in check. That's as much fun as it sounds! The better side of it is the feeling of control, the ability to know what should have been when you look at what there is, and to find the compromise between what should have been and what there is that will leave all believing that they had originally written what you left them having written.

Actually, there was a woman at the twins' kindy who I thought was attractive solely because she had artful hair, so I have to conclude that it is the hair.

(I will feel I have entirely succeeded as a writer if at least one person fixes their hair on reading that sentence.)


So after I had written about her, I googled A-M, and the only trace of her on the web is her Facebook page. This is true of quite a few people I have googled (yes, I am one of those sad fuckers who will google your name after talking to you -- lucky you use a false name, hey Gunt!) -- and I forget that not everyone spends their entire life online. Other people have lives!

So all they are in cyberspace is a Facebook page they do not bother to keep up, and suddenly I am sad, because I know that in real life I am that same presence, barely there, and I would be lucky if I could find two people who would say, oh him, whatever happened to him?

And online, I could find those two people, but a week or two later some other thing would have caught their eye, and being gone would be just not updating, and if you don't update, you are gone.


And I was thinking, the thing that I love the most about the internet is that you cannot be lonely. Because I am sure enough alone, babysitting duty on a Saturday night, but I know three people that will read this all the way to the end, and those three people have saved me from loneliness, because I could write some bullshit and know that for the five minutes it took them to read it, I kept them company. Well, me and the porn, obv.

The best rubbish

So we are sitting in the loungeroom, and I am talking to Mrs Zen about her diet plan. She has lasted a couple of weeks on her plan and now she wants to switch to another one because she is always hungry. I say, eat vegetables when you're hungry. That's what you're supposed to do. (It doesn't sound like much fun to me. You replace meals with shakes and eat meat and vegetables at tea. The meals you replace are ones I don't even eat though. How could I replace breakfast when the earliest I eat is 11, and then only rarely? Not that I couldn't do with replacing something with something.)

You know, we should fix the exercise bike, I say. Because we have one but it was a cheapo thing and the parts didn't fit properly, so we've never been able to use it.

Well, there's a bikeshop in W Rd. They might be able to fix it.

Great, I say, give them a ring. Why not do it now while I'm out with the kids?



I mean wtf though. So I'm like are you fucking kidding? You could take responsibility for sorting this out.

And she starts to drone. I dread the droning. It is the sound of resentment. I have never met anyone who resented their role in life more than Mrs Zen. She has to get the kids ready for school, to pack their lunches and to put them to bed. She takes them swimming and a couple of days in the week, if she can't get out of it by just not being dressed in time, she takes them to school. She occasionally cleans the house in a desultory way for half an hour. You'd think she ran the country or something.

I accept the blame. I carried her when she was pregnant with the twins and first had them. I arranged our life around her and I was glad to work from home so that I could make it easier for her. But she took all that as her due and now she is resentful. Of being a mother, of being a wife, of being an adult even.

But you know, I could do more but I am resentful too. I hate that about myself but I don't want to fix it. I don't want to become indentured to her. She doesn't deserve it. I know some people think that just getting married is enough to bond the other person to you, to make them willing to do whatever you want in whatever way you want, but really, it's more of a process than that. We should be negotiating our lives, renewing our commitment to each other's happiness, in a sense trading needs. But we don't.

I care whether Mrs Zen is happy. I don't want her to be miserable. But I don't want to have to take responsibility for her happiness. (I'd be delighted if she found a boyfriend, but that's a very distant prospect.) I realise that I have in the past allowed her to be, in a measure that is way too great, responsible for mine, and of course, she failed. I think she could maybe have succeeded, because I'm not really all that hard to please, but she hasn't thought there is any need to worry about pleasing me for the nine years we have been parents (and I know what you're thinking -- how can you not have realised that before you had more kids? but you know, you assume it's new motherhood, then you hope that it will change given time; you imagine that your partner ever actually was someone who cared about your happiness, instead of the truth, that they tried to make you happy because they saw that as their role, and that's the thing that has changed, not how they look at the world). But I feel like I was dragged down, pulled into the mire.

So you know, I'm in it. I can't get out of it, because no matter what I do, she is going to be able simply to refuse to negotiate because she has this house to run to. So I can join her in droning -- and yes, that's what I've done, somewhat, for the past few years. That's the "easy" road -- which is not so easy because bearing it is tough. The harder road is to man up and accept that I have a burden that I am capable of carrying without sinking.

I do not know which I will be able to choose. I know myself well enough that I'm aware that I chose to stay here longer in part for all the good reasons I have but also in part because I know that living with her in the UK will be very difficult if she continues not to make any effort to be my wife, and giving us six months longer here allows me to choose not to do that if it seems unbearable (which right now it does, I have to be honest, but I have not given up hope). Because I know that going there means committing myself to making it work for her at least for some years (realistically, three years is how I think of it -- which would be long enough for her not to be comfortable with trying to bring my children back here).

But what else can I do? I have the misfortune of having married a woman who thinks it is a reasonable thing to say when you suggest she rings the bikeshop she just mentioned to ask whether they can fix your exercise bike to go no, it's your exercise bike, you ring them. You know, we can trade blame for our relationship's failing: you are lazy, you are badtempered, you don't like sex, you are grumpy, you don't like conversation, you aren't patient, but you cannot do much about any of it if you cannot be grown up and say this is where we are, this is something we both must be reasonable about, both must take responsibility for, both must work on or we will both stew in it.

Or I just accept that I have four children and give her the love I would give an awkward teenager, because when it comes down to it, I can be dragged down into a mire of resentment and pain or I can rise above it and be better than her, better than myself. I don't need to be rewarded for it (virtue, I remember being told often by my dad when I was a kid, is its own reward).

I do not believe I am a virtuous person. I am not particularly good. But I can be. And should we not make of ourselves what is possible? However we get there, should we not have a day when we can say to ourselves, you know, you are still pretty rubbish, but at least you are the best rubbish you can be?