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Monthly Archives: July 2015

1.

When I was twelve years old, I offered my soul to Satan for the chance to be slim.

This was, of course, when I still had a distinct and fearful belief in the devil (and in god Himself), and as such, spoke tomes about my level of self-loathing and desire for, if not a sexy body, at least a normal one. I didn’t really know much about Satanism as a concept or actuality, and this was both before our house had an internet connection and before I was old enough to bike down to the local library (the Glen Eira library, that held a bi-monthly Torah reading and probably had no concerns (or books about) my fantasy devil: a six foot tall lothario with red skin, firey eyes, a six pack, horns and goat legs.) All of this meant that, whilst I knew conceptually that one could offer one’s soul to Satan in exchange for his goods and/or services, I didn’t really know how one would go about making this transaction. I only knew what I’d seen on TV: predominantly Hercules: The Legendary Journies, Xena: Warrior Princess and a couple of rambunctious children’s shows.

One afternoon, left home alone during school holidays, I sneak out and, heart racing, pull the old bonfire drum out from the shed. My father had, about a year earlier, found the inside of a washing machine by the side of the road and, sensing it might be useful for something, had returned with a trailer to pick it up and later mount it on top of a metal base. I drag the sacrificial fire drum to a small brick altar in front of my family’s rotting basketball headboard and leave it dead centre like a rusty bullseye. Then, I rip up a collection of Mum’s old magazines and Dad’s newspapers, rolling them up as we learnt to in Scouts so that they’d burn longer and hold more oxygen. I then head inside to retrieve the matches and, using a sharpie marker on a piece of my mother’s scrap paper (used mostly for shopping lists and notes to herself, occasionally for inspirational quotes from recent films she’s seen or books she’d read). I pause, my hands electric and hovering, felt tip pen to paper. I write in thick black ink, my heart spasming from the excitement and terror of it all:

“SOUL.”

I head outside, hands still trembling and clutching the piece of paper warily, placing it on the ripped up newspaper. I wait for perhaps five minutes, silently daring myself to do the deed. Then – my brain suddenly bored with this game, somehow knowing that either way I’m going to go ahead with it so I may as well just Do It – in one smooth movement I strike a match and drop it, lit, into the centre of the paper. I watch with anxiety as the paper curls and blackens, its edges quickly disappearing with neon orange and blood red vibrancy. I accidentally inhale a ream of black smoke, and back off, coughing and spluttering. I am quietly disappointed that Satan himself hadn’t appeared in a puff of colour and smoke like the guest star demon of the week on Charmed.

The next morning I am less quietly displeased that I still remain overweight. Like a butterball Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, I stand naked in front of the mirror and pull, heaving, at my fat.

GO AWAY. I think, my eyes morphing into hateful squints. YOU AREN’T WELCOME HERE. The thought of diet and exercise, at this point, doesn’t seem like a viable option (or else otherwise seems like way too much work).

Later that day we’re on a family trip to Southland Shopping Centre, and I am even more infuriated that the automatic doors unseal as I step before them, sliding quietly and coolly open, allowing me to access the shopping mall delights within. When Bart on The Simpsons sold his soul, the doors didn’t recognise that he was there.

That’s it, I think. It mustn’t have worked. I must still be ensouled.

Then, some hours later, at dinner: Or, maybe it did work, but the souls of fat people are worth less.

2.

My body and I have always had a tumultuous relationship, and it’s only recently that I’ve actually begun to look at myself in the mirror and say: “Hey! You’re okay. You’re not obese.” For all the exercising – for all my compulsive weight loss (three or four times, now – the first time the worst, and the others just defined attempts to lose a bit more weight and be decidedly skinny instead of just maintaining a healthy, average one) – and the hard facts of standing on the bathroom scale, seeing the numbers in the sixties or seventies – I have felt like something of a fraud. Like that clichéd old phrase: “inside of her, there’s a thin person waiting to get out!” but in cruel reverse: inside of me, there’s a fat person, and he’s just waiting ‘till he’s hungry enough to reacquaint himself with the world.

3.

It is 2007, and my body is in a state of progressive evolution as I change my eating habits and begin to regularly attend the gym. I am running on a treadmill, sweaty and in pain, what remains of my belly (I’m now merely Chubby instead of all-out Fat) swinging around under the sweat-soaked gym t-shirt that swathes my body. As I run, a gentleman with biceps on his thighs and arms the size of trucks steps into view and begins to lift weights approximately the size of a small Ugandan village; body pulsing with the effort. As he slams the weights back down to the ground, his bulge seems to backflip within the confines of his pornographic gym shorts. In return, my own bulge bursts excitedly to life, as they tend to do at age 19. I watch his body grow moist and humid with sweat, and ripple as he tries out different dead-lifts, my eyes occasionally running from his muscular frame to my own soft visage in the mirror; face flushed and hair on end, eyes rolling back into my body as try my darndest to reach the kilometre goal my personal trainer has laid out for me. And I think:

Who am I doing this for?

I dunno.

Is this for me? Is this so I can be like that guy?

Nah, probably not. Though that’d be nice, I guess?

To attract someone. You’re doing this to attract someone? So you won’t be alone?

A pause, and my brain thinks it over. Then:

Yes.

And about six months later, and I’m not fat or chubby. I am standing naked in my childhood bedroom with a haphazard erection (give or take a fluff or two) and an old digital camera, trying to look coy and mischievous into the lens but not straight at it lest the flash go off and make me look like a meth addict raccoon desperate for intercourse.

On the open screen of my laptop is an MSN window. In that MSN window is one word:

pics???

I’ve been chatting with this boy – also confused, also a homosexual, also young – for a few months now, and aside from the occasional MySpace profile picture – always from a high angle, taken down, face leaning away from the camera – we hadn’t “done anything”. Then, approximately two hours earlier, he’d come home from a family function, drunk on champagne and parental displeasure and had started something:

ARG. horrrrrnyyyyyyyy..

I’d pretended to be as drunk as he was and as such I played along, not really enjoying the 120 minutes worth of tepid internet-sex, and then the dreaded question – the word that still haunts me (and my latent self esteem) whirring about my skull in preternatural excitement and judgment.

pics???

After five minutes I reply:

soz, was just answerin the phone

Then:

sure!

And then ten minutes of naked calisthenics on my single bed, attempting desperately to make myself look natural and casual and sexual all at once.

An hour later and I’ve finally taken the photograph – my face looks good, my arse looks good, and shadows are covering my imagined fat bits. My internet friend is offline, now, because I’ve taken so long, but I send the photo anyway.

Four days later. In all likelihood he’d logged on at some point to be accosted by my naked frame, an unexpected, unexplained memory bubbling beneath his brain’s surface. But my brain itself took it elsewhere – to a dark place. A dark, shameful, body-hating place.

lol!

nuddy

peeeeenis

4.

My brother – a high school swimmer and sports lover – to me, the year 2000:

“You know, I read somewhere that if you don’t lose weight your dick won’t grow. So, you should watch out for that. At least you’re still young.”

Haven’t had any complaints yet.

5.

There is no specific time period for these, only a wave of dark and angry bees flying around my head, here and there, persistent and aggressive and spanning from the mid nineties to today.

Things my father has said to me to make me feel like shit because of the way that I looked:

  1. “Oh, come on.” (At me eating).
  2. “You’re disgusting.”
  3. “Stop eating.”
  4. “Look at yourself.”
  5. “Do you really need it?” (After asking “does anyone want dessert?”)
  6. “You’re a blob.”
  7. “Because you’re a fat fucking blob!”

And there are others, of course, but these are the ones I can remember. A “best of”, if you will.

It is 2010, now, and he is fat, along with my brother. And I am not. And I am angry. What initially stood as bitter, vitriolic schadenfreude has morphed into something else. Because they never got attacked. They were never judged. Indeed, they did the attacking and judging. And I’m supposed to be okay with it, now; to just move on.

I suppose it’s better if I do move on. I can probably move faster than either of them, anyway.

I am in hospital, with a severe brain injury, still in the very, very early stages of my recovery. A nurse – Funde – has been encouraging me to feed myself; to get used to independence. The only issue is that my left side is struck with weakness, and I am a left handed individual. This, of course, means that I regularly spill my food on myself and onto my hospital gown; hands shaking with the frustration and weakness of a brain injury patient.

My father, on my eating (and my finding my own inability to speak correct sentences endlessly amusing): “he’s doing it on purpose.”

My father, to Jeremy or my mother: “he’d better watch out. If he keeps eating this way he’s gonna put all that weight back on.”

My German doctor to my parents, about my eating: “Oh, yes, brain injury patients need a lot of sugar and carbohydrates to help refuel the body after something so awful and shocking happening to it. People with brain injuries often have less self control than you’d expect from a normal person, too.”

My mother, back in Australia: “weigh up all the good things and the bad things he’s done and I think you’ll find the good things win. I just want this family to get along.

And I am standing in one of the private bathrooms at Spandau hospital, finally accepting the hospital weight I’ve gained and attempting to come to terms with it. “Coming to terms with it” means, in this sense, standing buck naked and grabbing handfuls of doughy flesh from around my frame and pulling, twisting, smooshing it all together. Apparently the pain of the car crash wasn’t enough.

The next day, as lunch comes, I attempt to say “no thank you”, but something bigger than me reaches out, accepts the tray, and quietly and calmly says: Eat the food, dipshit. You need it to live.

And this is what gets me. I am not allowed to feel anger, but angry I am – a deep, hot anger, burning interminably white and volcanic.

And this is what gets me. I’m not allowed to be angry, but he’s allowed to casually bring up every hurt and strain – every attack on my person because of my person; everything he and his son have done, everything the terrible immature cunts in high school have done, everything I’ve done to myself when neither my family nor schoolmates were around to judge me or make me feel like shit.

And this is what gets me. I’m supposed to just be “okay”, to forgive, to let it all go. I’m being immature because I can’t let go of every hateful, unnecessary thing that was said to me. Spat at me. But hey, if they hadn’t said it, I wouldn’t have to forget it.

Me, to my mother: “don’t ever speak about my weight again. Either of you. I don’t care if I’m obese or anorexic. Just leave it.”

6.

Some time in the early two thousands, while I was still participating in Scouts, I found and purchased with pocket money a L’oreal hair lightening cream. You were supposed to put it in every time you showered, and after a few weeks you’d be blessed with an array of golden highlights throughout your locks, with a “natural and exciting” look.

I used this cream for about a month, but each time I looked – first with youthful impatience straight after the first dose had been washed through, then weekly after that – my hair looked exactly the same. Each time I’d see someone I hadn’t seen for a while, they’d raise their eyebrows with surprise at my hair, and comment: “Great hair, wow! So blonde!”, and I’d smile and nod and put them in the “liar” friendship pile in my head, because I knew – I could see, with my eyes – that my hair was as brown as ever.

Some months later – after I’d abandoned the hair lightening adventures – I had a disposable camera printed out. On it were a few photos from the thick of this time, and I was shocked to see in the photographs a boy with an extreme blonde do – a shock of hair that if I hadn’t had known better, would’ve sworn was peroxided.

Guess it did work, then.

And this is my relationship with my body. I can look at it, but I can’t really look at it, until one day the lies in my head float away and I see myself for what I really am, in that moment.

I’ve begun a new game with myself. I’m afraid it makes me look terribly self-obsessed, and I suppose I am (though not in the way where I think I’m handsome or wonderful), but here goes. Every time I walk past a mirror, I force myself to look into it. (I have previously showered with my eyes closed the whole time lest I accidentally catch sight of my naked body, so, yeah. It’s a thing.) I force myself to look at my own reflection and pick out three things I like. I’m trying as hard as I can to make myself accept myself, to like myself beyond liking my brain. Here are today’s:

  1. My hair looks good today.
  2. My jaw, while big, isn’t oppressive, and instead just looks manly. At the moment, anyway.
  3. My clavicle and pectorals are poking up through the neck of my t-shirt in the way that I admire in other men.

There. Not so hard, is it?

1.

A large side-effect of the brain fuckery is that of intense tiredness most of the time. Mostly I forget it as I have upped my caffeine intake, already at a fairly high level, to the point where my body literally cannot get tired – it’s not allowed to do so; I’ve had so many coffees. However, it still does, setting me on the path that’ll eventually turn me into a real life hermit crab, locked inside my room and caught in a sinking whirlpool of perpetual tired, unable to stand up, open my eyes or go out (for coffee, of course).

I suppose this ultimate lethargy made some sort of biological sense eight months ago – I’d just been hit by a car, had my brain thrown around like a cheating ex-lover’s favourite snow globe, had a few of the tendrils that snake from your brain proper out to the furthest recesses of the skull snapped in two and never to return – but nearly a year on? I’d like to feel properly awake, thanks. I suppose this all links back to the favourite exclamation of my neurologist: “oh, it’s still early days yet!” This leads me to wonder: when the fuck will it not be early days?

Despite my brain losing the ULTIMATE FIGHT NIGHT: PRIZE FIGHT TIREDNESS ROUND, I still – or at least, used to – wake up like clockwork at 7.30 AM every morning. And not a peaceful, Disney-style wake-up, either: the clock hits 7.30 and I jolt up, bolt-straight like a brain-injured Frankenstein’s monster, my body violently awake (for the next two hours ‘till the tiredness sets in, anyway). Part of me thinks that somewhere deep in my subconscious are a cluster of cells and thoughts and electrical currents that experienced a momentary death when the accident occurred: Real Life Big Scary Death, and that collectively they spend the night trying to wake me up again lest I slip fully into it this time.

Now, of course, it seems my brain’s calmed down a little too much, as all it wants to do is sleep.

2.

At some point my brain and life totally one hundred percent accepted its current situation – indeed, welcomed it with open arms and said: “Hey! Hey, buddy – let’s do this living in Melbourne thing, together!” It did this perfectly in time for me to get ready to jet off back to Sydney again, albeit for a much shorter time period than the first (and hopefully with a lot less car crash).

Maybe that’s the key to a successful life: just keep moving cities every few months. Keep your brain totally on edge and never bask in any level of comfort: trick it into always working, always being ready for a new group of people, new surroundings, new situations, new people, new, new, new. Never get attached or comfortable, because attachment and comfort are the start of laziness and futility.

Or, y’know. Not.

3.

I always think of these “communication puff pieces” with a sense of comfort: oh, good, I’ll think. I’ll just patchwork together a bunch of random thoughts and occurrences from life, recently. I’ll try and de-scatter myself. That’ll work. That’ll be easy.

Except that it never is, and inevitably I’ll be sitting at a table, staring hatefully at a blank Word document and trying to think about things and wishing my life was more interesting, or at least more dramatic. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier if I hadn’t quit drinking; if I’d held pitifully on to a dramatic, imprudent school-yard crush and spent my days (weeks, months) pining and whining and whining and pining. But then, no: all of my entries then would be thinly veiled (so thinly veiled) excuses to bring any of it up; else I’d be too drunk to care, and nobody wants that. Least of all me.

4.

Zero interest puff pieces lifted from social media, 3:

“Happy birthday, wishing you a lifetime of perfect eyebrows. Xx”

“Tonight we ARE on TV … YOUR Queens …”

“created with www.facebook.com/celebratepride

“Earlier today I said ‘nummies’ to a guy on Grindr when he sent me pics and he blocked me”

“‘my ideal first date’ is leaving the window open so that you can sneak in and I can pretend you’re a raccoon”

5.

Whether I’ve finally reached “that” age (either way ahead of time or embarrassingly late) or I have the brain injury to thank (I considered referring to it as “BI”, my little damaged friend, but realised it’d just sound like I had an emphatic bisexual cripple stuck within the confines of my skull) but I no longer feel the need to fulfil the obligations of false friendship. This has meant twofold: much less time spend on coffee “dates” with people I don’t really get along with, and that when I do spend time with people, I try and make sure they know it is without a doubt because I want to be there.

“The thing is,” my friend Ali once said after I lamented the sadness that comes with realising some of the people you love and respect don’t love or respect you back. “Is that you need to start treating people the way that they treat you. If someone goes above and beyond for you, you do the same for them. I have friends that’re lazy or shit, sure. But I don’t let it hurt me, because I expect them to be shit – so, I’ll smile and nod and say ‘sure, let’s catch up!’ but then I’m not at all disappointed or surprised when it doesn’t happen.”

I’ve already noticed my friendships shifting, changing. Become more valuable for myself, and, hopefully, for the other person involved. I’m interested to see how it’ll go applying it to my interstate friendships in person.

6.

Facebook again. My cover photo is a photograph of a billboard that reads: “I LIKE YOU VERY MUCH.” It’s a note to myself: soz, but chances are I probably don’t like you very much.

7.

I’ve started yoga. Thrice weekly, on my living room floor – heater on at a poor attempt at Bikram – and listening to my own music (usually something traditionally described as ‘painfully indie’.) Although it lacks the glamorousness of gym yoga – classes taught by a woman with snow white skin and a nondescript accent that may be Transylvanian or may be Bangladeshi or may be a lisp from extensive Botox, and rows of primped and primed women officiously looking left to right as they downward dog and cobra; correcting the mistakes of those in hearing distance – it is approximately ten times more relaxing and calming (and ten times closer), and there’s a quaint and pleasing self-possession to stretching out luxurious on the cream carpet of my living room floor, in front of a television that could fall and crush me if I lose my balance. Living life on the edge.

8.

“And the winner is… Stephen Carleton!”

The announcement is made. The night is done. The readings are over. My two month-long panic attack has come to an end, and I couldn’t be happier.

And now I can post that video of Tracy Flick, I think to myself, irrationally pleased that in losing I now have an excuse to post the 30 second clip from the 1999 film Election I’d uploaded to YouTube a week earlier in preparation should I not win:

The camera zooms in as Tracy’s eyes turn into slits and she cocks her head, chewing on her lips in a play at modest concern and excitement. Her voiceover: “Walk slowly to the podium… be modest. Thank them for this incredible honour.”

Matthew Broderick, now: “it is my pleasure to announce the next president of Washington Carver high school…” Tracy stands, curls akimbo as her eyes light up in greed, a gargantuan smile adorning her face. “Paul Metzler!”

For a split second she is left standing alone, her irises seeming to crack with the shattering of her hasty grandeur. Then Paul Metzler pushes past her on his way to the podium, and she slowly sits; her dreams crushed.

Perhaps it’s not a good sign that my immediate reaction was one of relief, but from that moment on, all I felt was a brilliant sense of calm and composure and, yes, pleasure at the fact I’d even been nominated.

I sometimes wish I could respond to (or otherwise review) reviews – in particular, a bewildering review of my work that seems entirely to be excreted with levels of previously unseen hatred.

Said reviewer didn’t like the play, that much is evident. She also believes I should never direct again, my dramaturge’s work was “invisible” (which, I know that few people understand what dramaturgy honestly is, but this is a new level of ridiculousness) and somehow managed to get a great number of poorly researched facts about the piece and the incidents that inspire said piece, wrong. Also that I have no right to write about anything not set in or about Australia, the home that’s girt by sea (ignoring the complexities of writing and the suggestion that just because something is set in America doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s about America). I’m bewildered not that she didn’t like the play – each to their own – but more that she apparently hates me and wishes me dead; that she’s so intensely consumed by her own hatred, and that she didn’t have the tools to express what or why she didn’t like it, only that she didn’t.

Recent conversations with respected artists have made me realise that, though there’s no right or wrong answer, mostly? People don’t read their own reviews (the general consensus being “what can someone with a blog tell me in 500 words that I don’t already know about the work?”).
Nicola Gunn (shockingly paraphrased): “I know the moment I open my mouth in the foyer afterwards whether something’s good or not. I’ll just suddenly realise: oh, wow, that was… that was shit. I’m sorry. Or else it’ll be a really positive reception from the audience. It’s about inviting the people you respect to come see your work, and seeking out their opinions.”

This reviewer didn’t like the play, but Griffin do, the people I respect do, and hell, I do, so that’s okay.

9.

Five text messages selected at random:

“I’m still making brinner”

“Hope you as Jeremy are as well as we are. So fucking nice to be back in melb x”

“.. flaccid dick in a wig. haha!!”

“COLD HORSE SOUL”

“Arg, life”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. 

10.

“And that, I guess, is the kicker

How I can see

I can SEE, right, that this is all logical

Or illogical

How you don’t owe me anything

How I’m a man in his mid twenties acting like a spoiled child

A complete brat

But still I am stuck here,

Waiting and pining and pining and waiting,

The pitying looks of my friends closing in around me in slow motion

The constant wondering

You liked my picture on Instagram of me in my sky-blue American Apparel underwear with my head freshly shaved – “Manson girl realness”, heart-eyes emoji, exclamation mark, exclamation mark, exclamation mark – what does that even mean? or

Why don’t you like my profile pic, I mean, I look good in it, I can tell ‘cos 39 other people not you did like it, so, what’s the fucking deal?”

Re-editing and re-writing Intoxication has become so much easier, when the mood changes from the way it was written: from oh god this is life now I need to deal with this shit and get it out to oh, wow… I sure was fucked and crazy. How can I make this more interesting? More fucked?

11.

Sometimes there’s too much, like some sort of life-based scattershot, and it’s easier to break it down into small pieces and take each one out, one by one.

“63 days – christopher bryant

Directed by David Burrowes
With Emma Harvie, Eddie Mckenna and Samantha Ward

Locked in a detention centre for an indefinite period of time, a man named Arman finds himself caught between two nightmarish decisions: to return to his homeland, imprisonment and torture, or remain in Australia, where imprisonment and mental anguish reign supreme. Faced with these choices, he tackles the question: what can you do to take back control of your life when it’s been taken away from you?”

In August of last year I was hit by a car in Berlin. Among other things, I had to pull out of the end of my NIDA course and postpone it while I focussed on healing myself. As I came to, numerous doctors warned me that the damage to my brain was (at that point) of an unknown quantity – they weren’t sure whether I’d be able to write again, and as such I shouldn’t be either. As it turns out, my writing capabilities have quite thankfully remained wholly in tact, but in December and January 2014/15, the only was I could be sure was to put myself out there beyond writing for myself (one of the first things I did, after getting over my jetlag, was begin to write a play I’d been planning for a while, just to see if I could. That was all well and good, but writing for someone else is an entirely different ball game.) Around this time, a friend sent me the link to Apocalypse Theatre’s “ASYLUM” call-out – they needed a handful of writers to volunteer to participate in their quick-response theatre scheme (two weeks of staged readings on the topic of asylum), in the process waving their fees so that all ticket sales could be donated to the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne:

for 12 nights across two weeks, old 505 theatre will come alive with new australian works that explore what it means to seek asylum

Operation Sovereign Borders was the policy the Coalition government took to the September 2013 Federal election – a military-led response to ‘combat people smuggling and protect Australia’s borders’.

Playwrights from across the country have been invited to create new plays that respond to one of the most contested ideas in Australia’s identity. How will our stage respond to Operation Sovereign Borders? What do our great storytellers have to say? The selected plays have been matched to directors and actors for two weeks of quick-response theatre.

Fasten your seatbelt.”

I quickly found a topic to engage with and, once they gave me the go-ahead, got started. This was everything I loved: the opportunity to meld real-life opinions and incidents with a fiction not far removed from the bitter truth. I didn’t realise it then, but now I see that the anger inherent in 63 Days comes as reactionary to the situation I’d found myself in: at 26, back living with my parents, unable to act like an independent and intelligent adult and spending hours each week completing menial tasks in rehabilitation therapy. The quick-response genre was freeing in its immediacy – I had no time to stress, fret or sweat over individual words or the placement of certain lines, I simply had to get to it and get it done, which allowed me to channel my anger at the injustice of the situation a lot more immediately that I would have.

“Christopher Bryant offers a searing piece about a man named Arman who finds himself trapped between two nightmares; a homeland filled with torture and pain in prison or a new world filled with mental torture and pain in prison.” – Lisa Thatcher