Category Archives: Personal

Books and What They Know

There’s a place in a bookstore, a spot where you can stand and hear the books. It’s the focal point of a multitude of lenses, the single point in the store where the projection of all their secret bookish knowledge is in perfect convergence, allowing you to receive everything. It’s hard to find this spot during the day, because all the people in the store throw off the geometry of the information flow, creating eddies around their perspectives and beliefs, futzing the reception. With all those people the bookstore becomes a strangely quieter place.

I’ve worked at various bookshops, in various countries, for a while now and what I’ve learned is that there is rarely a more beautiful thing than finding that secret spot (it forever changes as books migrate in and out of the store, altering ratios and alchemy) and sitting there. Smoking. And you just listen – listen to all the quiet tumult of books calling across the spaces to each other (because they’re not speaking to you, not yet). You can’t make anything out because it’s like those voices in your head that all go on and on at once, a susurrus of pitch and meaning that is almost impossible to decipher for more than a snatch of a second.

Maybe libraries have it, too. I don’t know. But bookstores do, the good ones. If you can find that space, that nomadic area, it will fix your head, it will cleanse your acne and it will pop that slipped disc back into your spine, afterwards bringing you cake. It will make everything okay again.

I recommend it strongly.

People claim reading as a process, a whole process, they condemn books like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code as being unworthy of being printed, or being destructive as a thing to read. It’s laying claim to brain function rather than taste. Shoot the shitty, mediocre books down as examples of whatever stylistic aesthetic you’re devoted to, colonised by or trying to get laid with, but don’t condemn the books. They’re just words on pages, doing whatever it is that words do on pages when we’re not paying attention. And don’t condemn those that enjoy reading these lesser tomes – mock them, if it appeals, draw disparaging conclusions about their taste and cerebral proclivities as much as you like, whatever intellectual eugenics bandwagon you want to jump on, but don’t condemn them. Because the books will hear you and they’re not a forgiving bunch. Remember when you read that book? That one that your friends were reading? And you were all talking about it? And there was that bit they were all talking about, the bit that they loved above all the other bits? And you thought, Sheesh, I wasn’t all up in that, I thought it was just a bit, y’know, a space, a thing that wasn’t that great. I thought that other bit was the real deal, the crux of the whole  shebang. Well it was that great, the book was punishing you for that thing you said about Don Delillo being a literary fraud whose books should be taken out of Contemporary Fiction courses all around the world. And for calling Dan Brown a cunt. The books don’t like that. So it hid that bit from you, it warped its narrative around itself so you wouldn’t understand. Then it sniggered.

I’ve spent many nights, after finishing some overflow of work, alone, wandering around bookstores. A couple of years ago I was the buyer for a particular store, beautiful Unity. A job that means I was the filter for all the books that made it through the door from the publishing houses monthly migrations, and, after I had been doing it for a while, I had a night. This night I was staying late, catching up on a thing that was running ahead of me, and I went for a wander, looking for the spot. As I was edging around the biography table, past a display on the central support column of the store, listening intently, I had a thought.

It was all me.

Everything in that store, all the books and all their surreptitious whisperings, were me. Because I chose them.

I’m aware that you never really own a book, you can never possess it beyond it’s papery body, though you sometimes think it. In that spot in a bookstore, where you stand and hear them talking, often they’re laughing at you. Laughing, in good humour, without rancour, because you think you understand. You don’t. You’re just a reader. You’re usually not even a writer (though I think they, writers, poets most of all, sometimes know; they have some conduit, some covert correspondence with the books that they can’t ever fully describe, though the trying must be part of the point, but they can’t hold it in their heads, because it’s the night sky, all full up with stars and expanse).

But I chose them, you see, all these books. All that knowledge stacked and pressed into the shelves and cupboards and displays. I was fucking Moses. I led them to this milk and honey. This whole pantheon of scholarship and erudition was an expression of me. Fucking me. That made me one of them.

I shone, for a moment, like a sun. Head back and arms held up, hard and straight.

The books were quiet, like they were allowing me that moment of incandescence, possibly feeding me a little of their energy. They were quiet, maybe drawing breath inaudibly. Then they chuckled at me, shaking their pages. Because I thought I knew. I didn’t.

But they gave me that moment. So I love them. All of them.

Chicken Tractor

This is a Chicken Tractor (capitalisation required) and is just as cool as it sounds (a nice relative statement).

Chicken Tractor

I totally built it.

Which is a bit of a lie – significant help was given at different stages (big ups to Sara, Chris, Sven and, especially, Leen).

This is what the area looked like before any work started:

The pre-existing raised beds were pretty big and had been there for almost 10 years. Deconstructing them was really hard work (we saved as much of the wood as possible so we could re-use it in other parts of the garden). We had to move tons and tons (that is a very literal statement) of earth in order to clear the way. It was far harder and took far longer than I thought it would – this was the result:

The bed on the left was built using the reclaimed wood and is a long-term bed for such things as brassicas and potatoes and the like. We left a lot of the earth in place so we could essentially carve out the patterns of the chicken tractor beds, thus minimizing shovel work and so forth. It was a semi-successful idea.

The following photos show the rest of the construction:

Like the Marshall Plan, only cheaper.

Ugly but planting underway

(The huge pile of dirt in the distance is all the top soil from the previous beds. This would eventually go onto the new beds and other growing areas)

Not too pretty, but starting to take shape

There are many other in-process shots, but I’m sure you get the idea.

I built a second long-term bed further towards the garage, again using reclaimed wood:

These ancillary beds are planted with perennials like asparagus in the back two lots (companioned with tomatoes) with rotational crops in the front.

An interesting comparison is the building time. This bed took me a casual weekend, maybe 10 or 12 hours from scratch to finished. The chicken tractor gardens took roughly 4 months of part-time work, 3 days a week on average.
Now on to the money shots:
You can see the space between the two garden areas here, filled with composting and worm farm wonders.
The basic intent of the tractor is a rotational garden that is sustained by and sustains a population of chickens. The chicken run is lifted and transferred around the raised beds every 6 – 8 weeks, so the chooks can turn the soil, eat, shit and play (while shooting heaps of eggs out their fannies for we, their garden comrades) and replenish the soil. Basically it is designed to be a closed loop system – nothing needed from outside and no waste produced.
There’s heaps more. The amount of food this baby will yield will be staggering. Now that it’s complete and has been getting its act together it has become almost terrifying how fast everything is growing.
It was built on permaculture principles and is sustainable, organic and pretty bloody sensible.
The sunrise design of the beds is pretty cool, I think. The wooden sidings are untreated macrocarpa sleepers. Most other untreated timber would rot significantly within a few years but these sleepers will last for years and years and years. It’s worth mentioning that they are very heavy. Very, very heavy.
Each bed is 3.8 metres long and 1.2 metres wide. the length was dictated by the space available but the width is a good guide line for raised bed construction, basically enabling almost anyone, excluding the tragically short, to reach any point in the garden without having to step on it, thus compacting the soil.
Under each of the macrocarpa sleepers is a one foot deep trench filled with gravel; this is to retard rotting from the wood sitting in pools of water while also raising the water table under the beds themselves.
The spaces between the beds (wide enough for a wheelbarrow) are filled in with gravel, insuring it will drain well when it rains, feeding the trenches under the sleepers and supplying the gardens with plenty of rainwater. Also stops the place turning into a bog.
You can’t see my parents house  to the left of the gardens, but it’s very large with a huge roof area. I’m going to hook up a water collection tank from the roof which will ultimately feed the garden.
Also some grey water systems off the kitchen – but that’s another thing altogether.
There’s still a little more garden building to do – where the topsoil pile is is going to be a rock garden, I just have to move the remaining topsoil to another garden, on another property, I’m putting together. Plus a few fancy touches to make it ever so much prettier (I know, how can that be possible).
I can’t express how much time and work went into this, I have muscles and calluses that barely hint at it. It’s invisible now but in order to dig the trenches and make sure there was an adequate depth of soil under the beds I had to dig out 80-year-old compacted gravel from the old driveway. Apparently if gravel is left to its own devices it evolves into concrete.
It is quite a remarkable thing for me to look at and think, I did that. This was all done at my parents’ house (and was financed by them – at least the materials, I did the work for free) in an effort to put into practice some of the things I had learned while getting my Permaculure Design Certificate in February ’09. Permaculture is, and the course I took in it was, an amazing thing I’m deeply glad I got involved in, also something I recommend to anyone curious about it. I’ve been meaning to write something about it for ages but have been daunted by the scale of it in my head; I’m sure I’ll get there in the end though.
I’m quite proud of this whole thing.

Violence

I think about violence fairly regularly, a possible result of various childhood and early adult experiences, though more likely it’s just the general prevalence of it. But the lens through which I view violence was definitely formed at the private high school I had to go to – a colonial attempt to emulate the English elite model that somehow transformed into a rugby obsessed, educational black hole that endorsed bullying as essential to the construction of character. I was quite small as a boy, not really growing significantly until I was sixteen, so my experience of the worst of this violence was as a weak kid who learnt it was a bad idea to try and stand up to bullies (in this sitcom bullies don’t suddenly back down when confronted, revealing themselves as cowards, they knee you in the stomach and elbow you in the back of the head). It was pretty horrible to be surrounded by this violence but to also be embraced by a context that rewarded said violence socially, if not materially, was baffling. My public school years leading up to this private highschool did nothing to prepare me for the levels of violence that were commonplace there.

One of the worst aspects of this didn’t really come home to me until my final year, when we suddenly had at our disposal the physical and social tools to perpetrate this violence ourselves. This was abhorrent to me, I couldn’t stand the thought of it – it actually made me feel ill. Yet I watched those kids who had gone through the same, or worse, shit that I had perpetrate and embrace this violence, instead of reviling it. It was their turn, I was told when I asked a couple of my friends why they did it. It took me a long time to come to terms with that reality, to actually understand in real terms how violence just begets more violence – a comfortable cliche that doesn’t do itself justice.

Our very origins are based, I think, on conception and conceit. At a fundamental cultural level violence seems to make sense to us, so it follows that we would look for its part in the birth our species. We think of ourselves, in this culture we call civilization, as the pinnacle of the human race. This conceit, that our culture represents our whole species, is massively damaging to our view of cultural phenomena like violence.

Believing our species coalesced in violence makes it easier to perpetuate it, that much is obvious, but the depth of violent conflict in our thinking and behaviour is terrifying. It finds easy expression in our political and social agendas in ways we just don’t notice, let alone question. We make war on drugs, obesity, terrorism, poverty and disease. Business is conducted as warfare (The Art of War by Sun Tzu being a standard business text). There are relationship battles, the grander battle of the sexes; we fight for the hearts and minds of the people.

In ‘Origin of the Species’ (there’s that conceit again) Darwin conceived evolution as war: “Thus from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” Ignoring the ‘higher animals’ thing, nature conceived as hierarchy rather than obviously interconnected systems, the belief that we were actually produced through violence, on an evolutionary level, makes it far easier to see the cultural evolution and acceptance of violence as ‘natural’.

Violence isn’t necessarily about hitting someone, of course. We learn to exact violence in the cleverest, most intimate ways. We only have to look at the intricate use of violence in an abusive relationship – the horror of the physical violence is the crescendo; it is what enforces the continual emotional and intellectual violence of the relationship. It’s all about control and dominion. We all understand this, even if we are inarticulate in the face of it, we all understand. We’ve been made to by our very surroundings, which has a knock on effect into our internal lives. We commit violence on ourselves; constructing an inner violence that warps and betrays our internal lives, condemning our ability to relate to each other and the world around us into a search for and a shameful or embarrassed purchase of the latest aphoristic self-help book.

We understand when violence breaks out in traffic jams, sporting events, chat shows.  We condone or damn it but we certainly comprehend its mechanisms. We celebrate it if it happened on a grand enough scale, in the form of public holidays, parades, statues. Even in sermons. Regardless of its expression, we all understand it. We identify, sympathize and empathize. We get it.

The whole idea of being a victim of violence is totally fucked up by the cultural significance we give to the act, let alone how we view the practitioners of it. When an event is resolved through violence it somehow becomes validated by it, like violence has lent it some of its greater meaning: the philosophy of violence. We debate back and forth the meaning and intent, implication and inference, practice and theory. I find this a terrifying confirmation of violence’s legitimacy in our culture; that we are capable of talking about violence in such shades and with such specificity.

Where do we think it comes from? So many people believe or accept by default that humanity is inherently violent. Not just capable of violence but fundamentally violent – unstoppably and biologically violent. Which might suggest, through a sense of evolutionary destiny, that our violence is forgivable? Because, come on people, it is plainly, as anyone can tell, unarguably (I mean, look at the evidence) just in our nature. Almost any biological creature is capable of violence, humanity being a good example of that, but we take that fact and contort it into a syllogism mighty enough to rationalise itself away.

Go to this link, or this one  and have a look. Do some math. When faced with this are we forced to believe that it is beyond our will? That violence is, what? Inexorable? Inescapable? Preordained? Divine? When considering these consequences do we have to come to the conclusion that our drive to violence is inherent? Biological? God given? If we don’t accept a premise approximating that, what would that mean? Would it mean responsibility? Could we survive if we had to think of a history and present drenched in our bloody choices? If not does it mean we are forced to conceive of a future just as bloody?

If we were to take away our capacity for violence, our toleration of it, our civilization would collapse. It is necessary for our continuity, political, social and material, that someone or thing suffers and dies – not maliciously or cruelly necessary, only by barren, practical necessity. We believe we have to accept it in our world, to tolerate it, if our world is going to continue. It is the oil on the cogs of the machine that brings to our table what we believe we require.

In ancient Rome, when gathering evidence in a court case, from a slave, it was inadmissible, that is to say illegal, if the information wasn’t gathered with the use of torture. There’s a modern argument that torture is, after opining the use of torture as a yardstick of barbarity, actually okay, if the information gathered is important enough. If this paragraph seems to not make much sense, seems to contain contradictions and paradoxes, it’s for very simple reasons.

The use of violence has simply gone on too long, become too complicated. Violence, enduring and horrendous, becomes the default because, y’know, what else are we gonna do? How would you fix it, buddy? Come on genius, solve the world’s problems.

Why is it so hard to just stop?

I’ve read that a culture can’t change its belief in its fundamental principles, because once it does it ceases to be that culture and becomes something else. To aspire to forget violence, to find another way to communicate our needs and desire on the world and ourselves, would mean a change of culture. We could become something else.

When I was in Barcelona recently, with my brother, we were staying in a Hostel. We were in the main bunkroom, a room that had maybe 25 or 30 beds. On the first night there myself, my brother and a number of other people were trying to get to sleep, a venture continually thwarted by a group of 20-something English travelers who were treating the bunkroom as a staging ground for their drunken adventures. They would leave and someone would get up and turn the light out. A short while later they would come back, turn the light on, drink more, talk loudly, and then leave again. Someone would get up and turn the light out. This repeated every twenty minutes or so.

I figured this was something you just accept as the price of a cheap bed. Until midnight – then it gets really fucking annoying. I had been getting angrier and angrier, quietly fuming away on my lower bunk, my brother trying to sleep above me. The pattern of drunken visitations continued, with the added bonus of a couple of disparaging remarks about one sleeper’s big white arse sticking out. Then, at 2am, one of them made a snide comment questioning the whole room’s desire to sleep when we should have been out drinking. The sort of loud mouth, fuckwit comment only protected by the comforting, arrogant presence of a large group of drunken friends. I snapped. The slow burn of my frustration and anger launched me out of my bed with a yell of, ‘Get the fuck out of here’ and had me, before I realized it, propelled halfway across the room, dressed only in my boxer shorts, wanting to hurt someone very badly.

When I got to them, the group of three nearest to the door, I didn’t stop. I transformed my momentum into violence very efficiently, shoving one hard in the chest, propelling him out and into the corridor wall, hard. I was still talking, though I have no idea what exactly I was saying. I turned immediately and grabbed one of them (the one making all the comments) by the throat and pinned him against the wall. The third one I reached for and I think I got hold of his shirt before he broke my grip by moving backwards very quickly. My brother had jumped off his bunk and followed me, backing me up while, very wisely, trying to calm the situation down. I was inarticulate in rage. I couldn’t express to the guy I had by the throat what I wanted to because I wasn’t thinking that clearly, I just wanted to put my fist straight into his face.

I wasn’t scared. The rest of the group had backed out onto the little balcony, giving me room and abandoning their friends. I definitely wasn’t scared. I wanted one of them to swing at me. The only cap on my actions was that I hadn’t damaged anyone and I wouldn’t start a fist fight unless one of them tried to hit me. I wanted someone to swing at me so I could start swinging back, I desperately wanted a reason, something I could look back on later and say that I not only had provocation for my anger but direct cause for my violence. I wanted to hurt someone so badly I could barely contain it.

I think of what I must have looked like: I’m not small any more. I’m an inch or so shy of six foot, broad shouldered with an athletic frame. I exercise frequently and am strong. I’m balding, so I keep the bald man’s traditional skinhead haircut. I was bigger than two of the guys I attacked and wider than the other. I also have a few tattoos on my torso. I would have been scary. Seeing someone in a rage is always scary. Seeing a half naked someone who looks capable of violence charge at you and grab you or your friend by the throat is, I imagine, sobering in the extreme.

The end result was that they backed down and got out. No one threw a punch. When they came back they were quiet enough that I didn’t wake up. The next two nights were the same, very quiet and considerate. In the intervening time they didn’t make eye contact with me, even when I sought it.

I’ve told a few friends about this now, and I don’t believe I’ve coloured it too much to benefit me. Every time I’ve not only been forgiven my actions, I’ve had them approved. I had cause. It was understandable. It was so out of character that it must have been justified. I’m sure most, if not all, of these responses have been out of care for me. But I… I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m aware that I haven’t told one particular person who would have been horrified had they been there and witnessed it.

The worst thing, and the most relevant to my thoughts on violence, is that the anger that I channeled wasn’t the anger those drunken English kids generated. I had been conflicted and confused about something for days; something I’d left behind before but had come back to prey on me, causing a very specific kind of doubt and conflict. There was real turmoil inside me, and those poor Brit bastards just brought it out.

I’m ashamed of myself. I hate violence. I hate the process and the results. Yet I perpetrated it. Worse, I let anger fuelled by personal confusion become violence against stupid but blameless targets. I manifested the lessons I had learned at school. Which makes me hate even more that there is part of me that is secretly proud of the violence I became, that I actually feel better about myself because I have had that capability confirmed.

This is the language of violence, the thing that our lives are steeped in. The distant acts of our past waiting inside us for an opportunity to present themselves – whether it is outwardly on others or what we inflict internally on ourselves. A perpetual cycle of violence and scars subsumed in the currents of our lives only to be heaved up by the tides on other shores.

I want to replace the violence, and the underlying hatred, in my life. I want to be able to feel love and exact the results of that on the world instead. But I can’t find the path. Or I can’t identify it. Yet it must be there because I’ve seen others walking it.

Hate is the process and violence the result. Replace the hate and change the result. Sounds easy enough.

—-

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

New Things

It’s funny how new things bring states and sensations that are not only hard to predict but are usually counter to the intended effect. We often say we’re seeking change just for the sake of it, throwing ourselves at something unpredictable in an effort to shake something loose inside us. But when we choose something new, be it music, a shirt, some new place or situation, the idea is to bring on a specific change – there usually being some really specific ideas involved, highly conceptualized results desired. Irony wins again! We get what we asked for instead of what we wished for: we’re quickly immersed in new, sometimes uncomfortable, and always revealing, perspectives.

I bought a fairly expensive zip-up hoodie a couple of months back, it was a concession to myself as I was feeling like shit and thought that indulging in a fashion ubiquity, one I’d been slightly guilty and embarrassed about liking, would improve my mood – I would, however briefly, be street cool. Instead it just made me feel old. Which was okay, actually. Kind of helpful, in fact. Ultimately the hoodie just made me feel exactly as cool, fashionistically speaking, as I’ve always been, which would accurately be described as un.

It’s a small example, I can totally do better.

A while back I made a couple of pretty big changes, circumstantially and philosophically, in an effort to bring on the tumult of life. It was meant to disrupt and then sand blast the chaff away from my psyche and soul, leaving me raw, fresh and totally sensitive to my new surroundings. I think in my head I would be hotter too. It was meant to reveal the real me, all undimmed and radiant. It was to be dramatic: transformation through trauma. [aside: everyone was to be terribly impressed]. Instead the tumult and turbulence not only failed to manifest this being but actually subsided below normal levels, consequently bringing to the surface aspects and vantages that I’d hoped would be the chaff.

Intention seems to be blind and perspective wears cleats (it needs traction to properly leverage the kick to the nuts, you see). Plus, everyone should be aware, irony is a motherfucker.

Perspective is definitely the thing and people, annoyingly enough, are the key. People are the changing perspective that takes a static image and make it all swooshy and 3D. They keep on moving around you, looking at the same things you’re looking at, and saying stuff, fucking up the clear sight line you thought you had to the horizon. I realized, at some point (let us pretend it was long ago), that my penchant for solitude to aid clarification and enlightenment, was often just retrenching. Remove the hard stuff from your view and you don’t have to work so hard to focus around it.

I don’t mean to bash solitude, me and solitude have totally got each other’s back, it’s just that if you’re using solitude to abridge your existence rather than adapt it the time would be better spent with your hand down your pants (I don’t mean to bash masturbation… oh, wait…). I reckon, after one has taken one’s space in order to facilitate a process of inner harmonization, if that harmonization can’t take contact with people then it’s not harmony, it’s just humming with your fingers jammed knuckle deep in your ears.

By consequence choosing someone new in your life is a huge thing; the instant, unforeseeable perspective jars and quests at you, forcing knowledge both ways, through the sieve of evolving personal context. It’s said that the great thing about a new person in your life is that you get to retell all your favourite stories, reveling in the fun and drama. It seems to me that it’s the shake up they get under someone else’s gaze; these old truths, myths and legends getting a good airing so you can see which bits have rusted and fallen off. The bits that fall off tell you stuff in quiet, clunky whispers no one else can hear.

Our stories always change because the end is forever different. I love getting the chance to hear my friends tell new people stories I heard years before – spot the differences and figure out what changed and why. I used to think it was lying but it’s really the opposite of that.

So coming to know someone is ultimately renewing, allowing a triangulation of selves that promises or hints at all sorts of stuff in the past and future. It can be really disconcerting stuff, no matter how cool and exciting, but only if you venture a certain distance into that new relationship, embracing it and being willing to live with it’s redefinitions and challenges. And that’s why the gods gave us orgasms. It’s a balance thing.

Words and Lies and Truth and Stuff

Words are a sacrosanct thing to me. Which isn’t to say I’m a grammar Nazi, as such, more like a meaning fascist. Words are intent, they are promises – they’re things that bind. Little gets my panties in a twist more than hollow words, sentences and statements that lack motive force. I don’t require that all that I read or hear be true, far from it, just that it be meant. A lie is almost as interesting, on average, as a truth. What someone is willing to or needs to lie about is fascinating and incredibly revealing. The funniest people are those that mean what they’re saying. The smartest people are those that know what they mean. Boring people are those that can do neither.

I follow the things I lie about with close attention – and I don’t mean big, formulated lies that deceive people for ignoble purpose, I mean the little lies that sprint from your cortex and escape your lips before you realise because, for whatever reason, the truth isn’t tolerable at that moment. Destructive lies are horrendous things I desperately try to avoid; hardly anything will make me feel worse than lies as weapons, though one of those things is the truth as a weapon, through blasé disregard for others or blind adherence to the bullshit dictum that truth is paramount, always. But lies as self-defence, be it my own or someone else’s, that shit draws my attention immediately. It’s like bird watching, just without the anoraks. I’ve had the opportunity, recently, to come face to face with some lies I’ve been telling myself for years, the sort of lies that are told, internally (though by natural progression they made their way to the external world), so often that they became set in the paths and walls of my psyche so I could only see the cracks if I stopped and looked closely. Yank those lies out, as I did with differing levels of disgust, and suddenly your balance goes and your vision blurs because the infrastructure had grown used to their support; nothing is stable for a while. It can be pretty freaky. Lies are important, is the lesson I learned, and should be treated with respect.

I like honesty. Someone who is honest with others and themselves – not to the point when you’re telling your workmates why it is exactly you keep the Vaseline on your nightstand, of course (please lie and tell me it’s for chapped lips, because that’s what I used it for last time I was at your place), that can just be upsetting. And honesty is not something I necessary confuse with truth; truth implies full disclosure, regardless of circumstance, while honesty can be the pieces by which the jigsaw of truth is made. Sounds trite, sure, but seriously, fuck you, sometimes I’m trite; honesty is a process by which you can reach some truth. They’re pieces of each other and thus hard to define (as I’m proving). Saying you like or dislike something is being honest, saying you like or dislike it because the neighbourhood weirdo used to insert his pinky finger up your butt while singing Yellow Submarine, is the truth. Both have their place and importance, you really just need to pick that place and it’s importance carefully because they don’t all lead to happy endings.

(Don’t worry; I don’t even know the words to Yellow Submarine).

The measure of honesty, maybe, is the person who is willing to be honest even if it impacts on their social standing. Seeing someone who’ll be honest because they recognise it as a process to reaching some truth, rather than as a shock tactic or leverage point, is an impressive and inspiring sight. They understand the ideas of social lubrication, and apply said lubrication when required, but are willing to be honest, of themselves and about others, even when it won’t necessarily serve them to be so. You can trust people like that (whether you choose to or not may say something else). I’ve met someone like that. She’s pretty awesome – and I mean awesome in the original sense rather than the surfer sense (though there is something of that in there too).

Words and what they mean are like a compass, telling you where you’re standing. I need meaningful exchanges with people before I can talk shit (which is fun, I don’t mean to knock the talking of shit) – I just need to know where everyone is. Because of all this, as one would imagine, and many could attest to, I really suck at small talk. Which I’m okay with.

Going Joe

I was of questionable moral character when I was younger (I’m conveniently partitioning age-wise). I had a couple of friends, Brent and Warren, also about 12 years old, who I used to team up with to pull childish heists. There are a host of reasons, acknowledged or not, that would explain these endeavors: acting out, adrenaline rushes, attention seeking, innate evilness (junior evilness, sans animal torture, all senior evil dudes need in order to get their stripes) or just stupidity. The ones most central to our motivations of the time were adrenaline rushes and profit (oops, forgot to mention that one).

One of our favourite schemes was to nick semi-expensive items and then return them for cash refunds. Which isn’t as simple as it sounds; it required someone with my particular skill set. I was a late bloomer, short for my age and a face that radiated innocence. I could also act suitably distressed and/or stupid:

“We really require the receipt.”

“Um, I did have it… my mum just wanted me to give it back coz daddy… I mean my dad… got one as well… I think she gave me the receipt… I don’t know where it is… I, um, might have lost it?” [Stage direction] Widen eyes, look worried, generate blush if possible.

(A look of sympathy) “Okay. I guess it’ll be okay this once, just remember to keep the receipt next time.” [Stage direction] Smile timidly and say ‘thank you’ quietly and abashedly.

The trick was to surrender your fate wholly and voluntarily into their hands. Give them complete power and then let the cute innocence do the legwork. It was pretty fucking predatory, really.

We’d celebrate with massive sugar binges and fireworks.

Another favourite thing to steal was G.I. Joe dolls, though this was a non-profit venture. We’d take them home and blow them up with fireworks bought with our purloined profits. “Go Joe! Greatest American Hero!!” We’d yell as Duke went sub-orbital, sellotaped to the back of Dr. Mindbender’s ICBM. Boom! [Stage directions] Commence giggling.

Sometimes we’d get one of those candle-like ones that spewed sparks and fireballs and use it to melt the faces of the more uncooperative dolls.

Mangled figurine limbs littered our neighbourhood.

I actually didn’t like doing that explosive stuff so much. Not because I thought it was silly or sick or anything, mainly because I thought it was a waste. I still played with my action figures, you see. Formed bonds with them. Brent and Warren didn’t, they considered that childish. I would smuggle out the occasional prisoner and keep them hidden in my room for when we could properly save the world or go adventuring, maybe trying to make up for the karmic harm I caused when in my villainous role. I liked the ninjas the best: Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and Jinx.

It was quite embarrassing when the police busted us shoplifting and it spread around school that we stole dolls. It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that we could produce disfigured evidence of our cool pyrotechnic proclivities. We stole dolls, that shit sticks.

It almost rubbed off the shine of notoriety we’d gained the previous year for the porn-mag ring we’d established amongst the 11 year olds.

That story doesn’t really have a point other than to offer up a reason why I, a man in his 30s, would go and see the G.I. Joe movie. Which was simply awful. I loved it, because of the nostalgia and all, but wow, what an irredeemable piece of shit. Easily one of the worst movies I’ve seen in my life. I’d have wandered out half way through if their pyrotechnics hadn’t brought a nostalgic tear to my eye. I laughed, quite inappropriately, when Cobra Commander’s face was melted off (Golden Showers! That’s what those flame-spitting fireworks were called! Ha, Golden Showers! You’d think that would put the fire out…) – the laugh was a reaction that garnered a dubious look from someone down the row (like I cared, honestly, they’re watching action doll’s blow shit up. You’re not equipped to have moral suspicions when you do that).

Anyway. Don’t go and see it. Unless you’re a masochist, of course. Or a recovering thief. Or a  bit thick with a short attention span. Though the Baroness was quite hot, something I can better appreciate now though knew even at 12, still 2 years shy of puberty. Which might explain the doll thing in the first place.

Me vs. Brain

Memory can be a funny thing.

I want to lead a better life. I don’t mean that I want to refocus my efforts, give more to charity, rescue wee kittens from smelly old ladies or change the world. I mean to definitively lead a better life. To instigate change in myself and through that change find new possibilities and practices that allow me to better harness whatever innate qualities I possess, thus creating a better quality life. One, of course, would hope the consequences of these metamorphoses would lead to a few saved kittens and maybe even some soap for the aging smelly ladies (and wouldn’t that be a better, changed world?) but, unfortunately, focusing on the ends often defeats the means.

We’re made up of our memories. And we all have a stable of significant memories that we nurture and harvest for the sake of our self-image. Many of these memories aren’t helpful, can in fact be destructive, as the values and beliefs we appraise them with cause us to take meanings from them that aren’t real. That construct a self image that is flawed and impedes evolution or growth of a sustainable and fruitful existence.
So we travel up and down the time-stream of our lives evaluating our memories and thus ourselves, trying to divine what is true, what is not and how that affects us. But memories don’t cooperate.

I read a thing about memories a while back, about their storage and access. Basically there are three parts to the brain: the cerebrum, the limbic system and the brain stem. Memory storage is as you would expect, filed with the book-keeper of the brain, the cerebrum, where all the cool, higher functions take place. But emotional interpretation happens elsewhere, in the limbic brain, the emotional core of our beings, which is adrift in significant ways from our reasoning centre in the cerebrum. The funny thing being that the limbic brain has absolutely no sense of time. None. Total fucking goldfish, man. When you access memories that are powerful, stored in the cerebrum, they are interpreted by the limbic brain as ever new and original. When the limbic brain experiences a memory it is always for the first time. The catch is that the limbic brain is plugged straight into the brain stem, and thus to our nervous system, and our bodies always believe the limbic over the cerebral, making us physically and emotionally eternally present in our reaction to memories. But wait! It always starts with our thinking. Our emotional response is a secondary reaction to the cerebral importance we place on a particular memory. When traumatized we don’t suppress our emotions, because we just can’t, so we suppress our cerebral memories because without those the limbic brain can’t react, all mad goldfish stylz, to the horror.

To put it simply, the limbic time traveler in our head can’t cope with the constant and insistent immediacy of an ever-present experience. So you bamboozle the book-keeper by fudging the records.

Done? Nooooo, never that easy, baby. The emotional impact is still there, waiting, you’ve just stripped it of the consistent cues it needs. And since it has nothing to attach to, the books of memory being all smudged up, you never know what cues, through weird swings and roundabouts of association, will bring a sudden flash of memory, setting off the limbic time-traveler in your head. Boom. So the potential emotional impact just floats, anchorless and perfectly formed, around your head.

Cool.

The upshot is that if you don’t deal with the memory, understanding it and what it actually means (It’s not your fault Will Hunting, it’s not your fault) to you as a singular entity, then you’re totally screwed, dude. It’s like juggling buttered toast and trying not to get your fingers greasy.

I have a new found respect for the psychiatric profession.