October 2008

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YOU CANNOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE

Right. So you might have noticed, over the years, that sometimes there is a website post that has comments the number of which, while I'm not belittling the commitment of our readers, is not reflected in our demographic research. There are billions of them.

 

Twenty billion comments per post is flattering, sure, but then when you read them you find out that many of them are advertising nefarious activities, soft drink companies or alien invasions.

 

In other words, our website has been getting spam.

 

The only way to get rid of this spam is to independently delete each comment. Our website almost exploded the other day (this is not quite how it was explained to me but I'm sure that's close) and as a result nobody can make comments at the moment. SORRY!

 

Also, if you've made an insightful comment in the past and it has accidentally been deleted in the past few days, this is nothing personal, I assure you.

 

If you'd really like to comment, and who wouldn't, email us through the contact us page.

 

We'll be up and about in a moment.

Opting Out

As you may have noticed, I spent a lot of time during my law degree being more fascinated by the language of law than the content. Hence some of my favourite phrases from law. Including the concept of "a cooling off period" and an "opt out" clause.

 

If only those existed in real life situations.

 

Well, here's a little announcement: Standing There Productions is opting out of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, in so far as writing, producing, directing, designing, auditioning, rehearsing, organising, financing and performing a show of our own goes.

 

We have so many projects we're working on at the moment that one large-scale project involving such an enormous amount of work in the middle of April is actually distracting from our (sometimes painfully) long-term goals.

 

It's a bittersweet feeling: no scurvy, but on the other hand no exciting opening night frenzy of excitement. No 2pm breakfasts and 1am dinners, but on the other hand no sitting in the audience as it fills up. No 70-people-in-a-day auditions that last all day in forty degree heat, but on the other hand no hilarious auditions with brilliant people we've never heard of. None of that school camp feeling of we're all in this together, but on the other hand no alcohol poisoning and accidentally offending people in the foyer. It means I don't have to submit an entirely fictional "summary of show" to the festival when I haven't written the show, and it means I don't have to edit together a photograph for the program guide when there aren't any actors yet. It also means I won't be doing the part I love the most: watching other people turn my writing into something far more interesting, merely by moving their faces.

 

For me, it means I have to knuckle down and write, to make it worth missing out on the festival. It means I will see April in daylight, but not much. It means Stew will celebrate his birthday somewhere other than Trades Hall bar, but I will have to get up earlier in the morning to deserve that piece of cake. It's less terrifying, but more grown-up.

 

In this way, it is a metaphor. Discuss.

 

Tired

Today, I drove Rita to the airport at 7.15 am.

 

I know, I know. I must like her or something.

 

Anyway, I was very pleased with myself until a moment ago when I became infuriated that my mouse wasn't working. I thumped it on the mouse pad several times and then it rang.

 

It was, turns out, my mobile phone.

 

Productivity levels = awesome.

Wombat Fact

So Rita and Stewart and I are united again.

 

Our two hour meeting turned into a three hour meeting and Stew and I left Rita - slightly overcaffinated - in a cafe in North Fitzroy, whereupon she began another meeting with someone else. Stew had two massive mochas in quick succession and is now speaking in tongues. I have a brain ache, a stomach ache, a back ache, and, thanks to a late night, a condition I have diagnosed as "droop eye".

 

Standing There united will never be defeated * except for maybe sometimes.

 

In other news...

 

We have many alert readers here at the Standing There Diary. One particularly alert reader deserves a specific mention, however, not merely because she managed to spend a day in the Olympic village disguised as an albino Tongan (seriously) but also because she has emailed me a wombat-related-fact of the utmost importance. Given my time at Bundanon and obsession with all things wombat-related, I am particularly grateful to know this fact, and I share it with you now as a service to the public.

 

Wombats are the only creatures who poo squares.

 

Have a nice weekend. xxx

Reunion Time!

This weekend, there's a Standing There reunion.

 

That means Rita and Stew and I will be hitting various coffee shops in inner urban Melbourne and discussing everything from scripts to videos to the now rather cliched question of whether or not turning up to Bundanon uninvited and setting up camp would, after a time, constitute adverse posession thereby enabling us to live there forever by law.

 

Looking forward to it, especially the nice chai and seeing Rita again.

Horses (hilarity pertaining to)

Look, I know this has nothing to do with anything but sometimes the comedy just writes itself.

 

Check this out.

 

My favourite bit is the last line: "It remains unclear why Gracie put her head in the gap".

 

Poor Gracie.

Another Letter

Dear Australian television industry,

"Innovative" means new and interesting and unique. It doesn't mean "based on a show we bought from overseas". So when you say "we're looking for bold and innovative ideas", I think perhaps what you mean is "We're looking for rehashed ideas that have worked somewhere else".

I understand it's a difficult distinction, but I thought I'd tell you in case you found out through someone else. That might be embarrassing.

Any other questions, give me a call.

I'm just sitting around writing.

The Vicissitudes of Life

If Life were a database, you would currently find me under "Vicissitudes of life, activities pertaining to".

 

In law, which I studied in order to understand the ways in which the world doesn't quite work no matter how hard people try, the word "vicissitudes" is used to describe the unquantifiable, unpredictable events that occur in life by chance. In a budget, they'd be called contingencies. It's a way of trying to quantify the unquantifiable. Like, how much should we compensate this woman for her injury? Well, how much does she earn? Wow, that's quite a lot. So she's a highly-paid business executive then, is she? Good for her. Now, she's still young enough to have a child, so let's factor in five years of her not earning any money whatsoever. There you go lady, have a nice life!

 

There are many presumptions made, as you can imagine, about how your life is likely to pan out. I often wondered what a court of law would decide the vicissiitudes of my life would be. Personally, I find them quite hard to predict.

 

The other day, for instance, I was in a parked car, waiting for someone. It's interesting how people don't look into parked cars. They walk past picking their noses or having loud conversations, and nobody looks at the huge chunk of metal with the person sitting inside it. Some of them even slide their fingers along the bonnet.

 

One guy, in Adidas tracksuit pants and a long-sleeved top, walked briskly past my car towards the rubbish bin I had parked in front of. I waited to see what he was putting in the bin. He was carrying a plastic bag full of shopping. He put it on the ground. He took out a litre of no frills long-life skim milk. He opened it. He put the tab from under the lid in the rubbish bin. He reached back into the bag and produced a white bread sandwich wrapped in gladwrap. Had he bought it? Had he prepared it earlier? Had someone else prepared it for him?

 

He put the sandwich on the plastic, on the rubbish bin, next to the milk. He didn't notice me. He noticed other people, peered at them through his thick glasses. Hungry, organised, pedantic, he alternated the drink and the sandwich, the drink, the sandwich, all the time watching the people crossing the street, walking past the bin, chatting in the shopfront. Having a private moment, lunch on the rubbish bin, right in the middle of a thoroughfare. He touched his glasses at odd intervals, a gesture I associated with a professor, a smart kid, somebody Trying His Best.

 

When he finished, he folded the gladwrap and posted it into the bin. He finished the litre of skim milk and posted that too. He cleared his throat, touched his glasses in the direction of a man walking a rather large dog, and walked in the opposite direction.

 

If the court ever needed to, I daresay it would be fair enough of them to factor in great chunks of time during which I would be well expected to sit around in parked cars watching people watching other people, thus detracting from my life's value.

 

Interesting set of priorities we live to, isn't it.

 

Tax Deductions

Every year, I write something here about tax deductions for artists.

 

Now, the way it works, so far as my non-existent accounting experience allows me to understand, is that if you use it for work, you get a tax deduction. So, if you write, you get a tax deduction for your new macbook pro and any subsequent extensions of warranty, which incidentally you should remember to buy (unlike some of us who are idiots and who will regret this later). If you work in film, your movie tickets are tax deductible. If you work in theatre, Kafka novels and ill-advised affairs with people who are not your girlfriend are presumably tax deductible, and if you work in a bank, well, now, I hope you have a career to fall back on.

 

(Sorry, but it's not often I get to feel clever about not having selected a career involving financial expertise and forethought).

 

But I digress. My proposal, on these pages and, well, in pubs at around tax time, is that for a writer, one's main job is observation. It is remiss, I honestly believe this, not to listen in to a conversation in a cafe or a train or, say, a hospital, if you're a writer. If you are visiting your grandma, for instance, and the nurses' staff room is next to the room your grandma shares with three bewildered men in pyjamas, you are duty-bound to listen to the shouty argument between the nursing staff. You are also well-advised to tune in to the subsequent debriefing session between the less senior nurses upon the departure of the most shouty. To not listen would be like skipping a lecture, or not reading a book that's going to be on the exam.

 

I have perfected the laid-back stance of "I'm not really listening, I'm unaccountably interested in this piece of wood", while simultaneously being quite frozen on the spot, lest I miss a vital detail, such as one of the nurses guessing how long it would be until the senior, shouty person either left the hospital or died. Conclusions regarding shouty lady's robust health due to "not having taken a toll on her body at all" are especially important for the files I have stored in my brain for future reference. I cannot remember my bank account details, but I can remember entire conversations between people I have never met.

 

There have been several examples of this in my life recently, including yesterday, when I was walking to a workshop at the Arts Centre for my law-talking job and I heard a familiar noise. A familiar tune I couldn't quite put my finger on. All I knew was, although the tune wasn't unpleasant to listen to, I didn't like how it made me feel. After a couple of moments of concentrating on where the sound was coming from, I realised it was coming from the girl walking alongside me. It was coming from her backpack. It was her phone, loudly singing her alarm. She was wearing headphones and had no idea her alarm was screaming at her to (presumably) get out of bed. People everywhere were narrowing their eyes, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. She continued, oblivious, blaring loudly from the lump on her back.

 

It wasn't so much the fact that she was blaring that made her interesting, although I enjoyed the suggestion that but for a different set of circumstances she would, now, be waking from a heavy sleep and pausing the alarm for a few moments' reprieve. It was the effect this was having on the people around her that made the incident intruiging. United (once they figured out what was going on) in a knowing, nodding pleasure, her fellow commuters looked for co-conspirators in the naughty giggle at the expense of someone foolish. Someone we all knew, but for the grace of a slightly different morning routine, could be us.

 

This small observation, worthy of nothing on paper, indicates many things about human behaviour, about character, about time and the individual pursuit of happiness and hence story and subtext. It's a metaphor, it's symbolism, it's a theme. It's human versus technology, time versus youth, the individual versus society, good versus evil. It's just the stuff of every day life, but in the right hands (not mine perhaps, on a Tuesday evening, but I imagine Kafka would make a good fist of it) it's a mirror against which we see ourselves, even if we are bankers, who have other things on our minds right now. Even then, we can read or watch or listen to something that leads us outside of our usual contexts and into a contemplation of the way the world works. Our imagination is stimulated. You see? It's a service to the public. It could be built into the health system, so positive is its potential effect.

 

Now, where was I?

 

Oh yes.

 

Ergo, I should get a tax deduction for living.

 

 

Thank you very much and goodnight.

Help! Help! They're Commodifying My Life!

This morning, in the pretendy-cafe that used to be a locker room at the State Library, a young man with mop hair half-smiled at me as he took my order.

 

Young Man With Mop Hair is somewhat superior in the pretendy-cafe hierarchy. I've seen him giving orders before and telling people to go and clean up table four please and looking harried while reading rosters on clipboards and so forth. Young Man With Mop Hair is not nearly as lovely as the Cute Young Thangs who used to serve me coffee and complain about their hangovers and then go missing when the RMIT design course started back up again. He seems nice, Mop, but he's not exactly engaging. You kind of get the feeling he might be thinking he's heaps better than you.

 

Now, I know from experience that when you think someone thinks they're better than you, they're usually deeply self-critical and later, at the work Christmas party or whatever, you turn out to be best friends and they've liked you all along and it reveals only one thing: how shallow and stupid and self-obsessed you must have been to have taken offence at their entirely innocent and sometimes even affectionate gaze in the first place.

 

Having said that, Mop Hair is clearly Captain Cool. Now, usually, when I go to work or go out in the evening or whatever, I wear normal clothes. Nice clothes. Not, you know, fashionable clothes exactly, but I look okay. When I come to the library, and hence the pretendy-cafe, I wear tracksuit pants and a hooded jumper. I want to be comfortable while I work. Also, as I have stated many times, I would be happy to wear one of those stud-buttoned full body suits that babies wear if I didn't think it would embarrass my loved ones and bring shame upon my family. HOWEVER, I do not wear these things, and I only wear tracksuit pants and hooded tops when I'm writing or going to gym.

 

Last night, I was going to gym. A guy rode past on a bike. I kind of wasn't concentrating but was looking at Guy On Bike because I wanted to cross the road and had to wait for Guy On Bike to ride past. At the last second, Guy On Bike pretendy-smiled at me and I realised: Guy On Bike was Captain Cool Mop Hair Guy from the Pretendy-Cafe! For a few seconds I felt like a pillock for wearing tracksuit pants and a hooded top in the street as well as in the library and hoped vainly that he didn't think it was some kind of uniform, and then I wondered whether he thought I'd been staring at him on the bike, and then I realised I was an idiot for even purporting to care.

 

This morning, in the pretendy cafe, I deliberately went up to the other guy, who smiles a lot, and waited in line for him to serve me.

 

Suddenly, out of nowhere:

 

NEXT PLEASE!

 

It was Captain Mop.

 

Hello, he said. (Did I detect a bit of a tone of "I saw you last night in a different context - what an interesting development in our arms-length coffee-based social ritual"?)

 

Hello, I said.

 

What's your name? He asked.

 

I told him.

 

What's yours? I asked.

 

He told me, with a half-smile. If we weren't right in the midst of becoming friends, I would have sworn that smile was slightly mocking.

 

He gave me my change. I thanked him.

 

There being a big queue, he shouted NEXT PLEASE again and on he went.

 

The next customer ordered a coffee.

 

What's your name? He asked.

 

She told him.

 

He wrote it on a cup and handed it to smiley guy. Smiley guy called out my name. My coffee was ready. It's how they determine who gets what coffee, you see. Makes a lot of sense, actually.

 

I am, it is now painfully clear, a massive loser. Captain Mop has won.

 

Still, and I know I have a vested interest in this, regardless of how much sense it makes, it does somewhat devalue the experience of ordinary discourse, don't you think? What's your name? It's kind of a personal question, too. It's revealing. It establishes a new connection. A new level of intimacy. In certain contexts, it means a great deal.

You're in a cop car. "What's your name?"

You're chatting to someone who seems rather nice. "What's your name?"

You're sure you've seen this person before but you can't quite figure it out. "What's your name?"

 

They can't take What's Your Name. Can they? Can they do that?

 

It started with Huge Icey Juice in A Bucket With A Straw shops. That was okay, I could see there was (as we say in theatre) a fourth wall there - a kind of commercial buffer that made the question less intimate. But in real life? In a pretendy cafe? With a grumpy dude who thinks you live in a tracksuit? I don't know. I feel conversationally violated.

 

The big test will be if he remembers it tomorrow. Yes, I know, I know. I shouldn't go back. But hell, for a pretentious grumpy pants, he makes a good coffee.

A letter

Dear Self Motivation,

 

I am writing this letter because I can't seem to find you. Are you in town? Are you drunk? When we all left Bundanon, did you stay there? Have you left me for someone else? Is it Zadie Smith? It's Zadie Smith isn't it. She gets all the self motivation. She gets up before she goes to bed. She writes book after book and wins prize after prize. I hope you realise she's just using you. I hope you realise you're the only thing I've got.

 

Look, I know you must be confused right now. I was all wrapped up in you for a whole month in Bundanon and I admit I've gone cold on you since then. I guess I took you for granted. I admit that.

 

Remember the good times? Remember the looks on the faces of the people in the Melbourne Uni Law School front office when we rode our bike into the actual office, panting and red in the face, and handed in our essay at one minute past five? Remember the time we rewrote an entire play because our hard drive died and we had to start again from scratch? Remember learning all those lines for Three Sisters that time? Remember how we used to go to gym?

 

So I know Zadie's probably great. I know she probably does what you ask, when you ask it, and the rest of her life isn't full of boring distractions like bills that need to be paid, washing that needs to be sorted, life that needs to be lived and so on, and I bet she hasn't got Foxtel, but listen, you mean a lot to me. I can't do it without you.

 

Please come back to me. I'll do whatever it takes. Zadie Smith gets up early. You want me to get back early? I can't do it without you. See how that works? We're a team. A real team.

 

I even cancelled a few social things. I know how you love that. Meet me tomorrow at the library. I'll be holding a red carnation.

 

Yours,

 

L

AWOL

I haven't written much lately.

 

It's like Life knew that I was escaping it during Bundanon and now it's catching me up.

 

Talk amongst yourself. I'll be back in a minute.

Back "home"

Today, I'm back in the library for the first time since before our residency at Bundanon. It's exam time in here so there are lots of people asleep on desks, wikipedia open in front of them to an entry on the history of Russia at the turn of the century, iPods blaring into their exhausted sub-conscious minds.

 

For the entire morning, due to my computer having been reset when my hard-drive broke at Bundanon, I had no access to the library internet. This was obviously annoying to those thousands of people who were undoubtedly attempting to contact me, but it also led to me doing four hours of uninterrupted writing. Not since Bundanon etc.

 

The one thing I wish, sometimes, when I come to the State Library, is that I could play chess. Upstairs, there is a mezzanine level full of people playing chess (in their study breaks? on their days off? by mutual prior agreement? having just met?). Currently, two out of eleven of them are women. One is a child. One - a man who appears to be consulting a book - is playing against himself.

 

Perhaps this is what people did before the internet. Perhaps I should up the lady-count. How, though, does anyone have the time, when there is so much wikipedia in the world?

 

 

 

By the way, my grandma's operation went as well as can be expected. Thanks for the messages.