Gun and Pelvic Floor Control

My ancient friend (and immensley experienced) colleague in Arizona, Dr Paul Jarrett, is a humane and wise man. Despite our closeness, we do not agree on all matters, in particular, on gun control.
Put briefly, I favour gun control, Paul opposes it.

He forwards me this news item:

“Cops: Teen Had Loaded Revolver In Her Vagina”

It is not that I search for prurient headlines, they find me. Hey, I didn’t make this up.

One can not help but be intrigued by bizarre reports that come our way via the News.

Here for example is an unusual holster for a six-shooter. One wonders how “Quick on the draw” the wearer of such a weapon can become? One would expect that in a teen-ager it would be a tight fit, but one never knows about teen-agers any more.

I would never be able to complete a pelvic exam on this “heat packer”, I’d have my hands up.

PBJ

In this particular case, Paul and I are in agreement: this armed individual is a hazard to herself and to her intimates. Most concerning to us is the danger she poses to doctors.

Carna Pies!

images-10The boy had always said the words; at home he’d yell them to the heavens, and in later years he’d yell them across the crowd towards the players: Carna Pies!

He’d yell into the sound that swelled around him, yelling in an ecstasy of feeling. It was a reflex – more than a reflex – it was a spasm. In full throat, in full cry, he was somehow one with the ‘Pies. He was passion, he was hope. Carna Pies, he’d scream, and the scream was prayer, purer than the ritual prayers which he recited faithfully, facing Jerusalem, every morning and every evening.

He never really understood how many things he meant by Carna Pies. He only began to understand when he wrote a letter in Hebrew to a friend. Both of the friends were Collingwood supporters, had yelled Carna Pies together as boys, yelled it as men, then the friend went away and settled in Israel. Now he was writing and feeling those memories. He wanted to translate the old words, but how do you translate Carna? And in which other language could ‘Pies be birds?

He rendered Carna Pies! as ‘Let the ravens of the brook ascend!’ It was not the same, but in the poetry of the words he recognised something. The same tone was there in the Magpie motto – Floreat Pica – Latin words, a scholar’s formula. The mock formality of the words satirized the frenzy of the raw vernacular, and honoured it somehow.

As he got older he glimpsed more of his meanings in Carna Pies!

He wasn’t born into the cult of the Magpie. Every year he would travel from his home town in the Riverina to Melbourne for the solemnities of the High Holydays. This was the season of the birthday of the world, and of the annual Day of Judgement.

On these visits to the city of his birth his father always took the “Age”. He liked it for its seriousness. He’d put aside the sports pages and the boy would read them, wrestling with the broad sheets that dwarfed his small frame. Avidly, he’d read about the footy finals. Every year Melbourne were expected to win and Collingwood to be contenders, and ultimately, gallant losers.

And every year, after the Day of Judgement, what had been written had come to pass: Melbourne were premiers and Collingwood were not quite good enough. Carlton were nowhere in sight.

The boy and his brothers chose their own allegiances. His older brother chose Carlton because their father had been born there; his younger brother chose Melbourne because it was on top; and he chose Collingwood because they were David, and one day, David might overcome Goliath.

The boy became familiar with disappointment. He came, in time, almost to enjoy the nobility of losing gallantly.

When the boy was nine, his family left the country town and moved to Melbourne, but it was years before the boy actually went to the footy.

He’d listen to the radio broadcast religiously – a tricky task for an observer of the Sabbath. He’d listen to grand final defeats at the hands of Melbourne and others, and he’d live in daydreams in which Gabelich would gallop endlessly into open goalmouths, and Weideman would avenge all wrongs and the siren wouild never blow until Collingwood were ahead.

In 1990 he actually saw the magpie come into full flower. Not since 1958 had the ravens of the brook thus ascended. He saw Daicos kick a goal from an angle that defied Euclid. He saw Gavin Brown rise from the stupor of his concussion to mark and goal, and goal again. He saw Darren Millane rampant on the wing, Darren Millane of happy memory soaring towards the sun, before crashing to his death only weeks later.

He stood among those thousands, among those tens of thousands, stood and roared Carna Pies! At his side was his son.

Father and son had walked the many kilometres to the ground. They would not drive because Saturday is the Sabbath. Faithful together in their observance of the letter of the Mosaic Law, joyous together in their neglect of its spirit, they shared this day. In the world there were only those who supported Collingwood and those who wished they were Collingwood supporters.

The son always regarded the father as a fine weather supporter, one who’d leave a match early when the cause was hopeless and the end was nigh. The boy was one eyed and wondered why his father would bother using an extra eye to see two sides to the struggle.

The boy did not know the father’s secret.

For the father loved footy even more than he loved Collingwood. He had loved Carlton’s Bruce Doull, he’d loved Malcolm Blight, Paul Roos, Timmy Watson – he loved all the laughing cavaliers who hadn’t realised that winning was everything.

He loved Dougie Hawkins who left his name on the wing of a club’s lost home.

And when the premier declared a state funeral for Teddy Whitten, footy’s smiling assassin, he wept and he approved.

(Ah, he mused, they don’t make nostalgia like they used to.)

And now Collingwood found itself an accidental contender in another Grand Final. Amazingly, among all the people who were Collingwood supporters and among all those who wished they were Collingwood supporters, the father found himself the possessor of two tickets for the Grand Final. And so they went, father and son, to see whether the magpie might yet flower again.

They would never win: David never beats Goliath. It doesn’t happen. The Maccabees had no chance against the might of Antiochus, Ho Chi Min was never going to beat Uncle Sam, Collingwood had no show against Barrassi’s team in 1958…

But it would not pay to get hopeful.

So they went and they watched and they saw the miracle almost happen. They saw how, but for the will of Michael Voss, the ravens of the brook might have ascended.

They walked home – it was Sabbath again – through the warm rain of early spring. The son, now a man, and the father, still a boy, walked together those many kilometres, and their feet were not heavy beneath them.

They had seen a marvellous match, a mighty struggle. They had each seen what they wanted to see – the father happy because winning was not everything, the son consoled because the ‘Pies could only improve – the son, with quickening steps returning to his wife and to their unborn child who might one day walk with him, and see, and shout Carna Pies!

On the Passing of a Great Writer

At the time of writing this, I have read scores of tributes to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, all of them as tweets. In other words, I have read nothing so far in mature media, (an expression that identifies me as a culturally bewildered old fart).

Great writers will have their say in traditional media.
Thus far the twitterers. Now me.

I was intrigued as I read these tweets. They poured, a growing stream of tributes, pausing at intervals, I suppose, to gather electronic breath, then flowing again. The process seemed as alive, as dynamic, as the flowing of a swift rivulet that paused on reaching rocks, only to cascade over and around them and plunge downstream in a Gabriel Garcia Marquezswelling spate. I felt excited by the energy I witnessed. I felt I heard the whisperings of legion one-hundred-and-thirty-character authors, everyone of them sounding forty years younger, forty years more at home here than I. Their twittering grew and grew to a chorus.
The energy was mildly thrilling as it gathered strength. It could frighten me if (forget “if”; think ‘\’when!”) it becomes a mob. I remember, too well I remember the cries at Cronulla; the cries of the mob as Dreyfus is cashiered (“Death to the Jew!”).
But I digress. Or do I digress? Only if the medium is not the message.

And what did I hear, what sense as the tweeting reached crescendo?
I heard love. I heard grateful appreciation. Marquez became a beloved writer. And his writing was the antithesis of the tweet. Substantial, considered, it paced itself with the uneven gait of the human.

I was impressed by the way tweeters reached for language worthy. None found his writing “awesome”; no-one said Marquez was “amazing”. No-one buried him in dead language.
Instead they offered back beloved lines. I record the four most quoted in ascending order of popularity:

Fourth: The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.

Third: Nothing in this world was more difficult than love.

Second: Nobody deserves your tears, but whoever deserves them will never make you cry.

First: What matters in life is not what happens to you but what your remember and how you remember it.

Of these the first three are switches planted onto the pages of Marquez’ writing that light up a remembered feeling, an emotion recognised by the grateful reader.
The lines on memory appear more elusive than allusive. Subtle, demanding a pause, requiring meditation, the memory quote speaks to all who are mortal of what might remain, of the immortal.

What is my own response to Garcia Marquez’ writing? People call it magic realism. I recognise something older. I hear the thrust of story in the bud, bursting into flower. I hear the pulsing of the “Thousand Nights and One Night”. I hear storytelling.

 

The Boringest Cliché

1510472_366538920155302_968766595_nWe have all seen too many movies, read too many stories and attended too many plays where some person (always male), his hair thinning, his relationship failing, struggles endlessly to start his novel. Or to get over his writer’s block. Or to complete the bloody thing. Or to get it published.

 

Great writers have whinged greatly on this theme. Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections) and Nam Le (The Boat) have fretted memorably. The world has now read, seen and heard enough on the theme.

 

Yet, four and a half years of my (how much?) remaining time have disappeared in the creation of my own novel, “Carrots and Jaffas”. I watched and saw the sands of my time trickle profitlessly as through an hourglass. I wrote a masterpiece each morning and re-read lines, dead and drear, each evening. I took six months off work ‘to finish the novel’. Those months passed and a further draft joined the previous six in my waste paper basket.

 

For the past four and a half years I have lived that cliché. My wife and family have experienced that neglect.

 

Now Carrots and Jaffas poke their red heads (slab-shaped due to their premature arrival, ironically polar to the postmaturity of their story) out from the beautiful, bright covers that bear their names and Hybrid Publishers commissioned for them. The twins’ struggles to survive, their unnatural/supernatural/utterly natural intimacy, their delayed individuation, their painful discovery of separated self – all these have lived within me; and now Carrots and Jaffas face the world naked and without.

 

They tremble before you.

Where Else But Alice?

Where else but Alice Springs can you run through Honeymoon Gap (part of the Macdonell Ranges, not part of the body) and see the world ablaze as the sun rises, greeting a file of self-selected marathoners with silent fanfare?
Where else than Alice can such a mediocre runner place fifteenth in a marathon? (There were only seventeen starters that year).
Where else than Alice do the volunteers – endlessly cheering us, feeding us, hydrating us – outnumber the runners?
Where else in the running world can you run through air as pure as crystal and finish your marathon in the mild golden glow of mid-morning?

Alice has the best kept secret in the world of marathon running. I’ve done Boston (four times), New York (thrice), Traralgon (ten times), Melbourne (15 times) – and Alice just as often. I come back for every third Sunday in August. My wife is suspicious: she should be: Alice Marathon is my secret love.

So Foul and Fair a Day

Howard at the Boston Marathon 2013

Howard at the Boston Marathon 2013

When I solicited funds as a charity runner in the 2013 Boston Marathon I promised to write a report on the race and my donors’ ‘investment.’ The moment the race started I started to compose my report. The mood was light, the crowd a united force of love, the events and sights all affirming a shared humanity. This would be a report of smiles. The serious counterpoint would be the 26.2 long miles.

At 2.07pm the mood changed. After that the playful response would feel profane. But I did promise a race report.

I slept on the matter. The evil was great and real, certainly. Real too was the goodness. Both demand to be written.

***

Does any runner sleep well the night before a marathon? I don’t. To prevent dehydration on race day I drink plenty through the previous day and every cupful demands its exit through the night. I am excited, nervous, a kid before his birthday party. Boston, after all, is to marathoners as Wimbledon is to tennis players. An enormous privilege, unearned by any effort of my legs, paid for in thousands of donated dollars.

The playful mind must be carried by legs that are 67 years old. Some prudence surfaces. The sixty-seven year old prepares methodically. The experience of forty past marathons insists I vaseline my second toes (which always blister), my armpits (which chafe), my nipples (which bleed) and my private bits (none of your business).
To prevent my shoelaces untying over the distance I double knot them: a trivial detail? No, not in Boston, for it was at the start line of one Boston Marathon back in the seventies that the favourite, noting his arch rival’s single-knotted shoes, bent down and double-tied them.

Continue reading

Two Writers Wrote My Novel

One of the two, a good bloke, would get up too early in the morning, charge himself with caffeine, and – sparking with imagination and creative drive – write passages of prose that really excited me. I liked that bloke. The second, born on the same day as the first, was much older. A sour individual, crepuscular and nocturnal in habit, he’d cast a jaundiced eye over the other bloke’s matutinal erections and scorn them into impotence. He’s scratch out every virtuoso phrase, he’d cut through digression and elaboration. Mean as catshit, he believed less was more, and least was most. I found him unpleasantly convincing. I hated the bastard.

Both antagonists worked on Carrots and Jaffas from start to finish. They managed to draw out a six-month project to four and a half years. By the time the book was printed I was nearing sixty-eight and I resolved I was done with the novel: how many more fifty-four month projects did I have left? Bugger the novel, I decided. I’d read them still, I just wouldn’t write any more.

Three months later I had finished my second novel. Titled “A Threefold Cord”, it is a novel for shared reading between an adult and a child of eight to twelve. And it is a cracker. The book comprises sixty-seven chapters of action, suspense, hilarity, and the unremitting contest between good and evil. In addition there is sufficient reference to bodily functions to delight and liberate a well brought up child.

As the book raced towards Chapter Sixty I informed my oldest grandson I would end it after the sixty-seventh. “Why, Saba?”
“Because I am sixty-seven.”
“But what if it’s not finished?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll just stop.”
“But you can’t!”
“Yes I can. I’m the boss of this book.”
“But…” The notion of such a summary ending outraged him.
I relented: “I might just start a second book where this one finishes…”
Grandson’s 10-year old face blazed with a happy prospect: “Wow! A series!”
Where were the antagonists of “Carrots and Jaffas” during the writing of “Cord”? I sacked them. I simply wrote for my five oldest grandchildren, aged eight to ten years. No virtuoso passages, no miserly pinching, “Cord” was a conversation with five kids who knew my voice, five kids whose tastes I knew: tastes I had helped to create.
My older daughter, a combined Regan and Goneril in her criticism towards my writerly Lear, assures me no child will tolerate a book with such a title as dull as “A Threefold Cord”.

I know she is wrong. Grade Four at a primary school near Shepparton served as unwitting testers when their teacher resolved to read aloud a daily chapter. Ordinarily, she informs me, the wrigglers would wriggle, the whisperers would whisper and the autists would be up and away. But when she read a Threefold Cord all sat, transfixed. The teacher got through five chapters on the first day.
Since then the children and grandchildren of selected Australian literary figures have read Cord and approved it mightily. From time to time over coming weeks I’ll post the odd sample chapter and you’ll see I am right: “A Threefold Cord” is, as I remarked earlier, a cracker.