Human Writes

While in London I’ve been reading the local Big Issue. Lots of ads.
I decided to respond to one, headed Human Writes.

The ad invites the reader to write to someone on Death Row in USA. To become penfriend to a condemned person.
I don’t know any murderers, not knowingly anyway.
I wouldn’t begin to know whether my future penfriend is guilty.
The little I know of criminal justice suggests the possibility that my penfriend would have been represented differently- ie better – in Australia. And the strong likelihood that he would be male and black.
I make the guess he is in fact guilty.
I don’t imagine I’ll ever know or want to know.

Should I enter upon this relationship?
I who have nothing to lose, much to gain?
I – a writer, who trawls his life for his materials – who might well become my penfriend’s exploiter?

I seek the reader’s reaction.

I will write to humanwritesuk@yahoo.co.uk

So can you.

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Not a Vegetable, not a Lolly, Something entirely Novel

Carrots and Jaffas

Carrots and Jaffas

I have just given birth to two brainchildren. Named ” Carrots and Jaffas”, the two are alive and well and between the covers of a book of that name available from Hybrid Publishers.

The conception of these identical twin red-headed boys was painful; the gestation was prolonged; the birth leaves their parent happy, proud, excited and sore. And, to tell the truth, a bit nervous.
Will the world love my newborns?
Will they survive?
They said, everyone has a novel in them: what if they meant everyone has a navel. I do.

They said the novel is dead. But kindle and axon and hundreds of bookshops around Australia seem unaware of the news. Readers will find carrots and jaffas – the novel, not a veggie, not a lolly – in bookstores from April or as an e-book from iTunes or Amazon.

See the sample attached: C&J 1-1

Please tell me what you think.

All the Little Birdies on Jay Bird Street

To tweet or not to tweet?

I am not new.

I am not on drugs,

I am not really, truly comfortable on Facebook (friendless, a face without a body, a name without a spirit);

I am not on Survivor.

I am scarcely sociable. I suspect I am constitutionally disabled from social media.

Given all that should I be ” on” twitter?

I am not new. I bought a mobile phone, I made a call and then wanted to hang up. I turned my phone off, powered off, as the purser says before takeoff.

I am not new. I bought a CD player, listened to the disc then asked my son to turn the record over.

I am not new. my face looks like a scrotum – pleasant enough, but wrinkled.

I am not new. Twitter is new. I tweeted last week (@howiegoldenberg, apparently), and made my cerebral, pedantic self incomprehensible. I am a creature of big words, old habits, clumsy fingers, ponderous expression and I do not know what a hash tag is.

I am not new. I have achieved absurdity well before twitter, and have retained that condition. Do indeed to tweet to make myself absurd? I am told I need to poll my readers and followers on the question. I am so unnew I won’t be able to track the responses.

Should I tweet? The prime minister of turkey has just vowed to close down twitter. An Australian MP just took himself off twitter because of hate mail. Someone, he said, tweeted in the name of Tony Abbott and displayed an image of a penisface.

Should I risk someone drawing me a scrotum face? Should I, with all this, tweet? 

RSVP HG

Tracks

Tracks

Tracks

Tiny cinema. Although the tickets are numbered, you can sit where you like, the audience is so sparse.
Opening images of a waif, a child in a yellow dress, walking. You see her from behind as she walks before you. The camera – and your eyes – follow her tracks.
The remainder of the slow movie is much the same: the waif, now of adult years, walks and the watcher follows her tracks. “Tracks” is the name of the movie and the name of Robyn Davidson’s book that preceded it by some decades.

The adult waif informs unbelieving Centralians, “I am going to walk to the ocean.” She speaks with an affect of subdued dourness. There is a tinge of defiance in anticipation of skepticism. The character is defensive, often enough sour. A person alone, she imagines she is independent of approval, of fellowship. Halfway from Alice to the WA coast she discovers, suddenly, violently, her human need. She practically rapes her astonished companion, the awkward photographer whose incursions into her aloneness she resents and finally accepts. Clumsy in his American optimism and belief and cheer, he saves her life by dropping jerry cans of water ahead on her route.

The movie has little dialogue. The silence speaks, the emptiness of the continent speaks. Motifs recur – sand as the tabula rasa of existence, fire as companion, water as vivifier. And the land, “country” in the language of her Aboriginal friends ( she makes a few friends, all of whom exist on the uttermost edges of Australian society. In the unexpected sweetness of the waif’s friends the movie approaches caricature. The traces of sentimentality are forgiven, offset as they are by the central character’s acerbity.)
The land, on the other hand, is eloquent and true. No matter how dramatic the image of hill, of shimmering emptiness, of spinifex, of purpling distant ridges, those images are true. The land – tracked in this way only by Davidson, the lost Leichhardt and Aborigines – is immutably itself.

This viewer, watching Davidson’s traverse, felt the flood of deep knowing, of coming home.
This land is the home of us whitefellas, a home known uniquely to relatively few, characters like Davidson, like Rod Moss, (artist and author of “The Hard Light of Day” and “One Thousand Cuts”). Their knowing is informed by the blackfellas who have shown them their home.

If you’ve missed this movie, don’t worry. Here for five minutes, gone tomorrow, I think it will never disappear. Like Davidson’s book the movie will be sought and valued so long as whitefellas are curious about the land, so long as we ponder our human aloneness.

DROUIN, SCOPUS, SCOTCH

The Drouin High School graduate phoned the former Mount Scopus college boy in early March. He said: “It will be fifty years next week, since we met at Monash and started Medicine. We should all get together.”

Monash University was three years old in March 1964 when the Drouin boy and the Scopus boy met and became friends, together with Mirboo North Boy, Malayan Girl and Scotch boy.
One week previously, Scopus said to his Mum: “I think I’ll drive out to Monash and look around.”
His mother said:”I’ll come and have a look too.”  She added, “Incidentally, you pronounce the name wrongly.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s pronounced Moan-ash, not Mon-nash.”
“No it’s not Mum.”
“Yes it is, darling.”
“Look Mum, three thousand students go there every day of the academic year, and one thousand academics, and they all pronounce it as I did. They all say ‘Mon-nash.'”
“Do they darling? I must be wrong then. It’s just I knew the family and they all pronounced it ‘Moan -ash'”.
Last Friday Scopus and Drouin and Scotch met at a cafe and compared illnesses, diagnoses, remedies, side effects and grandchildren. They knew already about each other’s wives and children.
At first Scopus did not recognise the stocky, aging man seated reading the paper. He looked more like Scotch’s late mother than the thin gangler of 1964. That boy soon became a distinguished specialist with a gift for translating medical jargon into words of crystal clarity. His patients crossed the state to see him. Scopus sent all his relatives to him. All swore by him. Now Scotch wintered in the south of France where his French was too refined for the young to follow.
Drouin was there, a shadow of his spheroidal middle aged self. A self-repaired diabetic who turned away his car and walked and rode everywhere, and worked for 90 minutes a day in a gym, Drouin retained the sardonic humour of 1964, the wife of 1973, the free-ranging facility for mastery in both Sciences and Humanities that had impressed Scopus in 1964. Drouin studied English Lit. in first year Med: Scopus, who loved and excelled at English, had never heard of Jean Anouilh. He envied Drouin’s facility. Scotch’s too. Those two graduated from Monash near the top of their class.
Scopus was there, resembling his father in looks and in religious habits. Proudly he showed his friends a flyer for his latest book, his maiden novel. They were happy for him. Scopus knew his friends always valued and respected him, despite – perhaps for – his peculiarities and eccenticities. They never condescended.
The three talked a little of the past, much of the present and not at all of the future: not in a prognostic sense. They knew that they knew something precious, friendship that endured. Doctors all they knew it would not endure forever.
It had been eight years since they last sat and talked.They arranged to meet again soon, together with Mirboo North and  Malaya and one or two others.
Soon. Soon.

When I was six

When I was six the teacher said: “We’re going to learn a poem today. It’s called Ding Dong Dell.”

I knew that poem. Surely everyone knew it. But I’d also heard a Revised Version, much better than the original. I think it was my elder brother who taught it to me.
I said: “I know that poem”

“Good boy, Howard. Please recite it for the class.”

So I did:  

“Ding Dong Dell

Pussy’s in the well.

‘How can you tell?’ 

‘Go and have a smell.’”

 

It was funny but Mrs Paulette did not smile: “Howard Jonathan Goldenberg. Leave the class. Go to the storeroom.”

 

I went to the storeroom, a narrow room lined with shelves stacked with classroom necessities. 

I stood there alone and listened to the silence. I felt a thumping, fast and hard, in my chest.

I knew perdition. I knew exile. I knew terror.

I stood in fear and misery. When would a captive be released from the storeroom? How would Mum know where to look for me when she came after school?

 

A sound at the storeroom door. I shook harder. The door opened and I stopped shaking. I knew the face, the freckles, the buck-toothed grin, the red, red hair. I knew my older brother Dennis.

“What are you doing here, Howard?”

I shook my head.

Dennis went to a shelf and selected a piece of red chalk, one of blue and a white one.

“What are you doing, Dennis?”

“Mr Frobisher sent me for chalk.”

Dennis opened some packets, discovered a treasury of pristine plasticine. Methodically he peeled off thick strips and pocketed them.

“Does Mister Frobisher want plasta too?”

“Nope. I do. You can have some. I’ll leave a bit for you.”

Dennis left.

I looked around and saw riches. I saw Aladdin’s cave. I saw opportunity.

I touched nothing. I stood and trembled at my own thoughts of wrongdoing.

 

A sound at the door. Mrs Paulette’s face and pony tail and round bosoms appeared in the narrow space. I saw what she must see, the open package of plasticine. I saw the signs of theft and I thought  – not of Dennis’ actions – but of my own wicked impulse.

 

Mrs Paulette said, “It’s recess, Howard. Go outside and play.”

Report from Womadelaide

Early visits to Womadelaide exposed audiences to plentiful Jewish song, to Ladino and Hebrew, to Jewish and Israeli musicians, cantors, singers and folklorists.

Since Israel’s Gaza operations I find the Womadelaide landscape depleted of that Jewish and Israeli richness. That portion of the landscape has narrowed, possibly as a pioneering and undeclared expression of BDS, possibly as a coincidence. Of late Jewish people have encountered a lot of coincidence.

***

The guitarist of Tinpan Orange walks quietly onto the stage, as one might who lacks a foreskin.

I know his state: I circumcised him. (Does Womadelaide realise?)

The prepuceless one sings discreetly, sweetly, alongside the keyboardist and the violinist, as Emily his sister, publicly pregnant and wearing fruit and flowers in her hair, takes centre stage.

I know and love them so I have nothing dispassionate to say about this group, but the Frenchman sitting next to me on the grass murmurs his pleasure in the small quietness that follows every song.

At the conclusion of the concert the Frenchman stands and stretches, and we exchange slow smiles as we do after sleeping on a plane; as we do

upon waking with a person whose name we will never know, one with whom we have shared an hour of pleasure. The Frenchman says: I am at this festival three days now, and I listen to many concerts. This one is the most beautiful. This is the best, with Hanggai.

Hanggai is a gaggle of old Mongols that fiddle and bellow and sing. A couple of men of picturesque antiquity occupy either extremity of front stage wearing rags that upon closer examination are national dress. The two bow their traditional fiddles with a solemnity that belies the leaping tempi of their tunes. Behind them are instrumentalists, half-seen, whose clamorous attack upon percussion never amounts to an assertion of personality or individuality. The bellows at centre stage is a weight lifter, semi-nude in his cut-away jerkin of dyed and carved cowhide. His latissumus dorsi and pectoralis muscles are exclamation marks, his biceps are upper case. He strides to and from the edge of the stage, a lion pacing out his territory, his voice a roar.

He enjoys a good deal of self-approval in his imagined kingdom. We in the audience are charmed and amused.

And then Hanggai sings. A drone flows and rises from somewhere, higher notes join with a pounding bass, rhythmic sounds gain power and tempo, building and building to a pitch that swamps physiology: my chest is an echo chamber that pounds and vibrates to a beating from without. What is that sound? That deep, deep vibration coming from under ground, or rumbling from clouds unseen? On it drones, constant yet syllabic, hinting at a human source.

I glance to the thin old men, seated, as all leap and throb and swing about them. Sedate, studious, swinging chicken wing arms in their bowing, fiddling and singing.

From one of the two that sound emerges, that throat singing which is the group’s aural autograph. The throat releases its unearthing power through a mouth that smiles withal. I rest my pleasuring eyes upon the fiddlers: their eyes, their sparkling eyes, are gay. 

Carminho is introduced as a fado singer. She personifies (as I am informed by the braziliophone seated behind me) a classic grammatical contradiction. That is, “fado” signifies a singer is in the masculine gender while this singer is feminine. Every line, every phrase of her Portuguese lament (never really a song) seems to end in the “u” sound (heard as in “tutu”, but spelled “o”, the suffix of the masculine). After applause that never rises beyond the perfunctory, the singer thanks us: “Obligattu/o”. A woman would properly say “Obligatta”, murmurs the braziliophone. The singer is a woman lamenting, even thanking, in a man’s grammar.

I sit on the grass, one of a teeming multitude, all steaming in the Adelaide heat. The woman starts with a moan that rises quickly to a scream, her willow frame erect even as her voice shakes and shrieks and dissolves into staccato sobs. Portuguese seems to be a relative of Spanish – here, greeting a loved one, Carminho sings buon dia, amor –(good day, beloved) – but the words lack the flowing sweetness of Spanish. Portuguese, at least in fado, must be chewed and swallowed or spat out. Fado, like the Argentine bandoneon, is an instrument without a single happy note. And that is what we have come here for. For the fado, the Portuguese cry of pain, of fate. But I find this singer lacking in depth. She lacks – or neglects – the lower vocal register. However all about on the grass are figures and faces that are rapt, absorbed. Only half engaged myself I muse upon the crowd. Here are olive-skinned faces old enough to remember sons, brothers, husbands, lost in the colonies, in the wars, in Angola and Mozambique. And here are African faces, African voices conversing in Portuguese: these might have been the colonized. Fado carries the griefs of their losses too.

Afterwards my family and I exchange impressions. I am the only one who feels disappointed. Remembering Maritza, haunted by Maritza who sang here four or five years ago, I experienced anti-climax today. For me, Maritza’s is the authentic sound: I like a look of agony because I know it’s true.

My family recalls Maritza too and concedes the difference. That’s why they enjoyed Carminho better. Carminho is not a complete stranger to the light, to human joy.

Finally, Pokey La Farge. Pokey is as good as his name. This man is the antithesis of the fado singer, his music the roughhouse stuff of mid-west America. Harmonicas wail and rattle, fiddles fiddle, other strings are plucked in a frenzy, while bow-tied in his chequered shirt and his braces, Pokey paces the stage exhaling his riotous self-satisfaction in rollicking song.

And we in the audience, we inhale it deeply. The only times a saw a crowd of people so deeply and broadly happy were 1968, 1990 and 2010. And on those occasions the heavens smiled too, for Collingwood had won the premiership.