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DAY 356: Getting psyched at a university opening day

22 Aug

I WAS hanging out with a fellow music journo recently and I realised he was storing facts and figures about the industry, and trading useful hair-curling anecdotes about the people therein, while I was more interested in opening up an artiste’s head and sympathising greatly.

The Florence Nightingale of music journalism, if you will.

So I’ve decided to go the whole hog and become a psychology student. I studied psychology for two years in my youth, but was scuppered by the maths. Surely by now, with the wisdom of age, I will be able to do maths.

Our future is in this generation's hands.

The open day is at LaTrobe in Bendigo, so I go along with Lucy, who also wants to interrogate people for a living and then discuss their strange little foibles over lattes. Confidentially, of course. My interest in university first time around was so low that I can’t remember if I went to the open day or not. At the very least, then, this is the first time I’ve been to an open day and paid attention.

For those not in the know, university open days involve lots of free mints, dirt cheap canteen food, professors talking in monotone and various stands. Our stand comes under ‘sciences’ – shudder. Lucy and I go to a lecture for mature students and blanch every time someone says ‘mature’. Better than ‘crone’, I suppose.

Keeper? TBC.

DAY 354: Totally banning ‘x’ ‘o’ and ‘:)’

20 Aug

I HAVE a new email account and I’ve decided I will not be tarnishing it with any kisses or hugs. Kisses and hugs are nice in real life, but in emails they’re a drag, an extra layer of code to interpret.

Whether it’s the PR chick you’ve never dealt with before, or the girl who was abducted by a taxi driver in England, and confounded police by putting an ‘x’ at the end of her I’m-about-to-be-murdered text, it’s all a bit of a minefield. Take these examples:

Okay, Jane is a Continental ‘xx’ girl, I’d better reciprocate with two.

John is unlikely to get this joke unless I place a winking emoticon here. But will he then look down upon me?”

Last time I didn’t exactly mirror Molly’s ‘xoxoxox’ she responded with one fewer ‘xo’. I followed suit, until by the end of the conversation we were down to ZERO. Whatever happened to Molly, anyway?

And it’s not like you can’t be nice without using an ‘x’. By the same token, you can use an ‘x’ and be a passive-aggressive pissant. So it’s nothing personal, okay? I’ll squeeze the life out of you when I next see you.

Keeper? Yes. If people can’t tell I’m being nice, I’ll just have to put heaps of exclamation marks in.

DAY 347: Taking the Scientology personality test

13 Aug

FOR an organisation that’s vehemently anti-psychiatry, the Scientologists seem to be fishing for a lot of mental illnesses.

I’m taking their personality test, having walked past their Sydney HQ yesterday and having my interest piqued by the tatty façade.

Hitting their website back at Stacey’s house, I locate the 200-question personality test, which you can either carry out online or in a Scientology centre; the idea being they’ll then assess you, find you ailing and prescribe a course of rigorous doctrine. It’s called the Oxford Capacity Analysis test, which may or may not be to make you think of Oxford University.

I decide to crosscheck with Stacey and see if her answers for me would be the same as mine.

“Am I forceful?”

“No, I don’t think you’re forceful, I think you’re sly and petulant. I think you’re a stubborn mole. I mean, mule. You think you can just get in someone’s car and drive it. I think you throw precaution to the wind.”

“Would I use corporal punishment on a child aged 10 if it refused to obey me?”

“Corporal punishment? What, you’d murder it?”

“That’s capital punishment.”

Back to the anti-psychiatry, though, and I find I’m spotting all sorts of questions that seem to be rooting out cases of manic depression; variants of “Do you find yourself being extra active for periods of several days?

Then there’s paranoid schizophrenia (“Do you ever feel people are working against you?”), autism (“Do you ever browse through timetables just for pleasure?” “Is your voice monotonous, rather than varied in pitch?”), OCD (“Do you feel very uneasy in disordered surroundings?”), tourettes (Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?) and some pigeon-toed dancing around depression.

When I’m done, I get the message: “Thank you for completing your test – your answers have been forwarded to a consultant who will contact you shortly to go over the results with you and show you the graph.”

Keeper? Never got the follow-up call. It’s like the eHarmony Compatibility Test all over again.

DAY 338: Hanging out with marines

4 Aug

It's not like this.

WHEN a bespectacled marine politely shuffles over and asks if he and his friends can sit at my table “as we’re great at conversation”, I say no.

This “no” is completely not in the spirit of Hey Man, but sometimes my concentration slips. And fuck dude, I’m at the only taken table in the joint.

Then my friend Geoff joins me, so a different marine comes back to ask again, and Geoff jovially bids them pull up a bunch of chairs.

I’ve never talked to a marine before, and these four don’t fit my expectations. Goofy, good-natured and corny as all get-out, they’re not screaming ‘killing machine’. They’ve been drinking since midday, they keep telling us, and they really want to cut loose, but they can’t. They’re constrained by fear of an unknown territory, fear of reprisal, god-fearing upbringings and fearfully good manners. Testosterone is buzzing around inside them like flies in a jar.

While they’re all in plain tees and jeans, other marines in uniform roam the streets of Brisbane acting as their chaperones. It’s not so much that our new friends won’t stick to their midnight curfew, it’s that come nine o’clock, every bozo in town is going to want to fight them.

More accustomed to amphibious warfare, with the easy lube of a few beers, these marines tell us they weren’t shown the small print by their recruiters. “We thought we’d get to see the world, get all our expenses paid,” says one. Turns out they earn $22,000 a year – much less than those in the US Army – and the food’s shithouse. They expected to be considered the elite; instead they’re tooling around Brisbane, trying to make some pals, offering around “American cigarettes”, which are revealed to be Marlboros. One expresses astonishment at how retarded he finds his fellow marines.

“Why did you reenlist?” I ask another. He’s 24 years old and into his second term. “I have a wife,” he says lamely. “She gets looked after.” Like his crewmates, he bears the hangdog grimace of the epically shafted. They’re all, Geoff points out later, from cities of high unemployment. Once they’ve served their four years, if they do find another job, they spend another four years of civilian life under the threat of being called up again at any time.

Most vexingly to them right now, the marines have been told they can no longer get tattooed in Australia. Luckily one already has an Australian emblem stamped upon him from a previous visit, but the others will have to miss out or wait till they get to Japan, where, mystifyingly, tattooing IS allowed. “They just make rules up and don’t tell us why,” one shrugs.

For now, they’re kicking back as best they can. Enthused by the topic of tattoos from every port, each marine starts pulling bits and pieces out of his pants for inspection. One fishes out a business card and rings a woman from my phone, but she doesn’t answer. Others discuss the merits of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. Our mate Tal turns up and he gets quizzed hungrily on what he does for a living, and whether he’s aware System of a Down have reformed. Then there’s the passing around of driver’s licences so that we can be shocked and amazed at how young they are. Yep: 1989. Could explain why one of them three times offers us an inventory of every drug he’s ever taken, in a punt for paternal approval (Geoff’s got that sort of look about him).

These guys… don’t let anyone fire anything at them, okay? They’re just pups.

Keeper? I wouldn’t want to start handing out my business cards, but I’m really glad I talked to these fellas. I liked them, and I felt for them. Well, whaddaya know.

DAY 321: Driving in SA and WA

19 Jul

I’VE sulked everywhere: atop mountains, by scenic lakes, on planes, trains and automobiles, throughout long walks with Mum and Dad (100m behind) and longer board games.

So when I find out Layna is reluctant to let me lay my grubby hands on her lovely new steering wheel just a few hundred kays into our four-day road trip, it seems as though history must repeat itself. Not only does the cosmos not want me to get my licence, neither does anybody else. BROOD.

By rights, I could sulk all the way through our latte stop at Snowtown, the Flinders Ranges, Kimba – the halfway point of Australia – the Big Galah, the Big Roo and the Nullarbor golf course, but there isn’t room for passive aggressiveness in a car loaded up with three people and confectionary; three people dancing on a knife-edge of sugar violence. Luckily, Layna feels the same, as about 12 hours into our trip, she reluctantly relinquishes her grip on the wheel. Onya!

Kangaroos: 0. Sudden swerves to the side when 26-wheelers trundle past: 100s.

Keeper? Yes, this was very satisfying. I suspect I was handed the wheel to prevent me from spilling any more peanut butter sandwich crumbs on the spanking new passenger seat, though.

DAY 311: Throwing myself a pity party

9 Jul

I’VE a tendency to keep a Things You Should Know (But Will Probably Pretend Not to Hear) script in my back pocket, to pre-warn new suitors of the calamities to come. Or maybe it’s so that they can enjoy a full appreciation of calamities that’ve been.

Anyway, I might only drop the odd clanger here and there, perhaps in a quiet moment on a Sunday afternoon drive, but that script’s always close to hand, and is accountable for any sudden black moods.

So I decide to get it out of my system once and for all and throw myself a full-blown Pity Party, complete with balloons and fancy drinks.

Being an impromptu event, only my friend and neighbour Helen can attend, which is good, as I need to utilise her fire-pit. Helen adds an extra dimension to my Pity Party by being so piteously hungover that she can’t get out of bed and has to moan encouragement from under the doona.

Outside, I get a cracking fire going and put up the balloons. I’ve made a list of ‘bad stuff that’s happened in my life that’s worse than stuff that’s happened in yours, surely’ and put each whingement into a red envelope.

Thar she blows.

Each one gets read, sealed and tossed on the fire, never to be mentioned for effect again. The envelope with the biggest burden bloats up in the flames, turning from red to silver, then crumbling into ashes.

The rain, which has been gently spitting, steps up its game when the last envelope has flared up, and puts out the fire.


DAY 309: Putting my sleep spindles to work

7 Jul

I’M so crackered in the lead up to my last day at work that I google “things you can do in your sleep “ for today’s entry.

I have no choice actually, because today’s entry was supposed to be Getting a Hairdresser To Show Me Different Styles, but I fall asleep in the salon chair while the whole shindig is going on.

My google search suggests sleeping is a good time for learning. Memorise a list of new words before bed, it says, and you have more chance of remembering them.

I put a Facebook call-out for new words, and receive:

Extirpation (the surgical removal of an organ)
Abrogation (abolishment by authority)
Struthious (relating to an ostrich)
Sprauncy (fancy, showy)
Aphotic (a body of water without light)
Dasypygal (having hairy buttocks)
Knismesis (a light tickle, like the sensation of bugs crawling on your skin. While looking this up, I discover I have hypergargalesthesia)


Sleep spindles are bursts of activity as you slip up the slinky staircase to slumberland. They’re identifiable as rapid zigzags in brain scans, often following muscle twitching. Cells in the thalamus and cortex are communicating, and new information passes into permanency. The same process happens as we start to wake up — so an alarm bell can cut off a portion of spindle activity, decreasing our ability to learn.

Unsurprisingly, I remember the words with more interesting meanings: struthious, sprauncy, aphotic, knismesis, and dasypygal (although the latter is remembered as ‘dasphguhuphg…’ because I didn’t figure out how to pronounce it in the first place).

In fact, despite having an adventure dream about the IRA, I wake up at one point and declare: “Sprauncy!

Keeper? Yes; this could come in handy.

DAY 301: Going Casey the Punisher on my self-righteousness

29 Jun

These are obviously Target stockings - they've snagged already.

A WISE woman who’d given up the grog and was a-brim with inner peace, once told me exactly what was wrong with me.*

“I think you’re a bit self-righteous,” she chuckled.

As I bustled my skirts about me and explained to her the difference between ‘right’ and ‘self-righteous’, I realised she might have a point. Didn’t tell her that, of course.

Ever since then, I’ve been trying to keep it in check. Hard, when you’re so fired up with sanctimony you can scarcely stop your horsemen from galloping forth, pennants snapping loudly in the wind.

Take today. I walk into Target in my hometown, loaded up with bags I’m taking to the charity shop. (I can hear my voice getting that wheedling, confirmation-seeking tone already, and I’m only typing.)

“Harry! Harry!” Some woman at the till calls out, the moment I enter. A bloke comes and positions himself at the end of the stockings aisle, folds his arms, and leans against the wall, staring at me. I’ve got your number, and all that. It’s blatant! I stare at him, he stares at me, and I go to the till.

“There some weird bloke hanging out in the stockings aisle,” I say, fastidiously counting out the notes for my fishnets.

Once outside, self-righteousness rears like a thrashed donkey as I fantasize about going back in and kicking over their knickers rack. Fuck it, I pacify myself, it’s a trifling matter – if it gives them something to do, let them have it.

I’m very pleased with my new-found maturity, but then as soon as I relax, something inside rahs me back up again, like a cheer squad, like a pipsqueak in the ear of a bully. You’re not really going to take that are you? What was it they did again?

It’s always doing that. I need to floor that inner pipsqueak like Casey the Punisher. I need to break its spindly little legs.

Ducking into the local new age store, I peruse the crystals and stones. I’m not into crystals and stones, but what I’m after here is a physical manifestation of my self-righteousness. Obsidian is moody volcanic glass, which allegedly works on karmic issues. “Leaving a chunk of obsidian by the door,” the little label says, “ensures visitors’ rubbish remains outside your abode.”

I buy a cool, smooth lump to keep it in my pocket. Now, whenever that old familiar feeling whips its own flank into action, I’ll transfer it to the stone of self-righteousness.

Keeper? Yes. It’s cradled in my fist right now.

* Don’t feel moved to do the same – I’m only taking that from someone once.

DAY 295: Tapping myself to Emotional Freedom

23 Jun

THE fact that I’ve come to investigate Emotional Freedom Techniques in this windswept Box Hill motel with Esther of all people, should suggest that I’ve come bearing a bucketload of pig’s blood to tip all over it.

Both of us pop a capillary at any pseudoscientific talk of angels, the law of attraction and whatnot, as evidenced by our recent experiment with healing our souls with song… So why do we keep coming back for more?

Maybe because we’re two reformed grog-botherers who’ve lost our religion. We once had blind faith, just like the good people we’re scathing of – faith that this time when we poured a rather large vodka, we wouldn’t end up making pricks of ourselves with our stockings at half mast. (I could metaphor on for a bit about worshipping at the altar of the bottle shop, but I won’t.) Maybe we do crave something new to believe in. Maybe, Esther worries, we have the God Gene.

The first hint that EFT might be the real deal is that this three-hour session with a husband and wife couple is free. Sure, you can buy the book, but it turns out there’s no hard sell.

I won’t use the couple’s real names, because I don’t tell them I’ll be writing about them. David and Anne used to practise Neuro-Linguistic Programming, till they “suspended their disbelief” and switched to Emotional Freedom Techniques – developed by a US realtor and NLP practitioner with no medical or psychological background – which promises to cure emotional and physical pain. The US military, for instance, has been using it on personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the opening spiel, about men and women across the States who have leapt out of wheelchairs and had pernicious diseases cured by EFT, I hear the word “tapping” and shrivel up inside. Doesn’t this involve touching people? I really should have looked into this before coming along.

Happily, tonight we’ll only be touching ourselves. We use our fingers to tap ourselves on meridian points on the hands, face and body while repeating a mantra. David gives us all a chocolate as an experiment. Most of us, upon holding it, start getting strong urges to eat it. First we do three rounds of tapping, the basic mantra of which is: “Even though I want to eat this chocolate, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

We’re told to take a bite of the chocolate. My brain usually lights up like a Christmas tree at this point, but I find the thing tastes flat and dull. Everyone else reports something similar; one bloke complains his tastes of cow. By golly, if we’ve been brainwashed, I hope we’ve done it ourselves.

Now we’re going to move to an emotional problem. We’re asked to think back to something that traumatised us, at least three years ago, and isolate what emotion it made us feel. We rate how bad it’s making us feel right now with a mark out of 10. Then we drop the name of that emotion into the mantra: “Even though I feel xxx…” and tap through it while replaying the scene in our minds. This time, though, we imagine we’re tapping our younger selves. Afterwards we see if the mark out of 10 has gone down. And repeat.

David invites two people to the front to reveal what their trauma was and then be tapped through it. The first guy recounts a childhood humiliation, and reports his anxiety levels go down as he repeats the process. The girl refuses to talk about what happened to her and is close to tears.

David asks if he can perform the tapping on her himself, an uncomfortable moment, especially given her body language. He goes through three or four rounds, dropping in phrases like “I don’t feel I can trust people” and “I know I am safe here”, which seems manipulative. Meanwhile, we’re all slapping away at ourselves in front of her. It sounds like a porn film in here.

A few times, David loses my willingness. He insists that every experience we’ve had is imprinted inside us and could potentially be replayed like a movie. He talks of the time he worked at Amway. He references The Secret. Rationalising things like EFT, he chuckles, involves “rational lies”. And then there’s his account of being regressed to the womb. I’m always suspicious of people who smile “Isn’t that interesting” when “um” would do just as well.

Keeper? I’m not sure yet if I feel beatific because I’ve spent gentle, quality time with myself (that doesn’t involve a cigarette or rolling around in bed), or because there’s something in this tapping lark. Hey – that chocolate thing was weird though.

POSTSCRIPT: Seven days later, I’ve had no desire to smoke. Isn’t that interesting?

DAY 287: Making a vision board

15 Jun

Don't worry, this isn't my one.

VISION boards have been used as a tool to focus one’s goals for decades, but ever since self-help gurus like Oprah have been peddling that nebulous “law of attraction” (probably the most bankable phenomenon in recent years), the art of pasting pictures of things you aspire to own and achieve to a bit of board has really catapulted into the zone of Things Winners Do.

It’s “ground breaking cognitive neuroscience”, according to one dedicated website – oh, guffaw – and there’s even a Vision Board Institute, at which you can study to be a Certified Vision Board Coach, thus helping other people to upgrade their life visioning processes. And other guff.

As a plain old map of your ideals and intentions it’s not a bad ruse, though – and two things I focused hard on as a kid did come true: I made believe I was the editor of various mags and rags, and told my mother I would move to the other side of the world. (Unfortunately joining the Famous Five and being regularly rescued by firemen failed to materialise.)

So here’s my vision board. 

A ute upgrade. NB: ute must work.

One of these.

Ablility to do fancy ATV moves, including reverse.

Carpet and curtains in my house. (That’s not me in the picture, incidentally. That’s 200 per cent more winsome LA music journo Kim Morgan. I thought it couldn’t hurt to include her on this vision board too.)

I need a chap on hand to prune my trees.

Optus reception outside of CBDs.

Ability to talk to people in social situations without stabbing the lemon in my drink with my straw.

Keeper? Yes. Will print out and stick on the wall.