A lovely writer

careynovelcover-hisillegalselfI’m reading Peter Carey’s His illegal self; the back cover blurb put me in mind of Bliss, my favourite of his novels. I have been mightily impressed (again) with his transitions: slick, poetic, expedient. Look at this one, paragraph 3 of chapter one, it follows 2 paragraphs of context and background on the boy (who is one of the novel’s key focalisers): ‘Then, when the boy was almost eight, a woman stepped out of the elevator into the apartment on East Sixty-second Street and he recognized her straightaway…’ The woman is his mother, the boy is Che  (named, we know,  for the revolutionary and icon of 60s protest) and the apartment into which this woman steps is Che’s grandmother’s; the woman who has kept him all these years.

We know, without being told, that this is Che’s mother. In a sentence or two we have a clever juxtaposition of context/background with a child’s here and now. With rescue.

And look at how Carey engineers the ruunign away of mother and son from the grandmother. ‘…out on Lexington Avenue and his grandma was looking for a taxi. The first cab would be theirs, always was [notice how those two final words characterise the grandmother: empowered, privileged; don’t we all want to run away]. Except that now his hand was inside his true  mother’s hand and they were marsupials running down into the subway, laughing.’  No accidental diction here; look at true and marvel at its implications re Che’s perspectives; he is now with his true mother and not with the false one (his grandmother). Marsupials posits a love so close it is pouched, enveloping: the kangaroo with its joey. Coincidentally a metaphor more likely to have been chosen by aa Australian author, which of course Carey is. Lovely prose; still a ways to go with my reading so will need to consider all the other things that go into making books memorable before I add this to Bliss as a book worth re-reading.

 

On Nature deficit disorder

Relph (2011) argues that ‘the deepest sense of place seems to be associated with being at home, being somewhere you know and are known by others, where you are familiar with the landscape and daily routines and feel responsible for how well your place works[1].’ I cannot claim to be responsible for how this place works but I can argue that at least some of what has been done by me in my life (perhaps a familiarity with this place’s rhythms engineers how it works for me) has been protest at the stripping away of nature from treasured places like this one. Such de-naturing, I’d argue, is T. S. Eliot’s ‘shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion…'(The Hollow Men, 1925). This place and the ways in which I sense it may be very different from how the Girramay, Bandjin and Warrgamaygan peoples knew it — their perspectives are outside the purview of my allotted span — but what I do love about my relationship and interaction with it is that they have a true form, shade and colour, force. This place asks of me to construct meaningful gestures.

 

If my primary (ostensible) reason has been to fish [this place], then my sense of this place, both real and imagined, reminds me that place, natured place, is far more than this one activity. Fishing it has never fully been my rationale for being there. I feel at home, and, if it were my one last port of call, it would be like going home. I have told people I would like to be buried beneath some tree on its banks, high enough up so that I cannot be washed away in some middling flood but close enough to hear it run, even in dry winters — if such a thing were possible. I am sad that it isn’t but…

Here I am not disordered with nature’s deficit.

[1] A Pragmatic Sense of Place

A deep sense of place

 

 

Extracts from an essay

 

Let me pose a simple yet stubborn question of what you need to imagine are your last days. Suppose that Death — which nearly had you — has let go for a time; a remission which gives you, let’s say, a week’s grace. Maybe two. You are spry and full of life and feel the need to go back to a place that is… special. Somewhere loved, treasured.

Where do you go? And, more importantly, why there?

If you are like me, your place will not be urban. It will be natured and own a spirit; you will have sensed it, received it, deeply1. It will have, to quote geographer Edward Relph2, “a synaesthetic faculty which combines sight, hearing, smell, movement, touch, imagination, purpose and anticipation.” In short, all your senses and all of what your mind desires and anticipates will partake of it. You will use it. Why ‘use’?

For me, its purpose — why you use it —  is a key part of its significance. It feeds all those other reasons you partake of place, of nature.

 

~    ~    ~

 

I shall answer my own intractable question, not out of dire necessity but because to create its answer is to rekindle my sense of why nature and place matter; to re-establish meaning; in imagining it, I am anticipating bringing into being what Richard Louv would call3 a place that restores us, one that feeds a hunger.

My immediate purpose in this place, to be singularly mundane, is fishing. Angling…

When the term “place” is used geographically (as in the expression, “The place where I live is…”), the reference usually seems to be to somewhere about the size of a landscape that can potentially be seen in a single view—for example, a village, small town, or urban neighbourhood.

Edward Relph, 2011, A pragmatic sense of place

 

Google Earth lets me take in this place, from headwaters to confluence with the big river, in that single view. The scale of such a viewing, however, is not really human. Nor practical. Nor what I really know. I have never scaled the ladder of topography (blessed because it is mostly preserved in a National Park) down which the creek descends and have been no further than a two-day fish/walk up from where the creek joins the river. There is more fishing to be had than I have ever done and still parts of this place I’d like to go, different to what I sense and know simply because I’ve never been there. Those places I’ve yet to go, to be, are ones with imagined continuities and dissonances from those I have travelled. A reason to explore; maybe next time.

Though the landscape is dominated hereabouts by beef cattle and mixed farming (lychees, guava, some sugarcane, other exotics) it is the traditional land of the Girramay, Bandjin and Warrgamaygan peoples4. They would have known and loved this place; peopled it with stories, swum in it, worshipped its shade, trapped its eels and snakes and birds, caught its fish, eaten its plants. Like much of the native vegetation in the wider valleys, they were — under the auspices of either pest removal or now-deeply-ironic protection —  fundamentally removed as a significant influence on place after Europeans came here to do what they do in the mid to late 19th century. Down deep in the creek, however, while wading, you can still feel it is as it was when they camped here, fished it, loved it. Riparian vegetation still shades the creek, azure kingfishers (Ceyx azureus) still sit and watch the water — and you, freshwater monitors leap ashore from drowned branches when they hear you coming…

 

1 In A Pragmatic Sense of Place (2008-09), Edward Relph speaks of a distinction between spirit of place and a sense of place. One may say that the difference between them is that the spirit of place, in lying outside us, is essentially transmitted to us. A sense of place is received, interpreted; it lies within us.

2 Relph is cited in Threshold country, by Annamarie Weldon, 2011.

3 See The nature Principle, Human Restoration and the end of nature deficit disorder by Richard Louv, 2011

4 See Queensland Government, Cultural Histories E – I, Hinchinbrook Shire, 2015 and Qld Government, Department of National Parks, Sports and racing (what a strange amalgam), Dalrymple Walking Track, 2016…

 

 

 

 

And now for something… different

Forgive the abridged theft from Monty Python… Lazy titling while on a mobile phone to blame.

I’ve just read an interesting and affirmative piece in the New Yorker, entitled Citizen Khan,  which prompted this response from me.

“As a non-American I took much from this story; it reminded me of what has always been the great promise of US social & political ambition (and unfortunately also of how often that ambition can be frustrated). I was also alarmed at how similar US & Australian histories have been in terms of racist exclusions… think of the White Australian policies of the late 19th & 20th centuries. I do think the journalist might be mistaken when she claims that… “At the start of the Second World War, the United States was the only developed nation other than Germany to explicitly restrict citizenship on the basis of race…” Australia still restricted citizenship & this continued, one could argue, into the early 1970s.”

Trafficville – full draft written; time to let it sit

Finished first full draft of Trafficville- dystopian cyberpunk fiction re gaming, social media and so on; it is 24,600 words, give or take. Probably merde – I’ll follow Mr. Hemingway’s advice and let it sit in my cyber kitchen drawer for a couple of weeks before I have another look.

The final chapter reads:

Chapter Forty-Three

Q and A

 

So here’s a sampling of key Q and A we here at Phantom have dealt with during the beta trial and first three weeks of full release (English version only). Feel free to send us more – remember; this game works best with your interactions built in.

 

Q from Randy in Dallas… If this is meant to be so American I don’t get how come there are no African-Americans in here?

A: I guess you just never played any bits of Trafficville with Benny Goodman, who is Normans’ best friend. He’s just one (the main one) of 17 African American characters written into the mainframe of Trafficville, and he gets a Hispanic girlfriend. Can’t get much more Yankee-doodle than that.

Surely you must have seen at least one darker than average character at some time while you played Trafficville! And no, we didn’t have the police force round them all up, nor shoot them, though that was one reality we did contemplate. Benny does get mobbed by rogue police. We didn’t put that one in – that was outside players messing with the program; we love that Trafficville can take on a life of its own.

Q from Sissy in Duluth Minnesota… How come Adolf Hitler got into the plot; I mean, that was a bit weird?

A: That actually came through one of our beta players and we were as surprised as you to see him walking down Merrie Yngland Drive. But we let it run and it worked out as a game, didn’t it? Had to have good old Norman climb the clock tower, didn’t we, to re-set. Who’d have thought we’d get that lesson in – how easy it is to become a Nazi. We liked what the game taught us with this one.

Q from Wayne in NY… I felt like the game got out of control sometimes; I mean I felt like I was just reacting, not in charge. Was that intentional?

A: Yes, and no. We’ve written so many possible pathways into this (and the lightspeed tech means they’ll run at a natural pace) that we knew the game offered stuff we hadn’t even thought of; it was meant to be like life, after all, unpredictable. We just didn’t know how life-like it could be.

I guess if you’re a real control freak that might get a bit much – but most of our feedback has been that players love that the game doesn’t repeat itself… It is good to just go with the flow… 

Trafficville ~ USA: players and played

Trafficville posits a world – a game space – of shifting possibilities; an ambiguous merging of real and not-real. A series of questions, really: Who is played and who is player? Who is in control: of themselves, of others, of place and time? Should someone be in control? Who accepts the blame should things go wrong? Is anyone responsible for the generalities of what happens? Are ethics even a question in simulated reality (think practice for a bombing run)? What is programming and who is programmed? Who?

SO… here are a few bits along those lines from the draft novel (novella, more like):

I PUT MY HEADPHONES ON

I walk out of my house and I build a wall, straight away. There’s too much out there for me to bear so I put my headphones on and listen to retro stuff; after all, we don’t need no education.
I’m not the only one, dude. Retro nuts, some of ‘em even carrying those old ghetto blasters on their shoulders, but all of us funked up with headies, walking the roads. No need to self drive those hover cars or get a hover bus and be en-canned with too many other folk. Just us, in fact just you, yourself, walking the roads and tuning out the noise.

I put my headphones on
So I can shut out the rest of humanity
I put my headphones on
So I get to live vicariously
And when I’ve got them on
Yeah!
That blues world slips away.

Who am I?
I’m a game player, baby….

 

USE OF THE I…

I like to play games. And that’s despite all the stuff they tell us about what’s wrong with on-line gaming, You know, the normal person plus anonymity plus on-line audience = idiotic behavior. They’ve got that right but you don’t have to play with the idiots. Me and my buddies (some of whom I don’t know from Adam, they might live in India for all I know, but they are still my buddies) – we rag each other but we don’t get nasty and shitty and call each other some of the stuff I’ve seen on-line and if someone new wants to join… Well, we vet them; they are on trial for a while. They know they’re on trial too, so it’s not a secret. We’ve got a good rep out there. Trafficville lets you block players, if you know how – and we do. Ryan, for example, has access to the town’s birth and death records and we could make a player simply disappear by erasing some records; it’s that easy, if you know how.
And why might you do this? Because- as one of my favorite on-line gaming commentators says – “Cheating, team-killing, entering a game but not playing, quitting before the game is over, and more, are all relatively common…’ This guru tells us that this stuff means that “normal people become f*5$^$# on-line.” And he’d know.

Girls don’t play so much as boys but I wonder if some of my gamer buddies are girls; there’s one called Des I figure might be a girl because of the way she plays – she seems to be more in touch with the characters feelings, that sounds sexist, I know, but she does and she plays different. And Des I reckon is short for Desilee (which is the name of one of my sister’s friends) or maybe Desiree and she – in the game – is this scrawny Japanese girl that moved to Trafficville after the Fukushima disaster; that’s her back-story. I reckon Des has got to be female; it’s good having a female player.

A wee bit more from Trafficville…

Part II – Release

Beta release – you’re playing

Chapter ~ A Sort of Good Day

It was a Saturday morning and Norman Mene rode his bicycle past Mr Verdure’s greengrocery. It was exactly the sort of bicycle you’d expect a nerd to have, right down to it being a girl’s bike with a basket set atop the handlebars. Plastic tassels hung from the rubber grips at the end of the bars. They bothered Norman more than anything else about the bike. It was actually not his bike but his sister’s. There’s been a spate of robberies in Trafficville of late and Norman’s BMX was stolen. The police have not recovered it.
And he was, at that moment, as God or whatever stared down at him, riding his borrowed bicycle exactly past what you’d expect a greengrocery that was slightly out of time and place to look like, riding it down a suburban street in a what-you’d-think-a-smallish-slightly-east-of-mid-western-town would look like. That is, if you’d never been to one and had not, did not, in fact, live in one.
So this was Trafficville…

 OR 

You can be like God, or an aeroplane, or even a camera and swoop down across Trafficville and take it all in.
Trafficville is one of those perfect little towns designed down to the last blade of grass. Even its mistakes,  like Mrs. Spooner’s dog’s whoopsies in the Town Square (that someone has to clean up), seem intentional. Everything is really, really neat. The lines of the streets are perfect, although maybe too rectilinear, and the trees that hang down in the perfectly proportioned round or rectangular little concrete-girded plots of earth… well,  those trees shimmer just so in all that wonderful Spring sunshine. It seems almost to be Spring almost all of the time, although, like Mrs. Spooner’s dog’s whoopsies, there sometimes come days of frowning storms and grey rain. They might do a little damage too, say to Mr Verdure’s grocery store, or, if you have really bad luck, maybe the hospital wing that houses the poor sick little children gets flooded and the whole town has to pitch in and help.
All the people are really neat too, though maybe they are all also creatures of habit. Aren’t we all? Take Mr. Lopez,  who comes out every morning, picks up his Trafficville Herald from the front step where Jimmy Oldson has dropped it on his paper rounds. Then he walks out to Merrie Yngland Drive, turns left (most mornings, though some mornings, just for variety, he turns right) and goes down two or three blocks past all the mock Tudor homes and turns into Windsor Park. And then he kinda disappears for a long time. Then he comes back to his front door. Somehow or other he has lost his paper and it looks like a dog has chewed on his pant’s leg. He looks sour about the world and no one is surprised when he goes in and does not come out for the rest of the day. Everyone figures he must be independently wealthy but he doesn’t have any friends or even acquaintances who can help you not to make guesses. He doesn’t seem to work, just go for a long walk every morning, lose his paper on the way, get mugged by a dog and then come back looking dumped on. Maybe this is a habit Mr. Lopez wants to break.
You can summon all kinds of info about Trafficville too. You can take it in like a dream, or have pages slowly drift past you and words drift off them, or the knowledge can just slide into your head as if you’ve lived it. Tap on the street sign and see what happens. It’s up to you.
And now you know!

Trafficville has three small elementary schools, two of them with less than 250 kids. And depending on where you are you can pick to call them elementary schools, or they are called Primary or even Junior schools. In Trafficville they are elementary and there are three of them. And there is a medium sized Junior High or Middle School (depending on where you’re from – even some people in Trafficville use them interchangeably, because Trafficville is modern and cosmopolitan) and there’s a slightly bigger High School. That’s where most of the action happens, the High School.
Trafficville High is seething, actually, and in fact one of the reasons many of the words I have just used are probably wrong. I should have said Trafficville was almost perfect. It is like a virus got in or something and infected the place with some kind of madness.
As you’re about to find out, though first we need to stop elsewhere…

Norman Mene, who has just passed the greengrocery on his borrowed, girl’s, bicycle, was on his way home from school on the first Saturday of a new school year. Norman Mene weighed 123 pounds and some ounces, exactly the average for a 16-year-old American boy.
Mr. Caine, his Math teacher, had told him this. (What he’d failed to mention was that the statistics pre-dated McDonald’s.) ‘Mene,’ he’d said, drawing out the middle ‘ee’ of Norm’s name in that awful way he did, ‘you’re exactly what your name synonymises, average.’
Mr. Caine circled the graph being data projected onto the white board. His body made huge shadows loom. Mr Caine liked the data projector and the shadows it made because it enlarged his presence. Mr Caine is shorter than most of the kids in this class. He enjoyed his big shadow for a while then he moved to the side so he could write. ‘What was it again, Mene? One twenty three pounds?’
‘And seven ounces.’ Norman said.
‘Such insignificant anomalies can be ignored, Mene. Those ounces will vary regularly.’ He drew a faint line up from 16 years on the X-axis, then he found 123 pounds on the Y-axis and drew another line across. It intersected the 16 year’s line at a point in the hatched area which represented the area everyone was supposed to be in, as defined by the miniMom and maxiMom lines. Norman, despite Mr Caine’s doubts, had followed all this clearly. The little x grimly sat smack dab in the middle of the hatched area. ‘There you go, Norm – un. Precisely what your name says. Average. The norm. The mean.’ The moustache that sat above Mr. Caine’s top lip curled up into one of his hated smiles. ‘Your parents must have had your’ – he paused – ‘weight, in mind when they named you, Norm – un… Let’s move on to another example. Smith?’

Norman, too, moved on. He bought the butter and eggs and flour his mother wanted and he rode home. The basket was very handy, even if the tassels were not. He gave the groceries to his Mom or Mum (depending on where you are from) and then he slumped wearily (the truth was that Norman was a little overweight – a tad more than his reported 123 pounds) to his room.
Where nothing much happened, until…
Norman’s memory of Mr. Caine’s lesson kicked in.
That lesson had been yesterday. Friday. What had made Norman think of it was that he’d just seen Jenny Sweet, the girl next door, and his heart had rolled over in his chest. He was looking out the window and he’d seen her moving across the lawn, taking the recycling out. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, even though he knew it was wrong to be staring at a girl through your bedroom window – particularly if the girl happened to see you staring. He crouched down on his bed, just drinking her in. She had on one of those slinky dresses that make girls – girls like Jenny, anyway – look so good. He watched the way her body flexed beneath the dress’s material as she lifted the lid on the paper bin and dropped in her Dad’s Morning Chronicle. It’d be yesterday’s, Norman thought, while she put the lid back on. Norman thought this but was still watching her move. He looked at her cornflower blue eyes and the way her silky hair flowed with her movements, in the sunshine, like an ad’ for some cool new drink, and then he started (had he ever stopped?) watching the way she simply gracefully flowed through life’s mundane tasks. Norman smacked his face with an open hand.
‘Stop it,’ he whispered. Father Sinha had talked about the sin of lust and Norman knew that this was it. But he also knew it was normal adolescent behaviour; Mrs. Hope, his science teacher, had told them so. That was last year. Norman wondered if it was normal for it to go on so long. If he was average in this respect?
That’s what had him think about being average. And that was what made him remember Mr. Caine’s embarrassing lesson the day before. He didn’t know why but Mr. Caine had, for no apparent reason, hated him from the moment he’d entered Trafficville Junior High.
Norman looked at his mildly freckled, bespectacled, C average face in the looking glass above his bureau and smiled crookedly at it. He shook his head to clear it of memories of Mr. Caine and summoned up an image of the way Jenny had moved under that dress.
He could do that any time he liked today, and that memory would last him a good week. Longer, if he drew it…
He took out his secret art book from beneath his American Birds almanac – in the drawer that Mom never looked in. He got down his pencils and set to work. He whistled as he drew. He stretched her out across the recycling bin, just the way she had looked with the flex of her lithe body both revealed and hidden. Yes indeed, it had started out to be at least a sort-of-good day.