Feeling strangers’ deaths

THERE’S an hierarchy in journalism. An international reporter, a war reporter, a New York Times photographer. These are far beyond the level that I am at; a community reporter of an outback mining town. A hack journalist. If I broke a story and Newcorp or ABC decided it was worth following up – and it added nothing new to my own angle – their version would still be the one found on Google.

It feels then that talking about reporting death is something that should be reserved for a war reporter, an international standard journalist. Someone witnessing the aftermath of mass murder, savage violence, torture. A hero returning after imprisonment in third world countries.

I just feel shaken up every time I write about death. When I emotionally invest in a dead person I never met when they were alive. I’ve lost count how many times this has happened in five years. Eight times maybe? A conservative figure. Children, middle-aged, elderly citizens.

A man died in a crash on the highway and you could see the smoke from 12 kilometres away when a cattle road train crashed to avoid his car. Now. I was not the first there. The police, and the paramedics, and the council workers were. They saw the mess left behind. I was safe behind cordoned off lines.

I saw nothing. And this is always the case.

It was okay when his identity was only an age and a gender. Like any. It’s easy when it’s those vague details because it could be anyone. They are just a hypothetical idea.

But I learned his name.

And then I grew attached. I learned about his character, I learned the musician he enjoyed, his drink of choice, and his first word.

Still, it’s easier now. I suppose I recognise that being emotionally impacted is a selfish sense of ownership.

About a month ago I attended a funeral for a cattle grazier. The family supported me taking photos at the memorial, and I followed their lead, but there were a few at the back of the room glaring at me, assuming I was intruding.

I was recording. I knew what I was doing. I had a sense of purpose and it was about honouring the memory of a person by acknowledging his contributions and the loss of it all.

Still, as I write about a life, before it ends in death, I wonder how I can sum it up. There’s so much going on, a life deserves a book. And yet I’m trying to sum it all up in quotes within a few hundred words. I write about a person I don’t know in a short time. This is where the stakes, of honour and memory and accuracy, are high.

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Trucks waiting for the highway to reopen after a death on the road. 

I’m more confident in getting it right about a life, but it wasn’t always the case.

I was a cadet and three months into the job when a little boy died in my town. I went to his family’s house to ask if they wanted to talk, after the major papers did the same, and I was shaking. Nervous. To my surprise the family were supportive. The mother burst into tears, and I still hear that, but they welcomed what I was doing. They needed it, in a way, for kind words of their love to be repeated and spread to the community.

That night I couldn’t sleep, afraid. Wondering why I deserved a byline for doing nothing at all. I was afraid I’d get the facts wrong. And I woke, and went to work, and felt shaken up a while.

A couple of people died. I interviewed them before or after this happened. My regional manager said, almost tongue-in-cheek, “I’m worried about you mate. People you interview keep dying.”

And that’s an exaggeration. I’m just there when I’m needed.

The day I don’t care anymore, the day I stop feeling and absorbing the loss, is the day I know I need to stop writing about it. But here I am, slipping into some self-righteous martyrdom. But I need that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loneliness is what I am, but I can be more

If I stripped away my writing, I’m not sure what I’d be.

If I stopped focusing on writing my book, I do not know what I would do.

Then if I lost my camera and my job I’d be unclear how I’d fit in to this community.

There is this dating site I tried out the other day. Plentyoffish. And it asked me to put in a headline about myself. And I didn’t know what to put down. I didn’t know how to sell myself.

Sure. I knew what I was. I knew what I liked being. I was a writer and a journalist and I liked photography and taking pictures of people and reading. But there’s nothing that makes me sexually desirable. More importantly, no hobbies I can share with someone else.

I’ve learned to be myself by being by myself.

But I can’t just put down ‘lonely’ as an attractive quality.

I told one of my friends about the headline and she offered to list a few of my virtues for me. Didn’t want to take her up on it but she did it anyway.

“Good looking, gentle, and smart.” She said. “Gentle and warm are tied so take your pick on that. You have the ability to make people feel you like them from the first moment you meet, so I would call that warm.”

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Meeting emus. I suppose I did give them a warm welcome. 

 

Soon on Facebook she asked everyone how much money you needed to become a sugar mumma. I said “only a doughnut” and then she gave me one. But it was in emoji form.

So I’m not sure how much I’m to take her at her word. But anyway, long story short, I’m committed to having a sugar mumma. It’s not even that weird. It’s like having a Member of Parliament. You have one. But you don’t have to do anything. Well, except voting I guess.

How do I tie this up into some pensive conclusion? I don’t know really. Just like in real life I flow into tangents, which you could probably tell by my talk about my sugar mumma.

I suppose this is another tangent. It’s 11pm and I just had to go to work because I forgot to take back the work vehicle. And walking back home I passed the pub. And often I hang out there on a Friday or Saturday night. I always walk in alone in the hope I meet friends (who don’t ask me out to join them to begin with) or a girl I can build a conversation with.

And it struck me as I walked past how sad this really was.

If this is what I had to do to try and make friends and get people to talk to me, meeting them drunk on the off-chance I don’t feel alone, then how horrible.

Whatever I am now, whatever I’m doing. It’s not working for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking away from the Tinder trap

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A selfie at the Mount Isa Golf Club. “Meet the club’s worst golfer.” 

It’s intoxicating being a journalist. You write and have a medium in which you share your work to a professional masthead which has gathered your readership. Sometimes when you’re in a small newspaper you deceive yourself into believing that entire audience belongs to you. Until of course you try writing and sharing something on your own blog, or your own Facebook.

I came on here to write about something else and ended up having a different tangent. But I suppose I was easing into this with the point that I spend so much time attempting to connect to the world around me, and undoubtedly I do, and yet I don’t feel it.

I’m an anxious person and not so great at talking. But give me a camera and a room of work contacts and I know how to run the room. Because I have a purpose. People acceptt me because I have a reason to be there. My journalist persona is a social crutch. And when for some reason I don’t have the voice as myself as a journalist I’m a completely different person. I no longer have the reach and influence that I thought I had.

I was in a relationship for a while in which I had a reason not to obsess about work. I stepped back. And when it ended I needed to focus on work to keep the hurt absent. When I concentrated on aspects of my personal life, such as finding references for a new house to stay in, buying a bed mattress, or food shopping, it was too hard. I wasn’t any good at it.

Then I joined Tinder again. This dating app was what led to my first serious relationship. And so when I joined it again after the break-up in a small town where the proportion of men to women are infamously against my odds, it was hard. It took days to even be able to “swipe right” in favour of a girl’s photo. And then I’ve barely matched since.

Last night my housemate and I had beers and deep and meaningful conversations as I cooked scotch fillet steak which was risking being overdue on its best before. I tried to get him into the new Legend of Zelda. He passed out on the couch and so the party ended. I woke this morning ready to go to work and that’s when I had an epiphany.

I’d fallen into the Tinder trap of judging girls as either “not interested” or “way too good for me so why try?” There was no middle ground. I wondered if I should stop being so picky and try swiping right on a girl I normally would  not, because it was out of the comfort zone.

So many Tinder profiles loved camping and 4WD and fishing (I live in the outback) and not things that I didn’t have the confidence to do myself. I kept thinking I needed to do these things. I needed to be fitter. I needed to be someone more than just married into my job. Yet was this all there was? Was this the only way I could meet people? No.

I’d allowed this trap to distract me from important personal connection. Of waiting for girls to match with me online before I did anything on my own. I waited for their approval. I waited for their timing in the hope we’d match.

I had a whole day. So I decided to do something active. But I wasn’t inspired more than that so I put out a cry for help on Facebook. “I’m not part of a social club. what sport can I play today?” I asked.

Athletics, golf, jogging, swimming, and pool were suggested. I chose to go golfing. I’d put off membership for months so a contact of mine and his son and I went out  on the course this afternoon for a few holes.

I feel horrible right now; like Edward Cullen with a sunburn. But it was worth it. I did something different. And that actually takes a lot to get to that point when not motivated by approval of a girl or your job.  I’m a 27-year-old man who for years chose whatever was given to me because I had no better option. I made do and was insecure about the decision until it no longer was applicable. I need to do more for myself and not be guided or branded by anything else. And I need to do all this before it’s too late, because without finding my real, yet quieter voice, I’m going to be cut off from community that feels the same I do.

I am Jughead

It’s been months since watching Netflix. My partner and I had made the swap to Foxtel but then when change happened in my life, I found myself camping out in a mate’s home. With his TV. And Netflix. But no chill.

I mean, I needed to chill. But not in the sexual way. I just needed my own time so when I turned on the TV I saw Riverdale was on offer.

Archie was a great comic book when I was little. I mean, I didn’t know many people who were into them. And I can’t remember much about them except the main gang. And what the plot was really about, I have no idea. And I’m even clueless as to how I even had the comics. They were just a presence. Mysteriously obtained from under the floorboards.

I don’t binge watch a show, but I was close to doing that with Riverdale. As much as I could. I’m in love with Veronica (oops did I slip that in there). The 10th episode, The Lost Weekend, was the last aired and I’ve finished that tonight.

Now. A brief description that is a SPOILER ALERT but I’m trying to keep it vague.

Jughead is homeless and has a troubled childhood and has father issues. His girlfriend is hot and kind and he’s a lucky guy. But he knows that. Now. It’s his birthday, and his girlfriend decides to organise a small birthday party for him (I mean, what else was she to do?). Which gets unexpectedly larger to no fault of the girlfriend.

Now. Jughead is furious. He’s angry at his girlfriend Betty. He says that if she knew him she would realise the party was not what he wanted. That it was just to prove she was the perfect girlfriend.

It’s harsh. It’s moody. It seems unfair.

But I’m getting what he’s feeling. And yet I’m in the middle and watching and understanding Betty as well. It’s unfair he’s treated her this way. And it’s been done because he’s emotionally overwhelmed.

Is this an excuse? Mmm. No. It’s a red flag on their relationship but it’s a concern for Jughead himself.

Because making it through a crap childhood doesn’t mean you’re an ugly duckling becoming a swan. That swan from the Hans Christian Anderson story has insecurity.

But I wish more people knew that.

Jughead hates celebrating his birthday and his reason is that one day of the year shouldn’t a pretence of a perfect life. It should not be a break from how crap the other days of the year are.

To have all that attention on him for one day, for him to feel special and cared for properly is hard. He was self-conscious. The insecurity issues came pouring out. And he took them out on his girlfriend.

That relationship shouldn’t last. Not because of Betty doing anything wrong, not because Jughead is a terrible person, but because both of them have emotional needs to be filled. And they can’t fill them together.

 

 

The fairytales of Zelda | sort of a review

WHEN I have kids I’m going to tell bedtimes stories where I plagiarise the stories from the Legend of Zelda. I’d start with Ocarina of Time, move to Majora’s Mask, and that’s when it would get blurry. Maybe next I’ll tell the story of Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild is basically Skyrim being given the Hyrule treatment. The self discovery – assuming you don’t cheat and look it up online for answers – is fantastic although I spent three days trying to solve one puzzle involving fixing a giant mechanical beast in the desert.

The fascinating thing for me is trying to work out the timeline of Breath of the Wild. Is it before the events of Ocarina of Time? How does Breath of the Wild fit in with Windwaker, in which Hyrule is flooded and the remnants of its civilisation live on islands which once were the kingdom’s mountains.

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Even harder to figure out, where does it fit with Twilight Princess?

 

I’m fascinated in Zelda in the same way I’m fascinated with the Mad Max series.

Each adventure is its own story, told from someone who has heard it from someone else, and someone else, and then someone else. But the general fairytale element is the reoccuring fight against the prince of darkness for the peace and prosperity of the perfect kingdom of Hyrule over many eras.

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Courage and wisdom must overcome power.

The truth is the story, but with so many stories the truths jar. They don’t necessarily fit. They may not be told in order. The same hero could look different (hence in Mad Max where some movies may star Mel Gibson and another may star Tom Harding. It actually doesn’t matter! The details are told by an orator).

In the Zelda games the main location played in is the Kingdom of Hyrule. Over 30 years since the first Legend of Zelda game some reoccurring locations have appeared, whether it be Death Mountain, Kakariko village, Lake Hylia, Zora’s Domain, the Temple of Time, the plains of Hyrule.

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In most games these locations are roughly in the same area. But there’s at least one dramatic disparity on the map in each game. Lake Hylia of Hyrule in Twilight Princess (2006) is more central, while in Ocarina of Time (1998) and Breath of the Wild (2017) it is to the south.

There’s also reoccurring characters in various forms. Considering each game could be hundreds or thousands of years between each other, it makes you wonder how some of these characters’ reincarnations can be explained.

Some, such as the prince of darkness (the name and form changes in each telling; but Ganon appears the most common of the names) evolve over the timeline, from being a magician and leader of a band of desert thieves to becoming an immortal demon. Others such as Zelda seem to be reincarnations of a Goddess. But then there’s weaker, seemingly insignificant novelty characters.

There’s the map maker Tingle, who appears in the land of Termina in Majora’s Mask. He reappears in other forms such as in Wind Waker, which surely is hundreds or thousands of years in the future.

In Breath of the Wild there’s a quirky trader called Beedle.

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In Wind Waker (2002) Beedle is a trader who travels by boat. Now, I see Wind Waker as an alternative future. A ‘what happens to the world’ if Link doesn’t save the day in Breath of the Wild.

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Which brings me to the point of how the world in Windwaker was flooded. The orator of Windwaker says that it was ‘the will of the Gods’ attempting to save the world from evil. Breath of the Wild’s events suggests that it was more likely a mechanical accident.

 

Mad Max is fiction. The Legend of Zelda is fiction. But instead of the creators pretending it is real, or dismissing its immersive world by not taking it seriously (as many movies, books and TV series have done) it’s left you valuing each individual piece of work for what it is, and to enjoy the inconsistencies.

For in real life with numerous authors there are inconsistencies, but it doesn’t make the overwhelming message any less true.

 

 

Shrinkage

1

WHEN I look back to the time I knew Maggie Olde in Year 6, in those days when we waited at the tin bus stop in the morning, I know that I played games with her.

We exchanged sexually charged letters. Sometimes we held hands. Then I’d pretend she didn’t exist in front of my friends at school.

But she got her revenge. Maggie Olde humiliated me.

 

2

We were both hanging out at a friend’s house. Or, should I say we were at the house of several friends. They lived together in a nearby foster home, from toddlers up to a friend in high school.

Skinny dipping was the rebel thing to do back then. It wasn’t hard for Maggie to convince me in the pool to take off my undies. As soon as I put them over the side, she grabbed them, and threw them over the fence into the horse paddock.

Then, she grabbed the snorkels and ducked in the water to try and get a close up visual of my dick as everyone else stood on the patio and laughed at me.

3

Sometimes I tell that last part as one of those funny stories. I just had never told this next bit. I never told my foster mum or friends or social worker because I felt it was wrong. That it made me a deviant.

We left the swimming pool when someone got my clothes. Maggie and I went upstairs and went into bed and humped each other and made loud groans. Clothes stayed on. Which was just as well, because our friends watched.

I guess reading it now it doesn’t seem so bad. But it was sort of like with my first time I had sex. I didn’t know who I could tell. I didn’t want that action to define me, yet it was all I could think about. But unlike the actual sex a long time after, I held onto this part of the story for years.

4

The next morning we both got on the bus. Straight away Maggie shouted “I saw Chris’s willy last night!”

I’d once humiliated her on the bus by shouting out a made up rhyme that basically made fun of her weight. She’d got me back. Everybody laughed as I walked the aisle to the back of the bus.

“How big was it?” someone said.

“It was like this!” she said, squinting and putting her index finger and thumb almost together. “It was really small and wrinkly.”

“That’s because of the chlorine!” I roared.

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5

The only good moment was being at the back of the bus where there was at least a little dignity and nobody behind me. But as soon as the bus reached the school and we merged with the other students coming out the other buses to walk up the hill to class, I heard “willy” and fingers pointing my way and Maggie at the centre of interest.

At recess I was followed by some of the students and Maggie when I stumbled into the cool kids sitting in a semi circle behind the soccer posts. I usually sucked up to them, wanted to be one of them, but didn’t think I fitted it. Didn’t think they liked me. But that’s when they roared out to my tormentors to leave me alone.

“So what?” my mates said when they asked me to sit with them. “And besides, it would have just been the water.”

I was so grateful for this first moment of acceptance from these guys. And I suppose that’s when school really got better for me.

 

 

 

 

Digging up the journal

I’m reading Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diaries. When I heard she’d found old diaries from the time of A New Hope and revealed an affair with Harrison Ford in a book I was curious.

But I probably wouldn’t have bought the book except I was at the Brisbane airport bookstore – returning from holiday to Mount Isa – the same week that she and her mother died. They were all the news.

The book was the last on the bookshelf. I grabbed it and kept it among my lengthy ‘to read list’. Last night I finished Joe Hill’s The Fireman.and realised The Princess Diarist was still in the pile.

I’m halfway through it where she publishes her old poetry, presumably about Mr Ford in the early days of their affair. And I just can’t help compare his mannerisms to my own attitude.

“If you’ve got arrogance and indifference

You can make them pay

They’re the most commercial product on the romantic market today.” 

 

And here’s another one from Ms Fisher:

“I need to write. It keeps me focused for long enough to complete thoughts. To let each train of thought run to its conclusion and let a new one begin…I’m afraid that if I stop writing I’ll stop thinking and start feeling. I can’t concentrate when I’m feeling.”

 

Often I feel I’m getting harder and colder on the outside, and more anxious and insecure on the inside. I tell myself it’s not an issue until I can’t control it, when the anxiety comes out with my interactions with those around me.

These feelings are a cycle. In foster care I was between those times, when I lost control and was punished by DOCS and the education system for it. And I wonder if the key issue, among many, was a restlessness. I lost my purpose.

I never quite told you why I left foster care and what happened after. But those who know me enough now must wonder how I came from the child care system to being in the position I’m now in.

It was a sense of purpose that transformed me. Then in the last days of foster care it was religion, it was a new faith.

And I have no purpose now. I lost it some time ago when I stopped writing.

 

I guess reading Fisher’s diary makes me long for a purpose again, and that’s in writing something meaningful to me. I write daily in my job, I churn out information in the peak of online journalism.  I just don’t write anything for me in the after hours.

There’s no recording of the time I was in foster care. I did write journals but it was infrequent and they’re lost. But I have something from when I started regularly recording, and even that’s something personal I can share. Inspired by Carrie Fisher. Wow. A new hope for me? #Irony

But I’m going through my writing from nine years ago and it’s bloody messed up. I’m embarrassed about my thought process then, but I’ll let you read bits for yourself:

25/07/07

No wonder I don’t have a girlfriend. Its because I subconsciously know that I don’t really like specific girls. Love has nothing to do with it. Love is not the feelings between a man and a woman. that’s something else. A mixture of love and something else. True love is loving people no matter what. True love is men loving other men. Women loving other women. Men loving women. Women loving men. If you think I’m talking about orgies here, then you probably don’t understand and there is no point continuing.
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4/7/09
That was my first clubbing experience and I hated it. Drinking sucks, I suck at dancing and there were a lot of beautiful girls in very immodest clothes on. It’s a place of lust, and if you aren’t interested in picking up someone, its pointless.
There was one girl trying to tell me something, pointing at Amy*, but I
couldn’t hear her.I hated the loud music. I know I sound old, but it damaged my ear drums and I like hearing.
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27/02/10
Speaking of facebook, there’s this questionnaire where people answer questions about you but you have to unlock the answer to find out who thought it. Somebody wrote on there that they thought I was an ‘underachiever’ and I was saving my coins to unlock that but somebody thought I was cute so I unlocked that instead.
Wish I didn’t. It was Rachel, and she’ll know I’d unlocked it too. Facebook will let her know. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just…first, it’s weird that people think I’m cute. Second, it’s Rachel. She lives with me and I don’t like the idea that she considers me cute. Not that she’ll think of me more. I know that. She just answered the question. Third, she knows I know and will check to see if I’m weird about it.

Best to forget it.
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27/11/10 
I have a crush on my violin teacher. Something I do not wish to encourage or make stronger by even mentioning it. I shouldn’t have.
21/12/10
Everyone silently tried to make me to their image. It’s how perception works. Yet every image is different, and only the most powerful should triumph, if at all, or I try to be ten thousand perceptions, and each image is a thousand words.
I like Carrie Fisher’s stuff better.

 

 

 

 

 

White-centric

THE best description for Baz was foster uncle. It’s the title best fitted to a male mentor you crave, who was moody and sometimes volatile. He was never physically violent although like any man with a rude boy threatened to be so at times.

In the early days of foster care he had an Indian friend called Bert who owned a large property down the road from us. He was probably the first Hindu I met.

We went to Bert’s property once where I planned to earn some cash by filling in a dam with sawdust. I would get $10 for the work which took at least three hours. We had tea and banana cake in Bert’s caravan before we got started.

I hated banana. I refused the cake.

“Chris, it’s very rude of you to refuse,” Baz glared at me, but I didn’t comprehend the sensibilities of Indian hospitality. I was too fussy.

Like many of Baz’s few friendships I knew of, it soured. They got into an argument over some chooks, or over money Bert should have paid, or something like that. Baz threatened legal action.

I never knew Bert too much, but his presence and relationship with Baz affected the little things, from my social life at school to the events of my mortifying 12th birthday party. And the only thing more embarrassing than my 12th birthday party, was my 13th.

One time for some reason Bert’s family invited me to stay at their house. His wife cooked me hot dogs for dinner after asking Hazel what I liked.

I still don’t know why this invitation came out but it was random. It was a one time thing. I only remember the hot dogs, Bert’s wife cooking them, and Whats in the Box playing on the TV the next morning.

I left the house in the small town. It was round the corner from school. Two doors down one of my popular school friends came out. He saw me at the ‘token hindus’ house’ and smirked about it later. Even then in the early millennium the world around me seemed so white-centric, even if not quite nuclear or stable.

When I went home that next night Hazel asked what I had for dinner. “hot dogs.”

She gasped. “I told them that’s what you liked. But they are Hindus. They did a really nice thing for you there, Chris.” hindu meme 2.jpg

Shades and identity

 

LATELY I’ve been considering an assignment in art class years ago. We were told to copy a famous drawing and then repaint it with different colours. The aim was to reveal that colours can convey different meanings behind the work.

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The project fascinated me. I was halfway through slopping on the colours before anyone had finished drawing their works.

I chose the brightest colours for my Mona Lisa.

Her hair was red.

Her skin was purple.

The sky was green.

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My teacher gave me a passable mark, and then gave one of the other students a higher mark. He’d been expelled and hadn’t even finished the drawing. When I expressed outrage, she accused me of rushing through the picture as fast as I could.

She accused me of being lazy.

That’s sort of true.

 

But lately I seem to be better at expressing myself through images rather than through the written word. And I was better at writing than by speaking.

I spent a lot of time using my phone to do it.

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Perceptions of identity for one body interests me. It’s why I love clothes. It’s why I love selfies. I’m becoming more experimental with Instagram and a new app, called Prisma. I enjoy the editing and the cheap easy filtering and photo shopping, because maybe it’s the closest way I can escape my body. I can be somebody else by looking like something else.

It’s about making something into more than what it really is. Perhaps a caricature.

I suppose that’s what I’ve been doing when writing about my childhood so far. I’m editing it, colouring it, giving it tinted and exaggerated shades because it makes it more exciting.

original Heisenberg

I’m not lying. Not at all. I’m redrawing the past. I’m painting it with fresh colours of jokes and tongue-in-cheek observation, and adult experience, and sadness. I haven’t been giving you the original product.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

This still feels honest. It still means something.

It’s just a new and different way of seeing what it is.

This is what I am. Maybe a little more exposed, maybe at an unusual angle, but I just want to show you the difference.

first original Heisenberg

 

Obsessions long before Go

I NARROWLY made it into the 80s. I was born in November, 1989. So I become aware of my surroundings by the time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze ended.

But my favourite game was Power Rangers. This is how I played:

-Arrive at a public playground.

-Size up the other kids; boys and girls.

– Start fighting them with my Power Ranger moves.

-Kick her down the slide

Mum was embarrassed. So she banned me from Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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A STRANGE new game had begun at my catholic primary school, involving imaginary creatures.

“You’re challenging the gym,” one of my friends told me. “I’m the gym leader. And you,” he pointed. “Are fighting for a badge.”

“Okay.”

“You’ve got Magikarp.”

The creature sounded cool, it sounded like it had magical powers. “Fly and kick its butt!” I yelled, but apparently my Magikarp couldn’t do that.

“Use psychic powers!” I said.

But apparently my Magikarp couldn’t do that either.

All it knew was splash. My friend’s Starmie killed my Magikarp easily. I lost. I didn’t get a badge.

“This is bullshit!” I screamed, and ran away.

The year was 1999. The craze on the playground was beginning to change from marbles to Pokemon.I was slow to the discovery because I didn’t own video games, and my family didn’t have aerial on our TV.

Every Wednesday I would stay at the postman’s house. It’s not as weird as it sounds. He was a family friend and lived 40 minutes closer to my school. I watched cartoons on Cheez TV every Thursday morning including Pokemon and I learned the rules. My imaginary Magikarp was shit house. But it could evolve to Gyradoes, and that tough, scaly bastard could rule the gym near the drain, and even take on the next gym at the giant pine tree too.

The first time I was at another friend’s house he showed me his collection of Pokemon cards. “Here,” he said, giving me his spare ones. The best one I got was a Machoke. So began the obsession.

I chased the cards. Any I could get even if I didn’t have pocket money. My younger brother Keith and I scrounged for them. Once I stole my brother’s favourite card and hid it in my room and he used a tomahawk like in The Shining through the wooden door to get it back. Only instead of “here’s Johnny!” it was “give me back my fucking Pikachu!”

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I figured that since Keith wrecked my door I was allowed to wreck his. So we spent the next 20 minutes breaking them down as our Mum fled the house sobbing.

 

Keith and I worked out a game combining my marbles collection and our spare Pokemon cards, and we played for keeps. But one of us cheated, so we got angry and rolled around the floor trying to strangulate each other.

Our three year old brother Sam was watching and as I pushed them out the room I slammed the locked door.

Sam’s toe was caught in the hinge end of the door. He screamed. It was a high pitched bellow that echoed through the house. The door was locked and I couldn’t get in to unlock it. The spare key was on the other side of the house, on top of a cupboard I had to reach by a chair.

His toe. It was definitely broken. Mum bundled us in the car and she drove as fast as possible to the hospital. It took 40 minutes and Sam was sobbing the whole way. Sometimes he was too tired to cry.

He was carried into the emergency ward and the doors shut behind us in the waiting room but even then we heard the screaming. As the doctor checked his toe my little brother screamed at the doctor and nurses, “you blasted animal!”

Guilt. I’ve had it before and since. But not like that moment. Not like in the aftermath.

 

The Department of Communities  (DOCS) social workers began to monitor our family, but it had nothing or little to do with the smashed toe incident. No. This was about other reasons including expulsion, running away, breaking into another school to raid the kitchen and use the computer and read the Tintin collection in the library.

The DOCS manager figured the best way to get me to behave was through a rewards system. For every week I behaved I received a pack of Pokemon cards.

But when they failed to be delivered I grew impatient. Finally, I told them, “where’s my Pokemon cards?” and when I didn’t get them I swung my belt buckle at the glass door and it smashed. So I threw rocks through every other glass window.

It wasn’t long after that I was in a foster home. I earned pocket money, and I used it to fuel my collection.

 

But this isn’t about Pokemon. This isn’t about childhood. This is about obsession. Sure, there were other lesser interests through the years, such as Animorphs, and Harry Potter, and Halo, and then Jesus.

But…but, I suppose the next major obsession was before I turned 17. It was two years after baptism, and two months before graduating high school.

I was walking through the arcade one day with a friend when we saw a new store had opened up. They sold and played Dungeons and Dragons, Pokemon, Yugioh, but the game that grabbed me was Magic the Gathering. It was like Pokemon cards but more strategic. I understood the game quickly. I didn’t have much money – I was on Centrelink and didn’t have a job and my family lived on the other side of the country. I lived with my math teacher and his family. But I spent what I had on these cards, concentrated on value, and began to set up a deck of cards that focused on resurrection and light  and angels.

I was there four or five evenings a week, and all day Saturdays. But one day I lost one of my rare cards. I searched my deck three times in case it had stuck to the back of another card. I freaked out at school the next day and when I went home I prayed to find the card – because that’s what I did. I prayed for everything. And I prayed again and then searched the deck again.

I found the card the next morning.

And I felt relief. It filled my mind and chest. And then I knew what a hold the game had on me. It was dominating my thoughts, my time, my feelings.

“This is a sign,” I thought. “You will not go back to the store after school today. You’ve spent too much time there.”

Anyway, when I was at the store that afternoon I bought a new pack of cards. I opened it to find the best card ever. A ‘Wrath of God’ which basically wiped out every monster on  the field. Everyone in the store was jealous. I was offered more cards, more money for it, but I wouldn’t take it.

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Later that night I felt guilty. I felt that the Wrath of God was commercialising something sacred. It felt blasphemous. I felt if I was going to continue playing the game I had to get rid of the card.

So I ripped it up.

And funny enough, after that, I never felt obsessed with the game again. I enjoyed it, but even then that joy was blunt, faded somehow. The Saturday tournaments were a little stale. But one of my friends found out I ripped up the card, and he told someone, and he told the owner, and the owner of the store was angry at me. “I could have traded you four packs of cards for it,” he said.

Every Magic the Gathering player in town knew me as the Wrath of God Killer.

 

RUNESCAPE.

This multi-player online game in which you wander, complete quests, train your skills up, and talk to your friends around the world. There were almost 30 skills including combat, magic, archery, fishing, firemaking, woodcutting, mining, smithing, and so on. There were also the paid members skills. Members had so much more quests and skills and a bigger world to explore.

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I ended up joining. I played for several years, but by 19 I was a miner. I would spend days at a time picking a digital vein of coal just to level up. Eventually I was restless. I wanted to quit but at the same time I felt that the more time I spent on it, the more of a waste it would be to quit.

Eventually I moved to Melbourne to work with the homeless. The Salvation Army program I was in didn’t allow any time, or any internet reception, to play such a game. I quit cold turkey. When I left Melbourne after a year and had better internet and more time, I tried to play Runescape again. I had no interest. It bored me.

 

AS OF last week I own two phones. My work phone. And my Pokemon GO phone.

I’m a journalist in an outback city and I managed to write a few news articles on Pokemon Go. It was well read. Our city is going mad on Pokemon. So am I. It took two days after the game was released before I had a chance to play. My girlfriend and I went on a date to chase Pokemon and within a few hours she noticed a change in me. I was irritable and at one stage I ignored what she said because I was engrossed in catching an Ekans.

I couldn’t concentrate on work. I couldn’t concentrate on conversations that weren’t Pokemon. Every sentence I spoke was about Pokemon.

I don’t know why it’s sending me this way. I’m becoming what I was.

 

THIS morning I decided to quit Pokemon GO for four days. I turned my Pokemon phone off and hid it in the undies drawer, and then I went to work.

Three hours later I found an Aerodactyl on the street I was in. Within a minute I stumbled into this rare Pokemon – the one I was chasing specifically. And I tried catching it. As the Pokeball caught the Aerodactyl, the phone glitched. It froze.

Aerodactyl_AG_anime.png

I had to turn the phone on again but the Pokemon wasn’t in my collection, and it was no longer on the street.

Yes. I was upset. Then I realised. This game was a game. Yet it was influencing my moods. It was controlling me.

It shouldn’t have had this power.

“Let it go,” I thought, not even thinking of the Frozen song. But I still felt like shit, at least until half an hour later when I caught a Clefairy.

I turned the phone off, and I left it off the rest of the day, and I went back home and put the phone in my sock drawer.

And I really think it will remain in my drawer the rest of the week.

But even if I’m deprived of Pokemon Go, I somehow feel better. I can think clearer.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, why I’m sharing this, but I suppose there’s a message in here somewhere in my experience, so if there is I’ll let you find it.