When I was just nine years old, living in Wahroonga, Sydney, on the very edge of Kurringai National Park with my family, we had a Japanese gentleman visit us. He was a friend of my grandfather and had a little Yashica camera. He let me play with it. Then, seeing how enamoured I was with it, he declared before leaving that he wished to gift it to me. It was one of the best presents I ever got. It was not for this kind hearted gentleman to know but it was a kick off point for my artistic career. Ten years later I was majoring in photography at the National Art School.
Film was not cheap to process in those days and we were a family of modest means, so much of my shooting was imaginary. I may not have learnt much about shutter speed and aperture but I did become familiar with composition and subject matters. I learnt to look, to seek out what I thought would be worth capturing within my surroundings, environment. To begin to develop, take notice of, my natural inclinations. We are all different. We all see things differently, notice differently. The more we pay attention the more we notice patterns. And, too, over time, with practice and application, our taste becomes more refined. Art is one of those things that is self rewarding. You move up levels almost indiscernibly. So gradually, it’s not till some time has past and you can compare your recent work with older work that you see the changes.
I recall, too, the thrill of processing and printing my first roll of black and white film at art school. Removing the exposed film from it’s protective shell in the blackened booth then winding it on the spool in complete darkness was not easy - especially the first few times. But we did plenty of practice runs and the class encouraged each other. Once the film was processed with the right chemicals for the right times, it was hung in the drying cabinet. Then you would take it out and cut it into strips to insert into train track sheets - ready for a proof sheet. So, off to the dark room with it’s towering enlargers, it’s seductive red lighting and the noxious smells of developing and fixing liquids sloshing around in over sized trays. When the proof sheet is done and dried, you go back in and start making some prints. In those days we worked with 8”x10” Ilford paper - matte or gloss for the regular prints - and later, as we progressed, bigger sheets for more impact.
The class, a motley crew, would go out on excursions, all of us holding our humble, functional SLRs. It was the first year of the 80’s - so no one had anything fancy. Early Cannons, Pentaxes, Minoltas. The heavy click of a slow shutter. The sometimes stubborn, solidly built dials for aperture and focus. Everything was manual. Our teacher was just back from studying in New York on a Kokak scholarship. He was hyped and passionate, meticulous. A stark contrast from all the other teachers at art school who were laid back, tired, a little lazy. All of them were artists, trying to survive. Some has teaching skills, others just showed up. I didn’t care either way. I was happy to have found somewhere I belonged, after having tried and dropped out of two universities already. I didn’t want to hear someone stand up front of an echoey hall and pontificate. I did not want to see a textbook ever again. I hated them in high school and was not about to voluntarily stick my face in another one. Art school was loose and easy going. We were treated like adults, like young artists. Eccentricity, individuality were expected, encouraged. It was not somewhere for rote learning. We were there to learn primarily about ourselves. And to do that through expression; drawing, sculpting, photography, printmaking and painting. It was fucking heavenly, to be honest. I felt like I had hit the jackpot.
That wee boy, the one who was nine, the same fella who used to be bullied cause he was sweet and sensitive, a dreamer, the one who grew to dislike and feel alienated at school more and more as it got increasingly serious and competitive, authoritarian, well, he, now ten years on, found himself surrounded by others who witnessed and experienced the world a little differently. He found somewhere where the powers that be were not trying to channel him, whittle him, box him in, group him. He found somewhere he could relax, do his own thing, at his own pace, in a way of his own intuitive devising. Finally, finally, he could breathe again.
I'm reading Amy Schumer's autobiography at the moment. She's the sassy comedian who loves to shock with her foul mouthed tirades and assertions to do with sexuality. She has that common American quality of being brazen and un-checked which can so often go wrong but works well if it's backed up by authentic talent and dedicated self edit. In her case, it mostly works.
I wasn't sure what to expect but have been welcomely surprised by her honesty and the tale of her assiduous rising through the stand up ranks due to passion and a dedicated and focused work ethic, as well as plenty of tears and tear-me-down-and-I'll-get-right-back-up attitude.
There's some pretty funny stuff including a chapter titles "Letter to My Vagina" - which made me consider attempting a letter to my penis for fun and irreverence. But nah. It would serve no one.
One thing, though, that I was somewhat moved by and did bring up some memories and long lost feelings of my own were her chapters on her adolescence. I was reminded of what a trying time it is - how emotionally turgid and confusing it can be. Everything is new and a lot of intense and bewildering thoughts and feelings flood in out of nowhere and catch you unprepared. It's fair to say my years from 13 to sixteen were no walk in the park.
I had to put up with some violent bullying at school. I was a long haired, mellow dude - peace loving and kind spirited. But I could also be somewhat cheeky and somehow drawn to provoking ire in thick headed, mentally imbalanced older and larger students resulting in physical attacks on numerous occasions. This eventually subsided (once I started lifting weights - hmmm - a correlation?) but I did have to endure a good five years of it.
As well as that, I was frequently a target for imbalanced and sadistic teachers because I would not bow down to their unjust displays of authority heavy manipulation. Nice teachers - no problem. Assholes - problem. A few times it was like the classic prison guard vs prisoner scenario. I refused to bow down and paid for my stubbornness in various forms of legal abuse. Sadly, on the home front, too, I was misunderstood and unexpectedly troublesome to my parents who were relatively young and unprepared for my esoteric and eccentric behaviours. As the eldest of three boys my artistic temperament was vexatious and at times troubling to my parents resulting in miscommunication and detachment.
I'm happy to say that now, four decades later - it's all good. LOL. The rebellious, angsty kid has settled the fuck down. And, of course, can now appreciate how difficult it must have been at times to contend with such a mini maelstrom. (I love you Mum and Dad!)
But, yeah, all that. Done and dusted. So heightened at the time but then slowly surpassed and perhaps suppressed as new challenges presented themselves in my twenties - spiritual awakening, anorexia (what? yes. ahead of the curve!), an ill-fitting marriage, adultery, divorce... the usual stuff.
So why am I talking about myself? Oh, yeah, just happened. It's because of Amy Schumer. She got me remembering. Got me thinking about how tough those years can be for most of us. And yet we make it through. .... to a different kind of tough. Eventually, the edge gets taken off, you become somewhat of a veteran, a long game player, and find that you have somehow lived a fair chunk of life.
It's just one thing after another, really. You do your best - even if it's not technically your best. You do what you have to. It would make a hell of a reality show. So dense, so full of twists and turns, so.... relentless. And only you know the full extent of it. It's your show. Ta daaa! Surprised? Yeah, me, too. (shrugs).
I remember when I was in first class, just aged six, how much I loved playtime. Classes were OK but playtime was the best. It was the time when we, the little people, got to make up our own games and entertainment. It was a time of excitement, frenzied activity, pure joy. I was always the first one to run out and the last one to come back in. Confinement was not my friend.
It's amazing how seamlessly and naturally kids can concoct fun. It's inspirational. Verging on magic. In a way it is creativity in it's purest form. Something out of nothing that is fun and engaging for all involved. No judgement, no payments, no pre-existing rules. Activities are pulled out of the air and implemented, adapted instantly and constantly. Things take a from of their own and are realised within seconds. There is no time to stop and think, it's all input, reaction, input, reaction. In this respect, children are genius. They have no limits, no restrictions. They innately sense where the energy is and they go with it. Ego is minuscule. Like a flock of birds in flight, the group becomes one synchronised organism. And it's goal: maximum bliss.
I went to a The Bush School in an outer suburb of Sydney called Wahroonga. We lived on the edge of Kurringai National Park. Life was simple, outdoorsy. There was a TV in the house. It was a little one, black and white. To change the channel you clunked a hefty dial. My younger brothers and I were allowed to watch two shows in sequence, a couple of arvos a week; Gilligans Island and Get Smart. We would share a bowl of cheese Twisties, a pre-dinner treat. We would all be in bed, asleep, before eight. I observe my godsons growing up (10 and 13yrs) in this day and age and notice the discrepancy. Society has rushed ahead, terrifically quickly. I can almost say that when I was a kid we were still not quite at, but just past the starting line. I used to play with dirt and sticks, for heaven's sake! An iPad was not only inconceivable to me then, but to even the most forward thinking of technologists and inventors of the day. These days, six year olds commandeer them like experts.
Neither way, neither time is better. Things are just as they are. But I am glad or my humble, in-cluttered, un-complicated origins. It's like a mellow base line, underscoring my subsequent days.
At poker last week, I suddenly remembered an incident from my first year at Bush School that was quite influential in my psychological formation. As I mentioned, I was just crazy about play time. So much so that sometimes I could not even spare the time to use the bathroom. I wasn't willing to sacrifice even a minute. I truly relished the frenzied rush.
One particular day, I suddenly noticed that I urgently needed to do a wee. We were all sitting on the floor. I put up my hand and asked the teacher if I could go to the toilet. She asked told me I should've gone during the recess. I said sorry, but I really have to go now. She said no.
I remember the warm feeling flooding my pants. I had held on as long as possible. I burst out crying, too. Feelings of confusion, embarrassment, sadness, shame and anger swirled inside my tiny heart and head. I was lead out to somewhere, to change or whatever, I can't recall exactly. What I do remember is that from that day on for many weeks, maybe months even, I spent my entire play time standing at the old concrete urinal in the playground toilet block. Other kids would come and go, I'd say hi, have a chat. No one noticed that I was there the whole time. It was overkill, over compensation. But I really didn't want to repeat the episode. That fucking cunt of a teacher, in her selfish power play, screwed with my little mind. She pushed me into one of my first psychological reactionary processes. She was entrusted with my care and her stupid, sadistic behavior scarred me. She was the authority and she taught me how cruel authorities can be. I would be vigilant from that day on. My trust in adults was shattered.
It wasn't my only encounter with bullies, though. Not long after a kid called Stuart Hall took offense to my Vegemite sandwiches. I hate Vegemite! He announced in his Pommy accent. I was sitting with the gang, of which he was the strongest. There were about four or five of us, including good natured ginga, Steven Clements and easy-going, chubby Josh Harris. Stuart insisted I put my sandwich away or leave the area. I refused. He started kicking me in the shins. I wouldn't budge. Eventually, I couldn't take the pain - he had boots on - so, I walked away, teary. But I was back the next day to suffer again, and the one after that. After a few more days, he gave up. My mini Gandhi-esque passive resistance persevered!
A funny thing happened during one of my toilet camp outs. Steven Clements came in and decided to break the record for peeing the highest. The goal was to get it above the top line, which was about shoulder height. His intention was to shatter that. He had a full bladder and went for it. There were a few other witnesses. He leant back and back, further and further. His arcing piss stream going higher and higher. To the line. Above it but a foot, two, three.... He kept going, his back arching further, head tilted back in revery. Until finally, inevitably, his pee stream went all the way to one eighty degrees - then beyond! There was a scream of terror from Steven. It was garbled. The urine was landing on his face! It went in his eyes and his mouth. It was a comedic tragedy. Taking place in the most unusual of theatres. One in which I had a permanent front seat. It became a legendary event, one that last years. Good natured Steven was the least disturbed about it all, once he had recovered from the initial shock. He enjoyed the absurdity of it all and the infamy. Sure kids took the piss. But not like he himself could take the piss! No, he was the undisputed champion.
For me reading is an integral part of my existence. I find the actual process of reading - rushing across letter, bouncing from word to word, sucking them in with your eyes, letting them swirl around in your brain and amplify into meaningful sentences, paragraphs... concepts. Munching on delicious combinations of adjectives and nouns, inventive, rhythmic phrase clusters that titillate and delight the cerebral neurons like cheeky pixies.
I began really loving reading around the age of ten or eleven - comics were a big part of it, of course, but also magazines like Time and Newsweek and books. The Hardy Boys series was a huge favourite. Those cliffhanger chapter endings! My love for books really kicked into high gear around the age of fourteen when I started reading adult fiction in paperback form. I would buy them second hand from a local second hand bookshop in Tokyo. The shop was filled with Japanese books, of course, but there were about three or four shelves of titles in English. I chose very carefully. To buy a book and not be able to read it, legitimately enjoy it was something I only did once or twice. I hated to think of the title I had missed or excluded that would have perhaps opened a new world. So, I ended up spending one, two hours in the shop sometimes, before deciding on my purchase. As a discipline, and because I wasn't very cashed up, just one at a time. Unless there were two amazing ones, guarenteed reads that I didn't want to miss out on.
It was a thrill to be able to read 'adult' fiction - whatever I wanted from a young age. It helped me mature, formulate my world view, learn things about the world and it's inhabitants. Authors like John Fowles, Alistar Mclean, Woody Allen and on, that guy who wrote The Joy of Sex, all contributed to my development.
I was known around school for always having at least one, if not two, paperbacks in my blazer side pockets. The commute to and from school was close to an hour - three train lines, two switches - which was two hours a day of extra reading time, thanks very much. There's no question I learnt more from reading books of my own selection than I did from set scholastic studies. It's possible, likely even, that my respect for and love of writing stemmed from my reading passion.
It's a habit that continues today. I always have one book on the go that I will read from cover to cover over a week or two period. Then there are the 'circlers', two or three that I pop in and out of. As well, there are the 'chancers'; ones that deserve a chance - a chapter, 20 pages - if they keep my interested I keep going with them.
These day fiction writing mostly doesn't cut it for me. I visit the library several times a week - generally gravitating towards the art books, of course, but then the auto biographies. Mountain climbers, creatives, criminals, soldiers, inventors... a good yarn told in the first person - particularly one that is honest and illuminating - is satisfying and often inspiring in some way, insight into the headspace of a person who has done something extraordinary.
So, yeah, to me books are beautiful things. Powerful, mysterious, full of promise - teachers of the best kind; they lay it out there for you to discover for yourself. No pushing. No hard sell. A simple invitation... come along for a few steps... if you are compelled to continue, well, let's take the journey together. At completion you will be a slightly different person. You will have evolved.
As I have mentioned before in these posts, I grew up reading copious amounts of comics in the 70's. My brothers and I sought them out and collected them - reading every imaginable title from the DCs and Marvels to the obscure scary comics, war comics and romance comics.
Sometimes, if I had read every available comic, I would take to reading the letter pages (not that interesting) or other bits and pieces of text - the small print at the bottom of page one for example - or some kind of short story thing - never that interesting, really. Just to pass the time. But if I was passing the time, one way I really enjoyed was gazing at advertisements for posters, stickers or patches - like the one above.
The tiny artworks were like portals. Each had a message and a sentiment. Spoke of an ideology. Stood for a cause. Symbolised an attitude. I was a kid, I was forming my identity. Solidifying my beliefs. Anything was possible and although I couldn't click on these icons and open them up with a computer, I could with my mind.
When I stumbled across this page on the net this morning, it brought back all kinds of memories. Just like you would learn every song on a favourite album, I recognised ever patch from this advertisement. I had stared at it and studied it so many hundreds of times - selecting my favourites and choosing my top five, top ten, etc. A few times I even thought of sending in for them - but we lived in Tokyo and it seemed too difficult. I did have a favourite jacket at around the age of thirteen that was adorned with some of the patches above and others - most memorably the peace sign and smiley.
There are quite a few good ones out of the thirty six pictured. And they have stood up well with the test of time. Very much a sixties/seventies vibe - but, hey, those were the decades that formed me.
Peace, love, ecology, equality.... all my bag. I grew up listening (over and over) to Sgt Peppers (from the age of six or seven) as well as Cat Stevens, Joan Baez and The Mammas and the Pappas. I revered the peace symbol. I believed in love - loving everyone. I believed in humanity and goodness and compassion. My vision for the world was aligned with the hippies and the revolutionists of the time.
Sadly, it didn't come about. In fact, in many ways the planet is in much, much worse shape now than it was then. At least there was simplicity then. And integrity. The shinning glow and warmth of the candle lit by activists and creatives of the time was not bright enough to illuminate the majority towards enlightenment. Cut to: today's world. Hmmm...
Peace? Love? Soul? More like... Money. Power. Glory.
Being young, too, and impressionable and with a big imagination - I created a vision of a future full of all the good stuff. I had absolutely no idea of the adult world, really, but I believed that surely, people would want to encourage harmony and justice and strive for unity and compassion.
In some ways, I am extremely disappointed. But I can't complain. I have a life. I am here to witness what is unfolding. It was never going to turn out the way I envisioned in my naive and hopeful state. I was a dreamer. And I still am. As are many. It's what keeps us sane. And in attendance. Dreams and hope.
Never lose hope. We could just be going through a rough patch, after all. In fact, I do believe this to be true. There will be tipping point and higher consciousness will permeate through humanity. Eventually.
Until then, let's stay true to our better selves, our good intentions and our aspirations for creating a world of love and peace.
I voluntarily missed out on my night time poker game, so you know it must be important. I was invited to the Steiner school to attend a night of short speeches by year six - one of whom is my beloved godson, Jarrah.
It was a special activity and they were adeptly coached and mentored by a drama teacher/parent who donated his time. Each kid, all around 12, spoke for 3 or 4 minutes. When they announced that there were going to 28 speeches in succession - it was a little bit like - OK, this is going to be a long haul. I was very happy to be there surrounded by the creative energy, the excitement, the proud parents and the precious children. I was expecting something shorter, perhaps, but, hey, let's see what comes...
In short, it was awesome. Each kid had chosen a topic close to their heart and had written the speech themselves. They had obviously all practiced well - some even spoke from memory. The topics were varied and interesting, topical: Global Warming, Learning From Mistakes, Caring for Animals, The Barrier Reef. One kid spoke on the Importance of Mothers. He got a standing ovation. About five of the boys talked about soccer. Jarrah's speech was about archery - his new passion. It began with the quote from Zen master Eugen Herrigel: "In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but one reality."
Mind focus. Merging.
At some point in the evening, it was cleear the speakers and the listeners became that one reality. At the end of the talks, they sang three songs. One of them was by Paul Kelly and Archie Roach: "From Little Things Big Things Grow", which happens to be one of my favourite songs. The audience sang along on the chorus. Seeing those young souls there, fully alive and in the moment, gushing with innocence and enthusiasm, I pictured how each of them will grow up to be compassionate and strong adults and was overwhelmed with the absolute beauty of humanity. Tears were rushing down my face. I have not felt so in place, connected and honoured to be a human for a long time. I was uplifted and transformed. New seeds of hope and wonder were planted that night. We'll see what grows.
When I was about ten I decided that I no longer wanted to have nightmares. I devised a strategy to eliminate them. Before I would fall asleep, I would mentally list all the bad things that I did NOT want to dream about. Spiders, snakes, dinosaurs, monsters, being chased... etc. I found that if something was included in my list - it would not appear in my dream. I devised a system that worked.
Since way back in those early days, I have never been bothered by nightmares. Of course, some nightmares are necessary and important for the mind to deal with things, so I do sometimes have them. But they are never over the top, freak out, experiences. Somehow, I am able to remain a step removed and know they are just bad dreams.
Conversely, I have good dreams, adventure dreams, ones that I can remember, almost every night. I am grateful for this and really enjoy sleeping not only for it's restorative powers but also for the free and tailor made entertainment provided.
I lived, till the age of ten, in the bush, in a house my Dad helped build, on the edge of a National Park, in Wahroonga, Sydney, at the time one of the most outer suburbs of Sydney. I went to the public school called The Bush School. I played up trees, under waterfalls, up and down cliffs, down tracks, by rivers. Basically surrounded by and immersed in nature.
When I was ten, the family moved to Tokyo, Japan. It was the complete other end of the spectrum. A sprawling, seemingly limitless city, brimming with buildings, packed with people. Electric, dynamic, pulsating. Criss-crossed by a massive, super efficient train and subway system full of an industrious, busy, kind and benevolent culture that was, in some ways, the polar opposite to my own, I found myself in a new playground of a new paradigm.
I'd always liked exploring, with my brothers, out in the bush. We would go for long walks, adventures, just the three of us, or with our mates from down the street. We would peg rocks, catch lizards and tadpoles, climb gum trees, leap over gaps in rock formations. Tokyo offered a whole new kind of exploration. We would cover ground on foot, by bus, by subway, on our bikes and on our skateboards. Then, later, by motorbike.
In the early years, Shibuya, Tokyo's zesty and youthful hub for fashion and entertainment, was where we would go to watch movies, play in game centres, have a cheap meal and peruse shops with the latest toys and gadgets. From our home in Nishi-Azabu, we could be there in half an hour. It was our favoured destination. It had a friendliness to it, an interestingness, an inviting accessibility.
There was a wide variety of cinemas to choose from flash and modern to el cheapo dingy. The Shibuya Bunka Kaikan alone, housed four. As well, it had a rooftop game centre, a great bookshop, a supermarket for movie snacks (chocolate covered wheat puffs, coffee milk, dried squid and big fat, puffy twistie like cheese slugs called Karl - were the favourites) and a poster shop. Movies in Japan are always screened in original language with subtitles - a godsend for visiting westerners as all TV was in Japanese language. My brothers and I for many years watched one or two movies on a Saturday, then another with the P's on a Sunday arvo. There is no rating system (G,PG,M,R) whatsoever, so we had unrestricted choice. Watching Taxi Driver at thirteen was an eye opener, almost mind expansive. The same for The Exorcist, the Godfather, Lolly Madonna War and The Wild Bunch.
We loved playing pinball and video games and would spend countless hours at Game Centres. It wasn't till half way through our time there that video games were even invented. I vividly recall my first game of Atari's ping pong - a vertical line on either side with a bouncing ball between them. Green screen, ball accelerating incrementally with each return hit. Then of course, there was Space Invaders, Mission Control and Pac Man. Car racing, shooting games, Galaga. Still, we had an ongoing respect for pinball mastery and would alternate between format offerings.
Japanese people are very thoughtful and especially kind to children. At no time were we ever in any danger or did we come across any difficulty. We were all fluent in the language and humble and respectful in return to the people of our host nation. We always made friends with the twenty-something part-time workers in the game centres, joking around, and would often be rewarded with free games and tokens. It was an idyllic existence for three young Aussie bush kids. From Wahroonga to Shibuya - we were transported from the grounded dirt and big sky free style playground to the electrified, connected, built up, efficient, magnificent wonderland of the East.
PHOTO: Shot by Naoki Leonard Fujita - a friend and maverick photographer and cameraman- who lives in Shibuya. See some of his amazing work here: https://leonardfujita.wix.com/imagemaker
I've always enjoyed reading autobiographies. These days even more so - in fact, almost exclusively. Recently I have read ones by the pilot of a Qantas Airbus flight over Singapore that had an engine explode, an Aussie ex-SAS who went into Lebanon to extract two daughters snatched by their father, got caught and landed in jail, and Portia de Rossi's true tale of her ascent to stardom and battles with bulimia, her sexuality and fame. I know I am going to enjoy a book when the voice of the narrator is steady and honest: a life story that shares trepidations and triumphs with personal detail and insight. (Three of my all time favourite autobios are At Home In the World by Joyce Maynard, Townie by Andre Dubus III and Burning the Days by James Salter - all exquisite.)
At the moment I am reading the memoirs of Biz Stone the guy who co-founded Twitter. It's a bright and interesting read. The thing that stands out about his is his attitude to life. He likes thinking outside the box and making up his own rules. When he was in high school, he realised after two weeks that with his after school Lacrosse practice, plus his part time job, couple with a minor learning disability that if he was to do his nightly homework with any level of diligence that he would only be getting three of four hours sleep. So he made a decision and the next day went in an announced to his teachers a no-homework policy. He explained why and they eventually accepted his reasoning and promises of trying extra hard within class to keep up. Reading this reminded me of my own special deals made during high school.
It was junior year. St. Mary's International School in Tokyo. Day one of physics class, first class of the morning. The teacher was Mr Tong. I was sitting up the back. He was rambling on up front. Within minutes, I zoned out. After a while, I thought: a year of this?? I leafed through the pages of the text book. It looked complex and dry and held no interest for me whatsoever. Tong was a nice enough guy, but he was hard to understand and it was evident that he wasn't going to be bringing this text to life. I made a decision. There was no way I could endure a year of this. And first class of the morning, too. No way.
I hatched a plan. I wrote a letter to the principal explaining that I would be much better off doing extra Japanese language and kanji study in the library during this period and that I would devise a format with the Japanese teacher. I can't recall my reasoning for not needing physics but strongly expressed that more Japanese would be much more beneficial and rewarding for me. He read it, with some skepticism (I was a known scallywag), but eventually agreed that if I made a curriculum of study and got it signed off and checked weekly by the Japanese teacher that I could proceed. I took it to her and presented it with zest and optimism. She signed it and Brother Charles gave me the OK. So, part one was accomplished.
I think I did the first week and got a form signed. Maybe even two. It soon became apparent, though, that I could let it slide. I stopped doing any work and took to just reading magazines in the library. It seemed that both the J teach and Bro had forgotten about it. Eventually, I realised that I could actually come in school a little later, since it was first period. So I started coming in ten, twenty minutes later and going straight to the library. Then I began the ritual of having a cigarette in the toilet by the window. Then my Aussie mate, Gordon, once he found out, would regularly ask for a toilet break from Mr Tong and come in a join me for a few puffs.
It was a successful transition from being stuck in a boring, useless class to having a full period every morning all to myself to relax. It was a triumph.
It nearly all fell to pieces, though, when I asked Gordon if I could borrow the keys to his motorcycle one morning. I had my Japanese bike license by then but was yet to afford a bike of my own. Gordie had helped me learn and was a generous spirit and chucked me the keys. "Get some practice", he said, "just try and be back in time for our smoko time." I was elated. I snuck out of school and into the bike parking area, put on the helmet and started it up. I didn't go too far afield. I did this a few times with great joy, a sense of freedom and success. Much better than being stuck in some dumb class. I had cracked the paradigm. Broken free. In an effort to share my elation with fellow students I drove along a side alley, past the window of the class I knew Gordon was in, three or fours stories up. I tooted the horn. He recognised it and rushed to the window. I went round the block and did it again. He waved. The next round, I beeped more and there were few students. The next one, there was half the class, all waving and cheering. Then, kids from other classes were also rushing to the windows, going ballistic. It was a celebration! One of us was free, had escaped. I was a symbol of liberty and freedom.
Obviously, I hadn't quite thought it through, because when I went past the front of the school on the next round, I was waved down by a very angry teacher. I made up a story about how I was late for school and just beeped once. I apologised for the disruption and promised to head immediately to class (or not-class in my case). I went to the library and sweated it out, hoping the principal would not hear of it and take away my privileges. Luckily, he didn't. All was cool. I kept my first period freedom for the entire year. Initiative was rewarded. Rules are there to be bent and broken. Make your own freedom. Lesson learnt!
I always wanted to work in the movies.
When I was fourteen or fifteen my father formally called me into their bedroom for a discussion. I was having a few issues at school - trouble with accepting authority, occasional truancy, playing class larrikin, detentions and suspensions. My grades weren't great, I rejected the concept of homework (they can make me go to school but once I am out, my time is my own), I chose not to participate in after school sports or clubs.
Not your ideal student, I now see quite clearly. But at the time, I was instinctively rebelling against what I perceived to be injustice and domination. I did not choose not belong. I did not belong. The rigid, intense, result-oriented system did not integrate well with my free spirited, easy going nature. Teachers attempts to force me to comply only resulted in a stronger sense of anarchy in my young spirit.
I wish I had been there, the me now, to support and nurture that young fellow. He wasn't a trouble maker, not really, he just had a sense of freedom and fun. He truly had not interest in chemistry or physics class. He knew that studying those subjects, as well as Latin and Religion, were a waste of his time. I would have said - if he has to be locked up here, why not just let him do art and English, drama and choir all day. And a long lunch. Maybe leave a bit earlier. Come in a little later. Four days instead of five.
I know now that the me then, was essentially the same as the me now. I wasn't someone who was going to be changed or melded by a bunch of strangers. Especially not by austere, sometimes deranged, sadistic, even perverted, assholes.
In the few subjects I had good hearted teachers (English, Art, Geometry, French) my attention giving and grades were pretty good. I just found it impossible to tolerate bullies and dictators.
My father, bless him, was a very different kind of person to me. He was an achiever, he thrived on rules and structures, he did not mind following, behaving. I was, in his estimation; a failure. If not already, then destined to be one if I kept up with my rebellious behaviour. I know this because he told me so.
"What do you want to do with your life? What is your plan? What do you want to become?" were the questions I was asked that evening, at that meeting, which felt serious and important, formal. Both my parents were there but my father was leading. They were worried about me, he said. The school had rung again. (The truth is mostly I tried to keep out of trouble, ie, not get caught. And mostly, I succeeded. The reprimands and punishments I received were a minor fraction of my actual infractions. So, I was actually, in my own way, quite canny and intelligent. I also was aware of having been selected for and invited to attend a special school for advanced intelligence children after testing. I decided I did not want to go, when given the choice, because I did not want to leave behind my friends. Regardless, we soon left Sydney for Tokyo.)
"I want to make movies", I replied, after giving it some thought. The answer felt right, in fact, it felt like the only possible answer with any veracity. At that stage of my life, I also liked collecting comics, listening to radio drama, drawing, writing stories... but I loved movies. They were powerful and captivating things. Enthralling. If I had to be involved in some sort of formalised activity - well, that would be it. At least it wouldn't be boring.
"Movies?" My father scoffed. "How can you say that you want to make movies? What makes you think you can make movies?"
Oh. I have to answer.
I had actually made a few Super 8mm films by then, but nothing elaborate. I did not have any feature credits to my name... In fact, I did not even know exactly how the process worked - screenplay, rehearsals, actors, director, producers, art department - I just instinctively responded to the question with honesty and optimism.
"I love movies." I said. And do what you love, right? Wrong.
"Just because you love movies doesn't mean you have any talent or will ever be able to work in movies. It's a very specialised industry. I'm talking about work. A job. What kind of job are you going to be able to do when you leave school? If you keep up the way you are, you'll be working in Woolies at the checkout. Is that what you want?"
"Er, no." I replied. (Thinking: it wouldn't be that bad. Standing behind the till. Playing with the machine. Chatting with people...) But I said no. And it wasn't my dream, nor my goal.
"If you don't start behaving and doing better at school, you will end up nowhere, with very little..."
The meeting was adjourned soon after. I agreed to try harder. I accepted that my answer to the question of what I wanted to do with my life was not acceptable.
I feel sad now. If only I had been encouraged. If only in that rare, important moment, when I was point blank asked what I wanted to do with my future, I had been listened to, heard. Things could have gone so differently. Why ask a young boy that question then squash his heartfelt, impulse response? Obviously it did not fit in with my father's agenda and world view. It was not about my life. It was about his life. And about curtailing the disturbance that my behaviour was causing. And, just like the teachers I hated, trying to make me into something I wasn't.
That moment was a very long time ago. That was the moment that a father inadvertently condemned his son to a life lead with an attitude of underlying defeatism, surrender, displacement.
Cut to me at twenty. At art school. Living in Sydney. I still loved movies. A year before, I had been to every cinema complex along the main street in Sydney seeking employment. Just fill out the form, I was told by unenthusiastic lady ticket sellers. I never heard back, of course, from any of them. It was a closed shop. Those jobs paid well, vacancies were rare and often handed to friends and connections. Being an usher was considered working on the fringe of show business. It required wearing a bow tie and a fancy jacket, dealing with the public with class and efficiency. Nobody walking in off the street was going to get in. That much became clear. Still, I really wanted to work in a movie theatre. Better yet, a multi-theatre complex.
One afternoon, while with my brother and my girlfriend, perusing the books at the old Gould's book shop in it's original location in George Street, directly opposite Hoyts cinemas before heading downstairs to Crystal Palace to play some snooker, I had what I can only describe as a moment of pure, unfiltered inspiration. I was zapped, nudged by some energy, given a specific mission.
"Wait here guys, I'll be back soon." I said, and ran out the door. I crossed the street. Entered Hoyts. "I am here to see the manager!" I pronounced with premeditation.
"Do you have an appointment?" the lady asked.
"What's it in regard to?" she asked.
"About working as an usher."
She checked her big red diary. Slight frown.
"You're a bit early." She harumphed and climbed off her high stool. "Wait here." She trudged half way down the corridor of ticket sellers and disappeared into a doorway. She reappeared with a message. "Mr Cesarro will be out in a minute."
Whoa. I can't exactly say things were going to plan, because I didn't exactly have a plan. Well, I did. I wanted to get a job there. But I hadn't exactly anticipated speaking to a manager. He appeared, beckoned me. We went in through some glass doors, then another security door to his office.
Suddenly, I was being interviewed for the position. My instincts were honed enough, from years of talking my way around a subject and out of trouble at school, that I was able, much to my surprise, to charm my way into an immediate job offer. I was to start in a few days time. Two shifts a week, Friday and Saturday nights, to begin with. I was to go immediately to see the head usherette, Laurel, and get fitted for a bright red jacket and receive a call sheet, instructions and a torch. I walked across the lobby, almost floating. I was nearly there. One final test to get through. The manager had called ahead, so she was expecting me. It all went smoothly. I winged it. I was in.
Mook and Bianca could not believe it. How??? Really? Yes, it happened. They were happy for me - and it also meant free movies for them, at least twice a week. And I loved it, too, even more so. I had accessed an environment, an institution that I had long desired to infiltrate - the dark pantheon of cinematic wonders, the arena of entertainment, manufactured fantasy. It wasn't yet the level of actually making movies - which was still my ultimate goal - but I had forged through the first protective industry layers of obstruction, using will and wit and temerity. I was no longer just a paying member of the public, I was in the club. On the fray of show biz. Movies were free, now - all you can watch. Not just at Hoyts, but due to a reciprocal agreement, at any and every cinema across the city. Not only that, but I would be surrounded by cinemas (seven), immersed in film, connected more closely to the world of my early predilection. Finally.
I was working in movies!
I was walking along the beach this afternoon, thinking. Thinking, as I always do. I try to trudge out any noisy, annoying, negative thoughts within the first kilometre or less, so that I can get to some useful cogitation, some thoughts of substance; elevated mindfulness.
The early part of the walk, the downer thoughts usually have to do with the sadness I carry around. Sadness that comes from childhood. Sadness to do with the lack of love and support I received as a kid, the inner struggle that was ever present, the loneliness, the insecurity, the tears.
I try to see beyond, to make amends, to forgive, forget. But I can't. Sometimes I feel like I am damaged goods. That I am doing the best with what I have got, but that I could have been so much more. Other times, I just, shrug and say fuckit, carry on. Expect less. Accept. Surrender.
Waa, waa, waa. Isn't everyone just the same, though. Aren't we all fallen angels, broken machines, injured souls. I think so. So it's really about coping. And carrying on.
Anyway, I was walking along today and on my way back, I mentally compared life to the beach stroll. At a certain point, you turn back. On the way back you are covering the same ground, but you see things differently. Just like when you hit your forties or fifties, you have lived a fair chunk of life and you can actually use it to look back on and consider who you are and what you have done. When you are in your teens, twenties, you just go for it. You have no perspective.
Obviously, things slow down as you get older. Some things you have done hundreds, thousands of times. You are well versed in the everyday requirements and expectations of being a human. (Hopefully.) Your needs and urges wane. Your ego has taken countless beatings and can now shut the fuck up sometimes, take a back seat, maybe even disappear.
You've most likely been through at least a few wonderful relationships that end, either badly, terribly or not very well. You've seen the ugly side of yourself and others. You have tried and failed. Tried again and failed again. You sometimes get lucky and somethings work out alright.
Mostly, though, you realise that life is not all fun and games. It's a challenge. And it keeps on being one. The parameters shift but the rules stay the same. As hard as it all is, you wish it didn't have to go by so quickly. There are many, many things you would do differently, given the chance. But you don't get second chances. Not really.
Strangely, there is a certain calm, acceptance that comes with age. You probably believe more in destiny. You know what you can do and can't do. You know how to make do with less. You know how to enjoy more from little. Nature appears more vividly and has a bigger place. Children offer delight, hope, warmth and a reason for still caring, still fighting. The miracle of existence, as a whole package, can be appreciated more often and readily. You know you are going to die. You've seen it happen to people around you. You may or may not think about it much, but you definitely know it's coming, getting closer. This can be a comforting thing or a frightening one. Depends on the individual, on the day, the circumstance.
Sometimes, not today, but every few weeks, I look out onto the horizon, while on my walk, and think, every picture I have ever done, even if it was expanded to 1,000 times it's size, would only fill the tiniest fraction of a single percent of this vista. Every day, every hour, the glorious outlook; the sky, the ocean, the beach changes and delights. A dynamic, breathtaking, living work of art. What I do, making little pictures, well, comparatively, it's just laughable. Of so little consequence. Why do I bother? It will never amount to anything. It is of absolutely no significance. In fact, my life, is of no significance. Not in the long run. Not really. Not when you realise and understand that it's all just a self created illusion. Not one of us is more that a grain of sand. So why bother?
See what I deal with on my daily walk? These are the kinds of things that go through my head. And looking at me, from the outside, if you chanced to see me walk past - you'd just see a dude taking a stroll. You wouldn't look twice. But in the silence, behind those squinting eyes - a battle rages. The struggle of self. The coming to terms with the quagmire of existence. The never ending questioning. Like the waves crashing on the shore. Relentless. And yet, soothing. Somehow. Kinda soothing. Comfortable.
One step at a time. Down the beach and back up it. A dip in the ocean. A frolic in the waves. The sun shines on skin. The seagulls jeer. The spirit is uplifted after a commune with nature's essence. The petty concerns washed away with the tide for another day.
I'll be back tomorrow to do it all again.
"Miles from nowhere
Guess I'll take my time
To reach there..."
Cat Stevens was a guiding force in my formative teen years. I learnt every word on the album Tea for the Tillerman and would listen to it (on vinyl; end of side A, flip it over and put the needle back down on side B, rpt - a process unknown to more recent arrivals on Planet E) over and over. So many incredibly soulful, meaningful, spiritual songs. All of them as relevant and poignant today as they were when first released in the early 70's.
Father and Son
Where Do The Children Play
Miles From Nowhere
But I Might Die Tonight
On The Road To Find Out
That's just some of them. I'd have a favourite for a few months and then move onto the next. As a rebellious teen, I didn't get any guidance from my parents or school. I was pretty much left to my own devices to work things out. Real world experiences, friends, a steady flow of books, and a few select albums. Cat was number one. He had it all - the inventive, pure, melodic music with the meaningful lyrics. Other faves were Elton John (Yellow Brick Road) and Jackson Browne.
"Be wise, look ahead
Use your eyes he said
Be straight, think right
But I might die tonight!"
Cat was an anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian guy. He seemed, in his mellifluous, calmly charismatic voice, to be talking to my young teenage self, saying, "you are right not to buy into all the bullshit, find your own way." Some of this I had worked out myself, it was innate, but having Cat back me up, with his wisdom, quiet charm and self assurance sure helped.
There is an abundance of things to be stressed about, enraged about, feel hard done by.... and I'm not just talking about our current government.
Sometimes it seems like the whole world is on the brink of collapse. And maybe it is.
I think its great to join together with others and join protests, take action against injustice, offer support, etc. But, as well, on a personal level, you want to avoid getting over burdened by fretting about events that you can not change and that are beyond the scope of your sphere of influence. There is just too much bad stuff going on at the moment that to take it all on mentally is just going to bring you down.
So, what to do?
Seek the silly.
Favour the fun.
Follow the path to the pun.
Grow your own mirth.
Funny accents whenever possible.
Jigs, slapstick, loud farts.
There's a lot you can do. The list goes on. I am not advocating ignoring reality, I am suggesting that you augment it with a fair share of lighthearted enjoyment. As often as you possibly can.
For in the end, whether the world eventually balances out and becomes the utopia it could be, the natural, just and egalitarian kingdom we all want it to be, or whether it all explodes in a flaming ball of human greed and foolishness, you may as well have a snicker or two along the way. Like a school day. It's mostly a bunch of useless bullshit being heaped upon you; play truant sometimes, have fun with your friends, cause some disruption. Cause just like when you make it through school and realise that it was all just a construct of control and oppression... well, so is modern day life in our society. So give it the finger, ignore the bla bla bla, zone out, dream your own dreams, slip out the back door and go find some sunshine and freedom to bask in.
Like Ghandi once said, "Fucking hell! What's the point in endless suffering?!"
And soon after, decided to never wear a business suit instead and wrapped himself in his bed sheet. Good man.
The future is coming at us, thicker and faster than ever. Every month now, amazing new discoveries and inventions; scientific, technological and biological... The advancements are arriving at a breathtaking pace. I don't have to convince anyone. Just browse through the net. No, not that old fisherman's net. That's just crab shell and a dead half fish carcass. I mean the internet. You must know it. It's one of the inventions that has changed the world. Forever. And for better. So long as we all shall live. Anyone who disagrees, go to the comment box now or forever hold your mouse. Or donate it to science. They are used in a lot of experiments.
A couple of things I remembered yesterday:
One: pinball. Played it every weekend for hours on end in my early teens, with my brothers in the game centres of Tokyo - Shibuya, Hibiya, Yurakucho, Azabu Juban.... somehow, if there was a decent game centre (geimu sentaa) tucked away in a basement, obscure building or mini mall, we'd find it. We had our skateboards and knew the public transport system inside out. We loved playing pinball. (Wizard, Fireball, TimeZone, etc... mid 70's were when pinball design peaked, I reckon). Each place would usually have ten, twenty of them lined up. Lots of choice. Lots of fun. We were all pretty good a getting free games, too. Nothing like that >crack< when you notch up a game.
Two: other play. I was driving to the beach and saw an import Tarago. Notice it as called Lucida. Thought about how Japanese come up with their names for things. Must've looked up the dictionary found lucid and added an a. Fair enough. If they put an 'n' in their, it'd be a nice girl's name... Lucinda. Then, flash!, I remembered that back in the late nineties, I had a relationship with a girl with that very name. I had completely forgotten about her. I met her in a bar in Kings Cross, the Bayswater Brasserie. It was a one night stand that kept going. She owned a house in Surrey Hills, Sydney. She worked in an ad agency as accounts manager. She liked vodka lime and sodas. She loved flowers and knew a lot about them. She was a great cook. One of her specialties was gnocchi. She was very pretty. Like a little doll. She had a great body, perfect proportions, silky skin, long straight hair. She was also very intelligent and successful. She never came to my place in Bondi. She liked her routines. She would often phone me after work, early evening and invite me over. Drinks, dinner, sex. All things I enjoy. Then I would go home in the morning, when she left for work. We didn't do many day time things together for some reason. After a few months of this routine, I was beckoned to Tokyo for a 3 month job. We did the phone and fax (yes, fax) 'I miss you' communication thing for a while and then just let it go. I never saw her again. And until yesterday, completely forgot about it. Interesting how it was sparked by an import Tarago parked at the beach. It was like finding a little treasure on the shores of my memory.
ART GETS ME HIGH
Author & Artist