Thursday, September 14, 2017

Davina

I never wanted to contemplate the possibility of losing Davina. I held onto the thought that she would always be online and we would always resume where we left off, just chatting and laughing and sharing as if no time had passed at all. When I'd ask, she'd be honest about what was happening to her. She'd tell me of the sequence of procedures, the gruesome and intense pain she was in. I can't imagine what kind of strength she would have needed to endure what she did. We'd type out strategies to feel better somehow, working out how to live mindfully and make music. In spite of whatever was happening to her, she would always ask about me.

I loved being with Davina so much, I loved being at her house. I loved that our history expanded back way into the 1980s, when I was a late toddler with my hair in tight ringlets. We constantly collated our memories of Studley Park and Kew Primary, sharing photos, documents and stories of us hanging out by the peppercorn tree or playing Eliminator, a simplified version of four-square on the basketball courts. She was so warm and loving, always bringing a doona and tattered plush squirrel along to school camps. She belonged to the Double Helix Club and shared my love of slime, stickers and the newly-opened Science Works. Her June birthday parties were legendary, with damper by the Yarra River, awe-inspiring science tricks performed by her dad and extravagant spreads put on by her mum. Kabana and cheese were a Davina staple.

Davina was the original conversationalist, always open to taking a turn around the oval to analyse music, friends and family. I missed her badly when she went to Europe in 1995, but when she returned, she presented a hand-written travel diary to us all, complete with ticket stubs stuck fast with contact on the cover. I loved that diary, the details of the places she visited in her familiar print, often in green or purple ink. I'd keep all the postcards she'd later send to me, sweet and brief reports from her adventures in Tasmania. What she made was always a profound influence on me and more to the point, all the stories I ever wrote about friends frolicking about Europe together were actually dreams of our own adventures. I always imagined we would travel together and we sort of did, going roller skating and to Madame Tussaud's when it toured Melbourne.

She loved and understood music in a way that I loved and understood music. She always encouraged me to write and share my songs with her. She engaged with my theories and insights into Queen, always being open to listen to songs that I loved. She gifted me a cassette dub of Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill and we openly insisted that Oasis and Babylon Zoo reminded us of each other. She sang, played the piano and the recorder and played Theonie in the original musical theatre production of the Crystals of Ashagri. When I became depressed after not receiving a more substantial role in the production, she consoled me for literally decades, insisting that it only happened because I was needed in the orchestra.

We spent so much time together, listening to music and exploring seedy chat rooms like The Park. We'd spend a lot of time on MS-DOS too, playing Pickle Wars or Wacky Races on my 1000 Games CD Rom. We'd later develop an addiction to Bejewelled on MSN. Each night, she'd suggest we'd start another game: "bej?" Our talks rolled on for hours and each night, she'd always cry out when the birds would start chattering, signalling the end of yet another night and another failed resolution to "fix our hours". The friendship would roll on from platform to platform, from ICQ to Myspace, Facebook to Instagram. The chats always just picked up where we left off.

I've been thinking about our nights out together, partying together over New Year's Eve, watching Jackson Jackson at the Evelyn, the Cat Empire at the St Kilda Festival and dancing at Cherry. I've been trying to salvage these moments and the truth is that more details come to light each day. I'm always thinking and remembering Davina, tripping over reminders and conversations that we had. They're the kinds of things we would have reminisced about, but there are also the new things that really had nothing to do with the past. I know that I'll never stop wanting to talk to her. I know that I'll think of her whenever I see a squirrel or the birds start waking up in the morning. I'll always love her and think of her in a very present way. I'll try to preserve all that we shared. Davina knew what it was to love and remember.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Nuances

"This very familiar recital of the musical experience suddenly takes on, as I can tell it, the aspect of a very hazardous undertaking. It is hazardous because at no point can you seize the musical experience and hold it. Unlike that moment in a film when a still shot suddenly immobilises a complete scene, a single musical moment immobilised makes audible only one chord, which in itself is comparatively meaningless. This never ending flow of music forces us to use our imagination, for music is a continual state of becoming."


Aaron Copland, Music and Imagination

I thought a lot about that quote during a train ride between Salzburg and Hallstatt. The untouchable, ephemeral nature of what he had described moved me, that it was never possible to capture or evoke music in an instant. I reflected upon the nature of the musical imagination, writing quickly in cursive hand, free of any fear that I would ever read what I wrote again: "I hear a recording of Freddie and the detail of it, the nuances of his tone make him seem so incredibly alive still. There is life in its recorded expression and it is addictive, that ability to access that voice, that detail of expression..."

Yesterday, I recovered some demos that I thought had been lost and gone forever. They were covers of Ricky Nelson's Garden Party and Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down that we had recorded before he returned home for Christmas that year. It made my heart leap to discover that they had lived on in my Sent Mail all this time, existing as MP3 attachments to my estranged co-collaborator. The guitar was lowly amplified, the hushed vocals wavered in occasionally perfect unison, with each phrase adopting some imagining of a Southern twang. The recording features innumerable stuff ups, giggles and apologies, with dialogue in warm, low tones: impossible to ever decipher, impossible to ever recover.

Speech, like music, can never be properly immobilised. You can't capture it in an instance, time is necessary to replay those recordings where the inaccessible speak freely, laughing and utilising the expressions they use too much. There's a real joy in becoming reacquainted with a lost voice and I've been finding it more and more, as I've been making a radio documentary for Olli's departure from the hostel. I've sought out contributions from countless guests and they've come back with these voice recordings. Edited together, the finish is rough and the quality variable, almost every detail of their delivery remains intact, close and alive.

As Olli prepares to leave, I feel grateful that I've managed to share this passion for reflection, sentimentality and documentation. In addition to verbally sparring almost constantly, we've both kept our respective notes, continuously writing down quotes and ideas. He looks at my Twitter from time to time, loudly bemoaning the absurd misattributed quotes. It's been a joy to exist alongside him and I know there'll be more to uncover when he leaves. It's odd to think but perhaps it's that method of recovery which will add to that sense of the past being recaptured. Maybe it needs to be distant, it needs to be thought as if it's lost and maybe only then, you can have it back.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Guidance

It's only when you open up to the wrong person that you realise how multifaceted grief can be. You mourn for lost moments, lossy memories and an even lesser regard. You've lost out on the most valuable cultural exchange but they never seems to understand it. They think sadness comes from the memory of physical love, but it's often about a more simple desire to be present with another person: it's a longing for the warmth and the education to carry on, as promised.

It's an ineffectual desire in light of where I find myself now. I've been attempting to think of the future and address those plans I once had. It's uncomfortable to dream, now that I find that I have to develop some other life. I wake up each afternoon in a kind of panic. I feel less and less welcome in the hostel, having read horrible things that were intended for me and horrible things that weren't. I have uncovered a plot to replace me and someone else must work for free until I decide that it's time.

I labour on ancient memories after a year of silence, his suggestions that I leave the hostel (and London) as soon as possible. We frequently described this place as a kind of purgatory, as the events of each night managed to bleed into one another and everybody appeared to be wearing the same clothes constantly. I refer to those poetic reflections, those agreements that touched upon how we have all lived together knowing that it was the best and the worst way to live. We lived knowing that this was a stolen season and none of this was ever real.

I don't know where I could possibly go, but I hope I'll have my desk, my books, some air, some light and my guitar. There'll always be those persistent dreams of demos with fuzzy hooks and loaded lyrics, but I know that I will naturally gravitate towards essays about music, grief, love and hope. The wrong people may characterise it as a destructive habit to remember, reframe and honour how I've been mistreated, but for me, it's the only way I can learn and grow and find out what I want. I don't want to talk anymore, I just have to write...

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 Kalyn'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.