Saturday, February 19, 2011

On The Dole Again, a song NOT written by Wille Nelson

On The Dole Again, a song NOT written by Wille Nelson

On the dole again, I just can't wait to be back on the dole again

I'm so glad I chose to be a thespian

I can't wait to be on the dole again

On the dole again, not-even-dremin-of-goin-to places I've never been,

eating food I wish I'll never eat again

Oh how I love to be on the dole again.

On the dole again, we take the bus 'cause we can't afford the highway

We're a bunch of fiends, insisting that the world pay for some of our way, what an outrage!

On the dole again, pretending that I'm looking for a stupid job again

love is standing in that giant queue again

Oh how I love to be on the dole again.

Bridge 2
On the dole again, like a bunch of losers we hitch hike down that highway

We've lost all our friends, 'cause we get drunk and sing songs like  My Way

(Sing first two lines of My Way by Frank Sinatra...sung like a sad drunk)

Whoops! On the dole again, I can't wait to be on the dole again

Oh how I love to eat two minute noodles with my friends

I can't wait to be on the dole again....Rpt. End. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

"On The Dole again..."

Standing in a Centrelink car park, staring at my car with its bonnet up, steam spurting from the radiator, thinking to myself that maybe, all those years ago, theatre arts probably wasn’t the best choice. That morning my 84 year old mother rang to tell me there are carer jobs in the paper. Thanks Mum, I’ll think about it. Maybe I can find a carer for me while I’m there.
            Is this a lesson in humility or just the culmination of years without planning? Both I suppose.
            It’s a good car though, the only car I’ve ever really taken seriously; bought it almost new and had it serviced and cleaned regularly. As I stare at it and wait for the RAC man, I think of a joke: my car isn’t a station wagon, it’s a stationary wagon. Ho ho! Not a belly laugh for sure, but it suits my whimsical mood.
            In my mid-fifties I’m becoming used to the inevitability of decay. The vortex grows each time it appears and I become accustomed to its chaotic wash. Colds and flues are bigger, noises harder to decipher, words at the wrong end of a telescope. A plus is that music is more resonant, it touches my soul with a firm embrace, and not just the old songs - every tune presses whatever that thing is (a button?) in my mind that leads to tears of joy or despair, or a deep and sensual groove.
            The mailman dropped off an invite to my Nephew’s wedding in Cancun, Mexico. Luke. Sweet fellow who lives in Chicago and works for Porsche as a graphic designer. Marrying Molly, a big and beautiful Irish American. A wish is all they’ll get from me, but a warm and loving wish ‘twill be.  
            And every day and night I hear reports of the extraordinary shows being seen at the Perth Arts festival that runs through to the middle of March. I suppose this sounds like a gripe but it’s really just a simple fact that few of us local performers can afford to see any of it, unless a work mate has a ticket or, as is the case for a few, they’re collecting the tickets and watching from the aisles.  
            Could this be a chance to create a modern version of Crime and Punishment, an Aussie Raskolnikov, a middle-aged clown who, instead of murdering an old aristocratic lady, runs down a wealthy fly-in-fly-out mine worker in order to steal their theatre tickets? He then attempts to justify his actions by riding the coattails of the AWU secretary, Paul Howes, who is currently battling the mining bosses and making veiled threats in the press. But Howes, who it turns out loves opera and ballet, just happens to be at the same show as the bitter and jealous murderer who recognises the Union boss and tries to appeal to his sense of justice and retribution. But Howes dismisses the man as a fool and a 'clown' and the sad buffoon is led away amidst the stares of new moneyed men and women.
            Instead I could just go down the beach and sit on the sand with my dog, knowing I at least didn’t have to pay for the parking or the beautiful view. And there, on a beach by the Indian ocean, I can read a book and attempt to forget the hideous realities that have been happening on this ocean. But it’s hard to do that, in fact it’s hard to believe what’s happening to those desperate folk who tried so hard to save their families only to watch them drown.
My cares are nothing compared to theirs. Only trouble is, it’s a whole lot easier to forget, to turn a blind eye, when you’ve just paid big bucks to watch talented Europeans in a warm and comfortable theatre. I wonder what some of those performers are thinking about us Australians and our selective welcome mats.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Certainty, the bugbear of mankind

I don’t know why people have an incessant desire to be sure about anything. Where did it come from, this need for certainty and truth? We are animals of the earth, organic and changing according to the wind and the rain, as ephemeral as a flame. We breathe, that’s about it, and even that will cease one day or even one hour or second. Who knows? Is predictability that important? The need to know that tomorrow or next week we’ll be here next to that tree with a mountain over there and the same river flowing by, and those we love will be still there, loving us in return.

Okay, so it’d be a little unfair and also implausible if I came home tonight and found my neighbour had turned into a rhinoscerous and stampeded into my yard, wrecking my garden and smashing down my house. Or if a man went to the house of his lover to find he’d simply imagined her, the smell of her hair, the touch of her hands, her embracing smile – all just gone. And I really don’t expect to hear a report on the news that scientists have finally discovered that the Indian Ocean is really a large bowl of jelly. These things are what we call absurd.

But there are times when our environment is changed to such an extent it may well seem that reality has been replaced by an inscrutable and absurd alternative. During WWII there must surely have been a sense that some foul creature had reached into the heart of reality and rearranged things forever. As a reaction to that, absurdism and surrealism came into being, frivolous, child-like expressions where words and images shifted and morphed into the ridiculous and often hilarious. Was this a way of saying, “We don’t know, so don’t try to be certain.” Was it a warning to the world that ideologies based on certainty are crazier than any wild thing we might attempt to invent?

Or was it simply escape? The world has no meaning so why should we? And if there is no pattern, no God, nothing to guide us then we may as well be silly and have a little fun in the mean time.

Those Queensland folk who have dealt with floods and a cyclone, and some people in Victoria who only two years ago had a massive fire and now floods, must be wondering about the overall pattern of life. To have a natural event destroy one’s house and completely wreck one’s dearest possessions must make it difficult to trust the future. Why do anything, why build a living environment when it could so easily be taken away?

When a close friend or relative dies suddenly (and particularly by their own hand) one is left with a gap, a disconnection from what we might call the normal pattern. It’s more than a shock, it’s an onslaught on our very being, leaving us empty and cheated by circumstance. But really, by being more than just sad over our loss, by allowing it to infiltrate and shake the core of our belief system, we’ve actually cheated ourselves. We’ve been left with a philosophical mess we never saw coming.

Impermanence is one of the central ideas of Buddhism. Death is never left undusted on the shelf, it’s brought to mind with as much constancy as food and drink, warmth and friendship; it’s part of the family of life. Does this mean that Buddhists cope better with death and destruction?

When I toured to Sri Lanka recently I met many people who talked about the tsunami and how it affected them and their businesses. Not one person described a horror even though it probably was; they always smiled and shrugged as if to say “It was what happened” and their lives went on, perhaps a little less comfortably. And no doubt there are many in Australia who will do the same. I did meet a few Sri Lankans however, who needed to borrow to rebuild their houses and restaurants and are consequently in debt at very high interest rates. All the same, they weren’t spitting in anger over the usury (as one might); they talked about the bankers with a sanguine acceptance.

And the most devoted Buddhists, the monks, well they’re mainly in the central highlands, way up in the safety of the mountains, far from the hustle of tourism, far from capitalism and its co-conspirators style, comfort and glamour. And far from tsunamis.

Perhaps this is what our attachment to consistency comes down to: material wealth? If we define ourselves by what we possess then we’ll need to fight hard to hang on to a reality that could any day be taken from us. I began writing this piece because a friend quoted the American poet EE Cummings: “To be nobody but myself – in a world which is doing its best, night an day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”

My friend, a fellow blogger and inspirer of many, posted this quote and simply asked what we thought of it, thus sparking an interesting (and still on-going) debate about the nature of self and the concepts of reality and certainty. Questions arose, such as “Do we need to know ourselves?” and “What’s wrong with doubt anyway?” and so forth.

E.E. Cummings was a man who lived through both the world wars, was arrested by the French on an accusation of espionage, and became one of the preeminent examples of the absurdist poet. His poetry and his drama, inspired by the writing of Gertrude Stein and the painting of Picasso, are perfect examples of the escape into the ridiculous. But is it an escape – to create sentences and ideas that challenge the normal pattern? Is it somehow ‘less’ to take words and images and to chop them up, juggle them around, then throw them into the air and see what lands, how it lands and how it makes us feel?

But Cummings poetry, and the work of the absurdist playwrights, while often
nonsensical, always made some kind of connection; it was never dribble by any means, always somehow sparking a feeling about the world around us, and always allowing us to revel in the mysterious nature of reality and unreality. It’s hard to comprehend the idea that Cummings or Spike Milligan (the Pope of absudism) might somehow be unduly influenced by the prevailing mood of society to the extent that they might be not be themselves; that these giant personalities might be subsumed by fashion or societal pressure is simply unbelievable.

But maybe that’s part of being a writer, a painter, a performer – the creative mind will always be fragile and vulnerable, in the same way Mozart was a victim of his critics and peers, and the idea that they could be swept under the rug of conformity is an ever present horror, just as meaninglessness and madness are feared by so many in the western world.

Everything has its dark side, its possible downfall and disintegration. Perhaps that’s why Buddhist monks spend so much time telling jokes. The journey to enlightenment might be a silly hoax, so hey, let us laugh as much as we can in the mean time. Or is it just that disconnection is the key to inspiration, so let us experiment with, indulge ourselves even, with chaos and uncertainty in the hope that the flight out of uncertainty will give us a new insight, an epiphany if you like, which will let us cope a little better the next time the bottom falls out of our world.