Friday, August 11, 2017

TERRIBLE AND UNWORTHY THOUGHTS

Image result for temptation imagesI feel the need to explore the dreadful problem of covetousness. It is not a usual vice for me, but lately I have fallen prey to its blandishments and I think it is worth discussing its fearful mechanics in order to help guide both myself and other souls at risk.

I am a huge Grant Morrison fan and recently a kind friend lent me about the first third of the original Invisibles comics.These are the original comics, published in the 1990's, mind. Rare beasts.In good nick, with all the extra newsy bits and the ads for other comics, and the dusty feel of first editions.

As soon as he offered them to me, I began to scheme. I offered to buy them. He said no, they are not worth much financially but he will never get them again. However, I was welcome to borrow them.

As soon as I got them, I began to have terrible unworthy thoughts about the comics and about my friend. Here is a sample. He has so many books and comics, in fact his house is full of them. He won't miss them if I just don't return them. Perhaps I will just quietly lose them. Except, I only have the first third. I need to get the next lot before I lose them. Perhaps I will ask him to just leave the second lot somewhere and I will spirit them away before I pretend to return the first lot.

After a bit of everyday common or garden scheming things start to get weird. No one can appreciate the comics as much as I do. My friend only owns them by happy accident. They were meant to come to me. He only got them in order for them to work their way into my hands, as if propelled by some grand cosmic imperative I am sure I will understand later on. After all, the comics are saturated in Chaos Magick, and are in themselves a magickal working. Clearly they know where they need to be. It is plain destiny. I am meant to have them. And so on and so on.

By this time I am trying to get a grip on myself and telling myself sternly, THEY ARE JUST FUCKING COMICS!  This is ridiculous.These are Terrible Unworthy Thoughts and you should know better.

Admittedly I have had the beginnings of this train of thought about library books. Like this:

I love this book. Nobody else could appreciate it as much as me. I could pretend to lose it and then just pay the fine. I got out of the library once a large format book of Peter Beste's photographs of Black Metal bands and their members. It included articles and memorabilia and all sorts of goodies. I wanted it so much, and it had already had its best pages ripped out. A year or so later I went to get it out again, and it had been stolen. Stolen! Not by me. By bad thieves! Not good thieves like me, who would only steal for literary appreciation.

I have always been slightly prone to rash decisions. Once I watched an infomercial. I mean it: once I watched an infomercial. It was probably the only time I ever watched an infomercial, unless you count the time back in the 1980's when we would put the TV ads through huge-ass speakers and play them insanely loud and fall about laughing - The Ginsu knives! But wait there's more! Ah, simple pleasures. Anyway, I watched this infomercial about the Vacuum Action Duster and I wanted one. I coveted one. It was the only thing that made sense that moment. And I had to phone now to get a second one for the same price, I had to phone.. I was going to phone...now...I went to use the phone, and when I regained my normal consciousness my small daughter was holding both my hands firmly and gazing intently into my face with her big blue eyes, and repeating earnestly: 'Mum! Mum! It's just a cloth on a stick! Just a cloth, Mum. On a stick. Mum! Mum!'

People do make light of the vices, or deadly sins, and they have been largely stripped of moral seriousness. Here in New Zealand we have a pizza chain called Hell, which names its pizzas gluttony and sloth and lust and so on. Actually I don't think there is one called covetousness, which makes me wonder if it is an unfashionable vice. Or just awkward to say as in 'I would like a large Covetousness please'. In the Bible you are not supposed to covet your neighbour's ox or ass and I guess that is a bummer if your neighbour has a really cute ass. So we joke about such things. But my coveting of my friend's comic books actually messed with my head a little. It turned me briefly into Gollum. It made my world a little smaller and meaner. Religious dogma aside, perhaps that is what a vice is, something that shuts us down, de-means us, limits us, closes our world in.  

So I never got the Vacuum Action Duster and since then I have had to be content with putting my own cloth on my own stick. And now, older and wise to the vice of Covetousness, I have decided what to do with the comics. I will return them forthwith.

Oh yes, the image above. It is a nineteenth century painting by Octave Tassaert, and it depicts the temptations of St Hilarion. He was an eremitic and extremely ascetic type and the inspiration for St Jerome, who wrote about St Hilarion's temptations in forensic detail. Alone in the desert for decades, the poor saint could barely lie down without being visited by visions of luscious women bearing lascivious food and drink in appalling abundance. My temptations are sadly less lysergic, although probably more eccentric.

Monday, July 10, 2017

HOW I TOOK *THE PUNGENCY*


Alerted by my young friend R, who is hip to these things, I decided to take the risk and drink THE PUNGENCY.

So, with a name like that, and with the beautiful cursive writing in gold and the little royal label, what would I get? I considered something of a mix of ayhuasca, DMT, Fentanyl and the hallucinogenic Lovecraftian language Aklo. Pungent indeed.

Since this looked like magick to me, I spoke to the bottle very seriously. I asked it to give me the stamina of a young werewolf, the vision of a shaman, and the genitals of Messalina. I read the instructions. I shook the bottle. I drank thereof.

THE PUNGENCY  is a form of sweetened milk tea made by Japanese beverage giant Kirin and retailing for $3.49 at Countdown supermarket. It tasted like a form of sweetened milk tea made by Japanese beverage giant........oh never mind.

Next time I get excited by Engrish, I will be sensible enough not to actually purchase anything.

Monday, July 3, 2017

HOW I BECAME THE LUCKIEST PERSON IN THE WORLD


It was raining messily and the day had already lost the will to live even at 1 pm. I was driving south, and rounded a bend and started down the hill when I saw the diesel spill. I slowed, but hit it and fish tailed several times before I spun out and to the left. The car jumped the ditch and leaped through the fence, and landed in the soggy field, facing the wrong way. The engine was still on. The music was still playing. I turned it all off and got out.

A group of people had gathered, including the truckie whom I would have hit if I had veered right instead of left. So I stood in the field in the rain, and spread my arms wide, and declaimed, 'I am the luckiest person In The Whole World!!' 

A woman came towards me, tears on her face. 'I want to give you a hug!' she cried. We hugged. And they gave me a lift to Springs Junction, a glorified truck stop, where there was cell coverage, and I talked to the tow company, and they went to get the car and got the tow truck stuck in the field and had to be towed out, and they put the car up on the hoist and declared it fit to drive. So I drove home just before they closed the pass because of snow.

My car is a deliberately ordinary Toyota Corolla. It is an ex rental with high mileage and few extras. I love it. It just goes. It is called Fenriz. Fenriz is the giant wolf in Norse mythology. He is the son of the god Loki and a giantess, and he grew so big all the gods feared him. In the end he was tricked by them, and he was chained up until Ragnarok and the end of the world. My car is only indirectly named after the wolf, though. Mostly it is named after Fenriz the drummer for the Norwegian Black Metal band Darkthrone. This is Fenriz. He was accidentally elected to his local town council, partly on the strength of the photo below. He doesn't look like much, but he is a legend in the metal world. Fenriz has contributed more to the BM world than just about anyone. He is a complete metal geek who is so badass he writes his t's as little upside down crosses. I liked how my ordinary little Corolla just does the shit, like its namesake.

Image result for fenriz darkthrone

Fenriz the car has its name in runes tucked into the console on a piece of cardboard. Here they are above. The runes say FENRIZ. I put them there when I began to need the car more for driving between all my various work places. I did not exactly think they would bring the car good luck, but they showed my care for the car. During the accident, the runes stayed in place, when everything else flew around the car like paper in a wind storm.

Did the runes keep me safe? Did they mitigate the accident? Why didn't they stop the accident occurring? Did they do anything at all? Am I in fact the luckiest person in the world, because I survived almost uninjured and could drive away? Or am I unlucky because I had the accident in the first place? What is luck anyway?

The Norse had a concept called orlog, which is destiny, but not necessarily in a fatalistic sense. We can accept or fight our orlog, but it will run through us anyway. In old English it is called a geas, and I suppose it links to karma or the idea of spiritual consequence. I doubt that the accident was predestined. Luck is something that happens retrospectively; it is recognizing patterns after events. We can only say that things come in threes, for example, after the third thing has happened. And it is subjective, of course, I could have seen myself as unlucky and that may even have been more realistic, but instead I was jubilant about being alive. You can't make your own luck, you can only see events through the chosen filters of the past.  

The day after, the adrenalin wore off. Poor Fenriz was dented all over and had lost a wing mirror. I was broke and facing the expensive car repairs. I no longer felt so lucky. But Fenriz keeps on cheerfully going, and so do I.
 




Wednesday, June 28, 2017

PUBLIC SPACES

Image result for library images

When you google images of libraries this is what you get. Books. Quaint, huh.

It is has been a long month and here we are just past the Winter Solstice. We alternate between a week of rain and low cloud, and several days of hard frosts. It's tough out there.

In the public library (extraordinary that there are still such things!) there are indeed books, but there is noise and stress and complexity. Some people browse or study, but mostly they are using free wi fi or waiting to use the desktop computers. There is a booking system. Today I am getting graphic novels and browsing the shelves, but in stranger times I have been there for the warmth and the free wi fi. So I know what these guys are doing. They are applying for financial assistance, job hunting, or trying to get something out of the welfare system, whatever department it might be. Government is proud of being e-government. Some departments have no phone system or offices. Everything has to be done online. Not easy when you have no wi fi in your boarding house or garage, wherever it is you camp out these days. Even harder when you are homeless. No wonder the atmosphere is a bit tense. There are probably deadlines to meet. Apply for this by the end of today, or risk losing your benefit. If the computer is booked out, you have a lot to lose.

All this is probably tough on the library staff, who are not trained in crisis work or calming and de-escalation. One of them, a small plump middle aged woman, was doing just that. She said to the large young man, well, that is your choice (When I hear the word choice, I reach for my gun), if you want to behave that way, I am afraid you will have to leave. Oh come on, he replies, every time you cough everyone can fucking hear you. Well, she says, that is your choice, you will have to, now, thank you, thank you for that, yes, thank you. And she walked away.

So, that was weird and for me almost contextless, but I noted something I have considered before. It is the use of thank you. Thank you does not mean thank you. It means I am scared of you but I am obliged to be polite. It means good bye, leave now, if I am thankful for anything it is the space you leave behind. In other words, you can fuck right off. It is remarkable how we thank people for nothing, or for merely doing their jobs, or for not being there. Thank you is a term almost too diffuse for meaning.

I got my graphic novel and went to the shopping maul to read it with a coffee. A man came into the food court. He carried a sleeping back and a back pack. He was very warmly dressed. (With these guys, you ask them to take their jacket off to have a look at their wounds. They take off their jacket. And then their other jacket. And then their three sweaters and their two tee shirts and finally you have an arm to examine.) He circled the food court for a minute or two, and then he sat down at a table where there was an abandoned styrofoam container. He opened it. He ate from it. Then, he spat in it, closed it up, and left.

It was the spitting that made me wonder. It was so contemptuous. It was as if he was befouling it. Was he making sure no one else would benefit from it - that if anyone else ate from it they would be dirtied by it? I know that there can be fierce rivalries among the homeless, for resources, especially sleeping places. Was he showing some sort of inchoate contempt for the situation - the bright lit shopping maul, the plastic food, the raw injustice?

I felt slightly derealised as I drove home. Observing is not connecting. I had witnessed two incidences of behaviour I found myself working hard to explain. For a few minutes, the street scenes around me looked hyper real, drawn flat and vivid, like my graphic novel. Car lights seemed multi coloured and far too bright, alarming, urgent. Observing is not connecting. Observing is two dimensional. I had no obvious means of connecting with either of these incidences. Just left wondering.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

100 WORDS

  • The music was always so bright it hurt, and she would put her headphones on
    when she entered. She would dance, gently building her own small world,
    dreaming colour, the disco lights singing like people, the Macarena moving
    around her
     
     Image result for bad conga line dancing
     
    She saw him there often. Big glasses, big grin, skinny, fronting the conga line,
    making the support workers laugh. For once, in both their lives, he truly saw
    her. He was brave enough to come to her, and she was brave enough to notice.
    She turned her face up, and his kiss was as light and sudden as her heart.
     This 100 word piece was for a competition with the Readers' Digest, and I did not hear back from them at all even to let me know they had received my entry. So I figure it is mine to use as I choose, and it is my second piece of writing about the lives of people with disabilities.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

We are Union - sort of

Image result for worker new zealandImage result for worker new zealandImage result for worker new zealand

To the tune of 'We will rock you', fifty women thump their thighs and chant 'We are, we are union'.
Where am I? Training to be a union delegate.

My first training was a day of empowerment for women delegates. The union I belong to represents many different industries, from aged care to aircraft engineers, but many of us work in precarious, low paid low status, female dominated industries such as support work, caregiving and process work. Union membership is fairly low. We are in too much of a state of permanent sleep deprivation to be 'woke'. This training was an attempt to bring on women workers.

It was an odd mix of Rosie the Riveter and standard self improvement schtick. We watched a Ted Talk by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook whose net worth is 1.6 billion, talking about why there are so few women at the top and - I dunno I can't remember - how you have to believe yourself and then you can do anything, or something, whatever. There were some bonding exercises and talks by union leaders and the local mayor, who was inspirational until she was asked about pay equality for her own staff, when she became strangely evasive. Many of the women there saw themselves as outspoken and strong, and described numerous scraps with difficult bosses.

We did a bit of getting into small groups and talking about the barriers to leadership for women, and many of the groups felt that the biggest barrier was motherhood. Not capitalism or patriarchy or equality. Motherhood. One woman told a story that was held up as inspirational. In order to make ends meet, she worked long night shifts at a factory some distance from home. This meant she could not have her child living with her, and so she arranged a kind of child swap with her brother. This was seen as a fine example of how women adapt and stay strong. Except during the tea break, she started to cry, remembering how much she had missed of her child's growth, how hard it was, how little sleep she had, how much she needed to connect with this daughter who had somehow become primary school dux, seemingly with no influence from her hard working, inspirational mother.

Motherhood is where the heart is. Motherhood is where it hurts.

Next up, was a forum for delegates. By this time I had been involved in some disciplinary action for a workmate, which fortunately was resolved well, and several small spats about rostering and hours of work with management, so I was hoping to learn some skills. What I got was talks from union leaders and politicians, some ideas about how to persuade people to join the union, and some truly disturbing stuff about how some working people think.

Truth is, they are desperately conservative. At the beginning of the forum we were asked to place marbles in jars which were labelled with issues, in order to find out what were the most pressing issues for us. The top issues were:
- decent wages
- affordable housing
- better health care
- better education system
- fair economic system

Broader social and systemic issues, such as the environment, did not feature. Fair enough, people want the best for themselves and those close to them. Then when we got talking about the reasons for the problems, people's conservatism let rip. Migrants are the problem. They take our jobs, and then they do them poorly. The jabber away in their own language, and don't you just hate that. They should learn our ways, because they are in our country now. Mind you it's not their fault; the government shouldn't let them all in. They can get away with murder. And so on. It was the kind of language I left home to avoid, and I never expected to hear it again in any open forum.

Previously the union leader had talked about migrant workers, and he pitched it carefully. He saw migrant workers as vulnerable to exploitation, and felt they should be unionized. He also saw the need for balance between support for migrant workers, and support for those New Zealanders needing decent employment. I agreed with him. But the mood on the floor was very different, openly xenophobic and, well, conservative.

It was equally conservative when it came to the idea of jobs. While people condemned the increasing casualization of work and low pay rates, they did not link these problems with the rise of the precariat and the gig economy. They wanted steady paid employment, what used to be called real jobs, and to be paid better and have better conditions for what they already did. Which was working for a boss, for a wage, selling labour. I felt that these largely older, Pakeha working people were in the eye of a storm, racing around trying to save their possessions, unaware that part two of the storm was about to sweep them all away. The generations after them are Uber drivers and sub contractors and agency workers. They don't hustle to keep in place, they hustle to get anything at all. 

I was disturbed by the conservatism and rank populism. I had entered a world devoid of theory or even context; everything came down to personal stories and matters of taste. It was reactionary. And I think it is dangerous - while it would be naive of me to expect a room full of activists, I had hoped to see something of the genuine Left in actions, and I didn't. Without the coherence that theory provides, this kind of populist conservatism lacks discernment and opens itself to anything that appears to offer tangible goodies. There are very good reasons for this, and I understand how people can become depoliticized through sheer exhaustion. But on the day, I went away too depressed to care.



Monday, March 13, 2017

ON HUNTING


I will not complain. I will not look too grateful when they slow down and suggest a breather that is clearly for my benefit. I will keep up. I will not say things like just leave me here to die. I will be grim of purpose and clear of eye. I will not pee down my leg and come out of the thicket all damp. I will carry my share. I will not say nerdish things about bird life that show me up as someone who has read books but never been anywhere.
It is OK going in, and up. Crossing the river and wandering along the banks is pleasant. We don’t even get any shots off, because there are other people in the area. There are no goats, not even spoor, and few prints except for possums. Going down again is harder on the body and treacherous with it. Here the track is as wide as my boot.  Someone says, I’m glad I didn’t bring my son, he would have got too scared. One slip down the bank and you’re dead in the river.
The world closes in. Through a brown tunnel I see a mere circle of grass and stones. I drop down and work my way crab wise along the bank. I can hear the river running and my heaving breath.  You have lost the track, someone says gently. If you put your foot back down a bit you will find it. What track, I think stupidly. All I can see is where I will put my next limb, as I am now on all fours. It is like looking through a telescope. You’re beginning to panic, someone says. Yes, thank you. I keep going.
These are good guys. They don’t crowd me and they don’t say anything sentimental or encouraging. They don’t distract me. They just wait and lend me their presence. After all, if I fall I die. They can’t save me.
They are also kind enough not to say anything afterwards. I’m shaking as I walk out. The mind has maxed out the credit card of the body.