Monday, May 28, 2018

Hi. My name is Greg and I'm a non-drinker.

It’s now four months since I had my last sip of alcohol and in truth, I’ve found that not drinking has been relatively easy. What I’ve found much more difficult is telling people that I’m a non-drinker. It seems that I have identified so strongly with being a drinker over the years that I have had to not only give up drinking, but have also had to let go of a large piece of my persona. I’ve been confronted with that new reality on this two and a half week trip to the US that has taken in Austin, Boston and New York, the former and latter of those destinations being scenes of some extremely excessive drinking in the past. Boston has only missed out on that fine distinction because I’ve never been there before. It’s true that I have travelled for work previously and held off drinking until after a major piece of work has been completed or I have delivered my presentation, but somehow this seems very different. Temporary abstinence for a short term goal has not affected how I think about myself. Au contraire, that has helped me firm up the self-discipline part of my identity which I’ve always known lurks there somewhere and occasionally rears its head in times of need. On this trip I was presented with many opportunities for drinking. On arrival in Austin I turned down cocktails with my awesome AirBnB hosts Kevin and Bob in the form of free prickly pear margaritas at the documentary film festival that they took me to. And then again at the Art Erotica exhibition where the price of admission included drinks. In fact there seemed to be a regular procession of drinking opportunities that I had to shoulder arms and let boringly go through to the keeper like Geoffrey Boycott on a particularly dour day. All in the name of playing a longer innings I guess.

When I came to Austin three years ago, I discovered a fantastic bar called the Spider House. A couple of post work drinks in there one evening led to me becoming acquainted with an ex-US army medic named Mike and a current army truck driver who, when she wasn't doing the army thing, was a burlesque dancer. Two of my favourite things are meeting new and interesting people and drinking with them, so I was in my element. Add eating the food to those two activities and there you have my raison d’être for travelling. I consumed a number of drinks with them over hilarious conversation, accepted an invitation from Kat to have a little choof with her in her car, and continued on jovially into the wee hours. I seem to recall sitting in my rental car scoffing down a kebab and talking on the phone excitedly to Tori around 3am, waiting an appropriate (?) time to sober up before driving home. Madness! The next day when my alarm woke me up with the subtlety of a formula one car roaring through my bedroom and a hangover so stonking that it could have fuelled that car, I somehow dragged myself to the shower and then dragged my sorry arse to work. As shit as I felt, I could still somehow be productive(ish) in this state. I’d done it before. I knew how it went. Invariably I’d survive the day and it would all seem worth it. Through the haze of it all, somewhere just above the nausea, I felt the glow of fulfilment from a life lived large. Often I could even back it up again the following night.

On my first night in Boston, I went to a seafood restaurant that my AirBnB host Nancy had recommended, taking a seat at the bar which is always a good place to meet some people. Alongside me were two women and a guy who were drinking and laughing and having a great time together. After a while two of them disappeared, perhaps for a cigarette, leaving their friend at the bar. I thought I’d strike up a conversation with her and it was only really then that I noticed how beautiful she was. Seemingly of Japanese ethnicity but with a full American accent, long dark flowing hair and a radiantly beaming face. I felt my heart skip a beat when she leant over seductively towards me and asked if I liked tequila. “I love tequila but I’m now a non-drinker”, I stammered back, feeling the words plummet from my mouth like a cartoon anvil dropping off a cliff. She and her friends were drinking skinny margaritas and they were clearly having some kind of effect. When they returned she continued to flirt overtly with me, hanging on every word I said, however stilted my conversation felt to me. Plunging forward towards me encouragingly as each reply floated from her lips. Seemingly disinterested now in her original companions. Wasn’t the temptation of tequila enough without having it offered to me in this way? It sure looked enticing but I could sense the danger on a whole lot of levels. I felt like Ulysses, who had himself tied to the mast of the ship so that he could take in the beautiful appearance and songs of the sirens, instructing the crew that no matter what he said or how he pleaded, they were not to allow him to go to the sirens as there he would inevitably find his downfall, smashed to bits by the rocks. I didn’t have a mast, or in fact a ship, so instead I just chained myself to a tonic water and sobriety, and hung on for all I was worth.

The next day I went to the baseball at the legendary Fenway Park in Boston with Gabrielle, a colleague who was organising the conference that I was in town to attend. She had also invited along Vik and Dave, a couple of her company’s customers, both who seemed pretty keen to consume large numbers of beers during the day. There was a possibility that they could also become my customers if I played my cards right. In days gone by I know that strong bonding with them would have ensued over some nice frosty beverages. I was always in my element in those situations, both erudite and charming. Clearly somebody of intellect with whom business was desirable but also somebody who was fun to be around. But now I was the non-drinker in their midst. Is it possible to be a drinker and have any respect whatsoever for non-drinkers? I’m not sure. Maybe if they are alcoholics who need to keep away from the demon alcohol lest they fall back into binges so extreme that they arrive home five days later with no recollection of what has happened in the intervening days only to find that their wife has kicked them out, initiated a restraining order on them and thrown all of their clothes on to the street. These people shouldn’t drink and I respect them for being able to abstain. But short of that, people that choose to be non-drinkers…well... I’ve just never quite got it. And now I am one of them. I found a need to tell stories of drinking so that my new acquaintances didn’t think it was for some quaint puritanical reasons that I wasn’t joining them in their revelry. I openly discussed cancer, but that made me feel less than whole. Like I wasn’t drinking because I was mortally wounded when in fact I feel and am fine. I began to question myself as to why I wasn’t drinking. The doctor hasn’t told me not to drink. He just gave me an open message of holistic health and strengthening of my immune system. And when I asked him specifically about alcohol he said that I’d have full kidney function so drinking is not actually a problem. Gabrielle’s father lost a kidney about fifteen years ago and that didn’t diminish his propensity for heavy drinking sessions, stated Vik with unbridled admiration. He was a larger than life character they said. I felt lesser. So why am I not drinking? Wouldn’t it be ok, even a good decision, to have a couple of drinks now in this schmoozy situation that could benefit my work opportunities? It seemed like good business sense to have a drink. Take one (or two) for the team, so to speak. And it was then, while sipping on a gin and tonic (without the gin) with the others after the baseball, that I realised what the danger is for me in drinking in these (and other) situations. And why I needed to stick to abstinence. “If I start drinking with you folk”, I proffered, “what will inevitably happen is that you will all finish up around eleven and go back to your hotels. I, on the other hand, am more than likely to then go out and explore this new city in which I find myself. I will convince myself that it’s still only early and that I only need five hours sleep in any case, find a bar and some other drinking companions with whom I will share drinks and stories before arriving home in who knows what state around 2am, not even considering that I have to get up and make it in a decent state for the conference tomorrow”. It has been my way on many an occasion, so I instantly knew it to be true. That’s why I’m not drinking. Down that path holistic health does not lie.

I love Keith Richards. While acknowledging that he is like a superman in his consumption of alcohol and other substances and that us mere mortals couldn’t possibly emulate the feats of that man of steel, I have had my moments where I too fancied that I could fly. When asked his view on the fact that Ronny Wood had given up drinking, Keith said that he respected his decision but that he didn’t see Ronny quite as much now as he had in previous years. I’d always thought from the way he said it that this was Keith’s choice, but I know now for sure that it’s Ronnie’s. If you don’t want to be tempted into drinking, then best avoid those situations where temptation abounds. I survived Boston with my sobriety and fidelity intact and as always I felt good for managing to stay strong. And so onward to New York, a city that has seen some of my finest excesses.

The conferences felt pretty successful, with my presentations being well received and with me having had the opportunity to converse with some potential customers and with some key HPE personnel. But the post-conference drinks were problematic. The people there were all from the Tandem Computers world. This was a company founded by a beer loving man who mandated that on every Friday afternoon, at every Tandem office worldwide, staff would be provided with beer by the company. And here was I not having beers with these people. It felt like a handicap. Something that would have been an easy common denominator but was now missing. I felt more like I was dividing by zero, essentially undefined or at least not defined in a positive way. I guess this is something I will have to get used to. The advantage I suppose is that you are the clearer headed person in the room. But to the drinkers who are having a raucous time, I know that doesn’t really matter too much.

With all the work completed I had two full days and three nights to spend in New York City. Birthplace of my father, the town in which Jazzy was conceived (sorry Jazz if you're reading this) and the current or former home of several relatives and friends. And a place I hadn’t been since a couple of months before the twin towers were taken out back in 2001. I'd finished the work part of my trip and was now on holiday in one of the world’s great cities and a prime drinking one at that. The bars are plentiful and open late in New York. This has always been my natural habitat for meeting people when I travel to the US. Rock in, sit at the bar, order a drink and start talking to the person alongside. It never fails and anything can happen from there. And often has. But ordering a tonic water doesn’t really feel quite as conducive for launching into a fun filled night of chaos. On the Saturday evening I wanted to watch the Cavs and the Celtics in game six of the play-offs so ventured in to a bar local to where I was staying in Greenpoint. I ordered a tonic water and the barwoman said to me almost in shock, “Is that it”?! “I guess so”, I mumbled. I drank it slowly and watched LeBron rip the Celtics apart. As the game unfolded I struck up a conversation with the guys alongside who were also watching the game. “LeBron or MJ?” I questioned. A passionate conversation ensued with a feeling that if the Cavs got up this time then perhaps the scales had tilted in LeBron’s favour. I’d had a nice time chatting with them but when the game finished I said my farewell and left the bar. There didn’t seem to be much point hanging around if I wasn’t going to have some beers with them. It was my last night in the US, but if truth be told, I felt pretty exhausted. I’ve had a great time but it’s felt like a long trip. And going through a whole trip without drinking has been new food for a lot of thought. I made my way over to Martha’s Country Bakery on Bedford Avenue. If I couldn’t have a beer, at least I could have some pie.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

I need that song and I need it now – Addendum

In those days prior to Shazam, or in fact the internet in general, there was no easy way to work out exactly which album a particular song that you heard on the radio was located on. When you listened to radio stations such as 3RRR, which often played quite obscure songs, unless you caught the back announcement, you could be left completely in the dark as to what the amazing song you just heard actually was. Feelings of “I need to hear that again now” would often go completely unfulfilled. One morning, circa mid to late-80s, while driving in to uni, I heard a fabulous version of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love sung by Ella Fitzgerald. I knew the song and I knew some of Ella’s material, but this version had me marvelling at the true genius of the great woman. After singing the first verse or two in her own luxurious voice, she proceeded to sing the next in the voice of Marilyn Monroe, expertly mimicking her tone and word enunciation. I was spellbound, but what came next just lifted me into the stratosphere. For the final part of the song, Ella sang in the voice and style of Louis Armstrong, so expertly that you could have sworn that it was a duet. I thought it was one of the most amazing things that I’d ever heard and so began my quest to find the album on which this song resided. I didn’t really know anybody who was into this sort of music to ask and so just started looking in record shops, mostly of the second-hand variety. It became a ritual. Newly found second-hand record shop, flick through the jazz albums under F to see if it was there. I saw loads of Fitzgerald albums, but couldn’t find one that had this particular song. After a couple of unsuccessful years, I was wondering if my quest would be forever fruitless.

In 1989, I had my first trip to California. An eleven week work related training jaunt on full expenses, complete with a car and comfortable serviced apartment at the Residence Inn. It was a pretty deluxe intro to the US. And a new abundance of second-hand record stores in which to search. On flicking through the records hopefully in one such store, there it was. Ella Fitzgerald Live. Track 12. Paydirt! I was so excited and rushed to the counter to purchase it, sharing the story of my long quest to the bemused record shop owner. He could understand my passion and we had a bit of a chat about all things Ella. I took the album excitedly back to my temporary abode knowing that I had a couple of months to go before I’d be back home and have the opportunity to slip it on to my turntable and fulfil my desire. But for now, I was just satisfied that at last it was in my possession.

1989 was also the year of a very large earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had been in a class in Santa Clara when it occurred and had the full adrenaline fuelled experience of feeling an entire building wobble around like a bowl of jelly. Quite exhilarating if you were naïve enough and didn’t have the images in your head of fallen down bridges, crushed cars and massive fires in the Marina district that all came to me later. On getting back to the Residence Inn, I found that the manager, Kelly, had purchased a whole lot of pizzas and beers for the guests to share, to help everybody absorb what had occurred that day. I spent a bit of time talking to her that evening and as a long term guest at the place, got to know her quite well over the coming weeks. As I was staying there over Halloween, she invited me to come to a Halloween party with her and her friends; an invitation which I gratefully accepted. When she came to pick me up on that evening from my apartment, I invited her in for a pre-party drink and we comfortably chatted about all sorts of things. I told her of my crazy quest for the Ella Fitzgerald song and the fact that amazingly I’d found it in a local record store in San Jose a week or so earlier. With that I brought over the album to show her and her face dropped. “This is my father’s record”, she said. “Errrghhhh… what?”, I think I probably replied, a bit stunned. “Look, that’s his name written in the top corner, in his handwriting”, she told me. And sure enough, the name "Deacon" (I seem to recall), was handwritten at the top right, somewhat disfiguring the album cover in a manner of which I didn’t approve, but certainly identifying it undeniably in a unique way. He used to write his name at the top of all his albums she told me. His entire record collection had apparently been stolen as part of a break-in some months earlier and to make things worse, her father had died about a year ago. The records had been one of the only things the family had had as a reminder of his life and his passionate love of music, and that was now gone. This record that I had found in the second-hand store was the only one whose whereabouts were now known. “Can I please have it?” she asked. Well… FUCK! What to do? On the one hand, this emotional (and quite lovely) young woman was standing in front of me with pleading eyes. And on the other, I had searched high and low across the planet for this record and had only just found it. I hadn’t even had a chance to listen to it yet. So I said to her… in my own pleading way… “Kelly. You want this record as a reminder of your father. To put on a shelf so that you can look at it from time to time. And I understand that. But you don’t even want to listen to it. I, on the other hand, am desperate to listen to it. (I held back from saying, “as your father would have wanted”.) So, sorry, I can’t give it to you now. However, I know that I’ll be coming back to California at some stage, and I promise that I’ll bring it back with me then and you can have it then”. She seemed happy enough with this solution, but I guess, what else could she do? She was dealing with somebody who put their own insatiable need to hear a song above the sentimentality of a girl needing to be consoled about her recently dead father. Nevertheless, I knew that I would be good for my word, even if she was perhaps slightly unsure.

It took me two years to get back to California on another work sponsored trip, and I was indeed good for my word. I called up Kelly and presented her with the long lost album as a bit of a surprise, thinking that she would have expected me to have forgotten about my promise. She was rapt. And I felt very satisfied that it made her so happy. For me…well I knew that I would miss having this record in my collection. But at least in the previous two years, while the record was in my possession, I had managed to stumble across the song on CD. So, I too was rapt. And more than a bit relieved that my altruistic gesture wouldn’t deny me of a song that I truly truly needed.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

I need that song and I need it now

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. Often to complete obsession. There are times when I feel the need to hear a specific song so badly that if I can’t listen to it immediately several times over, I completely lose the ability to function. Like a heroin addict that can’t go on without their hit. These days, thanks to the power of the internet, instant relief is almost always on hand. But it was not always so.

From an early age I’d loved a selection of the songs that were on records that my parents used to play when they had friends coming over for dinner. They’d stack up the regular albums on to the multi-disk record player in the TV-radiogram unit and Nat and I would get to listen to a smattering of songs before it was time for us to head off to bed. The soundtracks to Hair, Fiddler On The Roof and Paint Your Wagon. A collection of Burt Bacharach’s Greatest Hits which introduced me to Dionne Warwick’s sublime version of Walk On By. I likewise fell for songs that I would hear periodically on the radio from the back seat of the car. But I think that my addiction to music probably truly started in earnest in primary school when I first became exposed to songs to which I didn’t have any access. When the recess or lunch bell rang signifying that it was time to go back in for class, a favourite song of one of the grade six kids would play over the tannoy. The song duty was rotated daily among the kids who had records to bring in to school. This introduced me to Suzi Quatro, my first ever rock n roll crush. There was something about Can The Can that did something to me that I couldn’t quite explain. It surged through my whole body and gave me a feeling of excitement that I'd never really felt before. I guess it was partly sexual awakening as I’d just started to discover the attraction of girls (girl germs now curiously seemed something desirous to receive rather than something to run from). But it was deeper even than that. I just couldn’t get the song out of my head but had no ability to hear it other than hope that it would play again at school the next day. I’d wait all lunchtime just hoping to hear the song. Or if I knew who was doing the music selection, almost beg them to put it on. When I discovered that these songs I yearned for could be purchased on record, I was on a pocket money rate of twenty cents per week, with an occasional cash injection of a few bucks for a birthday perhaps. Eventually I was able to save up the $4.99 to buy my first album at Brashs, Explosive Hits ‘74, which contained a number of the songs that I needed at that time. Devil Gate Drive, Billy Don’t Be A Hero, Hooked On A Feeling, Evie Part 1 (I didn’t even know there were two other parts to this anthem at that stage) and various other songs that I could love and listen to as much as I wanted. I took my hard saved two dollars twenty-five to buy my first single, William Shakespeare’s Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You but somehow walked away confused, instead holding the nowhere near as good My Little Angel. The Brashs sales guy had given me the wrong record and I was a bit too inexperienced to realise that I should take it back and swap it for the correct one. I was silently devastated. I also couldn’t work out how come singles were so expensive compared to the awesome Greatest Hits albums that had so many great songs on them.

Eventually my parents bought a portable radio-cassette player/recorder to which I had access and with that my listening capabilities changed. Now I could sit by the radio for hours, cassette paused, just waiting for a specific song to be played on 3XY that I could record and then listen to at will. I remember waiting days to get Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, many years before his song butchering performance at the AFL Grand Final. It was hardly immediate, but between occasional record purchases when I could afford them and songs recorded off the radio, I was in business. I was in Year 11 when Get The Knack was released and I still had no money. I wanted to hear My Sharona so badly that I nicked the album from Myers at Doncaster. Just walked out nonchalantly with it under my jumper and then raced home on the bus to play it over and over again.

As well as those songs that I today consider a bit daggy, but still have a nostalgic love for, I became introduced to music that set me on a different path. One day when I was around 12 or so, mum and dad took us to spend the day with their friends the Haugs. I guess Chris was two or three years older than me, and after a few games of cricket out the front, we left the younger kids, my sister Nat and his younger brother Ian, and went into his room where he played me music that I’d never heard before. I was probably flattered that this older kid was happy to hang out with me and introduce me to stuff that he liked. Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound Of Silence and Scarborough Fair came wafting out of his stereo and immediately had me in their spell. Followed by Neil Young songs such as Old Man and Sugar Mountain, the latter that I just couldn’t get out of my head. Neil’s discordant but oddly infectious voice coupled with the strangest chord progression I’d ever heard. This was something new. Something seemingly of greater substance than songs to which I’d previously been exposed. I only ever met Chris a couple of times, but it’s fair to say that he had a profound impact on my life, one that I’m grateful for to this day. Life is funny and years later on when I again met his younger brother Ian, who magically enough had become a member of The Church (a later love), I related to him this story of my time decades earlier with his older brother. He identified completely, saying that Chris was also responsible for his love of Neil Young, to the extent that his band ended up being named from the Neil Young song Powderfinger.

And over the years, my urgent need to hear a specific song at a particular time has not waned. Often inspired by being at a gig where a song has leapt out and taken on a new life, demanding that I listen to it a thousand times on getting home (The Police’s Invisible Sun, Dire Straits’ Portobello Belle, Springsteen’s Badlands, Sinead O’Connor’s Red Football, The Cure’s M, Billy Bragg’s Accident Waiting To Happen, Massive Attack’s Safe From Harm, Died Pretty’s Final Twist, The Church’s Block, Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost In You, Brian Eno & David Byrne’s Home, Nick Cave’s I Need You and in a recent blast back to the past, Paul McCartney’s I Feel Like Letting Go, among many many others). And now with the internet and YouTube, Spotify and all, songs are all readily available at will whenever you need them, Or at least so I thought.

About a dozen or so years ago, I had a compilation CD that I’d received free with a magazine and for a while I had it on permanent rotation in my car. I loved one song in particular, though having misplaced the cover, I didn’t know what it was called or even who sang it really. Laura somebody or other. But for a while there I listened to this song over and over again. Repeat playing it as soon as it had finished. Eventually the CD disappeared somewhere and with it this song that I really loved. I mourned its loss on several occasions. It was a song that I yearned to hear again periodically, but I didn’t even really know where to look to find it. That is, until recently. I have an upcoming trip to New York in a few weeks and I was having a look to see if there will be any gigs on whilst I’m there that I’d like to go to. The only one that leapt out at me was a performer named Laura Veirs. Was that her? It seemed to ring a bell. I trawled through the web looking at the names of all the songs on her albums to see if something twigged. But it didn’t. So I started playing the free 15 second samples from each of her albums of around that vintage. It sounded like her, so I felt like I was on the right track, in locating the track that I desired. And then… there it was. The beautifully sparse arrangement of finger-picked guitar and melancholy tune that somehow resonated so deeply with my soul. Song My Friends Taught Me, by Laura Veirs. I’m not one for Spotify really. It rips off musicians. Likewise, just listening to the song on YouTube. I immediately needed to own it again. I went to iTunes and on finding the album there I excitedly clicked “buy” only to see a message indicating that the album wasn’t available for sale in Australia. What??? I went to US iTunes, where it was available, but received a message saying that I had to purchase via the Australian store. I tried the Aussie store again only to once more see the message of unavailability. How about Google Play? Not available there at all. So I went to the source; Laura Veirs’ website. The album was listed in her online store as being available on vinyl, CD and electronic download. Excellent. I wanted to hear it now so thought I’d just do the MP3 version. I clicked on the purchase link after selecting the download version, but when I went to the checkout page, it had turned into the physical CD. That would take ages to ship to Australia and I need it NOWWWW!!!! For some reason, despite my several attempts, it wouldn't let me select the digital download. The vinyl copy was listed as coming with an instant download code, so I decided to buy that. But on purchasing the record, no link appeared as promised. So I emailed the record company, which is essentially Laura’s, containing pretty much only her releases. Is there a download link to be had as stated on the website or is it actually referring to a card inside the album that contains a download link? I feared the latter. In my email I explained that I needed the link now as I wouldn’t be receiving the record for some months when I could pick it up from my cousin Laurie in California, where I was having it delivered. My desperation was palpable. And a few days later when I finally received an email back, I saw that my request had been granted and a download link provided. Hooray! I excitedly downloaded the album, unzipped it and pressed play on the song that I’d been hanging out to hear. And there it was. I sat back with my eyes closed, blissfully drinking it in. At least, I was doing that until the sound cut out about half way through the song. No way!! I opened the file with a different media player and had the same result. I downloaded the album again and unzipped it. Still the same. And so, disappointedly, I sent another email to Laura’s record company, explaining my whole history with this song, and wondering aloud in print whether I was somehow cursed to not be able to obtain it no matter how hard I tried. Another couple of days passed. And then, finally, a return email with another download link and a thank you for bringing to their (her?) attention that the album wasn’t available on iTunes in Australia. That was news to them and they were sorting that out. I tried the new link they sent and opened the song with trepidation. What else could go wrong? Thankfully... nothing. I played it over and over a number of times, finally feeling sated. My withdrawal had been long, but now was just sweet relief. To show their appreciation, I was also offered a download of anything that I wanted from Laura’s catalogue of albums. I chose two of them, not wanting to be too greedy. So I guess it now seems like destiny that I should go and see Laura play live in New York whilst I’m there. Though the way things have been going, I won't be holding my breath on her playing that song.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Dear Alcohol,

You have been one of the great loves of my life, but as much as it saddens me, I think it is time for us to part ways. We have shared some fantastic times together you and I, really since it all began when I was a boy in high school. I recall how you took me by surprise when I was only fifteen years old and you were the older woman. You were far from gentle with me, flirting with me outrageously and then leading me on through a night of hilarity that ultimately resulted in me waking up the next morning in a pool of my own vomit. I learned early of the tough love that you are capable of giving and the respect that I needed to show you, even though on occasions over the years that respect may have slipped. We shared times together in many exotic locations. Rum in Barbados. Shochu in Tokyo. Guinness in Dublin. Long Island Iced Teas in California. Champagne in France. Raki in Turkey. Mekong whiskey in Thailand. Retsina in Greece. Grappa in Italy. Vodka in Poland. And many many beers and wines in every country that I have set foot in. Remember those intoxicating days of love when we shared each other's company for months on end in campgrounds around Europe? And countless nights out with strangers in bars across the US and Asia and, of course, Australia. Or even those nights in, just staying at home and chilling together at our place. You were the perfect partner, comfortable in any environment and happy to accompany me everywhere. You were even happy in my more promiscuous days, to have regular threesomes with me and my other old love, cannabis. What more could a man ask for from his partner? The three of us truly had some wild times and for quite some period were almost inseparable. I felt blessed to have two such beautiful lovers. And even after nights where things seemed to have got completely out of hand, leaving me with feelings of regret and a queasy stomach, you have usually been able to settle me the next day in a very forgiving way.

But I guess those heady days had to come to an end at some stage. I know that we have had our short periods of separation in the past. Sometimes where I would leave you to instead have an exclusive relationship with cannabis. I'd almost shun you, quite rudely as if you no longer meant anything to me. But I knew that you were still always there for me as faithful as ever when I'd come back to you. And you did always take me back.

But despite the fact that we have shared such amazing times, I think now that I need to make a clean break from you. There is no other love to take your place this time. Cannabis and I are also through, not really seeing each other regularly for quite some time now. In fact I'm not sure yet how I'm going to fill the void that I'm sure you'll leave. But it seems that hanging with you recently has led to a few other bad decisions on my part that have helped weaken my body. So I can't see you any more. Not at all. To spend time with you periodically will be too difficult for me to bear. I'm sure that that would cause us to slip back into our old ways and next thing we know we'll be shacked up together again. I know that you already enjoy relationships with many many other men and women. Ours has never been an exclusive relationship. So forgive me if I need to leave a party or a function or a gathering where I see you getting intimate with other people in the room. I may not be able to watch. And so it is with heavy heart that I bid you a fond adieu. 

With love and best wishes for your many other relationships,

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Love is Live is Love is Live...

I've never felt so completely smacked in the face by my own mortality as when I was told that I had cancer. The news was couched more diplomatically than that by my doctor. She said to me that the scans showed that I had a large mass on my kidney that had all the signs of renal cell carcinoma, but my mind definitely heard her say "you've got fucking cancer mate!". What do you do with that kind of news? Everyone who has found out that I've had cancer has told me that they were completely shocked when they heard. It's pretty safe to say that the shock that filled me on hearing this news was complete and overwhelming. At various stages over the following days I visited my own funeral and saw a room full of mourners and a box at the front containing my lifeless body. I thought of my final words to my children and how I'd like to deliver them. I thought of Tori moving on in life with a new partner (I'd want her to do that - hopefully he's a decent bloke and treats her right). I was filled with sorrow of the events in my children's life that I'd never be around to see. I'm sure that this is common for anybody confronted with the real possibility of their own death. It is difficult not to grieve for yourself. "Stay positive", everybody says. Easy to say. And I'm sure that the more bleak the news, the harder that is to do. You don't really have control over your subconscious and mine tends to run wild on all possible outcomes of all situations. And here was a very confronting situation with some potentially grim outcomes of finality. As with many situations in my life, I turned to sport for the answer. My friend Paul, who some years ago had been through his own cancer battle, told me that he had approached it as a challenge; a mental and physical battle like we'd both experienced many times previously on our various sporting fields. That resonated strongly with me. I had an opponent I needed to triumph against and it would take dedication and effort to achieve the desired result. My mate Darren told me that I was batting in the corridor of uncertainty. That I needed to put my head down and play with a straight bat. I hoped that as I stood there with my bat in hand taking guard and looking up the pitch that it wasn't Michael Holding with a brand new cherry running down the hill towards me from the sight screen, gathering steam as he approached the crease and then hurling down a thunderbolt on to a bouncy deck that reared up off a length around my helmetless head. That image filled me with fear, just as I'm sure it did to batsmen the world around back in the day. I took some solace from the lifeless MCG Boxing Day pitch, preferring the image of me batting on that, facing some below par English medium paced change bowler who'd been fielding in the baking sun for two days and had just been thrown the old ball by the skipper. I could even see myself  gloriously cover driving a wide half volley to the boundary as my innings became more confident. Which type of bowler I'd be facing and on what type of pitch was going to largely come down to the details of this cancer. How aggressive was it? Had it spread to my lymph nodes or other vital organs? By the time I met my urologist I'd moved on from cricket to footy. I need to not get ahead of myself; to take this whole thing one game at a time. I can only control the controllables so might as well not get bogged down worrying about the things outside of my control. I pictured Lenny Hayes managing to walk off the ground unaided with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, and the way that he methodically went about his rehabilitation to return an even better footballer than he'd been before. And Robert Harvey, who on being told that his partially torn planar fascia would have been easier to treat if it had been fully torn, continually jumped off his kitchen table on to that foot until it was. In short I guess I decided that however things were going to unfold, I was going to do whatever I could to give myself the best possible chance of being fit for this year's final series and whatever would be would be.

It all started with a pissing episode just prior to Christmas. I woke in the middle of the night and stumbled half asleep to the toilet to relieve myself, trying not to wake up too much in the process so that I could drop straight back to sleep afterwards. I began to piss, or at least thought I had, but nothing was coming out. Bone dry, so to speak. I was fully awake now. Pissing muscles fully engaged, but nothing. After a few minutes of changing positions and squeezing for all I was worth, it finally gave and out came a flowing torrent of urine and blood. The bowl was red and I was freaked right out. Things cleared up the next day, but clearly I needed to see a doctor.

Over the few months prior to discovering I had a large tumour in my body, I hadn't been feeling brilliant. I'd been low on energy. Often tired. And I'd had a few sporadic brief bouts of depression that had been far deeper and darker than anything I'd ever experienced before (for a glimpse of how deep and how dark, see my post on The Black Dog). I'd put it all down to being too busy and stressed with work and over indulging in the runup to Christmas, which I'm sure did play some part. It amazed me that only a week or so after my operation when I'd recovered some from the physical trauma of it all, and then recovered further from all the opium based painkillers that had been fuzzing out my head and turning my stomach in knots, I felt loads better than I'd felt for months. When the pathology report indicating that the doctor had successfully removed all of the cancer had fully sunk in and I'd moved past spontaneous bouts of cathartic sobbing, I also felt emotionally better than for quite some time.  When I told this to my urologist, he wasn't surprised. He said that my body would have been expending a huge amount of effort to deal with a cancerous growth of that size. How long it had been there nobody can say. Apparently it was quite an aggressive form so whether that means it was growing for six months, twelve months or longer I have no idea. I'm just glad now that it's out. And I feel loads better than before I even knew it was there.

One huge positive to come out of the experience was the tidal wave of love that came pouring over me from friends located all round the world. I've always known that I've had strong connections with the many amazing people that I've met through my life, but the flow of beautiful words and deeds has been truly humbling. People bringing over meals and healing treatments. Offers of assistance for anything should we need it. My social media was overwhelmed with messages of love and support and I have endeavoured to respond to each one individually. While typing into my phone from my hospital bed, I was inundated with subliminal messaging from my phone. Continually when I intended to type "love" the display showed that I had actually typed "live". Was my phone trying to tell me something? I'm sure I typed "love". But it says "live". I know that the keyboard proximity of "O" and "I" coupled with my fumblingly inaccurate fingers is the likely cause, but I saw a message through it anyway. There's lots of people who love me and who I love. And they want me to live. life must change. I need a new approach going forward. 

Hi. My name is Greg. I have only one kidney. I don't drink alcohol. I don't smoke. I don't do drugs. I don't work too hard. I eat healthily. I exercise regularly. I do qi gong. I spend a lot of time in nature. I play guitar and write. I have regular acupuncture and take chinese herbs. I have relaxing bowen treatments. I drink ginger and lemon tea, as well as a load of water. I hang out whenever I can with my family and with my friends. I'm early to bed and early to rise. If I don't take this whole episode as somewhat of a serious warning sign that change is essential, then what the fuck would I ever take as one? When people think of a cancerous growth in their body, the tendency I believe is to think of it as a foreign body that has somehow grown inside of you. An alien structure that doesn't belong. But in fact it's a part of you. It is your cells that have gone a bit haywire and started replicating in a way that they shouldn't. So somehow in my previous existence I have created a situation where my body has responded in an unfavourable way. Certain of my cells have gone berserk and created a large growth to form on my kidney that is as much a part of me as the kidney itself. Or at least was a part of me. They are both gone now. Sorry right kidney that I didn't treat you better. The doctor has told me that this type of cancer tends to attack when the immune system is weakened. And I've certainly been doing my best over the past twelve to eighteen months to shatter it. Staying up until 5:30am in full flight party mode. Travelling to the USA for work and still doing several hours of my Australian work remotely each day after an eight hour day onsite with a US customer, while simultaneously trying to come to terms with jetlag. And then while exhausted from that week, going straight to the airport on the Friday and flying several hours across the country to meet up with good friends and a load of drinks in North Carolina, before flying back on Monday morning and going straight to work to do it all again. Madness. So that has now ended. Instead I am going to nurture my body. It seems like a massive change but I'm hoping it's sustainable. I'm not very good at moderation. I find abstinence much easier. So in regards to drinking, that's the approach I intend on taking. While acknowledging that it's possible that this or some other cancer could come back regardless, and that I'll be shitting myself waiting for the results of each of the regular scans I'll be having over the coming months and years, I'm happy to consider myself cancer free at the moment and will do what I can to make it so. The doctor has said that with some holistic health that strengthens my immune system, there is no reason why this cancer should come back. It doesn't occupy my mind or affect my mood at all at the moment. I just feel grateful that for now it is all over. And grateful for my beautiful family and friends who have supported me. And grateful for fantastic doctors with compassion and skill. And grateful to have what seems to be in some ways a second chance. It seems hugely ironic that having cancer could potentially make me a much healthier and happier being. But I feel better for it already.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Love Is Love

I Love My Beautiful Wife Tori.
I Love My Beautiful Daughter Jazzy.
I Love My Beautiful Son Finn.
I Love My Beautiful Son Kimi.
I Love My Beautiful Mum Joy.
I Love My Beautiful Sister Nat.
I Love My Beautiful Friends,
Both Here and Gone.
I Carry You All With Me.
You Are All A Part Of My Soul.
You Always Will Be.
My Love To You All.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Black Dog

I always thought that the black dog followed you around. Waiting for an opportune time to attack. But that is not the case at all. The black dog lives within. It mostly sleeps but when it awakes it quickly turns into a terrifying growling beast, teeth bared and lip curled back in a vicious snarl. Ready to attack. It forms out of the darkness that you’d forgotten was even there. Barking menacingly at anyone who dares to come near. Sometimes it has such power that it takes on three heads. Each of them a wild entity unto themselves. There is danger for anybody who approaches. But the biggest danger is for within. It builds in strength by feeding on the darkness. And as it rises, it feasts also on the internal organs. Shaking its head as it tears into the stomach and spills out the guts. Black blood dripping from its slavering fangs. It takes control of the voice, rendering its host silent. Like a stunned rabbit caught in the jaws of a wolf. Sometimes it speaks with a guttural growl that will make bystanders recoil in alarm. They think it comes from you. Sometimes it howls with the power of a screaming banshee that has risen from the grave. Its urgent despair clear for all to hear. Sometimes its sorrow is so deep and its control so complete that nothing else matters at all. It is all consuming. It is not an animal that can be easily placated. Do not try to pet or tame it. If a well-meaning person tries to approach they may be mauled. Sometimes mortally. It may savage their arm but really it yearns to rip at their throat. And if there is nobody to attack, it will resume quietly eating. Chewing away at the liver. Crunching through intestines and kidneys. Its appetite can seem insatiable but often as quickly as it appears, it will lay back down and go to sleep. Nobody knows for how long. The cold darkness vanishes. Maybe a hint of warmth appears. It’s as if it was never there. Where did it go? Perhaps it became distracted and with its anger diffused it shrinks to a size that cannot be detected. But it is still there. It is lurking. And nobody knows when exactly it will again rise in its rage filled fury.