Bringing the Colour In

When I got back from the States, I felt at a bit of a loss. I’d spent a year saving for the trip – missing nights out, not buying clothes or shoes, not going to many gigs or movies, constantly broke at the end of each week and all of a sudden it was over and I’d had an amazing time but I’d never considered what I’d do when I got back. Add to that Sydney’s decision to revert to rainy winter weather and my return to the routine of work and rent paying and grocery shopping, and I was feeling a bit off-kilter, which was frustrating because I’m actually really happy right now.

One night I was sitting in my lounge room and I decided that I own too much stuff and that I wanted to rid myself of things I had no attachment to, so I started throwing stuff away. Anything that wasn’t inherently “me” anymore was getting tossed. It felt good and I made a plan to do one room of my unit each week until the end of the year, when I’d be left with just the things I really wanted. Like porcelain heads of sleeping baby dolls. And a statue of a sheep wearing black shades to protect his eyes from the glare of a nuclear explosion. Just, you know, the bare minimals.

On Monday night I was idly looking at Facebook when I noticed the friend of a friend had posted that she needed a flatmate for a house in Newtown at a rent significantly lower than I currently pay.

I am not a spontaneous person. It’s amazing I even made it to the States, considering Fiona had to patiently explain to me that people choose to travel all the time and it was okay to say I was going to. In the past, I haven’t coped with change very well and I really have loved living alone, but my rent is exorbitant and I miss being the socially gregarious person I was last time I lived in a share-house. I also want to go back to the US as soon as possible, to the South and to New York City. I did a few quick calculations and on the rent I’d save alone, I could spent another month in the US this time next year. So I messaged her, ending with ‘I also have a cat, she’s a totally indoors cat and I know that might be a deal-breaker, so I completely understand if you want to give it a miss’, not really expecting to ever hear back from her.

A few hours later and we’d planned for me to go over on Tuesday night.

Half an hour after I walked through her door, she’s messaged the other people interested in the room to say I was going to take it.

In three weeks time I’m leaving the suburb I’ve lived in for about six years, to share-house for the first time since uni, in a suburb closer to the city, surrounded by cafes and pubs and friends who live nearby and I can’t take most of my stuff with me, so I’m being forced to leave almost everything behind, which is actually really exhilarating.

I just have a great feeling about 2012. In 2010 I learnt a lot about myself and this year I’ve struggled with what all of that meant, and while it hasn’t been fun at times, I think it’s all been building to something and that thing might be finally coming into my own next year. And being able to afford jewelry made from human teeth.

On Deserts

Valley heat is rising.
Relieve us.

Long exhale to heaven.
Relieve us.

Dry, the desert touches sky.
Prayer for deliverance from on high.

Pray, the sky will understand.
And cry.
And pour emotion down.

Only you can bring the colour in
You alone breathe the hope into
Our world, the patient pleading ground
Without you brittle grey and brown.

Only you can bring the colour in.
So I and mine can carry on.

We pray, the sky will understand.
And cry.
Emotion pouring down.

Only you can bring the colour in.
So I and mine can carry on another day.

Monsoons, Pucsifer

I’ve always been interested in how the land is portrayed in Australian film and literature, we seem to have an uneasy relationship with the wilderness outside the pockets we’ve inhabited, portraying it as actively mysterious, dangerous. Teenage girls vanish in Picnic at Hanging Rock, the claustrophobia of long country nights lends itself to madness and desperation in The Well, flora hides secrets and suffocates relationships in Lantana.

Having lived in both cities and the country, I’m well aware how each can influence my mood. Cities can be crushingly lonely, or vibrant and excessive. The country tends to make me more introspective, horizons can seem both closer and impossibly far away.

So much of our US trip was through desert and no two parts of it were the same. All of it was rich and quiet, unconquered, revered.

It was all of an impossible grand scale. Less shrouded, it was instead an unquestionable testiment to frontiers we’ll never subdue. We can destroy it, but we could never build it.

 

Photos:

1. Bryce Canyon, UT.
2. Rhyolite, NV 
3. Marty and Fiona on the Mesquite Flats in Death Valley, CA 
4. me on the Mesquite Flats
5 & 6. Tucson, AZ 
7, 8 & 9. Monument Valley, AZ
10. Bryce Canyon, UT

On American Men

For many, many years I have told people that I’m not a very romantic person. At least, I wouldn’t have described myself as a big chocolates and flowers type person, possibly because the first time a boyfriend bought me flowers was to apologise for disappearing off the face of the earth, only to reappear a week later to explain he’d needed to take a road trip to sort out some long-standing “personal issues”. Oh, and he took his ex-girlfriend for moral support. That was my first experience of a grand romantic gesture and as I stood in my school uniform beside his faded gold station wagon with venetian blinds in the back, I looked at the bunch of flowers, which lay wilting on the front passenger seat and I realised that my first grand romantic gesture was also going to be the catalyst for the first time I ever ended a relationship.

Having said that, non-stereotypical things are great! One of the best gifts I’ve ever received was in Year 8 or 9 when a guy gave me a pair of Union Jack shoelaces on Valentine’s Day for my first pair of Doc Martin boots. I wore those laces with pride until the boots fell apart. Gifting me mixes of the music people have loved has always been awesome, regardless of whether we have the same taste in music or not, because there’s something inexplicably special about someone wanting to share something that personal.

However, until relatively recently, anything that could be considered vaguely stereotypically romantic just made me feel uncomfortable. Show me a bunch of flowers and I’d immediately assume there’s some heinous reason why they existed. I had to make a conscious decision to try and just chill about the whole thing, accept that sometimes it’s just nice to be the object of someone’s affections and to stop telling people that I hated romantic gestures because really, maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe underneath all the black clothes there was a (naked) sentimental person.

My complete inability to realise when a guy wants to be more than friends is whole other kettle of fish fingers, and before I went to the States, I assumed this too was me. Perhaps I had a variation of facial blindness, perhaps I should contact Oliver Sacks and be diagnosed with the world’s first case of a neurological condition pertaining to this situation. Obviously the official medical term would have my name in it and in years to come, ‘Julia’ would be synonymous with women who were clueless about men. My parents would tell people, through fake smiles, that yes, of course they were so proud I was their anti-romantically prodigious daughter.

This flight of whimsy aside, it may not be me, it may be (some) Australian men.

On one of our first nights on the road, we were in Las Vegas at The Beauty Bar to see Shellac play. I was jet-lagged and excited, both by the fact I was going to see a band I’d pretty much given up hope of ever seeing live, I was paying $10 to do so and I’d just discovered gin and tonics. I was standing at the bar with Kelly, having ordered a round for our group when the bartender said the words that some other girls have always dreamt of hearing: ‘The gentleman at the end of the bar has paid for your drinks’.

Commence a mild panic attack. I was jet-lagged, in a city this is intense at the best of times, the man at the end of the bar was not Don Draper, but was my 16-year-old self’s wet dream (by the age of 23 I’d discovered my 16-year-old self was a jerk who had no idea), and this was a scenario which involved both a stereotypical romantic gesture from an American romantic comedy and a completely unquestionable being-hit-on moment. Even I realised what was going on.

With a sigh, I handed the drinks to Kelly who looked at me with mild concern, being well versed in my history with men from ages 20 through to the current day. Her face read: Oh shit.

I went and thanked the guy for buying us drinks, was regaled with a story about how the Chinese government made an example of him by deporting him from China, discovered he worked for a circus (at which point, I have to say, my first thought was: ‘Of course. Of course the first time a bartender said to me ‘The gentleman at the end of the bar has paid for your drinks’, the gentleman happens to WORK IN A CIRCUS’), and wasn’t asked a single question about myself, including my name. While I was happy that a stereotypical gesture no longer made me writhe in pain, I decided I really didn’t want to spend my Shellac night politely nodding while someone massaged their own ego, and made haste back to my travel buddies.

The point being, four weeks later I think we had all discovered that American men, and Americans in general really, are incredibly forward when it comes to talking to strangers, much more so than Australians.

Like many people, I’m not great at accepting a compliment, there’s lots of stammering self-effacing jokes, but by the end of the trip, I was telling boys and girls alike where they could buy reading glasses like mine and I had grown to accept that although by Australian standards I am about three foot too tall and 25 years too old to be called ‘cute’, especially with my mild case of chronic bitchface, if Americans wanted to squeeze my cheeks and pat my head and tell me I was cute, then that was fine by me, I was happy to wallow in a gin-soaked haze of cuteness for four weeks, if they insisted.

Our experiences with American charm weren’t just limited to hazy bar nights either. Walking around Salt Lake City one night, a man smiled at me and Kel and said, ‘Hi! Lovely evening isn’t it?’, and seemed to really expect and want to hear our response, just one example of how we found American cities much friendlier than Australian ones and the friendliness isn’t forced, it’s very casual. I had a great moment in Powell’s bookstore in Portland, when I was standing surrounded by more books that I could possibly hope to look at, when a guy around my age came and stood next to me and looked at the vast expanse of spines, and we grinned at each other before he said very softly and happily, ‘All these wonderful things’. No inflection, just a quiet observation.

It’s a generalisation to be sure, but the Americans I met were curious and they were enthusiastic and they have a lot of reasons not to be at the moment and the stereotype that they’re brash and loud isn’t really accurate, they’re confident conversationalists and small talk just seems to come naturally, almost like their constitution says ‘Right to bear arms and engage with strangers on any matter of topics, including, but not limited to, our right to bear arms’.

On Guns

Here’s a little fact about me: there are certain things in life I am sure I am going to be great at, despite never having done these things before. Shooting was one of those things. I have always assumed that I was bred to shoot, being that my dad comes from a long line of gun-owning farm people, and because I’m pretty okay at Big Buck Hunter and because I once shot a whole heap of plastic Batmen with a pellet gun. How can you argue with such strong scientific evidence?

On the trip we had a bucket list, and on the bucket list was shooting and Las Vegas seemed the perfect place to shoot guns. In fact, I would argue Vegas itself makes you want to shoot guns and not in a peachy keen nice way.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen or held a gun. My grandad, Pete, had a locked room in their house, filled with rifles. I remember it being scary, mostly because it was right next to a really dark staircase that I was constantly afraid of falling down. When the government had the gun buy-back, Pete sold a lot of guns and spent some of the cash on Christmas presents for his grandkids. So to me, guns meant: Batmen, scary staircases and awesome Christmas presents.

How could this fail?

This is how: the first person who teaches you to shoot probably shouldn’t be carrying a concealed weapon he’s more than happy to tell you is legal to do if you have the correct drivers licence, attend and eight hour course and are not the crazies. I misheard and thought he said eight day course. Because that would make sense to me. If you’re going to legally hide a thing on your person that can kill people, surely you’d need at least eight days to understand what that meant. No. Eight hours and you could have a Glock strapped to your person, and you can do some damage with a Glock. I know, because I went on to do some damage with a Glock.

We had entered a hive of  proud gun nuts and they thought it was very, very cute that we were alarmed by the release we had to sign which essentially said: ‘Oh yeah, and if you happen to get shot on this here premises where people are just walking around with handguns then … that’s kinda your problem. Guns don’t kill, people with guns kill guns, wait … what?’

It was very formal.

We all chose to shoot fully automatic M4s and Glocks and we lined up very quietly while we learnt things like: don’t put your hand here or you’ll slice your thumb when you fire; bullet casings are really hot, you may get hit in the face with them and if you do, you should let your face burn rather than panic and turn around with a gun in your hand; Fiona’s nickname is Bambi and/or Baby Rambo; the Australian government is weird for having such tight gun laws; wear your shirt over your concealed weapon because if you walk into a convenience store that’s being robbed, you don’t want that guy to see your gun, you want to “assess the situation” and surprise him with it.

Needless to say, by the time I had the M4 in my hands, I also had a mouthful of bile and was seriously having to question what I would do if I peed my pants in public. I would definitely not turn around with a loaded gun, that’s for sure, lest Shooty Shootenstein next to me wanted target practise. I could just see him mounting my head (in the taxidermy sense) and saying to his buddies ‘And this one here, this one’s a ‘Stralian. Weird breed that one, had some real crazy ideas …’.

I swallowed hard and repeated to myself ‘Do not let this man mount your head (in the taxidermy sense), Julia. Do not let this man mount your head’ and I aimed and fired.

I hated it. I was so disappointed that I was not a natural gun nut.

I can’t explain what firing a machine gun felt like, except that suddenly I realised the damage a bullet would do to a body, how fast it would happen and how you could never, ever take it back. Shot bullets are much like puppies at Christmas time, kids. They are for life.

Downcast, I watched the others take their turn, my new sneakers now scarred with marks from falling red-hot casings.

Then it was time to shoot the Glocks, which I was sure would be even more terrifying. They looked like toys and they are small and allowed way more space to spin around from the target. What if they recoil was so strong that I spun around and found myself facing my friends, or them me? Nobody would be getting a puppy for Christmas, that’s for sure.

Again, with a great deal of trepidation, I fired.

I loved it. I was so relieved! Maybe I was a secret gun nut after all!

Glocks pack a punch, for sure, but suddenly the fact that they look like toys and a much less unwieldy than an M4 was awesome. I forgot I had two magazines to shoot and I actually skipped back to my instructor when he reloaded for me and told me I got to have another go.

I toothily grinned and thumbs-upped Fi and Marty and Kel.

Then Kel stepped up and shot bulls-eye after bulls-eye. The gun nuts were silently appraising her, and during re-loading her Glock, questioned her self-proclaimed very limited experience with guns. I could tell they were thinking of mounting her, and not in a taxidermy way.

Throughout our trip, we visited seven states and spent time chatting to locals in conservative and liberal pockets all over and opinions varied. I had dinner with Americans in Seattle who didn’t understand their country’s own gun culture; I drank with a guy in Tucson who used to own guns and now chooses not to, though he came from a  family of bonafide gun nuts in Chicago; I contemplatively chowed down on a salmon burrito one night out in San Francisco while the guy across the table from me slapped the table and told me he owned several guns because his constitution said he had the right, dammit!

Would I shoot a gun again? Yes, because I don’t like not being good at doing things I assumed I would be a gun (ho, ho!) at and I can appreciate that there’s skill to being able to target shoot well, but I can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d want to own one or that I’d ever be able to point one at anything with a pulse. Mostly, I think if I had my time again I’d shoot with people who didn’t get their pulse rates up by shooting at targets printed with photos of lecherous men holding kids hostage, because honestly? Combined with the tight jeans they all had hitched up practically to ther armpits, it was all just slightly weird.