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Words and delicious things

11 Oct

Reading is both indulgence and staple. If there were a life diagram akin to the food pyramid that has chocolate and milkshakes teetering on the apex and broccoli and sprout grumbling at the base, then books would be a kind of omni-watermark over it all.
The short of it is, if you don’t read, you’re a horrible person.

The pleasure of discovering new writers is particularly rewarding. It’s as if the universe has been gently listening and with a crinkle of its nose, drops an author in your lap like a warm mug. A reward perhaps, for persevering through all the mangled, cynical prose of social media and fearful rage of opinion columns. Blogs included.

So you nuzzle in to your new author, with their own strangely same but original cadence embracing you and you feel so terribly, awfully clever that the great and wise coil has honoured your commitment to looking at lots of words in order.
Cosmic reciprocity… a particularly masculine trait.

I have discovered four new writers in the last month or so, so you can imagine the glow of my ego. I am virtually a God. No. The God. The counter-punch to these discoveries is that three of these writers have been putting their thoughts into the world since way early in the 20th century. One of them, since late 19th.
Very impressive.

The newest of the writers is Etgar Keret, a short-story writer I found through This American Life, a podcast I can barely restrain myself in recommending. His story of a magical goldfish reminded me of Margo Lanagan’s sad beauty with her masterpiece, Singing my sister down. A wonderful short story is about the best thing in the world.

Two of the other guys I think will do okay for themselves. Anton Chekhov and Kurt Vonnegut. They capture the solitude and confusion of the masculine soul with a lightness that both depresses and thrills me. Depressing because I doubt if I will ever write something so fantastic and constant, and elation at the sheer…chocolatey broccoloiness of it all.

The last is an American essayist John McPhee. He popped out of a collection of essays I bought for six bucks at The Strand bookstore last time I was in New York. If Willy Wonka was a writer, his gold tickets would grant you access to The Strand.  I also got an old edition of Mark Twain short stories which I have little intention of reading cover to cover. It sits on my bookshelf simply because it just looks so pretty.
To McPhee, who has also been around since dot, I’ll rip his writing and let it speak for itself.  This is a passage describing his mother treating him on his twelfth birthday.

“At LaGuardia, she accompanied me to the observation deck and stood there in the icy wind for at least an hour, maybe two, while I, spellbound, watched the DC-3s coming in on final, their wings flapping in the gusts. When we at last left the observation deck, we went downstairs into the terminal, where she brought me what appeared to be a black rubber ball but on closer inspection was a pair of hollow hemispheres hinged on one side and folded together. They contained a silk parachute. Opposite the hinge, each hemisphere had a small nib. A piece of string wrapped round and round the two nibs kept the ball closed. If you threw it high into the air, the string unwound and the parachute blossomed. If you sent it up with a tennis racquet, you could put it into the clouds. Not until the development of the ten megabyte hard disk would the world know such a fabulous toy. Folded just so, the parachute never failed. Always, it floated back to you- silkily, beautifully-to start over and float back again. Even if you abused it, whacked it really hard- gracefully, lightly, it floated back to you.”

The best of a man describing the best of a boy that survives to be the best of the man.

Chocolate and broccoli.


We unhappy few

26 Jul

“We don’t have the record anymore.”

That was my first thought when I saw the tally of dead from the Oslo mass murders.

In 1996, Martin Bryant shot 35 people dead at Port Arthur, Tasmania. It was the largest single shooting slaughter in civilised history. A former penal colony famed for its brutality, Port Arthur seemed a horribly fitting place for yet another coward with a duffel bag  to sate their juvenile rage. A haunted house invites one last cruel chapter.

But there is no magic here. No trees with souls or clouds that circle arrows. It’s choice. Banal, horrible choice with a consequence of exponential grief.

I remember one of my closest friends telling my of the Port Arthur shootings after they had occurred. I remember feeling a strange sense of….being Australian….. in the following weeks. Of somehow being connected to my kin in the south. In tragedies, national identity seems to come to the fore, but I have never felt it so potently. Our nation has its share of floods and fire, but within them, no matter the destruction, there is an underlying notion of nature just is and will be what it wishes.

This was different. This was a man who planned and picked and woke up and ate breakfast then went to a peninsular with the goal to kill as many people as possible. Human  nature? I don’t surrender it the same latitude as I do its primal mother.

Let’s get this straight. We know what we’re doing, we men. We know. Don’t let us breathe an utterance of otherwise.

I don’t know what this all means. I’m not even close. Why, with a sense of sad relief our nation can be excused from the record books and the private shame of that emotion? After all, I have lost nothing. My family and those I love are safe. What right do I have?

And now the media. In 95, Bryant’s eyes were digitally altered in photos so he would appear more malevolent.Now they build a new beast, plaster this new fiend’s story into mythology when he can barely be anything more than a compression of spite who could manage the basic purchasing procedures of guns. Let’s shut our curiousity down and let whatever he is drift to those who may know how to examine properly such a failure of humanity and be done with him. If there are lessons from this, they almost certainly will not be born from the media tsunami.

But why always men? What dysfunction do we bear? The exoticism of guns. The status of anger.

It’s all fucked up.

We don’t have the record anymore.

It’s gone.

Along with almost a hundred lives and grief that tethers us to something unknown.

I guess you gotta keep faith. That in men there is a thread of gentleness that defines most of us. That men are largely soft and what fear we bear we work to bring to harness or healing. Maybe today is the day to tell your guy, “You’re okay, you know,” and give him a hug.

I don’t know.

Just can this inexorable cadence please stop.

I don’t know.

It’s all fucked up.

One contrary image

2 Oct


An AFL grand final replay does its thing and Collingwood pants St.Kilda and swans off to glorious sunset and bounty yada yada. Compared to the thunder and muscle of the final quarter of last week’s drawn match, it was something of a rattling, unsatisfying sigh of a game. Kind of like beating a puppy with a cushion.

You know the feeling.

And so the usual post match images of jubilant young men aloft, fat blokes with red faces in suits high fiving and the common as mud fans, faces contorted in a kind of vicarious bear snarl; well they roll on.

This is the contract your soul signs when you choose sport as your theatre. The imagery, the tale, will be of…

A- Glory

B- Defeat

and that’s that.

But in all the confetti and tears of this year’s GF, there was one image, only brief, perhaps two seconds, that stood out.

It was Luke Ball on the siren. As his team mates fell to knees and raised arms and sprinted to packs to do it all together at once, he, well, he just kinda looked around with slow….sad relief?…I’m not really sure… just it was full of pain and contradiction.

This was the GRAND final. Hadn’t he just won?

The history behind this moment? He left St.Kilda after they lost the Grand Final last year. He played for the team that beat them this year. Many of the fallen on the field were his close friends. Other than that, I am captive to the media coverage of the split, and that was typically myopic in nature. Words like loyalty and betrayal were bandied  by the usual suspects. Journalists painted with broad brushes, teasing the drama with all the deftness of , well, an AFL journo.

This game, for all its immensity, has never attracted the quality of  thought and journalism that sports like Cricket or Baseball do. There are no Roebucks, Hagues or Bhogles drawing the poetry of  forty-four fairly magnificent young men smashing against each other for two hours. What we get are stats and rankings and this happened thens and my dad could lick your dad so shut up and petty debates about  fitness that elevate men to the status of abattoir stock.

I’ve tried to find this footage again. This two seconds. It has yet to feature in any of the highlights packages. Perhaps it is too subtle for flying graphics and voice over exclamations. It certainly does not fit the narrative of glory and defeat. Thematic absolutism. The thing that sport delivers in lieu of war I guess.

But every now and again, an image slips through. Human, full and profoundly masculine. One that reminds me why I love sport and why I am inherently suspicious of those who dismiss it as a macro tale alone.

It’s the micro that counts. The glimpses in, where words like loyalty and betrayal become stupid words.

Words that do not sell headlines.

Words the poets would put aside.

Luke Ball.

I don’t have the words.