Lazarus

Lazarus cartoon

In 2014 I fell in love with plants. It all started when I moved into the ‘Treehouse’, my new and now beloved flat on Brunswick Road. Prior to the Treehouse, I lived in Ye Olde Lodge and I didn’t have an outdoor area. Now I have a roof terrace where, after raising myself from sweat soaked dreams, I begin each day watching the sun rise over the Republic of Moreland.

One afternoon, me and Lil’G, went to Bunnings and bought a load of plants for my terrace because it looked sparse, and was begging for some greenery. A man’s home is a window into his mind. I bought a dwarf lime tree, scallions, basil, chili, coriander, and a respectful tray of parsley.

In the absence of pets, plants fill a certain gap in my domestic life. They need me and that makes me feel good. Quickly, my plant count began to rise and, before I knew it, my life was awash with photosynthesis and better air quality in my 3rd floor life of tranquillity.

It was about this time when Lazarus came into my life; a plant with white flowers that now sits on the window sill of my kitchen. Lil’G saved him from a trade show, and if she hadn’t picked him up and carted him back to the Treehouse, he’d have been dumped, just like Super Ted.

I’m in love with Lazarus. He’s brought abundant joy into my life. He makes me feel like a better man. And like me, he’s been through the blood spattered wringer of life. When I look into the pollen soaked mire of his white petals, I go weak at the knees and pray to the God of Botany, who’s a mixture between David Attenborough and David Bellamy. I guess you could say my love for Lazarus, is all about the David’s.

About a month ago I was recovering from a particularly intense drinking session with Jay Donovan and was enforcing an Alcohol Free Day (AFD). On these days, I always get a bit jittery and superstitious. I’m not a religious man but I’m superstitious, and I regard this trait as being the repository of my creativity. Being irrational is exhilarating. If I wasn’t irrational, I’d get incredibly bored and probably rob a bank or something like that. Irrationality has saved me from long term incarceration.

Anyway, I’d had the kitchen window open all day because it was hot in Melbourne and the moths were rising from the cracks, and destroying my knitwear. I was having frequent cold showers to alleviate my acute withdrawals from good times and, after one excellent shower, my Dad called me to discuss a financial matter. So, I took myself out onto the terrace to talk to the man who made the Vauxhall Viva HC estate look cool.

When I walked back into the flat, I noticed that Lazarus was gone but the window was closed. I hunted around the flat looking for him, thinking that maybe in my sober funk that I’d decided to move him somewhere else. I looked and looked but still I couldn’t find him. That’s when I remembered my ghost.

My ghost is a phantasm from the past that follows me around the planet. Ghosts don’t need passports or luggage; they just need a reason to be. My ghost is a nice person because at this stage he/she has not turned into a poltergeist.

Anyway, I thought my ghost had pilfered Lazarus and hid him because I’d been neglectful. Sometimes I get drunk and talk to my ghost. It’s a one way conversation, but Lazarus was gone. However, in my moment of need I got practical and considered the possibility that Lazarus had fallen out of the window. Sometimes we do things unconsciously and I thought that I’d maybe closed the windows like Hal, from 2001 A Space Odyssey, in a fit of jealous rage, and I’d not noticed Lazarus’ absence. Life’s fraught with moments of inattention.

But it was dark and I didn’t want to go all the way downstairs only to discover that Lazarus wasn’t there, and that my ghost had gone rogue. So, I decided to pretend he was down there and that my ghost still loved me. Finding out that love is not reciprocated is like finding a misshapen lump on one of your testicles.

I did not sleep well. My dreams were wracked with anxiety about having to go back to school. School taught me nothing but I did learn that institutions breed contempt.

I rose at dawn, walked out onto the terrace and watched the light make that spectacular transition from darkness to Brunswick. I find light as intriguing as the flow of emotion I feel when an underdog wins the day.

Walking down the stairs, I felt my blood addle, until a voice in my head said, ‘fear not Big C, an exorcist will soothe your weathered soul’.

When I got to the land that exists below my unreliable window, I saw Lazarus lying in a bed of broken glass that had been discarded as part of the recent renovations in my building. His flowers had wilted and he wasn’t looking too perky but he was alive and I could feel my ghost laughing in the silent wings, pursued by a bear. I picked Lazarus up, dusted off the glass and took him upstairs like Richard Gere did to Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman, cue the late Joe Cocker.

It was a beautiful moment. One man and his plant. The fall would kill a person but not him. Not Lazarus, he’s not subject to the fall of man.

After some TLC, Lazarus was reborn; broken, tarnished, beautiful, soulful and green, just like the underdogs that we all love so much. And now, as I write this post, he’s photosynthesizing, and I can tell he loves life because my ghost is at peace, and the light on the terrace is brazen and alive.

Illustration by Angry Goat

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keep it simple stupid

village-idiot

Sometimes we forget the profound nature of simplicity. We get lost in the drive to complicate projects because there is a belief this makes them look more refined and intellectual. However, it was Charles Bukowski, who said,“Simplicity is always the secret, to a profound truth, to doing things, to writing, to painting. Life is profound in its simplicity.”

One of the greatest challenges when writing eLearning modules, is to maintain a level of simplicity, without falling into a mire of patronising statements. Keeping the writing simple in a module is paramount to the engagement of the learner. This can be as simple as substituting the word ‘paramount’ for ‘key’.

How often have you had a conversation with somebody who inserts huge pauses in the conversation because they’re desperately trying to think of a smart word to use? It’s unnecessary, annoying, and when they do eventually say ‘conflagration’ instead of ‘fire’ I find myself praying for a Taser.

Using simple words to populate simple sentences is an underappreciated art form, and we should all re-embrace the art of simple syntax. A sentence that is simple and direct will always win the day because it’s easy to grasp, and if it’s an instruction, it’s easy to act upon.

Once I’ve finished a first draft of a module, I trawl through it searching for complicated sentences that I can simplify. And by doing this, I refine the writing into a comprehensive whole that is easy to understand. Each sentence should only need to be read once. Having to re-read sentences is time consuming for the learner, and indicates that the module is not doing its job properly.

Think about some of the great opening sentences of books that are simple, yet profound. One of my favourites is the opening line of Naked Lunch by William Burroughs:

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves”

Or the opening line of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22:

“It was love at first sight.”

These simple sentences set a tone that no complicated sentence could do. They immediately convey a sense of voice, pace and atmosphere, without having to be verbose or bombastic. Ernest Hemingway called these ‘true sentences’ and by this, he did not mean they reflected a philosophical truth, but the sentence was true in the sense that it said exactly what it wanted to say. No more and no less.

So, when you write your next module think about the profound nature of simplicity and make sure you avoid the unnecessary clutter of sentences that distort meaning and interrupt the natural flow of syntax.

Making your point clearly the first time round is an invaluable skill in this life.

 

The Retraction

Azza

In my most recent blog, New Year’s Peeve, I wrote the following sentence, ‘I’ve only ever had one good New Year’s Eve (NYE) and that was because I spent it drinking champagne and downing oysters with a woman who also hated NYE’. This is not true.

After posting New Year’s Peeve, a good friend of mine, Aaron Firth Donato, called me up and said, ‘Hey cunty, what about 2007/8? That was a great NYE and you stayed at my place for three days, drinking my whisky and watching DVDs on my couch’. He makes a good point. I did have a great NYE and I did drink all his whisky and occupied his couch for three days, watching films that extol the virtues of stylized violence.

So, Aaron, this is my heartfelt apology to you because it was a great NYE and it took place during an oddly compelling summer, when I lived in Collingwood and walked the long corridor of my house wearing a red-wine-stained-white-dressing-gown, swilling from a bottle of cleanskin wine. I was completely broke, so I re-read A Happy Death by Albert Camus, and got a job writing copy for an OH&S company.

The rest of the year had its ups and downs and NYE 2008/9 was a bit dismal but I won’t get into that now because this post is meant to be an apology, and not another voyage into the skewed views of Callum Scott. This is a post about the value of friendship and taking responsibility for writing something that isn’t all together true.

That NYE party ensured that Aaron and I will always be friends and I’ll always be grateful for his honesty, even though it sometimes makes me angry, and makes me want to hurt him with knitting needles.

This post is for you Big Man.

 

New Year’s Peeve

drunk idiot

I’ve only ever had one good New Year’s Eve (NYE) and that was because I spent it drinking champagne and downing oysters with a woman who also hated NYE. The rest of my NYE’s have been damp squibs, characterized by toilet queues, violent metrosexuals and a gypsy assassin called Tim, who looked like Frank Gallagher from Shameless. However, this year will be different.

Before I elaborate upon my plans for this year’s NYE, let’s take a look at why NYE is such a hit or miss affair for your average punter. I say average punter because very rich people should always have outrageously great NYE’s with helicopter flights and stuff, and if they don’t, they must be fucking idiots.

Think about how many good NYE’s you’ve had so far. My ratio of good to bad NYE’s is about 44 to 1. Poor odds by anyone’s standards, particularly, if you’re not a betting man in the first place. And like every other fucked up part of our society, I blame the media. They’re easy to blame because in the context of a classroom situation, they are both the class clown and bully rolled into one, and therefore stick out like dogs balls.

Additionally, the media are the all pervasive shaper of opinion and very few of us are free from their control. Again, only rich people at their helicopter parties. The media talk up NYE as being that night of the year, where anything can happen, including magic and that magic finds its power in the proverbial NYE kiss. When it comes to the sliding scale of kisses, the NYE kiss reigns supreme. If you and your partner’s first kiss takes place during those sacred seconds after midnight, then you have the ultimate love story, and are therefore a cliché.

True love finds its home in the celluloid folds of clichés. Hollywood recycles clichés and NYE is one of the ultimate clichés rolled out as the night when ‘magic happens’, just like those awful car boot stickers from the 90s. Unfortunately, the only magic that transpires is when you only wait two hours for a taxi, instead of four.

The reality of NYE is boredom and disappointment, the definition of the idiom damp squib. It should be re-named Damp Squib Eve (DSE) and the acronym looks like the acronym for a degenerative condition contracted from under-cooked Duck.

Jokes aside, NYE is overcooked by the media as being the night of nights and that’s always going to be problematic because with expectations raised, the outcome is nearly always going to be cloudy, with the chance of mild depression.

The best NYE’s are always spent in a house with a view and a bath full of beer, preferably surrounded by friends, or at least people you have something in common with but only just met. This negates queues and psychos in polo shirts and the soul destroying crush of humanity. I’m not suggesting the cultural trappings of The Big Chill (my No Exit nightmare) but a house full of people who like getting shitfaced, and are not afraid of regret.

And that’s what I’ll be doing this year and for the rest of the years that I’m able to drink heavily and not worry about blood in my urine. There will be oysters, champagne, no queues for the toilet or violent metrosexuals reeking of the Lynx effect. In short, it will be a replication of last year’s NYE spent with the same woman who hates NYE as much as I do.

And as for Tim the gypsy assassin? Well, I’m told that he’s on a job in Connemara but hasn’t forgotten our bet.

So, when the clock chimes at midnight think about this…

“There are precious lessons deep in the stench of failure and the filth of selfish choices.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough

 

 

 

 

 

 

The value of creativity in eLearning

Science-of-Story6

We all love good stories. They entertain and fascinate, provide new worlds and create new thought. A traditional story comes in three parts, beginning, middle and end, following Aristotle’s three act structure. This is a formula we’re all familiar with and it’s easy for us to navigate our way through this structure. When I’m developing an eLearning module, I think about this structure, but more importantly, I think about how I can use this structure to make the module more creative.

There is absolutely no reason why eLearning modules can’t use elements of creative thinking to heighten their engagement for the learner. I use a technique that I call Fictive Embedded Information (FEI), where I develop a storyline for my module and populate it with the relevant content. This enables me to tell a story, provide a narrative arc and inform the learner at the same time. With all three elements working together, the learner is presented with a more engaging way of absorbing information.

I recently used this technique on a module that I wrote for a large media organisation. The module focussed on how changes to the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) were going to affect customer facing employees. Now, this kind of information is not the most riveting subject, hence the need to bring it to life. Based on this, I developed two characters, private investigators, who were to test employees on their way of working, in light of the changes to the APPs.

I began the process by writing thumbnail characterisations, giving the characters likes and dislikes and even a small amount of backstory to bring them to life. I also gave them a strong reason to be written into the module by developing connections between the characters and the content supplied by the client. The end result was a clear connection between the characters and the content and this is essential, otherwise the characters look like they’ve just been thrown in for the sake of it.

Once I had my characters connected to the content, I was able to write the storyboard using creative and critical thinking. It’s this blend of thought that allowed me to communicate information through a storytelling technique and maintain the balance between the creative and critical components. This balance is vital to education and it’s imperative that the two remain balanced if the process is going to work.

The final product was an engaging learning solution, which employed a storytelling device to transform rather turgid information into content that was more readily absorbed. The other elements that brought great value to the module were using a graphic novel format, voice over artists to play the characters, and the final ingredient was humour.

By using the tools of fiction to communicate information, we develop a more active way of looking at a topic, and for the learner, this addition raises the engagement of the experience. Storytelling is one of our most ancient arts and it should have a much stronger presence in the way we convey information in the workplace.

IKEA: Praxis of evil

IKEA

IKEA is a depraved consumerist nightmare and everything Karl Marx warned us about. I recently moved into a new flat with a rooftop balcony and needed to deck the place out with new furniture for my new life, closer to the sky. Somebody suggested I go to IKEA for their low prices and range of unassembled furniture. I enjoyed the meatballs but the rest of the experience was fucking awful.

On Friday, I borrowed my old man’s trusty Ute for the pilgrimage to the temple of Scandinavian minimalism, which if you’ve ever been there – and I bet you probably have – is a clear contradiction in terms. I knew in advance they were serving meatballs, so on Saturday morning I skipped breakfast and knocked back a quick belt of whisky to open my eyes to the stark reality of normality. By noon, me and lil’g, The GF, were on the road to Victoria Gardens in Richmond.

I’m not a religious man but I am a superstitious man, and there’s a difference. Religious people fuck things up and superstitious people just touch wood. On the way to IKEA, I had one of those premonitions, accompanied by a slight stomach cramp from the previous night’s shenanigans.

We were listening to Gold 104 FM, great classic hits, and half way through Mr. Tambourine Man, I remembered a story about a friend of mine who went to IKEA and, two hours into the experience, thought he’d never make it out. I turned to lil’g and asked her if this was true, but she just smiled and held my hand.

When we arrived at the bustling Victoria Gardens shopping centre, we parked up top to avoid the usual colonic fight for parking space. I spend much of my time dreaming about the zombie apocalypse and walking into IKEA I felt a rush of apocalyptic adrenalin that almost wiped out my frontal lobe. If it was going to happen, it would start here and I’d be fucking up zombies with sharpened Swedish pine, while lil’g nodded her head in time to the carnage. There’s a compelling beauty to bloodshed.

Anyway, the meatballs and mash were actually quite good, washed down with peach tea and an insight into the lives of those who’ve chosen the Australian dream in the same way I might choose laundry detergent in Safeway. So, with a stomach full of Nordic staples we threw ourselves into the wonderful world of IKEA.

It started with easy chairs and quickly progressed to a butcher’s bench called BEKVAM. By the time we got to the kitchen section, I was bored shitless and wishing the zombie apocalypse would kick in so I could at least justify the hip flask in my back pocket and the venom crawling up my spine. There’s a moment in everyone’s life when you stop, take a look around and say, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’

With that in mind, I told lil’g that I was satisfied with what I’d chosen and could we please get the furniture I selected and go home for a beer on my balcony. I love watching the sun set on Brunswick West; I find it reassuring because I live in the better half of Brunswick. It was at this point that lil’g told me that we had to go down to the warehouse and find the shit. But nothing prepared me for what was about to happen.

After two hours of confusing herding we eventually found ourselves in the warehouse from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pallet racks extending to the heavens loaded with animistic furniture. I stopped in my tracks and actually marveled at the dagger that had appeared before me. ‘How would the Macbeth’s have reacted to this?’ I thought, as my scrotum contracted. Buying furniture for their empty nest, hoping that they could adopt an African baby, and spend the rest of their lives blissfully unaware of awkward Christmas gatherings with fertile loved ones…

…but I digress, because that is my want and writing about The Macbeth’s in the same paragraph as Raiders of the Lost Ark mixes allegories, and we shouldn’t be afraid of doing that.

For those of you who’ve never been to IKEA, it’s a good idea to take photos of the tags attached to the furniture because they correspond to their location in the warehouse. We hadn’t taken photos of the tags upstairs, and so began the agonising job of using the touch screen information tablets to locate the position of our flat packed furniture. Most touch screens in public spaces are pretty shite at the best of times but IKEA have come up with a new way to torture us with technology. You have to press the icons at least a dozen times before they activate. A test of patience for a man like me is always going to be like staring down the barrel of my inherent flaws, and likely to end in a hail of blood pressure and expletives. And it did.

I stood there swearing at modernity and so-called Swedish ingenuity. It was man versus warehouse and I was going to win the day. I thought if Bear Grills can drink piss from a dead camel’s bladder, I could at least learn how to operate and overcome rows of concrete, steel and cardboard. And we did.

With lil’g’s patience at the helm of this voyage into the dark maw of commodity fetishism, all we had to worry about was me swearing in front of minors, which was inevitable and character building for them. As Stephen Fry said, ‘The sort of twee person who thinks that swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest, is just a fucking lunatic.’ And he goes onto say, ‘It’s not necessary to have coloured socks; it’s not necessary for this cushion not to be here but is anyone going to write in and say, ‘I was shocked to see that cushion there, it really wasn’t necessary’. No. And things not being necessary is what makes life interesting, the little extras in life’. So toughen the fuck up, you weeshites, and let the red-faced Scotsman exercise his cultural right.

And with this in mind, I swore my little heart out until we got to the other side and finally paid hard currency for our purchases because as consumers that’s what our ‘little extras in life’ are.

Back in the Ute, with my purchases safely stowed away on the tray, I thought about all this. We require things to sit on. We require consumerist herding in this fucked up world we call Victoria Gardens. We are live stock in our own particular way and, by the corporate sector, we are treated accordingly. However, I’m no fool and I know when somebody is taking the fucking piss.

IKEA has positioned itself within the market as affordable designer furniture for younger middle class consumers looking for a prescribed sense of style. As  Palahniuk’s unnamed protagonist says of IKEA in Fight Club, ‘I had it all, even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof that they were crafted by the honest, simple, hardworking indigenous peoples of… wherever’. It’s the ultimate consumer illusion that the items we buy have a solid history based on righteous fair trade, supporting the underdogs of life, the artisans. That somehow we’re buying into the ‘bigger picture’ of Swedish socialism and neutrality. But when I look at a piece of IKEA furniture I feel like I’m looking at something that can’t make up its mind.

And IKEA wants us to update our furniture based on pivotal lifestyle changes, getting married or starting a family etc. IKEA wants to be right there ushering us into adulthood, doing all the thinking for us – aligning us with like-minded people who are ready for the next stage of their life to begin in earnest. IKEA is earnest, earnestly making consumerism look like an experience rather than a transaction. And they succeed in doing so with the IKEA nesting instinct.

But I will say this, readers: In IKEA the world stops spinning and, just for a moment, you gaze into the muddy gorge of spiritual damnation and feel the need to resurrect Karl Marx, even though his ideas have been shafted by the worst kind of cunts.

In the meantime, I have whisky and an Allen key, and I will build this thing.

“I took her to a supermarket. I don’t know why, but I had to start it somewhere.”

Pulp, Common People

 

 

Tarnished Brunswick Icon

ye olde lodge

I’m moving out of Ye Olde Lodge in two weeks and the prospect of leaving is making me miserable. I’ve been there for four and a half years now, and it’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in a house since I was 17 years old. So, I’m now going to tell you why Ye Olde Lodge (YOL) is the most important building in Brunswick.

The first reason is that it’s located at No. 1 Sydney Road making it the first house you see driving into Brunswick if you arrive via Royal Parade. Yes, it’s that place on the corner with the clocks that don’t work and yes, it looks a little bit like a half-way house for more discerning vagrants. But no, it used to be a hotel in its heyday and when you open the huge front door you can smell about five different dinners cooking at once. That’s not a reference to it being a hotel but at any time of the day you can actually smell five meals being cooked at once. The government calls it high density living. I call it living up somebody’s arsehole.

However, arseholes aside, the walls are thick, so once you’re inside your flat, the smells dissipate and all you can hear are the trams clanking down Sydney Road or the urgent throttle of a local Bandido racing towards another MENSA meeting. Is it a mere coincidence that the rise of bikie crime in Australia has occurred concurrently with the popularity of Sons of Anarchy?  Anyway, I digress.

At YOL, I live across the hall from the weirdo of the building; let’s call him Dan because that’s his name. On Sundays, Dan climbs into the roof and can sometimes be heard raking around above my flat doing something. I don’t know what he does up there but I hope he’s been having fun. Dan once gave me a six-pack of Asahi because I complained about the noise of his renovations. He genuinely thinks he’s bought me after that act of benevolence, and every time I see him on the tram he nods at me like those six beers changed my life.

Then there’s the lad downstairs, who always calls me ‘neighbour’. Last summer we argued about him using my parking space. I was drunk at the time and told him that if he parked in it again I’d smash in his car’s windows with a baseball bat. He took this seriously and called the police. When the police called me, I told them that my ‘neighbour’ had urinated in one of the plant pots out the front of the building. By Monday morning the plant pots were gone.

The woman who lives right next door to me is Janice, and she’s in love with Blake Carrington from Dynasty. We’re friends and are now the longest standing residents of YOL and she’ll be sad to see me go because she hates Dan and has never received a six-pack of Asahi from him. Instead, Dan has spent a long time in her roof being single. There was talk of Dan having a girlfriend but I suspect the closest thing he has to a girlfriend is a pork chop, in a tumbler.

Dirti Cunti is the building’s body corporate. My top tip to anyone reading this is to never, ever employ these people to look after anything. Getting these so called property managers to take any form of responsibility is like asking Jack the Ripper to work as a temp in a remotely located brothel and asking him to promise not to brutally murder any of the employees.

But dysfunction aside and the odd call from the cops, I love this old building. It’s been a good home to me, Callum Scott, and many of my boisterous guests. It was in this building that I had a remarkable alcoholic delusion. Two friends came round and found me leaning against the toilet door having an argument with my girlfriend, who they assumed had locked herself in the toilet because I was being a nightmare. They coaxed me away from the door with more beer and I sat drinking with them at my kitchen table, occasionally going back to the toilet door to shout something, until I eventually passed out in an ashtray. As they walked down the stairs they passed my girlfriend returning from the supermarket with much needed supplies, and to their credit said ‘hello’ like nothing had happened.

Anyway, there is something incredibly spiritual about a home you love. The very walls seem to imbue a sense of harmony that’s impossible to articulate. In a real home, everything is perfect, even the things that don’t work and, really, that’s the whole point of building a home in the first place. I’ve lived in places that didn’t feel like a home and the knock on effect to the rest of my life was palpable to everyone, especially me. When I don’t have a home, part of my brain ceases to function properly.

When I have a home everything makes sense because I have somewhere to go when everything doesn’t make sense. I think of all the long days I’ve had over the last four and a half years and how getting home at the end of one of those days was better than anything else I could imagine. Opening the door, smelling my home and placing my keys in the little plate by the door. Simple pleasures, the kind of routines that work on me like functional therapy. I hope everybody experiences this at least once in their life because after that you won’t settle for anything less, and nor should you.

So, goodbye Ye Olde Lodge. Sometimes life was stormy and tempestuous but you were always there for me, and most of the time life was perfect because I knew you were there, on the corner of Sydney Road and Park Street. A loveable collection of bricks with a generous soul…

…and the broken clocks who only told the right time twice a day, which was good enough for me.

 

 

Regret is a dog from hell

Mr Hyde

I’m tunneling into the city without a hangover or a badger and Chekhov’s gun is locked and loaded, ready for ACT III and that gossipy fucking chorus. I need shirts, lots of them because I’m a worker now and workers need to look like they’re working hard, and white shirts are symbolic of modern labour.

But first I need to take a deep breath and try to explain myself the best I can.

I have been sober for exactly five weeks and I have so much excess energy that I go to sleep looking forward to getting up the next day. I also do yoga now. Ashtanga yoga, at 6am. I rise at 5:30am and walk through the dark backstreets of Brunswick to the yoga studio next to Jewel Station. Yoga relaxes me but I don’t like closing my eyes in a room full of strangers. It’s not that I feel vulnerable, it’s just that I’m worried people will read my mind and see what I really think of them.

Being sober means being more aware and, unfortunately, that heightened awareness can feel like paranoia. Alcohol is a wonderful buffer that keeps reality at bay and shields you from other people’s opinions of you. When I was in a constant state of drunkenness I was blissfully unaware of the thoughts of others. I’ve probably pissed off more people in one night than most people do in a lifetime, and I didn’t feel their penetrating gaze on my tarnished conscience. People had to tell me and, when they did, I’d politely ask them to, ‘Shut the fuck up’.

No drunk wants some loose-tongued lizard regaling them with their nocturnal sins, while they’re nursing the mother of all hangovers. Our motto is, ‘If you can’t remember, it didn’t happen’, and anyway, the friend who wants to interrupt your self-loathing with the embarrassing details of the previous night doesn’t really want to help you. All they’re doing is scrambling up to the moral high ground out of some misguided sense of entitlement.

Well, at least that’s what you think when you’re knee deep in a whisky Jacuzzi, with the devil dancing on your tonsils and a cactus crawling up your liver.

The drunk is a poor man’s Prometheus tied to the front bar, awaiting his fate every evening while the other drinkers stomp their feet on the carpet to the beat of the eagle’s giant wings.

Yes, people tried to help me but that help fell on deaf ears because I thought I had all the answers, even when I could see the dot of the eagle appear on the horizon, hungry for its nightly feast. I suppose Prometheus is the patron saint of alcoholics, and he knew all about regret.

Now there’s a word. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced regret and when you do experience it, you wish you could go back in time and sort the shit out. But even if you did go back in time and sort the shit out, you’d still be afflicted by regret. Just like a Jehovah’s Witness, once you invite regret into your life, you’re fucked…

… and the moment you sober up the regret rolls in. It starts with the dreams. Anxiety dreams and nightmares that have been queuing for months, waiting for a chance to tread the boards. I kept having dreams about friends being eaten by sharks but the worst one was about turning up to work wearing a sweater vest. Yes, the shame of wearing a sweater vest was worse than a shark attack. Plus, the sweater vest was covered in red wine stains. When I woke up from that dream I went for a 3am run around Princes Park just to warm up my cold sweat.

But the heightened energy of sobriety is the hardest part to control. The drive to do things, to take that image of the warm, dark pub out of my mind and toss it into that landfill of regret. That’s what fuels the paranoia. The mountain of regret that I’d swept under the carpet because another Bloody Mary beckoned. Sitting in a pub, bar, kitchen or bedroom, as long as I had a drink in one hand and a Peter Stuyvesant in the other. When I was in that state, regret backed off and the day started off right.

Now, the doors have opened and last orders have been called there’s no escaping the demons. The fuckers are out there, circling my wagon train but I’ve broken the chains and climbed off my craggy peak.

I’m tunneling into the city, a subterranean white collar worker looking for white shirts because white shirts mean hard work and hard work purifies the soul and chokes regret or that’s what I’m telling myself. I suspect this might be bullshit but what else can I do?

There are six bullets in this gun and I plan to be very selective in how I use them. The chorus is first and then…

“I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin.”

–  Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

a beautiful rut

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It was Frankie Boyle who said that if he was invisible for a day he’d kick a mime artist to death, so at least the mime would die looking like he was great at his job. I’m great at falling into ruts and making the most of them. Ruts are my art.

When we hear about people falling into ruts, the general reaction is one of pity and concern. Eyebrows are raised, mouths are pursed and a cloud of self righteous judgement dominates the skyline. I’ve always associated self righteousness with smog. Anyway, the ‘rutee’ becomes that friend who requires a firm, yet gentle push into the arms of functionality, where they’ll find enlightenment from a change of lifestyle or gainful employment.

My ruts have been some of the most pleasant months of my life, and usually come after being fired from a job I hated. You have not lived until you’ve been sacked or told somebody to shove their shitty fucking job right up their shitty fucking arse. It’s even more exhilarating than a misdiagnosed health scare, and the subsequent good news that you’re not going to die.

During these ruts of self imposed unemployment, I lose some direction, but no, I do not become depressed about it all. Instead, I go on a writing binge and end up banging out the rough draft of a novel in a couple of months.

To make ends meet, I live off my savings and basically haemorrhage money like an RPG being shot at a moderately sized water tower. In the spirit of the Australian Liberal Party, I learn how to downsize the operation and settle for baked potatoes with a can of tuna and a dollop of black and gold sour cream, funds permitting. Equipped with low cost carbs and dolphin-friendly canned fish, I dip my head towards the keyboard and begin nosing around the English language for signs of life.

These are the beautiful ruts.

However, people quickly begin to question my motivations, especially people who harp on about being graduates of the University of Life. To these people, I become the ugly face of dysfunctionality and they treat me like I might be snow-dropping on the side, or worse still, flying a kite at night. Little do they know, I’m enjoying a holiday from my life, and trying to turn base expletives into literary gold at my kitchen table.

After some time, the rut transforms into a bubble and the prospect of leaving it becomes a source of great consternation. There is an evolutionary process to all ruts. It begins with the realization that you’re in one of those dreams where you’re running but not moving; you feel exhausted and your legs feel like a couple of railway sleepers that have been injected with pure episodes of The Biggest Loser.

Once you’ve given into this feeling, your body starts to sink below the surface of reality and your arms extend upwards, while the final molecules of reason dribble out of your nose and mouth, zigzagging their way to the edge of the meniscus.

Now, the ability to turn your rut into a water-tight bubble relies on turning the experience into something positive. I always choose a writing project, and as the project begins to take form, so does the bubble, offering safety from ‘the life aquatic’. Finances permitting, you can remain in the bubble until you’ve completed the project.

Being able to write without fear of homelessness is a privilege and not many people get to work on their own writing projects full-time. Most writers are out there teaching creative or professional writing courses or, better still, sitting in a Centrelink waiting room with a copy of Crime and Punishment on their lap, hoping that a friendly case worker will pat them on the back and say,

“It’s okay, I don’t think you’re a fucking loser like the rest of those lazy cretins. You read Russian literature. So, once I’m done stroking your penniless ego, you’re going to go out there and throw yourself in front of a tram and finally achieve the recognition you so richly deserve”.

My most recent rut has been the best one so far because I got to share it with somebody. In fact, we occupied the same bubble for two months and it ended up being one of the most endearing experiences of my life.

When you exist in a bubble with a loved one, nothing and nobody can touch you. Reality is put on hold and the world fades into the pale blue light of memory. We’d wake each morning, argue about whose turn it was to make tea and coffee, go for a bay walk and then return home to get on with our respective projects. At night we’d eat tacos, drink wine and then go to bed to watch the best TV show in the known universe, Vikings.

The perfection of simplicity is a rare bubble to inhabit.

But now our bubble has burst and our rut has become a landfill for routine and shower gel. We have jobs and our bank balances have come in off the ledge. It was a beautiful rut, spent with a beautiful person and I will miss those days forever.

It’s hard for me to acknowledge happiness as it occurs because I’m programmed to monitor my life for signs of darkness, rather than light. So, when I step back from a period of levity, I feel like I did the first time I climbed Ben Nevis and looked out across the Western Highlands.

That moment was the closest I’ve ever come to actual joy, without having to take drugs. I remember feeling light-headed and thinking that true beauty is just a mixture of tragedy and adrenalin, and being happy is about holding onto moments but knowing when to walk away. So, the rest of the time I suppose I’m just getting on with it all.

But there’s a story from my childhood that kind of sums it up…

When I was a kid my parents took me to Hull in the North East of England and we went to a fish and chip shop run by a woman with a beard and a permanent scowl torn across her creased face. When the meal came out the fish looked humiliated. I asked my dad what was wrong with the woman and he told me she was disappointed with life. I ate the chips.

And I still am.

 

the copulating pisshead of brunswick

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As Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, and that’s how I feel about my years of drinking. Yes, I had some monumentally great nights but equally, I had some nights that I’ll regret for the rest of my life.

I was fourteen the first time I got drunk on Merrydown cider in my home town of Blairgowrie, Scotland. The carnival, or ‘the shows’ as we called them, were in town for Braemar Night; an eclectic festival of Scottish culture but for teenagers…

… a night to get very, very drunk and puke up on your brand new trainers.

We bought our cider from a dodgy florist on the high street and went down the river to get pissed and smoke Embassy Blue cigarettes.

The riverbank was teaming with Thatcher’s disaffected youth and the cider flowed as free and deep as the River Ericht. A lad, who will remain nameless, shocked us all by pulling out a tub of Bostik adhesive, depositing a large dollop in a plastic bag and pumping said bag until he passed out in a ditch. He went on to become a successful welfare cheat and moved to Spain.

Four hours later, I was puking my guts up all over my bed while my mate, Sqweak (this is not a typo, it was the 8Os) drunkenly explained to my mum and dad that I’d eaten a dodgy hot dog bought from a ‘mink’ (derogatory term for a gypsy). Of course, my parents didn’t buy Sqweak’s bullshit and imposed various embargoes on my life.

But that first night of drunkenness made its mark. Since the age of fourteen I have always drunk alcohol like this. Never in moderation but until I keel over, blackout or end up on somebody’s couch, disgraced, guilty and dehydrated.

I can go without a drink indefinitely but one sniff of the barmaid’s apron and I need to drink myself into a stupor. Alcoholism has no single definition. The Hollywood version is all about drinkers getting up and pouring a sneaky dram of whisky into their coffee or downing a beer before breakfast. The reality is far from this.

Alcoholism has a sliding scale and there are many forms of alcohol abuse, down to the person who only drinks on Friday’s after work but really craves that drink from noon to 5 pm, and knocks back that first pint like the elixir of life. Habitual drinking is, by definition, a problem with alcohol but a more socially acceptable form of alcoholism.

So why have I decided to give it all up and jump on the wagon of righteousness that’ll take me to the land of milk and honey where I’m likely to become diabetic?

Well, apart from a recent health scare at a gym, you just know when it’s over.

Think about that time you woke up, rolled over, saw your partner sleeping like a baby and thought, ‘fuck me, I don’t love you anymore’. I’ve done the same thing. Rolled over, saw the drool cascade out of the bottle’s mouth, smelt its acrid morning breath and thought, ‘fuck me, I don’t love you anymore’.

I used to think that death, destruction and tragedy were sexy and, don’t get me wrong, they are, but they come at a price. I think about all the times I was drunk and threw caution to the wind, walking blindly into oblivion and potential incarceration and they were real moments of cinematic invigoration. But imbibed delusion began to get in the way of actual progress and, instead of writing my books, plays and poems; I was simply living the undocumented version of them.

Yes, living life to the fullest is, or should be, incredibly important to a writer but as long has he/she writes it down. Just living a writer’s life does not make you a writer. Adoring Charles Bukowski does not make you a writer. Writing inspired sentences on a page makes you a writer. Hard work and perseverance makes you a writer. I stopped being a writer and became a drinker living like a writer, and that is not enough.

I’m miserable when I’m not writing and drink to medicate this disappointment. I drink in my flat and watch shows like Bored to Death. I meet people down the pub and, in the words of Beirut, ‘we drink to die’ in that romantic but delusional way. But, as I said, this is no longer enough.

I had this epiphany on the Sandringham train on the fourth of July and, irony aside, it’s time to act upon it or I’ll hit fifty and find myself living in a room above a pub with a broken laptop, burst capillaries and a head full of mixed memories, garnished with disappointment and a loose bowel. This frightens me. Scares me half to death.  And…

… I think about Braemar Night, 1984 and the river and the drunk teenagers and walking through the streets of Blairgowrie like the idiot prince, wearing a new pair of Puma trainers I bought with my paper round money. And I feel nostalgic, I really do.  But what’s important about nostalgia is that it belongs in the past and now it’s time to move onto the next stage of my life, the stage where I don’t wake up and fear the consequences of my actions. So…

On this day, the 16th of July 2014, I get up and just get on with making it better.