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Thursday, 29 January 2015

A quick trip to Sydney

I just got back from a quick trip to Sydney taken to get mum to a specialist's appointment on Tuesday which was very important. Equally important - although I didn't know it before now - was to check up on mum and make sure she gets the care she needs.

The registered nurse in the nursing home had mum produce a urine sample, apparently necessary because mum has been getting a bit "confused" in the afternoons. I stayed with mum on the Tuesday for most of the day and it seemed to me that she was a bit subdued compared to other times I had visited her. Her across-the-hall neighbour came up to me while I was there and mentioned that mum had been complaining of backaches. After breakfast on the Tuesday - mum took breakfast in her room - and lay down on her bed straight away after finishing it to have a doze. But when we had to get ready to go to the specialist's appointment she complained a lot during the process of preparing for the excursion because of pain in her back. I mentioned it to the specialist and I also wrote some notes about it in the notebook the GP has left for mum to use.

I think mum's "confusion" in the afternoons is due to arthritic pain and we'll need to increase the pain medication dosage so that she can cope with it. I will email the nursing home later today to make sure the doctor read my notes.

Another shock was finding a half-dozen rotten bananas in mum's fridge. Along with the bananas were numerous paper bags - which the nursing home uses to put her morning toast in - filled with stale toast, as well as dozens of hard biscuits. All of this food mum had squirreled away in her fridge without ever checking it once it went in there. It's a type of unconscious hoarding behaviour that has everything to do with mum's poor memory, and nothing to do with the psychological motivation for true hoarding, the kind we read about from time to time in the newspaper.

What's certain is that mum won't get the kind of care she needs if I just rely on the nursing home alone. They don't have the historical knowledge - even with the participation of the GP, who has access to medical reports from mum's previous GP - and they don't spend enough time with her to find out what really is the problem with her. It's unfortunate but I think inevitable that people who have a parent in a nursing home have to stay connected to their parent otherwise the quality of care will drop away and with it quality of life. To maintain quality of life for your parent you have got to be engaged and participating in the routine at the nursing home.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

I don't go to mum's any more

I don't go down the road to mum's place any more. There is no need. The painters will be there soon, and the cleaners. Then the workmen will come and lay new carpet. I didn't even go down to pick up G's keys, which she left on the bench in the kitchen, so she told me. I left that up to the real estate agent. My job now is even bigger as I now have to pack up my apartment and move down to Sydney myself.

Because I don't go to mum's place any more my world has shrunk. I never go down that direction now. I go instead only to the shops, which are located in the opposite direction from mum's place. I go to the shops to buy food and alcohol, to get my lunch at the cafe where I always get my lunch, and to check the post office box for mail. The shops are down toward the ocean. You can't hear the waves from the shopping centre but most nights if the night is still you can hear the waves from my bedroom. I lie awake waiting to go to sleep and the sound of the waves keeps me company.

It's true I am lonely. I often have a chat with the person serving in the shop, whether it is the cafe where I have my breakfast, the cafe where I buy my lunch, or the fruit and vege shop across the road from them. Yesterday the woman in the fruit and vege shop even remembered that I was relocating and she asked me about it.

I get what I think are slightly strange looks from locals when I tell them I am relocating to Sydney. It's as though they are calculating how loyal I had been to the local area prior to the confession. I wonder if people think there's something wrong with me, that I have to go back to the big smoke. I wonder if they are secretly envious. I wonder if they are critical. I wonder a lot of things.

One thing I don't have to wonder about is the sense of separation. It is permanent now. I used to feel it sometimes when I walked down the street to mum's to cook dinner. I used to also feel it when I drove down the highway to the capital sometimes, this feeling of separation. It's a feeling that resides in the chest or upper stomach. It is an ache. It is always there nowadays. I feel it when I get up in the morning.

But I wonder if it will go away once I have relocated to Sydney. Will I be made whole again? What kind of person will I be in Sydney now that I have spent the best part of six years up here on the Coast? Will I be a better person? Will I be more patient? Will I be a better friend? Will I have more fortitude? Will I be happier? I have no way of knowing. All I can do is take the steps I need to take to get to where the tracks separate, and then take the final step to make the switch. One foot after the other. One step at a time.

Friday, 23 January 2015

It's an anniversary! Tenth year of blogging here

It's the blog's ninth anniversary, which means this year will be the tenth year of blogging here. How have we gone? If you asked me when I started what I imagined the blog would become I would not have been able to give you the merest inkling. I just had an urge to write. It was the first year of my media degree (school starts usually in early March). There was this thing called "blogging" which more and more people were doing. Frankly, that's about it. I was happy. I had some free time. I was living alone again (Virginia Woolf's "room of one's own"). The time was ripe.

In that time I have made some friends through the blog who have continued to stay in touch. I am grateful to them because they represent something enduring about the human spirit. Making lasting relationships seems to be a particularly human thing to do, and it is an important one I have found in my terrestrial travels.

When I look back at the first post I am if nothing else EMBARRASSED by its know-nothingness, its simplicity, and the lack of direction that drove it and the posts that followed in the weeks ahead. Book reviews have become an integral part of this blog (I haven't been reading since July, mostly, which is why they've been absent of late), as have movie reviews. Those started in January 2006 and helped to set the primarily serious tone of the blog. If nothing else the blog has been highly personal. It has purveyed material and ideas that I care about. It has gone some way toward representing me in the online world (I won't say "cyberspace" for fear of upsetting some people; you know who you are).

The focus on the personal and the generally aimless nature of the blog are things that I find attractive, as is the mainly serious nature of what I post. These qualities can serve as well as anything to go some way to define me online. I don't mind. I am in the main happy with how the blog has turned out. It has a protean, shape-shifting nature that pleases me because it means that I can accommodate many different types of things on it without breaking any pattern or mold. It is chameleonic, mercurial and a little bit undeterminate in its goals. Which is fine by me.

I don't see these characteristics changing as we venture down the track of time into the tenth year of blogging here. I see more of the same, more reviews of books that happen to draw me in, more discussions about my feelings about certain things, and possibly even a return to the political vociferations I used to do when I was in a healthier state of mind. We'll see. Time will tell.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Getting back into publishing poetry

A couple of days ago I drove down the highway to the capital for an appointment and I also spent a couple of hours catching up with a friend. On the way back home in the car I listened to music on the radio. The music made me think about my poetry. I haven't written anything for a year. The task of managing mum's illness and getting her into care took up all my energy last year, or most of the year anyway. When I got home I decided to talk about the poetry, and I posted something on Facebook, then yesterday I went into Google Plus and did a solo hangout on air (where you capture the video in a recording and it is stored on your YouTube channel).

The hangout goes for about 9 minutes and in it I talk about the problems I had last year. At the end I go on to recite a poem that has been up on the Patreon sponsorship site for a year, titled 'Giants', which is about the weather. We have had some terrible hot weather in the past week so it was timely.

Then I decided to post another poem, again a poem from a year ago which had not previously been published. As usual, I made a note of the publication in my publication spreadsheet. I like to keep track of what is published, and where. This makes it easier to manage poems in the publishing world, because normally a publication won't take a poem that has previously been published anywhere.

All this publishing activity on Patreon does not necessarily mean that I will be writing more poems any time soon. I do however have a fairly large stock of unpublished items that can be published on the web if I want to do that. But the activity is a change for me. I have been cooped up in my shell for so long - really, as I've mentioned on a number of occasions, from March through to November - that breaking out of it in any way (such as publishing poetry online) is remarkable.

The other thing that has happened in the past few days is that the dates for the move have firmed up. I will be moving down to Sydney on 9 February. I have to go down there by plane once before then to take mum to a specialist's appointment, but the date of the move has now been set. I should be ensconced in the new apartment by 12 February. It will take a bit of time to unpack and get rigged up but everything else being equal we're looking at a few weeks to a month at the most before the move is complete.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Grieving for lost time

With mum in the nursing home in Sydney it's me alone who is getting by up here on the Coast day by day, me alone who gets by with this feeling of nausea at the top of my stomach most of the time, but especially when I go to do something that makes me happy. This may sound like a contradiction but it's true. When I am in bed with the air conditioning on and I pick up my mobile phone to check my Facebook or Twitter, I feel this burning in my guts that tells me this is what I want to do. I feel the same thing when, in the evening, I get up from my desk and start making dinner; making and eating dinner is as close to feeling comfort as I get during the daily cycle.

This is grief. I don't know what stage in the "process" of grief it is, but this is the mourning of loss, and it reminds me of a feeling I actually chronicled many years ago. I have it in a diary I started when I was a teenager and that turned up during the big tidying up that happened at mum's place recently. The year is 1978 or 1979. "I'll never be able to play the tank machine under Farrell's at the Hoffbrauhaus again," I wrote in my neat cursive in the little book with a red-hatted gnome on the front cover, which is patterned in paper and cardboard to look like denim. "I've tried, but it only brings tears. I never realised how lonely I am without Fred [the nickname my brother and I started to use around that time to refer to one another], I never realised how much I love him." This short passage is a relic of past mourning because my brother went away to study in the US and I stayed at home. It is a motto inscribed on a paper headstone as a reminder of the passing of all things.

Missing mum is the same thing as missing the routine we both participated in. When I wrote one or two months ago - or both, I cannot be totally sure - about the sense of separation as I walked down the street or drove down the highway, or about the twanging sensation inside as I came back to the Coast from Sydney, I was writing about this sense of loss, this grief and this mourning.

It was the doing things together that is the hardest thing to get over. It was the daily routine. The evening meal for a start. It was the walking down the street to cook the evening meal at mum's place. When I go to her place now there is just an empty space, a shell that once witnessed this ritual of cooking the evening meal. With all that it involved, from choosing the right television program to accompany the meal to deciding what kind of meat to use in the meal. It was the small exchanges associated with these decisions between mum and I. It was setting the table and putting out the mustard. It was a thousand small events that together made up the joint partaking of the evening meal.

That twanging sound is the rhythm of separation going on inside the top of my stomach as I get ready nowadays to prepare the evening meal alone. That's the sad sound of pleasure, the dolorous sound of doing something you enjoy. Despite everything.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The severe heat

It was been so hot here I just got so sleepy and I slept for about 90 minutes around midday today. The temperature is indescribable. You get up in the morning early, say around 7am or 7.30am, and the temperature is already in the 30s Celsius, with the humidity in the high 60 percent range, and it is just insupportable (as the French say). This state of affairs endures throughout the entire day, so even at 12pm or 2pm it is a matter of getting up from your chair every five or ten minutes and wiping with a towel the sweat off your upper body: arms, face, torso, shoulders, neck and head.

As you sit at your desk you end up simply covered in rivulets of sweat, and the heat makes you tired and sluggish. You almost cannot move it is so hot and humid.

Today I have for the first time in months picked up a book and read a little bit. This exposure to literature makes me hungry. I feel as though I should be writing poetry again. But I have to go down to bring in the laundry I hung out in the morning. The day swallows me up like a cat devours a plate of chicken hearts, entire. I struggle to do the simplest thing because of the heat.

While bringing down the laundry I start to compose a poem in my head. I start to collect rhymes. They multiply and breed in my head like a virus. But they will not live on the page. When I get back inside I put down the laundry and pick up a beer. I sit down in front of the computer and enmesh my attention with the output coming from social media. I engage with the world through this jerky, confusing and surprising interface.

The heat will continue through the afternoon and into the evening. Even with night there will be no relief. I will go to sleep again tonight with the air conditioning running. With air conditioning when I wake in the morning the room has a specific smell. It reminds me of lunacy and madness. But when you open the louvers in the morning the creature of 33 degrees Celsius races into the room like a flock of ducks. You cannot escape the heat. It is there waiting for you whichever room you walk into. You are trapped by climate change. It is inexorable. It is there waiting for you like a reminder of futurity. This is just going to get worse every year. Thank log I am doing the big move south back to the temperate climes of Sydney.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Emptying out mum's place

This is what my second bedroom looks like since early this morning when the removalists brought the remainder of the stuff that was in mum's apartment to my place. The room is completely chockers. You can hardly move in there. It's a complete squeeze. But I need to get in so that I can keep on shredding unnecessary stuff, so I'll have to be moving things around to get access this weekend and into next week.

The main consequence of the small move that we did this morning is that mum's place is almost completely empty bar a few small bits and pieces, some rubbish, and the shredder and most recent box of "keeps" that I'm gradually filling up as I go through mum's and dad's stuff. Emptying out mum's place is a big step for me as it'll mean I don't have to worry about one piece of the puzzle. The object is to rent it out and to do that we now first need to take out the picture hooks, plaster up the holes they made in the walls, give the place a new coat of paint, and change the carpet in the two bedrooms. The glass shower screen has been fixed back in place - the real estate agent organised last week to get that done - and the toilet seat has been put back in place in the en-suite.

Meanwhile, the weather has taken a turn; it was really hot yesterday with the temperature on the Coast up to 36 degrees C. Last night I turned on the air conditioning for an hour or so to cool things down a bit; it was so awful just lying there in the unmoving air sweating from every pore. I just had to resort to relief. I hardly ever use air conditioning normally.

Getting the last of the stuff out of mum's place has however made a positive difference to my state of mind, and I now feel less encumbered by stuff. I had a bit of a panic yesterday afternoon thinking of all the things that need to still be done to make the big move south. This morning all those worries were allayed when the three fellows from the removals company turned up. We got the whole job finished in about 90 minutes, including moving two electric beds and a fridge out of my place down to the garage; I'll phone up the op-shop next week and they can come and take that stuff away.

Things are looking a lot better now.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Thoughts about dad

I felt the walls were too high this morning after doing a bag of shredding. Most of the stuff I was doing was accounts material dad had put together from the year 2007 and when that was finished I went into the garage to take a look at the pile of the rest of dad's stuff in the alcove along the side wall. I sorted through a box of CD ROMs and carried a couple of small boxes of photos into mum's apartment but when I went back into the garage I just felt it was too much. The walls were too high.

As I got back to my place it occurred to me that I would not have had this feeling if it was mum's stuff I was faced with sorting through this morning. The reason it felt like the walls were too high was because it was dad's stuff I was faced with. And I thought about my problematic relationship with my father, who died 4 years ago, and how things might be different if I was less prone to complain about him when I got the chance, which admittedly was not that often but it did happen from time to time. Most of the complaining was in front of mum who, despite that fact that she was married to dad for over 50 years, knew that he had weaknesses of character. But we all have character flaws, and I am drawn to think that it's more of a weakness to continue to blame someone who is dead, for their character flaws, than it is to have those character flaws in the first place.

So looking up at those towering walls this morning caused me to take a hard look at myself.

My father was a good man in many ways. He was always present, he never left us, for a start. Which is more that you can say for me, who left the family when the kids were small. He always treated us boys equally, furthermore, and allowed us to make mistakes, which I should be grateful for. This last thing he did enabled us to develop resilience and develop our characters independently from an early age. Dad was a stern patriarch in the old school pattern in many ways. But he left us up to our own devices - which is good in a way, but bad in another - and never shouted at us or hit us (except once). I remember a slightly distant but engaged parent who often had trouble understanding his children. He kept to his own devices and let us stick to ours.

In many ways my dad was a good man, as I say. But he let me down when mental illness struck and left me exhausted by life. He would not help in any way, and instead just pointed me to the government website. It took me many years to recover from the shock of illness, but I have never really recovered from the feeling that dad let me down badly. In the final instance he wasn't there when I needed him. If it had happened when I was 16 instead of 39 things would probably have been different. But I still get the feeling that he would have apportioned blame to me where there should have been none. He thought it a character flaw that I got ill, instead of seeing it as a mere physical ailment.

I think it is time however for me to lay those qualms aside and to forgive him for his failures, which were significant. But they were not so great that they cannot be forgiven. Which is how I want to proceed. At least doing so will make it easier to get through this current task of tidying up mum's place. Anything that makes that job easier to complete must be a good idea.

Monday, 12 January 2015

A hard day's night

This is what the sky looks like right now, in the afternoon. It is spitting occasional rain. It is humid and as I sit here slowly dripping, the drops running down my face to my jaw, I recall how in the morning it was even hotter with full sun coming right in through the eastern-facing sliding doors, and the radiant heat bouncing off all the surfaces of the balcony into the apartment. From time to time I get up and use the face towel hanging over the standard lamp near the exercise bike.

Today however is better than yesterday. Then, I had a Skype call with someone I know who is going through problems of her own, and while we talked I drank beer after beer. I was effected by her situation, her illness different from mine but similar, and by her daily struggle to fit into the universe. I cut the call when we had finished talking and went to bed for most of the afternoon, dreaming up disasters, contemplating my own situation and imagining things happening to upturn all the carefully laid plans that have come into being since I started this big move south. While I contemplated disasters and it was hardly pleasant to do so, accompanied as it always is with fear and loathing in the very heart of the soul, I developed an even better plan for mum's apartment and all the stuff that remains to be processed.

So while yesterday afternoon was a dire time full of terrible forebodings and shivering deep within the core of the self, it was also a useful span during which I came to better understand the scope of the task that I have set myself. And today as I sit here slowly sweating through another long afternoon I can digest the cogitations of the previous day, sure that the outcome will be good.

This morning I did another six bags of shredding and threw the resulting trash down the garbage chute in my building. I am slowly making my way through the heap of extraneous and of-interest-only-to-a-few stuff that comprises the worldly remains of my father (deceased) and mother. I will prevail. I will get through it. It will be another part of my story one day soon, a story to be told around campfires where beyond the bright ring of comradeship lies the blank of the broad night.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Processing the mnemonic markers of decades

Outside the cafe I take a sip of the takeaway coffee I have bought along with my lunch, a bacon sandwich. The creamy taste from the paper cup suffuses throughout my consciousness along with that unmistakable coffee flavour - a unique combination of chemicals, of naturally-occurring elements, that can only be described with one word - which is one of many unique flavours that we are blessed to possess as a result of natural selection, plate tectonics, climate change, astronomic peculiarities in the solar system, and other actors that have effected the earth over the past 4.3 billion years. Humans are truly fortunate, I thought as I walked up the street in the sultry morning sunshine. The heat makes me sweat at this hour, not long after I have finished shredding papers for the day, just as it made me sweat as soon as I got out of bed this morning. But I am grateful for the luscious richness of this hot white coffee from the cafe where I buy my lunch every day.

This morning I went through a range of emotions as I was shredding. Mainly, I was shredding papers dating from 2011 and 2012, and so events of those years came back to me as I assessed the value of each piece of paper. Mum had organised a lot of her papers according to the month and year, and most of the papers were invoices with a payment receipt attached. There was the invoice, for example, for the psychologist I had suggested mum see after dad died. She had been having a lot of trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I used to come over in 2011 and try to wake her up but she would protest, saying "I'll get up in a minute". When we knew that she had no intention of getting up if she could help it. I would have to go down to her bedroom several times to rouse her from bed so that she could eat breakfast.

There was, yesterday, the purchase documents for her last apartment, dated August 2011. She had decided to move out of the 4th floor apartment she had shared with dad because a fireman had advised her to move. "We won't be able to carry you down those stairs," he had apparently said to her.

There was the receipt today for dad's funeral, which came to over $6000, from a local funeral parlour. I remember going to the funeral parlour with mum after dad died, and I remember thinking that it must take a special kind of manner to do business in this industry, when nerves and emotions are still so raw. You would need to adapt your speech and body language to the psychological state of the recently bereaved.

Today I also found letters I had sent to mum in the years after I started to come up to visit her and dad, around 2007. I would send her poems, essays, and pictures that I had taken when I was in my 20s, pictures taken 30 years ago, which I had scanned and pasted into documents on my computer, writing glosses in the blank space around them, that tried to contain them and the impulse that drove me, for example, to take photos of the support struts of Australia Square. Most of these items I shredded because the original files are still on my computer; over the years there have been many computers but the old files are always imported into the new machine after I install it at home.

I process the mnemonic markers of decades as I go through the act of disposing of or preserving these old records.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Notes on old records

I went shopping for meat and vegetables, alcohol and a salad lunch this morning after finishing up at mum's with the shredding; 6 bags again today.

I only did that quantity because I want to take it slow and steady. Slow and steady, we were always told, wins the race. So it's like my motto now. Just slow and steady to get the material all sorted into useful and unnecessary, with the unnecessary stuff getting shredded and bagged and thrown down the garbage chute.

Today there were legal documents relating to the sale and purchase of several different properties. Also paperwork relating to the payment of regular bills, like electricity bills, tax bills, picture framing, water, council rates and on and on and on. A never-ending stream of ephemeral paper. I talked with mum about this paper that was put away in cardboard boxes and pushed underneath the bed in the second bedroom of mum's apartment. We spoke on the phone yesterday. (I always get a little thrill when mum answers the phone in her nice telephone voice. With the nursing home phone she has no way to know in advance of enquiring who is calling her. Using the phone in her old place she could see if it was me ringing by the notice on the handset display screen.)

I said to her that when dad finally went into a nursing home in May 2009 she sort of went a bit psycho with paperwork, and that she just used to keep everything regardless of its apparent importance. She agreed with me. "Dad did all the financial and legal stuff when he still had his marbles," I said. "Yes, he did," she answered. "You went a bit psycho when he went into a nursing home," I proposed. "Yes I think I did," she admitted.

Once I get through all the stuff in the cardboard boxes that belonged to mum I can start on the stuff that's still in the garage and that belonged to dad. Dad died in March 2011. Mum moved into her new apartment in August 2011. That means that these papers of dad's have been sitting untouched in the garage of mum's apartment for three-and-a-half years. I have already gone through one box of dad's stuff, and (probably a bit brutally) shredded the things I thought were unnecessary to keep.

In the final analysis there will be noone to blame me whatever happens. There is noone to look over my shoulder now that I am doing all this shredding. And in fact noone really cares about all these papers. It escapes me why dad (and, subsequently, mum) thought it necessary to keep all these things. In the case of powers of attorney, for example, all I do personally is keep the original at the lawyer's office and if I need a copy I just email them and get them to post a certified copy to me, or to whomever needs to see it. But with mum there were dozens of copies of an out-of-date power of attorney in several different boxes that were stored under the bed in the second bedroom. None of these documents were accessible both because noone knew they were there and, secondly, because noone would have bothered to look under the bed to find them.

And so it goes. When you keep records make sure that they are accessible. That's my advice. Don't just chuck loads of crap in boxes and hide it in a closet. File your stuff away and make it easy for people who don't know you personally to find things quickly. If you take a bit of trouble in advance then you might save a loved one the trouble, in future, of combing carefully through your old stuff. They will thank you.

Friday, 9 January 2015

The long shadow of unhappiness

The first sign that something was wrong was before I ate lunch. I was walking out of the cafe when my mobile rang. I answered it and it was the real estate agent, who had shown someone through my apartment a day or so previously. He mentioned that the lady he'd take through was looking at something in the "low fives". "What do you mean?" I asked. He explained and I was immediately angered. "If you can't get me the price I'm looking for I can find another real estate agent," I snapped. I was still in the shopping centre and I had not raised my voice. He told me what he thought I wanted to hear and quickly rang off. I was immediately unhappy with how I had responded to him.

I ate lunch at my desk, as usual. There was something wrong with the taste of the sandwich. It was too sweet and not quite right. It was also too thick. After I'd eaten I had a heavy stomach. I was feeling bad. I was unhappy, and it wasn't the phone call that had done it. I decided to go to the bank and transfer money for the nursing home accommodation bond into the account of the company I was dealing with. After I got back home I felt worse and went to bed. I stayed there for several hours. After I had rested I still felt bad and I went down to the shopping centre again. I bought a six-pack of beer in the bottle shop

Back in my apartment I got to work on the beers, one by one. I began to relax. The tension of the morning - the hours of shredding, the thousand small decisions that had to be made, the recall of bad memories from the darkest days, the resuscitation of bad feeling toward my father (I have always had a problematic relationship with my father) - started to dissipate as the beer took effect. I started to interact with people on social media. I resumed the normal position I occupy in my skin, my ageing skin. I was turning back into myself.

Those hours of darkness and confusion, hours of feeling unhappy, remind me to take it easy. On top of the morning's tidying up of my mother's apartment the transfer of a large amount of money out of two bank accounts was obviously a bad move. It was too soon. And it was just after I had returned from Sydney, where all my friends live. It's also where mum is. I had done too much in one day. Despite appearances I had overstretched myself and the price I paid was one of those temporary mild depressions I am prone to. I did another two hours at mum's place this morning but today G was there and we worked together for an hour, which helped.

Today G reminded me how fragile life is when she told me that her grandson's father suicided a few days ago. The man had separated from G's daughter some years before. He was living with G's grandson, who found the body. The man had lost his job then overdosed on the anti-depressants he had been prescribed. He had tried to gouge his own eyes out with his fingers and his 18-year-old son found him in the toilet cubicle with his eyeballs hanging out of their sockets.

Even in the darkest days I had never attempted to do anything like this. I wonder why I have been spared. It must be an accident of birth. Or education (thanks dad for making me do the undergrad degree). Or something. I have been fortunate. But still, I have to take care of myself. Noone else will.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A thousand hard decisions

Another couple of hours spent shredding papers this morning. Each sheet that comes to your attention you are forced to make a decision about. You read the contents of the paper, or at least you start to read it. Hard memories are conjured up, and your mind races back to the source of the pain. Was I already sick in June 2000? That means I spent 6 months during that year in a state of psychosis. I shred my father's replies to my letters of that time. Each letter sinks into my mind like a barb.

My father didn't take well the news that I was ill. He flailed around and criticised my then-wife. Neither of them could stand the other. Both were looking for ways to shift blame. My then-wife was looking for help. My father didn't want to do anything to disturb his own comfort. He could not accept the illness. All these memories, these realities that have a hold on the past resurface as I go through dad's papers shredding things. As each new sheet of paper comes to my attention I have to make a decision about it.

I am soon exhausted. I shred my father's letters - reading them is too painful - but I keep all those which I sent to him and mum. These relics will be filed away. I will not look at them for the moment.

Really I do not want to relive those days and weeks and months of hardship. Life is hard enough at the moment. I am living in a sort of limbo here on the Coast. My heart is with mum in Sydney, and with my friends in Sydney, but I have to stay here and get mum's apartment in order so that we can rent it out. That is my task. If it means making more decisions about hundreds and thousands more sheets of paper tomorrow, then that's the price I have to pay. There is noone else to do this. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Missing the Big Smoke

I've been back a few hours but the twanging of the heart strings because of missing Sydney won't yet totally dissipate. I have a lot of work to do although G has pretty much emptied out mum's old apartment including most of the furniture. There are a few bits and pieces left. What in the main remains to be done is for me to go through the papers and clean out what's unnecessary.

While it's good to be home and I appreciate being able once again to sit down at my own desk and use my own computer in peace, I miss driving up to see mum in the mornings because I know that I won't see her for about 3 weeks. (I have to go back to Sydney once more before the big move, to take mum to a specialist.) In the meantime I will get back into the daily groove. But I miss my friends and I miss seeing mum. It's about all I can bear at the moment so I didn't do any work shredding today. I'll rest up with a few gin-and-tonics this afternoon and start on the papers at mum's place tomorrow.

I might watch some television. I will certainly be on social media. Twitter and Facebook really came into their own in a big way when I was staying in Sydney on this last trip. I would return the rental car to the hotel's parking garage after seeing mum and then hole up with a six-pack of beer for the rest of the afternoon just running through the tweets and catching the comments that people left on posts. In cases like these social media is hard to beat because it brings the world closer to us than any other medium (it is social MEDIA after all: an interface between two different things, in this case between an individual and the world). For that I am grateful. And I'm also grateful to all the friends and acquaintances who left their remarks on my blogposts.

And this is the thing that's so difficult up here on the good old Sunshine Coast: staying connected. I crave connection with people. In a way I have been deprived in a real material sense of social connection since moving up here in 2009. (Has it been that long? Yes it has.) Social connection is such an incredibly important thing. Without it I have resorted more and more to the use of social media, so that using these interfaces has become truly habitual. I honestly cannot think how I could live without them. Truth.

So here's to the Big Smoke. Here's to Leviathan (as John Birmingham called her). Here's to my city of origin. Although I was born in Melbourne I lived in Sydney from the age of 10 days until I relocated to Japan in September 1992. And I moved back there after September 2001 when I left Japan. She is my soul's other half, the repository of my dreams and so many of my memories. I will be coming back soon, and permanently.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Back to the Coast

I spent a couple of hours with mum this morning then drove off back down the motorway to the city, my heartstrings twanging in my chest as I felt the tug of distance separate me and mum; I'll be going back north tomorrow and leaving the big city behind. The pulling sensation reminds me that I belong wherever mum is, and that my duty must play itself out in making sure she is looked after and comfortable.

I never thought this would be what I would feel when I finally relocated her to a nursing home. I frankly do not know what I expected to feel, but it was certainly not this twanging sensation as you pull away again. I didn't expect to feel the heartstrings vibrate and protest because of another dislocation, another separation as I go back north to the Coast leaving mum in Sydney.

I haven't really had time to think. And there is still so much to do. I have to continue emptying out mum's apartment so that we can lease it out. Then I have to start thinking about packing up my place - there are about 2500 physical books to box and label, as well as artworks - and that's something I really don't want to think about right now. There are still boxes of papers in mum's garage at her old place, and I have to go through those boxes and get rid of papers that won't be useful in future, keeping those things that will still have value down the track. This is truly a labour of love, as it leaves me exhausted after about two hours' work each day I do it.

Today I unpacked more of the things that we had had the removalists bring down to Sydney from the Coast. There was another box of nicknacks to unwrap and put on mum's shelves. At least her place is looking a bit more homey now, with paintings on the walls, photos next to them, and the bookshelves filled with books or nicknacks. I feel like her new room is a more comfortable and domesticated place, not the spare container of the first few weeks of living there. I have to pinch myself when I think that it'll be a month she's been in the nursing home within a few days' time.

In that time mum has acclimatised herself to the new surroundings. Where she was hesitant and reluctant in the first week or so, now she is apparently comfortable and at ease. I tend to take her on her word; one thing that dementia does is it removes much of the normal human guile we all possess, so it's usually the truth that mum speaks when she's asked how she feels. In all honesty I feel even more beholden to her because of this guilelessness of hers. She has noone else, really, in the final analysis, to rely upon.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Thinking about death

This tree is growing outside mum's nursing home next to a sports oval. It has a hole in it. A branch has broken away from the main trunk, and then rejoined with another branch to form a separate, individual trunk alongside the main one. Mum pointed it out to me today and asked me to take a picture of it with my phone.

The tree reminds me of something my cousin's wife said yesterday when we visited their house near the nursing home. I'll call her A. Recently, A went through the difficult process of watching as her father grew aged and passed away. She told me yesterday that because of the proximity to death these events allowed her, she began to think about death and mortality. Not in a morbid way, she told me, but, she said, in terms of herself. "I understand what you mean," I told A, "the same thing has happened to me as I have accompanied mum through the stages of her old age." I told her I wasn't scared of death. "I'm not scared of death either," she told me.

This kind of experience is like the tree with the hole in it. You break away from normal life for a while and attend to things associated with dying and death, then you rejoin the trunk of normal life again after a time, and become part of the main flow once more. Or, perhaps, the experience allowed you from the proximity to death is like a "window in your heart", as Paul Simon puts it, and people can see through this window into you, or into the other side of things through you.

I don't know which one is true, or if either interpretation is false. I do know, however, that seeing my mother evince fear in the presence of decrepitude has given me a quantity of insight because of which I think I have been able to put aside any fear of death. I see the state of death more as a growing together of two loose strands. In death you rejoin the universe. As Turner said in Mr Turner, the film I saw a couple of days ago, "We are as one with the universe and the universe is as one with us." There is that scene right near the end of the movie where the bed-ridden painter cries out from within the final moments of his mortality, "The sun is God!"

As we grow closer to the All we sense our kinship with everything, and we might develop new abilities of expression or of perception. I hope so. I hope to be able to see the little people at the bottom of the garden, as my old friend Pixie used to call them. I hope to be able to see those who have passed away, in a similar way to my mother's populating the walls of her old apartment with the photographs of dead shades, forgotten family members, people known to just a few living souls, of whom I count myself as one, allowed her to commune with past generations. Maybe in the final resolution I will rejoin those souls in the cosmic quagmire as a thread of germinal spore-flux eviscerating out into the crepuscular darkness of insensibility where we inseminate the universe with the generations of the Future.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Movie review: Mr Turner, Mike Leigh (2014)

The artist and poet William Blake (b 1757) was home schooled and was ignored by the fashionable set in London for most of his life, the poet John Keats (b 1795) was mocked by his early critics for his proletarian roots (the "Cockney School of Poetry"), but J.M.W. Turner - the subject of Mike Leigh's most recent movie - seems to have been spared both of those blights and Leigh absolutely revels in exposing parts of the life of this complex character and showing how he fit into the artistic establishment of his time, and into contemporary England more broadly.

This Turner is an earthy, straight-forward character who hides his polite learning behind a gruff exterior, suitable for London of his day (Turner was born in 1775 - about the same year as Jane Austen - and died in 1851). You wouldn't be completely off-base if this rendition brought to mind the equally earthy Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) who has so profitably been captured in prose imagery by his memoirist James Boswell. I can't say I've read very deeply on Turner but the London Leigh invokes is a familiar place, and it is a place where death is conspicuous by dint of poor hygiene and poor lifestyle choices. (Alcohol seems to form a big part of the daily liquid intake but, as the friend I saw the movie with noted, "You wouldn't drink the water.")

In this bleak and unlovely version of London Turner gradually shifts from a regular and formalist way of painting to a more abstract way, a way where colour formed the main component. (Art lovers might think of the way Goya (1746-1828) shifted from the Mozartian classicism of his youth to the darker, more Beethovian Romanticism of his mature years.) Complex? Turner was part of the London art set yet he also governed his own style, and introduced new ways of seeing as radical as those introduced, for example, into Australia by the Australian Impressionists around the turn of the 20th century. England has never produced many great painters, but Turner must be ranked among the best exports from the Isles in the visual arts.

It's not all bleak and dark in London, however. Turner regularly makes his way out of the city to find adequately sublime landscapes to paint, and it is during one of these trips, to Margate on the Channel, that he meets Sophia Booth, a woman who will become more important to his story over time. Turner's housekeeper in London (up against the bookcase his passionate attentions hardly gain our approval) and his legal wife get shorter shrift but, as I have already said a couple of times, Turner was a distinctly complex man. Which does not mean he was always perfectly likeable.

He does help out those less well-off than himself and - in one striking scene near the movie's close - he even refuses a massive cash offer because, he says, he wants his paintings to go to the British people. Which suggests generosity if also some degree of hubris. But Turner was nothing if not realistic, and he knew his worth. As for the film, it's probably quite enough to say that this movie could never have been made in Hollywood; at least not in the way it has been made in Europe (it's an English-French-German production). Leigh goes some way toward both stripping much of the unnecessary gloss off an historical period as well as reminding us of the disparate ways that genius works. This is a nice, intelligent film, and deserves to be seen by many.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The passing of time

I have been going to see mum in her nursing home every day I am in Sydney and sometimes I stay to eat lunch in the nursing home dining room. The food is usually a little overcooked and the portions are a bit small for me but the diet seems to agree with mum as the food is both easy to eat and tasty. Each day I visit I go over the Harbour Bridge and up through the Lane Cove Tunnel to the M2. I make tracks in my rental car. I make my way to be beside mum in the nursing home where she is making her home among the present cohort of residents, each of whom has his or her own physical or mental limitations.

Yesterday I took mum to Hornsby to buy some underclothes as she said she was running short of them. When we got back to the nursing home we had lunch at a table with another resident. The conversation was quite lively. Mum loves a good chat. And after lunch we dropped by the room of mum's neighbour and sat and talked for about 30 minutes about old family members, about illness, and about the inevitable decline of old age. I went back to my hotel room on the last day of the year and had a few beers with some deep fried pork crackling from the little Thai place just up the street. I watched the ABC's New Year's Eve coverage until the fireworks - which I could hear outside from my hotel room in Chinatown - ended and everything became quiet again.

Today I went up to see mum and we went on a drive in the rental car through Sydney, at least some parts of Leviathan, before returning to the nursing home to have lunch, which was vegetable quiche and steamed vegetables. I returned to my hotel room to think about the passing of time. One thing that strikes me is that this year will be my tenth year of blogging. During that time I have blogged only with this blog, and no other. I think that anyone who takes the time to look back can see immediately that the writing has changed in that time. The writing has become more sustained, more intricate, and more able to express complex ideas. I think that is a good thing, although there is no way I could be truthful if I said that it was my intention to develop my writing to this state, in ten years of blogging, when I started the blog at the beginning of 2006.

At that time I was just starting my journalism degree and everything seemed possible. Now, things have resolved themselves into a more structured pattern but with the new year there are emerging other kinds of possibilities as I prepare to move back to Sydney. What I will be doing in the year ahead is, at the moment, anyone's guess. Will I get a regular job? Will I return to freelance journalism? Will I do further study? At the moment I am too busy with the move to be able to say anything with any degree of certainty. It does seem though, as I look back over the past year - and the past decade - that I am able to find resolutions to difficult life problems. I hope this will also be true in the near future.