Monday, October 20, 2008

A clean empty bed in a clean empty room. Earlier today I was thinking about my regular fantasies, the ones that never fail to satisfy. The massage fantasy; the home decorating fantasy... what these have in common is the soothing effect they all have on me.

But by far the most powerful is the White Bed Fantasy. When I am feeling extremely stressed, I imagine lying quietly on an enormous white bed in an airy, impersonal white room, like a hotel room. There are sometimes filmy white curtains that sway gently because the window is open, but this is possibly just for imaginative effect because it is always extremely quiet in the room.

I was first struck by this powerful image when I read A.S. Byatt's Possession:

'Sometimes I feel,' said Roland carefully, 'that the best state is to be without desire. When I really look at myself –'
'If you have a self –'
'At my life, at the way it is – what I really want is to – to have nothing. An empty clean bed. I have this image of a clean empty bed in a clean empty room, where nothing is asked or to be asked. Some of that is to do with – my personal circumstances. But some of it's general. I think.'
'I know what you mean. No, that's a feeble thing to say. It's a much more powerful coincidence than that. That's what I think about, when I'm alone. How good it would be to have nothing. How good it would be to desire nothing. And the same image. An empty bed in an empty room. White.'
'Exactly the same.'
'How strange.'

Last year, almost a year ago, I was incredibly stressed. I'd travelled up to Sydney for a jmag party, because triple j wanted one on their own turf. I had volunteered to organise the event, which mainly involved getting bossed around by various triple j bureaucrats and looking like a dickhead to the venue promoter. Stupidly enough, the date of the party not only coincided with the launch of triple j's own heavily promoted Oz Music Month, but also with our issue deadline. I had to catch a plane to Sydney in the mid-morning and I was struggling to sub the DVD pages, compile the news pages and finish writing up a two-page interview with Carlos D from Interpol. Oh, and a CD review.

I printed out my Carlos D interview transcript to write the story on the plane, and got to the airport only to discover that the time I thought my flight departed was the time it touched down in Sydney. While I waited for my rescheduled flight, feeling ill with stress, I sketched out a story plan in the margins of the transcript, and brainstormed a headline and a precede so there would at least be something to start laying out.

From Sydney airport I went to the triple j studios and jumped on a computer there, where I wrote the news items, sourced some images and emailed them back to the office. Then I went to the OB downstairs at the Oz Music Month BBQ, where I hung about anxiously thinking about the work I wasn't doing. Then I went to the party venue, where Jenni and I put up jmag posters everywhere to remind people that this was not in fact an Oz Music Month after-party.

After this I checked into my hotel, a very plush four-star affair that work had booked because of its proximity to the party venue. I opened the door to my room and lay down on the enormous white bed. It was my fantasy made real, and I wouldn't have emerged at all except that Jenni James called me saying she was down in the lobby and where was I. Ever since then, when I am really stressed I remember this clean empty bed in a clean empty room, and try to picture myself back there. It always works.

For Roland and Maud in Possession, it's a fantasy about letting go of desire - but the White Bed is also about being completely, unassailably yourself. It's a space "where nothing is asked or to be asked." At the moment I'm thinking of writing a manifesto on sloth, and the image of the White Bed would loom large in this: sloth as being-in-the-world rather than as the fetish of laziness or wasted time.

Footnote: The party went pretty well, even though Robbie Buck seized the mic and started making a speech as if he had arranged the event himself, in his honour. I went into triple j the next day with a hangover and wrote the review and the Interpol story, which turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.

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