Category Archives: Personal Essay

Back to reality, here comes gravity

I was in the art class, looking at the naked model in front of me. The quiet chorus of titillation had dulled into a few red faces of the owners of the easels on the outskirts.

The teacher walked around the room, ‘Look at him, draw him as you see the body, not as you think you see the body.’ It made no sense as I stared at his body for what felt like an age. The muscles in his back, the lines of his sides, and shape of his shoulders all seemed unfamiliar.

‘Draw what you see, not what you think you see.’

Stop thinking and draw, I told myself silently.

My eyes barely left his body as I drew, eye to hand, hand to eye. Not looking, not judging, just recording.

Soon I dropped the paper to the ground and started a new version of the body. The teacher walked past.

‘Who did that?’ He asked.

‘Me.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

I think it was the first time in my life I haven’t second guessed my ability and actually performed the act of illustrating what was in front of me, and not drawing what I thought I knew. I recorded what was in front of me, not assumed the shape. The second time was when I wrote my first two books.

We draw and write what we think we know. We assume and presume about what is happening based on our own experience and historical data stored in our brain. Once the brain has established the facts that there is a man in front of me that I am supposed to draw, it relies on old data to record it onto the paper.  Your brain has so much to process every day, it makes do by guessing much of what is happening around you, which is where the neurological theory of perception and guesstimation/belief comes from, and the theory that perception is hindsight, meaning, you thought an event would happen the way it has, even though there is little evidence of it happening, besides your own belief based on data stored in the brain.

Our bodies and brains are trying to process a flood of data every millisecond. Are we cold, hungry, thirsty? Aching, sad, happy, aroused, excited, bored, worried? There is so much to take in that scientists believe we only process about 1/18th of what is happening at any one moment, and the rest we just make up, according to history, beliefs, and experience. So often, we miss the reality, and actually just make it all up what we perceive to be the reality.

So, what if we stopped over stimulating our brains? What if we took some time out from social media, scrolling through updates on Facebook, or scanning news headlines constantly, that we put on music and turned off the radio in the car. That we looked at the sunset and not the billboard that’s screaming at us to read it. What if we read a book for more than ten pages at a time. That we truly looked at the man’s body, or the child’s face, and we wrote down, or drew what was there, instead of what we thought was there?

What if we listened for a moment and didn’t mine our own lives for an anecdote that outdid the storyteller. What if we asked a question instead? What if we honored the muse and stopped when the sentence came into out head and wrote it down?

I waste time on social media. I share things that aren’t interesting to anyone else or post to assuage my ego. I share as procrastination. I share because I assume and presume and I share because I’m lazy.

So I’m taking a break from sharing. I’m taking a break from scrolling. And I’m taking a break from guessing and spending some time trying to find my benevolentia again.

En avant.

 

 

 

 

Sticks and Stones

In 1989, I was eighteen, and I worked in my first real job as a watch salesperson at a fancy jewelry store. I could spot Longines at 500 paces and silently judged you for your choice in an electric blue fake snakeskin band.

With my first real pay check, I bought a Filofax, and a Perri Cutten silk shirt, because Tess McGill from Working Girl was my spirit animal, and I was having a tepid affair with the store manager.

It all seemed very exciting and cosmopolitan then, until I remember now that I was being paid $8.25 an hour and the manager was a balding, angry man, who liked to do a martial arts using sticks, called Kendo.

I once watched him from the inside of his house, as he made noises with sticks and wore white pj’s in the backyard of his parents house. He made me stay inside as though I might be injured from his stick skills. He wasn’t particularly good at it, and I wasn’t particularly interested in watching, but it’s all grist for the mill, and so here we are.

Working in the city was a thrill, and having a good friend work at the jewelry store opposite meant we would wave from the window displays every morning, and she would take me to eat sushi at lunchtime. Sushi was a big deal, and she knew about such things because she had travelled overseas with her boyfriend, and had sushi on a train in New York? Or did the sushi come on a train? I was never sure and not confident enough to ask, even though I was wearing a silk shirt, and a green blazer from Esprit, and our lunch date was confirmed in my Filofax.

I was a good salesperson when I tried, which was seldom, because, what was the point? There was no commission. My job was secure, thanks to the Crouching Manager with Sticks, and I was planning on world domination soon, it was marked in my Filofax, so it was definitely going to happen.

I went exotic stores, and bought earrings shaped like silver planets, and read Slaves of New York, and wrote essays in my down time on Woody Allen films which I would eventually show to no one.

I went to jazz clubs and drank Mateus Rosé, and then burned candles in the neck of the bottle, the wax, dripping down the side like a sacrificial offering prop. I was, after all, a slave to New York,  Melbourne, wasn’t I?

One day, an elegant woman came to looks at Longines watches with her partner. She had a blowout, and was the Katherine Parker to my Tess McGill, wearing in camel-haired coat, and smelling of Chanel No. 5. Then she smiled, and I saw a pubic hair in between her front teeth. I couldn’t look away and I couldn’t wait for them to leave.

Across from me at the jewelry counter, a less glamorous couple than my hairy toothed customer were looking at  engagement rings and discussing the size of the stones. The jewelry girls who served them were a step above everyone else in the store, because they wore a loop around their neck and could pick out a flaw in a stone or a person at twenty paces. They were trying to add their expertise to the mix, but the male kept saying, ‘You don’t know shit about stones, ya bitch,’ when he then grabbed the tray of rings, and ran from the store, his fiancé following swiftly behind him.

Sensei Stick Man was furious. With whom, I wasn’t sure? One of the loop girls started to cry, and soon the police had arrived.

I watched them, in my silk shirt, cleaning above the omegas and pulsars, ensuring there were no pubic hairs on my counter from the previous encounter.

‘We’re closing the store,’ Sensei announced grandly. This was exciting, I thought. An actual thing had happened that I could go home and discuss over dinner. Would I have to give a statement? What had I remembered about the couple? Years of Trixie Belden’s advice came back to me and I mentally ran through the details but my mind couldn’t keep focussed.

The couple with the camel coat and pubic hair kept interrupting my recall. Had she just had a sneaky sexual encounter in a laneway? Did it happen at work? Why didn’t she check her teeth when she left wherever she had been? Why didn’t he tell her?

By the time the police came to my counter, I had nothing to give them. I had own mystery that needed to be solved.

‘Why wouldn’t he tell her?’ I asked my friend over maki and sake later in the evening.

‘Maybe that’s their thing,’ she said with an arched eyebrow.

I didn’t know if she meant the sexual act or the wearing of the hair like a trophy in her teeth, but I didn’t ask. She knew things I didn’t. She had lovers. I had a Filofax.

The next day, the loop wearing girls guarded the ring trays by holding onto them tightly, their frosted acrylic nails, weaponlike when they showed a couple their future in a stone on a tray.

Sensei Stick Man brought a stick to work, ready to strike at any moment.

And I brought dental floss and kept it beneath the counter. The last thing I needed was raw fish between my teeth. I couldn’t think of anything worse.

Actually, I could.  One can never be too prepared.