Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Year in Stars

I was going to write a long, personal account of my year - a kind of yearly wrap-up thing I like to do, but to be honest it's simply too personal and this isn't that kind of "Look at my life" kind of blog. This is done as a compromise which will mean little to me and even less to you.

January: ***
February: **
March: ****
April: ***
May: ***
June: ***
July: **
August: *
September: **
October: *****
November: *****
December: *****

No complaints, it ended well.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I Hate Celebrity Fragrances on a Conceptual Level (c/w a short review of I Am King by Sean John).

Perfume counters in department stores are chaotic places come Christmas. Perfume is, perhaps better than anything else, adept at distilling an essence, and increasing its expanse and presence on demand. For this reason it is, in itself, held in small vials, which allow shop-keepers to place a lot together in a relatively small area (for the amount and range of products concerned). So, come Christmas, these aisles which are usually just right a fit for you and a few others, happy to sniff around, become cramped, frenzied affairs, with all manner of hands clamoring around and grabbing and spraying noxious odouers onto dripping strips of paper.

It was in this setting a few weeks ago that I spent some time going through and sampling whatever was in front of me – less intent on making a purchasing selection (I am currently and inarguably poor) and more intent on trying to grasp what each perfumer was trying to do with their perfumes, how they went about trying to do it, and to what extent they were successful. My perfumery knowledge is still largely amateur, but I thought it an interesting and engaging activity to do while I killed time before I went off to buy some shoes.

Some perfumes were clearer than others. Dirty English was obvious – it’s grimy, alcoholic smell communicated a kind of audacious disregard for cleanliness only seen amongst the vilest and most attractive of 60’s rockers. It was very soon unpalatable, my nose moving into sneezing fits to be rid of it. I tried the new scent my Issey Miyake, which was called A Scent By Issey Miyake, and encased in a kind of iconic reference to a perfume bottle, and found it a kind of excited, fresh, green scent which danced around a lot and then proceeded to go absolutely no where. But perhaps the scent itself was so post-modern that I didn’t understand its cleverness. I moved on. And then I hit upon this:

I have seen advertisements for Sean John’s “I Am King” pop up unhelpfully on my browser whilst attempting to read something else, and it featured the man dressed in a tuxedo, riding a jet ski, and some seemingly non-sequiter shots of some bronze shaded women lilting and wilting about in bikinis. Much like Sean John/P.Diddy/Puff Daddy’s entire career, the spot was tongue in cheek enough to shield him from a certain degree of scorn, but not tongue in cheek enough to actually be remotely interesting. It didn’t help that he used the most trite of all imagery – the James Bond scenario: the “meat-lovers pizza” of male fantasy, so utterly bereft of imagination or intrigue and catering for the largest, shallowest of puddles.

If you check the notes list on (which is very handy for these things), I Am King reveals a list which includes the following: French Berry, Mediterranean Water, Lemon Crème, Key Lime Pie. Let’s keep those four ingredients in mind, and for the sake of comparison, lets look at what lists as some of the notes of the previously reviewed Invasion Barbare by MDCI: Lavender, White Thyme, Bergamot, Violet Leaves.


French Berry, Mediterranean Water, Lemon Crème, Key Lime Pie.


Lavender, White Thyme, Bergamot, Violet Leaves.

Can you see the difference? One of these fragrances is bullshitting you. Bullshit is very common in all forms of design, fragrance design not excluded, because it essentially very easy to do. To appreciate the aesthetic worth of anything designed you must be willing to take a certain leap of faith that the designer is affecting you as they intended to. Because these effects very easily slip below our conscious radar, which tries to justify to ourselves certain things for certain reasons (‘Of course this chair is a classic of modernism, I paid $4,000 for it’ the most usual excuse), bullshitting is so simple to get away with. Believe me, as a former A+ design student, I know this. But the designers of I Am King give themselves away with this completely ridiculous notes list. Key Lime Pie? Seriously? As a top note, it hits you as soon as you spray it on – this disgustingly false lime accord which smells almost like a stupidly sweet insect repellent. But more to the point – why? How on earth does Key Lime Pie work with anything else there? My housemate made a good point – it was like they called up Sean John and asked him what he wanted for his new fragrance. Looking around at the meal in front of him, he simply listed some of his favourite foods. This is a fragrance not only lost, but lost and panicking, terrified, with out a clue of where to go or what to do.

It also reveals my problem with celebrity fragrances. Because were this fragrance in any other bottle in any other name, nobody would buy it. But because it is attached to the success of Sean John and the stupidly large advertising campaign to go with it (also, I assume, pressure on retailers to stock it – as there was a full shelf with nothing but I Am King alone, whereas most fragrances stood on 1/8th of one), people will buy it. And within a capitalist society, where monetary success is the central motivation of companies, it will become a successful fragrance.

The problem is not that it has a celebrity attached to it and it is successful, nor am I suggesting that all celebrity fragrances are terrible - my problem is that they become successful for reasons other than the fragrance in itself. And for a fragrance – something that should be purely aesthetic and purely personal, this becomes something of a minor tragedy (and a major tragedy for the perfume industry), as it then allows people to make shitty, sub-standard products and get away with it because they have the right label, the right face, and throw around enough money. This happens enough, and soon the mainstream avenue is littered with this formula, as the motivation of economic success, now achievable without any kind of artistic success, is not enough to guarantee a product of any real discernible value.

This is how mediocrity reigns supreme: people let it. You should never buy a fragrance for anything but the way it smells. Otherwise you have to ask yourself: why am I really buying this? How empty is my life that I am forgoing what my senses say in favour of what the label says? You are essentially selling your sense of smell short.

Scent is the most personal of our sensual interaction with the world, and the least cerebral. To attach it to the entirely cerebral social construct of celebrity is to completely miss the point of a fragrance, and completely miss out on what makes them so wonderful: the lack of thought, the pure, unadulterated enjoyment.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What You Can Learn From: Running, pt 2.

I've been running regularly for more than a month now. The more I do it, the more I realise what of the activity can teach us and reveal to us about the rest of our difficulties in simply existing. Here are two more:

1. Running teaches you that there are times you must think and concentrate. And then there are times when you must not think at all. At certain points of a long run, you really have to be very very aware of the mechanics of your body - how your legs feel, how your feet are hitting the ground, whether the rhythm of your breathes are working, your level of hydration, etc. At these points, if you don't concentrate, one of a few things will happen - you will quickly fall out of breath, or you will twinge something in your leg, or you will pass out - either way, you will have to stop running.

But then there are other times in which it is the absolute worst thing to think to much. These are the points where the energy has drained from your leg muscles and it feels like your running on bone and elastic bands. There is nothing wrong with your technique, you are just at a tiring point - a point which, if you concentrate upon, will simply prolong the experience drastically. These are the times you simply need to switch off your mind and just exist.

A certain degree of quality of life can largely be summarized in this equation: there are times when you have to think, and there are times when you have to not think. Happiness is very dependent on knowing when these times are and acting accordingly.

2. Long distance running is an amazingly effective way to learn to love your body. I have had mixed feelings towards my body - a nude scene I did as a drama student stripped away any remaining superficial insecurities I had, but I had always felt an intense distrust towards my body's physical abilities (this is what happens when you are bad at sprt at school) (also, this is probably why I can't drive). Running, more than anything else, gives you a sense of trust. More than that though - it's fondness. Have you ever seen that episode of Top Gear where the three hosts drive across America in cheaply bought cars, having all kinds of crazy hijinks and adventures? Remember their derisory attitudes towards their vehicles at the beginning, and their sense of love towards them at the end? If we go through some kind of adversity, and overcome this, we feel an innate attachment to anything which followed us along that journey. Long distance running is essentially creating our own safe adversity which we can overcome, and our bodies, that which got us through it, become symbols of this dogged determination. When you run enough, your body goes from being your enemy to your ally - you realise that all your earlier spats were mere misunderstandings, and you really do see on the same page about a lot of things.

Perhaps most amazing though is the way our body's admitted foibles - our bad joints or lumpy bits - start to become points of endearment. This is when you truly begin to love your body, when you start to love the "negatives" as well. They symbolise the power and charm your body actually has - your feats and accomplishments become all the more amazing because they were done by a thoroughly imperfect being, and one that you then cannot hate - just as you could not hate a loyal butler who still climbed the stairs each morning to bring you your breakfast, despite having lost a leg in the war. These are points of imperfection and weakness which, because they have carried you through the triumph, are suddenly more endearing then you could imagine.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Small Piece of Yesterday.

When we passed one of my neighbour’s houses she stopped suddenly and reached over their fence, then pulled a rather large flower closer with a certain degree of abandon. She smelt it, and then held it close for me to smell – it was very beautiful, but I didn't catch its name. In our townhouse driveway there was a removal truck parked diagonally taking all the remnants from my dead neighbour’s home. A fridge, a washing machine, chairs. Pragmatic men methodically went about gutting the home, turning it into a house.

Meanwhile beside the truck she pirouetted under the shade of an overhanging tree, noting how little light managed to get through between the leaves...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Nice Thing About Being 15.


I’m not sure the year – it would have been 98 or 99. We, my 15 year old friends and I, were at a friend’s house for video game playing and pizza eating. This was the main highlight of our socialisation – it would be another 3 years until I kissed a girl and, bizarrely, another 7 until the amount of kissing I has done in real life outnumbered the amount of kissing I had done on stage – so at the time we just had video games. The Nintendo 64 and it’s Goldeneye four-player tensions, seemingly endless Final Fantasy’s, and the mesmerizing and bewildering genius-mess of Metal Gear Solid.

We were sitting on various couches in the living room. There were enough of us – smelly, over-looked boys, for some to have to sit on the floor in thrones of cushions. The Simpsons was on TV. It was for this reason and this reason only that we weren’t playing video games. Pizza was placed in the most diplomatic of positions, and we ate and watched while my friend’s divorced parents sat in the adjacent dining room, talking about the Australian Labour Party.

It was the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa fell for Nelson and they briefly started dating. By this stage the show was just falling from its peak, and the plots were just starting to unwind from their tight forms of the mid-early seasons, though they still had a long way to go to reach the mess of desperate, plot-less narrative that they occupy today. It was the scene in which Lisa and Nelson kiss for the first time – Nelson having the very nice line as a thought, pressing his lips to hers: “That oughta shut her up.”

As I noted, we weren’t particular popular boys, probably because we were all very intelligent and defined ourselves as somehow being 'very intelligent' (much to our later unhappiness). We never, as some strange, un-said rule, talked about girls. Perhaps it was to not point out the obvious: that it wasn’t an area where any of us weren’t having any particular luck – not because we were trying and failing, but for the fact that we were all largely very very shy.

Except one of us. He whose house this was, and whom we had seen in several high school 'relationships', and had this seeming innate way of charming women. Years later I would realise that it was simply having the confidence and calm to go and talk to them, then keep talking to them and not listen to any deep neurotic thoughts informing you to run away as far and quickly as you can.

But as Lisa and Nelson kissed, in that very Simpsons way of kissing, like two plungers smooshing together, he suddenly spoke up from his spot on the couch:

“That’s not what kissing’s like!”

A little too loudly, a little too vehemently, for no other reason other than just to announce to us that he, and only he, knew what it was like to kiss a girl, and he, and only he, recognised the severely un-realistic, yellow portrayal being shown to us.

I distinctly remember thinking, as my teeth bit into a triangle of melted cheese:

“You wanker”

– but all the same, being impotent to argue with his actual underlying sentiment.


That same year we went on a high school science camp. It was our class, as well as the other “smart” classes from the other years. Because of this, many of the people there I had not met or socialised with before, but at the same time, I still had my own comfortable circle.

I had always hated school camps. Mainly because I loved, and needed, sleep. I have gotten progressively less sensitive to this need as I have gotten older (to the point where I was fine doing 4 or 5 hours a night when studying design earlier in the year – although that would have contributed to my unhappiness and thus helped make the decision to drop-out), but as a teenager it was still an absolute essential. School camps seemed like exercises in sleep deprivation: put all the kids together in one room, and eventually the actual practice of staying up, and thus flouting the rules, becomes the very challenge of the night. Losing sleep became some badge of honour, since it essentially was anti-authority. I grew up largely constantly petrified of breaking any rules (something I didn’t grow out of until uni, and until I discovered the great extent of rules cast upon you are almost entirely arbitrary), but I also simply needed sleep, so I was want to try and get some. Eventually, the monkey sounds and actions of the other boys would settle into a haze around me, and somehow, I would be able to fall asleep. They would stay up – the especially daring ones sneaking out to a nearby beach, where equally daring girls waited. I liked to feel I had my revenge though: the next morning they would all be dead, while I would be fresh and awake, ready and waiting for a brisk morning bike ride around the island.

Knowing all this, on this particular occasion I was very careful about choosing my bed and setting it up. Firstly, I wanted something in a corner, thereby restricting the directions that sound could conceivably come from. Realising too my sensitivity to light (I am awoken very quickly by brightness and find it difficult to sleep if there is a persistent source of light in visible range) I decided to take certain measures to ensure a comfortable night: I arranged some of my supplied blankets around me, in the frames of the bunk beds, more or less setting up my own, tiny room in the edge of a larger one. At the time I did it out of comfort. Looking back, it was clearly paranoia, and the sheer discomfort of sharing a space with other boys.

This time no one snuck away during the nights. We were the “smart” kids, and with that was a certain expectation to be on impeccable behaviour always, which most of us lived up to, prefects and narcissists in training as we were. But the boy’s and girl’s dorms were just too adjacent and thus too alluring for nothing to happen. Eventually, after some scouts ventured back and forth for a while, the girls flooded our dorm. Nothing really happened: we were still the good kids, but there was still a faint naughtiness about it which was no doubt exciting. Boys and girls on the same bed, a boy (the same boy from the above memory) stroking a girl’s hair as she lay with her head on his stomach, and casual conversation about making out. It was like the beginning of some sort of scene in some sort of movie: it was leading somewhere for everyone, but we weren’t quite sure where.

Except for me, it wasn’t. I was in my room, and I had not ventured out. I had parted the blanket somewhat to allow a view, and some conversation, to the rest of the room in – and it wasn’t something I did immediately either, because I distinctly remember the orange glow of torch lights from the other side of the blankets, and then when I eventually opened to peer out, the disarming clarity of the torch lit world around me. But of course there was no one else on my bed, and no one resting their head on my stomach – how could they, they’d have to clamber through my sheet set up, or my ‘wall’, and even if I would later learn that a few girls there did have crushes on me, it would have taken a daring beyond most teenager’s capacity to tear down my structure and attempt to get close to me. And so I lay there, looking out from my peep hole, and waited, like some East German.

Before anything happened though, the supervising teacher entered the room with such a immense amount of force and anger that she must have stood behind the door for a few seconds before, building herself up. The rest of the room went dead. Torches switched off – to little effect, as the teacher had her own, much stronger torch. She ordered everyone out, NOW, regardless of what they were wearing, everyone out into the cold. The torch went around the room to force the teenage boys and teenage girls out. Everyone complied, shuffling about in their pyjamas or underwear and standing outside, against a wall, with a flickering light above them which illuminated very little, bar the small flies which aired around in a seeming state of constant panic.

Everyone complied, that is, but me. For when the teacher entered the room, and the second I heard that booming voice, I tore back my peep hole and, with my remaining blankets, covered myself into an impenetrable log, and didn’t make a sound. Chaos was everywhere else, and not in my room. As the other students were being lead out to face their punishment, the teacher’s torch continued to flash around, trying to spot any stragglers. Eventually, it’s large orange got fell upon my wall. It stayed there for a while, perhaps because the teacher was slightly puzzled.

‘Everyone out, NOW.’ she repeated.

I remained silent. Then I changed tact. With all the acting skills I could muster (and these were, in fact, numerous, from other situations like this I had found myself in), I applied a groggy haze to my voice and, as if I had only been woken from a slumber of Sleeping Beauty proportions then and there, very gingerly said:


The torch light had moved. Again she repeated her command, but this was aimed to the general room and not just me. Soon, I calculated that I was the only one left. I asked, again gingerly, and just as she would have been leaving

‘Do… do we have to go out if we’ve been asleep?’

The line was a masterful one of powerless manipulation: it was delivered as she was leaving, so she would need a strong force to pull her back in, it was me asking her, thereby, through all appearance, giving myself up should need be, and finally, cementing the notion that I had been asleep all this time, and was somewhat bewildered as to what was happening. Looking back, my childhood and teen years are filled with these sorts of lines towards adults, and it’s a tremendous relief that as an adult I seemed to drop out of the habit naturally, and usually only speak with the most earnest and sincere of voices.

The teacher didn’t reply, she merely left. The orange light vanished. From outside, I could hear the other students being yelled at – how they had broken the rules, how they would be sent home, how they could be expelled, etc. (none of which, of course, happened – teachers are usually as empty as dry watering cans). And though it was cold outside, their snickers didn’t make the whole affair seem so terrible. Except for me, as my imagination focused on her yells and her anger, and because I was not out there to experience any of it, for me, tucked in safe under one blanked and behind another, it was all utterly, utterly terrifying.

Despite this, my main memory though was wishing so much that I was out there with them, that I had had a girl’s head on my stomach, and I had been forced to march out there in my underwear, and that I wasn’t such a coward.


This is the nice thing about being 15, being told to you by a 26 year old: that it truly truly only gets better from there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Angry Smells

I have a theory, not based on any tests or even any kind of evidence or observation, which states that if you smell like something, you don’t impose yourself to be that something.

If we take as given that a certain percentage of our emotions and actions are through compensation (which is certainly not a given, but just for now…), then this perhaps makes a tiny amount of sense – if, through smell, we have convinced ourselves we are something, then we lose that compensatory motivation to be that. If we smell very very sexy and alluring then our attempts to convince the world that we are, in fact, very very sexy and alluring through other means – via what we say or how we act – are perhaps lessened. Again, this is entirely a theory pulled out of thin air and not based on anything at all apart from a mild amount of experience, and I make no pre-tense about actually being correct about this (or anything). I do believe that with the world of smells though it is worth a thought – I know that when I have worn very sexy fragrances like Nasomatto’s Duro my propensity to communicate sexiness is unconsciously stifled. This, more than anything else, is perhaps the greatest that can be said for a perfume increasing one’s confidence – all it works in is alleviating insecurity through a kind of emotional self-manipulation.

Or the entirely opposite thing happens: if you wear something that you utterly do not believe yourself to be, then all the smell informs you is of the chasm between who you are and who the smell is suggesting you are. That is why Jubilation XXV does not make me feel more secure about my financial status, it simply feels like I am too poor to pull it off successfully. Chanel no.5 does not make me feel more feminine, it informs me how unfeminine I am by comparison. The effect of this though isn’t so much an increase of insecurity though, rather, since smell is more visceral and operates from the gut (not literally, of course), it rejects outright these contradictory smells. Jubilation XXV makes me feel poor, but not insecure about not having much money – I viscerally reject it, and accept my paltry lot. Similiarly Chanel no.5 does not make me aspire to be more feminine to match it, rather it recognizes the length of this chasm and pedals back accordingly.

So, to summarise: if you wear a fragrance which communicates something you both aspire to and are able to display, then the experience of wearing it will reduce your insecure motivation to display said thing. However if you wear a fragrance which communicates something which you have no self-belief in achieving, or else doesn’t communicate anything of either your aspirations or realities, then you reject this communication and similarly don’t display said thing.

What happens then if a fragrance is communicating something you don’t aspire to, but at the same time can’t remotely deny as being part of you? What if a fragrance communicates something which, in fact, you don’t like about your personality? Say a fragrance that made you smell greedy, or shallow, or deceitful. What happens then, how do the rest of your actions compensate?


Today I tried on two different fragrances from two different houses which, to me, smelt angry. One, Vetivier 46 by Le Labo, is a kind of charged, fiery anger. The other, Sandal De Mysore by Serge Lutens, is a brooding, manly anger. But they both carry in them something which communicates fury.

To start wirh Vetivier 46: vetivier absolute, when smelled un-diluted, is one of the most rough and jarring of all perfume ingrdients: it smells of burnt coffee and dirt, and you wonder how it ever became such a perfumery mainstay. When controlled however, and its best attributes highlighted, it becomes one of the most beautiful of notes. Similar to how patchouli can transform from being a dirty, hippy smell into a sweet, elegant note, vetiver transforms from this ugly earth demon to this pinnacle of class and sophistication. Vetivier 46 works so well however because of its success in leaving some of this demon in. This has a cave-dwelling, indolent, extravagantly earthy smell – the gaiac wood and vetiver lend the masculine beauty, while the black pepper and patchouli allows it to crackle off. This is where it becomes angry – it is so stubborn and uncompromising in itself and those crackles – the points of the scent which splinter but do not fizz like citruses (though it has bergamot in it, which I imagines adds to this effect) – hint at an emotional fragility (which contrasts with the calm vanilla on the base) and the cloves lends the fieriness. And that’s what it smells like really: fire. Disarmingly beautiful fire – not just the smoke or incense of so many other scents, but proper, burning fire.

Sandal De Mysore is an entirely different equation, but really just as beautiful. It starts as this almost funky, sweet-sweaty, spicy smell, but soon (but not too soon, it flashes its ugliness around a good deal first) smoothes into an unapologetic calm of Mysore sandalwood. But it is unerring. With that calmness, that ugliness is still there – the body odour, and the all too edible smell. It’s as if it forces itself into this calm beauty in spite of itself. And this is why it is so marvellous: in using its notes so delicately, it communicates a kind of restraint. This is where its anger appears: it seems so acceptable, now so well meaning, but you just saw it as this ugly, putrid beast. You know it’s lying now as it sits still, and you wait for it to break, to snap.

It doesn’t, it just sits and occasionally reminds you with a whiff of something animal, which is then all the more alarming.


My un-scientific, un-proven (un-provable) theory about smell and insecurity would suggest this: if our fragrance carries with it an attribute that we deem negative perhaps the wearing of it would lessen the uncontrollable, invisible effects and motivations of that attribute. Especially because it is beautiful, it gives us a chance to own it, to claim it as our own and then gain some control over it, rendering it more articulate, and at the same time, less dangerous. If we wear an angry fragrance the emotional experience is not one of making ourselves angrier, but rather that of recognising and bringing to the surface such things so they need never surprise us, and reach out from the dark corners like clawing hands.

Of course, as always I am quite willing to be completely wrong, but I hope I am right. It is a nice thing to believe.

(image on top, as well as samples, from - who do a wonderful job and I am very glad of the existence of)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why You Should Pay More Attention to Your Sense of Smell

Two Reasons:

1. The sense of smell is the only one connected directly to the limbic system, the part of our brains which govern initial emotional and sexual response. Smell then goes on to stimulate the cortex, which allows us to recognise it on a concious level - but long before this we have already made our emotional reaction.

When we meet a lover, the first sense to register the pleasure that comes with this is the sense of smell, for this very reason. Perhaps, then, if you are wanting to make a good impression, there can be no better consideration than the consideration of how you smell, as opposed to what top you're wearing or how you've done you're hair.

2. Smell exists almost exclusively in the moment. We can remember and recite chords of a song very easily, and can mentally put together simple visuals without too much trouble - we're even, to some extent, able to recall the sensations of touch, even enough to make our tiny body hairs bristle appropriately. But smell is notoriously difficult to recall, granting little more than vague approximations, incomparably weak compared to the actual real life sensation.

This is why, I suggest, smell is an oddly useful sense in the staving off of depression and general anxiety. So much of depression and anxiety is perpetuated by the inability to live life in the now, and instead dwell over the past or worry about the future, thus allowing our at times brutal imaginations to run riot on our hypothetical lives. The experience of smell forces us to exist within a single moment - we can recognise and remember the experience of smelling it, but our recollection does not allow us to even remotely recreate this rich feeling. Nor, do we miss smells - it is akin to a death of a dozen thousand of Cupid's arrows in the back to smell a former lover's scent, we will not generally consider the smell when we have no access to it - we will not miss it (though we will miss their warm presence in bed and clever, articulate eyes), and now will we fear it (though we will fear the sound of their disembodied voice from behind a telephone reciever).

In practical terms, smell could be useful for a sufferer of depression and anxiety to simply learn to ignore the shame of the past and the nightmare of the future and simply posit themselves in a fragrant now. I am not suggesting smell is a magic bullet to happiness, but rather, it could be very useful tool in training our minds to simply be, rather than simply implode in panic and despair.

To try and see, why not next time you're feeling overwhelmed, just run a bath with a few drops of some essential oils - a good, and oft repeated blend is a few drops of bergamot, a few drops of lavender and a few drops of cedarwood - and just concentrate your mind to just dissect the smells.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Problem with Eyes: Some thoughts on Photography, Beauty, Pornography and Obsession.

- I have a problem with photographs. Or, more accurately, I have a problem with how we view photographs generally: we trust them to too great an extent. Take the photographs of night spots which occur in every city every week. Shot after shot of nameless people dancing, or smiling, or drinking, but usually existing in some kind of picturesque vision of hedonism-light (which of course isn't hedonism at all). People like to be in these. They like to look pretty in these. They like this because they feel somehow it reflects their night.

The photographs don't capture the smell of stale beer and spilt coke and whiskey. They don't capture the feeling of being groped by strangers. They don't capture every time you weren't smiling.

But we trust what they do capture. We trust and think "What a good night", because that's what our eyes both us and everyone else. They collect an entirely false reality, which we then happily present as a truth.

That is my problem with photography. Nothing to do with the photographs themselves, but the inherent, occularcentric trust we have in them.

(this is of course a specific example - not all photographs, even those taken of you in night spots, do this)

- The more you love someone, the less their looks matter. Stendhal talked about beauty as it being the promise of happiness, and when you fall deeply in love with someone the happiness they promise you increases dramatically - to unbounded levels. This is why everyone claims that their partner is the most beautiful - to them they truly, sincerely are.

Therefor you should never view yourself as physically un-beautiful - unless of course you feel you unable to give another person happiness.

(and we are all, provided we work at it, capable of both promising and delivering happiness to certain people)

- Pornography is perhaps the ultimate trap, and in being so, the ultimate allegory to the problem of occularcentricism when applied to sexual desire. If you pare it down to what is essentially its base essentials, it begins to sound like some kind of perversely clever torture:

1. Take the single most physically pleasurable act capable to a human being - one whose pleasure is experienced through the less tangible senses: touch, smell and taste.

2. Present this act without using any of those senses, instead displaying it only through the more tangible, intelligent senses: vision and hearing.

Thus, it presents all of the visual cues of pleasure, but removes all the actual sensations of pleasure.

(I should note I am talking here of sex on a purely physical, sensation related level - there is obviously an emotional level in which a great sector of its pleasure resides - I am merely talking of our raw interaction with it through the senses)

- Breast enhancements and cosmetic labiaplasties are two examples of extreme occularcentricism, and both fill me with a profound (and useless) sense of regret over our society. I have no respect for men that favour the aesthetics of boob-jobs - these are men that lack imagination beyond what their eyes inform them and are probably terrible lovers.

(I have no factual basis for this last point but it makes sense somehow, no? You wouldn't trust a perfumer that preferred fake flowers.)

- The current fashion of the clean-shaven pubis is, I think, semiotically connected to the mainstream rise of pornography brought about through the internet. The evolutionary function of pubic hair is to provide visual cues as to the readiness to procreate. Thus it has a sexual link, but one in which leads to a necessary continuation of the species - to put it another way: you fuck, you have children. Pornography presents sex having this particular equation entirely removed from it - no porn films involves the woman then becoming pregnant and the tanned couples starting a family together, because it removes the lack of consequences and thus safety in the sex presented. With the post-internet pornographic boom then the cultural-subconscious decision was made to remove the visual cues of actual sexual reproduction and instead imagine a more fantastical hypothetical scenario where sex never lead to childbirth.

Because we so rarely discuss sex openly or honestly, pornography, viewed largely in private, very easily dictates what we regard as sexual norms. And thus: pubic hair has become both weird and unattractive.

(Again, the visual decision dictates the tactile experience. Again, the problem with occularcentricism.)

- Of all the senses, sight is the only one with the requirement of distance - taste and smell measure actual molecules entering our systems, touch is only experiences on our surfaces (internal and external), sound is experiencable at whatever distance the sound is capable of traveling (and is stronger the closer you are), but sight doesn't work at all if you are too close to your subject. This makes sight the perfect sense for obsessive tendancies, as obsession only works when there is some kind of distance between the obsessed and the obsessee (otherwise the obsessed's fantasies fall flat as they are forced to realise the reality of their subject). If you are prone to obsessing over people then here are two tips to avoid it:

1. Hang out with them on a regular basis.

or if that is not an option,

2. Don't look at pictures of them.

Staring forlornly at a potential lover is recipe for both unhappiness and, if left unbridled, obsession, because it is giving you some kind of imaginary access to them, but none of the actual access which would sufficiently ground your relationship with them. It keeps them in your mind, but in that mind allows them to float to the heavens as if angels, now miles above you, leaving you only to look up and marvel at their completely fictitious splendor.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Micro Story Draft: Strip Streetfighter

In an attempt to rescue our relationship, my girlfriend and I introduce the prefix "strip" into every facet of our day-to-day lives.

At morning we get up and go through our usual routine, taking our clothes off at every given moment. It takes is 2 or 3 times of putting on and taking off our pajamas before it starts to feel silly.

At breakfast she sleepily undoes her bra while sipping her first coffee with no hands. I whip my belt off and spill the milk.

In the bathroom I brush her teeth with one hand while taking her top off with the other - she does the same to me.

We say goodbye to each other on the front path of our house. She lifts her skirt instead of waving goodbye, I try to unbutton my shirt but the tie gets in the way.

At our lunch breaks we make excuses to others and hide in closets, locked offices, storerooms - anywhere we can be alone, to make out midday phone calls. We just have to trust that the person on the other line is also naked.

We end up getting take out rather then dining in a lot. No restaurant will let us eat the food off the other. We can't eat soup now for more or less the same reason. Spaghetti works.

Our nightly games of Streetfighter become Strip Streetfighter, one item of clothing lost per match lost. She chooses Chun-Li and I choose Ken. We start trying to lose on purpose if we sense the other person is feeling cold. I walk straight into her Thousand Burst Kick.

Bedtime approaches. She starts to undress for the final time but it suddenly occurs to me that I should tell her that I’m tired of her naked body. I tell her. She says “Well," and tells me my bare flesh makes her want to vomit. I tell her her shoulders are “stupid” and “nonsensical”. She tells me she no longer loves me. I tell her I already know.

I sit on the edge of our bed for the final time, running my fingers through my hair. She sits cross-legged on the living room couch, playing Streetfighter again, now alone, winning every round.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Something of Life (and then death)

My neighbour, Peter, just overdosed. There were the police in their fluro yellow vests and the ambulance officers in their calming blue shirts. By the time I was outside they'd already taken away the body - he was gone, dead. From the front of my house I saw the police searching through his now empty home. Their flashlights lengthened and shortened the shadows of the objects they passed over. One sat upon the officer who was closing the window: her shadow stretched right over my neighbour's yard. Then she closed the window.

I had known the guy since I moved in here almost 4 years ago. On my very first day there I passed him and another neighbour drinking wine together and talking. I thought "I wonder if that's what it's going to be like here - all chummy with neighbours and wine over conversation?". It wasn't. I didn't talk to him much outside of hellos and goodbyes. Until I started suffering from depression in 2007 I didn't realise he was severely depressed. I never knew he was an addict. It's odd how obvious it all is in retrospect though.


Please please please don't throw your life away. I am honestly begging you - you, you reading now. Don't even throw it away in small doses - hold it all close to your chest and cherish it. I don't care who you are and what you do with your time, I don't care how much money you make or how long it takes to fix up your hair, I don't care whether or not you give to charities and I don't care what kind of marks you got in high school - the very fact you're reading this means you're alive, and that means you have something that should be cared for and nurtured. Anything less is a tragedy.


Peter, I'm so so so sorry.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

L'Eau D'Issey pour Homme, or, the Problem with Popularity.

L'Eau D'Issey pour Homme was the last bottle of perfume I bought before I started becoming interested in perfume. This gives hint as to what it really is: the perfume for men who don't think to much about perfume. It is fresh, zesty, and with its strange combination of yuzu and sandalwood, quite unique.

My reason's for buying a bottle though had nothing to do with the smell. In fact, even when purchasing it I still hadn't warmed to the smell - it was too fresh and too zesty, like it was beckoning on insecurely for humid afternoon. My reasons for buying a bottle then, were very very stupid: it was because of the brand. At the time I was really into the work of a designer by the name of Tokujin Yoshioka. I loved his amazing chairs which communicated a real playful elegance and wit, but at the same time maintained a kind odd humility: it was as if the chairs themselves didn't know their own genius (this was, I should note, before I found and sat on one, and found it to possess a terrible texture and a generally over-bearing presence in real life). But Yoshioka was the young fledgling designer working under Miyake's wing, and I got into Miyake's curatorial design work for that. His watches collection in particular is very fun (though bounces between the stupid and the beautiful, depending on the watch). Feeling I trusted Miyake's judgment, I gambled on the bet that I would eventually warm to his perfume.

I did for a while. I really liked the fact that it didn't smell like I had imagined male fragrances to smell, but at the same time still smelt masculine. There was a real Japanese masculinity to it, a type of iki-masculinity - kind of dandy-ish but androgynous rather than feminine. The handsome young Japanese men you see on variety shows, extroverted and elfin and adored by women. And this last point is important.

Wear Issey Miyake and you will probably hear in female whispers around you "Someone's wearing Issey...". They then may ask you if it's you. You say "Yes.". They say:
"I love Issey Miyake, I had an ex who wore it..."
Or maybe it's their current partner. Mention the fact that you wear L'Eau D'Issey pour Homme and, far more so than any other fragrance, women will gush over both how much they adore it, and how they probably have had someone in their life who also wears it (without excaggerating, if the 5 women I've conversed with about Issey Miyake, all have had more or less this reply). Which tells you two things:
1. Women love Issey Miyake.
2. Probably because of this, men over-wear Issey Miyake.

I had no idea of Issey Miyake's reputation for either of these points when I bought it - had I known I probably wouldn't have laid down the cash. But it proved a very interesting investment as the experience of wearing the fragrance taught me something very important about fragrance: It does not pay to be popular.

This is why: Issey Miyake will never be You. Or they will be You, but not only You. If you were to walk down the street wearing Issey and passed someone who got a whiff - they would smell it, and more so than any other perfume, think of someone else - not You. Smell and memory tends to work on a first come, first served basis - the first person who wore lots of Issey will then claim the smell, and you may in fact become this person for one or two people - but for the vast majority you won't be: you will be their ex who once called them fat then locked himself in the bathroom for 2 hours for reasons they're still unaware of, you will be their brother that once sat on their bed crying after his lies about sleeping with Laura Bradley caught up with him in the most painful way, you will be their boyfriend that loves going into work everyday solely for the reason that he can stand and stare at the bikini-girl posters from Zoo magazine plastered on the storeroom wall. But you won't be You.

In fact it is so over-used it becomes a kind of fog. I smelt it on three men tonight just walking through the store. Eventually that Yuzu-Sandalwood combination becomes this general feeling of man: the zesty smell really blends badly with BO as well, so it generates a kind of lazy, "Was working, came home and stunk, sprayed something on over it to hide it", Lynx-effect male mentality. It becomes a man, undoubtedly, but a nameless, faceless man, existing somewhere in the general area of society. And maybe this works for you - maybe all you want in a fragrance is something that lets people know you are a man - any man. But you should want more, because without this fog, a good fragrance communicates so much more. Absinthe by Nasomatto, for example, communicates an earthy yet temperamental genius - a faulty person for sure, but someone whose pure world view is so profound you couldn't really doubt them. Antico Caruso by Profumum is a tremendously succesful man who has never forgotten his roots - he still has Sunday dinner with his family each week, and doesn't show off his wealth, as he is completely comfortable with his position in life. L'homme Sage by Divine speaks of such tremendous sensitivity, such awareness of the senses, that there is no way they can be anything less than a divine lover.

In the face of so many other fragrances, why settle for something that just says "man"? A nameless group, sweaty shirts and gelled hair, annoying you because they took their drinks onto the dance floor. You deserve better.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A List of Men You Shouldn't Go Out With

I've had enough female friends and have talked through enough of other people's relationship problems to come up with some fairly obvious fault areas: men who you really should not go out with. As a side note, people can always change and mature. We are able to, with amazing veracity, turn our lives around and change everything. These then are more possible points in a man's existance when you should not date him (not to they will all grow out of these points either). Here is the list:

Men who expect you to cook for them.

Not having the ability or sense to cook is forgivable – it involves certain skills and modes of thought that not everyone possess. But you should never go out with a man who expects you to cook for them for one very simple reason: it changes an activity which should be pleasurable for you into a chore. Cooking a beautiful meal for a loved one is one of the most instantly gratifying things you can do, but having this expectation on you mutates the activity into something wholly unpleasant.

Men who don’t do their own laundry.

This is both arrogant and pathetic. Men that do not launder their own clothes have been spoilt to a dumb degree and will not be used to not getting what they want. They will be immature and petulant, like young children.

Men that regularly spend 5+ hours daily playing video games and are over 21.

Anyone with that great a need of escapism, whilst not being able to overcome the daily deficiencies in their own life which fill their need to play video games, will probably not handle the trials of a relationship very well (or, indeed, the pleasures: no video game, not even Castlevania, will make you a better lover).

Men with the word “Failure” cut into their arms.

This is a specific case I saw, but it applies generally to someone who hates themselves considerably. Don’t go out with these people – they have, somewhere along the way, convinced themselves that because they are losers, they don’t deserve any happiness or success, and will constantly sabotage their endeavors. Not only that, but because a relationship would you would qualify as a success, they will do everything they can to make you hate them, and if you’re still around, will try to pull you down with them.

Men that are loathed by all of their exes.

I quick glance at a man’s relationship with his exes can give you a pretty good summation of a few things: how they handle themselves in times of relationship crisis, and how generally mature they are. Also, if there are any latent dickhead tendencies lurking underneath, this is where it will be most obvious.

Men who feel the need to constantly remind the world how not gay they are.

The thing is, they’re probably not gay, but this is what makes it so worrisome. This level of sexual insecurity is not helpful for a relationship.

Men with questionable relationships with their exes.

Men who flirt with their exes with little regard for your feelings, and will then turn it around on you with accusations of jealousy. It is really a question of priorities: if they make no consideration to change or modify their behaviour in order to account for your very normal and understandable insecurities over their former lovers than that they behaviour is innately selfish and self-serving.

I have a sense of smell again!: Invasion Barbare by MDCI

I've had hay fever for the past few days and thus my capacity to smell things has been severely limited - everything - rose, new car, baby, sardine - smelling of the metallic nastiness of mucus. It has been very unpleasant.

But I can smell again now, so I thought I'd write up a review of a scent I tried out yesterday: Invasion Barbare by MDCI.

In other reviews I've read that this fragrance ultra-masculine, but a kind of rugged, muscular, barbarian-like (in a Schwarzenegger sense) masculine, which evokes bronzed bodies, animal hide and unrealistic muscles. But I feel these reviews are largely missing the point of Invasion Barbare - that is, it still smells like a torrid, sword-wielding fight, but one done through a certain kind of aesthetic, largely contrary to the aforementioned image.

To me, Invasion Barbare, with its musk/vanilla/leather base and lavender/grapefruit tops, smells of exquisite flesh. It is fresh, clean and sun-soaked flesh. It is lavishly smooth flesh with all the spicy notes (ginger, cardamom) playing finely nuanced supporting roles.

Because it is really an imagined, idealized flesh, it has the effect of being something quite familiar-yet-strange. It becomes the concept of flesh rather than anyone's actual flesh, but in doing so, highlights the nature of flesh to a degree that disembodies it. It is too beautiful a flesh to be actually attached to any living thing, it is rather flesh which is just kind of floating there in mid-air. Much like Luca Turin talks about fruit scents evoking giant imagined fruits, this fragrance evokes a giant hunk of flesh. Now, a giant piece of fruit is all very well and good - this in itself is desirable and playful. But a giant hunk of flesh? No matter how beautiful, there is something violent about it. And no doubt, this is a violent fragrance.

The name is the first give away: Barbarian Invasion. More than enough sliced, disembodied flesh in those two words. Then, there is the slightly carrion-like smell that just juts under everything else - it is not sickly though, but utterly entrancing. Like a slight fecal smell can make a floral scent narcotic, the slight smell of death here makes this all the more desirable. It ends up then being not-unlike a Japanese envisioning of a beautiful, aesthetic death, with its puzzlingly alluring dismemberment and spurts of blood on rainbow arcs. It is truly the most romantic, divine death imaginable.

There is a particular way it blends with your sweat as well that is very clever, but I'll talk about that another day (when I talk about M.Micallef's Gaiac, another tremendous masculine scent). This is really one of the best fragrances I've ever smelt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What You Can Learn From: Running

I went running for the first time in a year on Friday. It has been a year of very slothful activity: uni has forced me into buses and seats, and the eradication of free time has ruined my once pretty decent diet. With the decision to leave uni prematurely in a blaze of blissful failure and head to a completely uncertain though totally exciting future now fully made I decided I should maybe try my hand at running once again.

I never used to be a big runner, but I did it semi-regularly once I graduated high school. I would run along the bike path near my house, just using the intensity of the experience to drain some of my pent up teenage emotions. Of course for this reason I was a terrible runner: I didn’t listen at all to my body and paid no attention to my breathing patterns. Instead I’d just opt for stupid sprints until I started to taste blood. It didn’t do much for my fitness since I did it too sparingly – it was more like giving my body some kind of a jolt. I had it in my mind that I was a terribly unfit person and that this was merely my nature, no amount of exercise would change my limited physical abilities.

This, however, was of course bull-shit. I was unfit because I never exercised, but my proof of a kind of unshakable unfitness was near dead state I would be in after kind of physical excursion – something that would have changed had I just exercised more regularly and not be put off by the notion that if I am bad at something from the start I will always be bad at it. It was very logically unsound.

Recently I read ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami and felt a certain sadness at never being a particularly fit man. Murakami’s book partly chronicles his slight melancholy at the realisation of his body’s slow decline as he gets older, and I suddenly realised I was wasting here my own perfectly good, still young body. I suddenly felt I was taking myself for granted.

So I went running on Friday, on the same bike path near my local beach. Following my friend M’s advice, I would run for four minutes, then have a break, then run for another four, and etcetera. This was the plan. I set my iPod to play the last four minutes of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ to note my time, pressed play and started running.

Four minutes later, and about 600km, I was dead. My face was burning red and my legs felt boneless. I was sure I was going to throw up and ruin some poor emetophobic’s beaching experience. Forgoing the plan, I rested for about 10 minutes then got back up, starting a slow walk. I tried running again, but only got about two minutes before I decided to pack it in. Far from feeling dejected about my failure – as I once would have done, I made the mental effort to frame this the right way: I am unfit, but keep running and I will only get fitter. With effort there is only improvement.

I rested and worked Saturday and Sunday. The previous short run had, through various pains, taught me a great deal about the physical make up of the human leg. It even revealed to me a muscle I never knew existed.

Monday arrived and I had promised myself to run again. I wasn’t simply going to give up because I was so terribly at it on first attempt, like I usually do with things in my life. Instead, I was ready to embrace my suckiness – knowing full well this is what I will have to work through. The air was slightly cooler and I didn’t bring my iPod this time. Because I was more familiar with the experience and had a better understanding of when my body was liable to give out, I ran with a great deal less panic. I took great care to listen to my body and run the way it wanted to run, and more importantly, breathe at a rhythm which suited my speed.

This time I ran about 1.25kms – more than twice the Friday before. By the end I was still dead, but genuinely surprised that I had managed that much more. I sat at a picnic table which overlooked the grey beach and caught my breathe. I was surrounded by a circus of flies who ruined the ambiance, but who after a while I became quite fond of. I played a bit with them, making slow, clumsy swats with my hands as if we were play-fighting. I stood up and walked back. I tried to run a bit on the way back but my legs just felt completely hollow.

Today I decided I would run again, and forgo the two day rest I had last time. I told myself how it would be OK if I didn’t run as far, because I wasn’t as rested, and this was no indication of any kind of demoralizing non-linear relationship between effort and success. I did the 1.25km run to the picnic table fairly easily. The flies weren’t there, but without them I could enjoy the serene beauty of the beach unobstructed. When I stood back up to walk home I realised my legs still felt fairly strong. Just to test myself now, I started running again. I did about 500km then got felt it was a bit much and stopped, but still felt a fair deal of admiration for the human body. With about 200km to go I decided “Fuck it” and just sprinted the rest – as fast and as hard as I could manage, just to ensure my legs were properly spent. I hit the rail fence to end it with a euphoric flourish and congratulated myself. I have been good at many things in my life, but (perhaps because of this) have always terrible with any kind of effort.

I think there is a lot you can learn about life through running. In less than a week this is what I have learnt:

1. The human body is an amazing thing which we don’t really appreciate enough. It adapts the physical pressures so quickly that it really is amazing. We think ourselves too weak and too frail and neglect our own potential. This applies emotionally as well – we shy away from situations because we fear the pain they might cause us, but in doing so we ignore the amazing ability of the human animal to adapt and to just keep on living.

2. Being naturally good is one thing, but a true sense of satisfaction only comes from effort. There are plenty of things I’ve done very well without trying much, but the satisfaction you get from these is really somewhat meagre. You usually find yourself saying ‘So? It is what I expected.’ With something you are naturally and self-assuredly good at, your expectation is exceedingly high, so when you reach this high point, it ends up bringing you very little satisfaction – more likely just a smile and a shrug. By putting in sustained effort, you kind of stop yourself from saying ‘Sure, but I was good at it anyway’ and undermining your achievements.

3. Being bad at something is a terrible reason to avoid doing it. To only do what you’re good at directly ties your sense of enjoyment with the acquisition of success. But that enjoyment never satisfies, because you can always be more successful. You end up never really enjoying life because what you are chasing keeps on moving further away – you think you’ll be happy when that one, magical moment of success happens, but then it passes and your life suddenly starts craving something new to pursue. The trick is, as far as I understand, to enjoy everything – no matter if you’re good at it or not, whether you’ll be successful or not. You can’t rely on the idea that the enjoyment will start once you achieve your goal – because it may be there for a while but just as quickly it goes. You have to learn to enjoy it all along the way – live life joyfully. And that is why you shouldn’t stop doing something because you’re bad at it. You should learnt to enjoy it, find the bliss in it, and re-organise your priorities.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jubilation XXV by Amouage.

I've often held fantasies of being fantastically wealthy. These are guilty fantasies because I like to downplay the importance of money as much as possible - deep down I do believe that materialism obstructs more happiness than it creates. But still the less dogmatic, less mature side of me occasionally envisions a future of sizable, if not infinite, wealth.

Jubilation XXV could be said to represent such a fantasy. It is the fragrance equivalent of Uncle Scrooge's giant vat of gold coin's from Duck Tales. It is simply full of opulent ingredients: a very striking frankincense, gaiacwood, ambergris, oud, musk - and spices like cinnamon and clove, ad sweet smelling honey and orange and rose - it is basically a lot of perfume in one single perfume. It dries down to a very comfortable, dark, rich scent. But before this it fizzes. Fizzes very strangely, right in the back of your nose. Like when you take the first sip of freshly poured champagne. After that it sparkles. Like gold. I assume this is what they were trying to evoke - images of lavish, high-society parties with all the trimmings of a financially over-zealous existence.

Which is essentially the problem with the fragrance: it's trying to smell rich. It's trying to evoke wealth, and the moment you detect the attempt at something is the moment you doubt its sincerity. Which is odd. Because it is rich and it is opulent and it is stupidly expensive ($245 US for 50ml), but by giving away that hint of effort to appear this way it ends up undermining it all. Because a truly wealthy fragrance would never go out of its way to appear wealthy - much like an accomplished fighter doesn't start fights in front of kebab shops - knowing they have nothing to prove, they forgo their insecurity.

As beautiful and as well crafted as it is, I think it's a rather idiotic fragrance to actually wear, as it suggests immediately: this is who I want to be. Of course, all perfume does this to an extent, but usually its ideals are connected to character or personality or sexual archetype - we want to smell professional or sexually mysterious or playful or such. By smelling like Jubilation XXV you admit to a kind of superficiality in which your ideals don't even have personality traits, just wealth. They are merely wealthy mannequins, their arms positioned they best they can to sip, but the champagne just cascading over their plastic lips and staining the expensive fabric which covers their nipple-less chests.


From March

I was sitting in Fremantle train station, waiting, as one does, for a train. A girl walked past me and sat a few seats down - beautiful, pretty, cute, upturned nose like a ski-jump, circular scar on her right shoulder, tied up dark hair. She was crying. Absolutely sobbing into her sunglasses, then wiping away whatever tears happened to flow out from under them. She would stop momentarily, then look up again in my direction, then start crying again.

I sat there, thinking. Should I go over? What would I do? I imagined getting up and walking over, but then this is the conversation I imagined in my head:

ME: Are you OK?

SHE: *Cries*

ME: *lost for words because she's obviously NOT OK which is why she's crying so it's a really dumb question to ask*

So I sat there for a while, dicing through hypothetical scenarios, until the train arrived.

On board, we sat in a similar set up: her to my right with about 4 seats between us. Like me, she checked and adjusted her hair in the window's reflection, but unlike me she was (still) crying. I revised my imagined conversation:

ME: Hi, sorry, but are you OK?

SHE: No.

*shakes head, not looking at me*

I'm not.

ME: Well... if there's anything at all I can do as a complete and total stranger on a train, let me know yeah?

SHE: *looks at me, nods*

But I was too scared to. By this stage, other people started getting on the train - the first, three Swedish tourists, sitting across from us. They seemed to note her crying, but they sat amongst themselves with their foreign tongue. This was now tough - any interaction I made with the crying girl would now have an interested audience.

"Hey! Remember that guy who talked to that girl on the train and she yelled at him for coming up and talking to her like a creep when she was obviously just upset? In Australia? Hans! Remember that?"

So I kept my mouth shut.

More people arrived. Middle aged Japanese couple, girl with nose ring, and young couple, who sat across from the girl. More than anyone else they too noted her crying, but made no show of it. By now the girl seemed to have hit a spot of quiet resignation - she looked almost wistful. Then she quickly took her phone out to read something.

The train started. The girl-half of the young couple showed off their newest acquisition: some Japanese toy. It was composed of two mechanical dolls, like squat spinning tops, which sat upon a small stage with a circular track. She placed the dolls on the track, then wound the stage up below. The dolls started to spin - spin around the track and spin around themselves, while the whole contraption began to play Beethoven's "Fur Elise" in stops and starts. I smiled.

I decided I had to say or do something otherwise I would regret it forever. Maybe it would have no effect. Maybe it would result in my humiliation. But maybe it would change everything. It seemed like a sensible bet to take with that in mind.

I had only one stop, because I was getting off at North Fremantle. I thought: I can't go over and talk to her, because the minute I do, I'll have to leave, and that would be redundant. Maybe I could write something for her, I decided. Just something, anything, to show her that she somehow wasn't alone, that somehow someone cared. But I had no pen or paper. I looked in my wallet - most cards couldn't be written on (The Shearing Shed, Fi&Co, Igor & Katja, the W.A. Police), but a few were white. I couldn't use one of my therapist's cards ("Hi! I see you're crying on a train. Take this card. You're obviously nuts and should be in therapy."), nor could I use my rent card (because I, well, needed it to pay the rent). The only thing left was a reciept I got from Soho-Soho the night before, when I payed for my fishcakes with eftpos because the meal cost $20.50 and I only had a $20 on me. It would do fine.

But I didn't have anything to write with. My mind started to get desperate - can I scratch an impression with my thumbnail? Do I carry lipstick? *Any* makeup I can use to write with? I realised I had to bite the bullet and be brave: I had to ask a stranger for a pen while on a train. I looked around: the girl with the nose ring had a bag.

"Sorry." I said, trying to get her attention. Failed.

"Sorry." I said again. "But do you happen to have a pen I could borrow?"

I repeated my question because she couldn't understand it, then started looking through her bag. I started making up excuses, saying

"I just had this thought that I really needed to jot down.", as if somehow needing a pen made me look like a freak or a loser and I had to hide this fact. She finally found a permanent marker and lent it to me, and I quickly jotted down a note on the back of the receipt. I gave it back, thanked her, then folded the note self-consciously - not wanting to show the message to anyone else on the train, and also wanting to avoid her thinking I had just given her a receipt for a burger joint.

My stop came, and I leant over to her and placed the note on her bag. She looked at me quizzically, but I stood up and walked passed her to the train door. I pressed the button for it to open, then stood, fixed like concrete in my place, staring straight ahead. Did she even see the note? Did she think it was rubbish? Did she open it up? Did she read it?

The train door opened and I stepped outside. Without turning back, I started to walk as the train rolled on. I decided that even if she didn't read the note, it didn't really matter. Because I trusted for her what I had written on it:

It'll get better.

So irregardless of me, it would.

I walked out of the train station, full of adrenaline and loving, even for this brief moment, what it meant to be human.

Then I walked back because I realised I hadn't tagged off.

The end.

On Ghosts

I walked past a ghost tonight. It is a ghost I see on an almost weekly basis. As usual it was the same outcome: they completely didn’t see me and made no acknowledgment of my existence. Any attempt to catch eye-contact or entice with a friendly smile proved futile. They are simply existing on another plane of existence which once ran through mine. They were once very much alive and responsive – they smiled and laughed called me by my name. But now they are merely a ghost.

It is virtually impossible to get to a certain age and not have a few ghosts: people who have, for one reason or another, through their fault or yours (or more likely, both), have decided to ignore you completely, as if they were unable to materialise any sort of contact. I myself have two or three (at least). They touch nothing directly in your life with their presence – they might in fact try with great effort to keep whatever presence they have away from you by crossing the street or waiting for the next bus – but merely by being there and being ghosts they succeed in filling your life with a palpable sense of emptiness.

‘What am I?’ you suddenly ask yourself. ‘What kind of monster is deserving of this?’

But of course you are not a monster, you are a human. You are so human, you are probably someone else’s ghost. You’ve crossed streets or pretended that the bus wasn’t yours – you’ve diverted your eyes at the right time, perhaps simply out of ease or perhaps out of spite. You’ve liked, then loved, then hated, and then not known what to think, so it is simply easier, and less scary, to not look. This is the recipe of the ghost. So much of our interaction with the world and the interaction done to us is fraudulent: we really aren’t suddenly transfixed by a certain cloud which requires us to move our gaze to a certain fixed spot, we really aren’t suddenly called “silently” on our mobiles and have to take upon an enthusiastic conversation with our mothers. But in doing these acts we do a disservice to our fellow human. We leave them thinking

‘What am I? What kind of monster is deserving of this?’

So I propose we all cease being ghosts to each other. We look at each other. We don’t have to smile (we may not like certain others), but we owe it to humanity to at least acknowledge each others existence, no matter how scary or confronting a prospect that might be. The harm we potentially do isn't worth the stress we potentially save ourselves from, selfishly, as if all others were on another plane of existence.