NOTE: This is an interactive multi media piece so please, click the hyper links and listen to the music while you read, or take a break, watch the video clip or surf the web sites… then come back here and finish the journey.
Where do I begin?
Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great a love can be
The sweet love story that is older than the sea
The simple truth about the love she brings to me
Where do I start
I have always thought linearly. There is a beginning, a middle then an end. Life is like that, time is like that, history is like that. A place where everything starts, then it goes on, forward, then stops. But does it?
I’m 46. I have lived half of my life and have another half to go. When I was a boy birthdays came around agonizingly slowly. Now I’d rather not talk about them. I have seen my life flash in front of my eyes. One rainy day on the F3 driving an empty truck, aquaplaning across three lanes and towards a merging 40 ton semi-trailer. It really happens. Your life does flash in front of your eyes, every moment, remembered like a montage from a movie. Just without the soundtrack. Nothing but the screaming in your head and that isn’t the brakes. It’s the fear.
I’ve been hit by a car and sent sprawling, tumbling, twisting, somersaulting through the air and over the bonnet, landing in a crumpled heap in the gutter looking up at my father who fate placed there in one of her good moods and smarter moves. I was 8 and I was lucky with just a dislocated jaw and some scrapes and bruises. But that was long before the life flash. In between I’ve been bitten by a dog, had my nose broken by a cricket bat, broken a collar bone thanks to a judo throw, shot at, stabbed, kicked, punched and spat upon. Shelled, mortared, abused, yelled at, loved, hated, despised, pitied, ridiculed. All grist for the mill. I remember telling myself when I was 30 that I would become a writer when I was 40 and had something to write about. Like the rest of my life I couldn’t wait that long and started the very next day.
So what have I said so far? Structure? Meaning? Purpose? Direction? Is there any cohesion to this stream of consciousness? Is it getting anywhere? Does it move the story forward? Does it have to, asks Camus? Is there a story says Sartre? Yes, it’s written all over his face says Kristeva. Thank you my new found friends I say, thank you.
So. I ask the question again, ‘Where Do I Begin?’
Weston-Super-Mare, England, 1966.
“Sound it out, Perry. If you aren’t sure of the word, break it up into smaller parts and sound each part out.’
‘Sper-ot the der-og was sa-ad. Sper-ot the der-og had a sorr pa-wer.’
‘Porr, the word is paw, sounds like porr.’
I was 4 and just new at reading and writing but keen to do better. My older sister read Ladybird books and the harder ones were far more interesting than the simple ones I was given to read. I couldn’t wait to get better and read everything in the classroom. I hadn’t been shown the library yet, I probably would have wet myself. We were taught to read and write phonetically, it was the latest educational wonder method and I was, unbeknownst to myself at the time, on the cutting edge. One of the lucky ones. All I can remember about it now was I was free to write ‘a’ two ways; either ‘a’ like that or ‘a’ like this.
The love affair didn’t really blossom until a year or two later, at the Royal Air Force School, Changi in Singapore. It was here that I was encouraged to read every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon because we finished school at lunchtime on those days and were told to remain inside with the fans on and avoid the midday heat. I read every book in a series the school library had about famous people, animals of the world, history, geography and everything a British schoolboy at large in the remains of Empire should know about. And because I read so much, I wanted to write.
With her first hello
She gave new meaning to this empty world of mine
There’ll never be another love, another time
She came into my life and made the living fine
She fills my heart
Army Apprentice School, Balcombe Victoria, 1978
He surveyed the carnage with a weary eye,
The paddy where he’d seen, so many men die.
There was blood on the levees, blood on the ground,
Blood on the bodies lying around
He heard a sound coming from the skies
And tears of rage, came to his eyes.
Three choppers, just minutes late.
It filled him with anger, disgust and hate.
He walked away from the killing ground,
He walked to a place, a place void of sound
He sat for a while with his head in his hands,
The faeces of war, littered the land
He gazed at the heavens, despair on his face
And asked himself why, why this foul place?
A voice answered his question, fast and hard
If not Vietnam, then your own backyard.
I was 16 and a professional soldier. I wrote this poem and several others, all very similar in tone and all written long before I had ever seen a man die. I wrote the poem for men I served with who had been there and had come home and were pushed aside, forgotten or worse; spat upon and hated. Men I respected whose job it was to train me to stay alive on a battlefield by learning from the mistakes their mates made. The ones that hadn’t come back. One day this story will be written. But not today. Too soon. Too raw. Too strong.
Clovelly, Sydney 1986.
A Brother portable electric Typewriter sits in front of me. I invested $98 plus some change and bought my first writing machine. I needed it for my business because I was a Private Investigator and P.I.s have to write reports. And invoices. It had a Daisywheel and self correcting ribbon for the few mistakes I made. I had learnt the hard way about making mistakes in my writing. The Warrant Officer Jim Oldfield way and they don’t get any harder than that.
Oldfield was the meanest man I have ever met in my life. A career soldier and Military Police Warrant Officer, he was my Boss before I left the Army. If your typed reports had a single error in them, you did them again and copped an extra night of guard duty to remind you not to do it again. Forget whiteout. Whiteout was Verboten! Nothing but perfection. Had I been trained to type? No. I learnt the hard way and practiced to perfection on all those long, lonely nights of extra guard duty.
But now I was no longer a soldier. I was a Private Investigator and I had an electric typewriter with a correcting ribbon and I could use whiteout if I pleased. But some lessons, the ones you learn the hardest, are too well learnt to forget. I used up many ink ribbons but only once, in over five years did I change that correcting ribbon.
When I wasn’t writing reports (and invoices) I wrote my first book on that Brother. “The Gamsby System of Self Defence”. Paladin Press rejected it, said it was ‘too encyclopedic’. What the market wanted was more specific How-To books. So I gave it some thought, roughed out a few chapter headings and sent off 45,000 words and 50 photographs for “Amphibious Close Quarter Combat – Hand to Hand Fighting In Water”. After several months Paladin Press replied with another rejection slip and the admonition that this one was “Too specialised”. I had made it into the world of writers at last!
Whalan, NSW, 1997 My Annus Horribilis
I was 35 and rejected once again. This time it wasn’t by a publisher. By now that had happened too many times for me to care and yet I had enjoyed seeing my name in print in several magazines. I was yet to get paid for anything I had written that I couldn’t attach an invoice to but that day was coming. This time the rejection was far more serious, more deep reaching, more soul destroying, more life changing. She had left me. Walked out for a man she felt could give her what she wanted in life and that started with a $. Semiotics in application. Saussure would be ) or perhaps !!! Who knows?
She was gone and I had to fight tooth and nail to keep my house, my car, my half of the furniture and anything else of value like my self esteem. I had lost some of that on a street in Neutral Bay when the police arrested me and took me away for questioning in the back of a paddy wagon. I had found where she was holding up, I believe the term is ‘love nest’, and had the temerity to wander around and ask her who was paying the mortgage and the car payments this month since they were due and it was her turn? Surrounded by twelve cops, guns drawn and attitudes adjusted thanks to the teary eyed actress crying about her lethal former commando husband hounding her and her new lover. I had knocked on the door… call that hounding? Hey, easy with those things Officer, they’re a bit tight! I think my wrists have gone to sleep! I stood up to her in court and defended what little of my honour and dignity was left after she ripped my soul apart with her treachery. And though one love left, the other was still there. As always.
She fills my heart with very special things
With angels’ songs , with wild imaginings
She fills my soul with so much love
That anywhere I go I’m never lonely
With her along, who could be lonely
I reach for her hand-it’s always there
It was there as I staggered, giant man sized sobs racking my very being, from doorway to doorway, holding myself together and my body upright against the door posts made stout with oak. Her hand reached out for me. It took me gently to my desk and sat me down at my computer. My Brother was long gone. Now my lover guided me to type on the keyboard and emblazon on the screen my emotions. Every feeling was mustered, rounded up and herded to my fingertips and sent into the corral of my sorrow. Fattened up and grain fed for several years until it was ready to be driven to market as ‘The Cool Side Of The Pillow’. My novel. Not so loosely autobiographical as I pretended to the world but done. Finally. Therapy. It had taken so long because after eleven or twelve chapters life had moved me along. I was no longer grieving. I had my new love, a sailboat, and my one true love. It was the desire to fulfil that love that drove me back to finish the novel. Long after the pain had eased, the anger had ebbed, the pity had turned.
“I felt sorry for myself because I had no woman,
Then I met a man with no hands…” (Anon)
That little tongue in cheeker no longer meant what it once did. Forget the allegory, the metaphor. Now that throw away line had new meaning. Derrida would be proud. So long as I had my hands, I could caress and shape my love into an expression the world could share. I finished ‘…Cool Side…’ because so much of me was within. So much of us. By now I was a writer. I was eating my words and feeding my new wife and children with them too.
Bogo, Northern Cebu, The Philippines 2003
In a room 2.5m x 2.5m shared with a daughter and a brother-in-law and with a fan borrowed off the set of an old Raymond Chandler movie and a lap top computer that had to be plugged into the mains, I wrote my first commercial success. Limited success I will grant and not exactly rave reviews in the mainstream press but then I never bothered to ask them to comment.
I was living my dream. I was 41 and married to an exotic, dusky Filipina living in a tropical paradise, free to do as I pleased. At least for the next year or so until the money ran out. Then I would have to get a job but for now, I could write. I wrote ‘Philippine Dreams’ and wondered where I would sell it. Who would publish such a niche piece of writing? All my research told me it would take up to a year to find a decent agent and then another year at least to see it in print. Since I didn’t live within the major market area for the book, the USA, few publishers would want to give it a go if they couldn’t rely on the author to do book signings and help promote it. Sell it. That, afterall, is what it’s all about Mr Writer. Selling books, not writing them.
So far I had done so many things that I wanted to do in my life and a few I hadn’t planned on. I had scuba dived with sharks, built a boat with my own two hands and sailed it on a foreign sea, been ripped off by gun toting locals in a business deal concerning a bar on a hide away island and dodged an ambush from the local NPA guerrillas. And written a book. Now what?
I was advised to self publish and sell the book as an eBook. This would in time turn out to be both a journey all its own and an education. I read about how to do it on the internet. Then I did it. I published my own eBook and offered it for sale. I had to discover Pay Pal and Search Engine Optimisation and a dozen other new concepts but for a man who had survived Warrant Officer Jim Oldfield, this was child’s play. I found someone to partner with who couldn’t write but they knew how to market on the Internet and all of a sudden I was making money from my writing and not a rent payment too soon.
I was working by this time, writing online English lessons for CleverLearn. Then I wrote an eZine for a Canadian swindler with one eye and a chest full of shotgun pellets from the time he was kidnapped in Coast Rica. He ran off owing me four months pay and I wanted to fill his back up with shotgun pellets too. I had to spend months overseas and travelling the Philippines working as an English teacher and a travel editor for a map company just to keep the family fed. It isn’t easy for anyone to find work in the Philippines and almost impossible for a white man.
But she stayed with me, kept me alive. I always found someone I could write for, someone who would pay me to do what I loved doing most of all. I wrote 100 short stories for a Japanese client, all between 250 and 500 words long in varying degrees of technical difficulty incorporating pronouns, participles or gerunds as required. For five bucks a story. I rewrote a travel atlas and the ‘blurbs’ on the back of 26 tourist maps. “Welcome to Cebu, the Queen City of the South!” and lots more in the same vein, only the location changed to suit the map it was written for. I wrote business proposals, teaching curriculums, rewrote Chinese website Engrisssh, dialogue for a DVD on underwater creatures and then spent six hours in a sound booth recording my words; living intertextuality to make Kristeva proud. I wrote scripts for MTV music videos and behind the scenes ‘The Making Of’ mini documentaries for a major local production house and media academy. Then one day I wrote a cheque for four airline tickets and brought my family back to Australia.
How long does it last
Can love be measured by the hours in a day
I have no answers now but this much I can say
I know I’ll need her till the stars all burn away
And she’ll be there
Sydney, August 2008
She never let me down. When we came to Australia I needed a way to house, feed, clothe and care for my family. I wrote. I found a company that needed someone who could write business proposals, tenders, marketing material, web sites, emails, letters of denial. I was unemployed for a week, maybe two before I was able to once again be with her, even if it was only during business hours. We settled in to life in a new country and it was new, even for me. In the four years I had been away, Australia had changed. Or maybe it was me, or both of us. It was all user pays and if you couldn’t afford to pay, you couldn’t use.
We saved up and bought a house in an affordable suburb and took out the lowest mortgage we could so that whatever happened we would always be able to afford the roof over our heads, even if we were on Centrelink. Funny how things work out; mortgage rates went heavenwards, the job went west and I found myself selling cars eleven days a fortnight. After three months I knew I had to do something, the journey was not over yet but I had come to the end of that particular road.
I wanted to write for my living of course but all the job ads demanded you have a tertiary degree. So I decided to get one. For the next eighteen months we would live off the largesse of my previous tax dollars and I would undertake this journey, the Master of Arts in Writing. So here I am, no longer at the beginning of my journey, but nowhere near the end. And what does my future look like now? Tonight?
Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you…
And the way you look tonight.
Sing it, Michael! Sing it and make it your own. How many people have sung this song over the eight decades since it was first performed by Fred Astaire in the 1936 movie ‘Swing Time’? Tony Bennett, Michael Buble, Joey McIntyre, Rod Stewart, Andy Williams, Ray Quinn, Steve Tyrell and even Bing Crosby and his wife Dixie Lee have sung it. The Lettermen, Billie Holiday, Johnny Griffin on Sax and Art Tatum and more recently Bradley Joseph on piano have all performed this standard, this ‘golden oldie’. (Wilk 1997)
Can I ever write anything so enduring and endearing? This is more than ‘poetry’ put to music, it is a song in the sincerest and purest form of the art. A superb example of the blending of lyric and melody to produce a text that is unique. Unique yet constant so even though it is read by so many different readers and each injects something of themselves that the others can never emulate or imitate, it remains intrinsically superb. Did Derrida ever do Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern? The lyric, the beautiful, haunting lyric, is hers. (Kelvin & Emblen 1992) Dorothy. She wrote over 400 songs and who remembers her today? Perhaps if she had been David Fields, or Douglas Fields but she was a Dorothy in a David’s world.
Yes you’re lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
And the way you look tonight.
For me there is only one way to read this and it is not as a feminist, post-modernist, deconstructionist or with any ist or ism other than masculinist. Masculine romantic hegemony, that pure and perfect emotion that is the male contribution to humankind. We may be the worst of the aggressors and the cause of more violence and waste but we are also the fuel for the female’s love and nurturing. Without us, she has no one to care for who truly needs and appreciates her very being here for us. In return, when we remember, we offer her romance. Love. Adoration. But all too rarely respect, equality, even the benefit of the doubt.
With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart…
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart.
They took the Frank Sinatra version off You Tube for some reason but he is the best., try and hear Sinatra do this song. Frank misses ‘that’ the first time round, then he says it on the refrain. Phrasing, timing, Sinatra, individuality, because he can and he does it so well. I want a Sinatra to read my writing. Sometimes it is what is left out that makes all the difference. For too long other voices were left out. Black voices, yellow voices, soft voices, strange voices, electronic voices. Now we can let them be heard. Technology has already shrunk much of the world in so many ways and it continues to do so even more in writing. In English. In cyberspace.
It is in cyberspace where the voiceless will be heard to scream “Hear me! I have a voice at last!”. They will finally throw off their colonial fetters and speak. If we are ready to listen to what they have to say, to give them their chance to offer their view, then we will be all the richer for having done so. We have the language for them to use, English. It’s now a world language and no longer mine or yours just because we were lucky enough to be born into it.
“The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many kinds of use.” (Achebe 1975)
Just as Omole spoke of ‘a clash between a desirable ideal and a compelling reality’ (1985) I realise that my old thinking is simply unacceptable for a writer in the 21st Century. Education broadens the mind as much as travel does and my mind has been broadened by this journey, both the lifelong one and the current educational segment. I have learnt about critical theories and critical friendships. I have learnt that I can and must accept change and that change is good if I embrace it as good, and crippling and lethal if I try to pretend it doesn’t exist.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” (Karr 1849)
The more I learn of my love, my craft of writing; the more I love her just the way she looks… tonight.
Never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won’t you please arrange it ?
Cause I love you …
Just the way you look tonight.
Mm, Mm, Mm, Mm,
Just the way you look to-night.
Wilk, Max., 1997. They’re Playing Our Song. Da Capo Press, p.56.
ACHEBE, Chinua., 1975. The African Writer and the English Language, in: Morning Yet on Creation Day: London, Heinemann.
OMOLE, J.O., 1985. A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Karr, Alphonse., 1849. Les Guepes, January 1849. “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”, usually translated as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”
Fields, Dorothy and Jerome Kern., 1936 ‘The Way You Look Tonight’
Sigman, Carl and Francis Lai., 1970 ‘(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story’
Williams, Andy 1970 Accessed from You Tube, http://www.youtube.com/swf/l.swf?video_id=ZxEazBfPVFg&rel=1&eurl=&iurl=http%3A//i.ytimg.com/vi/ZxEazBfPVFg/default.jpg&t=OEgsToPDskIvaX4sxY5Sxy3Cl8CSISVU& July 2008
Sinatra, Frank 1961 Accessed from You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iXyM6TCMIU July 2008 – Removed by You Tube
Buble, Michael 2008 Accessed from You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDh4GC7n0ig July 2010