Clouds In The Head


Pillowbook Of Yoga
6 May, 2015, 11:14 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hi, loopholes. I’ve started a new blog. It’s of the occasional or sporadic sort, until I get groovin with it and know what I’m doin with it (probably gettin jiggy widdit). It’s about yoga, the everyday experience thereof. And it’s here: https://pillowbookofyoga.wordpress.com

Please follow or ignore, as is your wilt.



Small Chance Of Heaven?
8 January, 2015, 3:38 pm
Filed under: Nobody Loves A Thinker

This morning, on our holiday on the beaches east of Taree, I decided to stroll away from my family for a minute. I found myself savouring the sensation of treading on the crunchy salt-encrusted sand above the waterline, stepping carefully between the large Manning River pebbles that “litter” the beaches round here. I moved to different sorts of sand and hurried back to the crunchy stuff, realising that all my life I’ve loved that particular quality of sand.

I’ve been going through one of my “I am mortal” phases and the thought struck me that one day I will never again experience the crunchy sand. When I was a child and a good Catholic lad, I was expecting that after death heaven would include all the wondrous stuff that I loved during my life. There’d be reunions, perfections, the ability to do the stuff that I was afraid of, etc etc.

I wondered this morning if perhaps it was time to revisit the religion thing. Any suggestions? I need a religion that will give me eternal life including the walking on crunchy sand. I’d like to see my folks again, and quite a few other people (my year 11-12 English teacher, for example). And perhaps a few decades down the track to hug my sons again.

Mormonism is vaguely interesting. At the End Of Days, the elect rise up after everyone else has gone off, to hell I guess, or compost, and walk the earth again: all of them and the earth too in their best shape. Also they have fantastic Magic Underpants.

Buddhism maybe, but it seems a pretty smoky religion, if religion at all, and more suited to life on earth now than to the everlasting kind. I won’t go back to Catholicism, and Islam is a little extreme for me at the moment and not feminist enough.

If I can’t find a good religion, preferably one that doesn’t include a God, I’ll go to plan B. This is where, on my deathbed, I imagine that after death I’m going to see eg the folks, the wife, eventually the kids again. Instead of succumbing to the pain I will look forward to the time a few days or hours hence when I’ll be stepping between pebbles in my bare feet on salty crunchy sand on a balmy summer’s day, the holy roar of waves just down the sand, and maybe there’ll be oysters and mum’s self-saucing chocolate pudding. Later I’ll go see Tom Waits or Betty Carter or even get up on stage myself. It’ll be heaven.



We re-live our initiation rituals
9 May, 2014, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Nobody Loves A Thinker

I was trying to watch the beginning of the horror film Scream last night. It didn’t help that we live in a house in the middle of nowhere with large panes of glass (sliding doors mostly) facing empty bush and field. I got quickly scared. I knew what was coming. I turned off.

And then I got to thinking why this clearly cleverly contrived script would appeal, even why it would be made.

I’m not sure what the leap of logic was but this was my ponderment: perhaps we relive our initiation rituals or experiences, perhaps we seek for their re-creation in our recreation and our creations and our ceremonial re-cremations. Perhaps all those kids who did the horror thing in their teens (I was too scared to) are then searching for the occasions and proofs of their manhood/womanhood/naughty risk-taking away from parents. Perhaps that’s why indigenous societies have such formalised initiations for their early teens, because the big, frightening, age-busting, ceiling-shattering journeys punched into their early teens then provide a deep structure for later behaviour. Lacan would probably think it was way too late but he was somewhat French.

There’s something halcyon about those teen buzzes. Our friends are never closer, our future never brighter, our despair never more cutting. We dream and daydream and jump off (metaphorical and real) cliffs. Nobel prize-winners tend to have had significant mentors when they’re about 14 years old.

The script I’ve been working on for many years, Rainbird, is kind of about this moment, but from the side of a potential mentor. There’s this young fellow. Someone at the cliff edge of adolescence. Will they jump, pull back, or discover there’s a rope attached and they can abseil down?

I guess what I’ve constructed in Rainbird is an initiation ritual for the kid in question, and hope in its gizzards, instead of violence and suicide.

Perhaps he needs to be cut. I should cut him, in my script. My hero, a grieving woman age 40, should be the one to cut him.

I won’t burrow deeper for now. I’m too busy thinking.



The existential uncertainty of being somewhere else
9 May, 2014, 2:29 pm
Filed under: travel versus unravel


Or – what we think we need to do when we travel.

We observe. We make notes. We are surprised. We detect difference. We wonder. We detect similarity.

Oh, look, that’s a good half dozen water buffalo in that paddy. 

They have crofton weed here, too. And that’s a mini-lantana, I wonder how weedy it gets here.

Wow, those women have been hanging round outside our hotel room hoping to sell us stuff for hours!

The locals don’t seem fazed by all that smoke in their houses. 

Does this land ever get a drought?

They like a drink, the men round here, just like us.

We share our thoughts. But we don’t quite know what to do with them. We don’t “travel by thesis” (well we do a bit, but not in an all-engulfing manner – see future blog post “Donna and the Shovel Women” for more info) in the way Marxists of yore once did, seeing everything through the lens of oppression and wage slavery.

We meet folks and compare. Oh, we have crofton weed at home, it’s very bad for horses. 

Khu

And then we take a photo. Here is our guide. Her name was Khu. She was delightful. We sent her a photo when we left. Her command of English was amazing. She was a fine guide through the rice fields of Sapa. She had a gorgeous way of saying “I have no idea”. 

We latch onto ideas, hungry for them, seeking perhaps to legitimise our trip or to find some point of solidarity or something to “take home” to the people when we return. They’re so inspiringly energised: we can learn a thing or two from them.

And then we learn that cocktails are cheap, wine is expensive and suddenly the whole holiday begins to develop its own character and our discoveries, thoughts, notes, differences and similarities can be explored again over an easy daiquiri before bed and the next day’s discoveries can begin.



Landing
28 April, 2014, 7:21 pm
Filed under: travel versus unravel

Landing means not only arriving back, and dealing with the shards of consciousness still intact after trying to sleep in Economy.

It means beginning to develop the narrative of the trip. Those Vietnamese are so energetic, enterprising, much like us, different, hectic, friendly. The boys liked a lot of it but they didn’t appreciate the extensive hours bussing and training between destinations. Yes we’re broke, I know it’s cheap there but it turns out we have champagne tastes. You must go there, it’s amazing, you’d love it!

It means making our home livable again. There’s a chook sitting on 17 eggs – should we hatch them? OMG Mary and Graeme are booked in for a visit – on Tuesday! The grass is very long; I wonder if there’s enough petrol to mow. It’s late autumn – we need to chop firewood. Hey, look at all the ants’ nests in the pavers. I guess I have to throw out 5 shirts to fit the 5 I had made. I didn’t realise it’d be Anzac Day – no milk till tomorrow lads!

It means work again. Fuck me dead I’m booked in to teach the TAE next Saturday! I have to teach yoga and I never got round to doing yoga on the trip, I hope my body remembers. I have 16 sets of chords to learn before our next gig. Do we have to go back to school? I don’t wanna go to work I wanna be back in the Naaaaaaaam!

It means all those post-trip activities, like sorting photos and writing up the diary and chucking out leaflets. Hey all our cameras were set to different times, we have 5000 photos, the younger boy doesn’t want to cull ANY of his comic selfies, this is going to take FOREVER. Oh no I just knocked a glass of water over my hand-written diary. Are you sure we don’t need this leaflet about orthognathic surgery, darling? 

It means trying to cling on to the memories and feelings, by telling the story, tidying up the house, sorting the photos, and not letting work take complete control. Another weasel coffee, dear? Hey, boys, remember all those frozen jellyfish creatures in the limestone at Phong Nha? You know what Dungog needs – a backpackers! Oh, in Vietnam they’d say Xin Chao. Hey, everybody, let’s have a slide-show. 

But a slide show will require a million hours of sorting. Well let’s get on with it, then, eh. 



Rice
10 April, 2014, 1:18 am
Filed under: travel versus unravel

The younger lad wanted to visit rice fields. A restless overnight sleeper from Hanoi took us up to Lao Cai on the Chinese border, then a bus that climbed and climbed took us to Sapa. Built by the French in hilltribe territory, Sapa’s a tourist stop and there’s no shame in that. Tourists are hassled, followed, taunted, befriended, and cheerfully ridiculed by the Hmong, Dzau, Zay and other tribeswomen bent on selling their wares. The miracle they really have is not their gorgeous folky fabrics, including indigo textiles that have taken six months to dye and gloss,  but their rice paddies.

The hills of Sapa

Guided by Khu, our delightful Black Hmong guide, we entered the fields of … of what?

So many things about them, so much, observation, thought, surprise, photo opportunities, Hmong lady chatter.

But the thought came to me later that it was most like entering a vast artwork that straddled numerous art movements.

The fields form an installation, one that’s taken decades or centuries to construct, that you can wander through, that offers vistas and glimpses. A room you enter and are amazed by, only moréso and across great reaches. Sometimes the artist makes it rain on you, or feeds you, or breastfeeds her daughter and her friend’s son in front of you.

They are sublime like a Rothko, gradations of green, of brown, of reflected sky in the wet paddies. They are assemblages of digital Minecraft hill-shapes and there are so many of them curved and intricately interfolded that you could be forgiven for supposing they were planned by a crazy unstoppable exponent of Art Brut. They look fragile yet are solid. Each paddy from a distance seems robust yet you could break its bank if you trod the wrong way.

They offer optical illusions: each field is actually smaller than you think, and trekking to a path down below or way across thêre doésn’t take all that long at all.

Sapa fieldsAnd they are laden with punctums, to borrow Roland Barthes’ term to describe the off-kilter bit in a photo to which the eye wanders, the fragment that contradicts or scoffs at the subject. The TV showing a Vietnamese soap opera, the men building a house like a moment from Witness, the blast of bar noise, the wires and concrete paths. They are earthy yet heavenly.

I’m not trying to be flip about the places and the forceful visual impressions, just to explain what a rich aesthetic experience they smash you with.

Communing with the ladiesBike and clothes

And I do know that they are also massive engines for growing rice. According to Much Depends On Dinner, it’s the invention of the rice paddy that enabled Asia to grow its enormous populations. They are tended, cleansed, rebuilt. Forests are burnt and replaced by more and still more paddies. rising higher up the hillsides. Water buffaloes and cultivators and diggers and shovels and hoes and men and women and old people and kids and trucks construct them, on and on. And market gardens and corn crops and big concrete-floored houses sprout with the rice.

It’s dazzling.



Relentfully, the leader regrets the single day nature of the visit
30 March, 2014, 7:53 pm
Filed under: travel versus unravel

The place you don’t get to know

KL for only one day, and weary from the journey. We’re not going to be staying here. We’re moving on to Vietnam, our serious destination. No point:

– learning our way around

– visiting anywhere but the most obvious tourist stops

– getting more than a taste of the place

– learning the language.

But my smattering of Indonesian, a similar tongue, keeps coming back. And I’ve finally figured out where our hotel is and we’re leaving it tomorrow. And the tourist stops are either as predictable as shopping malls or as inaccessible as the Petronas Towers climb was because the Grand Prix crowd booked it out early this morning. And the place’s flavour includes street scenes crowded with men on busy corners where Donna, clearly a western woman, felt uncomfortable and hot and vulnerable.

I think we’ve learnt some important things, mostly about our own personalities: for we are buggered and in a foreign land so things will necessarily give. The 13 year old needs frequent refuellings and rests. Donna doesn’t like heat unless there’s frequent relief. The 15 year old remains cheerfully laid back but does act as the group’s emotional barometer: it’s only when he says, Dad, I think we should stop, in his barometric way, that I know it’s really time to stop. And I, the leader, the only one with the local currency, or the map, or the leadership skills to lead such a rudderless group, the decision-maker, the planner, the king, the one with the inadequate photocopies of Lonely Planet KL guide, possibly won’t be allowed to be in charge of the map any more. Thanks to me we keep going in circles.

[Note: this has been a pattern of travel with me since I was 30 and re-writing a guidebook to Estonia. Carol and Mark will recall our walk round Riga twice.]

And since I’m the only one I trust to lead, I guess I’m the one who has to proudly relent. I will do it. I will allow the 13-year-old to have the map, when we get to Hanoi. Donna says he’s the best choice because he will choose the minimum number of steps to any point, the exact opposite of my philosophy of cartography. The kids also say I have to slow down so Mum can keep up.

KL tower from the purple bus (we should have taken the green bus - both are lilac)photo by GOBC

Malaysian directions

Things aren’t that well signposted here. To get to the arrival lounge and baggage pick-up from your landed plane, you have to take a brief train ride. No one tells you that, even once you climb onto the train having exhausted all other options of finding your baggage. To climb the Petronas Towers, or even just to find out there are no more climbs available today, you have to get lost both inside and outside the shopping centre at least four times. Despite the numbers of tourists and the tourism economy that accompanies it, the country seems to barely notice its visitors once they’ve arrived.

Tell you what was great: the exterior of the Petronas Towers; the Textile Museum, the air conditioning once you manage to get to any; the lovely cab driver we met named Rodzi, the sudden change of weather as rain arrives with warm fresh winds and lightning outside the hotel right now.