Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The junk mail chick. I was walking down my street just now after Freelance Lunch™ on Brunswick Street and I saw the chick who distributes the junk mail that I periodically discover wedged between the palings of my front fence. She looked young, like she might be an international student. She was dressed sensibly, in a T-shirt, jeans, runners and a baseball cap, assiduously stuffing rolled-up catalogues in mailboxes.

I wanted to tell her how much I enjoy reading the junk mail she distributes, how I sit down with a cup of tea and go methodically through it all. My favourite is Big Dubs (except for that stoopid baby products issue they did a while back that just frightened and depressed me), but I also like Aldi (as I have mentioned) and the really cheap furniture places, the ones where the couches look like giant wads of spat-out chewing gum. I wanted to reassure her that what she does brings me joy, and it's not just a dumb grunt job.

But then I thought that perhaps it's a coping strategy for her not to think about what happens to the junk mail she distributes - perhaps she prefers to just roll it up methodically and jam it in fences and mailboxes, and that's the end of it. So I didn't say anything to her in the end. But now I might make a cup of tea and go through today's catalogues.

EDIT: Oh man, these were some great catalogues. The Big Dubs one had some cute T-shirts and hats that I might go in and check out. There was a Zamels jewellers one about watches - they were all blinged out, it was great. There was Fantastic Furniture which had a standalone pantry, with doors, from $99, and then Plush Furniture, whose leather sofas I pored over with much absorption. Would I go the Helvetica, the Duxton or the Melbourne? The Melbourne is that boxy design that might date badly, the Duxton has nice soft armrests you could fall asleep on, but the Helvetica has a graceful shape from the front. But could I stomach owning a couch named after such a generic font?

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.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Brewster's latest break for freedom. It would seem that Brewster is the cat world's answer to Steve McQueen. He has now managed to escape from two different houses in the inner north. Last August, power poles around North Carlton were plastered with these pathos-filled posters:

As I commented at the time, he couldn't have got far with weird eyes like that. But it wasn't just the boggly eyes I was drawn to on this poster; there's a wacky quality to his silhouette, like Brewster was imperfectly clipped from another photo. I also liked the way it was addressed to the missing cat himself, as though he could read or something.

I sometimes wondered whether Brewster came home, but evidently he did because just earlier tonight I was at the corner of Lygon and Albion Streets, Brunswick, where the power poles were plastered with nearly identical posters. This time Brewster has escaped from Stewart Street, so his hapless owners have clearly moved and he's up to his old tricks again.

This makes me wonder about what I'd thought was an endearing entreaty for Brewster to "please come home". I mean, how many times has this cat gone AWOL? Do you think perhaps he is deliberately trying to escape? If so, what could he be trying to escape from? It gives the owner's protestations of "missing him very much" a decidedly sinister edge. And no wonder he's described as "friendly" - perhaps he's silently begging everyone he meets to take him far, far away from here!

Or perhaps Brewster is actually a madcap animal - hence the boggly eyes - and his repeatedly going missing is a sign of feline insanity. Perhaps it is even a hilarious jape he likes to pull on his owners. I wonder what other practical jokes he favours: perhaps Mouse Head Under Doona or Poo In Washing Machine.

Tributes flow for Man O Man host Rob Guest. Thursday saw some really sad news: one of my favourite entertainers had died of a massive stroke. I found out about it in the Right Angle office, where I was working that day.

Me: Oh! Rob Guest died!
Lala: Who?
Me: He was best known for hosting Man O Man in the early '90s.
Lala: (sudden recognition) Oh, yeah.

"Guest also ventured into TV, hosting the short-lived 1994 TV game show Man O Man, a type of men's beauty pageant." (Sky News)

"Guest rose to fame on Channel Seven's dating show Man-O-Man in 1994 in the studio now used for Dancing With The Stars." (Sunrise)

"Guest also hosted Channel 7's risque variety show Man O Man, where an all-women audience voted for their favourite male contestants in 1994." (Live News)

"His television achievements include hosting Man O Man, for Grundy Television, and the Special Missing Pieces. He was also a regular guest on Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton." (Newstalk ZB, Auckland)

The many roles of Rob Guest: a timeline in photos. (Sydney Morning Herald)

"rob guest came to my attention when i was 13 when he appeared on man o man every sat night on 7. then i saw him as the phomtom and he is the one who has got the 20's to 30's year olds back into the threatre screen.(inluding me)he will be sadly missed. my smyphty to his family, freinds and the wricket cast." (Deb, 3AW listener)

"Vale Rob... remember with great fun your TV show Man O Man. 57 is way too young." (John B, ABC News reader)

"I am not much of a theatre person, but I remember Rob Guest hosting the show Man O Man on Channel 7. I don't think that Australia will ever see another performer like Rob Guest." (Donna from Willowbank, ABC Brisbane listener)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Age: getting bloggier by the day. I was just browsing The Age, shocked at the sudden descent into extreme ill-health of Rob Guest, who is of course best known as the host of zeitgeisty '90s TV dating show Man O Man, although he also acted and sang a bit. And I noticed that the paper is hyperlinking its stories like a blog does.

This might not sound particularly revolutionary (and I welcome any evidence that they've been doing this for more than a month or so), but for years and years, as far as I can remember, online newspapers pretty much just listed their stories in indices (the front page and the various other topic gateways such as Opinion and Entertainment). You clicked on the stories to read them and then went back to the index, or picked a different index, or read some 'related stories' at the bottom of the article, or went through the list of 'most read stories'. Actually providing in-text hyperlinks within individual articles to other articles on similar topics is a much more web-native thing to do, and it's something I associate with blogs.

It's a smart thing to do advertising-wise, as leveraging the long tail of the archives gets more page views and hence more CPM. It's also a concession to the ways in which online reading is less linear than hard-copy reading - previously, the 'click' almost operated like an online metaphor for the 'page turn'. However, the paper still retains its voice of authority because the hyperlink always cites itself: this is the digital equivalent of writing "as this newspaper previously reported".

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