Murder In Mississippi by John Safran

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The first few weeks after reading this book, I wanted to say something about it but I frustratingly hadn’t really the energy to tackle such a difficult subject or pretend I had any idea about true crime books.

However the subject matter of the book seemed to raise itself in the form of the movie Fruitvale station (2013) the story of Oscar Grant a black man who was shot by police, in Oakland California in 2009.

The movie and Safrans book are geographically miles apart, but the subject matter seems to have plenty in common, especially for a white Australian audience that has practically no idea about what life is like for black Americans living on the edge of poverty.

Safran at first concentrates in on the many layers of Richard Barrett a white supremacist who was found murdered in his home by a 23 year old black man Vincent McGee. Strangely Barrett turns out to be one seriously odd character with enough problems of his own to easily fill the pages of this novel, the murdered seems to form the psychology and profile of the murderer.

At first Safran thinks this is a race hate murder from the other side of the fence, a black man who decides to get revenge and murder a well known white supremacist, however as it unfolds we discover that Vincent McGee had no idea about Richard Barrett’s activities as a white supremacist.

This poses a bit of a problem for Safran, his main angle (and reason for being there in the first place) has been removed, and he is left looking for a different angle for why he killed Barrett.

Safran struggles for the rest of the book and I felt he never got to terms with the reality of the situation.  Fruitvale station for me made the message in Safrans book clearer, the story is not a cryptic adventure to find out why McGee killed Barrett, it is just a really sad story about an under privileged black American living in poverty with a bad upbringing in the poorest state in America.

Oscar Grant was essentially a good person who loved his family and was killed by police, Vincent McGee had a bad upbringing was violent neglected and maybe even had some mental illnesses, but just like Vincent McGee, Oscar had been to prison and had to have aggressive behavior to survive. They lived on opposite sides of the country but to me had a a sadly similar story. How many other black people get arrested so easily for doing so little? How many lives taken away or ruined for what seems like crazy small offenses?

I look at it like this, if I was walking down a busy street even in Newcastle’s worst suburb the chances that I would see a police officer or be searched randomly are very slim.  In Newcastle I have more chance of getting booked for drink driving than from dealing drugs, my world and life story is miles apart from Oscar Grant and Vincent McGee. It is that first few offenses that set both Oscar Grant and Vincent McGee hurtling down terrible life directions.

For his first book I was impressed by Safrans writing style, I had trouble coming to terms that I am a fan of his and this was the reason for me reading his book, but the views of Mississippi by Safran where so good it kept me glued to the book. It was so good I began to wonder what Safran would be like as a travel writer like Bill Bryson.

Meditation classes, an enigma.

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Just recently I visited a meditation class, I have been to quite a few meditation classes in my life.

I keep attending these classes because I really like the idea of learning how to meditate, I know I can do it in my own home in a quiet corner of my house but it is always enjoyable to be part of a group that is focused on mediation. I have tried a western stoic based meditation class, Tibetan Buddhist meditation and several other new age type Meditation classes.

The one thing that I have noticed in all these different styles of meditation classes is there is plenty of bullshit you have to wade through before you can gain some good advice for focusing your mind on meditating.

To put it bluntly I am not really into the spiritual part of meditation but lean more towards the the scientific, I look at its benefits in ways it can reduce stress in your life. That’s not to say that I don’t find the spiritual aspect interesting I am just unsure if it is integral to Meditation.

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I find this a very good explanation of meditation: “We define meditation… as a stylized mental technique… repetitively practiced for the purpose of attaining a subjective experience that is frequently described as very restful, silent, and of heightened alertness, often characterized as blissful” -Jevning et al

Sometimes I have noticed that meditation classes turn into a kind of counseling session, sort of like a self help group for people who can’t relax it can sometimes get a little out of control and start to take over the actual meditating.

My main concern at the classes however is the thinking behind the institutionalised practice of the meditation. Tibetan Buddhism styled meditation is a religion, it is a practice that is undertaken every day by monks for centuries the aims are religious in nature, as an atheist I am always aware that I can’t just disconnect that and just take the meditation without this element of spiritualism.

“Most techniques of meditation do not exist as solitary practices but are only artificially separable from an entire system of practice and belief ” -R.E Ornstein

It is the same with some western styles of meditation, taken from western philosophy or from a mixture of east and west they combine systems of practice and belief many of which are centuries old and which sometimes gnash uncomfortably with the modern mind.

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O.k I know what you are all thinking, if your going to pick apart meditation you are totally ‘not getting it’.  I have I wish to point out, faithfully practiced institutionalized versions of meditation, it is usally afterwards when I go back to using the tools that have been suggested that the religious and spiritual elements bug me enough to stop meditating.

Realistically meditation is something you do sometimes, it can help you de-stress and to become clearer in life and has real health benefits but it has it’s limitations.

I find you have to kind of force yourself to meditate or train yourself to be in a meditative state. It really isn’t a thing that ever comes naturally.

Meditation really is an enigma, you have to focus intensely on not focusing on anything which creates a kind of classic philosophical paradox of the mind.

Once in a Tibetan Meditation session I was told my goal was not to ‘think’ I found it very hard to believe they where serious, however I gave it a shot and my reaction was to hit a kind of brain malfunction cycle- ‘don’t think, don’t think, don’t think. Breathing exercises have the same result  if you are told to focus on breathing you will focus on that..breathe breathe I am breathing breathe you are concentrating on breathing.

Which prompts me to ask, then why can’t we as humans just do this thing; this important de-stresser and evolutionary release valve, why isn’t meditation just part of something we all able to do easily on a daily basis?

Evolution made us stressed up and highly strung, unable to meditate.. maybe because there was always that leopard waiting behind the bushes to eat us.

Syncope – My transient loss of conciousness

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During the week while giving blood I lost consciousness, it seems from the outset a fairly benign thing to happen. Before this experience I thought of fainting as relatively common thing, not really something to to fear or feel dread towards. But the experience has left a mark, enough to warrant a little discussion.

I give blood on a fairly regular basis, (every 12 weeks or so) my records showed that I had given blood 9 times previously without any issues, I had drunk plenty of water and eaten before giving blood. My blood pressure was good and my heartbeat was healthy.

While watching the blood travel down the clear plastic tube I felt an uncomfortable pain in my stomach, at first I did not feel too concerned but very quickly the nausea increased. I felt the light of the room dim, a wave of anxiety come over my body that was not warranted. The colour of the room changed in tone from bright white to yellowish tinge. It was then that I knew something was wrong, this was reminiscent of an experience on LSD, I knew that my body was not O.K.

I politely raised my hand to the nurse, simply because I wanted to rip the needle out of my arm, it was one of those moments that warranted an instant response but it seemed to take huge gulf of time to get anyone’s attention. The next moment was simply black, I had passed out.

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When I came to, I saw my legs raised in front of me with about five people around me opening their mouths but I could not hear anything they said, I was unaware of where I was, or who I was. I looked around like a new born baby unaware of anything. Very quickly I recovered the world was still grey which could of only lasted less than half a minute. I broke out in an intense fever like sweat and temperatures seemed to change in my body, until they stabilized

The nurses gave me oxygen, it took me half an hour to return to normal I was at work and started to face some ridicule from some people at my work that were also giving blood in the blood bus, the social implications of my passing out was the last thing on my mind.

A few days after the event when the horribleness had warn away it occurred to me just how trippy the experience was, how bizarre not knowing who I was or where I was. It was a reminder of how mortal we are. I don’t think as people we are invincible, but I had not really contemplated just how small the gap is between living and dying.

There is also a kind of stigma attached with people who faint that had never occurred to me before as if they are weak or frail individuals, some people in my workplace seemed to be unable to see that I was putting myself in harms way to help others when I fainted.

There was a cross examination from all parties and questions raised by people. One was the inevitable ‘maybe you should not give blood’. The nurses explained that this just happens sometimes, you are taking blood out of your system some people faint.

However I got a phone call a few days later from the blood people suggesting that maybe I should not give blood anymore, I had convinced the lady to keep me on the register but just the suggestion that she would take me off after what I had been through really upset me.

Philosopher Peter Singer asked a blood donor why he gives blood in his book about altruism ‘How should we live’ the donor answered ‘No man is an island’. 

Goethe’s Faust Part 1

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T’was Saturday morning and I had somewhat of a hangover, I hadn’t the energy for emerging myself in a whole novel only something with short bursts – poetry maybe.

I decided to ‘casually read’ Faust Part 1, I knew that this is a book that is considered an epic masterpiece and this was one of the reasons why it had been sitting on my shelf gathering dust for years, epic masterpieces are by default epic undertakings to undertake.

Three weeks later I had finished, engrossed by every stanza. I felt a sort of quiet unease as if I had missed something or that I had actually not missed anything and I was supposed to feel like I missed something. I wandered over different directions in Goethe’s thinking, some brilliant others confusing. I began thinking in rhyming verse as if my mind had caught a kind of disease.

I came to a solid conclusion that many others have arrived at:  Faust is a masterpiece, it is one that is little worn and battered and somewhat difficult to understand but still a masterpiece.

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Faust was a bit of a surprise, sometimes I find poetry a little bit extravagant, and in the case of epic poems by say Homer or Dante, I find them difficult (but not impossible) to access due to the translation issues and the vast gulf in time and culture between me and the poet.

In Faust there are translation issues, some stanzas just didn’t seem to have the rhythm of others or even rhyme at all,  I guess not every German word is going to rhyme perfectly with an English translated one. Although it is surprising just how much work translators have put into making it flow and rhyme. I did wonder what Faust the German version was like, if I where able to read it in German would I be a little more critical about the short stanzas that do not flow or rhyme or have any link to the narrative?

Translation issues aside, Faust did surprise me, it turned out to be many different things, it can be candid, humorous, subtle, serious, insightful and clear. The poetry has so many nuances, the carefully selected words mix emotions like a paint palette, skillfully rendering a picture that becomes more interesting as you progress.

The central narrative is interesting and hard to unpick, superficially the story is fairly simple: A educated professor and doctor has had enough of the world and feels he has come to an end of all knowledge, he courts Mephistopheles who brokers a deal with him that he can give him what he wants. Mephistopheles promises he can give him what he wants if he only signs a pact with him. Faust signs the pact and they begin the adventure.

Faust starts by drinking a witches brew which I was lead to believe was a fountain of youth elixir to make him young again. Before Mephistopheles can even introduce him to any of his devilish plans, Faust has a chance meeting with Gretchen a 14 year old girl who Faust is prepared to peruse at all costs.

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It is funny here that Mephistopheles seems a bit surprised at his choice, nevertheless Faust choses his poison and he goes about doing his job weaving and manipulating events to let Faust get what he wants. Gretchen works out to be a faithful christian and tricky for the Mephistopheles to turn to the dark side, but she turns and the whole thing predictably turns to tears.

Faust kills Gretchen’s brother Valentin after he tries to get revenge for ruining Gretchen’s good name and Faust exits the scene descending into a kind of weird sort of underworld where he finds out the fate of Gretchen who murdered her mother with a sleeping potion (so Faust could sneak in and get a quickly) Faust finds the he got Gretchen pregnant and she then had to kill her infant child in shame.

We find Gretchen then in jail where she has gone into a kind of insanity and Faust tries to get her out but her own guilt and shame makes her stay where she awaits gods judgment. Part 1 ends with both Faust and Mephistopheles leaving together.

The poem it reads more like some kind of waking nightmare, it is really very odd at times in a lyrical and enjoyable way. Faust’s interrelationship with the devil is interesting, you are never quite sure who is leading who. Sometimes you feel that Faust is actually leading the devil and he is just sort of standing back in awe of Faust’s desire. 

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The world in which Faust inhabits seemed very remote to the modern reader, Faust has this ‘troubled intellectual’ narrative that so often appears in literature from this time. The main character (usually male) troubles over a female and spends the entirety of the book, novel, poem trying to find ways to get into bed with her. In this case it was a 14 year old girl, and besides the obvious creepiness of the situation I was left wondering why we are being burdened with it. Some critics have likened Gretchen to the German state, or representing other things but there is no attempt to persuade the reader she is anything but a 14 year old girl.

The story is undeniably alluring even with it’s flaws, there are shining gems of wisdom and prose that easily outdo those of Shakespeare. Because of it’s ambiguity the reader is forced to think for themselves and this creates a power that draws you in even further. Faust is deep, so deep and thick its like being stuck in molasses.

However it is worth the effort and anyone who has an interest in poetry should make this part of their canon.

The Australian ritual of bush dancing

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Every year generations of school children will be condemned to hours of shuffling around doing the heel toe heel toe polka, bouncing around the hot and smelly school halls of Australia.

Bush dancing seems to be one of those odd rituals in Australia that seem to resemble something we can call an identity and culture but oddly never really has become part of the collective imagination. Funnily bush dancing is not particularly Australian, nor is it really carried through into any real cultural practice or into a career unlike ballet, drama or fine art.

Our nation that is famous for it’s masculine obsession and prowess for sport seems to take the time to ‘indulge’ in bush dancing. Primary school children in between the grueling ordeal of having to try every sport that is humanly possible take a break and learn a highly organised form of dance, something seemingly feminine and creative.

For those of you who are unaware of  Bush dancing, it is essentially square dancing for retards.

“Bush dance – in general has less emphasis on complex foot work and more about people being in the right place.” -Wikipedia

There is no succinct explanation of why it is called bush dancing, other than the obvious fact that people first danced in halls surrounded by the Australian bush. One might surmise the influence of colonials who encountered Aboriginal tribes who had complex mating and courtship dances. The bush dance could be a European reaction to the courtship rituals seen by the Aboriginal people, a benign form of the mating dance.

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The music of Bush Dancing is essentially folk music with songs like “Bound for South Australia” many have a sea shanty feel about them, many of the songs sound similar and they are rigged to sort of ‘fit’ the rhythm of organised dance.

Many ideas from our colonial past linger here, Australia once a proud, prim and proper nation believing in strict Victorian christian principles. In this environment dances and courtship rituals took place under the watchful eye of a local moral enforcement agency. For some insight it’s good to read a paper from the time to get an idea of just how far people penetrated into others personal lives.

This may explain why we still have these rituals in our schools, a country which still has Queen as the head of state and who is steadfastly glued to it’s murky European convict past, it should be no surprise that a Victorian courtship ritual remains there as well.

There is no harm in this cultural practice, but what is the relevance to kids today? These days Australian youth trundle off to rock festivals every year hammering themselves into mosh pits, dancing up a sweat at bush doof’s fueled with alcohol and drugs finding themselves grinding up against each other in their first sexual encounters.

This experience of Australian youth today is so remote from quaint organised Victorian world of bush dancing.

Bush dancing is resolutely daggy but in a strange way this could be in someways its savoir. Modern hipsters have a knack of finding outdated and daggy practices and making them cool again.

I put the gauntlet down, hipsters take on the bush dance.

A personal cul-de-sac, short stories and poetry

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I am at this point in my life thirty seven, for large swathes of my life, I have imagined for some egotistical reason that I could be a writer.

Like many an ambition in life, I just imagined I could do it and never really put any serious work into improving my writing or learning with some proper aim the art of the written word.

I too often would read of a great writer who sat down and just ‘started writing’ somone like Hemingway or Hunter S Thompson, around them coffee cups and cigarette butts would appear and out mist like magic a novel.

It is arrogant to think I could just write something important without any practice or patience, my position reminds me of people I have met in my life who never went to university but have often told me they could easily complete a degree. This kind of thing is easy to pontificate about but to actually complete, well that is a very different proposition.

As a result I have here a collection of very short stories and poetry that never went anywhere, a collection of dead ends.

Some of these are nearly 20 years old and are written in diaries and notebooks I have collected over the years. Some of the material was written during difficult times in my life, some I don’t even remember why I wrote it or what it was about.

Even if none of the stories are completed or I don’t remember my original aim they display a personal narrative, an enjoyment of writing that I feel should be part of this blog.

Pines (2002)

A great pine panorama opened out neatly in all directions as far as he could see. The bright blue sky above and the deep green ocean of treetops below. The cicadas sung away in two separate rhythmic chants. One chant seemed to be in discussion with the other and the harmony slightly altered with each wave of noise, small birds chirped cheerfully in the tree canopy as he felt himself drop downwards.

All at once he felt his being collapse and drop beneath the ground; there under the carpet of brown pine needles among the rocks dirt and gravel he was part of the dark underworld, he felt uncomfortable and felt the gnawing of the rocks and sand.

Jye opened his eyes finding himself facing downwards on the pine green couch, the cushion cover was a dark green polyester which was extremely itchy and uncomfortable to the skin. He pulled himself to a sitting position and itched lethargically his red cheek.

He walked over to kitchen feeling the cold tiles on his bare feet and became aware that there was something or someone else walking behind him .

Judith walked past on her way to the bathroom which was at the back of the house behind the kitchen.

“hey dude” she said smiling

“hey Judith”, Jye said equally cheerfully taking another swig of water.

She disappeared and he heard the squeak and rattle of the old pipes as that shower came into being, he for a short time tried to imagine her naked under the shower, but he had never seen her naked and had a difficult time trying to imagine what shape colour or texture of the image of this picture. It played out in his mind like a censored video and the whole image felt a little odd.

Ghost In the Coal (2000)

Tom watched Greg carefully extract his packet of drum tobacco. He very gently put his fingers into the packet and pulled out very thin cigarette.

Greg had a certain stance that his whole body formed while he smoked a cigarette, his body relaxed as he pushed his groin forward and spread his legs apart.

Out of the silence he let pass an almighty burp, one that could of been heard some distance away.

“There not much we can do but wait mate” Greg said while blew smoke in towards him.

Tom just gave a nod of understanding, knowing any conversation would be strained and difficult.

Greg’s shoes made a distinctive crunching sound of movement

“I’m going up in into the cab to listen to the footy” he darted with enthusiasm up the cab of the loader flicking the butt  of  his cigarette into the coal heap, the bright white butt object stood out in stark contrast to the coal, it smoldered away sending small decorative smoke patterns into the air.

The door made an almighty crash, and he started up the machine.

It became noisy; Tom walked over to a small generator some distance from the loader, there it was silent and sat on the tow bar arm and felt totally blank.

The was a massive mountain of black coal in front of him and he grabbed for a small piece in front of his shoe.

He gripped at the fragile, sharp shiny piece of coal and closed his eyes and imagined the green world of the Carboniferous period. Somewhere around 250 million years ago this pile of black rock was alive, thriving even.

It was odd, he thought, to be surrounded by the fossilized remains of dead forest.

Looking at the black material it took some imagination to perceive that forest, it seemed to Tom like such a calm beautiful place, green and natural, no noisy humans.

And now this… Tom looked at at the neat pile of coal about 5 stories high towering above him.

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It was the afternoon and Stan had decided to observe the beach and its transient population. He took a position in a small dip sandwiched between two groups of people enjoying the sun. The area was a narrow channel of about six metres from the ocean, in this channel his head operated like an automatic fan slowly observing the tiniest fragment of interest.

His head jerked; confronted by a brunette in a small colourful bikini who meandered so close to him that her shadow was on his blue and green beach towel. Stan paused in an internal gasp as the blue sky enveloped this bronze beauty. She was well proportioned, her skin it had a reflective hue that reminded him of a dry wetsuit.

The girl seem to pause purposefully there in front of him, spending an eternity with her hands on her hips scanning the panorama. She slowly moved her delicate hands outwards and ran headlong into the cold surf, the water seemed to reflect off her skin like that of sea mammal and she took off into the sea like it was her natural habitat.

He gazed at the ocean as it swallowed the girl and imagined a tsunami headed towards the beach, a asteroid hitting the ocean, a warship opening fire, a giant fracture in the earth opening up and swallowing the beach, a volcano erupting and an army of piranhas headed directly for the swimmers in the surf.

It occurred to Stan that whenever he went to relax, he often began running through different disaster scenarios.

Stan turned his head and checked on his sunbaking girlfriend, she lay silent face down in the sand in her chocolate brown bikini, for the last half hour she had been giving grunting noises for answers to his questions.

He picked up a small cup full of sand and let it spill out slowly onto his leg, he observed his hands for a long period of time. They where thick fat and white. They looked battle worn,  his fingernails where dark black from the coal dust and the lines in his hands where stained by coal dirt that soap would never reach.

Cold white 

Cold white milky marble, hands together in prayer eyes shut prepared for the afterlife.

An effigy I became transfixed by at the Louvre

Ready to open her eyes and see heaven for eternity, Death Lovingly captured.

My mind races as I imagine her thoughts at her own effigy.

Did she pause over herself with grief, or take comfort in her pious repose.

Tumbleweed (1998)

Tumbleweed, twist and turn

Strike my lighter watch you burn

Dusty path, has ended here

Fade away, you disappear

Stone and Brick (1998)

Stone and brick

Mortar and tower

Iron, steel and aluminum

Personality, no persons

A polis, linked by trade

Pitching battles

We give our will

Penitus (2000)

Downwards from the concrete bridge.

A drowsy shoal, a petrol-shimmering plasma ebb.

Lines across the breadth of river like undulating layers of geography

Eddie currents in motion

Purple paisley kaladascope surface

White packet of tiny teddies floating undulating in the breeze

Small sprites around the peer, untied split second

Sprites uneven explosion on the surface of the water.

Cars come by so close distract attention, people on bikes

Cars thrushing, thrashing, meshing, wind, whoosh, speed, exhaust noise

Urban river, no natural state

Man made sandstone bank

Artificial man made bank

Worn industrial past.

Smooth sandstone, mud bank with mud just a couple of inches back from the wash

People on bikes, wind in trees.

Tim’s Lost Shoe – Article from Urchin Magazine 2005

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I wrote this article in 2005 for a small youth arts magazine in Newcastle called Urchin, which was run by group called Octapod.

I attached this design from the magazine, because I also designed the article when I was starting out as a graphic designer. (Yes the image is of me)

Tim’s Lost Shoe.

I am acutely aware of my surroundings today.

I feel unusually creative. Like the 300 metre tsunami that engulfed half of Mexico (or at least what we know as Mexico) 250 million years ago. It has engulfed me and flooded the forests of everyday life without giving even the smallest insect of boredom or triviality a chance.

Sure I lost my shoe, and I really liked those shoes, still it’s only half bad, I can still look at my one remaining shoe and remember the times they were together.

Yesterday I was dehydrated and wandering amongst the bright sand dunes of Stockton beach, following the small mammal tracks that seem to just stop, without explanation.

There was a point where after a few hours, the whole world I knew disappeared, and I became a speck on the landscape. I became distinctly aware of this when an F/18 hornet screamed overhead. I wondered what my lone figure in the dunes looked like from above, but I suspected the pilot had some tactical objective to complete, and was contemplating the amount of degrees to come in at when bombing a strategic location, only having a mere second to contemplate his position on our earth.

It was at this point that I made a kind of holy ascension above my worldly domain, and looked down on the earth from above. It was like a 3D computer modeler looking down on a landscape he had just created. Panning around from different angles, I became aware of something other than ‘I’. My surroundings and being was more than simply perception and awareness – I felt placed in some kind of computer game, in which I had very little control.

I sat down and began to wonder what freedom meant. I might really know what freedom was if I was locked up as a prisoner of war, or in a small room, for a long period of time. With my normal freedom (freedom of movement and control) starved I might have some unique vision into what freedom actually is.

What is freedom? Those of us who have read even the smallest snippets of philosophy are aware of the idea that freedom is a myth. Philosophers since the 15th century decided that we are merely machines, plopped into this world, with little choice or freedom. On close inspection, this revelation seems somewhat true. Look at our lives – we are prisoners to our body and mind. Some of the things we imagine give us freedom are simply things our bodies and social pressures dictate that we feel. Even love can be seen in purely chemical, social and biological ways.

If love were universal, and not attached to social and biological needs, then why not love sand, or telephone poles, or even other species with the same passion and determination that humans place on their counterparts.

Was I free, here, wandering around without any real objective? I still had worldly issues to worry about. I was thirsty because the heat and sand gave my tongue this coarse feeling, distinctly reminding me of an old Abbott and Costello movie, where they had joined the foreign legion and got lost in the dunes of Sudan. It always made me want to drink gallons of water.

Also, I was aware that I was 800 metres or so from my car – my ticket back to civilization. It’s like that when you go camping or on holidays, and you need some firm root back to the real world. Some safety blanket that grounds you there, in ‘civilisation’, where things move along quite nicely, waiting patiently for you to return to pay its bills, taxes and fines, to read its papers, and generally feel warm and fuzzy in front of your computer or television, in the quiet safety of your house.

Walking back, I looked at the city of Newcastle. I shut my eyes just so the world became a blur, and imagined what it looked like before settlement. But it was hopeless. The landscape has changed so much that it’s hard to get any real picture. I had the faintest image from viewing a few paintings by convict and artist, Joseph Lycett. They reminded me of the scrub a little bit up the coast that nobody really notices or cares about.

Australia before Europeans must have been such a quiet, unified place – the land whole, even pure. With what feels like an almost abstract life force of its own, the Aboriginals respected this. These dunes were like this 1000 years ago. This gave me some pause for thought, because I had no real need to squint my eyes. This is how they looked for so long. However, I was acutely aware of the 4wd tracks and scattered beer bottles and assorted little heaps of trash every couple of metres, which where actually quite fascinating. They were a record of people’s days at the beach, and camping trips. There in the sand for all time. Were they any different to the Aboriginal shell middens just a few hundred metres away?

The dunes were talking to me. But the safety of civilisation was calling, and as I slowly returned, my shoe fell from my bag. Soon to be engulfed by the slow moving sands.

The Mosquito Coast – Paul Theroux

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The little Haddy makes it’s way up a Guatemalan river, Mr Haddy sits on the bow of the boat directing where to go. The dark green emerald forest abounds all around, it is thick and beautifully alive.

Harrison Ford is Allie Fox,  he is wearing a yellow Cuban style shirt and is dripping with sweat in the Guatemalan jungle. River Phoenix plays Charlie Fox and he stares off into the wilderness in a wise and thoughtful way, he is our guide to this difficult tale. These are the overwhelming images that Peter Weir has gifted us, I remember watching this film as a child and feeling absorbed and engrossed in the story of this family.

I was always acutely aware that my mother disliked the movie, I think it frightened her the way that Allie Fox dragged his innocent family through those trials and tribulations.

This was the 80’s, it was a different world, the nuclear family was still at the forefront of peoples minds. The Cosby show and Family Ties and other shows like it reinforced this tight family unit.

I was part of a family just like Charlie Fox, I was about the same age and the story reached out to me, the sheer escapism of it. The destruction of a family the fear of the unknown.

It is interesting now to re-visit this movie and novel 25 years later, the world has changed a great deal and I feel it’s time to have another closer look at this story.

For those of you who have never seen the movie or read the novel the Mosquito Coast is about an Inventor from Massachusetts who decides he has had enough of consumerism and migrates to Guatemala with his family.

He attempts to set up a new civilization in the jungle and creates a giant ice maker, and attempts to take ice to the most remote Indians tribes to show them civilization.

However in his attempts to make contact with the Indians he courts the attention of some rebels, the rebels who seem merely curious are trapped and killed when he blows up his highly toxic ice-maker filled with Ammonia and Hydrogen. This destroys and poisons his civilization and the family are left to drift to the coast where they have to live out a very ordinary existence. He keeps them there by telling his family that America has been wiped out in a Nuclear holocaust.

mc-5g

From here on in the family are left to drift, they settle again and are driven away again by the rising tide during a bad flood, after being warned by Haddy. Gradually the family start to turn on Allie until eventually he reaches his old nemesis the Reverend Spellgood and is shot for blowing up his Cessna light aircraft.

Allie becomes the worst kind of dictator and everyone he meets he forces to bend to his will. His family trustingly follow him through the whole ordeal, disgruntled Charlie has to deal with his increasing hate for his father while Jerry his brother and his other sisters are too young to understand what is going on.

As a character Allie sometimes feels a little empty, you never quite get under his skin. He has an air of mystery about him, I kept wondering about what made Allie the way he is? What made him behave in this way? Was he wrapped up in the civil rights movement? What about his family?

The story sometimes feels like a fable with a simple moral lesson for us to absorb:  “Really bad things happen to people who don’t listen to anyone”

It ponders, nature and environmentalism and plays it between the figures of a father who wants to ‘improve things’ and a mother who is happy to ‘accept the way things are’.

Underneath is a deep discontent of the modern world, he is an escapee from Twinkies and television and yet he feels the need to improve and modernise the empty jungle. By doing this he inadvertently becomes the thing he hates the most, the thing he was trying to escape from.

The American pioneer is here and so is the protestant work ethic, as an atheist American he becomes a modern day Benjamin Franklin and maybe Franklin would of despised modern American consumerism too?

I remember very clearly people talking in my world about this movie, It sat uncomfortably and many people where not ready then for this kind of thing.

These days many people think organic and sustainable, I have solar panels on my roof and the nuclear family just isn’t a major thing anymore. Allie Fox would be surprised at the way society is going, maybe not enough to make him stay in America but certainly some of the things that seemed like a rant then are now becoming a reality.

There is certainly plenty here still to think about, it hasn’t past it’s expiry date in anyway.

A day in the life of…

I have been thinking about my blog and the way I want to portray myself.

In a way you put yourself as an ‘authority’ on something when you do reviews and talk about different subjects in life.

Reviewers are pipe smoking types retiring in their library while they contemplate the finer points of the things they review. I would like to dispel this myth and distance myself from these haughty types

My place on this earth is one of peasant proletariat worker, and my days are very ordinary ones. My aim here is to empty out the contents of my day and go over it like a crime scene, and expose them for everyone to see.

5.30am 

This is my alarm clock and it is on my wife's side of the bed.
This is my alarm clock and it is on my wife’s side of the bed.

I wake up early because I start at 6:30 am, at the moment in Australia it is fairly cold 13 degrees in the morning which makes it hard to get up.

This particular morning before I had a shower I found my cat Ling ling who decided that he would really like a pat. I spent a little bit of time tiredly contemplating animals and their link to humans. What he was thinking and how he was so reliant on me. He seemed to really enjoy this petting but I had to get ready and I felt sad like a parent abandoning a child.

ling ling
Ling ling

5:50am

Shower, I spent a fair bit of time daydreaming in the shower, I was contemplating a documentary about poisons that I had watched the night before.  Did you know that Botox was extremely poisonous?

As I got out I was still a little sleepy and half the contents of the cabinet fell out onto the ground including a $20 dollar bottle of sleeping droplets my wife bought.

‘Sorry, shit sorry’ I said as I looked at this strange yellow liquid that smelt very odd. I spent some time looking at the orange liquid on the white bathroom bench top before cleaning it up, it made me think that it may be a kind of poison it certianly looked very noxious.

6:00am

Stare off into wilderness at kitchen table for 5 minutes.

6:10am

This is my house it's usually not this light when I leave it.
This is my house it’s usually not this light when I leave it.

Put shoes on and leave house, For those of you who are wondering “what about breakfast”. I don’t have breakfast that’s just me I don’t do breakfast.

6:12am

Hop in my car. It is a 2002 blue Kia Rio, it’s basically a piece of crap and keeps breaking down, I have very little love for it because when I was an Auto electrician I learnt to loathe all things car related.

Today to increase the enjoyment of my journey I put on a brand new episode of the ‘ Sunday Night Safran’  podcast, which is exciting because they have been away for 6 weeks. I giggled away as I drove in the dark.

This isn't actually my car because it was too dark to take a decent photo but it looks exactly like my car.
This isn’t actually my car but it’s the same colour and model

6:20am

Call into servo and buy a coffee and say g’day to Lyndal lady who works behind the counter. ‘The coffee machine is working today’ she usually says.  I often go to find the coffee machine is not working, or run out of milk.

Just recently I have been taking the disturbing trend of skipping the coffee altogether and having a Red bull. I know- its going to kill my liver one day.

6.:29am

Brian chairs the morning meeting and is my boss
Brian chairs the morning meeting and is my boss

Walk up driveway and clock into work, morning meeting. Bell goes at 6:30. My boss Brian (who reluctantly let me take his photo)  chairs our morning meetings. Sometimes the meeting is important, usually it’s just a gossip session.

The meeting starts with a safety moment where people just basically talk about their weekend or some idiot on the road. Every now and then something important happens like a big boss comes down to our section and explains some major change.

I work in a train factory, in a section called ‘cabs’. The cab is a fiberglass hull full of electronics that are on the front of the trains.’ We have a contract to build 160 public trains, we are up to 127.

With no further trains planned people in the factory are beginning to get nervous.

this is the cabs that go on the front of the public trains
This is cabs they go on the front of the public trains

7:00am

earth wiring
Earth wiring

My job for the day is earth wiring, basically I have to cut 50 pieces of varying size wire and place those yellow numbers on each end and put crimps on them.

It’s the easiest task I have to do, but surprisingly repeating the same task like this over and over becomes increasingly difficult the more you do it. The job becomes so repetitive that the only option is to day dream.

During my day dream session today I started to contemplate the politics of trade unionism in the workplace today, discussing finer points with other workers every now and then.

Today’s topic that took center stage was the subject of the American frontier and the vision of a better world or new world. I tried to contrast Australia’s colonial settlement and compare that to the American dream and the ‘Go west ideal’. Basically I decided that Australia never went west it kind of hit a desert and gave up, seeing that vast expanse of desert was just so soul destroying.

I wondered about how this effected the Australian psyche having bugger all arable land to settle on and by then the morning tea bell went off.

Often I dream about art and design seeing I spent a lifetime turning my career around and gaining a degree in Visual communications but today it is the philosophy of the poineering spirit.

9:00am

Morning tea, morning tea is so short that it is hardly worth mentioning. In this time I have a cup of tea and then sometimes just read a little bit of a book if I can.

9:15 -12:30   Fellow workers

This is junior
This is Junior

This is Junior, he is my main work buddy,  usually he is up this ladder.  This particular day he was fairly quiet up there because he was on the phone messaging his wife (Nobody can see him).

Junior’s heritage is Maori and from Samoa which I find fascinating to talk about in regards to culture.  Junior is a Jehovah’s witness and sometimes I have to navigate very carefully around the subject of religion, mostly Junior is very good about it and we hardly ever talk religion. (He knows I am a fairly ardent atheist). Junior can be very funny and we both are always joking around about different things.

Curly
Curly

This is Curly or Keith Boyce, apparently they call him Curly because he has only one hair on his head. Some guys also call him ‘poppy’.

Curly is one of those people of an older generation who is a bit of a know it all. Junior and I often play jokes on Curly which he takes fairly well.

Curly can sometimes be a fun person to be around he always has a story and he usually brings the whole group together in his own way. However he can also be a little bit nasty and small minded. He does from time to time make brutally racist comments which Junior and myself have found very offensive.

12:30-Lunch

Chris
Chris at lunch

This is Chris, he sits across from me at lunch and is my fellow electrician. Chris is a very good electrician but he also has the record for being the clumsiest person in our section often tripping or falling over.

He is also probably the most conservative person I have met in this workplace.

We talk about real estate every day even though I find the topic essentially very boring. He often gets very upset over different things and I am basically not allowed to ask him about being Catholic anymore.

Afternoon downhill run -1:00 to 3:30

Different images from the afternoon.

Philosophically minded worker, in the toilet.
Philosophically minded worker, in the toilet.
This is a window where I work
This is a window where I work, I often look out it and think about abstract art.
I have never witnessed anyone band their head on it yet.
I have never witnessed anyone bang their head on it yet.
Outside the shed Boring huh!
Outside the shed-Boring huh!

2:45 packing up and going home!

At the end of this particular day I had to unwrap the wiring loom of these red bubble wrap things, hundreds of them.

Sometimes I have nightmares about this red bubble wrap.

IMG_0438
Red bubble wrap I hate you!

Before knocking off we have to ‘colour in’.  The colouring in sheet is about bosses being able to keep track of what we are doing.

At first it was a way of saying ‘do your work’ but it is never mentioned anymore so I think now it has become a rough guide for office types who don’t know what the hell we are doing on these trains.

Colouring in sheet
Colouring in sheet

3:30–Home time

Clock out line before knocking off
Clock out line before knocking off
Walking home
Walking home

4:30pm

I am deciding on building a new deck on the back of my house and Chris the builder spent most of the afternoon planning out exactly what it would look like, it started to rain and you can see the rain drops on our plans.

Plans for deck
Plans for deck

5:30pm – Bedtime

I started writing this blog post, editing and re-editing it.  Between that I posted a picture of Ling ling on Facebook.

I later paid my registration for the KIA and then ate a toasted sandwich.

This is my day, I could go into more detail about it but it probably really would bore everyone to tears.

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