Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Angels on pinheads


I've been living and working back in Melbourne now for four months. It was going to be three ... but then I've never been especially good at estimating the amount of time something will take.

Since I have been back, I have interrupted the lives of some wonderful, dear friends. We have sung and danced around the messy details of our mid-life crises and I have often wondered where in the journey of my life I would 'be' now if it hadn't been for the Fag, Interrupted-esque sojourn in the harbour city for seven years. But as James Goldman, in his The Lion In Winter script, puts it: "'What if ...' is a game for scholars. What if Angels sat on pinheads?"

I am constantly moved and provoked by the (in)different circumstances of many of the people I knew almost a decade ago. One of my dearest (and most reliable) co-bar-propper-upper-ers is now on heart medication and rarely drinks. For he and I, it's recently become something like an arduous garden-path kind of a walk to our local for two ... or more. I think about calling him and asking him out to the pub a little less often - especially now that it appears to be a matter of life or death. For him, in any case.

And some of the people I have known in this lifetime are achieving truly wonderful things ... and like a ratty little mongrel puppy, I yap and nip at their heels - celebrating their deserved success: like this extraordinarily beautiful work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

DVD Review: United 93


My introduction to United Airlines Flight 93 was in the early hours of September 12, 2001. Not owning a television, I was following the unfurling, hypnotic spectacle on the internet. ('September 11' would later be acknowledged as being the first major international event to have been communicated to the world in real time via the 'net.) I was plugged in to a large number of websites - one of which belonged to United Airlines. At some point during the fiasco, having refreshed their site in my browser, there was a stark, simple message on the company's homepage: "United Airlines regret to announce that we appear to have lost another aircraft." (United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane hijacked, had already been flown into the World Trade Center's South Tower.)

My introduction to the Paul Greengrass film - United 93 - was as a result of the, then, Sydney Film Festival Artistic Director Lynden Barber's decision to include it in his program for the 2006 festival. I was the Events Manager for Barber's final festival (an hypnotic and terrifying ordeal in its own right) and I had taken the opportunity to sneak in and watch this film. About 15 minutes into it, my mobile phone, silently, announced that I was needed somewhere. We had a huge number of Festival Sponsor post-screening functions immediately following the film - and there was the entirely necessary corporate sponsorship banner positioning to be attended to. Almost gratefully, I slid from the theatre. I had missed the beginning and I was going to miss the end ... and until the other night when I saw the film for the first time, I didn't realise just how grateful I should have been.

The post-United 93 screening functions were, as you might imagine, dire affairs. Ghostly white and subdued, corporate Sydney wandered dazed and undone into their little roped-off exclusion zones - truly stunned by what they had witnessed. I had imagined they would be, and had arranged for the lights to be dimmed in the holding pens I had any control over and encouraged the event staff who bothered to listen to be mindful of what our cheque-signers had just witnessed. I adored Lynden Barber's festival ... and especially his inclusion of this film. The State Theatre, where it screened, had just had a new 'rock concert' sound rig installed ... and United 93's momentous and almost impossibly layered soundtrack (Martin Cantwell's Sound Editing and John Powell's Original Score) gave it a paint-and-wall-paper stripping run for its money.

****

One of Greengrass's masterstrokes is the casting. John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) once said that "casting is 65 percent of directing", and in the case of United 93 I would, possibly rather magnaminously suggest, that the casting is almost 90 percent of the work's cinematic torque. The flight crew (pilots and cabin attendants) are all played by real crew - some of whom work for United Airlines. On the ground, the Civilian and US Military Air Traffic Controllers are played by real air traffic controllers – and in some cases, the people who were actually working on the morning of September 11. The passengers are played by relative unknowns, and it is this choice that ensures the film demands an immediate and instinctive respect. There is, not at any time, any "Acting" going on. Yes, there is knowledge and technique … there is commitment and passion … but ultimately, it is the anonymity of these actors that powers their presence in this work in precious and commanding ways. Many Directors and Casting Directors choose this casting path to walk – but very few have succeeded in matching the power of the unreservedly adventurous and uncluttered energy with the material that Greengrass manages to inspire in this work and from his brilliant cast.

The editing by Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse is astonishing and entirely worthy of their Oscar™ nomination … even though they lost - inexplicably - to Thelma Schoonmaker's work on Martin Scorsese's chronically over-rated, sentimental favourite The Departed. Greengrass, too, was nominated for the Oscar™ for Best Achievement in Directing, capitulating too, to Mr Scorsese.

I have always been greedy for detail - and Barry Ackroyd's Cinematography re-defines the possibilities of the hand-held camera and strikes the perfect aviation-clinical look throughout the 'inflight' interiors. His colours and tones are bone-bearingly real, and his and Greengrass's camera becomes almost lascivious as it prowls the darkest and most unlikely corners of the entire, unravelling horror. From the chaos on the ground to the habitual inflight prattle, Greengrass is everywhere. He pins each and every minute detail of his formidable narrative to your every breath ... choking you with his drive, intention and pace. His virtuoso camera angles are a lesson in themselves and the camera's battle for stability and equilibrium in the post-hijack cabin of United Airlines Flight 93 is unrelentingly painful. That there is even the slightest semblance of hope for a different denoument is the mark of a truly great storyteller ... and a water-tight and skillful ensemble and crew.

From its simple, eerily familiar and almost routine beginning to the blistering mid-point where the tension can no longer be contained, United 93 is a masterful cinematic ante-mortem examination … and even though forensic investigators have contradicted the popular myth that the passengers managed to make it into the cockpit, the final few minutes of United 93 will connect so brutally with your heart that it may be almost impossible for you to stand it.

It was only through the wide-eyed wonder at what real and raw courage and determination looks like, that I could.

****

Donate to, and view, the Honour Flight 93 National Memorial and buy the DVD.

Image courtesy United 93.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Careful, it might not be about you

I had a telephone call from a very concerned friend tonight ... someone who thought I was being more than a little indiscreet writing about their relationship. The funny thing, from my point of view in any case, was that they had not even entered my mind when I was writing about the kinds of dysfunctional relationships others have in their lives.

It reminded me of a friend who asked me out to lunch when the relationship I was referring to with, let's call him W, was in its death-throes. I said I would see what W was doing (as one of a couple almost annoyingly does when you invite them to do something), and she said that the invitation to lunch was not actually being extended to him ... but to me and only me. My friend was not interested in having lunch with my boyfriend and I. He, I assumed, was to be the topic of conversation.

And I was right. My friend, let's call her B, had decided to cross the invisible line in the sand we all negotiate in our relationships with our friends. What right do we have to express an opinion about how healthy or otherwise we believe our loved ones' relationships to be? How can we be sure we know what we're talking about? After all, the only two people who 'live' a relationship are the ones who spend the majority of time together in it. Aren't they?

So what are we do with the uneasy feelings and observations we have about the lives of others who are dear to us? B decided it was time to tell me how uneasy she felt about my relationship. She felt that it was changing me in a negative way and that I had become unhealthily obsessed with keeping the relationship going, even though it was apparently obvious to everyone but me that it was doomed. The lunch was awkward and I remember defending my relationship, not only to her but to myself as well. The lunch achieved several things - one of which was for me to return to our home and reinvest ... in some kind of wonderfully noble attempt to prove her wrong. She wasn't 'wrong', of course. She was actually articulating something that I feared myself ... and for that reason, it changed our friendship forever.

****

Some years later I took the same risk with a very, very dear friend. I had information about her partner that made me feel incredibly uneasy. Our 'dinner' turned into her terrible, tearful flight from me. Years later, the honesty of my perception of the flaw in her relationship and the increased toll the dilemma was to take on her life were both acknowledged. It certainly didn't make me feel any better about having been the harbinger of doom ... but it did make me realise that we occasionally rely on our friends to tell us when we're dancing with the potential for great sadness and disillusionment. We also risk a significantly more sinister betrayal: that moment when a friend asks "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" or "Why didn't anyone warn me?" ... or "say something".

One of my friends who had actually fucked my boyfriend (with his partner ... yes, two of them at the same time) took it upon himself to confess their indiscretion to me. I was, strangely, extremely grateful for his honesty. I remember the wall building itself around my heart as he spoke.

Trust is loaded. Perhaps I don't trust easily. Perhaps I don't trust at all. Not even myself.

But that is another story.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Evolutionarily speaking


How do we evolve? Not as a species ... but as individuals? ... and how do we measure the extent to which we have evolved? If, in fact, we have. Or ever do. The habits of our lives are fascinating paradigms - within and without which, we know and sometimes observe ourselves. Living. Or not living. Existing. Or subsisting.

I am preparing myself for a major change in the habit of my life. My collision with the concept of mortality was extremely interesting. Punishing, in fact. I bought myself a little spiral notepad to write down all the aspects of my life that I want to examine in more detail ... and possibly change. Or not. The important thing is that I am going to rigorously interrogate every aspect of my life and its value (or lack of value) to me.

The first topic, interestingly enough, is the lack of a relationship in my life. Love. Skin-tingling intimacy ... and a perpetual state of arousal. Days in bed fucking. Kissing. Touching. Wanting for nothing ... except maybe the possibility to disappear further into each other than is biologically possible.

I started with this topic because it is the one by which most people judge me most harshly. Apparently, because I am a single man, I am "lonely" ... "sad and lonely" ... "bitter" ... "fat, sad, lonely and bitter" ... "lacking in self-esteem" ... chronically. But other people's judgment of me is almost entirely lame conceit in the face of the extent to which I am capable of judging myself. And have been, mercilessly, for a number of years.

Now it is time to change a few things.

*****

I had a boyfriend once. He lived in Elsternwick and I lived in Balaclava. We met at a gay men's sauna. We fucked all night. And exchanged telephone numbers. I remember the beginning of this relationship as though it were yesterday. He, or I, would call ... and then we would both leave our homes at the same time and meet on Hotham Street. We would practically race the final few hundred metres of this hallowed turf towards each other. When I could be sure it was him walking toward me, my heart would skip a beat. A smile so wide and so wondrous would form of its own free will on my lips. In the distance, his body would change shape. As would mine. He would start running ... so would I. My visions of our embrace, our intimacy and our sex would force tempo changes in my pace and direction like nothing else ever could. Or ever has. I would find myself opening my arms to him ... collecting him, embracing him ... sweeping him and all his wonderful huggable, kissable, edible and almost impossibly desirable energy into my arms. We would overflow with joy ... and at the time, I was strong enough to experience it. Trust it ... and believe in the honesty and fairness of it. We exchanged the energy of love and we were both much stronger for it. This feeling, more than anything, is the one I miss more than any other.

Of course we moved in together. Of course it was lovely ... as you would expect having as much of everything good about someone and something is lovely. Right? Complete. Yes?

Over the years we share a beautiful apartment on Brighton Road, go on holidays together and bury his older brother. We would also acknowledge the anniversary of the death of his younger brother who had died before I had come onto the scene. He would mourn and I would hold him. He would lash out at the empty space around him and I would manage to fill some of it ... when appropriate, and nurse him into a sobbing almost-stillness. And eventually peace and silence ... where the mutual lack of understanding about the depth and extent of his pain and my share of it succumbed to something of another world - altogether.

*****

I have always believed that relationships end the way they begin ... in fact, I guarantee it. The one thing I have observed about the end of relationships is that where they begin (in my case, a gay men's sauna) is where they will end. And one thing is certain ... they will end. I lost my boyfriend in the mist ... somewhere near, I have always imagined, where I had found him. One night, some weeks after our hideously acrimonious separation, he fronted up to a local pub where my friends and I were drinking and dancing. He professed undying love and remorse for his actions (fucking any of our mutual friends had been the final rule I had dared to make ... which he had, of course, broken). He was forcefully escorted out of the bar and on to the street (by a couple of my friends and the security staff) and warned to stay away from me. He did. And always has - ever since.

*****

Coming back to Melbourne has, in the way similar to that of a sudden breeze flipping the pages of your newspaper over as you read it, ensured that certain chapters of my development ... my evolution ... have been held up for cheery reminiscence. I have scooted past our old apartment building on a couple of occasions in taxis, cars and on trams. I, like I am sure most of us do, select the happy memories to consider first. Our balcony garden and our huge, real Christmas Tree. Our holidays to Broken Hill, Rutherglen and Millawa. The Alpaca Farm.

But ultimately it is the pain of betrayal and loss which slowly rises to the surface ... and it is my conscious and worthwhile choice to never offer so much of my self, my time, my energy, support and love to any one ever again. Except possibly myself. I know people who are bound in loveless knots masquerading as relationships. I see compromised potential and sense discomfort that makes my heart sad and my head spin with boredom generated by the relentless saga of their sadness and frustration. I see rules being made and broken ... and I see expectations fallen short of - well short of. I hear tension and sadness in their voices and their life rhythms are corrupted by futile attempts to accept what others of us refuse to even acknowledge - the consolation prize. I watch dark clouds, not of their making or intention, hover over too much laughter and delight. I watch them defending themselves from their fears of lonliness by barricading themselves behind a wall of toilet-paper feebleness - built of false hopes and unrealistic expectations. Lies, fantasies and delusions.

Aloneness ... and the incomparable joy of individual freedom is the thing I value more than anything in the world. I always have. And I always will. I have known love ... and it was life-changing. So is compromise, but for entirely different reasons. I, for one, would prefer to live without one than to have to suffer the other.

There is, after all, a world of difference between being lonely and being alone.

Image The evolution of man

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dag Pride


Today I was walking back to my office having bought my lunch and coffee. It was a beautiful Melbourne Autumn day. I glanced across Chapel Street because something - or should I say someone - caught my eye ...

Yes! One of my Sainters! Nick Riewoldt! In the flesh!

I walked into a bin and spilt my coffee everywhere. But the public humiliation was worth it. Sometimes I'm just so proud to be a Big Dag at heart.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Death's Door: Part 2

It's quite incredible the way you consider the presence and company of strangers who share nothing more with you than the foothpath when you believe that, at any minute, you may be gasping for air at their feet. Would they look the other way? Would they, by association, be too afraid to come to your aid? Would they know what to do? It's a strikingly theatrical and filmic concept. I recommend it.

My first thoughts are that there is every possibility that I am not going to make to Emergency. The sun is impossibly bright and my skin is coated in an almost icy layer of sweat. My left leg is numb, and my left foot drags ... causing me to stumble over my own toes. My mobile phone crashes to the ground and my wallet glides effortlessly a foot or two away. The vision of a fat poof sprawling chaotically over this trissy South Yarra side-street makes me laugh ... but it hurts to laugh.

A young girl walking in the same direction as me on the opposite side of the road pauses. Her instinct is obviously to be sure I intend to do her no harm. She glances, briefly, in my direction and then resumes the urgent rhythm of her own life ... as, I suspect, we all do when we have ascertained that the result of another's sudden erratic jolt in our discernible collective rhythms is a return to the status quo.

It's all about direction. My senses are incredibly finely attuned to the direction the people around me are heading. I am, at once, calculating both their distance from me and their proximity to each other. It is like I have just directed a scene in a film and all the carefully choreographed 'background action' is being run through before the first take ... when the star falls helplessly to the ground, clutching his bragging, thumping heart ... and being silenced by his humility in the face of a painful death.

On my knees, I collect my mobile and my wallet ... dragging them back to me like precious icons. My eyes hurt and water. My wallet falls from my hand because there is no sensation in the fingers of my hand. I watch it fall and bounce off my knee and onto the ground.

It feels as though someone is behind me, holding me ... their arms wrapped tightly around my chest. I flex the fingers of my right hand ... the tips of which are white. Like marble. Like playing the piano in mid-air. I reach out for my wallet again and slide it toward me. Gripping it tightly, I slide it up my leg and into my coat pocket. It's like sliding a brick along the ground with cotton wool.

I am alert enough to know that I should not make any strenuous movement ... like standing up. My heart is thumping. I slide my hand inside my jacket and place the palm of my hand over my heart. It's like someone is trying to wake the household up at 3am because they've lost their keys and can't get in.

I look down toward Chapel Street and see pedestrians. But they are no longer anonymous bodies and faces ... they are like the people who may come to my aid. Or not. But these particular people will have long passed by the time I get down there. They'll read about it in the newspaper, possibly. Or they'll hear the ambulance. Maybe they'll go into a shop and come out ten or fifteen minutes later and see the crowd gathered around my relieved and grateful barely breathing body. Maybe one of them will ask a shopkeeper for a blanket ...

They are not doctors or nurses these people. Nor are the people who are yet to arrive at ground zero. I imagine them fifteen minutes or so further up Chapel Street ... wandering aimlessly along the footpath without any knowledge of the extent to which the heart attack victim is about to really spice up their dinner table conversation tonight.

****

It's an almost impossibly intimate concept - dying. I'm 43 years old. I'm a poof. I've smoked since I was seventeen. I have a bad heart. I'm carrying too much extra weight. I don't exercise. I eat meat pies and chocolate for lunch - in that order. I love fried food and I drink coffee to Olympic Gold Medal haul standards every day. Of course I am not going to survive this!

****

I decide to try standing up. The circulation in my fingers has returned and my fingers now ache because I am clenching my wallet so tightly. Slowly, I stand ... and the pain in my chest gradually begins to subside. I can almost see it leaving. I lift my head ... higher than it has been for the past few hours. I slowly inhale ... deeper. The pain has a weaker grasp of my chest. No intention. No control. I dare to breathe ... inhaling ... carefully. I take a couple of cautious steps toward Chapel Street and then stop. The pain in my chest is gone. Not entirely ... but almost. Now, it feels like a ill-fitting jumper. Polyester. Tingling. Nylon. Tight.

I have so much work to do. My little creative agency is literally bursting at the seams. I have nineteen 'live' jobs and, for the first time in the life of my small business, so many of the processes associated with the success of a small business are in place. I love my little office. I have a whiteboard with no more room on it. There are three jobs waiting to be dispatched ... which means invoices ... which means paying bills - and tax - the square root of the delay I have enforced on my life for at least five years. Maybe more.

Since I have come back to Melbourne, I have learned more about how important the success of my little business is than I ever imagined. I do good work. Sometimes I do great work. And right now, I'm doing really good work. I have new clients that I can nurture into major ongoing workflow.

I am not going to drop. Not today.

****

I turn the corner into the street that runs parallel to Chapel Street. There's a car detailing place on the corner, littered with jobbers polishing BMWs and ridiculously big artless cartrucks. I decide to walk around the block and go back to work. I slowly increase the pace of my strides ... not pushing it, not showing off to myself. I am determined to get back to my office and continue to work. I have deadlines to meet. People are relying on me. I love it that they do ... almost as much as I love it that they can.

It would seem that I am going to spare My Strangers their little bit of death today.

****

By the time I get back to my office, the pain in my chest has entirely subsided. Just the occasional stab ... one or two teeth-clenching bursts. I imagine that when it finally does happen, like it is bound to, it will be so immensely painful that death will be the only relief.

But no more of a relief than the DO NOT RESUSCITATE card I now have in that pesky little wallet of mine.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Death's Door: Part 1


Last Thursday was one of the most interesting days of my life. No, truly. Fascinating. Confronting. Frightening. Over-whelming ... in fact, awe-inspiring.

I had spent the better part of the day at a press approval with my associate James. It had been a long and ultimately fruitless exercise. Never in the life of my small business have I been unable to approve a job on the press. On some occasions it has been necessary to slightly alter the balance of the inks ... but on this occasion, there were significant problems with the job and it was with considerable reluctance that I (un)happily agreed to compromise the considerable value of my eye for detail in defining flaws in a print job ... and let it go. The Press Manager guaranteed me that my little list of flaws would be corrected, but apparently I was not to see the fruit of this particular promise. To his credit (and perhaps mine as the Designer and Finished Artist) he rather humbly acknowledged that I had set them a complex and difficult task. I was challenging the press (and the people who operate it) to deliver a brochure of such technical superiority that it would be some hours before they were happy to press the 'Go' button on the job.

James dropped me back at my office and I sat down at my computer to look through a dazzling array of emails that had flooded my inbox in my absence.

The chest pain started almost immediately ... a clamping, cramping pain of such immense, polarising discomfort that I thought I was going to pass out where I sat. My computer monitor was suddenly blurry and I was almost completely thrown by the thin layer of persperation almost bubbling to the surface of my forearms, my chest and - somewhat unusually I thought, my neck. My breathing was short and shallow and the tips of my fingers were tingling. The immediate fear was brain-numbing ... and my first instinct was to lie down on the floor of my office and relax. Breathe. Relax. The usefulness of years and years of breathing classes (I trained to be an opera singer for a long time ... and an actor for longer) evaporated. Try as I may, I could not 'send my breath' any further into my body than the top of my lungs, which were now aching and contracting ... as if someone else was doing my breathing for me.

The temptation to yield to the panic was overcome by my immense proclavity for common sense. I knew I was in a danger zone because, since I was about ten, I have known that I have "a heart problem". An irregular heart-beat. A semi-blocked left ventricle - the ventricle (valve) which is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood from the heart on its journey through my body. I have never been able to over-exert myself physically ... and at the risk of being considered weak and ineffectual (two attributes I despise in people of my sexual inclination), I have always managed a show of strength.

But not on this occasion ... which, unlike previous 'chest pain dramas', was rendering me totally and utterly inert. And afraid for my life.

My breathing was becoming shallower and shallower ... to the point where I thought I was, shortly, not going to be able to inhale at all. I prised myself from the floor and, gripping the edge of my desk, dragged myself up from the floor (which had provided no respite whatsoever from the pain) and fell back into my chair.

I've heard and read many descriptions of an episode of chest pain ... and every one of them fled my mind and my consciousness with record-breaking speed and alacrity: "concrete slab" ... "knives" ... "squeezing the air out of me" ... "such immense pressure" ... "unable to control the depth of my breathing" ...

Hunched over like a man 20 years my senior, I walked up the corridor to the stairwell at the back of my office building and did what I always do when I feel stressed and out of my depth ... not to mention my comfort zone: I had a ciggie.

Well, the tiniest bit of a ciggie ... because inhaling was impossible. My lips and my mouth were willing, but my chest and my lungs were not. I gagged on the smoke and immediately stubbed the cigarette out in my full to over-flowing ashcan. I sat on my 'smoking step' and wondered if this, in fact, was going to be the end of my life. Laughingly, I thought first and foremost about the amount of work I have on at the moment. Deadlines for this job ... and that. Concepts and ideas to be submitted. "Typical!" I remember thinking. "Here I am ... as busy as I have ever been - and now I have to go and have a fucking heart attack!"

I was amazingly unsentimental. Fear of what was happening overrode every other mental capability. I immediately wondered who in the building I would ask (and want) to help me. I pondered how to ask ... when to ask ... and, rather innocuously, decided that if I was going to shit myself (as people apparently do when their bodies go into death-throes) whose life did I have the right to change to that extent? In whose arms and at whose feet was I going to writhe in pain. And cry. And beg.

It pained me to discover that there was no-one within my immediate surrounds who I could turn to. I was on my own. It's the way I like it.

I knew the extent of this pain - not to mention the time it had gone on for - was a bad sign. A very bad sign.

I staggered back to my office and closed the door. I sat in my chair and Goggled 'heart attack symptoms'. I devoured every syllable of every piece of information like a vulture ... at the same time, buying myself great swathes of relief in the realisation that even though I was in such complete agony, nothing else like what was being described was happening to me. There was no pain in my head or my arms. Yes, the pain was immense and uncomfortable, but it wasn't like what was being described on the two or three websites that trumpeted information about the possibility of my impending and immediate demise.

And then it hit me. A stab of sheer eye-watering and mouth-drying pain in my heart like I have never experienced. I groaned from the intensity of it ... and with one hand to my chest, I grabbed my keys, my wallet and my mobile phone and decided to walk the four or five blocks to the Alfred Hospital.

I considered my options for company and support as I left the office ... and as I shuffled, blindly bound with pain along the footpath outside our building on my way to Emergency ... I wondered who in the world I would chose to die in the arms of.

And to what I imagine will be my unending surprise, I decided I wanted that person to be A Complete Stranger.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Table manners


This is a fabulous image emailed to me from my friend Salli in the UK.

The photo was posted on ebay where this man was hoping to sell his dining setting. How do we know it's a man? Clue: the mirror on the wall.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Madness


David Walliams plays a character in the television series Little Britain who walks through scenes making 'boock boock' noises ... clucking noises ... like a chicken. 'She' is one of the least sentimental characters in what is most certainly one of the bleakest of scenarios in the show ... and I have always been curious about the likely motivations for her inclusion - but no more so than this afternoon, when, on my way to the office with my takeaway coffee, a woman was walking along behind me making identical sounds. I glanced over my shoulder to see whether someone was taking the piss, as it were ... but no. Here, on Chapel Street (the very epicentre of Melbourne's Fashionista set and an almost impossibly ironic choice of location), was a woman as mad as the day is long, clucking away while strolling along the footpath.

Our little gaggle of pedestrians arrived at a set a traffic lights and a Little Red Walking Man. Others, perhaps as bemused and bewildered as I, moved out of her way. Some struck a pose of airhead aloofness ... others giggled. I looked on with a sanctimonious, self-rightedness pity. As the Little Red Walking Man was replaced by a Little Green Walking Man, we all stood completely still. Mad Woman glanced briefly from the middle-distance surrounding her to the ground and said "I hate going first". As I stepped from the footpath onto the road, Mad Woman followed and began to cluck away again.

My thought, as I wandered down a side-street toward my office was: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

****

Madness has always fascinated me. A large number of characters in plays I have written could quite easily, if not a little too lazily, be described as 'Mad'. I wrote a play many years ago called Memories, Melodies and Madness which enjoyed a world premiere in London (and great reviews!) and a season in Melbourne.

In the play, four dead women relive the final night of their lives and, guided and encouraged by a Virgil character, are given the opportunity to take responsibility for each of their roles in their shared tragedy and cross over to the Afterlife. One of the characters succeeds. The others do not ... and for them, their fate is to continue to re-live the final night until they are at peace with their responsibility for what occurred. As the character who was finally at peace began to cross-over into her new life, the play began again - playing identically to the way the performance had started. It was my interpretation of the Catholic 'Purgatory' ... the Christians' 'Hell'.

In London, it received rave reviews and played to packed houses. In Melbourne, at the height of an unseasonal Melbourne heatwave (such is my fucking luck!) we had to cancel several performances due to the fact that the old theatre we were performing in had no air-conditioning which resulted in a temperature in the back few rows of raked seating of close to 40°C.

At the conclusion of one performance, as the play 'began again', a woman in the audience suddenly realised what was happening. She let loose with an audible gasp of recognition and an almost painful whimper of realisation ... as the lights snapped to black. She sat in her seat in the theatre for almost half an hour after the performance had ended ... staring at the stage. The rest of the audience had long since left and she remained - at one with the work and her experience of it.

I have been incredibly fortunate to experience a number of moments like this throughout the many years I spent making theatre. There was the young man who, upon seeing my play The World ... According to Timothy Cross promptly returned to another performance with his Mum, having gone home and 'come out' to her. He brought his Mum to see my play because he believed that the experience of it would be something that would inform her understanding of who her son was ... and what he was going through.

****

At some point in the not too distant past, something else came to mean something more to me than the collection of these experiences I was proudly gathering to keep my heart and soul fed and at peace.

I wish I knew what it was.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Vale Tammy Faye



Tamara "Tammy" Faye Messner.

March 7, 1942 – July 20, 2007.

Thank you Tammy. I loved every minute of it!

The Struggles


I have a nickname for the last five years of my life. It's 'The Struggles'. I adopted it, in style at least, from a land (the memory of which) lies percolating in my heart and soul - Ireland. The Irish, with their characteristic mastery of understatement, referred to their seemingly interminable conflict with the English as "The Troubles". Sometimes it is the accuracy and economy of understatement that results in the very essence of the issue being pinned to a floating speck of dust ... the kind that is visible only in the brightest, almost paint-strippable ray of light. And as a bomb (courtesy of the IRA) exploded only 100 metres from me in London's Victoria Station in 1990 - I knew we were, indeed in trouble.

I remember my first visit to Ireland vividly. I had met an Irish woman - Annie O'Brien - in London when we were both cast in a season of the Stephen Sondheim musical The Frogs. Annie and I instantly bonded ... and many of my special memories of the time I spent in Europe were as a direct result of our vast and wonderful friendship. It was Annie who rented me a room in her beautiful house in West Ealing ... and when the advertising agency I was working for went bust overnight, she guaranteed a roof over my head until I found another job. It was Annie who raced to The Green near our home in Ealing one fateful morning to help me up from the grass. It was Annie who found the perfect space for a season of another play of mine in London ... and it was Annie's brother who, being an Aer Lingus pilot, flew us from Heathrow to Dublin - with me perched wide-eyed, stunned and amazed in the jump seat!

Upon our arrival in Dublin, we went to Annie's brother's favourite pub for lunch. We sat in a beautiful courtyard and drank Guinness. I realised I was in trouble when I started to notice that people were smiling. Real, genuine almost heart-felt smiles. It made me feel uncomfortable ... and Annie laughed at the increasing level of my discomfort. I remember ordering a chicken sandwich for lunch ... and minutes later, when it appeared in front of me on the table - I promptly burst into tears. There, sitting on a serviette within a small woven basket was a fresh roast chicken sandwich. I touched it gently, and the bread sprung back from the small indent the tips of my fingers had made in it. For the first time in what, at the time, seemed like a lifetime, I was about to eat a fresh roast chicken sandwich ... not the thin, salmonella-prone slices of processed and compressed 'pretend' chicken I had become used to in London - the taste of which was always one of life's little, unsolved mysteries.

Touring Ireland was one of the highlights of my years in Europe. I hope to do it again as soon as possible. Images and experiences of my time there haunt me still. The Hill of Tara, Newgrange, theatre at The Abbey, wandering through the grounds of Dublin University, spotting bullet holes in buildings and ranging far south to the wilds of incomparable coastline ... epic, romantic, sweeping grandeur. A magnificent collision of the elements that can only be written about by people who - possibly innately - understand the power, scope and range of the cultural and historical significance of the perfect meeting of time and place.

****

Last night, in the time and place I occupy for the time being, I finally realised why my life has turned out the way it has. It's because the one I lived prior to the one I am now living was better! Much better! So much fucking better it almost defies description! Almost. You see, in my previous life, I was a Pharaoh! I was! I may very well have been the Pharaoh! How good is that?!

I have to be honest. It's not the first time I've been confronted with this fact. But prior to having this sacred vessel (see?) with which to record my every second rumination, it's only ever been a little-known fact of ... whatever the word is that means the opposite of motivation. Yes, that's it - consolation. When everything I've achieved has eventually ended, I have religiously consoled myself with the knowledge that everything I achieve in this lifetime is intended to be the very anithesis of everything I achieved when - to monstrously wonderful effect - I was The King of Egypt!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bonfire of my vanity


I love fire. There is a primal energy about making heat ... and light ... possibly even the manifestation of a Baby God Complex. "Let there be light!" Certainly! Get out of the way and thy will be done, in Northcote as it is in Adelaide.

The occasion was a dear but distant acquaintance's house-warming party ... and having trundled deep into the wilds of Melbourne's northern suburbs with JD and her husband CS, we were ready to enjoy a lovely afternoon soaking up the last of the winter sunshine. As the sun started to disappear, an instantly recognisable chill began to descend - at which point I realised that, unbeknownst even to myself I fear, Firestarter had already selected the patch of back yard that would become his mini inferno: a concrete slab in the middle of a stricken vege garden ... well enough away from the house to ensure no lives (or aspects of new weatherboard rental property were compromised), no overhanging branches ... and enough ground surrounding the soon-to-be fire for people to stand, or sit, and warm themselves.

Firestarter's choice is usually pallets, but on this occasion, there were none to be found. Anywhere. Scouring the surrounds, with able-bodied support from CS, the only objects de burn to be found were sticks. We had found our kindling. CS suggested we go to the service station and buy a bag of firewood ... but Firestarter believes in the classic sport and spirit of Hunter-Gatherer, and promptly slid down a damp embankment behind the Northcote Plaza to find ... yes! dead branches! Armfuls of beautiful, lifeless timber.

Clutching my bounty to my chest, CS and Firestarter began their walk back to the house ... with more than a few bemused looks from passers-by who had, quite possibly, not ever witnessed the pagan ritual of firewood gathering. My biggest branch (well, I should probably call it a bough) was about six feet long ... and other than the briefest moment when it appeared as though one end of it was going to take out the entire passenger side of a passing car, our fuel was returned to the house without incident.

Fire hypnotises me ... instantly. Over the years I have enjoyed countless fires: campfires, bonfires and quaint little open fires. A good fire will calm its attendees. They will focus on it ... sometimes in child-like wonder ... and they will contemplate. Many, many things. They will warm their hands and congratulate Firestarter. Fires connect us to something like another world ... another frame of mind and state of being. Considered silence will descend. Cares will, momentarily, be banished. A hushed melancholia will pervade ... and honest conversation will inevitably ensue. The crackle and hiss will punctuate the silence ... and faces will glow and eyes will sparkle. People look different by firelight ... because we feel different. Fire cannot be bought ... not can its spell be manufactured. Romance and intimacy are almost always accentuated by the side of a fire. A fire demands honesty ... circumspection ... and truth. It is as though when faced with the simplicity of heat and light, our this-worldly concerns attach to the sparks and soar, quite suddenly, high above our heads ... racing into the night sky and away.

*****

Two of the little girls at the party had become Firestarter's earnest and devoted apprentices. They brought sticks and twigs to the fire and, carefully and respectfully, their little sacrifices were placed in the flames. I showed them how to be careful around fire, and ensured they understood that in order for a fire to warm us, it didn't need to be big. When we had enough sticks on the fire, I helped them start a wood pile. Some of the sticks were very wet, and I explained that if wood for the fire is wet, we place it near the fire to dry. One of the little girls asked if one of her pieces of wood was dry enough to go on the fire yet ... and as I pointed out the fact that it was starting to steam, her eyes glowed with the joy of understanding. We lit the end of small twigs and sang Happy Birthday. She blew out the small flame. We did this at least twenty times. She was delighted ... laughing, giggling, singing ...

But someone else was not.

The Alpha Male had been prowling around in the darkness on the fringe of our glowing wonderland. He was, in some way, 'related' to the little girl. (JD later said she thought that he was not the little girl's father, but - rather - her mother's partner ... so perhaps the approval stakes were a little too high? I will never know.) What I did know, was that I was in trouble when he started to squeeze lemon rind onto my fire to make tiny flames leap out. My apprentice was not interested. She was far more interested in blowing out our 'Birthday Candle Twigs' and waiting patiently for her sticks to dry. Failed lemon rind pieces were carelessly dumped in the fire ... followed shortly afterwards by entire lemons.

For his next trick, he brought a dandelion to the fire. For years, we have blown the dandelion seeds into the air and made a wish. On this occasion, he wondered whether 'the fairies' (the dandelion seeds) should be blown into the fire. The little girl shouted 'No!' ... and luckily for him - having already determinedly blown the seeds - the 'fairies' floated up and away from their scorched death potential at the hands of our Hero.

His coup-d'Etat, was to pick up a reasonably sizeable branch and start to beat it against the burning wood. Sparks flew into the sky ... "fireworks" ... "fairies" ... yet more beating ... until the fire started to die - beaten into submission against the concrete slab on which it had joyfully crackled.

My little apprentice was perplexed. Where had her Birthday Candle Twigs gone? Why was it suddenly so cold. And dark.

Alpha Male then went about rebuilding the fire ... prodding, poking and fanning the tiny flames. He grabbed all of the wood I had collected and put it onto the fire ... fanning the flames with an increasing air of desperation. The little girl kept asking him why he had made our fire go out ... and as he fussed about with this stick and that, she encouraged him to leave it alone in case it went out again. But I had ensured a bed of hot, glowing embers - so his endeavour would never have failed. And as the fire began to crackle and hiss once again, he decided it was time for them to go.

Fires connect us to another part of ourselves. In some, it is to nurture ... listen ... see ... understand. In some, it is conquest and control. In others it is to use the wondrous power of a fire to divide and destroy. To eliminate.

And by the side of every new fire, perhaps somehow we begin something. Again.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The majesty of shadows


I've been contemplating colour a great deal lately. It must be the season ... not to mention a primary element of my job description - or at the very least the Graphic Designer element.

My housemate and great friend - JG - has a state-of-the-art home entertainment set-up: a projector, an (almost cinema width) screen on the living room wall, an AppleTV, a DVD player, an amp and a digital TV box ... thingy. It is an astonishing set-up which has, in a matter of days, resulted in me scampering home through the brittle darkness of a Melbourne winter to bask in the wonders of what I call 'Maxi Vision'. Everything is bigger! From the Footy to the South Park movie, our giant screen presides, magestically, over our every move ... or lack of the ability to move ... showering us with more colour and movement than I would normally expect to find gracing my nights at home.

JG is also an avid collector of movies. He has hundreds of them. He has eclectic taste, but he most certainly does have taste. And knowledge. And curiosity. A dazzlingly engaging mix.

With the rise in the value of the Australian Dollar against the Greenback, JG's been frantically emptying out his Amazon Shopping Cart ... and almost every day, I have arrived home to be proudly presented with a couple more gems who have winged their way from the dark and dusty corners of Amazon's warehouse. This week alone, I have watched Jane Eyre, Reflections in a Golden Eye (curiously, the only movie Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando made together), The Fountainhead, Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, The Hustler, Bad Day at Black Rock and Paint Your Wagon! We're talking serious cinema.

Watching anything on Maxi Vision is a splendid experience ... but it has been the black and white movies that have had the most startling effect on my levels of appreciation. On a standard domestic television (let's call it Mini Vision), they're practically decimated to become hapless clusters of black, whites and a couple of shades of grey pixels - pinched, grotesquely, into a convenient size and shape to be beamed, almost apologetically by comparison, into our homes.

On Maxi Vision, they are amazing sights (and sounds) to behold. Unfurling as operatic creations of black and white and everything - and I mean everything - in between. We do these creations a great disservice by calling them "Black and white movies". Nothing in them - or about them - is black and white. There are too many kinds of black and too many kinds of white and literally millions of tones of grey. Do yourself a favour. Hunt down a cinema near you that's showing a film that's not in colour. Marvel at the the artistry ... and the majesty of shadows.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ravings of a Truly Horrible Bastard


Not all that long ago, I went out to dinner with one of my best friends, his boyfriend, some mutual friends, and a couple of colleagues of my best friend's boyfriend. One of them was English, so he was rather impolitely ignored. The other was Canadian ... and he didn't even bother to introduce himself to me. Apparently, because I was from Sydney, it didn't matter what I thought. About anything. Which is just as well, because the heady mix of pre-party cocktails and an assortment of party-starters had (fortuitously or not) all managed to kick-in as I was waiting for one of the more hapless poofs to order the entreés. And unbeknownst to the rest of the table, I had turned into a Truly Horrible Bastard (THB).

I have to admit that I am a really formidable THB. It's not a role I play very often these days, but when 'he' is on, then it is either truly horrendous or truly entertaining. Everyone else really has no choice but to make their selection regarding how they feel about it.

The problem started upon our arrival. The table that had been reserved for us was too small. There were now to be nine, as opposed to six. Our girlfriend - let's call her Suzy - had announced that she was bringing two friends - both, like her, Personal Trainers. We were, it would appear, about to be graced by three (as opposed to one) world class physiques. "Perfect!" I thought (or maybe said) to myself ... "there's not much else to perve at around this humble, too-little table of ours!"

I had spent a small part of Thursday evening with Suzy. Our friend, and her soul mate - let's call him Shane - has slipped into the depths of an Ice addiction. I have always admired the way that elephants go off to die. Noble. Elegant. Respectful. Drug addicts, on the other hand, seem to think that they have some pre-ordained right to fuck up as many people in as many circumstances as they possibly can ... as if their tragic hopelessness was some kind of busking routine in a busy, busy shopping centre. But the money's usually taken out of your wallet when you're not looking, as opposed to gifted in grateful and meaningful ways. I hadn't seen Suzy for a long time, and I was astonished at her powers of denial. "Shane was still a good person underneath." If I was an Ice addict, I'd want Suzy to be my soul mate. Everything I suggested she had already done. Three or more times. She is still holding out her hand to be bitten, punched and stolen from. It's a masterful betrayal of good common sense. But, perhaps quite perversely, she's absolutely right to hope. Shane is a divine creature ... and like any abusive relationship, as bad as it is is as good as it is. I had a relationship with an alcoholic once. I know. One minute you're ducking their fists in public and the next you're the greatest, most meaningful and significant person in the entire world. Extremes of affection and intimacy present difficult and complex boundaries ... and we ignore them at our peril. But we do ignore them ... hoping that, eventually 'the bad' will pass and there will be 'the good'.

Back in the restaurant, I snatch the menu from the hands of one of my unsuspecting dinner companions and beckon the waitress. I order the entreés for the table (once an Event Manager, always an Event Manager) and banish her to the kitchen. In the meantime, someone who doesn't know the first thing about wine chooses to order the wine. Which arrives. Corked. Fucking hideously corked ... like cat's piss. I ask for it to be taken away and another bottle brought to the table. Which happens. And again ... corked. Suzy is almost beyond hysterical! She's been at the table for nearly twenty minutes and hasn't yet had a sip of wine! I rest my hand on her jack-hammering, table-thumping arm and ask to see The Wine List. Apparently, the person who had ordered the wine in the first place is the reason we are going to be saddled with the cost of the second bottle of wine. Sadly, for them, THB is not having any of it.

THB: "I can tell you now that that's not going to happen. This is the worst wine I have ever tasted, ever, anywhere ..."

" ... in the world!" Suzy pipes in.

THB: "Please can you bring us a bottle of this ... a glass of which I will try. If it is to my liking, you will pour glasses for the rest of the table ... "

SUZY: "Starting with me!"

THB: "Can you do that?"

The wine waiter shuffles off to the bar. Seconds later we are joined at the table by The Manager. Now 'Managers' of any variety are always interesting sparring parties for me when I am in THB mode. Just because they hold a position of "manage"ment, doesn't mean they should. One of the reasons I have never been able to consider working for a company other than my own is that there are some truly hopeless people masquerading as Managers out there ... and I have met more than my fair share of them (and worked with, and for, more than a couple). And on the subject of shit-house wine, THB is immovable ... and needless to say, we finally had the opportunity to enjoy a large number of bottles of much nicer wine.

As we staggered out of the restaurant and off to a nightclub, I couldn't help but imagine how grateful the staff of this particular restaurant were to see the back of us. Which is fine ... because I won't be going back there. After all, life is hard enough without having to drink bad wine OR having to justify why it is that you shouldn't be expected to pay for it.

See? Seven years in Sydney did teach me something!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bouncing balls of distraction


Sometimes it's as though time has stood still. Sometimes it's as though I never went away. The resistance to change is something that, deep in the database of my experiences in this lifetime, I am fighting to reject. Sometimes I feel as though I am winning ... but then that snide little voice that patrols the filing cabinet of my memory reminds me that I am, in fact, losing. Hopelessly. The shackles of habit and the fatigue of getting up in the morning and expecting it all to be different are wearing me down. Thank the Universe for Wimbledon!

I went to Wimbledon when I lived in London. As you do. I used to go to The Australian Open as well when I lived in Melbourne in my previous incarnation. I love the tennis. And apart from the excellent perve value, it provides me with the opportunity to stretch my spectator muscles ... those particular muscles certain people possess that ensures they never compete in a sporting arena of any kind. We watch. And cheer. Criticise and cajole. We are attached to the sport in a unique way. We are the energy that makes it possible for those playing whichever game it happens to be to indulge in the spirit of a true, honest and fair contest. We are the atmosphere. We represent a share of the prize money (and if you've ever been to Wimbledon you'll know what I mean!) We are the reason. We are what makes it all worthwhile. Sport in the absence of spectators is, well, training.

Much like much of the last ten years of my life.

I love Tim Henman. He's a cute little English tennis player who, now 32 years old, is nearing the end of his career. I've always related to Timmy, in a strange kind of way. He's the one who has never been quite good enough. Good, yes, but not quite good enough. He's never won Wimbledon ... in fact, I'm not sure that he's ever won a Grand Slam anywhere in the world. But he shows up and gives it his best shot. It's just that there is always, eventually, someone on the opposite side of the net whose shot(s) are better than Timmy's best.

Two nights (AEST) ago, his match against Carlos Moya (an outstanding 9.5 on the perve value scale) was stopped due to bad light. It resumed the night before last at two sets all and 5 games a piece in the final set. There was not an empty seat in the fabulous 2,000 extra seats stadium when Timmy and Carlos resumed their battle. I was, literally, on the edge of my seat. The usually subdued and polite English crowd were almost rowdy ... as rowdy as they know how to be in any case. Timmy was giving it his all ... and Carlos was face down on my pillow ... oh, sorry ... giving it his all too. The final set went with perve ... oh shit, sorry ... serve – until Carlos served a double fault and handed over the match. Timmy had won! ... and in a split second, the perennial loser had become a winner. A big winner!

It was a sensational match ... and a moving occasion. As the camera prowled around Timmy, I could tell that this win was especially important to him. There was no knee-bending ... no artful and indulgent collapses onto the grass ... no crass, grand winner-takes-it-all gestures ... no racquet gymnastics. Just an almost quaint smile and humble acknowledgement of the support of the capacity crowd. Each one of those spectators a force of will and determination ... that when combined, quite possibly gave Timmy something of the force he needed to conquer his opponent.

I couldn't sleep for hours that night. The Universe dropped a concept into my mind. "Geoffrey", she whispered ... "are you intending to reach the end of your life and be prepared to accept that, even though you were good, you were just never good enough"?

Last night I started watching Roger Federer play. I didn't last long. Quite suddenly, something made complete sense.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My umbrella


There is an sequence from a film that has been playing in my imagination over the past few days. It is from a short film I produced and directed in 2006. It is one of my favourite sequences. The story was about an umbrella that had been recklessly discarded by one person, only to wash up on a beach many miles away at the feet of someone else. The sequence involved our damaged hero (the umbrella) tumbling around on the beach at the will of the waves crashing into the sand. It was a complex and interesting sequence to film ... primarily because our hero was - as required - entirely at the will of the sea. Occasionally, a large wave would crash into the beach and he would tumble off camera. At one point, one of the crew had to wade, waist-deep, into the ocean to retrieve him ... but when we finally 'got the shot', it was perfect. I was so proud of my hero.

The other morning I was waiting to cross Chapel Street to my favourite coffee shop where, every morning, I buy two strong café lattés on my way to my office. This sequence played in my mind. Just once ... as clear as the water that had buffeted my damaged little hero. We had a cast of four umbrellas (the new one, the damaged one, and two as stand-bys). I remembered that we had painted our damaged one with gold paint (rust) and covered him with dirt. We had torn his fabric artfully. We had twisted his structure and snapped his thin wire strands ... poking one or two out through the fabric. Our hero had been through the adventure of his life ... from the quiet riverside location of his heart-breaking abandonment to the busy, over-populated, inner-city beachfront.

Uninterrupted water views. But still in peril. Ultimately at risk.

Until a kind, homeless stranger rescued him from the water and took him home to rest with the other members of his ramshackle collection of umbrellas, nestled together under the overpass.

It feels great to be back in Melbourne. Under the overpass. For now.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Old friends

Too much pressure! The time since my arrival home, yes, home, has been extraordinary. The clash of the cliches has kept me thinking about what this blog will mean to me in the long term. In Sydney, it became the megaphone for my inner voice ... the pleading for reason and understanding of a person inhabiting a city - both of whom are somewhat renowned for ultimately lacking both.

Since I have returned to Melbourne, I have slept. I have relaxed in the company of my wonderful, dear friends. Familiarity has washed over me like bubble-bath foam ... and I have breathed in the unmistakable aroma of something I think I recognise. I have wanted to write, but I have not been able to. All of my senses are startled by death (the suicide of someone I knew in the heady days of my previous life in Melbourne) and whatever it is that happens when old friends sit down to a glass of wine at midday and are still at it at 1am!

Some of my friends have aged. Apparently I have not. Melbourne has grown up into a startling city of greater depth - primarily through the risks that have been taken with her architecturally. I have found myself saying "It's amazing how some things don't change."

It has been seven years.

I look forward to writing about it all.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Wheel of Fortune

Well, my plastic tubs are almost packed. The wardrobe is full of the detritus of various imaginings of a personal environment. And I'm awaiting a call from the removalists which will confirm my uplift time from Sydney tomorrow.

Over at Nash's blog, I discovered an interesting Tarot Card link. I do the occasional Tarot Card reading, and I was interested to discover which of the cards in the deck I might be - at least according to this little Q&A. I am apparently "The Wheel of Fortune". In JD's deck, I've always been the "Page of Wands".

Whichever it is, it's time to say 'toot toot' Sydney, for now. The computers have to be cold when they get packed and picked up tomorrow morning, so I'm logging off and turning off until some time next week when I will pop up down south ... where Wheels, Wands and Pages will meet, once again, in the city of great hope, excitement and truth.


You are The Wheel of Fortune


Good fortune and happiness but sometimes a species of
intoxication with success


The Wheel of Fortune is all about big things, luck, change, fortune. Almost always good fortune. You are lucky in all things that you do and happy with the things that come to you. Be careful that success does not go to your head however. Sometimes luck can change.


What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

R.I.P 10BA and 10B


The 2007-08 Federal Budget has delivered many things for many people. Tax cuts, additional superannuation contributions, an increase in child care assistance packages, one-off payments of this and that to the elderly ... and on it went. About half way through Peter Costello's speech, I had the distinct impression that I was being force-fed Prosperity. I was having it shoved down my throat ... and I found myself gagging on the veritable length and breadth of the package. Of bribes. Of course, whether my fellow Australians are as gullible as all that remains to be seen. I didn't, however, feel entirely compelled to swallow Mr Costello's load. What was missing for me was a reference to 'Culture' (other than the culture of war and defence) or 'The Arts' (other than the art of shovelling dollars down our throats). But the devil, as they say, is in the detail ... and it was a disastrous night for Australian Arts and Culture (unless you happen to think that the Australian Ballet School's Southbank HQ deserves renovation).

Hardly! I used to work for The Australian Ballet, and every time I have been to see them in action since, especially at the Sydney Opera House during the last seven years, I've had to leave. Had too ... as in, no other choice but to. As a company, they are at the lowest ebb of their creative ebb and flow. In Mr Costello's budget, however: "The Government will provide $4.6 million in 2007-08 to the Australian Ballet School, including $2.9 million to address occupational health and safety issues in its current facility, and $1.7 million to undertake a detailed business plan and functional design for possible construction of expanded facilities." Yes, you read that correctly: " ... $1.7 million ... for [a] possible construction of expanded facilities." "Possible"? I'm going to send him an email. I'm going to suggest that for "$1.7 million, I'll write them a "detailed business plan" and get some fucking nancy twit to sketch up a "functional design" AND construct the fucking thing! Jesus! They're fucking baby ballet dancers for fuck's sake! It's a barre, a mirror and a sprung floor!

Subtextual pointe ... sorry, point 1: Reward hapless mediocrity.

But it is the Business of Film Investment (everyone knows there is no such thing as a Film "Industry" in Australia) that received a nasty jolt last night. Perhaps it's a good thing ... but it's impossible at this early stage of analysis to be even remotely optimistic about how the Federal Government have changed the rules of engagement for film investment in this country.

So what is, sorry, was the '10BA'? The 10BA was a piece of paper ... a form. With '10BA' in the top right hand corner. I've filled a couple out ... I know what they look like. What it represented was a 100% tax concession in investment in film for the financial year after the one in which the investment took place. For example, in the financial year 2005-06, someone invests $100,000 in a film. At the end of the following financial year, in this case 2006-07, they would be able to claim a concession of the $100,000 they had invested in the film. Let's be clear about this ... 100% - whether you got a return on your investment or not. Which would never eventuate in most cases - and not be expected to. Hence, the tax concession.

Of course there were conditions. In order to qualify for the mighty 10BA incentive, every single aspect of the film had to be undertaken in Australia. You couldn't think about your film while farting in LA without compromising your film's eligibility. Baz Luhrmann's Bazmark Films' Moulin Rouge investors were involved with a rather ignominious association with the 10BA when it was revealed that Luhrmann had actually completed some post-production offshore (in either Spain or LA I think). And lo and behold, come the end of the following financial year, the Moulin Rouge investors were denied their 10BA eligibility. The Sydney media went mad, with The Daily Telegraph (ironically, or not, published by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation who also own Twentieth Century Fox - the film's distributor) ran with a big, black, bold headline: "Moulin Scrooge!" What was peculiar about this particular tabloid outrage was that The Daily Telegraph was (and is) not renowned for it's concern for the business of Arts and Culture. This particular fuck-up was, however, impossible to let pass unnoticed. To the best of my knowledge, I believe it even ended up on page 1!

There have been rumours for years that the Howard-led Federal Government have wanted to bury the 10BA. There may, in fact, be wise and beneficial reasons for doing so. But I seriously doubt it. Why? Because of this statement in the Budget Papers, clearly stating that the "phasing out" of the "current investor tax incentives available through Division 10BA and Division 10B of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 ... will increase estimated taxation revenue by $55.0 million over three years from 2008-09."

So there you have it in black and white: investments in Australian films under the 10BA and 10B are estimated to have a nett worth of $55.0 million dollars over three years.

Also to go is The Film Licensed Investment Company (FLIC) scheme, which according to the Budget Papers: "... will not be renewed beyond its current expiry date of 30 June 2007." The FLIC scheme was a radical plan to test new methods for the Federal Government and the "Australian film and television industry" to work collaboratively to raise investment for local film production. A single licence was awarded to Mullis Capital Film Licensed Investment Company who were apparently " ... able to raise up to $10 million in each of the years 2005–06 and 2006–07." Under the FLIC scheme, the 100% tax concession was payable up-front, instead of having to wait until the end of the following financial year (as investors would need to under the 10BA system). At this point, I have not seen any evidence of the success (or failure) of the FLIC scheme ... but it would be reasonably safe to assume that it has not worked.

So what is replacing the 10BA, the 10B and the FLIC scheme?

This, from the Budget Papers: " ... a new producer tax rebate, by which Australian producers will be eligible for a 40 per cent refundable rebate on feature films and a 20 per cent refundable rebate on other media productions, including television series, documentaries, and mini-series. To be eligible for the rebate, productions will be required to meet criteria, including creative control by Australians, and minimum qualifying expenditure thresholds depending on the type of production."

And this: "The producer tax rebate will also include a component for international producers, incorporating the previous refundable film tax offset (RFTO). This will provide a 15.0 per cent rebate for eligible expenditure, compared to the RFTO’s current 12.5 per cent. Eligibility for international producers will be extended beyond the criteria for the RFTO to include post, digital and visual effects production in Australia, where the film itself is not made in Australia and qualifying expenditure exceeds $5.0 million."

And this: "The Australian Film Commission (AFC), Film Finance Corporation Australia (FFC) and Film Australia Limited (FAL) will be merged into a new, single agency – the Australian Screen Authority (ASA), scheduled to commence operations from 1 July 2008." Jesus! Can you imagine what kind of a hideous, protectionist, mutant bureaucracy the ASA will be(come)?!

So 100% becomes 40%. And the Australian Ballet School might get a new roomful of new barres.

What was in The Budget for you?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tusculum Street

Fate? Circumstance? Coincidence? Universal Guidance? Chance? Synchronicity? Are they all the same thing? Does it matter? Is it our Earthly responsibility to question? Ponder? Understand? Know? Regardless, the outcome of this particular not so insignificant Universally-guided (and determined) exchange in my Sydney story was to become the standard by which I set all of my expectations for what this magnificent city would teach my about myself.

I had undertaken a quick reconnaissance of rental property availability in the Potts Point area. In detail, it had involved a visit to the Raine & Horne office in Macleay Street, Potts Point. Having introduced myself, I explained that I was considering a move to Sydney from Melbourne and that I was interested in what various amounts of money could 'buy' in the Potts Point rental market. The very helpful Property Manager handed me a set of keys and a hand-written list of four apartment numbers. The building was 'Serena' - 5 Tusculum Street. Perfect location. Quiet street. Altogether ideal. The four different apartments, on three floors, each had a different price. It all depended on just how much of the Harbour you could "glimpse". The price range was $180 (no glimpse - of anything) to $280 (glimpse of, possibly, water through trees from a narrow bathroom window).

By Melbourne standards, this was, well, excessive. My top floor apartment in The Ritz Mansions building on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, was a veritable palace by comparison. I had so much space in The Ritz that I often exhausted myself walking from my bedroom to the bathroom! Space in Sydney was, by all appearances, worth more than space in Melbourne ... or was it the other way around? Regardless, as I stood outside 'Serena' checking out the building's exterior, my eyes were drawn toward the sky. There, if I was not mistaken, were apartments on the roof! The views from these apartments would have been sensational, I imagined. And I marched back to my new friend at Raine & Horne to return the keys.

"The apartments on the roof," I said.

"There are four, two at the front and two at the back. The tenants in the two front ones have been there for about ten and fifteen years respectively," was my new friend's response.

"As you would imagine", I conceded ... realising that my best bet was to move into one of the other apartments in this building and wait, patiently, for my turn in either of the two west-facing roof-top apartments. I thanked my new friend for showing me what was available, and told her I would come back the moment I landed in Sydney to live. She was distracted with I wasn't to know what ... but she managed one of those classic "Yes, lovely ... piss off now" smiles I am sure they learn in Real Estate School.

****

In September I returned. Melbourne had been departed from with grace and alacrity ... the details of which I will write about another time. My gorgeous friends AK and DH collected me from Kingsford Smith Airport in their silver Saab, and I was to spend a few glorious weeks sleeping on their couch while I settled in to my new domain. The morning I flooded the bathroom, we all knew it was time for me to go. AK said as much.

I walked in to the Raine & Horne office as my friend was finishing a telephone conversation. As she hung up, she looked at me as though she had seen a ghost. 'Yes' I was the guy who had come in late last year and asked about 'Serena's' rooftop apartments ... and more completely astonishingly, 'yes', she had just hung up from the tenant of one of them who, after fifteen years, had just given notice. "So it's mine then!" I confirmed ... at which point she, still staring at me in a wildly perplexed manner, slid a rental application form onto the counter between us. I must have been a Warlock. It was obviously meant to be. Fortunately for me, she was just as convinced of this fact as I was.

Real Estate Agent negotiations have always been a piece of cake for me. It's where the Great White Pointer in me glides effortlessly and silently to the surface. I always know there are going to be any number of rental crises for us both to endure in the months ahead, and it's important that I employ the charm imperative to its full and maximum effect - right from the start. Charm is a greatly under-valued human characteristic. I have used it variously throughout the years to drop prices (and occasionally prized pairs of pants) - but never standards. It's the one thing about Charm, it doesn't require a compromising of standards, in quite the same way as downright deceit, collusion or dishonesty does. Charm is a gift - from one person (in this case me) to another (in this case someone who, in the not too distant future, would need to chose between being patient or evicting me without delay). Needless to say, I would eventually leave 'Serena' in circumstances of (something like) my own choosing.

My ally behind the counter is quite literally gob-smacked. We engage the pointless little Receptionist with details of how I had enquired last year about the possibility of one of the roof-top apartments, and that here I was, walking back in the door on the very day that one of them was being vacated. After fifteen years!

I filled out the application form as my new friend picked up the telephone.

"I'll just call the tenant back and tell her that you'd like to have a look ..."

"No," I said. "That won't be necessary."

I explained that if the tenant had lived in the apartment for fifteen years, then she would be very sad to be leaving it. (Just how sad I was to find out myself, a few years later!) I would prefer to respect her privacy and her timetable and would be happy to view the apartment once she had vacated. I flipped my cheque book onto the counter and wrote a cheque for $500.

"Hold this as a deposit ... and call me when she's moved out."

And I was smiled out the door. Never underestimate the value of a strategically-placed and enacted charm offensive. Ever.

****

Two weeks later, my girlfriend at Raine & Horne called. The tenant had vacated and if I wanted to pop around this afternoon, I would be taken and shown through the apartment. I dressed up (the concept of which escapes the vast majority of Sydney-siders in an almost compelling fashion) and walked from Surry Hills to Potts Point. My new friend's male colleague would take me to the apartment - and as we walked around the corner to 'Serena', I chatted idly about how excited I was to be living in Sydney. Security gate. Check. Security front door. Check. Tacky lift. Check. Fifth floor. Perfect. Key in the door. Door open.

I walked in to ...



... heaven. Without a word of a lie.

A third of the apartment was a partly covered rooftop terrace from where, on hundreds of nights, I and anyone who was with me, would watch the sun set behind the city skyline. New Year's Eve ... the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games ... more firework displays than I care to remember ... BBQs ... an unforgettable bonfire ... parties ... fuck, we lived this little space well!

There are many more wonderful photos of this apartment - but they are all prints. (MP, who would later take over the lease from me, has a wonderful collection here and here.) My photos don't belong here, because to be perfectly honest, I really don't want too many reminders of just how perfect this little apartment was. Or just how wonderfully well I lived it. It was to be my oasis. My Utopia. My Magic Balcony. My window on the world ... and the city which was my new home. In it, I would experience the most extraordinary times. The boldest, most sweeping, grand and enduring memories of arriving - and living - in Sydney in style. I miss it every day. Still. I was to exchange it for a different kind of magic and wonder on the banks of the Woronora River ... an experience that took me into the darkest corners of all my failings.

Where, one night, with one sentence, my housemate Michael would pierce me to the bone.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Sydney: The Beginning


It was always going to be Potts Point. I never really pretended to understand why. I still don't. I just knew. Maybe I was Mr Potts in another life? Or Mrs Potts? ... but that's all beside the point. I knew where I wanted to live, and even in spite of a brief and entirely unsatisfying half-hour fling with Waterloo, there was nowhere else in Sydney I was prepared to live.

I remember the moment I made the decision to come and live in Sydney vividly ... as though it were yesterday.

I was happily entrenched in a strangely alluring apartment-share with an ex-Sydney girl - MW* - in St Kilda. She decided to go to Sydney for a couple of weeks to catch up with old friends and re-imagine everything this city had meant to her. She left Melbourne and drove up in her red MX-5. As Sydney Girls do ... or rather, did. (Sydney-dwellers should try it sometime - counting them. I bet you won't see one. It's the Peugot 206CC now, in case you're even remotely interested.) One night, she called me. The collision with her past had been slightly more intense than she had been fully prepared for, and my sensible, sturdy, reliable and trustworthy presence was requested. She would fly me up, and we could drive back to Melbourne together. There were places to stay and people to meet. It was an offer I found impossible to refuse. Such is the continuing lead role of Fate in the drama series of my life.

I, and we, had a fucking ball! M was well-connected in this town. We couldn't walk down Oxford Street without bumping in to primed, buffed and gorgeous porn-star quality fags - to whom M was a long lost girlfriend ... sister. The kinship between certain faggots and certain women is a powerful, undeniable force of (un)nature. I will write about it more one day. M's girlfriends were all classic Sydney Girls: size 8 with a powerful (if not life and sanity threatening) determination to be size 6. They all spoke with record-threatening speed and haunted the domains of Kirribilli, Double Bay, Surry Hills and (by fag-default) Darlinghurst. They all had awesome jobs, fabulous cars, brilliant friends ... and a life-expectancy of 40 years. They loved me because M did. I was a well-connected, professional Melbourne fag. I was educated and sociable. I was also tall, dark and (apparently) handsome. That's the thing about Sydney: as long as you fit the grid and don't threaten the status-quo, you're welcomed with open arms - and occasionally legs. Have a contradictory opinion, a (different) world view, a belief in something other than instant gratification, a distinct lack of selfishness, or be able to differentiate (and dissect) Healthy Ego from Fragile Ego, and your days will be numbered. You'll become an Alexander Downer. People will find it difficult (and ultimately refuse) to acknowledge your existence. It's a situation faithful readers of this blog of mine will know I am intimately familiar with. It's like farting loudly in Church ... or a lift. There's really no point trying to redeem yourself.

In the (mid '90s) days since my heady $500 a week Speed addiction, I'd stacked on the weight. Then there was the horse-riding accident which 'crippled' me for six months (8 weeks in hospital) and finally put an end to my three-times-a-week workout routine. Needless to say, I would rapidly descend down the Sydney Fuck Chain once I was living here ... but for the time being, at least, I was Top of the Pops. I snorted cocaine through each nostril (like a true professional) and I could tell entertaining stories (especially while coked off my fuckin' head! I mean, who can't manage that?). I adored M ... and protected and defended her. I told her friends about our wonderful life together in "Melboring" ... convincing them that the city was, indeed, a consolation prize: where damaged souls who had paid the Sydney price of sacrifice, soul-less-ness, suspicion and loneliness came to heal. Or learn to love again. Or step out of the ring for a moment to consider what it is they were fighting for. Or against. Ultimately, it was ourselves ... but I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Whack that dinner plate in the microwave and rack up another line guys! After all, we ain't gonna be eating anything off it!

It was a beautiful summer day. I was having some 'time out'. By The Harbour. I adore Sydney's sensational Harbour. It has dominated so many moments in my time here. Entirely. The best fun. The best feeling. Without fail. And one day this week, I will go back to where it all began to say goodbye. For now.

I was sitting on a rock in front of Mrs Macquarie's Chair with my shoes off and my jean-legs rolled up. The water of Sydney's monstrously hypnotic Harbour lapped at my ankles. I looked to my left and glimpsed the sight of the sun setting behind the sails of The Opera House. The Bridge was glittering. A little ferry was departing and the bigger Manly Ferry was streaming seaward. A plane was coming in to land and the entire vista was shimmering and shivering. I decided, at that moment, to come and live in Sydney. I said as much to myself. Aloud. I breathed it all in ... and felt like I had taken the first breath of my new life. I was overcome with optimism and excitement. Potential. A dream. A direction and a focus. A new beginning.

A couple of days later, after having done a quick reconnaissance of rental property availability (and cost) in Potts Point, M and I said farewell to Sydney and I drove her (and me) home to Melbourne. M slept almost the whole way ... waking only when we were about an hour or two out of Melbourne. The MX-5 held the road like the race car it truly is. I was at the wheel. I could return to Melbourne at speed because I knew that I would be packing up and leaving. Not straight away, but soon.

In the meantime, there was work to be done. Money to be made. Boxes to be packed. Truths to be denied. Friends to farewell. It was all so final. It was all so possible.

Fantasy versus reality would, yet again, be my downfall. There would be more than a couple of scrapes on the knee ... and there would be a sudden, frightening and ignominious collision with my sanity. But in the meantime, there was the open road and the MX-5.

And an exit clause.

*Initials have been used to protect the identity of particular individuals ... the details of whose lives, even though they are essential to the telling of my story, do not really belong in the public domain without their consent. I will, of course, feature this respectful consideration at my discretion.

Going home


Apparently I have "failed to make an impact on this town". I won't tell you who said this about me because they don't deserve our disdain ... or our contempt. It was, actually and metaphorically, a stab in the dark. But the comment certainly kept me up last night - pondering whether there was, in fact, anything more I could do to secure my footing in Sydney. I'm sure I'll contemplate it continuously (as I have a rather monotonous tendency to do) as I pack my bags, boxes and plastic tubs in preparation for a move back to Melbourne next week. Thank The Universe for my blog. Here, over the coming days (and I am sure, weeks) I will contemplate and consider the move and its implications. A real journal of record. A record at least.

I have always been an independent spirit. I value my independence more than anything and everything else that litters my landscape. Past, present and future. I'm not a loner - I love the company of certain people. Very particular people. JD, DD, JG especially - people who the pathway through the garden of my life has provided for me ... and I hope, us. They are people I want to speak to every day, and they represent the metaphorical anchor in the stormy sea which has been the relationship with myself during my seven years in Sydney. I am looking forward, more than anything else, to having the integrity of real friendship around me again ... to share the language of knowledge through meaningful exchanges - the kind that are only possible because of personal History. Understanding. The 'heart and soul connection' we seek and yearn for all our lives. Where silence sometimes sounds louder than noise.

To some extent, I have "failed to make an impact on this town". But not entirely because of what I have chosen to do (and not do as the case may be), but (principally) rather because of the people I have chosen to try and make an impact with ... and for.

I need to understand the implications of this move - more than I think I realise. I have been encouraged not to return to Melbourne and I respect the tutelage. I have been challenged to consider the (im)possibility of staying here in Sydney. It is not an option. It's a change of perspective I seek. I need. That is my only expectation.

Can you go "back"? Yes, of course you can. Sometimes, you must. I have been "back" many times in my life. For safety. Security. Confidence. Clarity. The last two times I have visited a dear friend's parents' farm in the Hunter Valley, I have taken the wrong turn off the freeway. I was never certain ... it was always dark. I love driving at night. I interview myself on the radio ... I win Oscars® ... I have fascinating opinions about all sorts of things and I interview myself the entire trip. It's the way single people learn about what they're really thinking ... they talk to themselves about it. I was so sure of how fabulously interesting I was, I took the wrong turn. Twice. The road I took led nowhere ... just further into the darkness. No matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise, I was not going to arrive where I had intended. I had to turn back.

There is a persistent alone-ness about my life in Sydney. A nagging doubt about the quality of my life here. The collection of extreme highs and lows that have punctuated my time here are vast and interesting ... and I will document them here. As I consider each of the culprits, there will only be one rule: no prisoners. If I am going to set myself free from this chronic perception of what the end (and requisite failure to meet certain expectations) of this chapter in my life means, then everyone and everything responsible - including, especially, me - will need to be held to account.

As Bette Davis's Margo Channing famously chimed in All About Eve: "Fasten your seatbelts. It's gonna be a bumpy night!"

Image: Unfinished Business - J D and Flicka, the Fearless Firefly.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

And The Webby goes to ...


The winners of The 11th Annual Webby Awards will be saluted alongside a remarkable slate of special achievement honorees, including rock legend David Bowie, eBay President and CEO Meg Whitman on behalf of the eBay community, and the co-founders of YouTube, at a gala in New York City on the 5th of June, Webby organisers announced today.

Hailed as the "Oscars of the Internet” by The New York Times, The Webby Awards are the leading international awards honoring excellence on the Internet, including websites, interactive advertising, online film and video, and mobile websites. Established in 1996, the 11th Annual Webby Awards received a record 8,000 entries from 50 states in the USA and over 60 countries. The Webby Awards are presented by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a 550-person judging academy whose members include The Simpsons creator Matt Groening and film mogul Harvey Weinstein. In addition, over 400,000 votes were cast by people around the world for their favorite sites, videos, and ads in The Webby People’s Voice Awards.

Organisers also announced recipients of this year’s Webby Special Achievement awards, including:

Webby Lifetime Achievement – David Bowie: The rock icon will be honored for a career that has pushed the boundaries of art and technology - from BowieNet, the seminal Internet service provider he launched in 1998, to UltraStar, his digital media company that creates cutting edge online content for artists like The Rolling Stones, The Police, and Mariah Carey, to BowieArt, an innovative website that connects emerging visual artists with collectors worldwide.

Webby Lifetime Achievement – The eBay Community: eBay President and CEO Meg Whitman will accept the award on behalf of the 233 million registered buyers and sellers who have made eBay a cultural phenomenon and permanently changed the way people connect, discover and interact with each other.

Webby People of the Year- YouTube Co-Founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley: The co-founders of the video-sharing sensation will be saluted for YouTube’s role in transforming the media landscape and reshaping everything from politics to pop culture.

Best Actor and Actress – “Ninja” from “Ask a Ninja” and Jessica Lee Rose from “lonelygirl15”: “Ninja,” from the breakout online comedy series “Ask a Ninja,” and Jessica Lee Rose, who became an overnight sensation as the enigmatic star of the acclaimed fictional video diary “lonelygirl15,” will be honored at the first-ever Webby Film and Video Awards.

Webby Award winners range from powerhouses such as Nike (Retail), Sony (Home Page), and The New York Times' "Dealbook" (Business Blog) to independent sites like Blip.tv (Broadband), “we make money not art” (Cultural Blog), Last.fm (Music), and Wikitravel (Travel). Webby People’s Voice winners include Facebook (Social/Networking), Save the Internet (Activism), Dream it Do it (Associations), Best Week Ever (Celebrity/Fan), FabSugar (Fashion), Treehugger (Cultural Blog), Gifts.com (Services), and TripAdvisor (Travel). Multiple Webby Awards winners include: Flickr (5), Adobe (5), HowStuffWorks (4), Jonathan Yuen (3), BBC (3), and LinkedIn (2).

“The Webby winners and special achievement honorees represent the very best in online creativity and innovation,” said Webby Awards executive director David-Michel Davies. “We’re proud to salute the people and organisations whose ideas and vision are transforming how we experience the world.” The 11th Annual Webby Awards will feature Webby Award winners from the USA, United Kingdom, Sweden, The Netherlands, Singapore, Brazil, Italy, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Japan, and South Korea.

More information about the Webby Awards is here.

As for me, after Round 5, I have risen to equal sixteenth (up from equal twenty-fifth!) on gayfooty.com.au's Tipping Competition!