I’VE been working on a new blog lately. It doesn’t fit the tone and purpose of this blog.
It’s a collection of short stories about my experiences growing up in a foster home. These stories aren’t as depressing or emotional as I first thought they would be. They’ve been lifting the memories and emotions suppressed in my mind and I am remembering the funny moments of my childhood as well.
I’ve removed my modern day emotion and opinion from it. And what is being revealed is a collection of thoughts from a clueless child slowly discovering sexuality, the meaning of family and acceptance, and about what it means to grow up.
It’s called Memes and Bitterness. I invite you to take a look and see what you think. I’m excited. I believe in it enough that I’ve bought the Unlimited Premium Theme from the WordPress Shop, just to make it a little more presentable.
I haven’t given up on this blog, but I did want you to know about my new one. I believe you will like it.
That’s all they seem to be in the small country communities. At least until a celebrity kills themselves. Either on purpose or by the amount of drugs they have taken.
There’s a fierce drought in regional Australia. Farmers and business owners get into debt and see no way out but death because of the downturn in economy. Worst of all are the amount of kids in the regional towns that are killing themselves. And their death sets a chain reaction among their friends.
Did you know this?
I have little proof to support my claims about how many of the youth are dying because it is a taboo subject. But the whispers are there in the communities. It frustrates me that I cannot get to these schools and write more about these children who have chosen to do what they do.
But nobody wants to talk. It hurts too much. And suicide has stigma and there is a fear that it is contagious. Evidence suggests there is truth to that.
What I do know for certain is that Beyond Blue released statistics which state suicide was the leading cause of death among Australians between the ages of 15 and 44 in 2012.
Today the RUOK Bus stopped in my city. It is to raise awareness for people to build connections with people suffering depression so nobody is isolated.
As the journalist I had to cover the story. I didn’t want to. Maybe I was tired because of the last few nights chatting to a friend in Japan, maybe it’s because I myself have contemplated suicide in the past (2009, when I was volunteering for the Salvation Army in Melbourne, but I will talk about it another time) but interviewing social workers made me tense.
I found it hard to get permission to get quotes for suicide in general today even if was to promote RUOK.
“We want to make sure when you interview the organiser of the local suicide prevention program you only stick to talking about a local event,” she said. “We’ve been very careful the last few days about the information we release.”
In other words, please don’t talk about Robin Williams.
I know some of you are rolling your eyes assuming I’m exploiting this week’s topic. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m taking the chance to talk about these things while it is POPULAR and is all people are talking about.
One of my mentors, who coincidentally looks a little like Professor Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, had something interesting to say on Facebook yesterday:
“Robin Williams is dead, killed by his own hand. The papers, including social media is full,of tributes and expressions of grief at this tragic event. But it is worth asking where the tragedy lies. Does it lie in the passing of his genius? Is the death of his celebrity status the source of the tragedy? Is his suicide more tragic than the death of a nameless addict in an abandoned Brisbane hovel? I hope not. His death, his life of struggle with depression was a tragedy. To wake in the morning despising the day, regretting your existence does not need celebrity status to qualify as tragedy. Depression is the silent killer of life, mostly but not exclusively of men. And this is a tragedy.”
At the time I disagreed with him. But now I am not so sure.
Here is a few things I have learned about suicide since becoming a journalist.
Sometimes we victimise the person who killed themselves and forgot their faults. It is like we keep to the old code of redemption in spilling your own blood. Sometimes we fear about saying negative about the person from then on.
This was the status of a controversial Australian comedian several days ago:
“I hear Robin Williams won’t be stealing jokes anymore.”
Does it make you feel indignant to read this? To know that even if Williams was a renowned stand-up joke thief, somebody said a bad word about him?
I make a stronger point.
Once a man in a small Australian town was to go to court to face alleged child porn charges. The week before he is due to appear he kills himself the same way Williams did. He was found in his house.
I won’t go into the worse rumours about this man. Far worse rumours than what the charges were.
All I say is I found it interesting the charges were dropped. You cannot convict a dead man. He never received a fair trial. When I asked the court clerks and the police for more details, they closed down. One of the clerks told me angrily over the phone, “I’d be very careful writing anything about this in the paper if I was you.”
It’s not up to you to tell me what I should be writing, I thought.
“Are you thinking of the poor man’s family?” she said.
Are you thinking of the victim and the victim’s family?
Of course, a different example from Williams. But one that bears thought while society is mindful of the topic.
In journalist cadet training we were taught ways of how to report on suicide. One thing we were never to do was publish photographs of the tributes left behind of a person who killed themselves. It implants the idea apparently to the vulnerable that if they die they will have these tributes too.
I see this week that some coverage failed to avoid that rule.
Also, we were told never to say how a person killed themselves. It is why you never read an ethical article this week which specifically says how Williams died or where he was found exactly. You read instead that his death was caused by asphyxiation.
I see this ethical rule was broken too because some outlets wanted to break the story or because they believed it was already common knowledge. And you wonder why the rate of suicide increases when a celebrity dies.
To soften the blow to the vulnerable, and to help them when they feel worse because of the emotional impact our article has, we end it with something like; If you feel you need to talk to someone, then please phone Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
Interning for the Salvation Army was confronting and the issues I witnessed outside my comfort zone. All I wanted for my precious leisure time was to retreat into other worlds. Worlds like Hogwarts and Runescape and wherever the hell Twilight is set.
The 11 interns had one television to share. Our internet was limited and there was no access to the online video games I was addicted to. The TV was reserved for Doctor Who, a show I was reluctant to watch. I’d walk through the hallway to my room, roll my eyes and think, “damn, that theme music is more annoying than Smallville’s.”
Instead I chose to sleep, read, or write.
Themes of loneliness, depression and alcoholism began to emerge in poor forms of poetry and fictional remakes of what I was witnessing on the streets. The anger was directed at God or through religious propaganda.
I returned to university. My creative writing marks are as high as you can get. My politics marks are as poor as you can get while still passing. My journalism subjects are somewhere in the spectrum of decent and respectable.
This is where I first tap into my childhood to turn it into fiction. I write a collection of short stories about a teenager who grew up in a foster home. I submitted the 92,000 word novel into The Australian’s Vogel Literary Award.
It didn’t shortlist. The book is almost useless but sometimes writers need to get their first one out of their way before they are ready to publish.
The other books I never completed were of the fantasy genre. These were space opera, high fantasy, and teenage paranormal genres which I kept separate from my university assessments. Genre fiction was not encouraged in university courses and those who spoke of these themes in workshops were looked on in disdain by the serious writers.
I begin writing short stories in my free time that aren’t submitted as assessments and enter them in competitions.
In 2011 I discover Stephen King novels. I attempt horror in my short stories.
My first short story is published. Lonely Leather is shortlisted in a competition and is published in Wet Ink . I earn $75. The protagonist’s uncle is a rich author who commits suicide at the end.
I brag about it in my creative writing class. Being published in Wet Ink (no longer existing) is a big deal. My lecturer is impressed. Two days later I receive an invitation to join the lecturers, PhD and master students to a nearby island for a writers retreat. I will be mentored by Australian author Frank Moorhouse.
I meet author and lecturer Sally Breen. She holds a cocktail while she raves about my writing. Nobody has encouraged my writing as much as she had before while knowing what they are talking about.
She organises a select group of students to volunteer at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali. The university pays for the trip, because it’s technically part of a subject. All I have to do is write an essay of what I learned.
At the festival I hire a moped, taste frogs legs, enter the poetry slam, and have one date with an Indonesian girl.
When we fly back to Brisbane I wear a bamboo hat and golden baggy pants I bought at the Ubud markets.
I miss the last train and I’m stranded in the city alone. I go to the 24 hour Hungry Jacks and buy a juice so I can sit inside. To pass the early hours I start writing a love story to the girl I dated the one time.
It’s part poetry I suppose, but it was more a rant which includes:
I love you. I miss you. I want you. Oh, I’m full of shit. I miss you now at 10 past 2, but are your eyes a blue or brown? I want you, but what’s your name again? Yeah, I know, it’s Carley and your eyes are hazel, your hair is blonde, but a year ago your name was Tahlia. Your eyes were blue. Every time I wish you’d die, you’d come again a different form. Renewed again, you black cat-phoenix.
I submit the poem as my assignment and I get a HD – top of the class.
At some stage I resent writing. It was to be an expression of self-sabotage but somehow it became the only way I could communicate. People misunderstood my body language all my life.
I wanted to walk into a room of strangers and be their centre of attention. I didn’t want to be the life of the party. I wanted the life of the party. It was captivation I wished for. Writing gave me nothing, I felt.
Who is this Russell Brand. Hey! He’s a comedian. Why don’t you try comedy? Does Brisbane have comedy?
I took lessons and began the circuit. Some nights I’m crap and other nights I have applause. There’s a power I feel when I’m on stage and can’t do anything wrong. The laughs escalate. One poor choice of words will still increase the laughs. I am liked. Loved. I drive home most nights of the week at 1am. Adrenaline pumps. I turn the lights off and have a new idea for a joke. I write it down.
I develop insomnia. Only black and white Doctor Who can put me to sleep.
One night I attend a writer’s function with uni friends. I read one of my poems.
“I decree that I forsee that at 33 I’ll die of cancer of the pancreatic sort.”
Somehow my delivery has changed. The room laughs at what should be intense themes. Sally is disappointed at me.
I do some self-reflecting. I’m a Pizza Hut delivery driver who can’t even afford a GPS. It means I flick through my maps with a spotlight before I start driving with the pizza in the back seat. I make $2 an hour on weekends. Week nights are reserved for stand-up comedy gigs. I get three or four a week but make no money. Driving to the gigs costs the taxpayer.
I apply for reporter jobs across the country. I receive a job at a weekly paper in a coal mining town in WA. I accept the job. Goodbye comedy friends. Goodbye writers. I drive from Brisbane, to Adelaide, to Perth in six days.
In his glory days my boss used to control all the Fairfax papers in WA. Because of internal struggles and disagreements which likely involve the new policies of internet, he is demoted to control of the minor weekly papers from the small town we both live in.
There is resent. He hates the job and lives for the weekend. On his mahogany desk there is a small sign that says “born to golf. Forced to work.”
The boss hated my writing. He thought it fancy. It was long winded and had little precision. When you have found your creative writing voice it is difficult to chance style. Removing the unnecessary ‘that’ and ‘the’ and ‘really’ was a difficult concept.
I worked weekends for free to make my Mondays and Tuesdays easier. I learnt to write faster and not procrastinate as much. I toured coal mines, attended court where I watched a prosecutor yell at a defendant accused of assault, and interview the parents of a boy who died in tragic circumstances.
My creative writing slowed. My murder mystery novel was taking too long to write. My short stories including Aliens Play Aussie Rules rejected. My achievements like winning the town’s literature awards and shortlisting for the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards not seeming enough.
I quit without another job lined up. This is a big mistake in journalism. I did not care. I hated journalism. I wanted work somewhere else. I wanted to return to comedy.
I lasted eight months without needing the dole. I burned through the savings and start sharing a house with grandma. I develop a blog called Hail to the Monkey King. I apply for a spot at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. I milked my stand-up comedy experience for what it was worth. Big mistake. The teachers judging my audition disliked it. They act like a creative writing tutor learning their student wants to write about vampires.
Everything I try for doesn’t happen. I have no retail experience and there’s fewer comedy gigs I can get in Perth.
I miss Qld.
I take a job at a daily paper in North West Qld.
Each day more than 2000 people read my news articles. They recognise my name.
But the articles I write do not belong to me. They are not my stories. I write them because I am paid to do so.
On weekends my head is focused on the next scene of my fantasy novel about killer robots locking children in a booby trapped fun park.
Sure it’s genre fiction but it’s an old idea from my late teen years I’m developing. I don’t want to be a serious writer for a while. There’s enough of that during the week.
My psychologist in primary school had these cards with pictures of bears on them. There were bears of all types. There were angry bears, happy bears, small bears, muscular bears, mother bears. You put the cards into rings to prop them up.
It was like playing with toys. I would use the bears to narrate how I was feeling. It’s called sandbox therapy but I used it to vent stories. The psychologist would write it down and ended up typing it up for me. My story became sequels. I cannot remember the shape of the stories and whether they were tragic, or if any of the bears died. I think there was a scary forest where they all got lost at one stage.
After my brother and I watched Phantom Menace at the cinemas I began writing space opera. It was hardly original work. There were laser swords, an evil magician who would die at the end of each story but who would somehow come back to life at the beginning of the next story. By the end of the epic series he was nothing but an amputated skeleton in armor who needed to use telekinesis to fight with his laser sword.
Mum read sections of it and told me off for ripping off Star Wars.
I was 10 when I moved into my foster home. We lived in the bush and had no car. There was nothing to do on the property unless you liked horses. But there were books on a shelf in my bedroom. I discovered Treasure Island, The Hobbit, and other books I cannot remember.
I didn’t write so much, except for the mandatory stories in English class. They set the themes. One theme we were given was “the day the sun didn’t come up.”
Other kids were cute. They used fireworks to bring the sun back. But I personified my sun. My character flew into another galaxy, where the moon was in labour pains with baby sun.
Dad sun pissed off somewhere and baby sun came back to our galaxy. The end.
The teachers didn’t publish that one in the school magazine.
But there was another lengthy story. It was a tragic drama. You know how in the first 20 pages of The Philosopher’s Stone where Harry’s life is depressing and miserable? That was my story. It was a more intense version of Series of Unfortunate Events. The boy’s parents died or had accidents making them disabled. His friends died and the cubby house was burnt down. Even his foster mother was murdered.
My real foster mother hated the story. She thought it depressing.
I started writing a porno instead but my foster dad found it and read it aloud to everyone. What a jerk. It wasn’t ready to be shared. It was only the first draft.
The Tomorrow When the War Began series changed my life. I was 15 when I started reading, and even though it bored me the first 30 pages I became addicted. John Marsden influenced my voice more than anyone else. His tormented character Ellie Linton taught me the power of first person emotion. It was a disadvantage in later years as a journalist. His commas were excessive and his sentence structure windy.
But because of Mr Marsden I found my voice before I knew how to write structurally.
I started writing a book about teenagers in criminal gangs at high school. They fought for secret bases, hang-outs, and black market businesses. Their weapons were bow staffs and water pistols filled with Tabasco sauce. I kid you not.
In Writing Effectively I earned a High Distinction. This was in my first semester of my Bachelor of Arts. It’s nothing to brag about. The lecturer gave everyone HDs at the Logan campus because he didn’t want to bother marking our assignments. We wrote weekly essays about 200 words in length and brought them to class.
Once he wanted to read somebody’s essay to the class. He rifled through the papers and picked mine out. “This could get interesting,” I thought. It was a three paragraph piece called Why We Eat Chocolate Easter Eggs. The exercise was linking three paragraphs together. I didn’t think anyone but the Irish Catholic lecturer would be reading it.
“Can I read yours, Chris?”
I cannot remember what the first paragraph was, but it was safe and non-religious. “This is brilliant,” he said, finishing the paragraph. “Perfect.”
“Thank you,” I said nervously. And he read the second paragraph. When he finished he gasped.
“This is even better! Listen everyone, this is exactly what I’m telling you to do. This is absolutely brilliant. Chris has just shown us perfectly how to link the paragraph and make the next line engaging. Do you see?”
And then he read the third paragraph. “But when you eat these chocolate Easter eggs, remember it is to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.” His voice darkened. “He died for our sins.”
He glared at me. “This is shit. What you’ve just done – only a wanker would do what you just did.” The lecturer shoved it down. It was no longer an example of a perfect essay.
This was in 2008. In the second semester I receive a Pass in Creative Writing 1. My lecturer also embarrasses me in my oral assignment because I didn’t know the difference between paraphrasing and referencing.
I read a futuristic story I was working on about a barbarian who is tamed and pushed into the World Emperor’s inner social circle for political motives. Think Battlefield Earth but without the aliens.
A GIRL I liked gave me a love letter when I was 13. It was the best feeling in the world. She was a primary schooler, I was a high schooler, it was a perfect match except we didn’t catch the same bus. Her foster sister gave me the letter, and so began a series of letters written on Winnie the Pooh stationary.
I’ll go to high school each day, find time to write the letter, and return it to the sister on the ride home.
I visited their house on Saturday. There might have been some hand holding, and we kissed. She refused to make her friends leave the room because she wanted them to watch.
Best kiss I ever had.
Mustn’t have been as good for her though. She dumped me an hour later and told me there was another guy.
He went to primary school with her. It was a perfect match, apparently.
And I suppose I tell you this because it reinforced the idea the love letter approach worked. I discovered love poetry, and when I say “discovered” I mean I enjoyed writing it without having read any of the experts. And I gave it to another girl I liked for Valentines Day.
I should have plagiarised with something safe like:
how beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.
I chose instead to write a love poem in Year 8 comparing the girl to various food objects. The line I do remember, as it repeated over and over, was:
You are as nice,
as nice as pie.
You always give everything a try.
You are as great, as great as tart.
I want you to be my sweetheart.
What possessed me? Love apparently. But it’s something the shy, creative writers did when they liked a girl. We had been influenced by the rom-com movies at the time like Can’t Hardly Wait which dictated this is what a guy did to attract her attention.
The years passed, with several love interests but perhaps one brief relationship made and died at schoolies. When I joined the Order I knew little of relationships except what I discovered in my young high school days eight years before.
There was a girl I met in the Order.
After her party I didn’t see her at all. Not for months. Not until the dreaded Christmas season.
At Order 614 Christmas is chaos. We’re warned about it all year. We collected money for the Christmas appeal at street corners and train stations across Melbourne, often with brass bands accompanying us. I heard the same songs on every shift, some I didn’t even know existed. And once we completed the four hour shifts we would return to work and work in the drop-in centre or wherever else we were rostered.
The last month in the Order was like this. It buggered me up. One morning after a early shift of collecting money I fell asleep in the drop-in centre. This was a dangerous thing to do. When the boss told me off I sneaked away into the basement and took a nap.
On top of this I was seeing Sally more. I wanted to let her know I liked her before I moved back to Qld. I suppose other interstate relationships in the Order’s history had worked. When exhausted every day all I would need for an emotional high was to see her, then I’d be smiling again.
One of the best and last infatuation highs I have had, just like the ones in high school. You just don’t get them so much in your mid 20s.
The combined mixture of all these emotions – from exhaustion to tingles – made me believe this meant something. And after a year of challenging myself to do more and be a better person I wanted to prove to myself I could ask a girl out properly. With advice from some friends I found her mobile and phoned her the day before the Order 614’s last church service of the year.
“Hi Sally, it’s Chris. The one who works at the Order?”
“Oh, hi, Chris.”
“Want to grab a coffee or something tomorrow?” When I write the question down it doesn’t seem so hard to say.
“What? Really? Are you sure?”
We arranged to meet for coffee after church the next morning. The first thing I should have done when I saw her there was say hello. But I was too shy, I ignored eye contact, I slouched and looked busy with my other friends.
So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when she walked to me at the church lunch, smiled, and said “I’m sorry, I just realised I double-booked.”
“Okay, maybe another time maybe.”
Nope. That wasn’t what she was telling me. So that night I decided to write a love letter. The best love letter I’d written yet. It started with:
You are as nice
As nice as pie.
I shouldn’t have given her the letter. These emotions were a culmination of the Order, and I knew I would be saying goodbye to the building and moving interstate again. I was making her some sort of anchor.
The next day she read that stuff I meant about “how beautiful and how smart and how gorgeous” she was. The last time I heard from her she described it as “flattering.”
And I would be tempted to use this post to apologise to her (and maybe to the former love interests I added into one Facebook group they all declined to join) for my behaviour.
I’m not sure how to talk about her. I’m so confused I don’t even know whether to refer to her as The Girl or A Girl. The former suggests infatuation when I have barely thought of her in years. The latter seems impersonal, casual and off-hand.
I have been wondering for some weeks now whether I should write about what happened, or ignore the love letter incident entirely.
There is a small chance she would read this. And if she doesn’t, then there’s 90 per cent chance a family member or friend will. And to spare her and myself further embarrassment, I’ve wanted to ignore this entire subject.
But I’m a journalist. I write about other people, and dig up their pain, their issues, all in the name of truth. I’d be a coward and a hypocrite not to begin this. I’d rather be thought brash and awkward.
And besides, it covers the entire issue of leaving the Order, the frustration, the stress, the emotion.
But giving a girl a love letter? Who ever thought that was a good idea.
You ever meet a girl you like and want to get to know her more? Basically, I met this great girl while I volunteered in the Order. I won’t bother attempting to describe her virtues – I’m sure I did this at length in a last letter of desperation.
It’s hard to be smooth, energetic and charming when you’re volunteering such long hours. And so when I did see “Sally” I suppose I was too shy to built rapport. I don’t think she saw me at my best and most relaxed.
She invited the Order members and I to her birthday party. I was definitely going. It was on a Friday night at a rooftop bar. And so begins the shittiest night of my year.
At that stage I’d barely been in a bar. And so after a 40 minute tram ride S-, B- and I arrived. A burly but gay bouncer asked us for I.D. I didn’t have any. My two friends walked inside and I asked them to give her my card. I went back home and searched for I.D. I couldn’t find my licence, but I did have an old uni student card. I arrived an hour late by the time I gave the card to a lady guarding the door.
“But it doesn’t say your date of birth?” she said.
I groaned. She sympathised. But wouldn’t let me in.
This is where an ordinary guy would have called it quits. But I liked this girl. And not showing up to her birthday party was not a good look. I ran home because the tram wasn’t coming fast enough. J- was at home alone watching movies. He was alarmed when he heard me shove my cupboard drawers to the ground in search for the hidden I.D. I’d almost given up when I found it.
I came back to the bar.
Both bouncers were at the door laughing, probably not knowing the other had turned me away. “I thought you’d never show up again,” they said.
“Here,” I panted.
“Good on you,” the gay bouncer said, handing it back. “Enjoy your night.”
I scoured the roof top bar and walked around it three times when I realised I had a problem. Nobody I knew was there. They had left without telling me.
“What’s wrong,” the first bouncer asked me as I was about to leave. “You just got here!”
“They left,” I said.
It was cold in Melbourne at night. I stood a few minutes wondering what I was going to do. In those days I was on no phone plan. I had a crummy Nokia and it had no credit left. I did not have Sally’s number and even if I did, it was 10.30pm.
But I had B-‘s number, and he should have still been with the group. And when you’re desperate for romance or something of the kind, you find a way. There’s a hundred 7/11’s in Melbourne CBD, or at least one on every corner. I bought credit and phoned B- hoping he would get back to me. I waited in the gutter.
“Hi, I can’t make it to the phone right now…” his answering machine began.
My voice message response was not pleasant.
And then I sent a text which began with “out of worst 10 nights of my life this would be one of them.” It’s a great way to keep friends. You should try it.
But B- was good. He texted me back shortly and said the party had moved to a nightclub. I’d never been to a club before (I was 20!) and it wasn’t in my comfort zone, but I found the place eventually, paid the $15 cover charge, and walked in.
Sally was there, welcomed me, and we tried to talk surrounded by loud music, as dark dressed girls swayed on miniature stages in the centre of the room . But I was in a grumpy mood and wasn’t having any fun, so she found nicer friends. I waited an hour scowling at the random couple meeting and hooking up at the corner of the bar.
And then S- wanted to go home. I walked with S- to the tram, knowing I’d screwed up.
And I’ll tell you the next part next time, I swear.
I HAVE been trying to ditch Facebook a while but my efforts never stick for more than two days. I would post farewells on Facebook, and they would usually be Simpsons related. Something like:
This bird’s gonna fly!
Or a meme expressing addiction:
But of course I never leave Facebook for long. What can you expect when you seek the likes and comments from friends because of that decision? After two days I wonder what my friends think about the meme.
Is it clever?
Does it have any likes?
Did that girl I never speak to in real life comment on it?
Has my uncle Barry invited me to play the Pirates of the Carribean game for the 16th time?
Dammit. I need that one last hit before I really quit.
This was to be my final hit, but let’s be clear about this. There’s final hits and final hits. What kind was this to be? – Mark “Rent-boy” Renton (Trainspotting)
Yesterday morning I read a Brisbane Times article about 99 Days of Freedom. And before giving my FB-junkie side of my brain a chance to rationalise, I signed on. Without realising it until it was too late, I gave the program the rights to publish a clock countdown on my Facebook wall.
I couldn’t back out. I couldn’t even post one more meme on my wall.
Damn you pride.
It’s only been a day and a half since leaving Facebook, and it’s been hard. My method of storytelling in my daily life has been influenced. When I finish reading a book, I add it to my collection of favourite books on social media. This morning I finished reading book 5 of the Wheel of Time (more than 1000 pages) and I couldn’t even brag about it.
I can’t say I hated Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
I can’t post the news articles I’ve had published lately, and some of my best work has been released the last week.
I can’t test any of my witty jokes, or declare that I bought an iced-coffee.
I can’t say I discovered an a capella metal band from Germany which does Metallica and Iron Maiden covers.
So many great thoughts and I can’t post them as soon as I think on them. But that’s one of the unexpected benefits of this exercise. I’d expected more time to spend making casseroles from Men’s Health recipes. I didn’t imagine I could be so reflective. It’s like my brain now thinks clever thoughts beyond quick lines to post to generate reaction.
But I need one last fix. And so I will write my thoughts of the last day and a half usually reserved for statuses. There’s less of a chance you’ll read them, and you can’t like them, but I need to get them out my system.
Posting Facebook statuses was never about you. It was always about me and how I expressed myself to you. I know. Selfish! It should never have become that way.
Is it better to go to work with a hangover, or when you’re drunk? #Dilemma or some other shitty hashtag
Holy amaze-balls! I’ve just discovered an a Capella version of Fear of the Dark. Feeling sweeeeeet!:)
The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and go, and after many of these bloody ages I have finished Book 5.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 2/4. I fell asleep through it like it was midnight instead.
Hey! Does anyone else think Gary Oldman looks a lot like Bryan Cranston?
Bought the movie Lawrence of Arabia from Woolworths. This might well be the best $7 I ever spent.
SLEEP has always been my escape from stress. But there was a time when I served in the Salvation Army in Melbourne where I dreaded it. Every night for at least a week I would have vivid dreams.
I say ‘vivid dreams’ because they were not nightmares, exactly, but they weren’t pleasant, sweet, or desirable. I think there was one time I felt like I was choking, and when I woke my arm was around my neck.
But I wasn’t the only Order member. I know the others had nightmares and vivid dreams too. One of them was even a sleep walker.
There were more than a few in the group who prayed believing these vivid dreams were an attack from the Devil. Sometimes they would pray in the hallway which pissed me off because I was watching a movie in the lounge. But you can never ask; “if that’s the Holy Spirit, can you tell it to be a little more quiet? I’m watching Law Abiding Citizen.”
I say this not to mock. I say this to highlight our thoughts and beliefs at the time.
G- and A- were roommates. One night G- woke to see A- standing over the bed with eyes closed, muttering, “got to get the sin out of the room.” And G- screamed.
One night I dreamed I was walking in Fitzroy Park. There was a campfire in the middle, with one of my friends warming himself over a fire. “Look out,” he said to me. “Ronald is coming. You should go!” But it was too late. Ronald was standing on the other side of the fire to me. He pulled out two swords from somewhere in dream-space, and chopped my arms off. I heard ambulance sirens and I still had painful stumps for arms before I woke.
I knew then I was scared of Ronald more than anyone else in my life.
THERE are men I have met who when become angry for whatever reason, react. And they react with spite. These men, and some women, are not limited to the lower classes. They are politicians, they are members of a middle class audience watching stand-up comedy or theatre, and they are the laborers.
They all have something in common. Bad tempers. And charm. They can reason with you but you will find it difficult to persuade them. When threatened their logic skips like a broken CD. You find holes in their argument and they ignore it, only repeating their previous verses again, and again, and when losing over and over, resort to intimidation.
In Melbourne there was one man who scared me more than every other. During our two week induction the Order members were warned about Ronald.
“He has a life long ban from the drop-in centre,” we were told.
There must be a serious reason for being banned for life from a room filled daily with drug addicts, schizophrenic, ex-convicts, homeless, and no doubt the occasional down-on-his-or-her-luck prostitute. An organisation who prides itself on being merciful, forgiving, and the last place a person can go for assistance cannot take a life-long ban lightly.
One morning in the drop-in centre, Ronald stood next to me and grabbed a bowl. I smelt his thick dreadlocks and body odour before I even recognised him.
I let him go but told my supervisor he was inside. She left him alone.
I couldn’t blame her.
He was part of the milk-crate gang, who sat at the beginning of the alleyway from Little Collins Street near the car-park. Ronald held the court, leading forward in bagging clothes drinking cheap piss from a paper bag. We kept our distance but were worried when other attendees spoke and gathered around.
I was in the alleyway once when a bald headed man in his thirties, with a knobbly nose that must have been sun-burnt and broken more times than the fingers on your hands, strode up to Ronald, yelling. Ronald stood from his milk crate and his massive body swelled. The energy surged from his chest and his shoulder as he pummeled his fist into the man’s face. The knobbly nosed man toppled back. His head crunched into the smelly alleyway bitumen. I still remember hearing the crunch from the back of his head.
The bosses and the paid professionals ran to move Ronald on. The drop-in centre manager lured the victim away to sit on the curb. He was not bleeding from what I could see.
And then the man wailed. He was so drunk that it took him more than 10 seconds to feel the pain.
RONALD lived in one of the parks most of the time beside one of the old power stations. It was one of the first places we stopped at when we ran the coffee van at night. Not every person would want to run into Ronald at 9pm at night, but I never had a problem with him. He was usually placid, relaxed, perhaps even high.
He was dangerous because he was unpredictable. You feared his violence and preferred to keep him happy so you did what you could to respect him. It was a base form of manipulation, one I would liken to the abusive stepfather or the dominating partner. We gave him what he asked for like blankets, poppers, sausage rolls, coffee, and with a smile. But he wasn’t pushy. In fact, he didn’t ask for much compared to his friends, who often whined impatiently if we were not fast enough to bring back a coffee.
“Treat every one of these people like you’re serving Jesus,” was a popular saying among the Melbourne Salvos.
Roy Maloy lies on a bed of nails. A forklift lowers a 500 kilogram block of ice onto his chest and seven muscular men break the ice with axes.
“Hurry,” Roy shouts on the Youtube video as they tire. And he remains until the ice has completely shattered away.
He tells me yesterday he broke two ribs from the weight of the ice.
I met Roy Maloy at the Mt Isa Show yesterday. He broke a record struggling out of a six metre chain tied by a random from the crowd. He did it in 21.5 seconds. When a boy heckles him, Roy throws the boy’s hat into the crowd. And when he breaks the record, he gets a woman to kiss him on the cheek and he moves at the last second so their mouths touch.
We meet through a comedy friend of ours. I take him out for lunch. He puts his folded bed of nails into the back of my car and leaves it there when we arrive at the Buffs. He wears a red circus ringleader vest, which has no sleeves.
The guy at the door won’t let us in unless Roy puts on one of their shirts they have provided. Roy grabs it, hides behind the nearest door, and swaps over the vest with the shirt.
When we sit down for beers and food, we learn we both worked at 69 Bourke Street in 2009. He was introduced to Order members but we cannot remember each other. At all. It’s possible I might at the end of the year, maybe, but it is a reminder that there was so much information and peoples faces to take in that year but I probably didn’t notice most things. Including people.
Roy ran away from home when he was 16. He lived in the same alleyways and hung out in the same fast food places I knew of when I worked as an Order member. This is how he became a circus performer.
He learnt each of the different tricks from the other streeties.
“Hey man, can I borrow your stilts?” he asked of a street performer one day.
The streetie said “yes, I’m not using them at the moment.”
So that’s how Roy learnt to use stilts, something he became a record holder in. Years later Roy walked on the world’s heaviest and the world’s tallest stilts. And the same applied for sword swallowing and fire breathing.
Eight years later, Roy searched the phone book for agricultural shows in Victoria. From there he phoned each of the different show organisers so he could perform at these places. This is how he began, this is what led to more than 52 shows a year, this is what led to becoming room manager of his own Melbourne based shows. This is how Roy began to break world records.
We finish lunch. I take him back to his hotel. We have a conversation which eventually leads to a miraculous story.
Once Roy performed in an isolated community and noticed a kid being bullied by a group of other boys. Roy stood up for the kid and mentioned the issue with the local priest, who was aware of it. A few years later the boy contacted Roy by email or social media to write him a suicide letter. When Roy persuaded the boy to give more details, he contacted the priest immediately, who was able to get to the boy in time.
Again, years later, Roy returns to the community. And a strapping, handsome man walks to him and booms, “hello Roy, you don’t remember me, do you?”
Sure enough, it was the boy grown up, about to be employed in the army because it turned out he was a mathematical genius.
“There’s no doubt I was going to commit suicide that night,” the mathematical genius said. “I had the cliff and time picked out and everything.”
An example that overcoming tragedies sets a chain reaction among other people.
I WAS WALKING in a friend’s house with my shirt off. It was early 2007 , less than a year after graduating high school. My friend pointed at my chest and said, “hey, you have a man boob.”
I stared at my swollen left pec. It was true. I screamed at the monstrosity that was part of my chest while he laughed.
Fair enough. I’d screamed like a girl with a sore throat.
And once I’d seen the boob I couldn’t ignore it. It ached. It hurt. I couldn’t mark a football without me clenching my teeth.
I began to hate boobs. Overrated, I say.
The condition is Gynecomastia. I went to the doctor to see what we could do about Bob. One boob. Get it? Doctors would hear about my symptoms and say, rather bored, “It’s quite common among men. Lift up your shirt.” I would take a seat and remove my shirt. Then they’d see the boob and poke at it, disbelieved. “It is massive, isn’t it?”
It was normal size for a fat man. But it was attached to a young man who barely weighed 67 kilograms.
And the doctors hinted their accusations. “Sometimes cannabis causes this.”
I didn’t take pot. Why did everyone believe I was on the wacky-weed?
I didn’t drink back then.
“Do you have private health?”
“Ooh boy. Well, we’ll put you on the waiting list.”
I’d been on the list about a year when I moved to Melbourne. When you’re a zealous Christian teenager and you aren’t cured through your doctor, then you focus on prayer. I always walked to the front of the church every Sunday to have someone’s hand laid on my chest in the hopes that the fat would disappear somewhere. Their hands would burn – even tingle, I’m not bullshitting.
But burns did nothing. I used to mutter to myself at night KNOWING Bob would disappear the next morning because believing with no doubt in what God would do only made it so. Or so was my logic.
I was embarrassed to take my shirt off through my late teen years. I went swimming with my shirt on at parties and walk out with my hands wrapped around my chest.
I dreaded the pool parties. I went to the 18th of a girl I liked. It was Hawaiian theme which meant I couldn’t wear a jacket. After careful thought I wore my white shirt, kept a folded towel down the left side of my body, and pretended I had something better to do than swim.
Yes, a shirt wasn’t enough. In all seasons of humid Queensland weather I would wear baggy jackets or jumpers to uni to cover my man boob. I was scared thin material of a shirt couldn’t disguise it. I slouched. And when anyone touched me near the chest I flinched.
Dating in uni when you had a man boob? Sure, being 19 or 20 living two hours from your uni when you had no money was obstacle enough.
One time in Melbourne a strange woman was in the Order 614 kitchen (sort of like a soup kitchen for those who haven’t followed this blog). I walked into the kitchen as she was being asked to leave.
Before she passed me she stopped and stroked her hand down my chest.
She’d felt me up. And in doing so felt my boobie. She gaped at me. Served her right. She strode out without another word while the others laughed. They did not understand the real situation.
In June 2009 the Order members went on a retreat for a few days. We were supposed to go on a bonding camp in February but the black Saturday bushfires burnt out our camping ground. So it was delayed to June.
The retreat followed one of the tougher times of the year. The Red Shield Appeal and the long hours that came with it was finished with. The retreat was one of the happiest times during the year for all of us.
Except for MF. She missed out because she hit her head on the wooden cross kept in the church and needed stitches at the hospital.
That first night most of us went in the heated spa. It was a winter night in Geelong. The pool was freezing. But one of the idiots jumped in anyway. I can’t remember who.
I stayed in the water a few minutes before crawling up the side and into the spa with the others.
When a gathering of young adults of mixed gender share a spa there is the urge for games such as truth or dare. Heated water seems to make us relax. It was a time we learnt more about each others sexual histories.
That’s when I took my shirt off and showed them my boob. It seems silly I could be embarrassed about it. Their reaction was not what I expected.
“Can I touch it?” one of the girls said. And when I let her, she laughed and said “wow, it’s so perky. I wish mine were like that.”
I was grateful for her risque compliment.
It’s just one lump of flesh and somehow knowing my friends knew made the difference. They didn’t care. They never thought less of me. Coincidentally, this was the time I opened up more to them. Before that I kept closed about anything from the heart.
God didn’t heal my boob. It feels like blasphemy writing this. It sounds accusing. It’s not. It’s a fact with no religious ideologies seeking an explanation.
I suppose letting my friends know, the “it’s so perky”, played a big part in trivialising Bob the boob. I joined the world of stand-up comedy a year after I finished the Order. My fashion was still baggy jackets but at least I was in the spotlight. I stopped letting the boob interfere with my persona.
I suppose performing stand-up comedy was my way to become somebody else, my way of fighting a lack of confidence. I could influence a room of people with words and not by the shape of my body. After 100 gigs I forgot about my boob. My audience cared if I was funny.
In 2013 (five years after I first noticed) I received surgery in Bunbury Hospital, WA. The surgeon left a curved scar line under my nipple.
Bob was dead. It is strange how much this has changed me, but not necessarily in a good way.