Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Magic Light

"I want to be able to describe the light to you, but it's just so ... I just ... I mean, I can't manage the-- I don't think I'll be able to. I want to. I just makes me inarticulate."

"That's okay. Sometimes there's something articulate about being inarticulate."

"Yes. Exactly. And it shouldn't be possible to articulate it. Not when you feel like you glimpse it for a moment. I mean, when you glimpse beauty or ... life. Or just the world. Or something. It shouldn't be possible to articulate the poetry of simply existing."

Mark & Kristy. A phone conversation.

"I just wanted to tell you: I still think of you when the light is good."

Kristy. In a phone conversation.

So, it rained here for a few days. Wonderful, gushing rain.

You need to understand that, for this Red Centre, rain is something of an absent lover. For years at a time, it departs. Seems to forget. Clouds occasionally come, but they are always empty carriages, stopping far off in the distance, vanishing into an infinite expanse of empty sky, leaving no message.

The earth waits. Is resilient. The delicate fronds of mulga and acacia prove they are hardy and can remain beautiful despite long years without nurture. But day after day of dry air saps them. They twist. River red gums look on. Remain tall. They have seen this many times before. Their roots wait in the deeper parts of the dry river. But their branches look bleached. Colour incrementally seeps away. The whites are ghost-like. Insubstantial. The greens -- when they are left -- just look tired. In the sunsets, they reflect one burst of red-gold light. But the deadened brown is creeping.

Then, for a few days, the air was hot and heavy. Where we were usually sapped dry, we lived, instead, through an invisible suffocation in a strange, muted steam.

Then it came.

The air cooled slightly and the skies built up grey from morning 'til night. Then, with a crack of thunder, they broke open. Water gushed down gutters and streets. When it first started, everyone went a bit mad. Like during a full moon. Kids ran around and shouted a lot. Adults got glints in their eyes and seemed pumped full of clean fuel. Tourists were baffled and huddled under the overhangs of shop-fronts, wearing bright raincoats with hoods over their heads. But we felt a delicious energy. Waterfalls tumbled from worn gutters. Voluptuous rain-drops belly-flopped into puddles. Small rivers ran in the streets.

As the days went on, locals stood and looked up in awe. Some stood outside, where they could be closer to this suddenly generous coolness, where they would let the water wash past their feet, where they turn up their faces and allow the cool sink down over them, like an anointing. I saw one smoking a cigarette, put it out and smile. We felt fresh. Like the world had been cooled and bathed.

This went on for a few days. The day would gradually build with excitement, then, in the evening, the rain would fall, like a celebrity making an appearance night by night. It was as if the circus was in town.

And then, the rain had one last hurrah.

When we woke up, we smelt it. The morning was full of rain. Big rain. No one could see blue in the sky. It gushed over everything, almost as if the circus animals had broken loose and were no longer performing tricks in bright colours, but were roaring in the streets. The roads were flooded. When you stepped outside, the rain fell fiercely upon you, suction-ing your clothes to your flesh. When you drove, you couldn't get windscreen wipers to work fast enough. It was difficult to see.

"I hear the Todd is flowing," people said.

It was.

Cars pulled over to the side of the road and tourists and locals alike climbed out to see this dry river run. Children with energy fierce enough to match the rain ran and, with flying leaps, joined the flow of the water.

It rained and it rained and it rained.

Then, in the afternoon, the clouds started parting. They stopped pouring. The ferocious roar was over. With a smiling serenity, the sun came through.

And all the world was bathed in light.

I think it was because everything had been washed. I think it was because their was still imperceptible water hanging in the air. I think it was because it the hot earth had been cooled by water. Whatever it was, it all looked beautiful. The colours were somehow both soft and bright. The shone without glaring. There seemed to be no shadows, but no harshness either. Those red rocks were illuminated with nuances of oranges and purples and pinks that I hadn't precisely seen before. White gums stood tall and clean in the midst of the fresh colours. The ground was covered in light yellow spinifex and newly green grass. There are so many colours in the Territory. And all of them looked like they were having a good day.

The clouds still hung low in the sky, but they were ... softer. Light shone through them. So, as the day lengthened into evening and the sun-rays diffracted through the atmosphere, those low light clouds shone, and so did everything. Everything. The air was full of light. I think there was just enough water in it ... cool water, not humid water ... to diffuse and refract and reflect everywhere. It was like living inside the sunset itself. You should have seen the way the jacarandas looked against the mystical colour of the grey-blue sky and watched that low golden cloud float past. You should have seen then men in town wonder out of their shops and stand in the street, looking up in awe. The whole world turned those beautiful colours of gold and then amber ... then rose ... and achingly beautiful pink ... and lilac ... then indigos ... and then it was over, and it was just cool and dark and clean.

And the next day, it was over. The circus had left the town.

A few people walked along in the river in the morning. I saw a little long-haired blonde girl climb out of a four wheel drive and stand there, looking at the water go past. I saw a lady in an orange linen top walk her dog. The dog bounded in and out of the river. She stretched out her arms ... twirled her hands ... let her head arch back.

But the river quickly soaks into the ground and all the air and light returns to normal ... so much light ... so much heated air ... a sky where clouds can't seem to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

An Ideal Engagement

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I really do have conversations about my ideal engagement or wedding scenarios.


I really do.

These flights of fancy tend to be instigated by the news that a friend of mine has, in fact, become engaged and plans, therefore, to get married. It’s usual for me, then, to imagine myself in a similar scenario, just as I tend to consider what it might be like to share in the experience of an earthquake, a hijacking or the collision of my location on the earth with a meteor. It’s just a small further extension of the imagination to conceive of the possibility of getting engaged, and — every now and then — I employ my mental faculties in such fashion.


My latest conversation in this vein happened to be about rings. This conversation was instigated by the collision of two events: 1) the arrival of the news that two good friends of mine have become engaged and 2) the arrival of a jewelry catalogue.

‘You know,’ said my housemate, flipping through the overtly glossy pages, ‘there tends to be a relationship between the cost of jewelry and its actual appeal.’ She held up a picture of a particularly garish ring with a particularly garish price. ‘And the relationship is inversely proportional.’

‘I know! What is it with gold and diamonds? They’re very rarely put together in a tasteful or attractive way, and they’re obtained by ripping the earth to shreds.’
The conversation went on in this way for some time, as we discussed the specific aspects of (what we considered to be) the tacky design features of various rings. We also discussed the fact that we probably sounded like cynical, self-righteous, left-wing wankers. We considered this to be better than being vacuous, possession-obsessed, jewelry-flaunting destroyers of the earth. This confirmed our status as cynical, self-righteous wankers who were sitting at home, criticising a jewelry catalogue while their friends were out getting engaged in ways that actually had nothing to do with being vacuous, possession-obsessed or any of the other awful presumptions we were making.

Feeling that, if I was going to be cynical and self-righteous, I should at least also attempt to be open minded, I said: ‘There must be some appeal in this jewelry. Or people wouldn’t keep buying it, and other people then wouldn’t keep making it.’

Emily put her head to one side for a moment, maybe trying to see the rings from another angle. ‘I think it’s all part of sustaining a fantasy,’ she said. ‘Maybe the people who like these rings see them as a symbol that someone was willing to spend a lot of money on them, which, I guess, is a socially recognised sign that a guy is taking them seriously and is willing to make a commitment.’

I stared at the rings for a while. ‘Ah, the power of socially recognised signs,’ I said, then grinned to myself, my mind suddenly subverting the lyrics of a U2 song Love is Blindness. I looked up at Emily, a twinkle in my eye, and — pointing to another expensive ring that I knew she’d consider ugly — said: ‘Signs are blindness.’


Having reached the end of the catalogue and seeing nothing we liked, I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if, for your engagement ring, a guy chose something not because it was ridiculously expensive or covered in jewels, but because he knew it was exactly your taste. And — even better — if it was from a Fair Trade store. And — even better — if the money that he saved by buying that kind of ring, he then used to buy a whole lot of goats and cows and harvest crops and irrigation through TEAR or World Vision or something. How cool would that be!’

Emily agreed that it did, indeed, sound cool.

I know I sound like a ridiculous, annoying idealist … but, hey. Every girl’s got her dream.


The next day, I found a ring that came very close to the kind of thing I’d imagined.

It was $15.

I bought it on the spot.

Now — if I ever happen to be involved in that rare coincidence of discovering a person who’d like to spend the rest of his life with me and about whom I feel the same way — he’ll have a reference point.


When I got to work, I showed Kaitlin.

‘I bought myself a ring today,’ I said. ‘I got it because it reminded me of the kind of thing I imagine as an engagement ring.’

She looked at it. It didn’t send her into raptures. I think that’s because it wasn’t made of gold or diamonds.

‘It was fifteen dollars,’ I told her.

‘Fifteen dollars!’

‘Yeah,’ I said, and proceeded to tell her my about my desire for a guy to save money on my engagement ring and spend it on people in the world who could probably use it for things like food, shelter and water that wasn’t going to poison them to death.

‘But what about the fantasy of having a guy spend a fortune on you and wearing a big, fat diamond on your hand to prove it!’

‘I don’t have that fantasy,’ I said. ‘I have a fantasy of saving the world.’

Kaitlin looked at me in shock. ‘I have a fantasy of taking over the world.’

The moment was perfect.

We both laughed.


I’ll admit that I have a good deal of trouble trying not to be judgmental about all the things that seem to sustain the traditions that, in turn, seem to sustain the harmful things about our cultural and economic systems.

I can be too cynical.

I can be too dismissive of traditions that other people maintain with sincerity.

I don’t like this about myself.

But, still, every time I look at my reference-point-ring, I think about the possibilities for ‘subverting the paradigm’.

I know that’s still cynical, self-righteous, left-wing wanker talk.

Nonetheless, when I think about it, I smile.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Adventures in Moving On

Step #5: Chuck some stuff in your car. Get in. Drive. Drive through the night. Wake up in a new town. Start again.

If you've heard anything about kangaroos on the roads of outback Australia, I'm here to tell you that it's true. All, all horribly true ... thousands of them ... hopping across the road ... flying over the windscreen ...

So I'm driving at 80km/hr in the dark ... it's getting later and later and those damn green signs are taunting me, sliding past and letting me know that I still have hundreds of kilometres left to drive ... at the speeds I'm managing, my ETA (the frequent recalculation of which is a source of mental stimulation for me) gets later and later and later. Huge trucks come at me. They all seem decide to drive at night. Maybe they're all the Undead. I dip my lights for them and suddenly find myself driving even more slowly, because my radius of kangroo-detection is suddenly and significantly decreased. When I see dead kangaroos littering the road, I figure it's the massive trucks that killed them. I wouldn't be scared of kangaroos, either, if I was that size. I keep thinking they trucks will hit the kangaroos and send them hurtling into my windshield, and I'll be covered in shattered kangaroo and glass, and the wind will be rushing into the car and smothering my screaming.

My heart beats faster when the trucks pass, and I try to ignore my imagination.

I look at my phone: still no reception. No way to let anyone know that I'm okay, even though it's several hours past the time I'd said I'd be safely in bed. I pull over into a rest stop and curl up in the backseat.

The stars are brilliant.

I'd usually make some vain attempt to match the poetry of the universe with some kind of linguistic equivalent (an impossibility!), but I'm mentally strained enough, so I lie down and rest. Would sleep there all night, but I know my family will be stressing, and I can't call them from here, so I set a target of time and, when it hits, I'm on the road again.

Every time I think it's safe to speed up, another kangaroo decides the grass is greener on the other side. I start to wonder why all those jokes are about chickens.

The green signs finally show double instead of triple figures. I push up to 100km/hr. Current time, 10:12. Current speed, 100km/hr. Distance remaining, 80km. Eighty is 4/5 of a hundred. ETA, 11pm.

Sleep vaguely approached my eyelids, hoping to settle in for the night, but then took one look around, shrugged, sighed, and slouched off to wait in the the part of my brain where all the deeply suppressed things go.

I was getting a cramp in my hands from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.

I had enough adrenalin coursing through me to power the vehicle.

But I did arrive in Coober Peedy, and I slept on a metal bed in an otherwise-empty backpackers. I would've slept on anything, at that stage.

At the end of the night, I found myself thinking of that one, poor kangaroo who was reeling and stunned by the collision with my car. I hoped nothing was broken. I hoped it wasn't bleeding internally. I hoped it would heal quickly or pass away peacefully in the night.

But, as badly as I felt about that kangaroo, I was still glad it wasn't me ...

It's a long, long way to Alice.

Get there before dusk.

Friday, July 22, 2005

dark wonder

dark wonder
Originally uploaded by k-girl.
fall down in pain; look up in wonder

Thursday, July 21, 2005


There is, sometimes, a dizzying feeling that I get. It comes when I begin to feel layers of past conventions being stripped away from me.

I'm beginning to recognise the thing that comes to do it: it is floating and insistent, like an ocean tide at midnight.

It comes.

I am surrounded by a sudden surge that seems ... ancient. It knows more than I do, and I am lifted by it until my feet can’t touch the floor.

And then the tugging starts.

It pulls on a thread that I’ve woven all through the thoughts and beliefs that hold me all together. It pulls on a thread that I thought held all the meaning in the world together.

You don’t need this, it whispers, with lips that brush the lobe of my ear. This pulls the world into patterns that distort what’s really there.

‘But I will fall apart,’ I say. ‘I can’t let it go.’

What do you want more? It asks. To be held by a net of meaning or to be let loose and, perhaps, understand?

I feel that I am being looked upon by eyes that ask me if I am sure.

And I concede with my breath held and with eyes that beg for it to be trustworthy.

And then what I once took for truth is cast upon the wind.

And I fall.

And remember, all over again, how close fear is to freedom.

The art of flying

Originally uploaded by eyecatcher.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

a quest for an undeceived voice
"You see why I read Vicino with such eagerness. His voice is wry and undeceived, but he has hope. He loves the company of other people."
from The Society of Others by William Nicholson.

Here's something I hope: that if you know me, you know why I liked reading those lines.

I like the notion that words ... well, more than words ... ideas ... can be consumed with eagerness.

I'm drawn to the concept ... more than that ... the attainment ... of a 'wry and undeceived voice' ... although it sometimes seems that untangling yourself from all the gentle systems of deception in life also involves finding yourself falling out of their safety nets. (I went and looked up 'deceive' and found out that it has roots in a Latin word that, apparently, contained concepts of ensaring, so the 'net' connection is possibly present in the word itself).

Anyway, I sometimes start to wonder whether hope itself isn't just a convenient tangle of deceptions, carefully designed to sustain me ... part of the complicated set of tricks played on all of us by our mental faculties, because, for some reason, these sets of chemicals we call 'ourselves' are keen on perpetuating their combined existence in what we call 'life'. (I have been well trained in thoughts like this by a lovable, local cynic).

Interestingly, 'hope' is, in fact, the name for a 'functional programming language' designed by R. M. Burstall, D. B. MacQueen and D. T. Sanella at the University of Edinburgh in 1978. Apparently you can buy a book about it. It's called 'Functional Programming with Hope.' Anyway. Its existence kind of seems like an uncanny metaphor for this line of reasoning ... 'hope' as a system of programmed thoughts that help us to function.

So I remember smiling to myself when I read Nicholson's lines and realised that there was at least one person who thought that a wry lack of deception and some kind of hope were possible, simultaneously: that maybe we can fall out of the net and land in hope.

And I enjoy the company of other people, so I liked that part, too.
Basically, I read those few lines, and, in them, I guess I recognised ... well ... not so much 'myself' as 'an image of how I want to be seen'. So I decided to use part of it for my blog title.

But, as you'll probably notice, I changed it.

I changed it because I started thinking about the impossibility of an undeceived voice. For one thing, to be a 'voice' at all, it has to use language, which is full of all kinds of limitations and deceptions ... so, in a way, an 'undeceived voice' is a tautology, and you're screwed from the outset. And language is just one of our systems of knowing and being in the world that relies on our abilities to select and modify information until it resembles something we can a) understand and b) don't have to totally remodel ourselves in order to absorb. How can we know we're not simply inventing system upon system of deception for our own living convenience?

So saying that I'm on a quest for an 'undeceived voice' is maybe just another way of saying that I'm on a quest for 'truth'.

Saying that I write with a 'deceived voice' is perhaps another way of acknowledging that the process is complicated ... and, maybe, impossible.

Do you know these lines?

Oh, the distance is not do-able in these bodies of clay, my brother.
Oh, the distance makes me uncomfortable ... guess it's natural to feel this way, oh ...
Are we locked into these bodies?
Are we anything at all?
Let's hold out for something sweeter.
Spread your wings and fly ...
Live 'The Distance'

So here's something else I hope: that, if you know me, you know I'm a fan of impossible journeys. Because maybe the impossibilities are within us. But maybe there's a way to untangle the nets. Maybe there's something more than a body of clay. Maybe we fall out of it all and land in an 'undeceived voice with hope'.

And, if there is, I'd like to do it in the company of others.

So thanks for reading. Hope you feel like you saw something new. Hope you have something to say. Hope you come back.