fons iuuentutis

At the head of this forest is the city of Polumbum; beside it is a mountain from which the city takes its name, for the mountain is called Polumbum; and at the foot of this mountain is a noble and beautiful well, whose water has a sweet taste, as if of different kinds of spices. Each hour of the day the water changes its smell and taste; and whoever drinks three times of that well on an empty stomach will be healed of whatever malady he has; and therefore those who live near that well drink of it very often, and so they are never ill, but always seem young. I, John Mandeville, saw this well, and drank of it three times, and so did all my companions; and since that time I have felt the better and healthier, and I think I shall do until such time as God in his grace causes me to pass out of this mortal life.

from The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, ed. & trans. C W R D Moseley, Penguin Classics, 1983

PS I was tagged. This is what you do:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people: (soon ...)


色 戒

The orb spider waits under the eaves for the sun to go down. Crouched into a brown crouch, with one leg left out, hooked over the nearest silk support in case some insect blunders into the now ragged web. She will rebuild come twilight, and I will watch her spin and wait. The other day there was a praying mantis on the sill. It too had one leg hooked into a web but it was a different web and a different plan. I watched it raise and lower, raise and lower that trapped back leg. A delicate manoeuvre that seemed to require thought. Or, concentration. The black spider squatting inside the window sash didn't move, it must have known the mantis was too big to catch. Or was the mantis trying to lure the spider out? After a while I couldn't stand watching without being seen so I moved a finger to touch the mantis. It was almost comical, the brief scuttle then outraged turn of the head and stare. Then someone came to see me and I missed the rest of the story. They've painted out the alien that was on the wall of the medical centre, along with the bone fide shadows of bone fide patients; they may come back but not the alien. Unless the graffitist is local. That wall now so brilliant white I have to shade my eyes from the sun's reflection when I walk past it. Before the movie an ad for the medical centre ran, it featured those patient shadows, animated; then on the way back I saw the outline of the shadow of a body on the pavement, it was an advertisement for a TV show about criminal gangs in Melbourne. The show is as bad as the ad is tasteless but I hardly cared. I noted it and moved on, I was absorbed, the movie had got to me in a way that films rarely do anymore. Go now, she said. He didn't understand. She said again: Go now. He had just given her a ring that she had put on her finger and then tried to take off. So as not to be seen wearing it in the street. Or for another reason. Or both. The Arab jeweller had no idea what was going on. No-one did, except her, and she had just told him. It isn't just that whole lives can hinge on what is said in a moment, I already knew that. It was deeper, stranger, my complicity in plot and counter plot, surface and depth, so complete I knew she was wrong. And yet she said it. Then the denouement ... swift and fatal and again not understood by anyone except he who ordered it, who was told to go, who did go ... and lived. Or was she the one who really understood? Who stayed. And died. Now suddenly it looks as if in this world it is better to die than to live. I check the spider, she hasn't moved. She is innocent of everything. Or, nothing. I don't know. Where did the mantis go to make her/his lethal prayers? Don't know that either. The painted-over alien went back to Alpha Centauri and told its superiors we aren't ready, we don't yet know how to treat the heartache that comes from living on this earth - so how could we sooth an alien malady? It was just hunger. On its planet they eat spiders. Or, they are spiders, and eat each other. Or something else entirely. Whereas we remain, heartbroken, and we die. Or, live.

色 戒



Preacher was a talkin' there's a sermon he gave,

He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved,

You cannot depend on it to be your guide

When it's you who must keep it satisfied.

from: The Man In The Long Black Coat

where's the play in screenplay?

For some weeks now - how many? four? six? - all I've been doing is working on this screenplay. When I say all I mean - all. There's been nothing else going on. Well, I did spend one week revising the Becker book, but that was the week my collaborator was away and I could afford to go at my own pace. Which maybe just means I could get away with more laxity than I can when we're working together. I don't know. The scenes I wrote in that week don't seem to be any worse than those we nut out together. But it's curious the way that, when the day's work ends, usually around three in the afternoon, I have no appetite, no inclination, to do anything else. I just sit around. Blank as a new page. I don't even think about the day's writing. Occasionally some problem, or solution to a problem, might drift into consciousness but if so, it's certainly not from trying. The opposite rather. It's more like a forgotten piece of a dream coming to light. If I'm writing prose I usually find that all sorts of threads spin out from the day's work, some pertinent, some not. I might hasten back to the document to make a change or an addition or I might go off on some other tangent that seems to require investigation. I like that sense of a constantly evolving inquiry going off in different directions and I miss it now. Miss it badly. Maybe it's just like a job that, once done for the day, demands forgetfulness. Which means perhaps that other kinds of writing I do are not work in that sense, but play. Play of the mind. Most current models for screenplay writing stress the need for total concentration, the marshalling of analytical skills, a fierce pursuit of story or character until you have it, or them, as they say, nailed. I don't read much theory, in any area, it confuses me. So maybe the analogy with dream is better. And maybe this end-of-day exhaustion is of the unconscious. Again I don't know - but I have noticed another kind of exhaustion, that of dream. Every night I've been dreaming at a scarcely sustainable rate. Hectic, intricate, disturbing dreams. I've been waking three or four times a night, just to draw breath; and then, rather than lying awake for half an hour or so to think things through, as I would usually do, I plunge straight back into that strangely complex netherworld. But I don't remember these dreams, or only as fugitive images turning to dust as I try to bring them back to mind. Yesterday was a day off but instead of analysis or reflection or re-reading, I spent it chucking out old stuff from the hard disk - acres of botched or misconceived or finished work, consigned to pixel dust. I thought I'd feel lighter afterwards but I didn't. Now I think I might need to defrag my mind. Couple more days. I'm holding on.


Thursday I emailed the two thirds complete screenplay to my collaborator in Hong Kong. She would have read it on the plane back yesterday, or she will be reading it this weekend. And Friday arvo I emailed the more or less revised ms of Fata Morgana to my travelling companion in Auckland ... so that she can see how she appears in it. Now I feel totally (though temporarily) bereft. I feel a bit mad. Like my compass is spinning and True North, or South, was only ever the memory of an illusion. I need a long trip ... perhaps The Bay of Rainbows? To visit Moon Maiden?


craic o' doom

The butcher's boy is walking up Morris Street in the rain to make a delivery. He does it about this time every Thursday. Most people hunch their shoulders when they're out in the wet but he walks straight and tall. He's a nice kid. I saw him in the back of the shop when I was buying a pork chop earlier today. Looks the world right in the eye and there's an excitement in his at the possibilities life might offer. It's black in the west and in the south but not as black as it was earlier. About eleven one of those thunder cracks that lift you out of your seat sounded right above. It's okay, I thought, the computer hasn't blown. Now it's shiny green after-the-storm light. A sip of wine, a drag on a panatella: suddenly I see the shape of my life spread out before me. As never before. In the mind's, not the world's, eye. I can see it! Well, the details don't matter and the end is obscure, as I suppose it must be, though closer. It's a beautiful thing to know. I sigh. Pure happiness.


Reality has always had too many heads

Sometimes I'm astounded by my own stupidity. You could even say impressed. I come from NZ where, if there's nothing else going on (often), there's always the rain, falling reliably from the grey sky. When I first came over here, I had a quip about the locals: If it's fine they say: it's always like this; if it's raining: it never rains. Now I find myself sitting here without coat or umbrella. Now my quip, if there was anyone to make it to, would be: it's too wet to go out for an umbrella.

* * *

It's like the way I'm unable to resist the temptation to buy trousers that are too small for me. Like the pair of black Levis (Made in Columbia) I picked up from the Sally Army store in Five Dock for five bucks on Friday. Long black legs, tight like a spider, brand new Foxton Straights ... it's just the belly roll that trembles above the waistband, the silver button that must bust someday soon, if I don't bust first. At least they solve the conundrum: belt / no belt.

* * *

But doncha love the rain? I do. And maybe getting my new jeans soaking wet when I go up to the shops for a few necessaries, maybe that'll help them strrrreeeeeetch. It's not all constriction: if it rains for a week, as they ('they') say it will, then I'll just sit here like I did today, tapping out a few scenes in the morning, mumbling through the ms of Fata Morgana in the afternoon, looking for revelations but finding only typos. And listening to the burn of I'm Not There which someone (thanks M) was kind enough to send me today.

* * *

Wasn't going to go to the movie but in the end I couldn't keep away. It's actually a good film. I was going to say great, but who knows what that means any more? A lot of people have raved about Cate Blanchett's role but for me, while a marvellous act of mimicry, it's the one sequence in the film that felt redundant - though perhaps only if you've seen the Pennebaker doco that that part recreates. I mean, why bother? Even then I felt ok about being there - just kicked back and listened to the soundtrack.

* * *

The one unforgettable performance is Heath Ledger's and I would have said that before he died, which I did. He plays an actor trapped in a role. Like Marcel Marceau's cage of silence that cannot be breached, that cannot be escaped from, that you take with you everywhere you go and is with you even when you don't go anywhere. Or do. Go, I mean.

* * *

The song that pulled me most at the time was Tom Verlaine's version of Cold Irons Bound. Late 1990s Dylan re-imagined as the Velvet Underground three decades earlier. Totally eerie. I'm beginning to hear voices / And there's no-one around ... chilled me to the bone.

* * *

Meanwhile, I'm meditating on something Sidney Nolan wrote in a letter to Bert Tucker. 26 January 1950. He was in Wahroonga, up there on the North Shore; Bert was in Europe. Sid said: I know what Nibbi means when he calls Australians brutal but I believe it is something in Melbourne that he refers to. In all the travelling round of the last two or three years I have found nothing of the cold stupidity I remember Melb. for. Sydney is almost a gracious and stimulating city. Melbourne is like badly written Kafka. I'm not saying I agree with this but I do like the way it's put. Gino Nibbi was an Italian who ran The Leonardo Bookshop where Melburnians gathered for news of the Beyond in the 1930s and 40s.

* * *

And then for light relief, there's John Forbes' Collected Poems that I bought at a funny / sad commemorative event for him on Saturday night. And Berlin Noir, a trilogy of Chandleresque thrillers by Philip Kerr, two set in Nazi Germany before the war, and the third in Vienna in the chaos afterwards. Well, the road is rocky and the hillside's mud / Up over my head nothing but clouds of blood ...