Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Counterpoint

It was the most paradoxical element of the friendship with my brother, the musical aspect. He was the one to push for the acquisition of the Health Hustles cassette. He campaigned for the purchase of the iconic collection of cassettes that scored our trip to England. In 1993, he acquired Queen's Greatest Hits II and promptly educated me about the band. He soon pushed Dad to buy Greatest Flix I (and rent Greatest Flix II) and we watched them together, making observations about their music videos. I obliged in drawing a moustache on his upper lip and he climbed up onto his desk to pose like Freddie Mercury.

He was the first one to introduce me to the Beatles, again pushing for the purchase of the Red and Blue albums on vinyl. We watched the Anthology together when it first aired on TV. He'd dub songs from the Anthology onto cassette, with remnants of interviews from John, Paul, George and Ringo spliced between the songs. As I sat and watched it, I wrote and illustrated a short story about teenage twins who investigated petty crimes in Perth. In time, he'd make mixtapes for the rusty Magna and Porsche, primarily made up of truncated MP3s with low bitrates, salvaged from Audiogalaxy, ripped from Sonique and later, Winamp.

We bonded over Depeche Mode, Ratcat, Roxette, Erasure, The Smiths and The Cure. During one manic shopping spree, he purchased a stack of CD boxsets featuring one-hit wonders from the 1980s. He said he'd introduce music to me and then I'd ruin it, car crashing everything with my intensity. I'd want to transform all my musical passions into projects. I'd create an elaborate school project on the Milli Vanilli scandal. I'd teach myself HTML to create a Geocities webpage with lengthy lyric analyses and Choose Your Own Adventure fanfic. I'd design clothes inspired by Zandra Rhodes in a series of fashion folios. I'd handstitch lyrics from All Dead, All Dead into a cloth-bound journal. Behind a locked door, I'd sing covers on the piano, guitar and later, Microkorg and he'd come to bang on the door, demanding to play along with me.

The music was a fundamental component of the friendship that once existed between my brother and I. When the friendship broke down in 2001, he developed a newfound obsession with progressive hair metal, music that was far from the pop sensibility that we had once cultivated. To me, it was music that was primarily geared to impress those who wanted to impress others. When I cut contact from him in 2010, I knew that I would no longer have mutual access to those memories, persuasions or intensities. Wistfulness is currently limited to the practice of listening to Per Gessle obscurities. It's the only thing that I know he would like now, but I feel no compulsion to engage in any sort of dialogue with him again. I feel strong knowing that I don't wish to know him.

Our musical friendship was never compatible with my firmly established narratives of rage and control, violence and fear. Yet, it's the purest incarnation of a musical friendship that I've ever known. Future friendships with men followed its prototype, intense musical discussions with unacknowledged elements of shame, secrecy and resentment. When lovers left, I would devote myself to their ghosts, appointing them as patron saints of personal writing, post punk and creative enterprise. I'd fill grief into unread notebooks and dense essays, telling myself repeatedly that they are my muses, they own my creativity, they own the greatest parts of myself...

I've recognised the familiarity of the dynamic in those moments when the men I loved raged and verbally lashed out at me. My recognition would be sparked by a line that would recur in diaries: I try so hard to make them be nice to me... I'd become sensitive to their moods, adapting my behaviour to minimise the possibility of setting them off. I'd attempt to distract them with music, love or kindness, all the while knowing that they harboured this deep seated resentment towards me. In a naive gesture, I have revealed that I've had to implement familiar behavioural strategies to cope with their mood swings. Drawing metaphors with earlier abuse destroyed whatever love was left. My attempts to understand why this dynamic kept on occurring were left unexplored.

My brother once said to me that I was the best girl in Melbourne. There was a time when I was the only person he wished to spend time with. He described me as the best writer out of any of us, he raved that I was the most musical member of the family. As with any sort of legacy, it continues to be difficult to reconcile statements with behaviours. I have a choice of how to manage it, how to construct a cohesive narrative which accommodates for the contradiction of affinity and abuse. Perhaps I'll never understand why those qualities co-existed as they did, but I want to understand why I have permitted them to persistently occur in other relationships, living on and manifesting in this unacknowledged state.

Maybe I just wanted the music to be enough to cure us both.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Absolute Beginners

I had never written you an unsent letter. My essays were my unsent letters. They were formalised affairs with broader themes, but I wrote them with you in mind, like Montaigne to La Boétie. I wrote them to heal and accept what had happened because I suppose in spite of everything, I had always hoped that you loved me more.

I have now returned to my home and I see that you're checking in, more and more. Again, I'm left to consider whether there's anything left to say. Are there any more poetics? Do I have any further revelations, anything you need to know? Do I want a dialogue? Perhaps, but I can't guarantee that I won't be destroyed by it.

For the months that I've known it was you, I've wondered what was the point of your readership, but then I remember how much you loved my writing. You swooned over it in chunky paragraphs, saying that my musical writing should be prescribed reading from the age of 14. Perhaps you are curious, perhaps you miss my universe.

I once wrote of my suspicion of those who didn't write, as if those who failed to write failed to remember. Now I've returned to my room, with stacks upon stacks of filled notebooks, creaking with dust and melancholy. I wrote to find an acceptable truth, but it meant distorting all I knew to create a narrative where I was the victim who cared more.

When they announced that the hostel was probably going to shut down, I used my sentimental reputation to patronise the feelings of others. In a heated discussion with a dear friend, I predicted a future where we all dispersed and they'd wipe out memories of the life we shared together. Teary-eyed, she swore at me and stormed out of the kitchen.

After that confrontation, I realised that I have challenged the sentimentality of others for as long as I can remember. In the most natural and subversive tactic, I've boasted that I'm prepared for their forthcoming betrayal. It's harsh and unfeeling and I'm not entirely clear why I do it. Perhaps it's an attempt to deceptively obtain an undertaking that they do care, some evidence I can take down for later use.

Otherwise, I often find myself sitting across from the heartbroken, counselling the sentimental. They yearn for a familiar face and dialogue. I speak of loss authoritatively and I encourage them to write it out. I speak, mindful of the lyrics of Paul Weller, "you can lose a lifetime thinking of it and lose an era daydreaming like I do..."

We can lose an era when we begin to contemplate our consequence. I can't begin to know of mine, but I will say that I cherish those qualities I inherited from you: the unyielding energy and enthusiasm for creative projects, the fascination for musical anecdotes, the desire to research weird subcultures.

It would have been cool to share all that with you, but it's alright. I can explore all that with the people who can be here now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Desire Lines

I used to count how many cities I had visited since he'd left. I last counted nine, but I know there have been many more since then. Perhaps when I got to 10, 15 or 20 cities, I would lose that compulsion to report to him. I would no longer stumble over those various reminders that'd compel me to reach out, swooning with some references that only he would understand. Perhaps, then, I might have seen enough to convince me that there was more to life than that love.

The on-road associations used to rattle in my chest until I communicated them to him. It was the same even when we knew each other, I'd rush to tell him all I had seen in Stockholm or Budapest, all the neon, the cheap vinyl and all the model buildings, poorly constructed in balsa wood. It'd all be filtered through his tastes and persuasions, because I had lovingly retained all that he told me. All reports would be met with the same remark: "That's awesome! I wish I could have been there with you!"

He used to say that a lot to me. In fact, he used to say it every day. It started when he declined going to Tower of London with me. Instead, I went alone, quietly resigned to the dynamic that would always exist between us. He would always decline any prospect of a tacky adventure, citing lack of time and logistical difficulties. I would always go forth unbegrudgingly, earphones in place, prepared to tell him every detail of the day's mission when we reconvened that night. It was an operation that was on his terms, but then I was always prepared to accept whatever was offered to me.

In our last conversation, I detected a tone that almost resembled rage: "Look, if there was anybody in the world that I could spend time with, it'd be you, OK? But I just don't have the time." It's perhaps one of the most familiar components of any friendship I've ever had, this ambiguous sense of unrequitedness. It carries on from the first friends I ever had, refusing to come with me to Scienceworks to Laur's handwritten letter, explaining she doesn't want to go out with me on weekends because she's more of a "stay-at-home kinda girl". When Gav flaked out on going to a Smiths night at Ding Dong, my disappointment overshadowed any joy that had preceded it. My hope managed to fracture the love I would historically value most.

I tend to forget those days when they relented: they went out, they actually did what I wanted, the things I had dreamt of. There are three particular days which seem eerily similar to one another, even though they happened in 2006, 2012 and 2016. On two out of the three occasions, they would scald me for being "unable to walk down street properly". On each of the occasions, we would eat at a cafe and they would openly yearn for some other girl. They'd be distant and distracted, irritable and pissed off. As we walked down High Holborn on the third occasion, the familiarity of it overcame me. I choked out that had to leave and for the first time ever, I volunteered to be alone.

The friends that remain want to shake me, they want to rid of my desire to make associations, to create reports for these people who simply don't care. They want to rid me of a plague that consumes me, that occupies my heart in lieu of any functional attachment. When I'm challenged on the subject, I say that the difficulty is that he never actually mistreated me, the greatest brutality was his silence. I begrudge others for so much less, but in this instance, he's left with me with enough evidence to suggest that he would have wanted to have been here, he would have wanted to hear all about it, still. I suppose it's up to me to choose how to reconcile those proclamations alongside the fundamental truth that he could have been here if he wanted to be.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Walls

Ross and I posed for the photograph at reception, holding defaced playing cards to our fringes. It was the night that the party suddenly relocated to reception and then they explained: "We didn't want you to miss out!" As the night rolled on, we sat together, attempting to deduce whatever was scrawled in pencil on our cards. We often failed to retain whatever clues we had just been given and so the game drew on endlessly with exasperated cries of frustration from those who knew the answer was LIME. It was one of those loud games I'd only ever watch in silence, looking up at the kitchen's security camera but that night, I was pulled in and included.

I saw that photograph again last night. Alex had sent it to me during the night but it was a photograph of a print. He typed across it: "You made my wall :D" Last winter, he had spent his nights with me, sitting up, discussing music, writing, politics, love and grief. We spent some time in the daylight too, walking around Primrose Hill and Regent's Park, recalling how we had once been loved. We agonised how we wish those that we loved would reach out, how we wish they'd somehow change their minds. I reiterated all the stilted advice I had been given, all the advice that I could never really accept. I said that despite everything, we would even yearn for this very moment in time. But much like my stilted advice, I'm not sure if he ever really believed me.

I don't own a desk here but I often find myself falling asleep and dreaming of them in fantastical settings. I've often yearned for a place to be alone, a place where I can sit and research and write without anyone asking why I am writing anything down. It never seems to be a particularly popular pastime, to think and reflect. This morning, I was reminded of my own desk and how much I missed my wall with all its photographs and emblems of love and loss. Everything from John Lennon Guy's threepence to a photochrom of Chillon Castle in Vevey. I had thought so much of the physicality of desk that I forgot what it meant to look up from it, to think and to miss.

I have recreated a similar sort of space next to my bed in the rave cave. I can't properly write there but each day I look up and see the 7" inch record of John Leyton's Johnny Remember Me. There's Kayln's drawing of a sleeping fox on grid paper and Laur's blueprint of the Tokyo Disneyland Castle. There is a scrap of paper featuring handwritten Kaseva lyrics, lovingly translated from Finnish to English by Olli, the night-time successor of Alex. I get emotional whenever I think of the mere gesture: the handwriting, how the lyrics squarely reflect my grief, the pain caused by the physicality of love lost.

One of the greatest pains of existing as a sentimentalist is that regardless of any advice to the contrary, you live with this perpetual feeling of unrequitedness. You insist that you care more because you write and remember and reach out. Yet I have carelessly discarded those who have been reckless with my heart, I have establised a willingness to overwrite memories, to freely destroy the legacy of music held fast in time. I recently wrote that "I am in this conflict of wanting to remember and wanting to forget, wanting to reveal and wanting to obscure". I want to write for you constantly, but I am troubled by the thought that you don't write for me.

I try to adopt a gracious and grateful mindset. I am moved to learn that I am remembered, that my friends wish to look up from their desks and see me. I am moved that they relocate their parties and transcribe lyrics, they draw foxes that screech in the night streets of Bloomsbury and they make me food most nights, in the knowledge that I don't bother with that sort of stuff anymore. They make it clear to me that this is not an unrequited friendship. They make it known that they love and remember, in the same way that I love and remember.