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


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.