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.