Monday, 27 July 2009

Be still my beating heart

I just read an Augusten Burroughs short story. In it he depicts a childhood obsession with his heartbeat. He accounts for all the fears and dreads of the possibility of it stopping beating, and with that, an acute continuous awareness of its presence in his body as something vital yet seemingly fallible, ready to cease beating at any given moment. I couldn't believe I was reading this; I went through precisely the same thing when I was 8-9 years old. I remember nights when it was just me and dad. Mum was at work. It was all weird because we sat in front of the TV in that dank living room and dad never talked to me. All I could do was muster up a fast heart-beat and fill my eight year old mind with worries and neurosis that have taken a lifetime thus far to gently dissipate, waft away, like spots of crude oil drifting away atop the vast ocean. I could never talk about this stuff to anyone back then.

I vividly recall worrying about my heart and making myself anxious about the possibility of it stopping beating. It never happened of course, I'm still here. By the time I was 10 I'd shelved that particular anxiety (and only to take up other coats of anxieties ten-fold over the coming decade) and frankly having my heart stop beating is naturally the least of my worries now. I assume my heart's quite healthy and if it does stop beating which it will do eventually I'll be the last to know. Or the first??

The more I read Augusten Burroughs the more I see myself in him. He is clearly an obsessive character and he borders on being neurotically compulsive. I don't quite think I'm neurotic but I do see parallels between us. Obsessive, about certain things, I am. I can be hit by stress and anxiety at a pin-drop though peculiarly I seem to not stress about the things that tend to stress most people on a day-to-day basis.

After this particular collection of short stories I'll be onto Augusten's most recent opus, A Wolf at the Table, where he recounts true childhood stories of life with his father. Sarah tells me (she put me onto Augusten in the first place) that it's quite shady and ominous so to speak, and not lighthearted like his other works. I wonder how many more parallels I'll find with my life's story when I read this book.

So there I have it. I've discovered for the first time today that I'm not the only person on the planet who went through a terrible obsessive-compulsive disorder about their own heart as a child!!! Any other takers??

Friday, 3 July 2009

Child of Abbey Road

I bought an i-Pod recently. I've discovered it to be a most useful toy. It's fun to be able to listen to music in the car shuffled, so that you hear songs out of context with each other. Somehow you tend to listen better to each song, hear it fresh and new, and not take it so much for granted as you do when you're listening to it as part of an album. Besides, you get to hear songs you haven't heard in ages, songs from albums that you don't usually think to bung into your stereo, and that can be delightful to the musical senses!

On the flight home from Cairns, as I was gazing down 10,000 metres onto the Queensland hinterland, I had the headphones of my i-Pod firmly entrenched into my ears. Only I didn't shuffle the songs this time, instead I was moved to listen to the Beatles' Abbey Road. As all my close friends would testify I'm a beatlemaniac if ever there was one. The Beatles are in my blood, so much so that I don't really need to listen to them anymore, they've influenced me so much as it is and their music has assimilated fully into my musical senses. Abbey Road however is a special album for me. I find it to be a very emotive and stirring record. In part this is because the Beatles were disbanding and you sense in this quite unified collection a sense of ending, the end of an era. From the opening sounds of "Come Together" - where John Lennon whispers a totally ominous "shoot me..." - to the finale of McCartney's medley, you sense that this is music that whips up the celebratory consciousness of that era and whirlpools it down the drain so that after that there is no more. Abbey Road is the final album the Beatles recorded although Let it Be, recorded some six months earlier, would be released later than Abbey Road, in 1970.

There is another reason as to why Abbey Road moves me so much, and that is it's because I was conceived at the time of the making of this album. I was born in March 1970, around the time Let it Be was released. Yet there's something in the spirit of Abbey Road that makes me feel that while the album symbolised the end of an era, I as a body/being carried the seed to a new start, a new beginning. I had taken the energy of what had gone before me into my new life, and I feel that energy aligned very closely with Abbey Road, moreso than any other music or anything else for that matter. It's as if whatever creative force had woven through the Beatles in the creation of Abbey Road, it was that same force that spun me into this new life.

It makes me wonder as to the power of conception. Was I conceived at just the right time? It is mere accident or was it meant to be that I came out at precisely that time. It tend to feel it's the latter, and certainly astrologers & taroists, numerologists and all forms of spiritualists would agree with that also.

My dad had just turned 40 when I was born. I'll be turning 40 in March next year...

ain't that daintree

Saturday, 27 June

Life becomes complex as you merge into the wet tropical regions of the earth. Ecosystems become more elaborate within the soup of year-round heat and humidity. The fauna becomes even more plentiful. The fish, the birds, the butterflies become even more fantastically exotic and delightful to the human eye.

I saw some lovely tropical fish off Green Island yesterday. There was this blue/purple fish that was just amazing, miraculous in its supernal sheen of striking blue. There were fish with stripes of colour combinations, some even resembling tigers. The beauty of these fish exuded a great innocence. I realised yet again in viewing these fishies that the earth is abundant with life and all of this life is true, is sacred, and that human endeavours are of no greater value, instead they have merely ruined the earth.

Today I stepped out onto the Daintree Forest in tropical Far North Queensland. I say I stepped “onto” it because I didn’t really touch it, I floated above in on a steel air walk and then climbed a up a canopy. The Daintree is the oldest forest on the planet. It and the fauna and ecosystem on it have existed for 150-200 million years, an unfathomable amount of time. The Amazon is a relative child, she is about seven to nine million years old. The sense of sacredness when wondering through this marvellous forest was palpable. You felt the heat, the beauty, the age and the wisdom of the place, which too was undoubtedly sensed by the local indigenous peoples such as the Kuku Yalangi who lived in and with these forests for thousands of years.

We didn’t spot any Cassowaries today. These are birds that are the size of geese, perhaps larger, feature a striking blue neck and an obvious crown, or hood. Numbers of Cassowaries in the rainforest appear to be slowly dwindling given that much of the rainforest has been cleared by white man to make way for sugar cane over the past hundred years or so. We did see crocodiles on the Daintree River, four in total including one baby. One croc actually moved, slivered to its side and back into the water; the riverboat glider told us it was probably getting too warm in the sun and needed to cool down. It’s midwinter here in Far North Qld and at the moment it’s warmer and sunnier than Sydney at the height of summer.

I had great moments of happinesses yesterday, those moments that place you in the present and throw a big grin on you without even realise it, those moments where your body smiles. One of these moments was landing on Green Island in the Great Barrier Reef and walking down the jetty. Walking into island off the jetty and to the left of the ‘welcome’ sign I was instantly struck with delight by this leafy village appearing before me. It reminded me instantly of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Morning Morgantown’. It was villagey and leafy and took me back to a sixties Californian hippie town. All things considered it was still touristy, but it was just so fresh and freeing to be there on such a beautiful day with fresh green leaves and shops built like huts amongst the trees on this island village.

Being on a small island is a freeing experience in itself. I went swimming at the beach a few times. We were given snorkels to use to observe coral and fish but I found my goggles to be just as useful. The water was still and fresh, not cold but not too warm either so it was just perfect for a hot day. And even with all these beaches I still ventured into the village swimming pool a couple of times – it was chlorinated, and cooler – but it was the surrounds too that made me happy. I burst into a wide grin as I was swimming away there at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I had the key to life, this is the life! I felt so lucky and so fortunate to be there at that moment, and nowhere else, even if it was only to be for a short time only, regrettably. There I was, breaststroking in a chlorinated pool on an island paradise, and having one of the happiest feelings of my life.

I bought a cocktail prior to leaving the island. I rarely, if never, drink cocktails but this experience and place warranted it. Green Island was magnificent. If life consisted of paradise beaches and jumping in and out of resort pools then that would do it for me!
I feel almost a bit cheeky leaving my life in Sydney behind, even if it is for a short while, to help myself to a break 3000km away from home. I will have to be back at work in a fortnight and I’m flying home in a few days, on the 1st of July. Away from Sydney, away from home, I can be clear, open, free to do as I please without obligations and responsibilities at home. I’ve been on two tours on two consecutive days and have not spoken to many people. I notice I’m one of the very few people travelling alone, in fact I’ve only noticed one other person on their own yesterday. Today in the tour bus I sat next to the driver because I was on my own. I may be alone, but I’m not lonely, far from it. I’m just playing it by the moment and enjoying what’s in front of me.
Tomorrow I may hit Rustys Markets in downtown Cairns and go for a walk in the Botanical Gardens, and take nearby rainforest walks. There’s an open mic in the city tomorrow night and I’m likely to attend. I hope someone lends me a guitar.

But more importantly I hope that some of the zing of the this tropical place and the beaches and the rainforests lands me like a stone so that I can return home with a bit more poise and focus in my life, and act accordingly with it.

As it’s said, so without, is within.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

the dreamtime returns

Tues, 30 June

Early this afternoon, on my way back from Palm Cove on the northern beaches of Cairns, the bus drove past the rainforest sky-shuttle entry. I’d known of the sky shuttle, it’s one of the tourist things that people do here, but I wasn’t interested enough to partake in that. It’s just that next to the skyshuttle sign was an Aboriginal theme park sign, and lo and behold the bus drove on past the entry to this theme park as it turned back onto the highway and made its way south back to central Cairns.

I was a little miffed by this. I hadn’t heard or read of this park at all. No-one had discussed this or offered it up as a possible tour option, although I hadn’t asked for it to be fair. I do wish I had heard about this park as it’s someplace I really would have wanted to go. I love hearing and reading of Aboriginal culture and it would have been great to participate in learning of Aboriginal life in this area of Australia pre-white settlement. I’d love there to be a book on Aboriginal culture, say, whose chapters were separated into various tribes or regions throughout Australia. Each chapter would detail eating, foraging, hunting, artistic and religious beliefs pertaining to each region. It does not have to be especially intricate although I’d like it to be fairly detailed yet enjoyably readable nonetheless. Does such a book exist? I’ll have to research it, I’m sure it does.

The Australian Aboriginies are said to have inhabited this continent for over 40,000 years. White man’s colonisation commenced some 220 years ago, accounting for the most recent half-a-percent time span of human habitation of Australia. And look where it’s brought us! Cairns is packed to the palm trees with tourists, of all nationalities, and non-north Queenslander Australians – myself included – make up a fair whack of the mix. Look at us, the buildings, the structures, the land clearings, the theme parks that encourage and promote “conservation”, the horrible cheap textiles we wear, mobile phones, wireless internet connections & portable laptops. The list goes on.

The price for this growth in modern conveniences has come at enormous cost, to the people who had to build it or be removed from it, and to the environment. Cheap energy in the form of crude oil is the modern slave that allows anyone who’s reading this to afford a car and a computer and a mobile phone. But prior to that – to the early 20th century - Westernisation and colonisation was built fundamentally on slavery, convictism (a penal form of slavery), forced removal of people from their homes as in Africa, and the butchering and brutality bestowed on indigenous peoples of Australia and North America. This of course is only part of it, only a snapshot.

Aboriginal cultures varied throughout the land and undoubtedly some tribes were happier and freer than others. Aboriginies in various parts of Australia did partake in burn-offs, as we still do today (check the sugar cane country), and who are responsible for some element of environmental deterioration. But of course, white man with their white bread, their grog and infectious diseases, took up the environmental degradation raft and rowed it exponentially fast upstream so that even the salmon were choking behind them, unable to keep pace with this onslaught. Species become extinct world-wide. Weather extremes and drought becomes more commonplace. The combined human culture of a magnificent land is forcibly replaced, and by what? A culture that prides itself on modern conveniences and whose people wear yucky t-shirts that contrast garishly to the natural surrounds. We visit sacred beautiful places on bus tours, take photos on our didji cameras, and walk away – me included. None of us would know how to live off the land to save our lives.

All civilisations that we know of that have existed in the past, Western, Eastern and South American, have all come to pass. Cultures such as the American Indian and Australian Aboriginal have too come to pass as a pervasive way of life for these people and these lands, but these cultures had their way of life forcibly removed from them. The civilisations on the other hand, have died from their own hand due to some form of unsustainability, ie, imperialism, population (food & drought issues), war, greed, and merely the general cycle of things. Our civilisation, the current worldly civilisation that has now enveloped the entire world, looks like it shall pass too. It’s difficult to imagine one’s own way of life coming to an end, but if it happened to many civilisations and cultures before us, then why not ours? As it stands our civilisations hangs on the most precarious thread, far more so than the rest who have gone before us, because we’re relying on cheap energy to fuel our way of life and way of food distribution, and all the while we degradate the earth and her climate with our waste and our pollution and consumption so that we’re becoming more the steaming soup bowl swatted with floating flies rather than the beautiful planet we see from photographs taken from outer space.

So then, in the ultimate scheme of things, the civilisation that brought us to the present moment doesn’t account for much time at all. The Daintree rainforest north of Cairns is 150 million years old. The planet has survived longer than us. The 200 plus years that has seen the decimation of Aboriginal and American Indian cultures, as two examples, and all of the combined awesome knowledge of the land they lived on – every tree, every creature, every shrub, every survival tactic – has eroded irrevocably and never to return as an ongoing, central way of life while this civilisation goes on cogging its rusty old wheels with its electronic conveniences and wilful ways. In the ultimate scheme of things, perhaps how that was just meant to be, the Western Civilisation was to round up the planet and destroy it in its entirety so that out of the ashes the phoenix will rise again; a bird content on living for the planet, for each other as man and woman, for life and love, and it will be a dawning of oneness, not division.


So yes, the dreamtime shall return…

However, Jesus won’t!

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...