Now I'm feeling different
From my Instagram
Even At The Risk
I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.
- Audre Lorde
Every year when autumn arrives in this city I am astonished, again, by how beautiful it all is.
Quotes From My Son
“I can’t deal with the guilt”.
(To the dog) - “Oh Rothko, your moral compass finally kicked in”.
“The main goal is to get the Morrison government out, they’ve been bloody dreadful”.
Recently my son had a new friend to stay. The boy just seemed so much older than my son. He had shed all childlike things.
My son was jumpy. Would the sleepover be entertaining enough? Was he enough? I was reassuring, but I knew exactly what he meant. All of a sudden I saw us from the outside and how eccentric we were. We were weird.
Why did we have so many pets? Why is there disturbing art on the walls? Why is it so small in here? The house was calm and busy but somehow, strange.
Eventually, they settled in front of a film for the night. They were watching Joker (2019). I stopped by on my way back from the shower to the bedroom. In my bathrobe, gripping it closed around my naked skin, I perched on the arm of a chair and commented on the politics of alienation, as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix.
This isn’t fucking helping, I realised, and got up to go to bed as quickly as I could.
The Case Against Connection Without Contact
This is a nice long, interesting piece about the significance of deep friendship in our lives. There’s a few points made along the way that I liked:
that making our own tribes to replace what would have once been small community life and extended family doesn’t come easily to us, but is an essential drive; and
Esther Perel talking about her fondness for intergenerational friendships1 and also, how her observations are affected by being from a more collectivist culture.
But, the really big point here for me is this, we are ritual deficient:
Back in the 1980s, the Oxford psychologists Michael Argyle and Monika Henderson wrote a seminal paper titled “The Rules of Friendship.” Its six takeaways are obvious, but what the hell, they’re worth restating: In the most stable friendships, people tend to stand up for each other in each other’s absence; trust and confide in each other; support each other emotionally; offer help if it’s required; try to make each other happy; and keep each other up-to-date on positive life developments.
It’s that last one where I’m always falling down. Keeping up contact, ideally embodied contact, though even semi-embodied contact—by voice, over the phone—would probably suffice. Only when reading Elisa and Rebecca in atom-splitting meltdown did I realize just how crucial this habit is. The two women had become theoretical to each other, the sum only of their ideas; their friendship had migrated almost exclusively to the page. “The writing took the place of our real-life relationship,” Elisa told me. “I felt like the writing was the friendship.”
The problem is that when it comes to friendship, we are ritual-deficient, nearly devoid of rites that force us together. Emily Langan, a Wheaton College professor of communication, argues that we need them. Friendship anniversaries. Regular road trips. Sunday-night phone calls, annual gatherings at the same rental house, whatever it takes. “We’re not in the habit of elevating the practices of friendship,” she says. “But they should be similar to what we do for other relationships.”
From Jennifer Senior in The Atlantic with It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart.
This is picking up on a point I made in a previous newsletter, where I mentioned my concerns about the potential absence of negotiating one another’s interdependence in online relationships.
What Advice Would You Give Students?
Watch less Netflix, YouTube. Be online less and listen to yourself more. Meditate and be sceptical. Keep writing your thoughts, actual dreams. Travel. Think about death often. Listen to others intently. Listen to the environment intently.
- Apichatpong Weerasethakul (I just saw his film, Memoria and really enjoyed it).
No One Wanted Their Picture Taken
I was at a friend’s birthday party recently and no one wanted their picture taken. Maybe it’s the effects of cumulative Covid years, during which indoor socializing was illegal where I live, but more likely the distaste for the roaming camera has to do with the dread of having to participate in content-production while trying to relax with friends.
Snapshots are intended to document fun, but in the phone-enclosure we all call home now, they also incite work. We have learned to stand at attention for the lifted phone; our limbs twitch into position, our heads swivel into place. For younger folks this work has come to be second nature.
Like tree rings, you can tell someone’s age in 2022 by the way they stand for a photo. I am 39 and I don’t have the instinct to angle my body, bend my knee or dip my chin, and consequently, I am “not photogenic” per the standards of our age.
That doesn’t mean I’m not aware of these standards. Every time I’m being photographed a battle between two mes takes place in my mind: The 3D me that exists, and the me that is, theoretically, conjurable in a photograph. Every time I am looking at a camera, I am two people at once, grappling at the top of a waterfall like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty (that’s a deep cut for the Holmes Hive). Cyborg adulthood is awkward. I know how the machine wants me to look, and I want to look that way too. But I don’t know how to execute, and I resent the work.
From Kathryn Jezer-Morton in Mothers Under the Influence.
This Only Works If We Feel Like Family
Jerrod Carmichael’s Rothaniel on Binge/HBO is one of the most amazing story-telling performances I have ever seen. You can read a review of it first, but I recommend you go into something like this cold. Allow yourself to be affected. Here’s why.
“Rothaniel” treats the comedy club like a psychological labyrinth filled with personal reckonings: Carmichael bobs and weaves through personal history with an imaginative form of exhibitionism that has more in common with the climax of “All That Jazz” than any conventional standup routine. The stage isn’t a veil — it’s a magnifying glass.
By its final 20-odd minutes, “Rothaniel” becomes a bonafide real-time thriller about a man coming to terms with himself on camera and finding catharsis in community.
I Am Scared
Here is my truth: I am scared. I do not know how I am going to make it through the winter. I feel isolated. Beyond caring for my son, I have no energy or presence to offer the world. I want to write, but a numb brain struggles to shift into gear. I want to enjoy the winter wonderland, but only see tundra.
Inna ma’al usri yusra
Verily, with hardship comes ease.
Conversations with Strangers with Your Dogs
This time it was when I had walked down the road for a coffee with the three dogs. I was waiting my turn when a striking young man with the prominent cheek bones of sustained meth-use stopped to bend down to my dogs..
“You are good dogs. You are good dogs. They’re young greyhounds aren’t they?”
“They’re miniature greyhounds, actually.”
“Ah, they’re miniature, Whippets?”
“Like Whippets, but even smaller. Italian Greyhounds”.
“I was going to offer you a cigarette, but why am I doing that, you’re dogs? You don’t smoke. You’re such good dogs… Hey, if you want to make their coats really good, really really good, I can tell you something”.
“You already have nice coats, dogs, very soft… But I can tell you, give them puppy milk. Just once a year, a big feed of puppy milk. Buy some puppy milk. It will make their coats so fine. So good. You won’t believe it”.
“Thanks, that’s a good tip”.
“These are beautiful dogs. I’m going to go now.. or I will cry”.
“Have a good day”.
Cynicism is Not a Neutral Position
Cynicism is not a neutral position — and although it asks almost nothing of us, it is highly infectious and unbelievably destructive. In my view, it is the most common and easy of evils.
I know this because much of my early life was spent holding the world and the people in it in contempt. It was a position both seductive and indulgent. The truth is, I was young and had no idea what was coming down the line. I lacked the knowledge, the foresight, the self-awareness. I just didn’t know. It took a devastation to teach me the preciousness of life and the essential goodness of people. It took a devastation to reveal the precariousness of the world, of its very soul, to understand that it was crying out for help. It took a devastation to understand the idea of mortal value, and it took a devastation to find hope.
Unlike cynicism, hopefulness is hard-earned, makes demands upon us, and can often feel like the most indefensible and lonely place on Earth. Hopefulness is not a neutral position either. It is adversarial. It is the warrior emotion that can lay waste to cynicism. Each redemptive or loving act, as small as you like, Valerio, such as reading to your little boy, or showing him a thing you love, or singing him a song, or putting on his shoes, keeps the devil down in the hole. It says the world and its inhabitants have value and are worth defending. It says the world is worth believing in. In time, we come to find that it is so.
From Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files.
The Telephone Conversation
I am having a long telephone conversation. It is getting more and more difficult. I can feel my voice slowing down and dropping away.
My mid-point stare, as I listen to the voice on the phone, has been reading the titles of novels on my husband’s bedside table. Chanting the titles in my head.
The Trouble with Peace, the trouble with peace, the trouble with peace, the trouble with peace, the trouble with peace.
A Little Hatred, a little hatred, a little hatred, a little hatred, a little hatred, a little hatred..
Does it Mean Anything?
Labor Candidate for Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese talking about being the son of a single mother to Grace Tame:
Tame: You know, when we talk about making structural change, it's almost as if we're prepared to get uncomfortable to a certain point, we’re prepared to break down structures to a certain point. But then we have limits with our discomfort. But I'm hopeful in your response to my last question, I'm hopeful with your language there. Who are the gender diverse voices around you now, or in the past, who have helped shape your views on gender issues and policy?
Albanese: Look, the most important role model that I had was my mum. I grew up with just me and Mum. She made the courageous decision back in 1963 to have a child out of wedlock. She had met [my father] overseas, became pregnant to him, told him, and he said that he was going to marry someone from the town in Italy where he was from. So she came back and took his name. In the fashion of the day, she was going to have got the news that my father had died and then lost the baby and I was going to be adopted out, because in 1963, when I was born, it was acceptable to be a widow but it wasn't acceptable to be an unmarried mother. Now, she was a strong woman who made the decision to have me, and to raise me by herself. She worked originally when I was a bub, cleaning office buildings at night, looking after me during the day, she then had rheumatoid arthritis and was really crippled up. So it was just me and her — and a two-person family, I think, is particularly close. It's one of the things that has focused me and a part of who I am. She always respected everyone and I grew up with the confidence of having a mum who lived a lot of her aspirations through me. She couldn't work. And so she's the most important role model in my life and she's very much still part of who I am today.
Albanese notices that Tame has started crying.
Albanese: Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you there…
Tame: No, it’s just, yeah, I respect that so much.
Albanese: [smiling] So when, like, the marriage equality debate was on, for example, and one of the things that some of the opponents said was, you know, you need a mum, a dad and two kids — that’s a family, I hear that message and go, well, hang on, you know, families are diverse and made up of all sorts of different groups. People are different. Relationships are complex. The one thing that really, really matters — the essential ingredient — is love.
Albanese: And I had that in abundance. We struggled a fair bit, to say the least. We lived in a council house on an invalid pension but, you know, we had love in the family.
This whole conversation with Tame holds in stark relief that shallow ‘gotcha’ question from a journalist to Albanese, recently, where he asked him if he knew the unemployment rate. There are two reasons for asking that question of politicians. One comes from understanding that you can’t be leader of a country without knowing something about economics, and yes, fair job assessment. But it says something about how uncomfortable many journalists are with economics that that’s the extent of questions they can ask about the subject.
The second reason for that question is to potentially demonstrate that a politician is out of touch with the real world. To this I say, the man was raised in public housing with a single mother on a disability pension. Get a grip. That experience is never leaving him.
By putting in the effort to learn someone’s language, you’re showing them that you value who they truly are.
I Like Crackpots
What’s a value of yours that you’ve questioned recently? Well, growing up, gay, trans, lesbian, we were all on the same team. It was one big happy world. Fighting with one another is weakening our pervert brand. I feel sorry for some of the old-school lesbians I know. They don’t want a beard, but they’re made to feel square if they don’t have one. That kind of debate — that’s why I loved Andrea Dworkin. I didn’t agree with her a lot, but I remember when she said — people deny she said it, but she kind of did — that all heterosexual sex is rape. I had to laugh because I knew how that was going to make people crazy. I like crackpots. I don’t have to agree with them.. I’m not saying I’m for any of that, but I’m amazed at people’s seriousness now. There’s so much fighting with one another. I’m against that. I never was a separatist.
From an interview with John Waters in The New York Times.
They were some long days.
We had taken in someone my, then, partner loved because that someone had acquired a secret, little heroin habit. We thought maybe having somewhere loving and private for a moment would do the trick. The plan was for him to stay with us in the spare room as he detoxed, separated from others, and adjusted. We were all woefully naïve.
He partook in family life like another distraction. It was good for him, better than reality, and then it was annoying to him.
He talked about his photography and his philosophy books, he worked on his motorbike, he handmade Christmas decorations for our tree, and he complained about the children’s tantrums. But, in that time, he also pulled my partner under. He needed someone to stay up with him all night when he was feeling suicidal. And then, he woke too late to get to his appointments.
I don’t know how, but as a young mother I incorporated these things into the treadmill of domestic life with the other silly demands. Quick sticks3 everyone, I would say wearily in the mornings. I had to get the sullen partner to the train station, the grumpy junkie to the methadone clinic, the difficult kid to school and the ‘out of sorts’ little one to kindergarten - and then get myself to work.
It was just about to become too much when our guest abruptly moved out. He saw Jesus Christ in the spare bedroom. My partner and I listened, exchanging worried looks between us. Our guest said he couldn’t be in this house full of atheists. He had to leave.
I wanted his family to see the psychosis, but they were religious people and greeted his apparition with celebration and relief.
For months afterwards my partner and I made jokes about Jesus in that little room, and how all that remained of it was the wine stain from a hidden bottle our guest had knocked over under his bed.
There’s some kind of spirit in here, I’d say, I can feel it.
On Writing Publicly About Private Things
I am still attempting to define success and failure. I am still wrestling with what it means to desperately want recognition for my work but to also crave being invisible. I am still trying to articulate (or maybe simply justify) why it’s ok for me to write something so intimate and then get mad when people try to engage me on it or, more precisely, why I value hearing from complete strangers (who have been so trusting, vulnerable, and intimate with their stories) and why I loathe hearing from fringe acquaintances who feel they have the right to give me their hot take on my marriage because they spent $16.99. After all, wasn’t I the one who started it?
From Kimberly Harrington in Honey Stay Super.
I dreamed I unexpectedly saw my father in a crowd. I followed him, calling out again and again. When he eventually turned towards me he did not recognise me. I looked at him helplessly, until his focus changed, and he could see who I was.
He was terribly remorseful. We both cried.
I woke in anguish.
The dream is not about losing him. The dream is about us not seeing that we are running out of time.
Surrealism in a Song
With age comes the realisation that nothing is as erotic, attractive, rare, or calming as kindness.
- Tennessee Williams
Hares are clever and brave and loving, and they have fairy blood in them. It’s a grand thing to have a hare for a friend.
- Elizabeth Goudge
Fragments of Middle Age
I’d have watched Pamela Adlon’s Better Things a lot sooner if someone had told me it’s like a series of vignettes. I really enjoy that story-telling device. Maybe I have a short span of attention.
This TV series, which is about (single) motherhood, middle-age and connection is right up my alley. (You don’t say). And it is very well done. I often have to pause while watching to appreciate all the layers in the pain and beauty of what it is showing. (There are lots of spoilers in these articles, but if you need more convincing then, this or this).
Her Sam Fox alter ego, at once wiser and more vulnerable, relentlessly capable and still somehow unable to keep herself from royally screwing up, is a far fuller creation. She’s a woman’s woman, not a man’s fantasy of one.
Along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sharon Horgan, and others, Adlon is part of a growing cohort of female TV-makers who are interested in showing us what it’s like to live in a body..
Our existence is mediated more than we like to admit, to an extent we generally don’t notice. To help us control the information that saturates our every waking moment, we rely on mental shortcuts, heuristics, and everyone from advertisers to politicians lean into these shortcuts—these images, in Ogilvy’s sense—to reinforce their preferred version of reality.
This piece by Tim Dunlop in Meanjin on the power of mainstream media is terrific. Dunlop is talking about writing a piece on Better Things next, let’s hope he does.
Ha. Want to be my intergenerational friend?
Kilgore reminded me a little of Karl Ove Knausgard. When my husband was wooing me in that first year he offered to read a book with me that we could then discuss. I chose Knausgard’s My Struggle Book 2. If you know of this series then you know that book was the test of a man’s libido. Could he read this to get in my pants? It’s very good writing, but it is not particularly accessible writing. It takes some focus to read as it is almost entirely devoid of narrative structure. Long story short (pun intended), my husband finished the book and I didn’t manage to. Reader, I married him.
Meaning ‘hurry up’ in Southern English terms.