Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Feelings about feelings about Bowie

What’s with public grief? I get it, but I don’t. I get that people are sad about Bowie’s death and I suppose I am too. Or shocked. That was my feeling and maybe I haven’t progressed further. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I can’t because I feel strange about everything I’ve seen and read since that references this person but tells a different story to mine. Have I imagined an entirely different man to the rest of the world? Through my shock I realised I couldn’t grieve because Bowie doesn’t die. But (from what I’ve read) that’s an unusual reading of the situation. So I write this to get a better sense of my feelings about these feelings.

All the declarations of crying, feeling loss and anguish, of being inconsolable and distraught, do not sit well with me. Why? Partly I think it’s people vowing to say/share the right things at the right time, to be heard, to be there. “I bear witness so hear my story. I’m going through this.” Partly (and this I’m ashamed to admit), my Bowie fandom feels affronted by the hordes of ‘Bowie fans’ who probably aren’t all that acquainted. Or maybe they’re as acquainted as I am with The Beatles. I know their stuff (I can’t escape it), but I don’t choose to listen to it. Now we all choose to listen to Bowie because he’s dead. Except he really isn’t. (I suppose everyone out there must have some connection to a song/film/image/something, so I suppose I’m too harsh. I suppose I can’t know the depth of the feelings of others).

But I know that Bowie’s not dead. This isn’t denial, it’s me recognising that my Bowie years are not over, that he’ll always have a place in my soundscape which he’s dominated for a good decade or so. I wasn’t born when most of his great stuff was made. Mostly it’s 1971-1973 that are my Bowie years. Then there’s Low in 1977. And all these years will always exist. We have the music and the feelings it brings. And those feelings will continue to exist and change and reshape us.

But should the feelings change because you know he’s dead? Or are you just mourning your own lack of knowledge/enjoyment of this music? Are you sad because you’re discovering someone who’s now dead and realising the extent of their brilliance? Could you not have known that earlier? Am I gloating? (The arrogance of fandom knows no bounds)

I liked his second last album but didn’t love it. I couldn’t love it because it’s overshadowed by his perfect albums. And there have been many. And they say something that can’t be said now. 1970s Bowie did something that can’t be done now. Because it was a time and a place and we’ve moved to new places. And these places can still be good. And there are still living bands and artists who shatter us today. I suppose we don’t have the time to recognise them all, however, because we’re too busy seeking the best things. Endlessly overturning stones, despite the treasures we’ve already amassed. But you can’t be there for everything. Or do we think we can? Do we feel the need? And is this why we cry and mourn and publicly declare our love for the dead man (who’s not even dead)?

The man is Bowie who’s not even a man but an apparition. He’s a series of stories that we project feelings upon and make dreams through. He’s a creation. He’s fictional. And like all great fiction he feels pretty real, but surely we understand this as fiction. The stories were written, the tales told and passed on, and they still circulate today and forever. James Baldwin is dead. Marguerite Duras is dead. Albert Camus is dead. Nina Simone is dead. Many brilliant ones are dead. And they gave us so much that maybe we don’t have a right to be sad about their deaths. Maybe we can be sad about their lives, yet Bowie didn’t have a tough life. At least from what we know. And we don’t know much. From some of the songs it seems there could’ve been struggles. But maybe fiction is fiction and we have to leave it at that. Had he wanted to write a memoir he’d have done so. He didn’t.

So why the tears? At 69 his life wasn’t cut too short. He wasn’t Albert Camus in a car crash with an unfinished manuscript. He wasn’t Michel Foucault dying an AIDS-related death before medicine caught up with that. (Or Hervé Guibert or David Wojnarowicz or any of the many others.) This was not an early and tragic death, though granted, it was unexpected. But it’s highly likely that the best of his stories have been written. His legacy is firmly in place and this was the case well before January 11th, 2016. There’ll be some fine obituaries and there’ll be many awful ones. Thousands of awful declarations of love for the dead man.

The dead man is not Lady Di. He gave us 27 albums. At least 6 of these are great. They were made in the 1970s. He was still making good music near his death, but that was different. I know that it’s my story that Bowie is a 1970s man. I understand that many will have loved his new album, released on what we now picture as his death bed. And I guess if I’d listened to and liked it I might feel differently today. But I haven’t. And I’m not going to play it now to conjure the tears to feel the moment to express something real about my sadness.

Some of us feel sad that all of the good people are dead. They’re not. The dead people are just the ones who’ve completed life. They’ve given us everything and we think it necessary and respectful to write their obituary/biography. We narrate a success story or a tragedy or maybe something else. We script their completion. (“2016… 69 years... 27 albums... The greatest...”) We move away from the text to map its general arc. We pick our favourite song, album, era, persona, outfit. We sift through the remains of the celebrity. We’re not good with death.

But is this about celebrity? Or is it about art or something else? And does celebrity have to be the only focal point here? Bowie is not Diana, nor is he Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston. All of these people gave us important things, mostly they gave us tools to work through our feelings. Yet each of them was killed by celebrity. Bowie wasn’t. Nobody knew he was even sick or dying, probably because nobody knew him except his people.

One day my mother will die and that day will be sad. That day will be filled with tears and anguish and all the other objects and feelings that people have been spilling on the internet since yesterday, since #RIPBowie. But nobody (at least in my friendship circle) had regular reciprocated contact with Bowie. Nobody was taking his calls, nor screening his calls, nor going there for Xmas, nor remembering the time they were held by him. We were touched by his music perhaps, but not him. We don’t ever know the artist. I suspect that most artists don’t want us to know them, only their work. And he was good at that. He had many decades to carve a space for himself in which to live and breathe and create and gather with his people. And those people can weep and wail as much as they can because they fucking need to. What just happened is their loss, not ours.

Our version of the man is not dead but still very much breathing. Our access continues. He’s everywhere you want to look, whether that’s YouTube, your record collection, in films, or in the general culture we breathe. Tributes and homage and references are everywhere already because this man owned the 1970s and a whole lot more.

Bowie’s great, but he’s no saviour/hero. If we listen closely, his characters are the prophets telling us things we should probably hear. Stories of rebellion and isolation and pain and the queerness of everyday life. From the spectacular metaphor of space to the streets down below, where we strut, sift, and meander through life. To be lost is to be alive, to have lungs and feet. To be waiting and feeling and exploring the fantasy of otherness. Being everything yet nothing. Being all you ever can be. Forever.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


I'm not good with dying people, and I'm not good with death. I'm one of the lucky few who hasn't lost many people.

I just found out about the death of a woman I lived with a couple of years ago. Her stay was brief, but memorable. Her energy offered much joy to that house.

She was new to the country, and I enjoyed hearing her perspective on the streets and places and things around us. She reminded me that there is much to be fascinated by. This is part of her legacy, I guess, for which I'm grateful. We shared many wines and meals. I knew that she knew a lot, and that this was the case because she was open and interested in all things she encountered. She never tried to understand the members of that house, in ways that others might. She saw us as good people, and that was a nice reflection to wake up to. She liked meeting our friends and lovers.

I didn't keep in touch with her. There were some dinners at her new place, or at our ex-housemate's place, and there were Facebook words and likes. Her partner was more active there, so I got to interact with him more after she moved from that house. We've all since moved out of that house. These memories of her, like so much else, seem so contained by that space.

I knew she was dying. I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything. I liked photos of her on Facebook. I liked to watch her adventures. I admired her exuberance, as always. Part of me wanted to hug her and say sorry. But she was mostly away, and besides, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that. I presume that a dying person doesn't want constant reminders that they're dying. But I don't know actually, because I've never really engaged with a dying person. There were grandparents, of course. They all died, but I was young and I never talked to them about dying or the death of their spouses, or even what it feels like to be old. And still, I have no language around dying. I don't know what to say or how anything can and should be said. Maybe part of it is guilt for being the one who's not dying.

I feel waves of sorrow when I think of her partner. I can't imagine his loss. I don't know what to say to him either. 'I'm sorry' sounds trivial and heartless. Nothing I can say would be useful to his situation, I don't think. And I don't know him that well anyway. But I wonder what he wants to hear or see from the people who are coming to terms with her death. It's not as though I can ask him what words he needs right now.

I'm looking at tributes and photos on Facebook (our usual meeting place), and again, I'm without words to carry my feelings from me to him, or to anyone. And maybe I just don't know how I feel, other than sad. And maybe each sadness needs a whole new language that isn't yet available. So I sit quietly, alone, and I mourn.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


i'll be moving out of my little cave in less than two months. my time and task here will be up by then. i will then move into the world in other ways, with new projects and thoughts to occupy my time. by then, winter will be nearing it's end (not that this Sydney winter is so wintery, but there's enough cold in my cave to pretend it is). walking through these dark rooms i realise i've taken few photos that capture this space/time. my dislike of endless digital capture has perhaps prevented me from capturing this space in any visual way that will contribute to my memory of this year and its moments. most of my photos are captured and displayed via Snapchat, so are collected and shared in a matter of seconds, disappearing, making space for representations of other, newer, moments. i like the temporal nature of this dialogue. it's not unlike phone conversations. so much of the content of phone conversations falls away, yet the intimacies of calling, speaking, and sharing are not lost. and perhaps Snapchat offers the same: a space of intimacy, sharing, and collective production of these moments, only to be forgotten (but the friendship is not).

i suppose my approaching departure from the cave saddens me because i know these walls to be important, shaping, and definitive of this past year. i feel sad that after august i will not have these walls, this key, this place in which to hide and write and think and obsess over current pursuits. this is my room, the one Virginia Woolf says we all need. of course there'll be other rooms, but this one, right now, offers protection and assurance. the thought of forever leaving the cave is frightening. i don't want to forget the cave. and i guess i should have written about it more, as this is typically how i remember. but this year my mind is crowded with other things. this year is about finishing this year and so there's little desire to stop and take photos, until now, when i start to feel myself sliding out of this chapter and its defining space.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Beyoncé's Beyoncé

I'm currently having an intense fan experience.

Listening to Beyoncé's surprise album, and watching the videos, I'm abuzz. It's a 'visual album' that was not hyped in the lead up to it's release, but in it's post-release (these last few days), with the feeling of "how the fuck did that just happen?" How is there now 14 songs and 17 videos to digest, in one huge pill? And they're intense and fierce and at this moment I know that this is the best work Beyoncé has ever created.

And I'm tempted to write thousands of words on why and how this moment is, but I won't. Instead I'll let this wash over me for the weekend and the years to follow.

One thing I want to say is that I love the feminism of this moment. There's a lot of symbols, gestures and overt claims to feminism and gender difference here, and it's as though this is a cultural/media/sexualities text whose complexity could probably never be captured by any scholar, but is best experienced through fandom; in one's responses, delights and engagements with this text. Because this is a feeling, pulsating, and beautiful moment that is contradictory, angry, desiring, seductive and fucked up. This is happening right now, and any historical or cultural overview is going to attempt to suffocate that.

This might be the most subversive feminist text I've read in a while.

Friday, November 15, 2013

machines must be destroyed

I hate iPads. I hate iAnnotate. I hate Apple TM and its ubiquitous, controlling, techno-fascism.
Today was spent trying to download an app on a work-provided iPad that I can no longer stand to look at (unless I'm kicking it to pieces).
Welcome to the modern academic work life of the under/over employed postgrad student.
I signed a contract for 8 hours of marking. So many contracts. So much paperwork that has to be completed, signed, scanned, delivered, and processed so that I can do a job that takes about the same amount of time as all the combined labour in doing the initial paperwork.
But I'm cheap labour because I work from home.
I ring the IT Centre and they say they don't really deal with the iPads. "Can you bring it in?" he says, "what campus are you on?"
My campus is my home that is currently being poisoned by my anger at this working life i find myself in.
Half of those 8 hours have been spent already and I've marked no essays. So I'll probably work 14 hours I suppose. And I'll probably not complain because there's nobody to whom I could fairly direct this anger. I can shake my fist at the institution of course, but we're all doing that anyway. So what?
I've offered to mark the essays on paper, the old-fashioned way. I'm awaiting a response. But I'm not touching them today because today is ruined and I need to walk away from these screens now and go pick up some scissors and paper to cut things out and make something pretty. I need to play some records.
They say you can choose the life you want to live, but I can't choose the analogue life that I want. At least not without major life restructuring and a future of poverty and loneliness.
Meanwhile I'm about to start teaching online at another institution who likes to outsource work to the restless homes of PhD students. There's 6 different people that have graced my inbox in relation to this job, and I'm expected to know who they are, what roles they play, and how we're all supposed to relate to each other. Most of these people I've never met or spoken to. I send a question today, pointing out that I don't have access to 'the system'. Someone's response points to the responsibilities of 3 of the other people - one is away, one is sick, the other (it is suggested) hasn't done his job. It's very easy to hate people without faces and blame them for my discomfort. I just want a fucking password and the induction training that was promised. But now I get an online induction tool. More unpaid time to figure out systems that have no relevance to my life/occupation other than me needing to voluntarily learn them so I can briefly use them to make my way to another small sum of money. And all this while I'm poisoning my home with anger directed at screens. My workplace/loungeroom is spared of colleagues, resources, and adequate IT. I guess there's a password for me, but it just hasn't been communicated to me. Communication being that thing we do between screens, in solitary numbness, without having to look at the angry disappointment on each others' faces.
Time to find a real job.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

and i forgot...

"And I forgot the element of chance introduced by circumstances, calm or haste, sun or cold, dawn or dusk, the taste of strawberries or abandonment, the half-understood message, the front page of newspapers, the voice on the telephone, the most anodyne conversation, the most anonymous man or woman, everything that speaks, makes noise, passes by, touches us lightly, meets us head on."

La Démarche poétique - Jacques Sojcher, 1976

Friday, October 18, 2013

work-related injury

Work's Intimacy, a book by Mel Gregg, has been sitting on my shelf at work for many months. I haven't had time to read it. I'm writing about intimacy, but the intimacy of young people's sex and friendships, so while the title initially piqued my interest, I put it aside because the content was not relevant to my current need. But I was keen to read it, so added it to the 'for later' pile. I have been rationalising my reading habits for the good part of a decade now (i.e. forever). When I picked it up this morning and read the introduction, it was a confronting read. This is my life.

Before I went there:
I've been having gut issues again, so last night at R's house I didn't drink, I didn't have chocolate, I sipped mineral water as we watched a film. I felt my stomach grow tense. I'm thinking that my fear of being sick is generative of sickness, because there's no other explainable reason. Other than stress. My to-do list is not shrinking, but growing, and I'm juggling too many roles which I've never been good at. I'm struggling to retain a hold of 'responsible-me'. I'm lying in bed this morning, being held and caressed in ways that should have comforted me, but instead I feel ashamed, embarrassed, pathetic; "I've got to go home." I walk up the hill and my reflection in windows tells me I should have fixed my bed-hair. Everyone is walking to work and nobody is happy. I feel weak and hideous. I make it home and I breathe easier. I run a bath. I make a cup of tea. I say "fuck work" (for now), and take this book to the bath.

It unsettles me more, of course. What I'm reading here is my story and the story of many like me: the 24/7 worker. I'm paid to work 21 hours a week, and often take on other roles/jobs to supplement this. The rest of my week I work on my thesis. Lately, I don't really partition these roles from each other. My to-do list is a mish-mash of all things that I "do", including non work things, like sending birthday cards, or phoning a friend I promised to call weeks ago.

I use social media at work and feel bad for doing so, for communicating 'off topic' with friends. Yet all the list making and emailing I do for work while I'm at home is just par for the course and I don't count those minutes. I can't count those minutes. Minutes thinking about work and what I need to do tomorrow or next week are countless. I would need some brain meter to calculate this, because my mind just goes there, and then it seems necessary to make a note of something or send that email, because otherwise I'd forget, again. So I do what I feel like I have to before going back to the things I'm doing, and it doesn't make sense to calculate time spent thinking, acting, noting, what I should confine to my work life. Besides, who's got time to count minutes. Doing so would mean attempting to divide my practices into many separate strands. But this is not how work is done. If I'm 'working' I'll often find some material useful for studies. If I'm talking about my thesis I'll invariably end up talking about work. If I'm tackling my inbox, then I'm reading and responding to all things, in no distinctive order. My mind wonders between my roles in no logical fashion, but in response to the stimulus I'm getting from colleagues, friends, peers, emails, readings, etc.

I just want to get by. I want to enjoy my work and I want to enjoy time with friends. I do all of this, but I guess at this particular moment, this morning, I'm looking for sanctuary. But instead, I take downtime to look into an uncomfortable mirror. I see myself clearly as that person who struggles to be efficient, competent, and hardworking so that I might forge a position for myself in which I can pay my rent and enjoy my friends, work, family, travels, etc. I'm doing exactly what I never wanted to. I'm working for a living, but I've failed, because I feel more insecure and unsure than when I began this journey.

And I guess this is a blip of a minor existential crisis and it will pass. And I want it to. I feel safer knowing that I will not see these things tomorrow. I feel angry about this system, and enlightened by this book, but hopeful that I can continue to feel connected to the world through my work, which is how it often is. It saddens me that my vision of self-worth looks to my work/study-related outputs, but it does. And so I need to keep going and publishing and progressing so that I can feel good about myself in years to come. And to ensure that my rent is covered. I defer thinking up an escape plan until next year. Because I don't have time for planning right now. My to-do list is already too long.