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Books to read in 2018

It’s a new year which means a time of renewal, growth and determining things like goals and objectives and what you want to get out of life for the next year.

As part of this idea of growth, I wanted to share some books that I have read or re-read in the last year or so, and for whatever reason stood out for me as share-worthy. These are all books that for different reasons piqued my interest. Some are based firmly in the real world and speak on concepts, issues and themes that are quite serious yet still great reads. Others are less serious and far more whimsical, imaginative and fun to read, as well as works of sci-fi or fantasy, and even one special book I rediscovered that was once my favourite book to read when I was a child, which I recently re-read.

Note: click on the image on the books, which will take you to Goodreads for more reviews and info. 

 

My Life In France, Julia Child.

 

If you’re unaware of who Julia Child is, the book My Life In France is a great intro to someone whose passion, grit and determination was an inspiration not just for me, but for countless others. The first reference to Julia Childs for me was the film Julie and Julia, which I feel this book lies adjacent to.

An autobiographical account of Julia Child’s [well-known American chef who specialized in French cooking and was the first to create a cookbook intended for home cookery] years in France with her husband, this book was introduced and gifted to me by a friend and fellow avid reader who espoused how relatable, enthralling and simply fun this book was to read.

I felt as though I was sitting at a French restaurant in the 1950’s with the grande dame of the culinary world herself, as she meticulously and juicily describes every detail of so many meals eaten in fine restaurants, as well as adventures she partook; from the start of their move in Paris, to studying cookery at the world-famous Cordon Bleu school in Paris and her subsequent rise in fame and recognition.

This book proved to be such an inspiration for me. Reading this one woman’s recounts of her life in that beautiful country helped me in turn better accept and thrive on the fact that I too, like her, moved overseas with a husband for his career. It was just something nice to read, with her making friends with locals, divulging secrets and skills required for cooking, as well as her struggles with finding an identity and purpose for her life.

I really loved reading this book, and I can always tell when a book is not just good but great, when it feels as though you only just started when you reach the final page.

 

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

 

This soon to be released film adaptation captured my imagination immediately. I was again recommended to read this book by a friend who knew me well, and said to me this book has all the things you love in it: namely, 1980’s cultural references, and science fiction and fantasy elements.

I wanted to read Ready Player One for years, it was admittedly a case of judging a book by its cover; which I LOVED but had never gotten around to it as it were.

The book tells the story of Wade Watts, a denizen of the dystopic world of 2044 USA: standards of living are in sharp decline due to depletion of natural resources and the collapse of the ecology, the poor are generally uneducated and live in ‘stacks’, giant towers composed of trailers.

Most escape this grim reality via the pervasive virtual reality named OASIS, created by the recently deceased genius and 1980’s-obsessed James Halliday.

I won’t get too far into it, but it is chock full of 1980’s, fantasy and sci-fi references, action and drama as well as well-written likeable characters and villains whom you want to throw your Gameboy at.

 

Skygods, The Fall Of Pan Am, Robert Gandt

 

Being a bit of an aviation nerd, I’ve always had a strange fascination for the golden-era of aviation and airlines up to the late 1960’s; being that time before Jetstar, Ezyjet, cattle class, discount tickets etc.

The Queen of the airlines was undoubtedly Pan American, headed by the singular Juan Tripp who is the man who is honestly responsible for giving the world the Boeing 707, the worlds first truly successful airliner that changed travel indelibly, as well as the Boeing 747.

I’ve had a bit of a strange obsession for defunct airlines such as Pan Am and TWA and wish I was old enough to have flown on either; this is the next best thing as this book goes into great detail about the formation, golden era and demise of this at one time blue-ribbon pedigree of an airline.

It reads as one part drama, one part recount, yet to me managed to keep an air of entertainment as the characters whom were responsible for this great airline’s birth as well as those responsible for its decline, not to mention those who worked for this venerable airline, come to life.

 

Red Plenty, Francis Spufford

 

Red Plenty tells the story of the burgeoning USSR and its efforts at overtaking the United States in terms of economic, scientific, technological and social growth in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It speaks of a time when the Soviet Union was modernizing rapidly and keeping on pace with the US, and was even set to surpass the US in terms of economic growth.

It was an era of optimism and eager competition, as well as a heartfelt honest belief in the Communist system by those living in the USSR at the time. Red Plenty tracks the progress and ultimate demise in the Soviet Union’s determined quest to gain parity and subsequently overtake the USA by means of planned economy using mathematics and cybernetics, for the ultimate aim of giving one and all the best quality of life possible.

Clearly, things didn’t turn out quite the way that the economic planners in the USSR had planned, but I found this book completely engrossing and intriguing; not 100% non-fiction and some characters were clearly fictional, yet still a great read.

 

And The Band Played On, Randy Shilts

 

The best way I can describe this book is heart-wrenching, emotional and frustrating. Not the things you want to find in a book necessarily. And The Band Played On tracks the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s, and for me was a must read as a Gay man to educate myself about just what it would have been like to experience the terror and fear that I could only imagine in this time.

This book goes in to extensive depth and detail about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the inability of the US government to take charge, or even acknowledge what was occurring. Although some information since the time of this publication came out has been updated [ie the concept of a Patient Zero from which the virus was first attributed to], it for me is something that all LGBTIQA people should read if they want to know more about how HIV/AIDS affected just so many people.

Like others before me whom have read this book, this would have to be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding books that I have ever read. It is just so disappointing and sad to read about the lack of information, the inability of the myriad government institutes to coordinate to even simply identify this virus as people were dying, not to mention the initial intentional ignorance of the politico class about this issue, and following lack of action to put plans in motion.

This book will leave you with much respect and admiration for those whom lived through this era, as they really are survivors and heroes who deserve so much respect.

 

House Of Tribes, Garry Kilworth


I’ll never forget the first time I saw this book, in a little independent book shop on Norton St, Leichhardt, back in Sydney. I was with my mum. I must have been perhaps 9 or 10 or so. Something about this little innocent looking book with a mouse depicted on its cover drew me to it, and it took me in hindsight perhaps a week to finish up, as I fell straight into the world this author created.

This is one book which helped shape my reading habits and my interest in literature, reading, as well as the fantasy genre. The novel follows a young field mouse named Pedlar who leaves the relative safety and familiarity of his home in a hedge behind, to enter the great country known solely as ‘The House.’ The house is another world entirely, replete with gangs of mice and rats who live in different parts of the house and vie for control and authority.

It was such a fun book to read as a kid; I must have re-read it at least a half-dozen times, and it [magically in my mind] captured my imagination, and inexplicably followed me in my life and now sits proud on my bookshelf here in San Francisco. Some people cite the Harry Potter series as their mainstay books which harken back to their youth and that initial spark and love of reading, and this is my version of that.

Oh, and the other thing that made me fall completely in love with this book was that it had a map!

 

The Consolations Of Philosphy, Alain De Botton.

 

Love him or not, Alain De Botton for me is a great educationist and instructor of thought. I don’t know what it is about the guy, but ever since the first time watching his documentaries on life, thought, philosophy and culture and society, I’ve been a big fan.

Maybe it’s the way that he informs and teaches without pretension; without the need for needlessly complex jargon. He has a concise and minimal voice and tone which can make even the most difficult to understand concepts quite clear.

If Alan Attenborough’s domain was the natural world, I would then see Alain De Botton in a similar vein for the world of thought.

I received this book as a birthday present; I won’t lie, it sat on my shelf for months as I had a plethora of fantasy and sci-fi books I wanted to read.

I picked up this book to read as I have this idea of ‘cleansing the palate’ as it were, with regards to what I read. I love and adore science fiction and fantasy novels, yet I find after reading book after book after book I need something more thought-provoking in terms of life and thought and lived experience. To cleanse the palate as it were. Something which will exercise my mind. Usually I’ll hit up whatever self-help book I have about which will fill me in with some thought that is based at least partly on philosophy.

Consolations, then, proved to be a simple and introductory means of learning about philosophical thought, and how it translates to the everyday life. De Botton mixes in a dash of self-helpiness as I think of it with his dollops of philosophy, and the result at least to me was a thought-provoking read and a good refresher on philosophy, its origins and it’s repercussions.

 

Those are my books to read in 2018, let me know your thoughts, or if you have any standout books that you have read recently that you love. Cheers!

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2017, America, Gay, Gayblog, Life, Thoughts, writing

My Writing Process.

My writing process is quite simple. I try to set aside some time, preferable each day, and preferably somewhere light and airy. My work space will typically be quite organised, clutter free and minimal in what needs to be there. The less ‘stuff’, the better.

I find that I write best and most effectively when I have a clean and clutter-free space. To me, this is paramount. My mind works best when everything is organised. I tend to concentrate more, gain inspiration and let those streams of thought enter into the room. I guess I’m a creature of order.

Some prefer a degree of chaos and a ‘organised mess’ as it were, in order to get inspired and to really get those creative juices flowing. To me, a chaotic mess means an unorganised mind, and an inability to analyze or complete tasks.

And that’s my biggest fear, as well as a massive motivator for having such a precise and agreeable workspace. It seems that without this, I can’t get a thing done.

Having only just recently moved countries, all the way to San Francisco from Sydney, finding a place to sit, work and process has proved to be challenging. For the last 6 weeks we were staying in a temporary flat, and to be honest, as lovely a building and place as it was, it felt uninspiring, dull and not amenable to me feeling comfortable or uplifted enough to write. It had an air of being generic. Knowing that its sole purpose as a temporary abode felt disheartening to me.

This space proved its worth as a short-term home, but even so, trying to get off my backside to write was incredibly difficult in this time.

I really did drop the ball. As part of my day, I wanted to write for even at least a half hour. I would bring my husband’s unused laptop downstairs to the luxuriously appointed common lounge, which looked like a ski lodge, replete with fireplace and comfy oversized chairs.

I’d set the laptop up on the communal table, get myself a glass of water, and try my hardest to put words to screen as it were. Yet I found myself more often than not simply staring at a blank screen, somehow unable to get thoughts into the laptop. I was at a roadblock.

And as it stands, in that whole time, I only ever managed to get two posts out.

In some six weeks.

Funnily enough, I ended up using my old back-up of a small Moleskine notebook and started writing thoughts in it every couple of days. It’s proved to be invaluable, having that small innocuous notebook around. I make sure to carry it about wherever I am.

I always remember my old photography teacher would say you must carry a camera everywhere you go in order to consider yourself a true photographer. Well, to be honest, I’m not going to lug an insanely cumbersome [not to mention expensive] piece of equipment about in my semi-sketchy neighbourhood.

Rather, I’m happy to carry about my small and highly portable notebook, which in a way is far more valuable than any camera.

We just finally found and moved into our new place, and have finished unpacking and setting it up. We’ve taken everything from home and brought it here, including my trusty desk and now ancient, ten-year old iMac which I’m using to write this post. Which to its credit, just keeps on truckin’ along.

My desk now resides in our bed room, a far cry from my little alcove back home. Our bedroom is a simple room with large windows that face the sun and let light great big dollops of light into the room. The room itself is simply appointed. Two bedside table flanking our bed, a mirror leaning against the wall and my desk next to that. All I have on my desk besides my computer is a desk lamp, an old camera as a reminder of the past, a hard drive, and a glass of water [on a coaster of course].

I feel some affinity with my favourite author, Haruki Murakami, whom also keeps a quite understated and a simple set-up desk. Everything he needs is there, as well as some decorative items of significance. There are no piles of books or paper, or anything that appears out of its place. I feel as though his desk is therefore a reflection of his manner of writing, which is everything I admire: simple yet effective, minimal and understated yet so subtle and with an intrinsic inspired genius who will make you spellbound in his prose.

I love his writing, as he makes the simple act of cooking a meal for one alone a grand affair.

My workspace, as you can see, is my writing process incarnate. If I’m somewhere attractive, relatively peaceful and homely, I am able to get myself writing and more importantly, posting for the world to see.

If you write, what is your process? Like me, do you need your own space, your own aerie, or do you prefer to be out in the world?

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2017, Australia, Gay, Gayblog, Life, Sydney, Thoughts

My Ideal Day

If money was not an issue, what would your life look like today? How would you fill your days?

For me, if money was not an issue [as it would be if Utopian Socialism worked], I would fill my days with learning and trying to make myself better and improving myself. Yup, super cliche, I know. I would still try to wake up early and hit the gym, as it’s become a place that I enjoy going to and exercise something that has really helped me grow and become a healthier person inside and out. I know this sounds so self-indulgent, and typically self-entitled millennial of me, but really, without the need to work to provide for oneself, I would make my life about being better as a whole, and experiencing the most out of life.

I would go for nice breakfasts, maybe eat something sweet like pancakes [because why the fuck not] with coffee, sit outside al fresco if it was a sunny day, perhaps sit inside if it was cooler or wet. I’d have an Ipad loaded with paid-for subscriptions like The New Yorker or Time magazine, and I would spend an hour just reading, eating breakfast, sipping my coffee, and then planning my day ahead and what I wanted to accomplish, work on or get out of my time for the day. Maybe some days I would go to different cafes for a change of scenery, maybe I would have weeks or even months of frequenting that same favourite cafe that does coffee just how I like it, or cooks a great breakfast.

After reading through an article or two in New Yorker or Time, or perhaps a newspaper, I would take out my journal or perhaps go on Daily Page and start writing. Maybe I would be with Adrian, or maybe alone. I would then work out my day and break down what I would want to achieve or get out of the day.

Maybe one day would be spent reading, or playing computer games, or maybe having lunches with friends and loved ones. I might go visit my nonna and hang with her, or go for a drive up to the mountains. I know some days all I would do would be anything I want. Like even playing World of Warcraft for endless hours. Maybe I would simply while away the day in the sun at a park, or a beach or pool. I would try to gauge how I felt, and do whatever my heart desires. I’d like to think however that I would try to learn something or create something no matter how small each day. Perhaps a little blog post, or a journal entry. Maybe I would walk about the city and take pictures. I guess because currently with the need to work and pay bills and rent, I don’t have this luxury. I envy people who come from wealthy backgrounds as this has afforded them something more important than money, rather it has given them the freedom of time.  Many of these people take this luxury for granted and squander their time. I wish I didn’t have to work 9 hours a day five days a week. I wish I could emulate that archetype of the Renaissance era person of art and passion, and had the time to muse and delve into creating things.

If money was no issue, I would make sure to have my own workspace away from home as well. I would use this as a base for inspiration and production, as I tend to work much better when away from the many distractions of home. In my head, I picture my ideal work space to be a light-filled large converted warehouse room with high ceilings and tall windows that let in lots of light. It would be somewhere not too far from home, perhaps a ten minute walk, so I would have no excuse not to go, and maybe situated around the corner from a cafe, where I would grab myself a mid morning coffee. The walls would be a pure white, unadorned, and the floor would be either old and worn wood flooring, or polished concrete. I picture a desk set up in front of a window, with a nice large desktop computer, as well as plenty of writing materials. I would keep this desk as organised as my current desk is at home: everything would have its place. It would be here that I would write or create or build or work on something, at my own pace and in whatever direction I felt. I would have a large inspiration wall where I would pin anything that I found inspiring i.e. posters, prints, magazine clippings etc.

 

In the middle of the space would be a big old vintage work bench table, the ones that have thin long drawers underneath to put all your bits and pieces like stationary in. I would have stools set up around it, and I can imagine it being loaded with open coffee table books, magazines and all manner of bric a brac. I imagine myself spending time pouring over a new book I bought, or simply jotting down brainstorm notes.

Spread about the space would be studio lighting and equipment, and maybe some props as well, as I would hopefully be organising photo shoots when I could.

I would try to spend as many days as I could here with the intention of experimenting, exploring and producing anything that I was inspired from. I think that would be the sum of my days, working towards being inspired and prolific. But heck, the place could be sitting empty and unused for days on end if I felt like doing something else. I think that’s what I would want from my days: the luxury of freedom and abundant time.

Every month or maybe weekend I would aim to get away with my boyfriend, and we would do little trips and adventures. I see myself taking him on trips to the countryside and driving for hours on quiet roads and stopping in sleepy country hamlets and staying in quaint B and B’s. Perhaps every few months we would go away on longer trips further afield, and go places that we would never usually be able to.

My life would be one of contemplation, exploration, experimentation and joy. I’m lucky with life as it is to have some distilled and minute form of this life I picture. I’m able to have a small fraction of what I describe above, and I’m eternally grateful that I do.

If money were no issue in your life, what would your ideal day look like?

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2017, Gay, Gayblog, Thoughts

Why we still need Star Trek The Next Generation

Star Trek The Next Generation speaks to me now more than ever. And it should for you, too.

The image of the Starship Enterprise, so impossibly futuristic and symbolic of the great hopes of the future, flashing past at warp speed is something that has truly stuck with me for decades. In 1987, when this show was first aired, there was a sense that the future was going to be positive and optimistic, and that humanity would ascend to the stars and shake off our current limitations in society.

Since as a kid watching this show on my grandmas old cathode-ray humpbacked tv, in her kitschy and inescapably baroque home in Haberfield, I always yearned to live on the Starship Enterprise and to be counted as one of its team and to be a part of this world which promised so much for the future.

As much as the technology in the forms of improbable starships, phaser weapons or replicators that could produce any type of food one would want were alluring, it was really more the social concepts that have stood the test of time and left a mark on me since adolescence.

The future as I was growing up, held so much promise, and beckoned for me. I grew up in the 1990’s. It was a time of optimism, and the expectation that the future was going to be great, and a place almost within our reach. The Sydney Olympics were years away, in the then awe-inspiring year 2000. The future felt as though it was just over the hill, and it would be a bright, modern and vibrant place. We would live in a world of peace and  It was a place removed from my reality, but somewhere out there, almost able to be grasped, and that I felt it would slowly coalesce and appear. Star Trek The Next Generation came to embody what I believed in for the future. That humanity would surpass the need for greed, warfare and monetary gain. Poverty, rampant and exploitative capitalism and discrimination would be relegated to the past as barbaric.

The Federation in Star Trek came to symbolise for me all the things I had hope for the future of humanity. Things like the common good. Working together to achieve greatness. Humanity being able to overcome greed, avarice and selfishness. To see beyond our own prejudices and own selfish needs, and to want to succeed and prosper by bettering ourselves for society, not for material gain or the attainment of status or authority, but solely for the sake of it. The societal norm and status quo is to want to improve yourself, which thus would improve the world around you. This very ideal of enlightened egalitarianism, and the ‘good’ of humanity evolving to become enlightened beings that had no need for trifles, status or even money would be the baseline and the bedrock of the future society that Star Trek the Next Generation would portray. And it was something that left a mark on me to this day.

It was a message that was intoxicating and full of ideals and optimism. This was a tv show that gave me a glimpse into a world, or rather an entire galaxy of possibilities and potential for all of us to become or achieve whatever we wanted in life. A true meritocracy. And, in hindsight, a society built upon the very ideals of what we would identify as, yes, Socialism: working together for collective prosperity, and the obsolescence of private ownership and the need to attain status as well as the concept of rugged individualism. Money simply no longer existed, as due to the rise of technology and limitless energy, material goods inherently lost any value. A post-scarcity society. It helped form my politic, in which I fervently believe humanity can and must surpass the limitations of capitalism and scarcity, and we can only do this with the application of technology, working together as equals and the willingness to understand that our world is finite, and not simply a resource to be wasted.

I fast fell in love with this program. I loved the characters, I loved the ship itself, and the general ‘look’ of the show. Bright spandex uniforms and all. It let me escape my world which I didn’t really want to inhabit as a child. This show helped my imagination grow and become verdant with endless possibilities; it took me away from the mundane simpleness of suburban and familial life… I was enamored with so many aspects of this show growing up. The characters, in the for their time outlandish yet smart-looking crisp uniforms. Even the way the Starship Enterprise looked, with its updated [again, for the time] interiors, replete with pastel coloured bulkheads, indoor plants abound in living spaces and hallways, and a bridge that resembled more a Hilton hotel lobby than a military ship would ever. I loved this idea that the interiors resembled more a luxury hotel than a naval vessel, as it showed that form is just as vital as function, and that technology had reached a point where design and form were as equally important as function and utility. Hell, there was even a Counselor on board, a telepathic one at that, which speaks volumes of the era this show was produced in. Only A Trek show produced in the 1980’s would ever perceive there being a need for a counselor on board a starship, nonetheless give her a seat next to the Captain himself.

It was this idea that the Enterprise was more than just a military vessel that attracted me. It was for all intents and purposes a small city in space. I loved the fact that there were families with children on board the ship. I remember wishing I was one of them.

I feel that now, more than ever, we need programs like this. Adolescents especially need to be shown that humanity can indeed be a force for good. Like I was, at a younger age. Not to mention the fact that the future can be and hopefully will be a place and time of enlightenment, advancement and egalitarianism.  As much as I love a good dystopic tv series or film, I feel that we as a society need to understand that we can achieve fantastic and miraculous things, that the future can indeed be a bright place, and doesn’t have to be analogous to the acid-rain strewn, dark noir neon-lit world of Blade Runner. Not every character has to be filled with contempt for the world, jaded and bitter or worse yet have ulterior motives that will ultimately harm others.

EDIT: Since writing this post, NASA has revealed that a star system 40 light years to our solar system has been discovered, with 7 possible life-harbouring planets in this single system. This shows just why we need to have programs and literature and narratives like Star Trek, as we as humans thrive on discovery, exploration and ultimately, trying to understand our universe.

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2015, Life, Opinion, Sydney, Thoughts

The Secret Life Of My Parents

 

Last year I had a mission put forward to me by my boyfriend, who wanted pictures of me as a kid and teenager for a slideshow for my thirtieth birthday back in February 2014. He wanted me to go get as many images of me as I could find.

Which of course proved to be somewhat difficult, as I’m part of a family where the term ‘family’ is a basic and somewhat ill-defined construct to describe what we are. I love my sister and parents, but a more loose-knit, independent ‘family’ couldn’t be found anywhere. It’s almost like we all just got lumped together by fate. Maybe it’s because my parents divorced in my early 20’s and before that were constantly feuding; maybe it’s because we all ended up becoming such fiercely independent people who had less and less need for close familial relationships. I’m not sure.

So in the end, nary a picture of me was to be found anywhere. It seems like the era before Facebook and smartphones has become some new ersatz pre-historic epoch without pictures, as a single image of me from the ages of 2 to 16 proved to be quite elusive to track down. Add to the fact that my mum left our family home when my parents divorced with essentially whatever she could carry, as well as the fact that my dad is quite possibly the messiest, chaotic and unorganised fellow I know means that there is a giant gaping maw of a black hole that’s swallowed any and all visual representation of us as a family. I look to my boyfriends family with pangs of jealousy and envy, as they have recorded so much of their lives together. Pictures inhabit dozens of photo albums, shoeboxes and tidy frames upon lintels or walls. Videos of recorded adventures and family gatherings lay neatly stacked in drawers and shelves. They love nothing more than taking pictures of each other, recording holidays and special events and sharing their lives. Why was my family so different, and so riven by secrecy, distance and division?

D-Day arrived as I took the train from Urbane Inner-City Redfern to Mundane Suburban Rhodes, a little slither of a suburb on a peninsula on the very edge of Sydney’s Inner West. This is the almost Stepfordish pleasant suburb where I spent my formative teenage years and early twenties, back in the golden heyday of the late nineties and early noughties. I stepped off the train, to the much improved train station compared to those heady days, walked up the quiet road, and through the forlorn looking iron gates of my dad’s large unkempt and rambling home, and dove right into the back ‘shed’, which resembles more a Italianiate granny flat in the back yard than an actual shed. What can I say, the Tuscan look was big in the late nineties. There I found photo album after photo album squirrelled away in this shed, the interior of which resembled a possible future archeological dig. Cobwebs, dust, dirt and a general patina of age clung to every single thing. EVERY SINGLE THING. It was like a macro version of a time capsule. Here were the remnants of my former life as part of a Nuclear Family. The leftovers and artefacts of a different time. It’s interesting how in life some of us have these distinct phases and eras, yet others have a long and continual link to the past. It was like a bomb had scattered us all into oblivion, leaving behind the detritus and remains of what once was: familial bonds, stability, a once positive vision of the future. All turned to junk and miasma.

I spent some time trawling through this wreckage, scouring the Mount Everest-sized mountains of junk to find every shred of visual records my family had. I repaired back to the house’s expansive lounge room, dumped the albums on the ridiculously ornate mahogany dining table that my dad insisted on buying when I was a kid and took a little sojourn into the past.

What I found in short is that my parents had a secret life. Like me they were once young. Like me they went on trips, went out, had jobs and careers, and generally had adventures. I feel like my dad especially led this elusively cool life before my sister and I came along. It felt like the images I discovered had become a portal that is indecipherably impossible to open and peer through, and the only way to have a peek is through the broken shards in the shape of the photographs, dockets, old airline tickets from now defunct airlines and general miscellanea that this guy kept.

I found pictures of my dad in what had to have been Papua New Guinea in the 1970’s where he worked in the copper mines. Pictures of him in London in 1969 with a cinema behind him, signs promoting ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ helping create a zeitgeist of an image. Kids with shaggy hair, thongs and wearing bell-bottom jeans smoking cigarettes on the step of an old corner shop in what had to have been the now otherworldy Sydney of the 1970’s. Pictures of my dad’s friends in Papua swimming and enjoying themselves on the beach; a pre ‘globalised’, much simpler skyline of Sydney with no Centrepoint Tower or few skyscrapers in sight. My mum in a full beehive do and gorgeously retro white mini-shift dress at her first job at a pharmacist where my parents first met. Was that the first day they met? I’ll never know.

In the vantage point of what I always thought of as ‘The Future’, [being anytime after the year 2000], the past and almost secret lives of my parents are akin to a Tolkien-like history steeped in a localised mythology abound in stories, parables and tales. That old film ‘Big Fish’ with Ewan McGregor springs to mind, as like Ewan McGregor’s character, my dad always had these grand tales that stuck in my mind. Always colourful and vivid, these tales were a part of my childhood, and my sister and I would always want to hear more. He had so many stories and fables to share with us about his life as well as his family, and a mythology grew up around these stories, much like in Big Fish.

Some stories that spring to my mind include the time when he was in the Italian Army as a Paratrooper, and once almost died when he jumped out of the plane on training exercises, only to land in a swamp outside Naples, to which a Neaopolitan fisherman just happened by and found him.

The story about him as a kid being bundled off to a rather third-rate church-run Summer Camp, only to have one pair of underwear and set of clothes the whole time due to his family being so miserably poor.

Or the story about how my grandmother used to have to hide relatives who were members of the Communist underground in her house from the Germans during World War 2.

The stories about his adventures in Papua New Guinea and Bouganville, where he worked as a young lad in the copper mines. Recounting this he would conjure up images of a younger moustachio’d shag-haired version of himself in PNG on the run from native tribes because he mistranslated a word wrongly in Pigin, or about life in Port Moresby.

Or the stories about his early days after arriving in Sydney in the early 1970’s, and how the place was so very different to what it would become. An instant classic is his tale about him having just arrived, [replete with his uber-mod Italian sensibilities and wardrobe], and literally being picked up off the street by two Australian girls who saw this young guy on the street when they were driving past and decided to simply get him in their car for God knows what.

He always left this lasting impression to us about the past being a colourful, vibrant place of nostalgia and naive innocence, as well as the ills and woes of life for an Italian in early 1970’s Australia. I’ll go meet dad out and his friends at a cafe and share espresso after espresso and listen to them recount stories of life in the early 1970’s, and how easy and great it was back then. One of them recently stated with a gleam in his eye that life was good and simple back then. There is so much nostalgia and romanticism bound in these stories of past times. These stories and pictures tie in with that ‘Australia-that-once-was’, as I call it; an almost mythical place inhabited by larger than life people, led by larger-than-life politicians [Gough Whitlam for one], a world filled with corner shops selling ice blocks and cigarettes to kids on a searingly hot Summer day where the roads would literally melt in the sun, a world with pubs filled with larrikins at every corner, of the sun beating down on the empty streets in Summer heat and no-where to escape. A place where these kind of adventures occur. A city and country on the tipping point of great change seeps through the fibres of these pictures that I found, as well as for my part a strange sense of longing and loss. All these images and stories transport me to those places in another time and place for a split second. A part of me is melancholic for not being a part of that world, or for experiencing life as it was then, tasting the food, speaking to the people, being out in the sun. I wish I could have met my parents back then, to see the people they were, and the lives they led.

Dad has made it that way, with his recounting of that time and place being akin to another world. A world that somehow exists at right-angles to the one we live in now, only visible in a few places for a fraction of a fraction of a moment. I wish I could step into these pictures and immerse myself into this past world which I feel still exists.

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2015, Gay, Gayblog, Life, Opinion

Colourless People.

 

Do you find that sometimes people you may have known for an extended period of time as friends or acquaintances change, or ‘fade away’? In which their vitality seeps away and they become something lesser. A poor grainy photocopy of an artistic masterpiece. This sounds of horrible but I find that some people I have known have lost what makes them special. Sometimes, I even feel this can be me losing that thing that makes me who I am.

What I mean by the term ‘Fade Away’ is similar to the concept of losing one’s moxie or ‘mojo’, that indefinable thing which is an individual’s essence of vitality. Some I find have more colour than others. Some are a vibrant Technicolor rainbow, full of life, quirks and oddities which make them peculiarly special. This could be anything. A wicked sense of humour. A cackling laugh. A killer wardrobe or sense of style. Supreme intellectualism or intelligence. I get along well with those that have a defining characteristic, whereas others are faded, washed out and drab, or entirely a scrubby black and white. It’s hard for me to describe this, but it’s a phenomenon that I’ve witnessed, as well as something that I at times notice in myself. I always need to be, or try to have some form of colour in my life; whether it be through friends, family, loved ones or anything I do.

I recently read a book by one of my favourite authors, the well-known, regarded and renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami. His body of work is impressive, his stories and characters mix the mundane with the otherworldly and surreal. If you’re into fiction please give his stories a go. They’re thought provoking, yet understated and subtle. Many people find his books difficult to read as he really does capture what makes a life, life: those moments and empty spaces in time that we all inhabit or travel through, from one point to the other. Maybe it’s waiting in an office for an appointment for a doctor or job interview, reading a magazine to pass the time. Maybe it’s lying on your bed waiting until a friend calls to let you know they’ve arrived downstairs. Perhaps it’s a day off spent doing the household chores alone on a cool cloudy day. Or in front of your computer struggling to write a short blog post or continue a personal project. It’s these moments that Marukami captures in such a pristine and effortlessly real way. This is what life is. Lots of introspection, transience and moments in flux. With large dollops of life changing drama in between. Murakami’s stories always begin in a similar manner: a slightly dysfunctional [most of the time] male character most likely in his early thirties doing something completely domestic: looking for a lost cat, going shopping, preparing a simple yet inevitably healthy meal or travelling on a train. The hook is always that something unexplainable occurs. It could be a girlfriend disappearing without a reason. Or the character walks around a corner and realises they are no longer inhabiting the same world they were a moment before. I don’t want to give too much away, as I love reading his books and want whoever reads this to discover his stories for themselves.

His latest book, named ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki’ runs in a similar vein, with a dichotomy and mix of the use of simple narratives of the mundane and intrinsically average aspects of life enmeshed with the theme of unexplained and inexplicable change or loss. In this case we have the self-conscious [and in his own mind], dull and uninteresting Tsukuru, a 30 something run of the mill man who lives in Tokyo and works as a Railway station engineer. He was once close friends with a group of friends, two boys and two girls who went to the same high school. They would say that they formed a hand, as there were five of them all up. Each member a finger. Tsukuru’s friends names all featured a colour, as of course Japanese is a highly descriptive language. All of them except Tsukuru, whose name doesn’t feature a colour at all. Hence he began to create a self-constructed idea of himself as ‘colourless’ or being without a defining characteristic, and apart from his friends. He was the thumb of the group.

One day his friends unfathomably stop talking to him, and no longer have any contact with him. Tsukuru is simply cut-off and is given no further explanation as to why his friends stop the friendship, and subsequently moves away to Tokyo where he loses himself in study, depression and anxiety. Consumed  evermore with the thought of being ‘colourless’, he exists in a narrow and limited world, and is left pondering as to why his once close friends simply and without reason let him go. So one day, a decade and a half later, spurred on by and with the aid of the woman he is now dating, Tsukuru begins a quest to find his old friends. What he finds besides uncovering the truth piece by piece is that his friends have all somehow changed, and ‘lost their colour’. What made them stand-outs and unique has been lost, only to find them lifelessly humdrum and routine. Hopes, dreams and ambitions have morphed into banalities. Dynamism transformed into listlessness. That special something has been irrevocably sent adrift into the ether, only to be replaced by a greyness.

I feel that this scenario has happened in my own life, both with others and myself. The person I was ten years ago, like Tsukuru, was colourless and grey. He went to uni, lived in a small, plain yet tidy apartment with a friend, smoked toomany cigarettes, worked in his uncle and aunty’s restaurant to pay the bills, and played Playstation. That is the short and long of my life back then. It was a very claustrophobic and limited existence, with no aims besides going to lectures and to work. The version of me back then thought about life far too much, was introspective to the point of isolation yet had some good friends, and was completely abstinent for years. There was even a point where he subsisted on McDonald’s alone for months. Which quite literally turned him yellow.

All of this was because of me going through a period of severe clinical depression, as well as not being out and open to friends or family, which created a very stunted and self-deprecating insecure young adult. As years went by, I grew into myself, and gained more ‘colour’ if you will. I’ve met many people in my life who I feel have either had a similar change, or the reverse. Some friends or acquaintances have unexplainably lost that special spark or colour in their lives and simply become colourless driftwood. You can sometimes see it in someone’s eyes, or the way one dresses. Maybe they once would dress outrageously or had cutting wit, yet turn into a more subdued individual. Did they grow up? Has life beaten them down to the point of defeat? Others have slowly gained colour. It’s either me who may be viewing them with fresh eyes, or simply them getting their groove back. How does this happen? Is there really an undefinable pattern of ‘fading away’ that occurs as we get older, or simply the banalities of life taking a toll on us?

I don’t feel that this is an age-related occurrence. I feel that some people have nothing that defines them. A friend of my boyfriend’s had a theory on this, that zombies in fact exist in this world, yet not how we know them on TV and in films. Instead of being the familiarly mindless undead that walk around slowly and aimlessly, they are mindlessly alive and live life aimlessly. The ones who simply work to pay the bills, sit in front of the TV or computer after work, eat bad food, never leave their comfort zones and have nothing that define their existences.  I am afraid of this person, and I’m afraid of being this person now or in the future. I agree with my boyfriend’s friend’s sentiment that zombies do indeed exist. They are colourless and have no life essence to them. Like in Murakami’s book, they are colourless. It’s my aim in life to never be ‘Grey’, and to always have colour in my life. If it is through friendships, relationships, career or even hobbies and pastimes, it’s important for me to be colourful.

It should be for you, too.

 

 

 

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The Death Of Star Wars

 

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far Far Away…

 

I don’t think any other phrase has given me quite so many goosebumps in my life, or made my eyes widen with excitement. Yes. I’m talking about the venerable scrawling opening text to Star Wars, something of which I’ve always been really fond of. I can’t explain what it was that first got me sucked in to the world of Star Wars as a young kid growing up in my Grandma’s place in the heart of the Inner West’s Italian community, Haberfield.

 

Maybe because it presented a world of amazement to my 8-year-old eyes and ears; or more correctly, an entire spangled-galaxy full of triangular Star Destroyers, X-Wings, and an insane plethora of alien characters that inhabited this galaxy. Whereas the reality for me was that I lived in my Grandma’s house and shared her cavernous, ornate-wood filled bedroom, as unfortunately my bunk bed wouldn’t fit anywhere else.

It was the chance of escape from this rather banal world of seemingly ancient furniture from another time, old technology where nothing ever seemed to work, and not having many friends as I was innately embarrassed of anyone knowing I lived in my Grandma’s house, let alone her in her bedroom. Maybe living in this place that was so steeped in the past, forever and irreversibly so, that initially bent my interests toward something like Star Wars. Some kids take to sports with alacrity and gusto. Others might be inherently academic, and able to throw themselves at an early age into bookish pursuits. I remember playing X-Wings V Tie Fighters at school. I was somewhere in the middle, inhabiting a small hazy and foggy land where yes, I loved to read, but nothing academic.

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I lived in a room very similar to this. For FIVE YEARS.

 

Like a lot of people, I still recall the first time I watched Star Wars. I’m pretty sure it was in my parent’s cramped and warm bedroom which was made all the more so by my mum’s choice pine and wicker bedroom furniture from the1980’s. It was a Summery weekend night, and the whole extended family was over for dinner. I remember my older, slightly bully-ish yet at other times congenial cousin watching with me, all decked out in his awe-inspiring Reebok Pumps. This whole time of the early 90’s when I was growing up was an era of things being past their use. Of obsolescence and malaise. I felt like I was growing up in a place where capital-M Modernity had no place.

 

I was always frequenting my cousin’s home, a stately Uber-Modern abode at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet, serene suburb nearby.

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Pretty much what it was like being at my cousin’s place.

 

This home was the picture of the ‘new’, innovative for the time, and yes slightly futuristic for my young fresh eyes. They had touch sensitive light switches, for God’s sake. Skylights in the ceiling. Everything was a brilliantly stark white. Cable tv was in every bedroom and in the lounge room, which shockingly shared an open room with the kitchen. A giant TV in the lounge room, and the holy sanctity of both a Super Nintendo AND a Sega Master System in my cousin’s bedroom. Another stroke of Modern Living. It was a paradise for a slightly undernourished [due to a picky appetite] smallish child that lived in the almost opposing state.

 

My Grandma’s place meanwhile was a museum of relics of a faded past; echoes of what had gone before were evident everywhere and anywhere you looked. Paintings on the walls were all of stodgy old charmless and at times disturbing landscapes. I still remember an old print, which featured a castle on a barren hill, above dark forests and with a violently ominous twilit sky. Like a setting from Game of Thrones in hindsight. Baffling nick-naks lived on every surface. A never-used formal dining table set with chairs and credenzas all made of the heaviest, bulkiest and darkest wood you can imagine possible inhabited the largest, choicest light-filled room in the house. I now find the irony how the best room was never used. The tiles on the floor were all of a sickly orange, and the leather couches the same hue. Any room that featured the luxury of carpet, inevitably also featured strips of either plastic or off cuts of yet more carpet which you used as pathways, lest you deviate and my Grandma promptly yells at you. I used to pretend that the floor was lava.

I felt like the whole place was the ‘before’, the remnants of a different time clinging desperately to the present. The only sanctuary for myself was the large backyard, which featured former vegie gardens and water channels, which promptly became imaginary fantasy lands inhabited by tiny beings. The garage, my dad’s last refuge for his mechanical tinkering became yet another world, this time one of and underworld of strange machines. As much as I look back now at how not ok it was for a kid to live in such a place or share a bedroom with a grandparent [cue Charlie and the Chocolate Factory], I do have to say this world kick-started my imagination, and became the verdant ground upon which my mind grew like fireweed.

 

Back to Star Wars. It started off as admiration; I still remember that warm hazy night and being awed into submission by looming wedge-shaped spaceships and intense lightsaber battles. Everything else, little by little, fell to the wayside. Within a few short years I began to collect anything and everything Star Wars. My parents, of course, became worried. Star Wars, [and to a lesser extent, Star Trek], became a beacon of hope and the future for me. A promise of things to come, as well as representing the fantastical and outlandishly unreal that was lacking in my own limited world. Back then, however, there were only the three original films, and a couple b-grade Ewok movies which I will never mention again. The thing that really changed everything for me was when I picked up my first Star Wars novel.

 

I think it was 1995 and I was in sixth form at my school, which looking back was a very strict Irish Catholic all-boys school in Strathfield. I still remember my uniform consisting of schoolboy shorts, a shirt and tie, black leather school shoes, long socks and what I think now is adorably cute but hated back then: a dark blue cricketer’s style cap. I was with Mum on one of her after school trips to pay the bills, this time at the god-awful even back then Burwood Plaza shopping centre. Tucked away in a corner of the mezzanine in the shopping centre was a small Dymock’s book retailer. I can’t remember how many times I dragged my poor mum into this bookstore, only for her to have to buy God knows what for me. In this instance, I still remember the books that I was hunting for: Star Wars. I instantly was intrigued. The covers were glossy, colourful and had matte-paintings of my favourite characters, as well as mysterious new ones that I wasn’t aware of.

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The obsession begins.

 

The first Star Wars novel I picked up and read was Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire, which brought me in contact with a new galaxy teeming with new adventures, places and characters. Still regarded as the pinnacle of what became known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the three Timothy Zahn books became a gateway into a new and growing world. Set in the Star Wars galaxy five years after the Return Of The Jedi, Heir To The Empire brought new life to the movies as an expansion upon the vibrant Star Wars galaxy. Old characters returned: Leia and Han, now married, were expecting children. Luke, a mighty full-fledged Jedi Master, was on the quest to discover the lost legacy of the original Jedi Order. New characters who fit right into the Star Wars universe were introduced: first of all, a new villain in the guise of an alien genius Admiral who was always one step ahead of our familiar heroes, who has become a fan favourite. As well as a new anti-hero, Mara Jade, who plays the part of the Emperor’s former secret agent, now rogue, who comes into contact with Luke. Sparks, of course, ensue.

 

New locales were introduced, the foremost being Coruscant, the ‘New’ Republic’s capital: a world entirely covered in urban sprawl, a concept so successful that it in fact crossed over into canon and was portrayed in the prequels.

 

Heir To The Empire was just the tip of the iceberg. More and more books and comics were to follow, forming a deluge of new adventures, characters, spaceships and gadgets and at times yes some ridiculous plots. More and more superweapons appeared with more and more ridiculous names. Try this one for size: a giant ‘Battlemoon’ [sound familiar] disguised as an asteroid named ‘Eye Of Palpatine’.

 

Or how about a Hutt-designed and constructed stripped-down Death Star shaped like a Lightsaber appropriately named ‘Darksaber’?

Then there was also the small one-man spaceship that could destroy entire star systems with the wildly cliché name ‘Sun Crusher’.

 

While the plots and devices became more and more extravagant, cliché, and over the top, all of this began to create a new and expanded universe that was built upon the foundations of the original films. It became a place where myself and I’m sure many other awkward geeky kids inhabited. I played the video games, read the books and re-watched movie after movie. Leia and Han had kids, Luke married the aforementioned Mara Jade. Many an Imperial tried over and over to take over the galaxy only to fail, including obligatory hot female Imperials like Admiral Daala and Ysanne Isard, two woeful examples of old men writing female character and having no idea how to go about it.  My parents continued to be troubled, until the day a teacher of mine told them to allay their fears, as she had trouble even getting kids in her classes to pick up a book.

 

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LUKE AND MARA 4 EVAS BFFS 4 LIFE

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Imperial Hottie Admiral Daala

 

Fast forward a decade and a half on, with yet waves more stories and adventures, not to mention a new trilogy and three cartoon TV series, and we get to today. Star Wars has been bought as a whole franchise by Disney, who are set to roll out a new trilogy set AFTER the original. Which means that all the stories that I have read will be essentially ‘taped over’ by the new movies. All the characters that were brought to life will simply vanish. This is such huge news for me, as this also entails that the universe that has been nurtured and created by so many people will essentially go up in smoke. I know that they’re just stories but to me they represented so much more than that. The ridiculousness of plots, the terrible writing and obvious character building all became redundant as it was about the world within the pages that I was interested in.

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Imperial Hottie Number 2: Ysanne Isard

 

For me I guess its just one of those things that separates your childhood and adolescence, to adulthood. I still love and adore the world of Star Wars, and I’m so completely stoked for the next film to come out [only 389 days left!], yet a part of me will always feel sad as the proverbial door is shut to this imaginary yet so real place. I’m reminded of CS Lewis’ setting of Narnia, wherein only young minds can wander from our world into Narnia, and once they’ve all grown up, Narnia is nothing but a whisper on the wind. The Star Wars I knew and loved and grew up with has died, and a piece of my childhood has gone with it.

 

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