'Not That Kind of Bourgeois Woman: A Bourgeois Woman Tells You What She’s “Read”', by Bourgeois Woman

The dust has settled on Mm. Dunham’s débuts littéraires, and the consensus reached by the bourgeoisie petit du monde seems to be that the author is some kind child molester, possibly false-rape accusation statistic, and even a hack. Well don’t worry, darling, it’s nothing Bourgeois Woman hasn’t been accused of in the many decadent years of her life. They’re nought but jealous.

So, Bourgeois Woman read (and very strongly identified with) the text. Here’s what she said about it.

Bourgeois Woman #wokeuplikethis.

In light of Dunham’s “rumoured” advance of $3.7 million, Bourgeois Woman considers how she will spend hers.

Upon reading Dunham’s mots immortels, “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman”, Bourgeois Woman wonders whether that includes the gutsiness of say, women who garner the courage necessary to risk their lives in order to leave abusive partners, or Black Americans who lay their bodies down before police officers who can murder them with impunity, or intelligence experts who continue to leak powerful information whilst living statelessly. No matter! She guesses it works as a convenient justification for Dunham’s *less exciting* chapters.

Like Dunham, Bourgeois Woman too had a “lucky little girlhood.” She too didn’t have to “worry about much except what gallery to go to on Sunday” and whether or not her “child psychologist was helping with [her] sleep issues.” But that doesn’t mean Bourgeois Woman doesn’t have anything valuable or interesting to say! Except that possibly there is not much to be said about a lucky little girlhood. She’d much rather learn what those fat cat producers said to Dunham behind closed doors, not what Dunham’s favourite food was when she was five.

And speaking of food, golly gosh, all that dieting. Pssht! Lena, darling, don’t worry: thigh gaps are gauche. Besides, where would a Bourgeois Woman keep her bottle opener were it not resting between valleys of heavenly flesh?

Bourgeois Woman is not sure why everyone is always saying callous and clinical things about sexual congress. Take page 103, where Dunham writes, “The first time I got naked with a guy, grotesque as it was, I was just so relieved he wasn’t inhaling my naked scent or running his hands up my torso to the strains of Chris Isaak.”

Well frankly, Bourgeois Woman believes that there ought to be a LOT more meaningful body odeur inhalation and Chris Isaak worship at the altar of lust. Just ask Bourgeois Boyfriend!

Bourgeois Woman and Lena Dunham identical in many (most!) ways. Except, that is, in the instance of menstruation. Where Dunham damns the institution (“the pain, the volatility, the feeling of utter despair”) every time blood pours forth from her yoni, Bourgeois Woman is reminded of her Inner Goddess.

Inner Goddesses love scented candles.

God bless Dunham for writing that “It’s a special privilege to be born into the body you wanted, to embrace the essence of your gender even as you recognize what you are up against.” Bourgeois Woman would like to add that even more special is recognising the Inner Yoni Goddess Madonna Queen Beyonce that is essential in your gender. Your special extra femme essential gender!

Bourgeois Woman, too, remembers her childhood self as one who was “obnoxiously self-aware.” Perhaps not, like, being aware of the self in a way that recognises its material impact on others and their selves, but a self is a self is a self is a self is a self! And like all good Bourgeois Women, she has carried this fortunate trait well into adulthood.

Bourgeois Woman is moved by displays of anxiety that focus on mortality. And what could be a more meaningful end to a book than one which reiterates the closing in of all ends (death)? But is death really the end, or is it actually the beginning?

Sometimes, when Bourgeois Woman is feeling special about the fact that no-one in her life has ever died tragically or unexpectedly, she wonders if the secret to a long and happy life is simply inherited privilege.

#blessed <3

Bourgeois Woman is a bon vivant and connoisseur, unlike her bolshie doppelganger Ellena Savage, who thinks and writes too much about selfies, selves, class, gender, and revolution.

'Of Mice and Men and Medicine', by Rhianna Boyle

Photograph by Mycroyance. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence.

Many of us are genetically predisposed to at least one health problem, but you can rest assured that at least you are not alone in your suffering. Whatever your Achilles heel, it’s likely that in a medical laboratory somewhere, there is a group of mice or rats with the same symptoms. For example, the Jackson Laboratory – a worldwide supplier of lab mice - offers a cornucopia of human disease models, replicated in rodent miniature in their trademarked JAX® Mice. Their website lists available strains, together with information on whether they are currently ‘live’ or ‘cryopreserved and ready for recovery’.

The degree of similarity between mammalian genomes is high enough that the genetics of many human diseases can be easily replicated in rodents. There are JAX® Mice with the most common human diseases, including cancer, Alzheimers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. You can also purchase mice with Down syndrome, fragile-X syndrome, dwarfism, colour-blindness, endometriosis, migraines, and epilepsy, to name just a few. Some strains are developed to replicate rare or ‘orphan’ diseases, for example maple syrup urine disease, a metabolic condition which makes sufferers’ urine smell like maple syrup; or fatal familial insomnia, a hereditary condition in which successive generations of affected families — both human and rodent — die in middle-age from a complete inability to sleep.

Some scientifically afflicted rodents have conditions that mimic what seem to be specifically human problems. Although it sounds like an anthropomorphic joke, there are mice with carpal tunnel syndrome, mice with acne, and mice predisposed to alcohol dependence or tobacco addiction. Other mice replicate the genetics of eating disorders, schizophrenia, depression, ADHD or susceptibility to autistic spectrum disorders, although naturally the cultural aspects of these conditions can’t be reproduced.

It is unlikely that they are preoccupied with feelings of worthlessness or existential angst.

For example, ‘anorexic’ mice will starve themselves by exercising at the expense of eating, but they are not preoccupied with body image or influenced by popular culture. Mice carrying genes associated with depression can show symptoms such as reduced cognitive abilities, high fear and anxiety, and a reduced preference for sugary drinks; the latter mimics the inability of depressed patients to find pleasure in normally rewarding activities. When ‘depressed’ mice are subjected to a swim test, that is, forced to swim to survive, they have a tendency to give up earlier than other mice, but will swim for longer when put on antidepressants. However, it is unlikely that they are preoccupied with feelings of worthlessness or existential angst. Mice with genes associated with schizophrenia will show the neurobiological markers of the illness, as well as symptoms like poor memory, aggression, and hypersensitivity to their environment. It doesn’t appear that they experience hallucinations or delusions, although in their case, believing they are part of a sinister mind control experiment conducted by scientists wouldn’t be at all delusional.

However, these standard commercially available lines might not suit the needs of all researchers. For this reason, many commercial lab animal suppliers offer individualised services to produce bespoke rodent lines. The company SAGElabs, for example, retails what it describes as ‘off-the-shelf’ and ‘custom bred’ rats. Until recently, genetic engineering techniques have been more easily applied to mice than rats, so mouse models go even further. As with some standard lines, these customized models are created using genetic engineering techniques to produce what are known as knock-in\knock-out, or transgenic mice.

Basically, these techniques involve isolating the desired gene and injecting it into an embryonic stem cell, then raising the cell in a mouse. In some of these mice, the engineered stem cell will end up as testes and therefore sperm cells, which means that the mice will pass the gene on to their offspring. The inGenious Targeting Laboratory spruiks such services with the slogan ‘You Think It Up, We Knock It Out’, while the website for the company Cyogen currently offers a promotion on ‘inducible knock-out, knock-in and humanised models – 20% off!’.

A humanised model is one in which the mouse or rat carries functional human genes, cells, organs or tissues. For example, mice with a mutation that wipes out their own immune system can be injected with human immune cells to produce a working replica of the human immune system. Such immunodeficient mice can also be used to grow, for example, grafts of human foetal liver, or they can have human tumours inserted without their immune system rejecting the tissue. There are rats that carry a human gene associated with Parkinson’s disease. Humans and rodents have been uncomfortably close for millennia, but recent medical advances have brought us together in a more intimate way.

An immunodeficient mouse features in the notorious photograph of the mouse with a human ear shape grafted on its back, taken in 1997. The photograph has become a defining image of the last century. Although no human tissue was involved (the experiment used cow cells on an ear-shaped mesh, and the tissue was never transplanted), the image has come to symbolize both the cruelty we are prepared to inflict on rodents, and our disgust when the boundaries between our two species are transgressed. Apparently for both of these reasons, it was used in an ad campaign against genetic engineering, despite the fact that the mouse was used was a naturally occurring mutant strain, and no genetic engineering was used.

The ancestors of modern lab mice were first domesticated as pets in Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries. These animals were bred largely for their unusual coat colours, including albinism, and for other rare traits. For example, Japanese ‘waltzing mice’ walked with a circular motion that resembled dancing—the result of an inherited neurological defect. Fancy mice breeding became popular in England and the United States during the Victorian era. The name ‘fancy’ didn’t refer to the fact that the rodents were bred for their decorative qualities — in this case, the word meant hobby. A recent genetic analysis of modern lab mice shows that they are a hybrid of four wild strains from across Europe and Asia, probably due to deliberate and/or accidental cross-breeding by fancy mouse breeders. Lab rats are also thought to descend from Asian ancestors that were bred as pets, although rats were also caught and sold in Europe for the sport of rat-baiting, which involved watching a terrier kill an arena full of rats, so domesticated rats may also have European origins.

Fancy mouse and rat breeding survive as hobbies today, and some enthusiasts even sew and sell tiny, seasonally themed dress-up clothes for rats. Although a degree of anthropomorphism has permeated the pastime, for the most part, the domestication of rodents has not given them the privileged cultural status afforded to other domestic pets. Breeding for physical traits exploits rodents’ large reproductive output and short life cycles – the more young that are produced, the greater the chance of producing rare coat colours – but also requires culling many animals who aren’t of genetic value.

Victorian-era fancy rodent breeding was an unscientific enterprise, in which half the fun was probably the element of surprise. But around the turn of the century, the rediscovery of a long-neglected paper written by monk named Gregor Mendel changed everything. Mendel’s famous work, on the inherited characteristics of peas, predicted the existence of genes, and it was found that similar experimentation could be done with mouse coat colours.

In the United States, much of the early scientific breeding of lab mice was done by Clarence Cook Little, founder of the Jackson Laboratory, and Miss Abbie Lapthrop, a retired schoolteacher and fancy mouse enthusiast. Some of the inbred mouse lines they produced were notably cancer-prone, and these became the first strains used in the lab as human disease models. Albino strains began to be bred for science in the 1920s. It’s unclear exactly why albinos were favoured – presumably it wasn’t just because they matched scientists’ lab coats – although some have suggested it was because albinos tended to have docile temperaments.

Lab rodents are now well and truly a commercial product, and as with many other products, there are accessories to match. Researchers can purchase the Rotamex-5, which “measures coordination in up to four rats or mice by recording the latency to fall from a spinning rod”. Then there’s the PACS-30 Avoidance Monitor, which produces an electric shock to see whether rodents can be trained to either avoid or put up with pain. The Vogel Test Anxiometer-102 is “designed to induce anxiety within the subject” by shocking rodents after they take a certain number of sips from their water dispenser. The Anxiometer (note the name) allows researchers to rate the performance of anti-anxiety drugs by comparing the drinking behaviour of “punished drugged rats” to that of “punished non-drugged rats”.

It seems there is a lot going on in the minds of rodents that remain mysterious to us.

Even the accessory that is meant to provide rodents with fun and fitness – the exercise wheel – only allows for repetitive, pointless activity. At least, this was the popular wisdom until earlier this year, when Dutch researchers published a three-year study in which wild mice were given the opportunity to run in these wheels. Film footage of the wheels, which were placed in parkland and sand dunes, showed wild mice voluntarily entering and running in them on hundreds of occasions. Also filmed entering the wheels were several shrews, rats, snails, slugs and frogs. The clincher for the study was that, with the exception of the slugs and snails, individuals of each kind of animal were filmed leaving a wheel, then re-entering it shortly afterwards and continuing to run. This suggests that the activity is intentional, perhaps even enjoyable, although the researchers are at a loss to explain why. It seems there is a lot going on in the minds of rodents – as well as frogs and shrews – that remains mysterious to us.

Another recent study shows how little we understand about life as a lab mouse. Thus study shows that mice react differently to male and female lab technicians, in ways that cast doubt on a vast body of medical research. Mice that were subjected to pain in the presence of male researchers exhibited a lower level of pain – as measured by the mouse facial grimace scale – than mice subjected to the same procedure in the presence of female researchers. The mice showed the same response when the pain was inflicted in the presence of teeshirts worn by either males or females, which suggests they were responding to odour cues.

These results are probably not due to a rodent preference for human men. Rather, a reduced pain response can result from increased stress. The odours produced by human men are very similar to those produced by other male mammals, including mice. It seems that this ‘male smell’ puts both male and female mice on edge, perhaps because they associate it with competitive violence or sexual aggression. The worrying thing is that in the numerous studies that measure pain in rodents, controlling for, or even recording, the gender of the lab technicians has not been a consideration.

As well as potentially undermining a large chunk of western medical science, this study shows the persistence of wild instincts despite more than 300 years of captive breeding. Laboratory mice don’t have to fight for mates or food, but it’s nice to know that should the end of modern civilisation require them to fend for themselves, they still have an instinct for self-defence.

In an unconventional experiment, zoologist Manuel Berdoy released lab rats onto a fenced, abandoned farm and made a film about the results (The Laboratory Rat: A natural history, 2004). Hefound that the rats quickly adapted to the ‘wild’ environment, digging tunnels for protection, avoiding cats, and establishing a stable social hierarchy. Two strains of lab rat were introduced into the new environment, but when the next generation was born, it became apparent that some rats of the albino Wistar strain had mated with their Lister hooded counterparts, reuniting inbred genes that had been segregated for hundreds of generations. The resulting offspring could be described as mongrels, but on the other hand, they could be seen as a step towards inbred rats reclaiming their former, genetically diverse, glory.

This column originally appeared in The Lifted Brow #24: The Medicine Issue.

Rhianna Boyle is a zoologist and writer. A previous column for The Lifted Brow appears in the Best Australian Science Writing 2013.

The Best of 2014 from The Lifted Brow: Online

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Photograph by Charlotta Wasteson. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence.

This year was the first time we’ve commissioned work specifically for The Lifted Brow: Online. To celebrate, we asked our various interns and editors to nominate their favourite online pieces from 2014.

We’d like to not-so-humbly suggest that these pieces are the ones with the most zest, charm, wit, character, and incisiveness. They’re bold, and bright, and thick with that something that makes them engaging and important, a window into something particular about our pomo, digimodern, hyper-articulate world. These are, we hope, stories that cut to the heart of who we are and what we do.

We have a big year ahead at The Lifted Brow: a redesign, rebrand and relaunch of our print magazine, which will also carry through to our digital and online publications; we’ll have new work to show off; the inaugural experimental non-fiction prize is open for submissions; some associates we’ll be championing like mad; and an expanded crack team of editors, commissioning editors, and deputy editors dying to show you what we’ve got.

But forget any mawkish end-of-year oversentimentality: we simply reckon these ten stories deserve a re-read. Enjoy.

  • Flab and Excess: On Women, Writing and the Publishing Industry by Jessica Yu
    ‘The gendering of “voice”… will always make female writers’ work appear less important, even less human.’

  • How Giraffes Die by Emily Meller
    ‘In the flat, open, dry savanna plains of sub-Saharan Africa, roaming giraffes routinely get struck by lightning and die.’

  • Noise in our Heads by Evelyn Morris
    ‘So I’m coming out—I have an ego and I’m a woman.’

  • Hemmingway’s Reductionism by Simon Groth
    ‘He is still there, just where I last left him. Hemmingway is his name, the name I gave him.’

  • Phone In Mouth by Leon Arnott
    ‘You remove your phone from your mouth. This isn’t the first time you’ve found it in there, with no memory of having inserted it the night before.’

  • Next to Nothing by Brendan Maclean
    ‘Poppy’s death would be the first significant ending of my life.’

  • A Bone of Fact: The Gambler’s Review by Oscar Schwartz
    ‘Next to me I have a twenty-cent coin. I’m going to use it as a guide for writing, ask it questions, and follow its answers blindly. I have one rule: heads = yes; tails = no.’

  • The Hysterical Woman by Matilda Surtees
    ‘Female emotion, even outside of mental illness, is rarely admitted to the public sphere.’

  • Eye, Human by Koren Helbig
    ‘Having a wireless chip inside his skull does, Harbisson admits, leave him vulnerable to hacking.’

  • 21 Notes on the Cover Art of Sia’s 1000 Forms Of Fear by Adam Curley
    ‘The Hair is a star in space. It has been freed from the body to which it was once attached (Sia’s body?) and is now surrounded by blackness.’

Want more? Why not browse through the archive?

And if you’d like to write for The Lifted Brow: Online during 2015, feel free to drop us a line.

An Excerpt from 'The Shaman’s Egg', by David Owen Kelly

Illustration by Susy Cirina

A strap of bark soaks curled up in a bucket of red liquid beside a man outside the Hospital Adolfo Guevara Velasco. Next to him an old woman sits with a top hat on, beside a blanket piled high with dead cicadas. Their thoraxes glow golden yellow behind papery wings. We step closer. They’re not insects but a type of fruit. The woman offers us a stuffed bag full. I shake my head. Through the cement struts of the walkway I can see snow on the distant mountains that surround Cusco: the place the ancients called The Navel of the World.

Floor polishers in grey overalls swing their machines back and forth over the foyer linoleum, and gardeners tend to fairytale roses in the internal courtyards. This hospital is for people with insurance incorporated into their employment contracts. The destitute go to the Hospital Antonio Lorena on the city’s edge.

The woman at the computer terminal at Modulo Four takes Jane’s identity card and confirms her ten-thirty appointment. We are directed to stand in the corridor outside the oncologist’s office. There are no chairs. The floor tiles are burnt orange and we have to press against the wall to let the polishers pass. The swirling mat buffs the edges of our boots.

The oncologist says the chemotherapy is no longer working. Jane knows this from the increase of piss-coloured ascites she’s been draining from her stomach into plastic bags every three days. Her chemotherapy has a silly cartoon name. Topotecan. I tell Jane it’s a perfect name for the Inca ruler that let the Spanish march in and take over with just 168 conquistadors. Jane laughs.

The oncologist wants her to try a combination of three other chemotherapies: Cisplatin, Gemzar and Betrapone. These drugs sound like alien invaders from another planet and Jane is enthusiastic. He wants to start treatment the following day but Jane must pick up her medicines from the Farmacia and deliver them to the oncology ward. That’s the way things work. There are no internal mechanisms for the distribution of medicines, and patients line up in the Farmacia from all over the hospital.

We’re the only gringos and the other patients stare. Their faces are all high ledges and sheer drops. Eyes like the small dark caves their ancestors hid bodies in. Jane’s rank in the queue is stalled while several old people and pregnant women take her place.

Jane looks sicker than all of them.

“Why are they pushing in?”

“Old people and women with little kids are served first here,” Jane says. “It’s the Peruvian way.”

How quaint, I think, but Jane looks sicker than all of them and there is something aggressive in the way they push past.

An obese man sidles up. He looks barely fifty.

“Say something in Spanish!” I say.

“No, I don’t want to sound like an entitled gringo.”

Do these people think she should go back to her own country for treatment? Jane did go back. She rented a place near her mother’s in Brisbane and I flew up to see her. We walked the same suburban streets we knew in high school: the hot blonde girl and the fag. Jane helped me survive.

The Brisbane doctors said Jane’s ovarian cancer was Stage Four and she only had three months to live. As a parting gift they fitted a tap into her stomach. Jane returned to Peru and back to her café. She’s been paying medical insurance for herself and her staff since 2001. She has every right to be here.

The diagnosis was in February, and now it’s May. I’ve timed my visit to coincide with her final days.

I watch a woman at the back of the queue whisper to a mother who has just been served. She borrows her sleeping baby and charges to the front.

“That’s not her child,” I say to Jane. “She borrowed it off that other woman.”

The Farmacia has no Cisplatin.

Jane squares her shoulders and calls her on it. It’s a toss up who’ll win – the woman pretending to be a mother, or the woman who is forty-eight but who suddenly looks ninety. The whole Farmacia watches. The woman shrugs and steps back. Jane wins the battle but not the war. The Farmacia has no Cisplatin. She is told the Hospital Antonio Lorena has some. We have to go there.

We walk back up to the roadway past the fruit seller with the golden fruit and the man with the bucket, and hail a taxi. It takes us past a statue of a golden Inca warrior on a pedestal, his arms spread out in a gesture of appraisal.

“There’s Topotecan,” I say. “That useless bastard.”

“That’s Pachacutec,” Jane says. “He established the Empire. There are statues to him all over Cusco.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird that Cusco means ‘The Navel of the World’?” I say, looking at her against the backdrop of the rushing city, “and you move here and get ovarian cancer?”

“I think it’s the perfect place,” she says.

The Hospital Antonio Lorena is a series of blue demountables, like something out of MASH. The entrance is lined with street sellers under colourful umbrellas. It’s festive. Behind the hospital is a high ridge of land that juts into the city. A huge statue of an Inca warrior kneels on the prow.

The Farmacia is open to the elements and protected only by shade cloth roofing. The floor is concrete. Jane joins the queue while I stand off to the side and keep watch in case the patients here decide to launch an all-out offensive. She is about to take medicine from the poorest of the poor.

No one pushes in.

“They don’t have Cisplatin either,” she says, coming back.

Read the piece in full in The Lifted Brow #24: The Medicine Issue.

Queenslander David Owen Kelly, essayist, short story writer and author of the novel Fantastic Street, lives in Newcastle with Jason.

A Mixtape by Total Giovanni

Total Giovanni – A Mix for The Lifted Brow by The Lifted Brow on Mixcloud

A Mixtape to Make the Walls Sweat by Total Giovanni for The Lifted Brow: Digital.

1. Fatima Yamaha – What’s A Girl To Do

Calm idyllic swaying, slowly teased into a sexual pop synth that turns the mood from slow massaging to deep moans. The clothes are still on, but the bodies are moist. Aural foreplay.

2. Free Life – Dance Fantasy

Cosmic disco delights. Fuck the moonwalk. This is how you party in space. (Billie who???)

3. MF DOOM feat. Apani B – Let Me Watch

Date-night storytelling at its best. One of my most loved female rap verses, hands down: attitude served up over a gentle caress of subtle instrumentals, making the courting deep, and the denial harsh. Fuck the man behind the mask, and fuck the mask too.

I’d rather masturbate than fuck with Vik Vaughn.

4. GQ – Lies (Theo Parrish Ugly Edit #7)

The disjointed melodies of this record are enough to majorly shit you on the dancefloor. Don’t let the glitchy cuts and volume fades get you down. Listen to this song after the debauchery of a night out, whilst the sun breaks through and starts warming your shell of a body. Theo has the power to make everything alright again. It’s where lies become truth.

5. Carmen – Time To Move

Sometimes you make a tasty spread: cold meats, Quincy Jones’ paste, pickles, sun-drieds, olives, crackers, and just the right amount of cheese. Carmen brings the cheese to the picnic. Her electro tones harness the incredibly clean production. This is hygiene at it’s grooviest. She also single-handedly mothered two love children, teaching them all she knew along the way. They grew up to be Chromeo.

6. Liquid Liquid – Optimo (Optimo Remix)

Cow bells. Not just for cows. They’re also for getting loose in the raw madness created by these gorging instruments that must be high. The shamanic ramblings are felt best with big speakers on a dark dance floor. Let your limbs have a freak-out. And don’t worry about the random jabs and slaps you receive from the body next to you; they’re just busy losing their own shit too.

7. Andras & Oscar – Everytime I Go

Proof the Melbourne dance scene is in a good spot. These boys take nineties smooth house to another level, lavishing sweetened vocals over clean livin’ on a dance floor. You can’t help but smile as the swirling synths taper off into your favourite dream. Ain’t nothing but a good time.

8. Mike Francis – Night Time Lady

Giovanni guitarist Cavallo Nero recently searched his family tree and discovered that Michele Francesco Puccioni (Mike Francis) was a distant cousin. Nero has since dedicated every one of his guitar solos in his honour. This track plays up the innocence of the Florentine streets and ends with hints of how the Italian discotheque gets down.

9. The Chaplin Band – II Veliero

Giovanni member Vinnie Del told me he heard this song performed by an Italian Christian choir on the streets of Windsor one Sunday afternoon.

10. Ronnie Dyson – All Over Your Face

Ronnie knows how to party. Follow Ronnie down a hole and you come up covered in cotton candy – sticky and fun. Sometimes you find there’s more cotton than the candy lets on. Sometimes the meaning is sweeter than the candy. Ronnie tells me that every time we chat.

Total Giovanni is an experience. It is a feeling. It is the most sexually charged discothèque this side of the Tropic of Capricorn. Notorious for their highly energetic live shows, Total Giovanni create dance music to enable collective psychic liberation. With sets that move from smooth boogie to shamanic disco and heartbreak house, TG have built a reputation on whipping venues into bacchanalian frenzies. Now they bring their polyrhythmic jams and liberated masculinity into your living room with a record release imminent on visionary Melbourne label Two Bright Lakes. Free yourself…
Total Giovanni launch their new single Can’t Control My Love, December 20 at Shebeen Bandroom.

This mix originally appeared in The Lifted Brow: Digital, Volume 15, Issue 2. Get the free app and download your copy now.

AN IRRESPONSIBLE & PERHAPS VERY INTIMIDATING HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY

 

Next year we are relaunching our print magazine: reconceived, redesigned, redistributed. It is going to attack you in the most T-rexcellent way. You better start running! Running towards newsstands, that is. Except maybe wait until next year to start running — wait until the magazine is actually on newsstands, otherwise you’ll be waiting for months.

Still: the last thing you want to happen come the actual time to start running is for you to not have a truly deep historical knowledge of The Lifted Brow. And what’s a good way to obtain such knowledge? Why, buying a Bag o’ Brows (seven back issues of the magazine, seven issues of your choice, seven of the choicest issues of Australia’s most interesting magazine, for just $50) is a good way. The best way! And right now, for only a few more days, if you buy a Bag o’ Brows, you go in the running to win 50 books, 10 LPs, and tickets to smartpeople places. One person will win it all! One person will experience this avalanche fall of culture.

You can choose from back issues in which we’ve published work from people like Christos Tsiolkas, Helen Garner, David Foster Wallace, Neil Gaiman, Rick Moody, Karen Russell, Tom Cho, Douglas Coupland, Heidi Julavits, Tom Bissell, Tao Lin, Rebecca Giggs, Margo Lanagan, Jim Shepard, Frank Moorhouse, Anna Krien, Romy Ash, Matthew de Abaitua, Diane Williams, Sam Lipsyte, Sheila Heti, Jim Shepard, Chris Somerville, Elizabeth Gaffney, Andrés Neuman, Angie Hart, Blake Butler, Benjamin Kunkel, many other established practitioners, as well as hundreds of emerging writers and artists. Can you afford to miss out?

 

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For those of you who are gift-givers: if you buy a Bag o’ Brows, we’ll post your order out immediately so that you can gift it as a Christmas present. Ipso facto ergo sum: you can be fabulously altruistic and also perhaps win many kilograms of culture! What a time to be alive.

Note: for those of you who already own copies of the Brow (you intelligent beautiful creatures), you can still enter, and just tell us which other copies you would like! Just check out our shop page to see which issues are available.

Also: this offer is open to both Australian and international persons. (Come on non-Australians — here’s your opportunity to take a crash course in Contemporary Australian Literature. You’ll be some kind of expert in that strange land you call home.) We will send the prize pile to anywhere in the world.

You gotta buy/enter before midnight Wednesday AEST.

 

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Thanks to the following publishers for their effervescent and ongoing support, blessed may they be for publishing and championing Australian writers and writing: ScribeText PublishingHachette, and Pan MacMillan.

Also, thanks to Bedroom Suck Records!

And thanks to the Melbourne MuseumImmigration Museum, and Scienceworks.

An Excerpt from 'Anoretics Anonymous', by Fiona Wright

Illustration by Julia Trybala

There are some conversations that no one should have with their mother, especially if that no one is a poet, and especially if that no one is a poet four months into her third stint of group therapy.

Anxiety always engenders punctuality, and I had arrived a little early to the café where my mother and I sometimes meet for a mid-week breakfast, across the road from her Ultimo office and a crisp, half-hour walk from my home. I still always order the same thing, and eat it a bit too slowly, and we still sometimes argue about whether my coffee should be made on skim milk or full cream, but we both know that barely two years ago even turning up at all would have been impossible for me. I was reading as I waited, curled up at a corner table, and when my mother arrived she asked:

“What’s that you’re reading?”

“It’s a novel I found. By a poet, about group therapy.”

My mother wanted to look and turned the book over — away from the bespectacled, magnificently bearded man scowling on the front cover — to read the blurb on the back.

“It’s unfinished?” She looked at me. “Did he decide it was too hard to write? Or that he shouldn’t write about the other people in the hospital?”

“He threw himself off a bridge.”

My mother is the only member of my family with whom I talk about my writing; we’ve spoken about how strange and difficult it has been, at times, to write about my illness. I hesitated before answering:

“He threw himself off a bridge.”

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The book is called Recovery/Delusions; it’s written by John Berryman. There’s something maddeningly perfect about that title, something that sits right at the heart of the problem of the brain, the knots it can tie itself into through illness, or when trying to bear what it otherwise can not. Untangling these knots, untying recovery and delusion, is a messy, tentative process, and one that may well lead to other snarls as it progresses. How can we ever know, after all and at any time, how much of our own mind is rational, how much is operating in the fantastical, the mad? At what point does narrative slip from being the best system we have for making sense of the world into nothing more than delusion? When is it, that is, that the mind takes on a mind of its own?

A different American poet, Wallace Stevens, puts it like this:

“The mind has added nothing to human nature. It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality. It seems…to have something to do with self-preservation.”

The imagination sounds remarkably similar to delusion.

He adds that poetry is simply the expression of the mind, this violence within, which is why it “helps us to live our lives”. But even in this formulation, the imagination, as it presses back, sounds remarkably similar to delusion.

The psychiatrist in charge of the clinic where I’m currently admitted, in this, my third stint as a day patient, loves poetry: thinks metaphor might cure us all, quotes Walt Whitman at every opportunity.

“You are large, you contain multitudes,” he says to a room full of bony women, many clutching cushions in front of their stomachs, some so underweight that the outlines of their teeth are visible through their cheeks. “You contain multitudes,” he says. “There will never be any more perfection than there is now.”

I only realised later that Berryman’s unfinished novel is actually only titled Recovery. Delusions is the title of his last collection of poems, and in the edition I have the two works are published together, as if in composite they might offer some kind of complete — and completely morbid — picture of the poet’s mind in his last days. I can’t pretend this isn’t part of the appeal.

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John Berryman began writing Recovery in 1970, a year in which he was hospitalised four times for alcoholism. His first hospitalisation occurred in 1958, and not one of the remaining twelve years of his life passed without at least one readmission. Nonethless, he continued to teach — often giving lectures while on short passes from various hospitals and programmes — and to write. His best known work, the Pulitzer Prize winning Dream Songs, was written during this period; my favourite line from this work is “my psychiatrist can lick your psychiatrist”.

The main character in Recovery is Alan Severance, an illustrious and famous scientist, a man of high intelligence, creativity, and rigour, at times as severe as his Dickensian name suggests. He is, of course, a fictional stand-in for Berryman – it is impossible to read him otherwise, especially as the novel’s epigraph states, “The materials of this book… especially where hallucinatory, are historical; all facts are real; ladies and gentlemen, it’s true.”

There’s something wonderfully appealing about the concept of an historical hallucination.

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Read the piece in full in The Lifted Brow #24: The Medicine Issue.

Fiona Wright’s poetry collection, Knuckled, won the Dame Mary Gilmore Award in 2012.

Out Now! The Lifted Brow: Digital – Volume Fifteen, Issue Two: The Running with Deer Edition

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Cover art by Jr.Blue/Lashna Tuschewski.

The Running with Deer Edition of The Lifted Brow: Digital is out now!

Our final digital issue for 2014, the Running with Deer Edition features a swag of goodies to tide you over until we return in late Jan: Jonathan David Brent questions whether commerce inspired the most creative music of 2014; Sean Beld has gifted us with three gnarly poems; plus challenging fiction from Madeleine Watts, after the Bad Thing; two new flash fiction pieces from Angela Meyer; and new dance kids on the block Total Giovanni bestow upon us a mixtape that’ll make your walls sweat.

Nuzzle up to our super cute contributors:

  • Angela Meyer is the author of a collection of flash fiction, Captives (Inkerman & Blunt, 2014), and has published stories, articles and reviews widely, including in Best Australian Stories 2014. She is editor of the eerie anthology The Great Unknown. @LiteraryMinded.
  • Jonathan David Brent is a writer and online editor of ACCLAIM magazine. He is based in Melbourne and the internet.
  • Sean Beld is the recipient of the Joyce Carol Oates Graduate Commencement Prize in Poetry. He received his MFA from Oregon State University and is currently an English Instructor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA. His work has appeared in journals such as Cold Mountain Review, The Hartskill Review, The Notre Dame Review, The Whole Beast Rag, The Round and Grasslimb.
  • Madeleine Watts is a Sydney-born writer of fiction, essays and journalism based in New York. Her writing has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, The Hairpin, Junkee and Griffith REVIEW (amongst others).
  • Total Giovanni is an experience. It is a feeling. It is the most sexually charged discothèque this side of the Tropic of Capricorn. Notorious for their highly energetic live shows, Total Giovanni create dance music to enable collective psychic liberation. With sets that move from smooth boogie to shamanic disco and heartbreak house, TG have built a reputation on whipping venues into bacchanalian frenzies. Now they bring their polyrhythmic jams and liberated masculinity into your living room with a record release imminent on visionary Melbourne label Two Bright Lakes. Free yourself…
  • Cover art by Lashna Tuschewski, an artist working in illustration, embroidery, collage, handmade jewellery, and ceramics.

The Lifted Brow: Digital is available on your preferred iOS device. Get the app now — it’s free to download, and even free-er to enjoy.

Introducing... The Lifted Brow Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction

 

As you may know, we’re currently reconceptualising and redesigning our print magazine, which is set to be relaunched out into the world in March 2015. In the course of this phase, we’ve been talking a lot amongst ourselves about what kind of work we’re most looking forward to publishing in our beautiful new print object. One genre that keeps being suggested is a non-genre: non-fiction work that doesn’t adhere to the ‘correctly spelled word—>neat sentence—>clean paragraph—>tidy column—>full page’ kind of writing that has been excellent and same-y for hundreds of years. 

Then we thought: how can we let the world know that this is the type of writing we want to be pitched, that we want to see submitted? And then we thought: errybody ❤s competitions. And then we thought: let'sbloodywelldoit.  

We’ve long wanted to introduce a prize for non-fiction writing that throws convention out the proverbial window. And as Morrissey wisely titled a song, 'How soon is now?’, we have decided that now is soon enough! So, please welcome…

THE LIFTED BROW PRIZE FOR EXPERIMENTAL NON-FICTION

But what does it mean? Well, that’s entirely up to you. If we have to tell you how to experiment, then you’re the frog, not the dissecting scientist, and it’s RIP to you.

What we can tell you is that we’re looking for works of new, audacious, authentic and/or inauthentic experimental non-fiction, up to 5000 words. Think Chris Kraus, Eileen Myles, John Cage.

The Lifted Brow Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction seeks work that is unlike any other. We want to hear from writers we’ve never read before, and we want writers we already know and love to challenge themselves to create work unlike any they’ve previously produced.

Up for grabs: AU$1000 and publication in The Lifted Brow 25, all for the low, low entry fee of $7 (FYI: all entry fees are fed directly to the prize pool).

Entries close 25 January 2015.

Judges: Rebecca GiggsJohn D'AgataMallory Ortberg

More info here.

Enter here.

'Miss World': An Exclusive Extract from 'Live Through This', by Anwen Crawford

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Jacket image courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing.

This is an exclusive excerpt from Live Through This, Anwen Crawford’s examination of how Hole’s second album awoke a feminist consciousness in a generation of young listeners. Live Through This is part of the long-running 33⅓ series. Each short book focuses on an individual album; you can find out more about the series at 333sound.com.

I wanted the prize, and I might get the prize, and, if I don’t get the prize, I’ll be kind of sad, but I’ll have gone down as being some place in evolution—as a reference point for whoever does get the prize.

—Courtney Love

Mins McCauley was raised in Noosa, on Australia’s northeast coast. At the age of 18, she moved to Sydney, around the same time that Hole were forming as a band in Los Angeles, 12,000 kilometres away across the Pacific.

‘When I came down [to Sydney], I was the kind of person who’d listen to Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, I was a huge Smiths fan,’ she recalls. ‘My mother left our home quite early, so I was a girl who’d been raised by men and I didn’t care about female artists at all. I wasn’t interested. I was angry with women because my mum had run off.’

A regular at Red Eye Records, one of Sydney’s key independent record stores, McCauley first discovered Hole in the pages of the British music weeklies. (Shipped surface mail from London, each issue would arrive in Australia at least six weeks after publication. Yet how breathlessly new the old headlines sounded.) Around the time that Pretty on the Inside was released, McCauley spotted a photograph of Courtney Love in NME. ‘I was intrigued by this woman, this image. She was so “Fuck you”, but pretty at the same time.’

‘She was so “Fuck you”, but pretty at the same time.’

Though Hole had surfaced in the American press—most notably in the pages of Flipside—it was British music writers who were the first to really champion them.‘The only band in the world,’ wrote Everett True in Melody Maker of Hole’s performance at Hollywood’s Club Lingerie on June 8, 1991. ‘Teenage Whore’ reached No. 1 on the UK Indie Chart that September, but not everyone was impressed. ‘Their ability to depress in the name of entertainment is unrivalled,’ wrote Dele Fadele in NME, reviewing a Hole gig at London’s Camden Underworld.

In December 1991, Mins McCauley took a trip to the United Kingdom. ‘I bought Pretty on the Inside from Tower Records on cassette tape the second day I was there, and I just listened to it for the whole six weeks. It was the sound of what I was thinking, the way I was feeling,’ she says. ‘All that screaming, all that anger. [Courtney] obviously had a traumatic relationship with her mother and I could totally relate to that. It totally spoke to me. At that stage, the band were amorphous—I knew there was a dude there, but it was all about her.’ Early in 1992, McCauley returned to Australia, and, the day after landing, she drove to Canberra—the nation’s staid, manicured capital—to see Nirvana.

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Still from ‘Miss World’ video.

The fact that Nirvana ended up in Australia at the very height of Nevermind mania was serendipitous. The tour contract was little more than a verbal agreement between Kurt Cobain, Kris Novoselic and Sydney-based promoter Steve Pavlovic, who met Nirvana in Seattle when the band were still signed to Sub Pop. In 1990, Pavlovic had organised a successful Australian tour for Mudhoney, but Nirvana’s local following was smaller and they were booked into modest venues, with the expectation that they’d draw a few hundred people per gig. Then came Nevermind. As the album climbed the charts, Pavlovic kept expecting the band to cancel, but Nirvana stuck to their promise, declining offers from major tour promoters, and so it was that Mins McCauley found herself, on February 5, 1992, inside the student union bar of the Australian National University, while several thousand people pushed on the doors from outside, trying to gain entry. ‘It felt like the whole place was going to crash in,’ she remembers. ‘Inside, it was amazing. I’m sure I saw a glimpse of Courtney somewhere. She was there, she was sitting side of stage. You couldn’t really take your eyes off what was happening onstage, and Kurt was in a really bad way,he was having a bad time of it …but I couldn’t take my eyes off her, because she was transfixed on him. It was such a romantic, fucked up, rock ’n’ roll thing.’

For McCauley, Hole sparked a new interest in female-led bands. She bought records by Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill. ‘I’d read a lot of books about bands and I was into what was happening behind the scenes, I was obsessed with that stuff,’ she says. ‘You never really heard about women except as an adjunct to a man, so to hear about this whole underground scene that was happening, and what was going on with Courtney—because she was creating all the excitement and tension, the competition in a way—it was a really different point of view to hear about.’ She wondered what Hole would do after Pretty on the Inside. ‘I’ve seen Nirvana, I’ve seen Courtney side of stage. I’m waiting for whatever happens next.’

Fairy Tale

For a thousand pounds, the upscale department store Harrods of London will transform your little girl into a princess. It’s the Disney Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, the total cartoon experience. Gown, tiara, crystal Cinderella slipper; nail polish and makeup and hair styling. Each princess is assigned a fairy godmother (employed on minimum wage?) and pledges her fealty to those noted aristocratic values of kindness, gentleness and trustworthiness. A photo op and a Disney gift bag later, and she’s off her throne. The next child awaits her metamorphosis.

Outside, in less exclusive playgrounds, you’ll find other princesses aspirant, clumsy but imperious; striving, as they seesaw and slippery-dip, to keep their miniature frocks uncreased and their plastic tiaras straight. Little girls in clothing all candy-coloured and diaphanous, and, for the benefit of onlookers, quite likely stamped with the word ‘PRINCESS’. Performing their role as an object of slavish devotion—and quite aware that they’re performing it, too.

It’s notable how few girls choose to imagine themselves as queens.

It’s notable how few girls choose to imagine themselves as queens. Even at three or four years old, a girl will sense, from her bedtime fairy tales, that a queen stands in a princess’s way. A queen holds power—legal, familial—through her marriage to a king. Often a stepmother, she is jealously competitive with her female stepchild. She envies the latter’s youth and beauty, while the princess, invariably, is modest, selfless, quiet; mute as a fish, if need be. The happy fate of the princess is to marry and usurp the queen, and it is a fantasy of marriage (the boy’s attention, the world’s attention), which rewards her beauty but does not undermine her autonomy, that young, make-believe princesses are attracted to. The girl with the most cake.

A fairy tale always ends at the wedding feast. The rest is covered with a blithe ‘happily ever after’. We don’t see what comes next: a girl’s realisation that the only reward for beauty is to be worshipped as an object, that the only power in marriage is the power of motherhood. The princess, in her turn, becomes the wicked and sadistic queen; ‘her daughter is the privileged object opposite whom she attempts to affirm herself as a sovereign subject,’ writes de Beauvoir. Far better to remain a princess, asleep for a hundred years, than awake to full knowledge of one’s powerlessness. Be ripe, be ready, be patient: a prince will cut his way through a forest of thorns to claim you. Just don’t turn bitter, don’t get old, don’t lose your looks, don’t be despised. Be a Miss World, not a Mrs.

Princess

In early 1994, Courtney Love posed for the cover of SPIN wearing a silver tiara studded with plastic jewels and a short black dress ornamented with neat white buttons and a white Peter Pan collar. Her huge blue-green eyes stare straight past us. She looks, it must be said, like an oversized doll, but this cover folds out, and no inanimate nursery toy would ever pose as Courtney does under the flap: dress slumped around her ankles, black briefs and the back of her creamy thighs on full display as she pushes toward, yet pivots away from, the camera. The ambiguity of her facial expression—pained? petulant? anxious?—is mirrored in the curious, unfinished gesture of her left hand, which curls upward. (Her right arm is held across her body, keeping her bra partly on and her breasts hidden.) Is she beckoning us closer, or is she just about to give us the finger? Either way, her wedding ring is clearly visible.

At this moment in history, Courtney Love is playing princess on a grand scale.

At this moment in history, Courtney Love is playing princess on a grand scale. She has the wealth, she has the jewels (one suspects the wedding ring wasn’t plastic) and she has the man. Oh, does she ever have the man. The world’s most famous, most unlikely, most volatile rock star: Mr. Kurt Cobain.

The Love-Cobains are reigning couple over that perpetually adolescent fiefdom, rock ’n’ roll, with a global teenage audience in its millions. They dress like children— a twin-headed, blonde, raggedy orphan-doll thing—and yet. When Courtney Love opens her mouth to sing, the voice that issues forth has all the belligerence of womanhood inside of it, and the calamity. Her tone is full and deep; she doesn’t whine, she doesn’t mewl—she roars. Her husband, on the other hand, possesses a throat-shredding scream that is simultaneously infantile and ancient. Kurt’s voice is full of rage—but this risks implying that such an anger belongs inherently to the male voice, and is produced by the male body. For Courtney, too, has her reasons to be angry.

Producers

In 1985, Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade were cofounders of Boston’s Fort Apache Studios. Just about all the city’s key underground rock bands recorded there: Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom, Blake Babies, The Lemonheads and Volcano Suns. A&R person Mark Kates, who worked at Geffen Records, was also from Boston, and both Kolderie and Slade credit him with helping them land the producers’ chair for Live Through This.

‘When Geffen signed Sonic Youth and then Nirvana,’ says Kolderie,‘they needed somebody who came from that world, who people like Kurt would trust, to work with them. It’s that typical thing with the generations. Geffen was a West Coast label and they were kind of Hollywood. They were pretty sure that Kurt didn’t trust them, which is probably true. Mark was, I think, put in charge of finding a producer for Courtney’s record, and he knew us.’

For Courtney, too, has her reasons to be angry.

Butch Vig, who produced Nevermind, was approached first and turned the job down. ‘What I was told is that Butch turned them down because he had just finished the Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream record, and he was kind of burnt from that and wanted to do his own thing, which became Garbage,’ says Kolderie, who thinks that he and Sean Slade were suggested for the job at a meeting between Courtney Love, Mark Kates and Butch Vig’s manager, Shannon O’Shea. Kates, who knew both men, sent them demos.

Both were struck by the songs, particularly ‘Doll Parts’. ‘I react very strongly when I hear a certain combination of lyrics and melody,’ says Kolderie. ‘It’s hard to describe, but it’s sort of a sixth sense. It’s happened a few times, when you hear a song and go, “Whoa”. When I realised what the lyrics [to “Doll Parts”] were, and what was happening in the song, that was the one that made me go, “Alright, I’m in.” I knew that, if we did that right and if Courtney pulled it off, people would like it.’

Sean Slade, too, describes the ‘Doll Parts’ demo as ‘memorable, and I think the “Violet” demo was also very well put together. There were some [songs] that were almost just electric guitar chords—it was Eric and Courtney singing, without drums or bass. These were just as intriguing. I definitely had the feeling that she had made a huge leap forward as a songwriter.’

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Still from 'Miss World’ video.

The demos had been made in various locations around the world, and one of these places was Rio de Janeiro, where an early version of ‘Miss World’ was recorded on January 21, 1993, at the studio Ariola Ltda BMG. It is reasonably close in structure and melody to the finished version that would appear on Live Through This, though Courtney’s vocal is noticeably hesitant, and she begins by singing, I am the one you know, I lie and lie and lie/No matter where you go I try and try and try. Lyric changes were made along the way, including the addition of the I made my bed/I’ll lie in it chant that eventually became the song’s chorus. Paul Kolderie remembers that Courtney ‘had a book of lyrics and ideas and images, and she would get it out and say, “We gotta finish this one.” They worked on lyrics right there in the studio.’

Kurt Cobain plays bass on this demo version of ‘Miss World’, with Patty Schemel on drums and Courtney on guitar. Nirvana had just played an enormous stadium show in Sao Paolo (‘both the band and crew recalled it as their single worst performance,’ writes Cobain biographer Charles Cross) and were booked into Ariola for three days before a further live appearance in Rio de Janeiro. Officially, this was a preproduction session for Nirvana’s album In Utero, but at least four Hole songs are in circulation from this session, erroneously referred to as the ‘Argentina demos’ (Rio de Janeiro is in Brazil). Craig Montgomery, who worked with Nirvana many times, produced. ‘Miss World’ was later released on the Hole rarities compilation My Body, The Hand Grenade—the other extant recordings are ‘She Walks On Me’, ‘I Think That I Would Die’ and ‘Pee Girl’, later to become ‘Softer, Softest’.

A final recording, ‘Closing Time,’ was sent by Courtney Love to John Peel sometime after Cobain’s death, and broadcast on his BBC Radio 1 program in 1995. The song’s alternative title, ‘Drunk in Rio,’ sums up the spirit of proceedings. It’s barely a song at all, but bootleg versions, possibly taped from Peel’s broadcast, circulate through the outer reaches of Nirvana message boards (and YouTube). Very few recordings of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain singing together have ever surfaced, and this is one of them.

Contest

‘Miss World’ was the first single from Live Through This, released on March 28, 1994. Besides ‘Doll Parts’, it is the album’s best-known track, and the film clip, directed by Sophie Muller, formed for many listeners an introduction to the woman whose reputation well and truly preceded her. The song is about this: reputation, notoriety, fame, and the hair trigger between iconolatry and iconoclasm. I’m Miss World, Courtney drawls. Somebody kill me.

Courtney put herself in a position where she had to compete: for press attention, record sales, critical acclaim.

‘Figure out how the idea of competition fits into your intimate relationships,’ reads an early riot grrrl manifesto. This was not Courtney Love’s style. Unlike the riot grrrls, who aimed to halt the insecurity borne out of competitiveness between women, Courtney put herself in a position where she had to compete: for press attention, record sales, critical acclaim. Above all, she was competing with her husband. ‘I made them pull out Nirvana’s contract, and, everything on there, I wanted more,’ said Courtney of Hole’s deal with DGC Records. ‘I’m up to half a million for my publishing rights and I’m still walking. If those sexist assholes want to think that me and Kurt write songs together, they can come forward with a little more.’

Courtney’s audacity on this point cannot be understated. Kurt Cobain was, by 1992, a global superstar; Courtney wanted to be more famous and more important.What’s largely forgotten now—and was routinely overlooked at the time—is that her husband stood by her ambitions. ‘He was psyched,’ says Paul Kolderie, recalling Kurt’s brief visit to the studio. ‘You could tell that he really wanted her record to be great.’

Anwen Crawford is an Australian writer. She is the music critic for The Monthly magazine, and her essays have appeared in publications including Frieze, Overland and Loops: Writing Music.

Anwen Crawford — A Mix for The Lifted Brow by The Lifted Brow on Mixcloud

Live Through This will be out through Bloomsbury Publishing on 18 December 2014 in the USA and on 1 February 2015 in Australia. Follow @theholebook for updates.

'Holocene', by Sarah Jean Grimm

Photograph by Jono Colliver. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 International Licence.

In the dream I swim green pools
I call them California
The waters witness my vacancies

I have lied that I have none
I have lied from my deepest lung
I have lied in hot color

The waters breed gnats
to break my skin awake
The dark falls off the ledge

Into the bottom of morning
Cracks an egg in the air Hello
I am awake to the ways I can be cracked

Help me be the drug for my own biology
In the dream I live inside a mouth
It keeps me humid and happy

I am the most fertile I have
the greenest and cleanest scales
always already on the verge of feathering

Hello chicken wing Hello
drumstick I am edible and alive but totally
incompatible with your enzymes

In the dream my body dissolves
in soft places first
I find my jaw inside the hard ground

not at all where I left it
It takes an event to crack open
I am a lost mine I come in pieces

I come to you for milk
Hello Holocene I am all over
your geography

I see your taxonomy and I raise you
this honey this hard bargain
this smoking gun this aerosol

It takes an event or just
an unsteady drip of ultraviolet
In the dream I am leaking

I swim inside the waters
I ink into them slowly
The dark sloughs off the ledge into my mouth

Milk becomes a dirty word
The wind tunnels through vacant honeycombs
The same wind combs my hair

I witness the lies
I testify on my last remaining egg
It is all I have it is too late

This piece originally appeared in The Lifted Brow: Digital, Volume 15, Issue 1: The Dinosaur Edition. Download the free app and get your copy now.

Sarah Jean Grimm holds her Master’s in English from Fordham University, where she also earned her Bachelor’s in English & Classical Languages. She works at Penguin Random House and edits the online journal, Powder Keg. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Coconut, Similar:Peaks::, Swarm, Ilk, Sixth Finch, Birdfeast and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn with her orange cat.

An Interview with Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball is a writer of fiction and poetry. He lives in Chicago.

Beginning as a poet, he published his first collection of verse, March Book, in 2004. His first novel, Samedi the Deafness, was published in 2007. The Curfew, The Way Through Doors, The Village on Horseback, and others have since followed.

Ball’s writing has appeared in The New Republic, Denver Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, and The Paris Review. He is a teacher at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he once ran courses on lucid dreaming, and lying.

His writing is characterised by a kind of lyrical clarity. There is an old-fashioned formality to the prose, and a fairy-tale quality to his imagery, but the telling is crisp and urgent. Ball’s narratives forever teeter on the edge of becoming pure fable, but are held fast by their quiet emotional violence.

His latest book, Silence Once Begun, is the story of Oda Sotatsu, who confesses to a crime he didn’t commit and, once convicted, refuses to speak at all in his own defense or divulge any knowledge of its true perpetrator. The book unfolds as the investigation of an author, ‘Jesse Ball’, who relates the details of Oda’s story through interviews with his family and contemporaries.

This interview took place by phone between Melbourne and Chicago.

— James Robert Douglas

I. On Excellence in Communication

The Lifted Brow: I’m interest in learning a bit about your writing process. In other interviews you describe the writing time for your books as being quite short – a matter of one to three weeks, even.

Jesse Ball: I suppose there’s a certain sense in which you can write a book as though you’re assembling a clock, and you make all the different pieces and then you figure out how they fit together, and work on it a long time, and if a piece isn’t fitting together properly then you take it out, and you craft another piece – one that will fit in the hole. However this is not the way that I go about it.

PULL QUOTE: A book isn’t really a thing; a book is an idea about a thing, just as a theatrical play is an idea.

My sense is that a book isn’t really a thing; a book is an idea about a thing, just as a theatrical play is an idea. There’s just communication; there’s just thought. And these are modes that we can use to have expectations about what the communication will be like.

The main thought is that the real excellence is going to be not excellence in it being a book, and not excellence in it being a play, or whatever: just excellence in thought and in communication. And if we want to have excellence in thought, usually it’s a matter of precision.

Of course there is the question of how interesting and good the original thought was, but once you have an original thought—which is going to be passed on to the next person—then it’s a matter of how clear you can be in passing it on.

I actually think the nature of our life is that our minds are constantly changing, and the constellation of meanings that words have are shifting. So it seems to me—and I know that many people do it in other ways, and write remarkable books—that it’s necessary to write the book as quickly as possible, so that the whole matter hangs together as a single thought, with a single frame of reference and context.

TLB: In another interview I’ve read someone was asking you about films you’d enjoyed, and you mentioned Russian Ark. That really sparked an association with your process, for me, because I recall the director describing that film—which was done in one long, 96 minute shot—as filmmaking in one breath: a kind of continuous process, and when it has concluded it’s all laid out as it was, immediately.

JB: Yes, I love that film, very, very much, and I think that’s fairly accurate, in a way. Although, of course, it’s probably much easier in writing, because all you have to do is simply state a thing and it exists. But the massive acrobatics of compelling people to do your will in a film – that seems like a tall order.

TLB: So, is there an extensive period of mental preparation before you demarcate the period of time in which you will write the text?

JB: Well, there are things that you want to know beforehand that make it easier to not set a foot wrong. When I begin writing I start trying to set down the things I’m most sure of. And from there it’s just trying to only write things that I’m sure of, but they become predicated on the earlier things, and it grows till finally I’m saying things that I wouldn’t have said at the very beginning, because I wouldn’t have been sure of them at all. But once all the other things were said it’s an easier matter.

I think I’ve said this before, but it’s a bit like a pianistic performance, where the main thing is not whether there are long notes, it’s that there’s a through-line; there’s something that compels you to follow through the entire piece – or the book, as it were. I’ve always liked being able to read a book straight through, and having as much clarity as possible. So I strive for that.

II. On Long and Short Thoughts

TLB: I like this idea that your books are digestible in one setting. They’re short-ish novels, and the language is plain, and there’s not really any obstacles to the reader comprehending them, as there are in certain other kinds of books. You have short sections, and a lot of plain space on the page, which make the text kind of airy to read through. I suppose that another technique to help the reader get through the book kind of frictionlessly.

JB: Well I want it to be the case that even if a person reads quickly—or even maybe too quickly—that a fine thing will still happen for them, that the book will still be exciting in a sense, or that there will be a sufficiency of things, even on a shallow reading. And that if a person chooses to come back and read lovingly and closely, the book will reward that, also. But it has to be a good story as well. I don’t want to be writing things that are not a good story to begin with.

TLB: From what I understand, once your manuscripts have been written in this quick process, your publisher will sometimes request that you add another section or expand on something. How does this work?

JB: Well generally I don’t like to change anything. The things that are there should stay there, because if you remove them, it just obfuscates and confuses the reader as to the original state of the thought. I also like the novella form, probably most of all, for my own works. I like them to be shorter rather than longer. But the market is such that people want longer.

The publishers want to sell longer books in order to meet their press points, and if they’re going to charge fifteen dollars—or twenty-five dollars or whatever—then the book should be three-hundred pages, rather than two-hundred pages or a hundred-and-fifty pages. So some of it is that there’s a concern that the book will not be long enough. Silence was quite short. Really, it was just a novella. But when I added some sections it became longer.

PULL QUOTE: The substance of a work cannot be equated with its length.

What is a long thought, or what is a short thought? How much space does it take to say a long thought, rather than a short thought? Many short thoughts are expressed over the course of hundreds and hundreds of pages, and many long thoughts can be expressed in a handful of words. So, the substance of a work cannot be equated with its length. However it’s a monetary situation, where people want to pay money and get a certain number of pages. So what can you do?

TLB: Do you mind if I ask which sections were added in Silence Once Begun?

JB: I can’t really remember exactly. I added some to the Jito Joo section, maybe more personal thoughts. Maybe the little tale that Kakuzo tells, the parable – that might have been later.

TLB: So it was additions to certain sections. I was wondering if it was a whole discreet section of the book that was plugged in.

JB: I have done that as well. The book that is next after this one, which is called A Cure for Suicide; there were some matters that the publisher wanted addressed, and so rather than altering things all through the text, I simply added sections at the end.

It’s a difficulty for me, because—as I said before—the person who writes this final section is not the same person who wrote the previous sections, and so there’s a dissonance that blooms out, and I think that’s problematic. It can even be a dire situation, where it could ruin things. But, I think so far it has not.

III. On Permission

TLB: I also understand that there are several unpublished manuscripts that you have on hold, anticipating a proper time for release. What kind of thought process goes in to deciding when a text should or should not pass out into the world and be published?

JB: Well, because I write pretty quickly, the manuscripts have tended over time to pile up. I wouldn’t say that it is me deciding that this one will go or that one will go; it’s usually that a particular one will seem more marketable than another.

So, for instance, I have a manuscript that I like a lot called The Lesson, which is about an old woman who is a chess master and her husband dies and then she starts to give chess lessons to a young boy, a chess prodigy of about four or five. She’s a little mad, and she believes that this boy might be some sort of reincarnation of her husband. But as the boy enters the age where a person begins to remember—around age five—this aspect of the reincarnation begins to dim, and things are very bleak and sad for for the old woman. So it’s a very dark work. I like this one, as much as any of the others, but my agent at the time thought that it was better to go forward with one of the other ones.

A publisher will happily put out, like, a new Kafka book—or Walser, or Bernhard, or something that is a bit difficult in some way, but rewarding—if it’s in translation, or coming from a long dead person. But I cannot get them to necessarily agree to put out a work that is problematic in the same way. So it’s six of one, half dozen of the other: I can just wait on manuscripts until the time when people will be only too glad to publish them, I hope, at some time in the future.

TLB: I’m glad you mentioned that publishing and marketing issue. In a review of one of your books—I forget the phrase exactly—the reviewer wrote something like “Jesse Ball has an enviable position as an experimental writer in the marketplace”. Reading that, I stopped to wonder what the experience of being a publishable author is for you. Like, whether you find the market conditions sustainable for the kind of work you do.

JB: Well, I noticed many years ago that certain authors get more permission than others to write things the way that they want to. Michael Ondaatje was an example that came to my mind, because he can write weird books that are quite – the mode in which he does them is sort of strange, and people are only too glad to sign on and read them, and buy his books in great drifts of book piles. He never lost any commercial credit, despite writing in a peculiar fashion.

Part of that, I guess, is The English Patient was so big. But also in the way he made people feel comfortable about the fact that whatever flourishes he does in the text is on their behalf. It isn’t some kind of little intellectual emblem that you’re going to have to lug: he just switches partway through a page to a poem and you receive what you can from it and continue on your way. So if the writer can give this degree of comfort to the reader, then everything else will take care of itself.

Jesse Ball. Photograph by Joe Lieske.

IV. On the Telling

TLB: I’ve been thinking about the way you construct narration in your prose. You often have this close third person perspective, on a set of central characters, and then – well, I’m thinking specifically of a moment in The Early Death of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp, and Carr. It’s quite an unexpected moment, where the character Carr has just given a letter to one of his friends, and he goes and gets caught up in a parade, and a group of dancers entwined to make the shape of an elephant pass by. Suddenly the narrator is relating to the reader something directly about these dancers—and how they are the best of these dancers there ever were—in a way that is quite distinct from the rest of the narrational style of the previous portions of the story. Previously the reader has not been addressed so directly, and suddenly we realize that this narrator is a person or figure with ideas that are separate from those of the central characters.

JB: I re-read that story once, and I also wondered who in fact this narrator is, when I was reading it. It seems to me there’s a modulation of the forcefulness of the felt personality of the narrator in literature in general, and sometimes it’s witting, and sometimes it’s unwitting. One of my favorite writers in this regard is Robert Walser – the way the expression, the narrative expression, can overwhelm you.

I think in a way it’s possible for the voice of the narrator to arrive at that point because events have gotten so bad that it’s forced the speaker inward. It seems to me when I look at works that I have done where that happens—when the narrator is permitted a little more leeway—that it’s usually a function of something that has happened in the text. This happens in The Great Gatsby, as well. The narrator of the prose becomes almost Biblical in tone, or sweeping, in a few places.

PULL QUOTE: The characters don’t actually exist, and the thought didn’t truly happen that way, but the telling: that does happen.

I think it’s because ultimately the characters of the story, and the actors here—the depiction of this character being in this place, that character in that place, these being the events that happened—is fundamentally much less interesting than the entire envelope of thought that can be told. Because the characters don’t actually exist, and the thought didn’t truly happen that way, but the telling: that does happen. There’s this lulling siren song of the story, but then there are all these other possible things; these other thought shoots that can intercede. Some of them can just crack open in the story, and they pour out of the narrative voice.

TLB: How did you begin as a writer?

JB: Well, I started writing poetry in high school, and I went to a university where this one poet was at, whom I wanted to study with, and I wrote books of poetry while I was there, and then afterwards I had difficulty getting them published.

Eventually I went to graduate school, and one of my professors helped me to bring out a book of poetry with Grove Press, and so my first book was poetry. But of course I loved prose as well, and I found that the world of poetry was a very specific one—very political—and I thought I would ultimately receive a better hearing, and a wider hearing, by simply writing prose.

So I think much of the formal conceits of the books—the way they are spaced on the page, or the nature of the way things fall out—is a matter of deciding not to have the prose be leaden, but to have it be poetic, in a way. I think Silence is one of the first books where—apart from the Jito Joo section—I tried to really clamp down on lyricism and keep it out. Because most of the books are rather lyrical I would say.

TLB: I keep throwing ideas from previous interviews at you, but I have another one. I’ve read you suggest that you feel your stories are old-fashioned in the responsibilities you take to telling them – with this degree of clarity, and narrative ease for the reader. Is that a quality you think is not much in currency anymore in other literature?

JB: Well, I think when I say it’s old fashioned it’s not that it doesn’t exist. I’m sure there must be many people writing this way. It’s just that it isn’t something new. I think that anything that could be deemed to be experimental about work that I do is actually just old, and has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Most of my reading is pre-1930, I would say. So I read mostly older things, just because time is short in life, and if you only read old books you generally can skip reading bad ones. Of course, if someone gives me a recommendation of a book they adore, I’ll read it. I don’t have any prejudices. I just don’t want to waste time with a book that is not worthy. I also tend to like long, complicated sentences, so some older books will have more of those.

V. On the Reality of Responsibility

TLB: I wanted to ask a little bit about some of the thematic content of your stories. Particularly this idea that crops up in Silence Once Begun of an individual suddenly being made culpable in some way, or having an apparatus of justice brought against them, without them expecting it. This is a notion that I see appearing in some of your other stories, like The Early Death of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp, and Carr. In some interviews I’ve heard people ask you whether this is a political idea: that there’s this unjust force of justice that can materialize over people’s heads. I’m wondering maybe whether this is a more existential issue for you.

JB: I think I could be seen to be of more than one mind about this. In one sense I would with no hesitation say that it really is just an existential matter. It’s hard to come up with any way of confirming the reality of responsibility that one living thing can require of another. It seems that we’re just fluttering through bleak endless space, and it’s hard to say that anything ought to happen: that this person ought to do this, or that person ought to do that.

But at the same time there are these elaborate political and legal constructions, and these ethical systems that people will live by and use to advantage, or with charitable purpose – and to play with them is sort of an interesting, delightful thing, as well. But ultimately I would say the pressure of responsibility is simply an existential predicament.

TLB: I was thinking—maybe because I read them both so recently—that there’s a kind of transition from The Early Deaths of Lubeck… to Silence Once Begun. In Lubeck, the character Carr undergoes an ethical crisis. The Judge is giving him letters to pass on to his three friends—calling them each out for a duel—and there’s the issue of whether he ought to be participating in this process, since these letters are, in effect, portending the doom of his friends. In Silence, Oda Sotatsu also finds himself in a position where he can speak or act in order to avoid complicity with injustice, but he chooses silence, and non-action as his course. Is this an ethical dilemma that you’re responding to in your work?

PULL QUOTE: We are not the costume that we happen to be wearing.

JB: Ultimately, it is always contradictory that we are not the costume that we happen to be wearing. This is true when you are visiting with one friend, and then there’s a call on your phone—someone else you know—and you go outside to answer it. When you’re visiting with the one friend, you are all of the conversations and thoughts and expressions that your life has had in direct conjunction with that one person. But then when the phone rings you become the person who has had all these experiences with this other one. It’s natural for us to be constantly shifting costumes. And then, in the shift of costumes, sometimes there is a palpable alteration of responsibility – of what is necessary, or what can be done, or what needs to be done.

I think probably there’s a bit of play with that, especially in the situation for Carr. He’s not even on his own side when he’s delivering these messages: he’s abrogated his entire self to being a messenger, and then delivering the messages to everyone, himself included. With Oda, I would say, it’s potentially that the role that he assumes is something that seems preferable to him than the farce of being a regular human being.

TLB: Do you think it matters whether Oda assumes that role in good or bad faith? We never get a sense of his own mental state in relation to this responsibility he finds himself in. It’s not clear whether he’s doing it because he’s a dysfunctional person, or whether it’s because this is an ethical position he’s taken in regards to his responsibility. Does that ultimately matter?

JB: Well, I’m sure that there are several positions that are true. In one he’s dealing in bad faith, in another in good faith. I think he was sort of pushed along down the stairs by many sets of hands, and even the judgment about what is what is certainly biased, depending upon where you’re looking at it from, or who would say so, or who would not. I mean, no one is on his side. And this is often true where the spectacle overwhelms everything.

'He Doesn’t Even Have a Tremor: A Parkinson’s Pathography', by Linda Boulton

Illustration by Anuj Shrestha.

April 2001. A beautiful Autumn day. The sun’s rays still hold warmth; the air is crisp and clear. Our family is on a bush walk. Stephen and our two daughters run on ahead. We begin a steep incline, our feet crushing the fallen leaves underfoot. Soon Stephen lags behind. Striding ahead, I glance back over my shoulder and see him slowly negotiating the rough track. I notice that his right arm isn’t swinging as he walks. A small flutter of fear floats nearby, but I push it resolutely away. Then I remember other barely perceptible changes – the way his foot sometimes drags a little when he walks, the disturbed sleep when his body twitches restlessly in the night. Above me, the sun passes behind a cloud. The day has suddenly turned cold.

Stephen blames his arm problem on a skiing accident the previous year. He fell heavily in the snow and has suffered pain in his shoulder and bicep ever since. Chiropractors and physiotherapists have been unable to provide relief. He finally consults a GP who thinks he might have damaged a nerve. Stephen is referred to a neurologist for a nerve conduction test. It is August 2001.

The doctor performs a complete neurological examination. He runs Stephen through a series of tests to determine his level of motor function. It soon becomes clear that the cause of his problem is not a damaged nerve. Stephen displays rigidity (loss of arm swing) and slowness of movement. The doctor asks me if I have noticed Stephen’s mask-like face (I haven’t). At the end of the examination the doctor delivers “the news”. (Even now, thirteen years later, I find I am using a euphemism to describe the worst moment of my life.)

My husband, Stephen, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of forty-six. At the time of his diagnosis neither of us knows much about Parkinson’s. Michael J. Fox has recently “come out” about his condition, and in these moments after the neurologist utters the words to us I try to remember just how severely affected the actor seems to be by the disease. Visions of a debilitated Muhammad Ali also flash across my mind. Who can forget the image of this once-great athlete struggling to raise his arms and shoot the arrow to light the Olympic flame at Atlanta? But isn’t his condition due to too many punches to the head?

Stephen is fit and healthy. He goes to the gym, watches his diet, doesn’t smoke, drinks in moderation and is never ill. How can he be suffering from an incurable neurological disorder? Isn’t he too young to have developed Parkinson’s? He doesn’t even have a tremor.

Image courtesy Rosetta Mills.

The doctor hands us a sheet describing the condition, symptoms and treatment. On the top right hand corner of the page is a drawing of a patient afflicted by Parkinson’s. It’s an ink-line drawing, a simple outline of a middle-aged man. Yet it expresses what neither of us is ready to accept. The man has an expressionless face. His mouth is open. He appears stooped. Wiggly lines near his hands suggest a tremor. The positioning of his feet indicate a shuffling walk. His body looks stiff and slow. I wildly scan the words for reassurance: “Many people have a mild problem … if the disease gets worse, it is usually only a slow process … the disease is not life-threatening … modern drugs can do much to relieve the symptoms”. These are all platitudes to cushion the reality, to stem the panic in newly diagnosed patients.

Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor describes a reluctance to admit to illness because “disease itself… arouses thoroughly old-fashioned kinds of dread”. Stephen tells no one about his diagnosis. This is partly denial (if he doesn’t give it a voice, it doesn’t have to be real) but also because he doesn’t want anyone at work to know that he is sick. He’s frightened he might lose his job. So Parkinson’s becomes a secret – a terrible burden Stephen can’t share. Only close family members are told. Our two teenage daughters and I are also forced to keep up the charade, to exhibit the pretence of “normality” where none exists.

August 2004. Stephen stands outside on the front lawn in T-shirt and shorts. His feet are bare. It is 2am on a cold winter morning. He is waiting for the “orange car” to come and pick me up. He is convinced that I am leaving him. I plead with him to come inside. He refuses. In desperation I phone the ambulance, but he jumps in his car and drives away. I phone the police and they take down my details. I wait inside for Stephen to return.

He has exhibited signs of paranoia for almost two weeks. He suspects me of having an affair; he litters the lounge-room floor with paperwork looking for evidence of my infidelity. He thinks people are getting into his bank accounts and taking his money; he trusts no one. He suffers constant hallucinations. The Parkinson’s medication has caused a psychosis. I take him to the casualty ward but they sent him home. There are no hospital beds available.

Stephen’s GP finally secures a place in the neurological ward but he doesn’t want to stay. He tries to escape one night but the security guards capture him. If the anti-psychotic medication doesn’t work soon he may have to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital. When we sit together in the hospital corridor he “sees” the man from the orange car. People look at him curiously as they walk by.

The neuropsychiatrist tells me that Stephen may never work again. After ten days they send him home. He isn’t better, but someone else needs the bed.

The psychotic episode, just three years after diagnosis, forces us to confront Stephen’s illness and to tell his employer of his condition. Stephen is a teacher working in a Catholic secondary school. Initial reactions to the news are positive; his colleagues rally around him and the hierarchy seems supportive. Stephen slowly recovers from the psychosis. His drugs are changed and a new medication regime is established. Then he has to prove his ability to continue working and doctor’s certificates need to be provided. After three months he resumes work part-time, and after another month, full-time. Life is becoming more positive.

We enter a halcyon period where Stephen’s Parkinson’s is well controlled with medication. His mental state has recovered and physically he is much improved. We even go on a family holiday to New Zealand.

The euphoria lasts for nine months. Towards the end of the year new symptoms start appearing. Stephen suffers excruciating foot cramps that cripple him. He endures profuse sweating and frightening panic attacks. The benefits of the medication last for shorter periods and he requires more drugs more often. His particular type of Parkinson’s disease appears to be progressing rapidly. Although he tries to hide his symptoms it’s becoming more obvious that he is struggling.

At the end of 2005 he is called into the Principal’s office and told there is no position available for him the following year. There is no opportunity to work part-time; he has lost his job. After twenty-seven years of service (twenty-two of them in the same school) his position is to be terminated. There are no other vacancies available in the diocese.

Isn’t it discriminatory to lose a job because of a disability?

We think about fighting this action. Isn’t it discriminatory to lose a job because of a disability? Isn’t the employer supposed to provide suitable conditions for the employee to continue working, to help him in the workplace? We are told that the basis for his redundancy is not attributable to his illness, but is due to student numbers dropping in the school. If he contests the decision, he could be asked to prove his fitness to continue working. His employer could also withdraw the offer of supplementing his sick leave with additional benefits.

I am swamped by the injustice of it all, and overpowering feelings of self-pity emerge. Why did Stephen have to get sick? Why is his disease progressing so rapidly? Why did he have to lose his job?

When Stephen became ill I assumed the role of carer. I booked his doctor’s appointments, went to the pharmacy to buy his medications, ran the home and managed our financial affairs. As he became more dependent, I helped him on a more personal level. My attempts to care for him are based on my needs as much as his. I feel guilty that I am well when he is not. It is my duty and responsibility to look after him. But on a deeper level (and one I hardly dare acknowledge) I blame him for becoming ill, for disrupting the lifestyle we had once enjoyed.

Spring 2006. It is 1am. The medication Stephen took at bed-time has worn off. He lies rigidly in the bed unable to roll over. I get out of bed and help him into an upright position. He sits on the edge of the bed.

I hand him his tablets and a glass of water. A string of saliva slowly escapes from his mouth and dribbles down the front of his pyjama top. He can barely raise his arm to swallow the pills. When he finally gets the tablets into his mouth he coughs and almost chokes because the muscles in his throat are weak.

He needs to go to the toilet now, but when he stands his feet are frozen to the floor. After some minutes he slowly starts to shuffle forward but can’t make the distance to the bathroom. I help him back to the bed. His need is urgent now. I quickly pass him the bottle but relief is slow in coming.

He wants to lie down but can’t get under the sheets by himself. He is a big man and heavy to move. The best method is to push him over onto his side and then straighten his legs. He can’t get comfortable so I manoeuvre his hips back, his shoulder forward then place one leg on top of the other. I pull the sheet and blanket up to his chin. The quilt is too heavy and he can’t move under its weight.

3am. He wakes drenched with perspiration. He can’t regulate his body temperature and pools of sweat stain the sheets. By 5am he feels the familiar agony of nightly foot cramps. His toes curl under like claws, contorting his feet into impossible positions. The only relief he will get is from more medication.

6am. At last, time for the next dose of tablets. He lies in bed waiting for them to take effect. After almost an hour they’ve kicked in and is able to get up and move freely. Right on cue the dyskinesia begins. His legs twitch incessantly, constantly on the move. But it is a small price to pay because now his Parkinson’s symptoms have disappeared and he is able to function normally. He has breakfast, showers and dresses, all tasks that would be impossible without the drugs on board.

The respite doesn’t last long. As the medication wears off, his Parkinson’s symptoms return. He becomes increasingly anxious, his chest tightens and he feels as though he can’t breathe. Sometimes he begs me to ring the ambulance because he is convinced he is having a heart attack.

I give him an injection of Apomorphine, a fast acting “rescue” drug that will give him relief in under ten minutes. His body relaxes. The injection will keep him mobile until his next lot of medication. He is allowed five injections per day.

After Stephen retired from work, we were advised that he would be eligible for government assistance. I had never entered a Centrelink office before submitting Stephen’s claim for the Disability Support Pension (DSP). When I arrived the queue was so long it had reached the front door. I looked around hoping no one would see me go in. I held a preconceived idea about welfare recipients – that they were all lazy “dole bludgers” or single mothers with numerous children in tow, benefiting from the taxpayer’s hard earned money. I didn’t want to be dependent on the government for support. I had resented filling out the forms that demanded to know our personal, financial and medical details. I also didn’t want Stephen to carry the stigma of being “disabled”.

Despite the severity of his symptoms and the dramatic fluctuations between his “on” and “off” periods throughout the day, Stephen was rejected for the DSP. Centrelink was not convinced that Parkinson’s disease was affecting his capacity to work: “A decision has been made that you [Stephen] are not eligible for DSP because you are able to work 30 or more hours per week within the next two years. In making this decision we took into account your skills, qualifications, work history and the medical evidence you and your doctor gave us. You may, however, be eligible to receive the Newstart Allowance or a Low Income Health Care Card”.

It seemed incredible that Stephen had been refused but when we spoke to an advisor at Centrelink she told us that the doctor had not provided enough detail in his report and that Parkinson’s disease was a grey area because the rate of progression and presence of symptoms varied so widely between patients. “Saying that Stephen has Parkinson’s is not enough,” she said. “You are dealing with a government body now.”

After a more comprehensive evaluation from Stephen’s neurologist and an interview with a job capacity assessor at Centrelink he was finally granted the DSP. I was forced to reconsider my opinion on welfare recipients, to understand that some people require assistance from the government and to accept that our need was also justified.

January 2007. We have come to Hawks Nest in New South Wales for our annual camping holiday. Stephen sits on the beach soaking up the sun. He has just been for a swim and drops of salty water still cling to his skin. I have been watching him in the surf as he effortlessly catches the waves. I notice his relaxed body posture and marvel at the fluid ease with which he has run along the sand.

Last September our family attended a fundraiser, a benefit night organised by fellow teachers to help pay for brain surgery to treat Stephen’s Parkinson’s. Two-hundred-and-eighty friends, colleagues and ex-students attend. It is a night filled with fun, love, laughter, tears and hope.

It is not a cure and the illness will still progress.

In November 2006 Stephen had the Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) operation. Two leads were placed deep in his brain and attached to wires that led down to a pacemaker in his chest. The pacemaker sends an impulse to the brain stimulating targeted areas. This treatment helps control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It is not a cure and the illness will still progress, but for now it provides relief.

Image courtesy Rosetta Mills.

Stephen responds well to the surgery. His walking improves and he needs less medication. The debilitating foot cramps disappear. He is able to get in and out of bed on his own and roll over in bed without assistance. He no longer has any “frozen” periods.

Still, he expects more. He feels the operation hasn’t helped enough. He wants the impossible – a return to normal. Medications are gradually increased and he has hospitalisations to tweak the settings of his brain stimulators until the optimum levels are reached. The doctors can do no more. We learn that Stephen suffers from an emotional as well as a physical “on” and “off” with his Parkinson’s. The medications cause an unnatural high. He becomes too happy, too energetic, too driven. Then the pills wear off and he becomes flat, unmotivated, depressed.

I adjust to my husband’s behaviour. But the neurologist thinks there is a problem because he sends Stephen to a neuropsychiatrist. Stephen goes unwillingly; he has always hated shrinks. The doctor is a short, softly-spoken, kind man. I like him but Stephen doesn’t. The doctor orders a memory test. Stephen fails.

The doctor is tactful, subtle even, about the failed test. He tells us there is some memory impairment and that Stephen might find it hard to acquire new skills. Stephen becomes angry and leaves the room. “I’m not sitting here having you tell me I’m losing my memory,” he fumes.

The doctor leaves me on my own to digest this latest news.

Why have I not noticed a problem? I remember the barely cooked potatoes he’d tried to mash for dinner and his inability to work the microwave. I remember the way he couldn’t replace the washer on the tap, a job he would once have easily completed. I think about his difficulty finding the right words and his sentences becoming harder to understand, crazy sentences we both laugh about.

We drive home from the doctor’s appointment in silence.

September 2008. The doctor palpates the fluid-filled lump on Stephen’s head. It’s a blister that has risen on his scalp and everyone is worried. The lump sits right on the wires in his head, a sinister sign that suggests infection. We are in Sydney at North Shore Private Hospital and the neurosurgeon, neurologist, and now the microbiologist have all had a look. Pathology results come back negative, but intravenous antibiotic treatment is prescribed as a precaution.

October 2008. The lump is still there. The neurosurgeon sits behind his desk and drums his fingers on its polished surface. He has palpated the spot again. It remains unchanged but there is high risk that the skin may break down. The doctor is undecided about what to do, and has rung his colleagues. Should he operate to remove the lump, or should he leave Stephen on lifelong antibiotics to protect the wires? He decides to operate and papers are signed. I stare out of the window at the panoramic view of the Sydney CBD.

December 2008. The neurosurgeon takes Stephen over to the window to have a good look at his head. It’s now six weeks since the lump was removed. As he parts the hair we both see it: a new spot has appeared. It’s filled with pus and I’m filled with fear. This new spot is smaller, but it’s more angry-looking than the first. We are told to contact the doctor immediately if any pus comes out. The doctor warns us that surgery to remove the DBS wires and pacemaker is likely now. The plan is to re-implant the leads when the infection has healed. Two weeks later his skin breaks and I see the wires in Stephen’s scalp, like thin metal worms crawling across his head.

January 2009. Stephen undergoes brain surgery to remove the DBS hardware.

Without the benefit of the brain stimulation it becomes clear just how much Stephen’s Parkinson’s has progressed and how much his physical and mental condition has deteriorated. In the days and weeks following surgery Stephen becomes increasingly unwell. He loses weight. He falls into a devastating delirium. He suffers constant hallucinations and is continually agitated. He is unable to hold conversations or concentrate on the television. He is frequently incontinent. He sits in his chair beside the bed staring at the ceiling, his mouth opening and closing repeatedly. His doctors are as horrified as we are and warn us that further surgery will be impossible if his mental state doesn’t improve.

I am staying with a relative in Sydney and do not have to commute back and forth from our home in Newcastle. I spend long days at the hospital and soon I develop a routine. I arrive at 7:30am to ensure a car park. Then I walk down to the oval and sit on a park bench until visiting hours start. I watch the personal trainers go through their paces with their clients, the early morning joggers, and the workers walking from the hospital car park to their offices on the highway. I go for long walks through the suburban streets breathing in the cool morning air before the heat of the day drives me indoors. Sometimes I catch the bus to the hospital. When I leave in the evening I share the bus with strangers, commuters who are accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the peak hour rush and the Sydney traffic. I am surrounded by people but I have never felt so alone. After three weeks, Stephen is transferred back to a Newcastle hospital.

February 2009. It’s lunch time when I arrive at the hospital. I’m feeling guilty because this morning I have arrived later than usual after having coffee with a friend. I walk down the long corridors with the familiar feeling of dread. How will he be today? Will he be settled or agitated? What kind of night did he have? I am constantly struggling with mixed emotions. When I am with him I don’t want to leave because I know my presence calms him and I have some measure of control. When his medication is overdue I can find a nurse to give him his pills. Don’t they realise how important it is for him to have his medication on time? I can take him for long walks when his agitation is high so that he doesn’t have to spend all day cooped up in the ward. Sometimes I see the relief on the nurses’ faces when I arrive and then I know he’s been difficult.

Sometimes I can’t stand being in the hospital. I feel the walls close in on me. I hate the smells, the noises, the other patients. At one stage Stephen is staying in the Stroke Unit where patients require intensive care – not because he’s had a stroke, but because the unit is closer to the nurses’ desk and they can keep an eye on him. An elderly woman lies in the bed across. On the nameboard above her bed, someone has written “Beautiful Betty”, and it’s obvious why: she is sweet and gentle. One day she looks across at me and says, “Don’t worry love, he’ll be all right.” Her words are comforting, her tone, motherly. Soon, Betty is moved to another room. I miss her.

Entering the ward today I find Stephen sitting just inside the door of the room. He is strapped to the chair and is wearing a nappy. He is in full view of the passing public. I rush straight to him and bend down to his level. He whispers that he needs to use the toilet and I run back down the corridor looking for his nurse. She tells me Stephen was uncooperative this morning. “He wouldn’t have his blood pressure taken or have a shower,” she explains. I am furious and want to know why he has been restrained. “Sometimes they settle down if you give them some quiet time,” she tells me, as though he is a three year old having a tantrum.

The nurse bends down and unties the restraints and I can see that he is rigid in the chair. “How long has he been sitting here?” I ask, and she tells me since 8am. It is now after midday. His lunch is sitting on the tray, untouched. I cannot bear to look at the nurse or speak to her, so I find some pants for Stephen, help him get dressed and take him to the toilet.

Later, he eats his lunch. I can’t face food, and am sobbing quietly when a young blonde nurse comes to sit with me. “That shouldn’t have happened,” she says. “This is a neurology ward and we know patients have these kinds of problems. We should be able to handle it.” Her concern is genuine and her kindness touches me, but doesn’t dissolve my anger and grief over seeing Stephen in such an undignified position.

I draw the curtain and we both climb onto the narrow hospital bed. We’re cocooned there, hidden from the other patients. If I close my eyes I can pretend we’re not in a hospital, that Stephen isn’t sick, that I didn’t witness his degradation. We lay side by side and I am quietly weeping. The tears will not stop.

The neuropsychiatrist suggests a drug called Aricept and the delirium lifts. Stephen is back in touch with reality. He laughs again, teases our daughters, jokes with the nurses. Another deep brain stimulation operation is planned. This is his best chance for good quality of life, we are told. Stephen wavers, I waver. Should we go through with it again? The doctor puts the papers in front of us. Stephen signs.

“You’re not my wife,” he tells me.

The operation goes well and the medical team is confident that they have re-implanted the leads in exactly the same spot as before. Stephen wakes up in intensive care and accuses me of being an imposter. “You’re not my wife,” he tells me. “You just look like my wife.” His voice, deep and gravelly from the anaesthetic, cuts through the beeping monitors, shooting straight to my heart. The doctor tells me not to be concerned or offended, that this will pass. A friend tells me this is my chance to hotfoot it out of there.

I bring Stephen home two weeks later. The strange post-operative behaviour has settled but something is clearly wrong. He is not the fun-loving man we all know; his personality seems to have undergone a major change. He is subdued and quiet, and can’t stay awake past 8pm. He is incontinent at night. His medications cause constant drooling, his speech is confused, the psychotic symptoms persist. The doctors say it will take time for him to recover. Instead, he deteriorates.

August 2011. Stephen is admitted to Morisset Hospital. Morisset Mental Home. I flashback some fifty years to my childhood, to stories of crazy patients thrown into the “loony bin”. Offbeat behaviour in our home would sometimes be met with the joke, “Watch out or they’ll lock you up at Morisset.”

As a child I once visited the Morisset Hospital grounds – it was for a picnic with my ballet group and I still have a black-and-white photo of that day. I remember the day and the photo because there is a little dark-haired boy in the group shot, maybe six or seven years old, the brother of one of my ballet friends. He is wearing shorts and a V-neck jumper and sports a short-back-and-sides haircut. He’s a skinny boy with knobbly knees and freckled skin. In the picture he is eating an iced cupcake while his mother sits on the tartan picnic blanket beside him, talking to her friend. Just a few months later he drowned in a drain in Cardiff, swept away while playing in the flooded canals that run through the suburb. The film in the camera was developed after he died and seeing him in the photo made the horror of his death even more real and present. The photo showed a little boy on a picnic having fun. How could he be gone? How frightened he must have been as those cold waters dragged him under. How desperate his mother must have been when he didn’t come home. I clung to my own mother, scared of what could happen in a split second, when a child could be swept to his death, away from his family and the living world.

Now I am entering hospital grounds again, only this time it is with my husband. He is coming to the neuropsychiatry ward for treatment of his psychotic behaviour. Stephen has been suffering from delusions, hallucinations and agitation for two years now. Previous anti-psychotic medications have adversely affected his motor function, increasing the rigidity and slowness of movement and decreasing the benefits of the Parkinson’s drugs. The doctor assures us the new medication is less likely to have these side effects, but the drug is restricted and carries specific regulations. Stephen will have to be hospitalised so careful monitoring can be implemented.

Morisset Hospital is an option only when the private hospital system rejects him, claiming his needs are too high. A nurse from the private hospital rings to ask about Stephen’s condition. I explain that he has both physical and cognitive impairment and has little insight into his problems. I also tell her that he would need a secure area. The nurse is blunt. “We have an open ward here,” she says. “It’s not locked and we only have three nurses for twenty-six patients. Is your husband independent? He needs help with showering? He’s incontinent? Confused? No, we can’t manage him.” So, Morisset is the only option and I need to let go of the long held stigma and fear attached to the place. I feel my heart pounding as we drive in through the gates and begin the four kilometre drive through bushland to the main entrance.

As we near the hospital the bush gives way to open grassland where kangaroos lay sunning themselves, an unexpected carpet of furry brown bodies. This sight is so surprising we pause and take it in, marvelling at the spectacle. Now we pass buildings, old brick houses, some dilapidated with broken barred windows, some functional. More buildings emerge as we slowly drive on and these, too, appear neglected, a relic from days past. When we turn the curve we see a group of men approaching, a motley crew of four or five, they’re accompanied by a minder. I am driving slowly in a wide arc to avoid them and I try not to stare. As I pass, one man stands out, the leader of the pack. I notice that his tracksuit pants are too short, or is it because they are pulled up under his armpits? His T-shirt hangs off one shoulder. He has a basin haircut and his tongue lolls. He looks grey. Grey shirt, grey pants, grey skin. Institutionalised. I think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , and then the minder, whose gaze has been averted, suddenly catches my eye. I smile, then see his relief as he smiles back and there is compassion and understanding between us – he with his charges and I am with mine.

The hospital grounds are expansive and sweep down to the lake where the remains of an old fenced-off swimming pool jut out of the water at odd angles. The sun beams down on the water and the ripples glitter like diamonds as they wash ashore. We follow a narrow winding road that traces the foreshore before turning and driving up a gently sloping hill. A group of kangaroos hop across the road, some with joeys in their pouches, their heads poking out of their warm cocoons. An old male kangaroo with massive forearms stands grazing at the side of the road and looks up as we pass by, unperturbed by our intrusion into his territory. On our right a church graces the hillside, its stained glass windows shimmering in the sunlight. It is neat, well maintained and clearly still operational as a sign on the wall says, “Friday Service at 2pm”. It is an incongruous sight, this pretty little church standing in isolation on hospital grounds where so many buildings have fallen into disrepair and decay.

Kaoriki House, where Stephen will be staying, stands on the crest of the hill, a low, flat building with manicured lawns. The windows are covered with security grilles but at least they’re not barred. A sign near the front door asks us to ring the bell (“Please press for one second and repeat if necessary”) and a nurse jangling keys appears a few moments later. We’re ushered into a wide hallway where a balding man ambles up, cricket magazine in hand. “I’m Tony Lock,” he announces. “I used to play professional cricket.” He flips through his magazine and adds, “I’m fifty-two, I don’t look it do I?” He shuffles away without waiting for an answer, oblivious to us, his surroundings, or the real world. I hold Stephen’s hand tightly – what must he be thinking? I remind myself that the doctor has recommended this treatment and that Stephen has agreed to try it. I utter a silent prayer. Please let him be safe here. Please let the medication work.

The doctor is not ready to see us yet, so we are led to an open area where a laminex table and chairs occupy centre stage. A kitchen bench and sink takes up the length of one wall. On the opposite side are windows and a door that opens out onto a courtyard. The linoleum floor underfoot shows dirty patches, the sticky residue of spilled drinks and food crumbs. Long corridors veer off this main area leading to sparsely decorated bedrooms. Another door opens onto a lounge room, resplendent with a plasma TV, lounge chairs, a piano and pool table. One wall has shelves that contain books, videos and games. The nurse who shows us around apologises for the décor. “It’s old and basic,” she says, “but the care’s good.” She leaves us then and we are on our own.

Two inmates look up from the pool table. One is tall and angular, the skin on his face pulled tight across his cheekbones. His hands are shaking. The other is shorter and covered in tattoos. We eye each other, the veterans and the novices. A woman sails by, muttering to herself. Her long hair is pulled back into a tight braid, her face expressionless. A young man, much younger than the rest, paces up and down the corridors, in and out of rooms, restless and troubled. He looks tired, his eyes are puffy and his tread is heavy. I avoid eye contact, disturbed by his unsettled look. On the sofa sits an older man who yells out intermittently. Sometimes he laughs maniacally. He is slim and well dressed and has piercing blue eyes.

From outside come the strains of Elvis Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’. The same balding man we met earlier comes up to us, CDs and Elvis book in hand and says, “Elvis was a great man wasn’t he?” It is a statement, not a question, and he is standing very close. A string of saliva escapes from his mouth and dampens the front of his T-shirt and spots of spittle spray as he speaks. “I’m Elvis, I’m a great man aren’t I?” I nod in agreement, hoping he’ll move on. I’m eager to escape his crazy babble but there is no way of avoiding him. To my relief, the nurse comes back to announce that lunch is ready and we are led into a dining room where tables are set for the meal. The patients line up cafeteria-style for their food which is served by a young woman wearing a pale green blouse, black pants and tightly fitting cap. There is something strangely discomforting about seeing Stephen standing in the queue and I lean back against the wall, silently observing this first step into institutional life.

After lunch, the occupational therapist shows us to Stephen’s bedroom. The room is bare except for a bed and cupboard. I unpack his clothes while the occupational therapist works out the best position for the bed. I warn her that Stephen will need help rolling over and getting out of bed. I have a mental picture of him lying awake, unable to move, but she promises me that the night staff will check on him regularly. She hands me a couple of rubber-lined towelling pillowcases for when he comes home. Drooling is one of the side effects of this new medication. I shudder.

Finally, we are ushered into a small office where the heater is on and the room is too hot and stuffy. The doctor is at his desk and explains the treatment. Stephen will start the medication tomorrow to control the hallucinations and disordered thinking that have been troubling him. The protocol includes an increase in the medication every few days, daily observations of his temperature and blood pressure, and routine weekly blood tests that will continue after he leaves hospital. The doctor is casual and relaxed, while we are on edge, uncertain, anxious.

Now, the moment I have been dreading – leaving. My heart starts racing in anticipation. I hold Stephen in a tight embrace, my head resting on his chest. It is the same embrace we have shared for more than thirty years. It still holds comfort; it still reassures. Will he cope with this separation? Will I? We draw apart and I start walking down the endless corridor. The paintings on the walls blur as I hurry past. I turn once and see him, a lone figure, his arm raised in a silent wave. From the distance I hear a voice calling out.

“I’m Jesus Christ. I’m going to save the world…”

The new medication affects Stephen’s Parkinson’s symptoms. I notice a worsening on the first day of treatment; I can tell the moment I see him. I ask questions of the doctos, I voice my concerns. The protocol continues as planned. He comes home four weeks later on 100mg.

When Stephen starts lurching, his body bent double, I contact the doctor. He reduces the dosage to 50mg. When Stephen shows signs of seizure activity the dosage is reduced to 25mg. The hallucinations continue.

I soon become an expert on Stephen’s condition. I know his body better than my own. I recognise when he needs more medication and when he needs less. He ingests a heady cocktail of drugs daily. Sinemet for mobility, Clozapine for psychosis, Exelon for cognition, Citalopram for depression, Fortisip for nutrition, Osmolax for elimination. The medications are finely tuned, the balance between treating the physical and the psychiatric symptoms difficult to get right. No two days are ever the same.

March 2012. “Lost”. He has written the word twice, on my shopping list, under the reminders to buy juice, bread, bicarb soda, peppercorns and rubber gloves. I recognise Stephen’s spidery handwriting with its long loops. The top word is well formed, the second frail and wavery. I’m surprised he can still write and even more surprised he can still spell.

I have been out much longer than planned. When I return I find him wandering the house half undressed. He has taken his socks, shoes and shorts off and I see he has taken a clean T-shirt out of the drawer and has laid it out on the bed. He can’t tell me why, or why the washing up detergent and scourers are in the fridge.

After I help him dress we stand in the kitchen and look at the shopping list. “Why did you write lost?” I ask. “I thought you were lost,” he says. I see the bemused look on his face and realise we are both lost. He flounders in a sea of confusion and delusions. I am drowning in an ocean of fear and uncertainty, constantly engulfed by waves, always resurfacing to catch my breath.

The doctor says it is dementia, probably with Lewy bodies. I can hardly breathe. Wasn’t Parkinson’s enough? Now dementia too?

Stephen can no longer hold a conversation. He can’t read the newspaper. He can’t work out how to turn on a tap. He has trouble recognising objects. He looks out of the kitchen window and tells me he can see two cats playing golf.

Sometimes I yell at him.

I wash wet sheets daily. I wipe the excrement from the crevices of his body. I shower and dress him. I clean his teeth. I chop his food for him. I help him into and out of the chair, the bed, the car. If he falls I help him up off the floor.

Sometimes I yell at him.

May 2013. We are sitting on a bench at Nobby’s Beach. Stephen is eating an ice cream – a vanilla Heaven, his favourite. It’s a beautiful afternoon, unseasonably sunny and warm for May. The ocean is as blue as the sky and a young family is paddling in the shallows, the children shrieking with delight as each breaking wave dampens clothes. A grandmother with two little girls pad past on bare feet. An enthusiastic pair of young joggers pound the pavement, tanned and fit. A group of young mothers push prams in the idyllic sunshine.

I see a couple approaching, a husband and wife. They are arm in arm but I notice that his gait does not quite match hers. I detect a slight shuffle, and as they come closer I see a blank look on his face that is only too familiar. The woman is greying but is dressed youthfully in a skirt, top and sandals. Her husband has on long pants, shirt and jumper. He has a moustache, neatly trimmed, but he has a slightly shabby look about him. I wonder if she argued with him this morning about what he should wear or whether he feels the cold despite the warmth of the day.

They pause to have a drink from the bubbler, she first, then he following after. As they walk past our bench she is smiling and chatting to him comfortably, keeping him stimulated and in touch with his environment. His face carries the expressionless countenance of a patient suffering brain failure. I know it instinctively and it is on the tip of my tongue to say something to her because I see that she and I are travelling parallel paths. I want to tell her that I know. But I say nothing because she is totally engrossed with her charge and her serene exterior suggests a peaceful acceptance that I do not yet possess. They walk on, and she shepherds him across the road to the car park. She stops momentarily to read one of the plaques that provide historical information for the area, and, from a distance it looks as though he, too, is absorbed. Then they disappear from sight.

Stephen and I are separated now by the demands of his illness. He lives in an aged care facility on the shores of Lake Macquarie with twenty-nine other sick and frail residents. He is fifty-nine years old.

I visit daily, often twice a day. Sometimes he asks to come home, and I long to bring him with me. The guilt is overwhelming. But a small hard part of my heart always says “No!”, that his condition is too much for one person to handle.

Centrelink says I am no longer his carer so the carer payments stop. Centrelink says I can now apply for Newstart.

I am not sure how to end this story. Writer and social anthropologist Unni Wikan suggests that endings aren’t important, that good stories can be made from good beginnings, that endings are just “what then happened”.

What is still to come? Certainly Stephen will become sicker; Parkinson’s disease is a progressive and degenerative condition. While the brain stimulation has helped Stephen’s mobility, it can do nothing to relieve his debilitating cognitive problems. Sometimes I pray for some other form of release: a heart attack? a stroke? cancer? It’s possible, but unlikely. Apart from his Parkinson’s, Stephen is a healthy man.

Maybe something will happen to me, instead. Maybe I’ll be the one struck down – carers often are. When I feel a tingle in my hand I wonder if it’s something neurological. When I have a pain in my back I expect the X-ray to show bone cancer. I am now accustomed to the probability of illness. It is what I have come to expect. It is now a way of life, of living.

Stephen faces his fate with courage. He never complains. Perhaps the disease that has taken so much from him also protects him from knowing the full extent of his loss. I, on the other hand, am not brave. I am filled with fear. I weep. I rail at the unfairness of it all.

Whenever I take Stephen for a walk, I punch the security code into the gate of the care facility and lead him out by the hand. We navigate the grassy slopes behind the home and follow the path down to the waterfront. Today, the lake stretches out before us, a glassy expanse mirroring the clear winter sky. We sit briefly on a park bench, until a familiar restlessness propels Stephen up out of his seat. I follow him down to the jetty where a row of cormorants perch drying themselves, their wings out-stretched, their backs to the sun. Then, as one, they take flight. I watch until they disappear beyond the headland, but Stephen has already turned and started walking back up the path.

Christmas Day 2013. We are gathered in front of the television, our daughters, their partners, Stephen and me. We are watching footage of our wedding day. It’s a grainy 40mm film – no sound, just images captured in time.

Someone films us as we leave the church. I am wearing an elegant ivory gown, lace-edged and pearl-encrusted. Stephen stands straight and tall in his beige suit, ruffled shirt and maroon bow tie. He places his arm protectively around my waist and I gaze up at him adoringly. We pose for the camera, our smiling faces radiating through the years. I look calm and poised, Stephen happy and proud. We are young, vibrant, healthy and whole.

This piece originally appeared in The Lifted Brow #24: The Medicine Issue.

Linda Boulton is studying a PhD in English at the University of Newcastle and is writing a carer memoir.

A Mixtape by Weak Boys

Weak Boys — A Mix for The Lifted Brow by The Lifted Brow on Mixcloud

Sydney band and friends of the Brow Weak Boys have just released a new album called ‘Weekdays/Weekends’. To celebrate, they’ve made us a mixtape. Listen to it! And read the liner notes:

 

  1. Home For The Def – Some of My Best Friends Are Songs: There are a lot of bands/recordings from Adelaide that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Nigel Koop (the genius behind Home For The Def). With over 50 albums under his belt this song is a more recent highlight. If this was a just world it would be played every day on Triple M. (Matt)
  2. Smudge – Don’t Wanna Be Grant McLennan: Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea. (Craig)
  3. Hit The Jackpot – The Football Team: Maybe the best band to ever come from Adelaide, singing about how Dr. Phil is an arsehole. (Matt)
  4. Wizard Oz – Bad Dreams: After the last time we saw TV Colours me and some friends went home and took acid and had a bunch of bulbs while we played the album through - I will remember how that album sounded speeding up and slowing down and shrinking to 8 bit packets and exploding in my head for the rest of my life. I love this cover, found it on the internet by accident. (Chris)
  5. King Tears Mortuary – False Pregnancy: The way Lani Crooks sings and plays bass makes singing bass players cool again. My favourite band from Sydney. (Matt)
  6. Yes I’m Leaving – Can’t Get Out: Suburban alienation at its most brutal. A blunt object. (Craig)
  7. Toit – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road: Toit didn’t last all that long and they only released one album that I know of on CDR, but my god they were good. (Matt)
  8. Bitch Prefect – University Fiend: I’ve worked in Universities for a few years now. University employees and students across Australia must be thanking Bitch Prefect for so perfectly expressing their rage about life in the Edufactory. By the time this goes to print maybe our universities will be completely deregulated and this song will probably ring even truer. (Craig)
  9. Alex Cameron – The Internet: Roy Molloy’s mate Alex Cameron (Seekae) has a solo album and it has ten tracks on them all as amazing as this one. Its conceptual and funny but doesn’t suck in spite of this. Minimal and deceptively deep. (Chris)
  10. ROMI! – Sweat & Regret Part 2: Artist/musician/superstar ROMI has released 2 albums. The first one is a note for note recreation of Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds and the second is full or party bangers and heart breaking originals. They both rule. (Matt)
  11. Sandpit – Along the Moors: From probably my favourite guitar record of all time. Just completely untouchable. It’s a shame they only put out one LP but then again I don’t think they could ever top this. (Craig)
  12. James X Boyd – Sweet Darling Rock & Roll Is What I Love: I got mailed a copy of James X Boyd’s first seven inch when I used to write reviews, it has five songs in mono, and it’s incredible. This is the last song. James is from Brisbane but now lives in Scotland (maybe, somewhere over there) and I email him once a year to see if he is coming back to play shows but no luck so far. (Chris)
  13. Beef Jerk – Beef Jerk Story: This song to me is the soundtrack to living in Sydney right now – share houses, tinnies, unnafordability, cheap guitars, Ultimo. Playing shows in the shadows of skyscrapers. The Music Media would probably call this dolewave, but the dole has been a de facto arts subsidy for longer than the last few years. (Craig)
  14. Megafauna – Life of Leisure: A short lived Adelaide supergroup featuring Corinna (Shame Spiral), Kynan (Hit The Jackpot) and Scotty (Bitch Prefect). A song about a beautiful fantasy that pops into my head anytime I walk past a park on the way to work. “I don’t wanna go to work today, who needs money anyway”. (Matt)
  15. Dag – Staying Cheap: This song sounds like Dusty from Dag just rolled out of bed on a boiling hot day in Brisbane and before he could even get a slice of toast he is found placed in front of a microphone telling the story of his life in song. What a song. And what an Instagram account he has. (Matt)
  16. O! – Second Hand Liquor Store: The only things I know about this record is that it’s from Perth, some time in the early 90’s and it was the first CD album released by Chapter. It’s the best kind of slinky, squiggly frantic guitar music that makes bands like Truman’s Water, Tucker B’s, and Nova Scotia so good. (Craig)
  17. The Cannanes – Not Camping Out: Classic band pens classic song about inner city neighbourhood change. What’s not to like?
  18. Ex-Serts – Business Man: It’s a one minute song with two lines of lyrics. ‘nuff said. Work it out for yourself. This is from those early 80’s Aberrant comps that are all really really good. (Craig)
  19. Glory Hole – Fight Back Fuck Hard: There is radical potential in our interpersonal relationships. Hierarchy and patriarchy can unknowingly be reproduced in our interactions with others, and it’s important to think critically about the structures that reproduce oppression in the spaces we create. (Craig)
  20. Spirit Bunny – Gold & Brown: Spirit Bunny is one of many amazing bands from Cameron Smith who is also in Ghost Notes, Tape/Off and Tiny Spiders, probably more. He also has a kick arse recording studio in Brisbane called Incremental Music. (Chris)
  21. The Mangey Koh Chang Nipple Dogs – Coagulating Eggs: This band never played a show and their identities are still pretty much a mystery. But they sing about eggs with a passion that is hard to ignore. Important stuff from the early naughties outta Adelaide. (Matt)
  22. The Nuclear Family – I Wanna Be a Dog in the Sun: Wollongong has the highest youth unemployment rate in the state of New South Wales. (Craig)
  23. Ben Doran – Hashtag: This song isn’t actually available anywhere, my friend Patrick McCabe recorded it and played guitar on it, and I think Ben Mangan co-wrote the music. Doran is one of the greatest writers I have ever known, he once wrote a song about the life of a cuttlefish, and how depressing it must be to end up as bird food. He lives in China. (Chris)
  24. XL Capris – My City of Sydney: I like that this song was originally written by a visiting American talk show host/adult contemporary singer, and was used as the Channel 7 theme song for about 20 years. I like that the punks took it back. (Craig)
  25. Ben Salter – I Am Not Ashamed: Ben Salter can drink anyone under a table. Especially young whipper snappers. (Matt)
  26. Extra Foxx – One In The Morning: This is a really old Extra Foxx song that was just re-recorded and released recently. I was in Extra Foxx for a short time in its very first incarnation as a band fifteen years ago. There’s been probably 40 or so people in the band since, maybe 100.(Chris)
  27. Chinese Burns – Not My Girl: I got to hang out with Chinese Burns in Melbourne while they recorded songs with Mikey Young at our house, Mikey was using a tape machine that he said used to be used to record Neighbours, it was a great time to be alive. They have put out five seven inches, and now all live in Qld and hardly ever play live. (Chris)
  28. Jonny Romeo – Ti Amo: Jonny Romeo (real name Jonny Romeo) is a punk rocker who lives in Griffith in NSW. He has a studio in his house and has released ten EPs this year, this is from the ninth. He also makes gelato, which is apparently amazing. (Chris)
  29. Small Fantasy – DSS: A song about love on the dole. (Craig)
  30. Summer Flake – The Wedding March (for Jess & Kynan): Summer Flake is the undisputed guitar playing champion of Australia. Move over Tommy Emmanuel and whoever that little kid was who played at the Olympics with him. This song is from her first EP which is brilliant. As is everything she has put out since. (Matt)

'Serbs and the City: Rats', by Sofija Stefanovic

Bundy. Photograph by the author.

This is the second instalment in ‘Serbs and the City’, Sofija Stefanovic’s column about her experiences as a Serbian-Australian living ambivalently in New York. Read the first instalment, ‘This is a Mistake’.

So, New York is brimming, heaving, with rats. People throw rubbish into black bags and dump them on the streets, and the rodents help themselves. Squeaking, feasting rats are my nightmare and I am living it here in my new home.

I have a phobia. I’m pretty sure it started when I was twelve. My poor dad was dying of cancer and we had rats in our ceiling. I would have to climb the ladder, open the hatch, take down a bowl that had been emptied of poison pellets and fill it with new ones. Coincidentally, my dad was being poisoned by chemo himself at the time and he was dying in the next room. I started imagining dead rats falling on my head, I dreamt about them touching me and it made me sick. To me, rats equal death, and I do not want to die.

To me, rats equal death, and I do not want to die.

A phobia fills you with adrenalin and, like the mother who can lift a car to free her trapped child, seeing a rat gives me the ability to jump like an athlete. I saw one in Tokyo a few years ago, and I leapt backwards so powerfully that I knocked over three Gothic Lolitas and their clothed dog. Another time, I was working on a comedy show with some colleagues and a rat ran across the room. A rat in a space in which I’d been relaxed! A rat in a place where I ate food, had naps, wrote jokes! I started shaking and crying and my kind colleagues escorted me outside to play basketball for the rest of the day instead of working.

If you are going to tell me something like: ‘but rats are so much smaller than you’ or ‘they’re more scared of you than you are of them’, don’t bother, you jerk. A phobia is an irrational fear, so a rat’s actual size makes no difference to how big it is in my mind. Also, I can assure you New York rats are certainly less scared of me than I am of them, otherwise they would do something other than nonchalantly scoff old pretzels with their diseased little mouths as I walk by.

So, how to manage rats in my daily life? My boyfriend Michael good-naturedly puts up with my behaviours (jumping, freezing, gagging), but what about the people of New York, who I want to befriend? I imagine an editor from Vanity Fair wanting to publish me. We are walking down a narrow street, eating bagels, talking about the feature I am being commissioned to write. A rat runs towards us, I punch the editor in the face and leap over her lifeless body to get away.

A rat runs towards us, I punch the editor in the face and leap over her lifeless body to get away.

I was thinking of my New York-inappropriate phobia on the walk from the supermarket to our new apartment building, when I passed a woman intently addressing her Jack Russell in Serbian: piški sine, she said, which means, ‘pee, my son’. She was wearing a bizarre headpiece made of gourds. My people, I thought. Next, I passed a homeless man, who was masturbating under a blanket. When he saw me approach, he drew his hand out to wave ‘You like this!?’ he said, joyfully pointing to the blanket, under which his penis stood. ‘Like’ is a strong word, I thought, though I admitted to myself that if I had to spend the afternoon with this guy or a rat, I’d choose the jolly wanker in a heartbeat.

Coming home I passed Attila the Hungarian building superintendent as he tried to train his young golden retriever, Nick, not to jump on another neighbour’s dog. ‘He’s a crazy guy,’ Attila apologised, as Nick choked himself trying to paw at the puggle. Attila’s assistant Gabor looked on. Bundy the fat cat—also belonging to Attila—sat fatly removed atop the mailboxes.

Cut to two months later. Not much has changed, except that my dogs have been shipped over from Australia, and my friend Hanna is visiting and lazing about with me. I walk to the kitchen to get cheesecake and see a rodent run across the bench. In my own home. I scream blood-curdlingly and pull Hanna and the dogs into my bedroom, squashing Michael’s clothing along the bottom of the door, so the rat can’t squeeze under. I call Attila three times on his mobile and once on his home phone. I text him. Hanna takes the dogs to the kitchen to hunt the rodent. They misunderstand the task and sit politely, expecting treats. At the speed of sound, I run out of the apartment and down to the basement.

Attila is there, operating a loud machine that does something important for the building: he is in charge of maintenance for the whole apartment block. ‘Here’s what’s gonna happen!’ I scream. ‘There is a rat in my kitchen. I need you, Nick, Gabor, and Bundy on the sixth floor immediately.’ Despite his protective gear and helmet, Attila doesn’t scold me for trespassing on his workspace. Ignoring my high pitch, wild eyes, and the fact I’m in pajamas, he puts up one finger. ‘One: it’s a mouse, this building is rat-free’. He puts up another finger: ‘Two: that is too big team for this job,’ then he whistles, and—like magic—Bundy the fat cat appears, with Gabor the assistant behind him.

I am comforted by his thoroughness, and his belly, which I imagine is fat from rodents.

Bundy and Gabor come up to my flat, politely avoiding any comment on my shaking and rapid breathing. Hanna takes my useless dogs for a walk and I watch Bundy masterfully inspect every inch of the space, tail twitching. Gabor thinks the rat (or mouse) has gone back the way it came, and he plugs a hole behind the stove with some steel wool. I watch the fat cat as he serenely rubs himself on the couch, the books, my toothbrush. I am comforted by his thoroughness, and his belly, which I imagine is fat from rodents.

‘He leaves his smell.’ Gabor says. ‘It scares mice.’ My eyes fill with grateful tears, so I try to focus them again by looking at Gabor’s arm tattoo, which is symbolic: a bulging heart.

Gabor tells me I can keep Bundy overnight if I want, and he leaves. Gabor is a New Yorker, as are Attila, the woman with the gourd-hat, and the masturbating homeless man. I had been wondering how I’d fit in among New Yorkers with my phobia, but I realise now that I’m only a small fish in a very big pond of crazy. And looking at my hero with his twitching whiskers, I think I’ve found my new best friend.

Sofija Stefanovic now lives in New York. She writes investigative pieces, teaches, and is a faculty member of The School of Life Australia. She tweets at @sstefanovic.

'Watching', by Justin Wolfers

Illustration by Katie Parrish.

Don goes to the cinema to watch whatever is on. Today he sits towards the back, with his coat draped over the adjacent seat. The trailers end, the reel clicks over, and it begins, all dust and grain, the masterpiece. Retrieved from the family’s estate, restored, but thankfully not digitised, still flickering.

But Don is distracted, he can’t help but think that the man who has just walked in, three rows in front, blazer over his hoodie, might be Bret. Why would he be here for this black and white artefact, this old-time fuzz? What could he see in it?

On screen she picks up the teapot, pours it, puts it down gently – unaffected, exquisite. And, Don thinks, that man watching: so commercial, so pop-culture, so irreverently contemporary.

As he watches, Don, thinks about a story he is researching for a new collection. In the story the man watches films, haunts them, four a day every day, a ghost to himself. He follows a fellow movie-goer from cinema to cinema, to her house and back, before trapping her in the women’s bathroom. He stands there next to her, thinking about what he should do. Neither person moved, he thinks, before making an offhand remark about the faucet. He has spent the day stalking her, but this is what he says: the faucet.

Don can’t help but wonder why Bret looks so transfixed. The woman on the screen is eating a crumpet. There is a crunch as she bites, and the tinkle of china as she gets up from her chair to answer the door. Don wonders what Bret would imagine is behind it.

What a beautiful film this is, thinks Bret. Her grace as she walks along the hallway, the click of the lock, the way the man in the doorframe is lit so splendidly from the side, the way the black and white palette gives a retroactive meaning to the scene, emphasising the shadow.

Bret is pleased he has come on his own to see this, so he can watch it for himself. All these people are so tiring, he thinks.

He remembers how palpably his cinema-going was affected when he and the 27-year-old were first dating – watching alongside someone who had never seen any Fellini. Bret used to make a point of seeing all the new releases at the ArcLight, the mainstream Hollywood films, the indies, the high-end European stuff, everything. But watching with the 27-year-old, everything artful seemed slow and dragging, ruining the simple pleasure of being able to just feel what he feels about a film and then to tweet about it.

But watching with the 27‑year‑old, everything artful seemed slow and dragging.

Framed in the doorway, the man on the screen has a glint in his eye not matched by the woman’s. Does this represent attraction? He has the glint, the viewer follows her eye line to look at it.

The beauty, Bret thinks, of this closeted Hollywood heartthrob. Revered for embodying a masculine trope that he performs, not for himself, but for the trope, for the perpetuation of the trope within him, which gives him capital that he need not identify with.

They’re in the car, man and woman, driving along a winding road. Her hair flops mechanically in the wind.

Don is starting to enjoy himself. He steps out of his head—as much as he can—and starts to let the film flow through shot for shot, trying not to filter the images, to just watch them.

They arrive at a restaurant. He orders a bottle of champagne and they clink glasses, a double-glint, their attraction now equal. They are happy, but there is no tension, Don thinks.

Soon the man starts to look sullen, fidgety, and Don works it out before she does. The war. There is such gravel in the way he says the word duty. He wants her to tell him not to leave, to beg him to stay, so he can miss her more, remember her face for longer. That might just get him through it. Don thinks that she perceives this, he knows what she should say, but instead she just says, Oh darling, and puts her hand on his.

He asks her to dance one last time. Don is welling up in spite of himself, as if it’s chemical, objective, irrespective of whether he is even paying full attention. He can’t help but wonder whether Bret would find it soppy. Don finds it soppy but he’s streaming nonetheless. She’s looking up at him so fondly and he’s looking at her with a promise—a guarantee to the audience—that they will see each other again.

Bret hopes they never see each other again, or that he’ll get half his face blown off and really make it interesting. Or that he comes home with the actor’s real-life partner and says, But I still love you, too.

But this never happens in films. He can see it all laid out: war, honour, courage, tests, capture, escape, glory, reunion, sunset, credits. Or if told through her eyes: hardship, needlework, rosemary beads, hope lost, a letter, hope restored, reunion, sunset, babies, credits. How beautiful and how delicate does the story have to be to follow this inevitable sequence and yet still affect him?

Bret’s drifted off and now the man is on the ship. She’s waving at him, and he has her handkerchief in his breast pocket.

He thinks about his own novel-in-progress, the prequel to American Psycho, set in the eighties, Patrick’s college years. This is his first venture into a non-contemporary setting, and a first-person voice younger than he is. Will it work? Can he write convincingly about being twenty, now? Sometimes he feels like a dinosaur, a fuddy-duddy, especially with the 27-year-old as his closest companion. He doesn’t feel like writing about the past, he wants to write about now. But he is afraid that he doesn’t really understand now, anymore, not the way his audience will want him to. They may sense a gulf between how he perceives now and how they do, killing his agency. Morrissey was charming at 24, but now… All he is sure of is that there are more adaptions, sequels and remakes than ever before, and he hasn’t been touched by a new film in ages. And yet here he is, thinking about his prequel.

The ship steams away. Don thinks about his ex-wife. She’d be at work by now, reading the traffic reports for the radio. He wants to be serious, ponderous, to just watch the film, but he’s scattered today, at least compared with Bret, who’s sitting so still and seems so contented. Don thinks that his wife would like this film. Ex. She would enjoy it wholly, instead of splicing it up and analysing her enjoyment like he can’t help but do. He wants to be stoic, watchful, but.

He starts to wonder who is over his shoulder, watching, envisioning him, assuming his physique. He starts to repeat himself inside his head, and cannot get out of the loop.

He thinks of Bret, wonders whether he is getting teary, not for the actual hardship they’re enduring on the screen but for some inexplicable something, some site of loss he can’t quite pinpoint but cries for anyhow.

She’s standing at the window, waiting. Or she is looking? She looks out the window at the empty driveway. Bret is feeling strangely nostalgic. Where did this come from? He isn’t sure.

The mysterious pathos of the film goes on as she spends evenings without him under murky lighting. Don isn’t sure whether the heroic war scenes are real or just in her imagination.

Don thinks that his wife would like this film. Ex.

If Don is going to write a story about this cinema voyeur, really write it, the man needs to ooze creepiness. A dusty, broad man, who loves to watch too much. He follows the girl to her house up in the Bronx, all the while projecting his view of her onto her. He pretends to be a cinephile, a real purist of the screen, but he can no longer separate the two, screen and life, and he is so attuned to watching that he remarks upon himself as if he isn’t there. Neither person moved.

What would Bret think? Would he think the war scenes are a figment of her hope for his return? Or is this just straight up, the front and the home front. Him, battling through the shrapnel, penning notes to her; her, staring off into the distance, completely without agency but the film is ancient and so it slides.

A stray bullet gets him just under the armpit. He falls back, and lies there, staring into the distance at the blasted sun. She comes to him in a vision, which is perhaps corny but then, Don thinks, maybe not, maybe this is her affirmation, her validation: imagining him off at war, staring into the sun, praying to be returned to her.

Bret is in a total drift, elsewhere, in plots and murders, how many is too many, how to pad the violence with so much nothing that it really cuts through, what brands, what college-wear—but this is all so antique, he thinks. He should be writing something radically contemporary, virtualising, hip—but he still thinks with words like hip and this is the problem. He will have to write the fuddy-duddy novel, the Harvard Dad, if he is going to write anything. And the prequel is more bankable.

He has woken up in a trench and is covered in rubble. He crawls along the ground and in his desperate eyes is the promise he’s made to her. Don really wants him to make it, though he’s not sure why. He knows it will likely be disappointing, their reunion, that it will fail to affect him quite how it should, but he will try.

Bret doesn’t want it to end, ever, really. He doesn’t enjoy endings, or at least not big ones, and he doesn’t want to have to roll his eyes at such an exquisite film. He would happily have it wash over him for a few more hours. But the score suggests otherwise, so many strings, even some trumpets.

She is at the post office slamming her fists on the desk while the attendant tries to explain that nothing has come. She bursts into tears, her eye line almost crossing the camera, the viewer implicated: where is he and when is he coming home? She drives back to the house in a rage and leaves the front door wide open and fumbles with the bloody teapot and ends up smashing it against the wall. He comes up the front stairs and straight through the wide open door and says, Honey, but that was such a nice teapot.

Don is in a blubber no worries at all and Bret is almost there, he’s balling his fists, trying to squeeze something out. He can feel it, he can feel it, but it’s just not, quite…

He has her in his arms so tight and their eyes are closed. She lets him go and looks him up and down, the two shiny medals, the far-off stare mixed with ardour and relief, the machismo and the gentleness, and he looks at her, such brightness, such caring, so worth waiting for and thinking of.

Bret is enjoying the pan of the crowd at the wedding, so many flowers, so many stiff postures, thinking of what he needs to write and how he’ll try to make it seem modern.

Don thinks of his ex-wife and the distance between them, even living in the same house. He hopes he won’t have to talk to Bret in the foyer, he’ll be a mess.

The faucet is not working and neither person has moved. Someone else enters the bathroom, a third, a witness, and now she can get away from him safely. Don thinks this is a good moment, full of suspense, the voyeur caught in a freeze-frame, reality setting in and thwarting him. At the end he will walk up the stairs to his house, thinking of another time he found himself in the same act, time looping, the watcher caught out of touch, horrified at the seams between himself and his view.

In the foyer he still isn’t sure if it’s Bret, walking past head down, thumbing his iPhone. In fact he thinks maybe it isn’t.

This piece originally appeared in The Lifted Brow #23: The Ego Issue.

Justin Wolfers is a writer and editor from Sydney. He edits Seizure’s AltTxt project, and has written for places like Kill Your Darlings, The Australian, Stilts, and the UTS Writer’s Anthology.