Thursday, 5 March 2015

The tidying up task continues

As the sun comes up on another autumn day in Sydney I reflect that it has been almost two weeks since my last blogpost here. I cannot say for sure why I have waited so long to post here now that I am back in Sydney but it has something to do with inertia. I don't think it has anything to do with how busy I have been, although I have been doing things every day. But because I am the sort of person who can concentrate intensely on one task at a time I have blocked out the blogpost task from my consciousness and I have instead concentrated on the tidying-up task, but it's not precisely as a consequence of being busy, per se.

A lot has happened since I last posted here. The picture hanger came, for example, and put up on the walls 28 of my pictures, including the large ones that were blocking access to the library (the third bedroom). This room is still clogged with boxes. There are also boxes in my bedroom, which means that I can't put some things up on the walls that I want to yet. At the moment I am concentrating on emptying the boxes in the third bedroom so that it can become usable.

To do that I have started using the shredder, my old friend, again. I have shredded hundreds of sheets of paper dating from a decade ago. Most of the papers are financial records of some kind that have no further utility, including some of dad's and some of my own. There are several other boxes in the library that contain papers that will eventually be culled in the same way. I am putting the shredded paper into small plastic bags and throwing them down the garbage chute. I do about six bags every day so as not to clog the system with too much shredded paper at once. I am conscious that I am doing something unusual.

While shredding I am also putting out piles of unnecessary papers in the recycling area on this floor. This includes magazines, flyers, printed news stories, contracts and other things that have no distinguishing words on them. I also threw out in this way dozens of my mother's magazines and I plan to throw out a pile of my own magazines. Ultimately there is little room in this apartment for things that have no immediate utility so I have to make these decisions often while sorting through the papers and other things that are currently stored in boxes on the floor in the library and in my bedroom. Shelf space is very limited, as is cupboard space.

In other news I have been issued with a NSW drivers license and I have also been issued with NSW number plates for the car. I have had the plumber and the appliance repairman around to the apartment also, the latter to have a look to see if the cooktop (which is gas) needed maintenance. I haven't had a gas stove for decades and the new models are a bit complicated to use. Although there was nothing specifically wrong with the cooktop it helped to have him explain how it works.

I have also purchased shoes and I have purchased socks. My feet are well looked after, and I am about to discard the grungy shoes I used on the Coast. We have also had a blackout in Pyrmont. I feel like a native already.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Expanding to fill the metropolis

I missed the action of Cyclone Marcia, which has just travelled through the town where I used to live, and instead revel in the mild weather of Sydney in late summer, with its warm days and cool nights. Missing the bad weather on the Coast is a real blessing because it was just this kind of weather event that had caused me so much anxiety: the torrential rain, the horrendous winds, the flooded streets. I have quickly adjusted to life in Sydney, although to be sure it's not an entirely typical household still because just after I moved in my flatmate then moved in as well. The apartment is full of boxes and there are a lot of things still to put away. There is a shortage of cupboards.

In contrast to the chaos that's here in the apartment my mother is living in quiet seclusion in her nursing home, which is located about 30 minutes north of here by way of the Warringah Freeway, the Lane Cove Tunnel and the M2. I went up to see her today but left there early, before having the lunch I had ordered, because I feared I had a cold. Flu is a real threat for old people, so instead of staying for lunch I hit the road again after about 90 minutes. Mum and I spent the morning talking about things and I was relieved to see that the lower back pain that had made her life difficult has disappeared due to the careful ministrations of her GP. Last time I visited Sydney before the BMS (big move south) mum was groaning every time she moved, but that evidence has disappeared along with the cause. She also seems even to have put on a couple of kilos. And she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt today and did not seem to mind the cool of the nursing home's air conditioning system. All told the place seems to suit her.

In fact while I was there we talked a bit about her life in the old apartment on the Coast but she can't really remember much about it, although she has only been in Sydney for two months. It seems that she is getting used to the nursing home. "I don't mind living here," she told me today. I remonstrated with her at this prompt because it appears to me that my mother now lacks nothing for her happiness. She has her medication looked after, she gets three square meals a day, she can watch her TV in her easy chair, she can go out into the hallways and chat with other residents, and she has 24-hour staff making sure she is perfectly comfortable. In fact, it seems to me that mum is even being a bit selfish by saying this.

Her selfishness is something I have had to get used to though. When the nursing home first became a possibility back in March last year mum would say to me, "I don't think I need to go into a nursing home yet," and I used to think to myself (just quietly of course, at least at first), "Yes of course you don't need to go into a nursing home because you have two people who do everything to make sure your household functions normally." Now the theme has changed but the message is the same. To me it seems that when you get old you become very self obsessed - the classic trope of the old person who loves talking to their doctor comes to mind - and as your horizons shrink - especially true for those old people who are living with dementia, as my mother is - you find it more and more difficult to see beyond the edge of your own world.

Your world shrinks, in a very real way. But for me things are otherwise. Having lived in a small regional Queensland town for the best part of six years, and having now moved back to the nation's dominant metropolis, I find my awareness of things has expanded. (A change is as good as a holiday, they say.) With this expanded consciousness I can see things that I had previously missed. (We replace very cell in our bodies every seven years, they say.) Unlike mum, who is in my care still, even now that she is living in permanent care, I am expanding to fill a bigger space. I can feel myself expanding and it feels comfortable. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Settling into the new apartment

Yesterday my flatmate moved in and so there were a lot of decisions to be made about where to put stuff. I also started unpacking the pictures from their boxes and throwing the empty boxes into the loading bay for recycling. I completed numerous trips down in the lift to the second floor where the loading bay entrance is located. You might think there are better ways to get rid of empty boxes, such as returning them to the removalists or putting them up on a website so that someone else can use them, but with two people in the apartment, now, space is really at a premium. Every spare inch of vacant space that can be generated is a blessing. The boxes get thrown away as soon as they are empty.

I suppose that one question people might have is how am I feeling now that I am relocated in Sydney - home of my memories - and in fact I had lunch with a friend on Thursday and that's exactly what he asked. It's hard to answer that question. In one sense I feel privileged to be able to live in such a nice location, and so I feel a bit guilty and then worried that some accident is going to take it all away. That's the paranoia associated with schizophrenia kicking in. It really is a nice place. The apartment has views of the city skyline and I can see the new towers of Barangaroo rising in the distance. So if you were to ask me how I feel I would probably answer that I feel anxious.

But on top of that I feel frustrated because there is still a lot of sorting and arranging to do. The books, for example. When the removalists first brought everything of mine into the apartment they put a lot of boxes of books in the second bedroom - where my flatmate now lives - because the designated "library" was getting so full and nothing more could fit in there by a certain point in time. Then to get my flatmate installed we had to move those boxes of books out of the second bedroom and into my bedroom, so I now have towers of book boxes all over the place in there. The book situation is compounded by the fact that I had to leave two bookshelves on the Coast as they wouldn't fit in the lift of my old building to get them out. So I'm short two bookshelves and I have a bedroom full of books.

On Monday the picture hanger comes so that we can get the pictures off the floor and onto the walls. It will make a lot of difference once that is done. Then I can move a bit more freely.

As for what I will do now that I am installed in Sydney, it's hard to say. I have been thinking about taking up freelance journalism seriously again so that I can engage more with the world and earn some income. But then I think about how many trips I will be making to the nursing home to see mum. I haven't worked out how often that trip will be made, but because I continue to feel guilty about her being in there I feel obliged to do as much visiting as I can. That's not the only reason to go there, of course. I do like just sitting down with mum in her room and having a chat about my problems. There's something comforting about this way of going about things.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Finally relocated to Sydney

It has been a while since my last blogpost here, almost 10 days in fact, due to the relocation (the big move south). The last blogpost I made was on a Sunday. The Monday after that the loading crew came to my Queensland apartment and loaded everything into a shipping container. That night I slept in a rented apartment and Tuesday morning I got up early and drove south toward the border. There was heavy rain inland of the Gold Coast and heavy morning commuter traffic around Brisbane's outskirts. It was 10 hours to Macksville, where I stopped for the night.

I had a good Chinese feed at a restaurant in Macksville along with a bottle of wine from the boot of the car; that particular case of white didn't fit into the shipping container so I had to take it in the car. The next morning I started before 6am and arrived in Sydney around 12.30pm. I went straight to the real estate agent's office to collect the apartment keys, then I went to my hotel in the city and got rid of the car with the valet service. The next morning the delivery crew arrived at the apartment building with my shipping container.

That was Thursday. It's all still a blur. One thing then another, and another. I got the delivery crew to set up the washing machine and the bed and then said goodbye to them at the end of the day. I bought them all lunch. That evening I had dinner with a friend in a restaurant near the new apartment. The next day I started unpacking and that's what I've been doing every day since. That includes Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On Friday a technician came and connected my TV and DVD player. Today a technician from Optus came and connected my landline, which also has the broadband modem attached to it. I unpacked another three boxes today as well.

I have scoped out some of the local eateries. There's the coffee shop near the light rail where I usually go for breakfast. So far I've gone for the sausage and egg roll to have with my flat white. But they don't open on Sunday, so I have to go further down toward Union Street on that day to get a Vietnamese pork roll for breakfast. There's a small sandwich shop a bit further down the street toward the harbour that isn't open on weekends too, and I often have lunch there. I usually go to the pub for dinner, they do a nice steak and chips.

Tomorrow I will walk into the city to buy some shoes. The ones I wore for the trip down I threw in the garbage yesterday as they had reached the end of their effective life. I have two other pairs but one of those pairs has a hole in the right shoe and is developing a hole in the left shoe. The other pair I haven't worn for a long time and they are rubbing at the heel when I walk. Tomorrow I'll also to go the post office to return some letters addressed to the apartment's previous occupants.

I  plan to have coffee with a friend in town and then lunch with another friend on Broadway.

Today I contacted a picture hanger to get that ball rolling. I hope to have everything up on the walls by the end of next week. There are boxes of pictures all over the apartment; you can see them in the background of the photo that accompanies this post. The pile of white sheets in the foreground of the photo is wrapping paper that I have flattened and folded ready to dispose of in the recycling room. They take the recycling garbage away daily.

On Thursday I plan to go up and visit mum. She has been doing ok as far as I can tell. She only asked me for a block of dark chocolate.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Isn't this #libspill just a slow motion train wreck?

As Monday approaches it seems the pressure got too much for Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister who has been fighting off pressure from the wider community to step down from his post. A party meeting scheduled for Tuesday, at which a spill motion put forward by two Western Australian backbenchers was to be put to a vote, has been brought forward to Monday. Next week is a parliamentary sitting week, and it was suggested on Twitter that Abbott was afraid of facing the full house under current circumstances.

For whatever reason the decision was made to bring forward the party meeting, it's clear that people are getting a bit tired of waiting. This morning there was a story on Fairfax mastheads about pressure being brought to bear on the supposed contender for the position of PM, Malcolm Turnbull. There are many people in the community who would prefer to see a resolution sooner rather than later, and so the PM is not alone.

The speed with which circumstances change is a defining characteristic of this year's #libspill.

Yesterday morning it was revealed in a Fairfax news story that Liberal Party supporters had set up a hashtag on Twitter to use to generate support for the PM. The #ImStickingWithTony hashtag was however hijacked around midday by people in the community opposed to the PM, and they made merry with it for the rest of the day, although activity there has slowed right down by this morning. Everything changes at a rapid pace as facts and ideas are received online by the broader community and are quickly digested. Online influencers deploy their personalities in this process, and the combination of emotion and information serves to speed up the process of assimilation. Events get crunched in rapid time.

People get involved online in a way that is impossible in the real world. A story appeared yesterday from Medium, the Silicon Valley-based magazine, that showed how use of social media can stimulate the brain with the result that people receive pleasure from using it. Memory retention is also better with social media use than without it. The story's authors relied on a new Australian-developed technology to find the scientific evidence they use to describe how social media improves the quality of interaction with information.

Given this, it's not surprising that Australian voters are spending so much time on Twitter discussing the #libspill and associated events. Nothing seems to be too insignificant for them. All this online activity is also serving to speed up the political process, so that what might have been left for days or a week now has to be completed immediately in the real world by politicians keen to limit damage and to maximise opportunities. There is no time to dally any more. People have no patience. They want to know it, and they want to know it now.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Has social media sped up the political process?

A couple of weeks ago Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, complained in the media about "electronic graffitti" when talking about the social media response to his awarding Prince Philip a knighthood in the Order of Australia. So on top of annoying practically the entire population of Australia with the knighthood, Abbott then annoyed social media users doubly by blaming them for being what they normally are - opinionated and slightly cantankerous blabbermouths.

Let's face it, it's true. Online we talk more than we should and we're not always the best source of information. My brother saw those fateful words of Abbott's, moreover, and came back with this little gem he'd written in 1998 titled Harlan Ellison versus the Crazy Yenta Gossip Line in which he discusses the way the media, itself, is not to be trusted, and how having a broad array of participating voices can at least go some way to correct the more egregious errors the media might perpetuate on any given subject and on any given day.

Now we're talking about this plethora of competing voices, it's worth looking back to a story that came out on LinkedIn (I know, that's a surprise right there) by a smart guy who specialises in talking about social media. Titled With Social Media We Are All Swinging Voters Now, the story discusses how the public sphere has changed, and points to the recent LNP (almost)-defeat in Queensland. We might better classify that event as the huge landslide to the ALP in the state. In his story, Gavin Heaton talks about influence, which is something my brother also talked about in his story.

What has changed, and what might be making the Australian political landscape so volatile now is the fact that there has been a huge increase in the quotient of voices participating in the business of influence in the country, thanks to social media. The way things are now, you only have to wait a few minutes before at least one consensus opinion emerges online about any given subject, whereas in the past it might have taken days or weeks before this could happen. It's not just the news cycle - before the journalists try to claim credit for the new paradigm - but the cycle of information generally, and as we saw yesterday with the #libspill hashtag in Australia, it only takes an hour for an issue to be thoroughly debated and tweaked in many different ways.

As Heaton says in his article, also, it's not just politicians and journalists now who are influencers, but everyday people with a Twitter account. And who are these people? Well, you'd need a university research laboratory and some heavy funding to work out where the actual influence is generated, but it's certainly possible to do, as Heaton shows briefly - albeit partially - in his story.

What's beyond doubt is that the crazy yenta gossip line is now indisputably the locus of broader community influence and, like it or not, everyone involved in the political process - from the prime minister down to the guy who serves cappuccinos in the local cafe - has to cope with a novel situation. As more and more people join social media the issue is only going to deepen, in other words the pace of political change will get faster and faster. If you don't like it, you can always set up your own hashtag and try to attract supporters. No doubt there will be a few switched-on Luddites out there ready to retweet you.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Conditions for the creative process

The BMS (big move south) continues, with 46 boxes of books packed. That's for all of them bar a few that are still lying around. I'll be taking two books of poetry to Sydney in my luggage. But the process is coming to a close, with only the removalists coming tomorrow to finish packing the rest of my household effects. That means I'll be whiling away the weekend on my laptop probably, because if there's one thing I cannot do without it's the life online.

I also crave the musicality of poetry. It's funny considering I don't own a stereo and only usually listen to music on the radio in the car. But the music of poetry moves me. The other day - just a day or so ago - I was sitting here reading through old poems and alternately reading and weeping. Silently the tears fell down my face as the music of the poems mingled with the old emotions that had been encompassed by them.

And despite the disruptive influence of the BMS I wrote a poem this morning. It's called 'The weather' and as usual it's a sonnet. I am getting into stride with sonnets now I think, after working with the form for about seven years. One aspect of the sonnet that's becoming easier to negotiate is the volta - the switch of theme or style at line nine, at the start of the third quatrain - and so I can quickly switch tone or subject now at this point, where before I hardly even thought about it. At least in the beginning, that is.

One thing that really helped me was being able to talk with a woman who not only writes but also teaches writing. During our discussions we touched on many of the characteristics of the sonnet. She also suggested other forms for consideration but for some reason I still stick with the sonnet as I now find it a sympathetic form for me. It suits me.

Writing in the middle of a major disruption like the BMS - or any other kind of major change of life - is a challenge for anyone. So I was slightly surprised this morning when I opened the file on my computer and started the first line of the new poem. But once the process was finished I was happy that it had been begun. The theme of moving house forms part of the subject matter for the sonnet, so the whole complex of feelings and emotions surrounding the BMS is included in the poem. I'm not sure when I'll publish it, or where, but I have been putting other poems on Patreon in recent weeks. Go and have a look if you're interested.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

42 boxes of books

That's how many boxes of books I have packed so far, including yesterday and today. Yesterday I wrote about some of the sensations this exercise has caused me, but today there's more. It's a kind of excitement-with-anxiety. It's that feeling of separation at the top of the stomach except now it has spread to the extremities of my being. I am light. I feel light. I feel as though I could float away.

I wouldn't say it's entirely a pleasant or an entirely unpleasant sensation, although it is different. Normally I feel quite heavy in the world, quite substantial. Even if I'm feeling happy. But now I feel as though I'm about to spin out of control and go spinning all the way across the room. I don't feel fixed in place. I feel movable. I feel temporary and unstable.

As I said, it's not an entirely unpleasant feeling. It feels as though something is about to happen. And of course that's perfectly true because I am going to move to Sydney early next week. By the end of the week I should be ensconced in the Pyrmont apartment with internet connection and everything. It's just that between now and then a hundred things could go wrong. I tend to be pessimistic.

Most of my bookshelves are now empty. I look forward to a slow afternoon online. This blogpost represents the start of the slow afternoon. I am ready to receive. Over.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Packing books in boxes

I am in the middle of packing my books into boxes. I have thousands of books and they all have to be packed up before the removalists take everything away on 9 February.

It is a kind of meditation, packing books. There are books I have not looked at for years, and there are books I have not touched for even longer. Books I never thought I owned, and books I vaguely remember buying. Memories of where the books were bought, whether second-hand in a charity sale or in a bookshop new.

Each book has a personality and a character. I renew my acquaintance with each book as I put it into the cardboard packing box. I come to know my library again. I am reacquainted with my library. I get to know it again, as if it’s new and just acquired, although in reality I have been collecting books for over 30 years. There are books from when I was first at university in the 1980s. There are books bought after I returned from Japan in 2001.

I am becoming familiar once again with my books, and it’s a strange experience. In a way I want to have less books, because so many books are a burden. Each time I move house I have to go through the same process of packing and moving. I have to take the books down off the shelves, put them into boxes, and then put them back on the shelves again at the other end. It’s a problem.

On the other hand I revel in having so many books in my library, as though each book were a separate part of my personality to be handled and discussed at some future point in time, at some indeterminate locus of interaction with the world. In this way I become, in a way, able to be shared with the world because I own so many books. There are some books I forgot I had, and other books I am waiting to find.

I am awash with books, I am steeped in them. I am soaked in their knowledge and their styles of writing. I am in a way submerged by their richness and their excess.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Preparing to leave the Coast

Today it's one week to go before I head south finally for Sydney in the BMS (big move south) that has been developing since the beginning of December, or even earlier. I had delivered 70 packing boxes today for my books, which I am tasked with packing myself. I'll start that job tomorrow morning.

I have been quite busy enough today including getting the delivery at the destination set up. The building in Pyrmont I am moving into has a "moving in" procedure they require all removalists to follow, so I got in touch with their onsite manager - called the "resident services manager" - and made sure all the boxes were ticked to make the delivery of my household effects smooth and seamless. This is part of my "thinking forward" technique of making sure there are no stuff-ups to mar the move. (It's also an indication of my inherent pessimism.) With so many moving parts (it's like a big machine) I have to take time to get things right. I also booked the motel for the trip down - I'll be overnighting on the road in the town of Macksville on the Nambucca River - and the hotel in Sydney for when I reach the city in my car.

I then dropped off some keys for my mother's apartment at the real estate agent's and had a haircut. This was my final haircut on the Coast. I shook the hand of the barber when I had finished and had paid. We said our goodbyes. (You develop relationships with barbers. They're some of the people you actually talk to in your daily life. You don't really talk to the woman in the grocery store or the guy in the fruit and veg store.) I came home and ate lunch I'd bought at the local cafe - the one I use for lunches, which is different from the one I use for breakfasts.

I filled out a form to redirect mail. Then I took it down to the post office and registered it, and paid. A small white dog licked my leg and put its paws up on my thigh.

An email arrived earlier today from the picture framers telling me that some items were ready to pick up. I went over there and got them. On the way home I stopped at the petrol station and bought fuel for the car. Everything is so close up here on the Coast, but I will need lots of fuel for the drive to Macksville on Monday.

As I said to the barber, living in this town has been my first and only experience living in a small country town. I have learned a lot. It's also my first time in Australia living outside Sydney. It is the end of an era for me. Today I said some goodbyes. I will say more goodbyes over the next few days. Tomorrow I get started packing books. I will label the boxes. Everything will be in order. Here's to order.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Palaszczuk win shows us that governments cannot rely on the old rhythms of government

Tony Abbott thought he was John Howard and counted on at least two terms. Like Howard, Abbott has worked away on deconstructing the old socioeconomic settlement underpinning the demos in Australia, and like Howard he has been punished by the electorate (in the unofficial polls). It looks certain that Abbott will lose the leadership of the Liberal Party within the next couple of weeks. Campbell Newman, Queensland's erstwhile premier - who has just lost his own seat of Ashgrove in the leafy suburbs of Brisbane - tried to stave off the effects of the corruption within the federal Liberals by bringing the state poll that was due forward by two months. But it didn't work. Newman, who might have thought back in 2012 when he took the reins of government in Brisbane that he had three terms' clear air, is out and his party is about to concede defeat to Labor.

Another factor guiding events in Queensland is the fact that there is no senate in its Parliament. Voters in the state must take on the additional responsibility of keeping the bastards honest. They have showed us twice in a row now - the 2012 election result was also a landslide, to the LNP - that they are quite capable of turfing the pricks out on their arses if they don't behave.

Asset sales turned out to be a big issue for voters. While LNP pundits in the period of reckoning after the polls closed complained again and again that their Queensland ministerial team was unable to "bring people along with them" to do the "necessary" reforms facing the state - thus virtually laying the blame for the election defeat on voters themselves - the fact is that most voters are aware that the global economy is stuffed right now and government just has to get used to raising debt to pay for things until the cash flow kicks in again at some indeterminate point in the future. Government has a few jobs, and one of them is supporting the economy in times of crisis. We are still in a period of crisis following the 2008 GFC. Most voters also know that it was conservatives who got us into the GFC mess in the first place anyway with "necessary reforms" - those weasel words again.

With the Greek result also front of mind, it appears that the world is "turning against austerity", as Jason Wilson argues in the Guardian. Whatever the reason, as Wilson writes, "All over Australia, the electoral see-saw is accelerating, with short or nonexistent honeymoons, and more governments in trouble within a single term." First it was Victoria, then it was the federal government, now it is Queensland. New South Wales has an election due in March. Will NSW Labor recover from its own malaise of collusion and corruption and return to power there, too?

But there's another element in play as well. As @boeufblogginon said last night on Twitter, "No-one's factored in the changing nature of media coverage of campaigns. Social media's role has to be recognised in countering MSM." Instant access to the public sphere via social media is something that has really only matured as a force in the past few years, as more and more people sign up to the publishing platforms available online. Their willingness to engage in socmed is matched only by their awareness of their rights and prerogatives. Australian socmed users are an entitled bunch. It might just be that their relationship with the politicians who are elected to represent them in Parliament has changed in a material way because of the success of Facebook and Twitter.

Certainly, the mainstream media in Queensland appears to have lost yesterday's battle in grand style.

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.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A solitary Christmas

It's 27 degrees Celsius and I have just eaten a breakfast of overripe bananas and white coffee. The streets are virtually deserted, as though everyone on the earth had just stopped breathing at the same instant, and died. A lone garbage truck runs down the street to the communal bin, to empty it. In an hour or so I will do my only chore for the day: I will go down to the food store and pick up a roast chicken I ordered for Christmas, so I might have some comestibles today that resemble a real Christmas lunch. Apart from that, I will be continuing to sort through my father's old records, shredding the useless and bizarre and keeping the useful and interesting.

I never planned to have a Christmas day as bleak as this.

Out the window the nacreous sky is half overcast and half clear, like some paisley patchwork of God's design that isn't quite finished. It reminds me that I am just halfway through a major transition that started really back in March when the idea of moving my mother into permanent residential care first arose. It would have been around the time she and I went to see her regular geriatrician. He listened to my concerns and suggested a nursing home to mum. I can still see her sitting in his hospital chair, curved and tiny like a doll. In my mind he has odd socks on like he always did. One of the loud shirts he always wore. He is bending down to speak directly into my mother's face from where he perches in the consulting room on the day bed.

I often spoke to my mother about a nursing home after that but she always said "I don't think I need to go into a nursing home yet." We would discuss the realities. We talked about how G and I were doing all the work while she was just getting more and more forgetful every month. If we came around to an understanding one day, that understanding would be completely forgotten the next day, and she would just switch back to her default setting: "I don't think I need to go into a nursing home yet." This state of affairs continued until June.

In June, we got the accountants involved because of the changed rules the government was introducing after 1 July for how payment of aged care was calculated. In future it would be based on a calculation of not only income but also assets. I worked with the accountant to see how the family would go, if we would be better off or worse off under the new regime. During those discussions with mum, me and the accountant - a firm the family had used for over 30 years - the penny finally dropped and mum started to acknowledge the wisdom of moving into care.

I don't remember exactly why I started to look into nursing homes again in November but it might have had something to do with the government assessment of mum for care levels expiring in April. In any case, I had decided that April would be a good time to move, for financial reasons. Aged care is not cheap and we had to find cash for the bond. Out of four nursing homes I called on the phone only one had places free. It was in Sydney. I had decided I wanted to move back to Sydney, and mum's moving into a nursing home was the ideal time to do that. The facts form into patterns and split apart and float free. Reasons emerge complete, and then dissipate into indecision. I cannot remember precisely what happened in what order. All I know is that we finally came to move mum down to Sydney on 10 December, two weeks ago. And that is why I am celebrating Christmas alone.

It's a bit odd celebrating Christmas when the thermometer is sitting at 27 degrees Celsius. I think it's got something to do with the pioneer ethos (I look out the window and see noone on the streets, the streets are virtually deserted today). You make do with what you're given, you improvise, and you thrive. Under the Southern Cross we have adapted the rituals of Christmas to suit the climate. The old forms take on new meaning when they're given new colours to dress themselves in.