via Money as God.
For years I have worked for people whose sole concern was making themselves richer than they already were. Being a writer, I was mainly working for restaurant-owners and serving their greed by fawning on customers and toadying for upsells. “Oh do try the New Zealand Chardonnay, sir. I realise it’s three times the price of the local brew but it’s worth every cent. It has a delicate peppery essence underscored by a lemony brightness…bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.” And this mind-numbing crap usually, sadly, worked. I’d talk some poor sod into paying $144 for a bottle of Chards that was frankly inferior to the locally-produced wine that cost $32 a bottle. More than I would pay even so but at least it wasn’t daylight robbery.
To maintain what remained of my fraying soul I would practice yoga and meditation in the mornings before my insincere day began. The hoped-for reconnection with my Higher Self never quite took root. Even meditating I was tensing up in anticipation of the thoroughly dysfunctional day ahead. Added to the misery of ripping off decent clientele was the neediness of the various rich owners for “friends” and constant après-work celebratory drinks where the sole topic of conversation was gloating over how much filthy lucre they’d managed to leech out of the public that day.
One particular owner was a lady who claimed to be spiritual, not just I-meditate-spiritual but I-have-a-calling spiritual. Her ramblings of an apogeic nature were reserved largely for me, because, as she explained, I was a talented writer, and one day, I may want to write her story. I cannot tell you how many people have crossed my path convinced that I, a writer of fiction, would abandon my process and interview them in tedious, meandering sessions of self-revelation in order to ghost-write their memoirs.
So, there we were, this self-absorbed lady and I, sitting on the verandah of her multi-million dollar establishment getting tanked on the most expensive imported red and speculating about her calling. Even now, with the benefit of ten years’ distance I am at a loss to see why God should concern Himself with the feathering of her already gilded nest. Of course the truth inevitably emerges when people are allowed to blather on long enough to actually hear themselves and in the absence of any comments from me she ultimately revealed that she was a lonely train wreck – marriage on the rocks, a son who barely spoke to her, no real friends and no discernible passion left in her. What was she living for, she asked me blearily. I was too tanked at that point to be of much use but I suggested she try being kind to others for a change instead of seeing everyone as a dollar sign. It was the best I could do at 2am.
The next day, a Sunday, was packed with lunchtime customers and she asked me to set a special table for twelve people at the more spectacular end of the balcony, the end that had views over the valley and glimpses of the sea beyond. The staff called it “millionaires’ corner”. At 1pm a helicopter landed on the cleared field below and the Sunday clientele were treated to the arrival of a famous rock band, the lead singer of which, had been to school with the owner’s son. She hoped her son would accept the invitation to lunch to catch up with his now-famous ex-school mate. No expense was spared in the wooing of this celebrity and his band and their possie of sycophantic hangers-on who drifted in from the bar as soon as Mr. Studs and his latest leggy blonde girlfriend were seated. The members of his band were arranged like radiating petals around him except for one seat next to him that remained poignantly empty throughout lunch. The hoped-for son was a no-show. The spiritually-bereft owner sat opposite the rock god and smiled vacantly as he told endless stories about himself. An hour after dessert, as the afternoon was staling and the monologue was stalling, I looked across and caught our lady’s eye and in it I saw the look of a caged bird.
Later that evening, after the glitterati had flown off and the remains of the feast had been cleared away, she sat at a table alone looking wistfully over her acres of unspoiled rain forest which harboured discreetly-placed cabins that rented out at $5,000 a week. She nursed a half-empty glass of our most expensive Shiraz.
‘Anything you need before I go home?’ I asked.
She looked at me blearily, ‘Joel didn’t even call to say he wasn’t coming.’ She drained the glass. ‘He doesn’t know what being poor is like. My parents had nothing and I was so ashamed of them.’ She refilled her glass. ‘I didn’t want him to be ashamed of me.’
I sat down. ‘Are they still alive? Your parents?’
‘They’d love to hear from you, I’m sure.’
She didn’t get it, of course, the correlation between her neglect of her elderly parents and her son’s neglect of her but if yoga and meditation had taught me one thing it’s that everything is connected on some level. She always carried her mobile with her and now she scrolled through her contacts hunting for a number she hadn’t dialled in years.
‘Joel sees them every Christmas but of course, I can’t. It’s my busiest day of the year. I make more money on Christmas day than any other day of the year.’
‘God, you’re bossy,’ she said, finding the number and staring at it. ‘My son sees my parents but can’t be bothered turning up for a celebrity lunch here.’
‘Call them and invite them to lunch here next Sunday. Tell them to bring Joel. We’ll set up the rock god’s table overlooking the valley and treat them to the best we have … on the house. Pick ’em up in a helicopter.’
She stared at me for a long while and then dialled the number and waited. It was late but not ridiculously so, about 10pm. Finally, someone answered.
‘Mum?’ She bowed her head and I took my leave.
The following Sunday a helicopter landed on the field below millionaires’ corner and three people alighted. Our lady was on the ground to meet them and escort them up the steps to their table. The special guests didn’t intrigue the clientele, but for us, the staff, it was a joy to see her genuinely happy and laughing and not getting plastered. When we all left that evening she and her family were still sitting at that table talking and laughing and reviving connections.
This morning I did my Asanas and meditated. I am now a full-time writer and the air I breathe is purified by a sense of purpose as opposed to rarefied by a sense of privilege. Money can never replace family, whether they be biological or like-minded others. These are the people whose love is worth having and whose good opinion is worth earning. Rock gods and money are transitory amusements and soon spent .
Snow comes sifting down, layer after layer
To the bower of this reedy pond.
Overhead, the umbrella of winter
A chastely figure, augured in white lines,
Covers the clapboard grasses.
The wind stiffens into place over ice,
How its voice howls, how it blots up
The bones of water, shadows of fish;
Its black bunched fingers tug at me-
For a warmth, I seek the frog-mouth liquor.
I become a blunt, clumsy stumbler,
So slow against all that numbing;
I sink into a caul of forgetfulness,
Drowsy in a cold womb,
Slow effacement at the snow’s hand.
Winter’s mid-wife slaps my footsoles,
My nakedness is mirrored on frozen pond,
I wake to listen: Spring whispers in my ear-
I am a new statue in thawing air; the window
Square of warmth brightens, swallows the cold.
Spectacular performances in a somewhat dated show.
Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 1 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Jim Cartwright
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Kip Chapman, Joseph Del Re, Geraldine Hakewill, Caroline O’Connor, Bishanyia Vincent, Charles Wu
Images by Robert Catto
Little Voice is the name of a young woman who spends her days and nights cooped up in a bedroom, listening to old records left behind by a father who had gone too soon. Her mother Mari too, has been unable to get over that death, hitting the bottle hard, and neglecting her all her responsibilities at home and in life. When it is discovered that Little Voice has an extraordinary ability to mimic the torch singers whom she obsesses over, we wonder if commercial success can finally lift the women out of their perpetual state of mourning.
In Jim Cartwright’s The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice, colourful personalities deliver an amusing…
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Like most of you I have grown up with denial and enforced positivity. My parents came from the generation that smoked weed, swung and knew how to twist. They were also the first generation to use the Pill and embrace free love and random strangers. My parents and their friends were so desperate to break away from the conventions of my grandparents’ generation that they threw a lot of babies out with the stale bathwater. One of these babies they might have done well to keep was a little infant called “commitment”. There was a lot of swapping of partners and lifestyles and as each new placebo solution failed to secure lasting happiness many of my parents’ friends embraced the bottle. Alcoholism was the final placebo and unlike the others it seemed to deliver because so many of my parents’ friends and both my father and my step-father made solid, unyielding, lifelong commitments to alcohol.
And how did the sixties flower-children deal with this new menace? The pretended it didn’t exist. Mostly. And those who faced it head-on did so with intense positivity, mantras of goodwill and positive thinking so bitterly-enforced it was almost Victorian in its censure. My mother’s friends who’d been so liberal and fun became in middle-age, tyrannically joyful, with painted-on smiles and desperately positive thinking. A lot of manifesting and visualization went on. But not much confrontation.
Enter my generation and the mash-up of blood-letting confrontational support groups, sweat lodges, primal screaming, drumming, counselling, recovery scams and finally when you’re all talked, sweated and screamed out, Vipashna for 14 days of mandatory silence and reflection. And when none of that lifted the fog of despair and hopelessness, you realise it’s all your fault and it was something you did in a past life. Your pain and confusion is karmic. So, regressions, clearings, reliving the imagined past, Scientology if you have the cash and the gullibility for it and, finally, when all else failed, Jesus. Forgiveness from an invisible God courted through daily nagging of overworked Jesus. And the hypnotic repetition of prayer does begin to soften the edges of pain after a month or so and after a year your own story bores you stupid and brings about a healing of sorts. But it doesn’t stick.
Soon the pain returns. Why? Because my parents’ generation and mine were brought up to believe that happiness is our right. Not only is it our right, it’s the way a functioning, healthy individual should be and if you’re not happy at least 70% of the time and if you’re not discreetly managing the episodes of depression with parties, sex, booze or anti-depressants there’s something wrong with you.
But what if there isn’t? What if depression, despair, anxiety and generalised hopelessness are actually healthy responses to dysfunction?
I have spent a lifetime beating myself up for failing to think positively. I wake up depressed every morning and I give myself a stern talking-to about my failure to use my will-power to organise my thinking, emotional responses and attitude. I am a perfect product of denial. I have bought the bullshit 100% and the failure to be the perfect child of the hippy generation has made me a very confused adult.
I force my thoughts into brittle affirmations of gratitude and optimism and wonder why I’m so fucking exhausted all the time.
Today on my morning walk, which I take religiously in order to stay healthy, I started my usual gratitude mantra and then just let go and admitted I was bloody miserable. It’s incredible how much weight seemed to dissolve with tears that flowed unchecked. True I had to avoid other morning walkers but there are always two sides to every street. When I’d done being honest about my feelings I looked at the REAL reasons I was so unhappy. Forget past life misdemeanors and chemical imbalances, misery comes from not having what you bloody-well want and need in your life. True there are things you cannot change like chronic illness, age, loss and the past but to some extent these things can be managed by addressing the things you CAN change. It’s strange but when you boot denial out and admit the truth you can identify the root causes of your unhappiness so easily and then and only then can you start to build a pathway towards achieving the things in life that will create happiness.
Happiness is never permanent. Nor is it fleeting. It’s probably not even all that real. Rather than mumbling affirmations and using aggressive positive thinking, which is just another form of denial in my opinion, start using all that freed-up mental energy to create steps towards achieving goals in your life. And let them be a mixture of short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals give you a real boost when they come to fruition and they help in the maintenance of commitment to long-term goals.
So, building a case for negativity. Allow it and admit your own truth. Then relax all forms of denial including formulaic mantras, booze, partying and avoidance and free up your powerful imagination to find ways to change your life. I want to be successful in the field of musical theatre and literature and I want a beautiful home of my own surrounded by an exquisite garden and filled with music and friends and family. Oh yes, and peacocks!
Big dreams. So, how do I begin? First I need the product to sell. Accordingly I have written musicals and books and am using my imagination to find ways to get my work out to the world. So, what do I do to achieve my goal?
Right now, I’ve approached four brilliant performers in London and pitched a cabaret of my own songs to them. It took courage and balls but incredibly, they agreed. In the first instance it will be performed in small venues that have door deals because no-one has a thousand of dollars to make it happen. But even thousands of dollars wouldn’t guarantee success. Harmonic teamwork and a decent product is more likely to garner success and yes, a little bit of luck. Right place, right time.
It may take years before I’m walking in a garden of my own and rhapsodising over the symphony of green that welcomes me every morning but I have taken steps towards my goal. So am I happy? No. I’m longing for the life I’ve envisaged. And when I get it will I be happy? Yes, there will be episodes of joy and peace but life has its own urges and they will start stirring and demanding new experiences and new creations and yes, the old angst and dissatisfaction will return. And I will have to raise the lid on my perfect existence and face the wingless worms craving flight. Life isn’t static anymore than the Universe is. Movement creates energy and demands change and flow and yes, longing for the next phase is normal and regretting the past is normal. Negativity is as normal as positivity and necessary if life is to progress.
I wish I could wind back the clock and tell my father and my step-father that it’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to want more from life. Instead of suppressing all their pain and longing with alcohol I wish they could have been honest and pursued lives commensurate with their goals. But it is what is. They’re gone now and I hope they are exploring paradigms and possibilities without restraint.