Friday, 29 September 2017

Deconstructed Memories

This is a collection of moments, told in various tenses, from various points in time. Any quotes from others are to the best of my recollection and should not be taken as gospel. Same goes for any quotes from myself. I’ve kept it anonymous, of course, but if some of it clicks that’s unavoidable because this stuff actually happened, albeit that the events have been prodded and poked about a bit to serve my narrative. What’s the narrative? Trust me, just go with it.  

Also, all quotes referenced are listed at the end, to avoid breaking the flow with excessive asterisking and footnoting.

***

(Mildest of mild spoiler warning for Baby Driver. Any issues with that, please skip ahead to the next bit)

I watched Baby Driver recently. It’s Edgar Wright’s latest film. Edgar Wright of Spaced and Sean of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. That last one might be one of my favourite films, and it’s certainly my favourite Edgar Wright film. For me it is the perfect iteration of his distinct style and talent. It’s excellent. Baby Driver has achieved critical acclaim. I had high hopes for it and… it’s good. It’s different. It feels like he is trying to do something new with his approach and his storytelling. It feels transitional. It feels like… growth.

Are you favourites allowed to do that, are they allowed to grow?

I like it because it means there is more to come, and we will get to witness that journey to the next stage. Critical acclaim and financial success will open more doors that will allow for him to develop that. I’m glad the critics and the rest of the audience liked it more than I did.

The romance feels abstract, underdeveloped. Maybe it’s supposed to be more of the representation of an idea rather than a fully realised relationship? Kevin Spacey’s character calls the lead Baby. There’s something in that. He’s proud of Baby’s work and he doesn’t want to lose him. But. The conflicts are there and in all of those moments, all of those choices, who Baby really is begins to develop.

Then there’s a moment when Spacey’s character makes his choice. A moment when he sees Baby, and the choice that HE’S making. Spacey explains his own choice with one sentence:

I was in love once

And somehow those words are… everything. I almost think that Wright might have worked the whole character backward from that line. It feels like a fundamental truth being spoken, that isn’t about loss or bitterness, it’s about understanding and, dare I even whisper the word, hope? All art is open to interpretation, but I know what I took from it.

I was in love once.

***

I sit across from my friend, and she reflects back to me some of what I’ve said. I look at my feet, the clock, the wall, the window, and then back again. Anywhere but her eyes. Yeah I guess that is what I’m saying. At least I don’t say sorry anymore.

She pushes a little bit more, and the kernel inside holding on to whatever truth is underneath it all today breaks, and I start to cry. I spurt out my fear, my truth, and the love, love, love I feel. Exposing it to air, releasing its power. Gradually, the wound that has opened right now will start to heal.

Other times, I speak of that burning, endless faith I have in the hopelessness of our realities. She always gets this look in her eyes, I can’t be sure, but it sometimes feels like she’s quietly amused by my rigid insistence that it’s all actually fucked. As though my steadfast loyalty to negativity is almost charming. Like she knows better. Like she knows that it’s all temporary. Or at least, that’s my perception. So does that mean that’s her perspective, or mine?

I wipe my eyes. Then she tells me a story. She knows that stories work for me.

***

Here’s a story for you.
“A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out.
A friend walks up to the porch to say hello, and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.
"What's that terrifyin' sound?" asks the friend.
"It's my dog," said the farmer. "He's sittin' on a nail."
"Why doesn't he just sit up and get off it?" asks the friend.
The farmer deliberates on this and replies:
"Doesn't hurt enough yet.”
***

Taking the pup out day in, day out. In the dying light of the woods that can feel like the world going out, or the beating sun, the wind so hard it makes your ears sting, the rain so unrelenting that my eyes and face flow with water and I can’t see a foot in front of me. In all weathers, all conditions, we walk. It’s a commitment I would imagine being somewhat akin to being responsible for a child, except that, the intense level of commitment is really confined to an hour or two a day, rather than all of the hours, all of the days. Although, I’d guess that with small children you spend considerably less time picking their shit up off public footpaths. Note that I say less, rather than none.

But I never mind because I love her. I really, really love her. And this is just what needs to happen, like eating or breathing. Then one day, I just start talking to her. Talking, talking and talking. Almost in whispers at first, as though really believing that a dog might both comprehend what I’m saying and think to share it with someone else.

Gradually my voice gets louder, and the thought processes more coherent. The pup can’t offer any words of wisdom, she can’t give me a hug. Sometimes she gives me this look that almost convinces me that she understands, that she sympathises, and then she turns, squats, and poops directly into a hole in a tree trunk. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to get that. She looks sheepish. It’s hilarious.

***

I sit at my desk and pull the disparate threads together, the history, the financial details, the problem at hand and the outcome required, and then I sigh. This happens a lot.

My current role straddles the definable absolutes of financial administration and the inconstant, emotion driven concept of philanthropy. I stand up and make eye contact with our accountant.

Our accountant is Malaysian Chinese and she is completely direct, in her manner of speaking and her approach to all circumstances. Others can get frustrated with this – surely she could be more flexible in this regard? But she won’t bend, she never bends, she never lies, she never misleads. I trust her integrity implicitly. But, I understand the myriad of other views too. It’s like living with your head in two worlds. Two time zones. I’m used to that.

I run some details by her to double check my understanding, and then make my usual gesture of putting a gun to my temple and say So I just need to get the donor to understand all of that and agree to this course of action and do it in such a manner that they still super love us at the end of it

She smiles at me. Yes, that is your skill.

She always says this.

Fundraising is a tricky game, those who excel at it have to be very good at making people fall in love with them, or at the very least, fall in love with what they’re selling. They’re a head-turningly charming bunch. I don’t possess this level of charisma, and I don’t really do false flattery. Having said that, I also find it easy to like people, or at least find the good in them, so it’s not impossible, I just have to find a genuine track to get there. It’s a longer game for me. Because fundraisers spend their time making people love them, that persona becomes a large part of who they are. I’m wary that every compliment or word of reinforcement could be hollow. I don’t even think they mean to do it. That line is forever blurred for them. But there are a few people that I understand are not built to do this. Our accountant is one of them.   

For that reason, I always blush, but the words stick.

***

I sit across from this hip young Viet, educated in America and full of enthusiasm for making his school a living image of all of the innovation that he’s witnessed. I wish I could share his enthusiasm, but I know what it’s tempered with, and my guard stays up, as always.

I understand that, and think it would be great. I would be happy to work for you full time, but, this is the second time you’ve changed the amount and the hours, I’m not sure that I feel comfortable signing this

Ah, negotiation, Vietnam-style. By this point in the game I know exactly how careful I need to be, and as much as I’d like to fall back into the flattering belief that they want me to be a bigger part of their school and pay me accordingly, I already know this is just a pipe dream. The difficult part is negotiating a conclusion in such a way that I don’t burn a bridge and lose my classes there. They were the first school to give me a job, and even though they weren’t the best employer, nor the worst, it was the longest employer-employee relationship I’d had in VN. Plus, I was just ridiculously emotionally tied to the kids by this point.

But not doing exactly what he wanted me to, was always going to backfire. He said no hard feelings but it seemed a coincidence that a week or two later, I get called in by the headmistress to explain that they are consolidating one of the weekend classes, and the class that would be absorbed would be mine. I accept the money saving aspect, I always did there, but why mine, why not the other teacher’s?

Because the students are more active in that class. They run around more.

I try to explain that we do our fair amount of running around (as they could see at any point, there were cameras everywhere) but we also did a fair amount of sitting and making things and reading and drawing, because, it seemed to help them to remember stuff. The headmistress looks at me blankly, I knew I was wasting my breath.

There’s an event a few weeks later, all the EFL teachers are there. I speak to the teacher who is taking the class my students had gone into. I’m standing there, as usual, sweating profusely and staring at her in a sort of bewildered awe, how was it that she looked every inch the cool-as traveller and there I was, desperately trying each day to hide the fact that my hair and my body and potentially my mind were all falling apart.

Yeah, they’re a nightmare. They drive me CRAYZY. I just let them run around, it’s a waste trying to teach them anything

I ask about my specific students.

They mostly cry ALL the time. That class is just too large, y’know?

Yeah. Yeah I know.

She leaves to go back to the States a month later. I get asked, will you take over the class?

Those last couple of months or so, back with my students and with the new ones, are awesome. Yeah, it was harder to manage a bigger group. I took the advice on the chin, we ran around more. But I also had an extra TA, and mostly, you just need to get a few kids to trust you, and the rest sort of follow. I had another advantage, I had my students back. They didn’t cry once. Although a couple of them had found it really difficult being in a bigger class with more boisterous personalities to compete with, so that took some addressing, but we got there.

Am I enough yet?

***

You’re so glamorous! A writer! All lipstick and fabulous hair and perfume and kindness, AND you see me, or at least, you seem to, how awesome!

This is my opportunity, both of us a couple of wines in, waiting for the food to arrive, to ask what I want to. I can sense that we have another shared experience in common, and I want to know how you went from being stuck to being strong.

I skirt around my issues but you’re not dumb, it clicks. You purse your lips, pause, lower your eyes and tilt your head

There’s nothing on your plate that you didn’t order

Ouch. Okay. Wow.

I later told my friend these words, and how they stung. My friend’s response was I don’t like to use the phrase ‘pop psychology’, but…

Yeah, but.

Even so, you had a point. And you followed it up with

I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think you were ready to hear it

Well, alrighty then. I decide there and then to read your story. Because within people’s fiction is their truth. Always. It was the only way I would know.

Your story is delicate, and elegant and literate and beautifully written, but when I take a step back and looked at the actual narrative, it’s:

Damsel in distress SAVED by handsome man

Fucking, really?

No strength or growth or clever strategies, just looks and luck and a complete absolution of any personal responsibility. When it clicked, I think I laughed for about a minute, a mixture of frustration and relief. There was no magic key. Only more fairy-tales.

Whether I eat what’s on my plate or I pick it up and smash it against a wall, I own the fact that it’s my plate and no fucker else’s.

I guess I’m just going to have to write my own story.

***

Someone once told me that I should stop trying so hard to make connections with people. I’m not sure why he did that, was I just frustrating? Was it just tiring listening to someone keep repeating the same activity and expecting a different result? But I didn’t want to stop trying, because I loved the person I was talking about, and wanted them to love me, and it was a family relationship, wasn’t love guaranteed?

I knew it wasn’t. I, of all people, knew that it wasn’t.

Maybe that’s why I try so hard, why I’ve always tried so hard. Look at me, I have value, because I’ve learned this or seen this or read this, I understand, look, will you just, dammit, tell me I’m enough? Or maybe they were just sad to watch someone constantly putting that need for validation out to others, which is the only way to guarantee hurt every time.

He was right, of course, it just took me a long time to learn it. You can put the truth of who you are out there, and I always will, in some form or another, but you can’t choose who will connect with it. You can’t force people to read what you write, or care about your perspective, they will just choose to tune in or tune out, they’ll connect with some things and not others, it will always surprise you, and it’s always a risk. It’s how I use FB, in case you hadn’t noticed.

That person also once said to me, in relation to some stuff I was perhaps moaning about, partly, although it was also kind of a question, I just think that maybe, it shouldn’t be this hard

I said, resolutely, that it should be that hard because life, responsibility, reality, self-awareness, humility, and so on and on. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my programming talking.

To that person I now say, no, I don’t think it should be that hard. I truly don’t believe it should ever have been that hard. It’s actually incredibly easy.

It’s just, it didn’t hurt enough yet.

***

As I come round from my crystal-healing-meditation-whatever, I feel really clam. Like, really good. I was vaguely aware that I had been crying, the tears had been hitting my hands but I’d not really been aware enough to engage with it. That wasn’t the point at the time. I open my eyes and see that the therapist has been crying too. Painful visible dark karma energies being released? Or just empathy. The truth is merely a matter of semantics.

I’m sorry, I know that was a lot.

It was. Do you feel better?

Yeah. Like, just, yeah.

Did you see anything?

I saw a sunrise, ahead, right ahead.

One day, months later, I get so mad at all of it, all of the things I’m thinking. So futile, so stupid. I’m so stupid.

I’ve been writing these little motivational, inspirational notes and putting them on my desk. They seem to help on some subconscious level. Or were seeming to.

Just fucking nonsense. I tear them up into pieces and fire them into the bin. So pointless.

The next day, the cleaners have been in and the bin is all askew. As I go to pick it up I find a piece of one of the torn up notes on the floor. The rest of my little affirmation was gone, there was just this sentence: the sunrise is ahead.

I put it back where it was. Well, if it’s going to try so hard to stay. Since that moment I’ve only written one more note.

It’s a choice.

***

I sit with these people, these Science Fair people, and I don’t get it. I don’t get how they make me feel. I was involved with this last year, because it was part of my job, and I did my best, and I liked the people involved. But here I am, a year later, helping again, and it’s not my job. Yes the purpose is noble, and the cause is just, but if I’m really honest with myself, that’s not why I’m here.

There’s this feeling that I get around these people, it makes my eyes prick and my belly feel funny. Just a bunch of random, eccentric and eclectic people. Mostly all a good deal older than me, which is great for feeling young when you’re empirically not that young anymore, but that’s not the reason.

This bunch make me feel okay and safe and I trust them and yet in many respects I barely know them, it doesn’t make any sense. But I joke with them like I’ve known them for ten years, not just a number of hours spread over one year. I ask for help with things and I don’t doubt for a moment that I’ll get it. I give help for no other reason than the fact that they asked.

At some point, right near the end of this year’s fair, I stand in the hesitant Spring sun looking out over the incredible hills behind the school hosting the event, and it hits me. The reason they make me feel okay, is because I do know them. I know everything I need to know about them, they’re good people. Good doesn’t mean not messy or complicated or full of mistakes, past and future. Good just means good. And they accept me, for who I am, messy and complicated and full of mistakes, ones already made and ones I’ve yet to make.

They never make me feel like I’m not enough.

***

We sorted out some of your things at work yesterday. New people are gradually moving in, it was time. But it was hard, little details of your life, like my own life, that you never imagine not being needed anymore. Tea bags, half used hand creams, notebooks. And there was you change purse. Only a few dollars in it but it sparked an idea of what we could use it for, something we can do to remember. Because all of the stuff that’s happened at work this year, the drama, the politics, the comings and goings and all of that chaos, is actually, in the end, entirely meaningless. The only thing that happened this year that really mattered, was losing you.

You keep me going when I want to stop, when I feel it’s too hard. Not just you, but Mark and Laura and Sheree, all of you that were taken well before your time. The oldest of you was the same age that I am now, and only now do I understand, in the grand scheme of a life, just how bloody young this age still is. It’s easier to ask when what you’re asking for is bigger than you, it’s easier to fight when what you’re fighting for is bigger than you. Not just easier – it’s effortless.

Loss is different for all of us, it’s complex and nuanced and without a real beginning, middle or end, it’s just a process. But if there exists in the universe any words that better convey the power of the sudden shut of loss than these, I’ve not encountered them:

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I run my fingers over the change purse. You must have picked it up on one of your previous adventures. I could send this back to your family, and part of me wants to, but part of me wants to hold onto it, they must have so much from your life to hold onto, I only have this.

The image painted on the leather is that of a sunrise.

We clean up and now it’s time to learn.

***

I’ve been writing the same story now for, argh, I dunno, seven years or so? It’s changed a lot in that time, not in the basic premise, but in how it will look, how the story will go, different influences always affecting the outcome. I don’t know whether my difficulty in writing it comes down to a lack of patience, a lack of ability, a lack of commitment, or that final piece struggling to fall into place. You see, the two main protagonists are me, or rather, very real, very different sides of me. Maybe working out their arcs in their entirety relies on my reconciling those two sides of myself. It’s far more complicated than that, of course, those characters are bigger than me, and in reality there is probably an infinite number of sides to me, just like there is with everyone. But if you boil it down, a lot of what I am, filters down into those two fictional people.

I look at the words and scenes I wrote years ago, and can see that I was writing about how certain things would feel to a person, having never experienced them. What’s happened since is that I have now experienced a lot of those things, and I’m surprised to find that what I said about how they would feel, was actually spot on. Which, I can only assume, means one of two things, either that time is not linear, and I was directly channelling future Chrissy at those points. Or, my subconscious is just way smarter than I am.

***

I wrote the prologue to my story years ago. It terrifies me to think of any of you reading it or criticising it, and maybe that’s the route of all of my problems, on some level. But in the spirit of progress, here it is.

(COPYRIGHT of this mofo right here, as clearly indicated by the disclaimer at the bottom of this page. Having said that, there’s a risk in sharing everything. So, good thing I’m not sharing the other 100,000 words eh?)

It started with a girl, because, doesn't it always?

Frank's life had been simple until that point. Simple in its sadness at least. He had gotten quite used to it. He had built his own fortress of solitude and found pleasure in his solo activities. Frank applied game theory to his life, it helped him to view the passing of time and the things that happened as achievements, levelling up. It kept him motivated, kept him putting one foot in front of the other. No wonder, then, that Frank spent most of his free time in the world's most popular MMO, you know the one. Being able to apply such structure to his thought processes allowed Frank to feel some semblance of control. Control that had been ripped away from him in the real world a long time ago.

Frank was also a completionist. He liked to play out all of the options for every scenario he encountered in his head before taking action, helping him to feel as confident as he could be that each choice he made was the right one. Of course, this level of anal retentiveness did not allow for the messy involvement of other people, and Frank was fine with that. Frank was an island, he was contained. Whether or not Frank was happy was a question he never thought to ask himself. What was happiness, really? If happiness cost what Frank feared it would, what it had already cost him, then he was just fine without it, thank you very much.

But the universe is a strange mistress, and she doesn't really like leaving people to their own devices for long. Although Frank's life had already been fucked with to a point beyond that which most people could bear, she was not done with him yet. For the last couple of decades, Frank had been living in the perpetual calm before the storm without even knowing it. He thought this calm was a result of his tight control, but as we know, there is no such thing as real control in our lives, we've just become adept at creating the illusion of it. And so it was that one day, Frank's walls came crashing down, and as usual, the sequence of events that you are about to bear witness to was initiated by the smallest of actions, the tiniest of changes. 

For Frank, sat at work, part data inputting, part daydreaming about the next raid his online character would be running that night, the catalyst was simply these five words,

'Hi, my name is Hannah.’

***
References:
Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright
The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer
We’re Going To Be Friends, by The White Stripes
Ambulances, by Philip Larkin
Funeral Blues, by W H Auden


Sunday, 17 September 2017

What IT means to me

If you read this blog on the regular you’ll be more than aware that I’m a fan of horror as a genre, both in literature and on screen, and last week saw the release of what would turn out to be the horror film with the highest grossing opening weekend of any R rated film, Stephen King’s IT. I also contributed to these stats, which is not like me, paying for media like a well behaved person. This was because I was excited to see what they had done with the material (also, in NZ, the cinema only costs $10!) and I have to say, I was really impressed with the result. But before I elaborate on that, I’m going to go back to the source material, to consider why this story means so much to me in the first place.



Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A review of American Horror Story (mostly)

If you keep staring at a really difficult problem you're never going to fix it. You need to walk away for a moment and shift your perspective because right now, you’re just too close to see a solution. As any of us can attest to, we’ve all experienced it at some point or another – there can be an eternity in a moment. You have to take those moments, you have to stop being you for a heartbeat and come back with fresh eyes. The pauses are important.

With that in mind, I’m going to change things up and launch into a review blog, of sorts, about a show I have watched recently that I feel is worth a review. I dallied a while over whether or not to recommend it, and my hesitation over this will become clear as I explain myself. But the main reason I decided to sit and write finally this was that the show made me think, and ultimately I believe that any story that makes you think is worth experiencing. This show has moved forward my ideas regarding horror, on why I'm drawn to it as a genre, and why I think it's an important part of our spectrum of experience.

The show I’m going to talk about is American Horror Story, hereafter referred to as AHS. Now, I predict that a few of you might react with ‘oh, but I don’t like horror’, and, I hear that, but also, I sincerely feel that you might be missing out by cutting off this genre entirely. It’s also in my vested interest to encourage you to like horror, if only in the hopes that you’ll then read my first book (I have no delusions of grandeur, it’s not like it’s going to be published, but it is going to be finished) So, please bear with me on the recommendation, and I’ll come back to why it matters later.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Act 2

The advice I find myself giving out most to people these days (solicited advice, I hasten to add) particularly when they are feeling directionless or unhappy or without confidence, is this – move to another country.

By this I don’t literally mean move to another country. But I don’t not mean that either. What I’m trying to tell people is, from my point of view, if you’re not happy with your life, don’t know who you are or what you want - throw yourself into totally alien situation. Plan a bit, maybe, but what you’re planning for is unknowable so by the same token, you can’t really plan for it. Because what happens when you turn your world onto its head is this - you deal with it, and while you’re dealing with it, you start to work the other bits out.

I’m really bad at taking my own advice, although who isn’t, actually? I write all of these blogs about loving yourself and being kind to yourself and being your own hero, and then when it comes to me I’ve carried this voice in my head that’s always said, ‘yeah, but not you, because you’re a dick.’ I know, proper unhealthy, right?

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

We can be heroes, but not just for one day

Say that you had to create a superhero for yourself.

You could go with an obvious choice, from pop culture lore. Someone with preternatural strengths or abilities, God-like powers over their immediate environment, or unlimited financial resources. And most probably male. I mean, you'll get your Wonder Womans or your Black Widows, but odds are on they will be dressed in something tight and leather, otherwise how else can they remain strong but only in such a way as to still be sexually conquerable?

You could point out here that you have your Buffys of the world, and yeah, that's true. Buffy being a character I've always identified with, but not for the reasons you might imagine.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

A letter to my friend

Once we knew we were losing you, we acted fast, we booked tickets that same day, for a week away. We averted facing our grief through action, forward movement. Whatever else, we would get to see you again. Then I entertained a daydream of us, the wee gang we had just been forming before you got that news: having a laugh together, standing on a hill, posing, looking out to sea, of us driving, through the beauty, in the bubble of each other’s company. Or if we couldn’t do that, sat having a coffee, listening to each other’s voices, enjoying the moment. That moment would signify all of the other potential moments we never got to have.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

‘Your head throbbing like a heart, and your heart throbbing like a drum, and the drums throbbing like the point is just go ahead and jump’ *

That last post was a bit intense, wasn’t it? Well, technically now I’m referring to the post before the last one, because the unexpected entry last time was more along the lines of ‘shit, there's been an earthquake, fuuuuck, I was not prepared for that.’ But the general arc of my posts has been quite intensely introspective and steeped in navel gazing self-analysis, and, it’s not like all of that stuff has gone anywhere, but nobody can, or should, run at that level at all times, mainly because, it’s just too exhausting. Things ebb and flow, so I’m going to ease up the tempo now and focus on something a bit less, well, less. Although, I say this, but in actuality this blog is really just the next step in the same arc, I’m just trying to have a bit more fun with the whole thing because life can be so damn heavy, y’know?