This New Year Needs A New Climate Attitude

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, New Years Eve is usually my favourite time of the year, but naturally this year was different. The smoke haze covering Canberra is near Dickensian, and I started my night with the news that my aunt and uncle had just lost their home to the bushfires near Ulladulla. In a horrific twist of irony, members of my family regularly gathered there to usher in the new year. To put it incredibly frankly: shit is fucked.

To have all this happening at a time when I’m trying to recover from 18 months of PNES bullshit and some of the most severe depression I’ve had in a long time makes me feel like taking time for myself is selfish and impractical. This is a time when I personally really need to be focusing on the smaller picture rather than the bigger one, but it’s the latter that feels like it needs addressing first.

And the fact that it could have been addressed ten, twenty, even thirty years ago has me infuriated.

On December 11, there was a protest in Sydney’s smoke haze calling for action on climate change. Living in a very, very safe Nationals seat, it felt like anything I could do in solidarity would be pointless, but I still felt like I had to do something. Two days beforehand, I decided I would have a sit in out the front of my local Federal MP’s Dubbo office. I didn’t care if I was doing it alone or with company, still I posted my plan on Facebook to welcome those who wanted to come along. I managed to get six others to join me, and we got a lot of support from people walking and driving past.

What we weren’t expecting was for Mark Coulton MP to be there.

After an hour of standing in the heat, we were beginning to consider going home when our MP walked out of his office, carrying a suitcase.

Coulton asked us what we were doing, and we told him that we were there in solidarity with friends and family marching in Sydney. We asked him if he had any comment to make. He laughed and replied, “No, no comment.”

Our group expressed significant disappointment and frustration as politely as we could. His response? “I support those who do practical things.”

Practical things. What a crock. This is a man who has the ability to write and vote on legislation that could turn this situation around. This is a man who voted to repeal the carbon tax, which was proven to have had a positive impact in terms of reducing Australia’s emissions. This is a man whose entire electorate is in severe drought with no end in sight, and is at incredible risk of longer, hotter droughts in the years to come due to climate change, whose government signed off on giving 12 billion litres of water, caveat free, to Adani for their new coal mine.

As citizens, there’s only so much we can do. One hundred companies are responsible for 70% of the world’s emissions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant portion of them currently pay little or no tax. Hell, in Australia they’re likely getting Government funding. We can do all the practical things we can – moving to electric vehicles, putting up solar panels, divesting from companies that invest in fossil fuels, using minimal electricity, going vegan – but all of those things are a drop in the ocean when it comes to the greater picture of the Australian carbon emitting numbers.

We’re doing so little, to the point of actually blocking the motions of other countries trying to do their bit, that we scored the lowest in the world on the Climate Change Performance Index, a scale that measures the effectiveness of governments’ climate policies. We literally got 0.0, and just so you’re aware, they don’t score it like a game of golf. Even India, China and the United States (who were second last) beat us in terms of having better climate policies. How utterly humiliating.

We all came away from the conversation with Coulton feeling like we had been brushed aside and weren’t being taken seriously because we weren’t supporting the Nationals’ position. While I had initially gone into the protest more as a way to feel a little less helpless in the face of the bushfire disaster, climate change and the fact that science keeps getting ignored by our government, Coulton‘s dismissal of our presence, let alone our concerns, as not “practical” only made me angry. I came in passive; I left pissed off.

Just before Christmas, I was interviewed by The Daily Liberal about the protest and what we felt about Mr Coulton’s response. You can read it here, but the worst bit is easily the part where he denies that the current weather events are unprecedented, because people in the 1800’s died because it was hot and they didn’t have air conditioning. (Thankfully, the journalist writing the story linked up a more accurate source to refute his claim that this kind of weather is normal, which is tragically refreshing in the modern commercial media landscape.)

What annoyed me more than anything was that he didn’t even pretend to care. Sure, he seemed to be in a rush to head somewhere given his suitcase, but he could have placated us by recommending we call his office to book an appointment to meet him (and then never followed through on getting back to us), or suggested we put something in writing for his records (so he could send back a dismissive form letter, like he did to another friend of mine before the 2019 election). Instead, we were treated with absolute contempt.

But like I say: I’ve got a bee in my bonnet now. I have friends with young kids who are going to be living on this planet after I’m gone and I want to make sure that they’re not living in a world that’s more reminiscent of the Fallout franchise than the one I grew up in.

So I’m not going quietly.

Edit: due to an increasing number of paralysis attacks, the following project has been postponed until further notice. I did, however, organise a second protest on January 10, and intend to maintain monthly gatherings until the Government makes a decent effort to stop reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and move away from fossil fuels.

Every Wednesday lunchtime from January 8th, I’m going to be hosting a busking singalong somewhere on Macquarie Street in Dubbo. I’m calling it “Wednesdays Against Warming” and there’ll be lots of protest songs, with the emphasis on a different song for the singalong every week. (Week 1 will be “No Longer There” by The Cat Empire.) There’s no Facebook group or event, though maybe I will make one sooner or later – it’s all very ad hoc because I’ve never done this before, organising some sort of resistance.

But I have to try, because we can’t just accept this as the new normal. Our lives depend on it.

The Songs That Made My 2019 A Little Bit Less Dreadful

This year has been pretty stink. Personally, I’ve spent it unemployed, depressed and on regular occasions paralysed for a reason that my doctors haven’t yet been able to determine. So yeah, the fact that 2019 is almost in the bin is something that I’m pretty damn cool with.

Another way it has been not great is one that has plagued me for a couple of years now: I’m not as good at stumbling across new music as I used to be. The reason for this is a little bit easier to work out, since the original live music scene where I am currently living is… well, “isn’t” is probably a quicker way of putting it; and since I realised that I am officially too old for triple j, I’ve not had a radio station that I connect with enough to listen to long enough to regularly be exposed to new stuff.

All that, plus the fact I’m really just struggling to care about much at all at the moment means I’m not really in a seeking-out-the-new-and-exciting kind of headspace.

These facts aside, I’ve still managed to have a few pieces of new music really stick out to me over the last 12 months, which is nice, and so I wanted to tell you about them.

However, there are a few factors that mean I have to put in a bit of effort to share them with you. I don’t really use Spotify, so I don’t have one of those fun little infographics to share, and since most of these tunes don’t have the seal of approval of Drum Central in Ultimo, I’m not going to bother putting them in as votes in the Hottest 100, and therefore won’t have the resulting auto-compiled image to share on the socials.

But since both of those things are fun and easy content – and I’ve only posted on this blog twice this year – I figured that I’ll just do it my own way.

So here you go: Noni’s Funnest Insert-Number-Here Songs That Were Released in 2019 Or At Least I Heard Them For The First Time This Year Oh Shit Now The Title’s Too Long Shit Fuck Shit (Oh Well At Least I’m Not The Fuckwit Who Decided To Go On Holiday In Hawaii Because I Forgot I Was Prime Minister And That My Country Was On Fire).

Yeah, needs some polish. I’m sure I’ll have thought of something better by the time I post this.

Either way, here’s the rundown, in no particular order.

THE SONGS

“Hamish” – Jude Perl

Let’s be painfully honest here: we’ve all known a Hamish. Some of us have even had the misfortune of having a misguided crush on or relationship with one.

Jude Perl manages to not only completely encapsulate this kind of dude, she’s also crafted a song that is just bloody brilliant.

The chorus is 100% banger (most notably the golden line, “I liked you because you were… there”), the way she captures the moment of realisation that Hamish is a total dickhead is so incredibly true to life, and the video is just perfection, with a stellar performance from Broden Kelly of Aunty Donna notoriety.

I spotted this one on the recommendation of Matt Okine on Instagram, and from the first time I heard the synth gorgeousness of that chorus, I was hooked. I regularly catch myself singing it to myself.

It’s easily my song of the year.

“Dinner & Diatribes” – Hozier

Well, where do I start when it comes to Hozier? He has been my musical crush for the last year and a bit and I’m pretty sure it’s easy to see why. Tall, handsome, offensively talented and super into social justice? Be still, my beating heart! (Don’t be surprised if he comes up again in this list.)

He released his second album, Wasteland, Baby! in April, and while the critic in me feels that it’s not quite as all-killer-no-filler as his debut, it’s still full of incredible tracks that were quickly given a place in my high rotation list. The riff in this track in particular makes it stand out from the rest, but I also feel I need to point out how incredibly horny it is. It’s kind of like “Fast Friends” by Paul Dempsey, if the Something For Kate frontman had been quietly been concealing a significant boner. The massive drum line hits right in the guts/nethers, making this the sexiest song I’ve heard all year, and it was easily one of the highlights of his set when I saw him at the Sydney Opera House back in April.

As for the video? I’m not really certain what it all means, but I know that it’s the kind of text that would make a high school English teacher faint with delight at all that juicy symbolism.

“The Piss, The Perfume” – Hayley Mary

I’ve loved Hayley Mary’s band The Jezabels for a good… holy shit, ten years? And to be honest, when I heard she was releasing solo tunes, I had no idea what to expect, since I associate her voice so strongly with the intense drum work of Nik Kaloper (who is a certified freak on the skins).

When I heard this track, I was delighted: an unashamedly Australian rock song that harks back to the alt pub rock golden age of the 90’s, with a bittersweet love story and a title that perfectly sums up the smell and feel of the venues where this sort of music gets played. It’s a little bit Pretenders, a little bit Divinyls, and 100% danceable. (I also love Mary’s Bowie meets Chrissie Amphlett look in the video more than I can say.)

“This Is On You” – Maisie Peters

I don’t know if this was relentlessly advertised to anyone else on Instagram as much as it was to me, but I’m really glad it was, because I kept going, “Oh, I really like that snippet of chorus; I’ll have to check out the song later,” and then not following through. When I finally did, I was so glad that the tune stood up to my expectations. I love the contrast of Peters’ sweet voice with the anger in the lyrics, and the little “ooo’s” in the chorus. Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for songs by women telling their ex-partners to fuck off.

“Jungle Jungle” – Rufino & The Coconuts

I’ve been a fan of Rufino & The Coconuts for absolutely yonks, and have adored Rufino’s contributions to Mikelangelo & The Black Sea Gentlemen for even longer. This particular song was easily my favourite of all their tunes when I got to see them live, and I’d often been tempted to reference it in conversations when folks post photos of themselves in pith helmets among swathes of fake vines and other appropriately themed scenes, before realising that they likely had no idea what I was talking about.

Thankfully, Rufino and the Coconuts finally put out their debut album this year, and now I can link to this tune whenever I want. (Shaka-tooka-chaka.)

“Woman” – Clare Bowditch

Clare Bowditch is the kind of woman I wish I could be. To be an exquisite musician, broadcaster and now author: ah! What a wonder! (I think I’ve always had a bit of a crush on her too, to be frank, because she’s utterly gorgeous.)

The harmonies in this are divine, and the reflections on the (cis) female experience are poignant, uplifting and tragic at the same time. It took a little while for me to warm up to it, but now it feels like the loving hug I need most days.

“Tenderness” – Brendan Maclean

This track caught me by surprise one afternoon while I was writing. (Yes, I have been doing it on occasion, but you’re not going to see anything of it for some time yet.) While I’ve had this album on my computer for a while, I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and absorb it to the level I want to, however I have had the tracks on it in my shuffle playlist, and hearing this song properly for the first time was like a punch in the gut. The ache evident in Maclean’s vocal is heartbreaking, and the closing lines feel like something from a Joni Mitchell classic. There is no other word for it than “bittersweet”, but even that doesn’t seem to be strong enough for the feeling this song elicits. It feels like a cathartic cry, full of sorrow yet somehow tinged with relief. If there was any song in the world that seems like it just needs a gentle hug, it’s this one.

“Jackboot Jump” – Hozier

The only thing wrong with this song is its lack of a big chorus, because it really is a testament to our times that should be screamed from the rooftops at protests across the world. (Yes, Australia is no exception when it comes to the rise of authoritarianism, but I’m sure I’d just be preaching to the choir here.)

Once again, Hozier hits on a killer blues-rock riff, with the stripped back arrangement almost acting as a metaphor for how basic it should be to just stand up for what’s right. There’s anger in the drums and in the growl of the guitar, and almost a disdainful sneer in Hozier’s delivery directed at those in power, while somehow simultaneously communicating a sense of pleading and a call to arms to those who are both downtrodden, or just plain have a conscience. The intertwining of ire and optimism is really intriguing to me, just as much as the fact that Hozier managed to write, record and release this in the middle of an insane world tour supporting the album he’d released only a few months before. He’s already promised more new music in 2020, which blows my mind and delights me simultaneously. I hope he can tap into whatever it takes to write the next great protest song, because right now we need to raise as many voices and we can, and music is a unique way to do that.

It also contains the lyrics of the year: “It’s always corporate infrastructure over the structure of your face.”

“Pasta” – Angie McMahon

This is a very late addition to the list, because I literally found it hours before I started writing this entry, but I connected with it immediately. The opening line – “my bedroom is a disaster” – made me sit up and take notice straight away, because it perfectly described… well, me. Everything about this song (except the bit about the dog – ours is thankfully in very good health) feels like she’s taken my life right now and put it to music. I’ve had it on repeat for the few days it’s taken for me to get this baby out, and it still holds so much power for me, even though my bedroom isn’t quite as bad as it was when I first heard it. (It’s still not great, but I’m not afraid to let people in anymore.)

THE ALBUM THAT ISN’T EVEN OUT YET

[Unnamed and Unreleased Album] – The Burley Griffin

evan.jpg

Yeah, there’s nothing to embed here because, as you may have guessed from the subtitle, this album hasn’t hit the web yet. However, it turns out there are some perks to turning thirty, and one of them is that your incredibly talented friends send you their pre-release albums for you to listen to as a birthday present.

My mate Evan Buckley did just that, and oh my god, I’m so glad he did. I nearly wept the first time I listened to this album. It’s full of bittersweet folk tunes that are just divine. If you like Elliot Smith or Ryan Adams but are looking for someone who isn’t dead or accused of sexual misconduct, then bookmark The Burley Griffin Facebook page and gird your loins for a gorgeous collection of sweet, sorrowful ballads, with a little kick of an upbeat tune as a chaser.

YEAH, THESE WEREN’T RELEASED IN 2019 BUT I ONLY JUST FOUND THEM AND THEY’RE GREAT

“Good As Hell” – Lizzo

I was embarrassingly late to the Lizzo party, likely due to my aforementioned aversion to commercial radio at the moment. But as soon as I heard this tune, I knew I needed it in my life. I thought it was a recent release, but nope. Turns out there was at least good that came out of 2016, the year when it all started to fall apart: this song.

“Hungry & Horny” – Jude Perl

And this tune from Jude Perl was the other thing the 2016 gave us that was pretty damn good. A protest song against the beauty myth, it was featured in the body positive documentary Embrace, and came with a series of amazing videos critiquing the bullshit that is the marketing industry.

And yes, I used to work in marketing. I’m still allowed to call it bullshit.

Music From Saharan Cellphones – Various

I’ve flat out forgotten how I came across this 2011 release, but goddamn, it’s such a cool concept to start with; the sweet tunes are just a bonus.

Here’s an explanation of what it’s all about from the label’s bandcamp page, but the title is pretty self-explanatory:

In much of West Africa, cellphones are are used as all purpose multimedia devices. In lieu of personal computers and high speed internet, the knockoff cellphones house portable music collections, playback songs on tinny built in speakers, and swap files in a very literal peer to peer Bluetooth wireless transfer.

There’s a real mixture of sounds in here, mostly modern pop and electro, but there are RnB influences and a touch of the traditional to keep you on your toes. It’s a fascinating look into the sounds of a culture that seems almost as alien as another can get without being from another planet. It’s an incredibly eye-opening listen.

And that’s the lot: the soundtrack to my 2019. I think I can safely say that a lot of us are starting the new decade from behind the eight ball, but I sincerely hope that the year ahead is one of significant improvement, and that we all end up in a far better place than when we started. (I mean, I’m not optimistic, but it could happen.)

So instead of Happy New Year, I’m saying Fuck Off 2019. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The Last Barbecue

Kevin had thought about the ideal location for weeks before settling on this spot. It wasn’t far from his favourite camping spot, where he and the boys would set up for long weekends of fishing and rabbit hunting. Now he was here and it was really happening, all those memories were making him dry in the mouth. He was getting choked up. He wasn’t going to cry, though. Kevin was a man with a job to do. One last job.

He pulled out fifty cents from his pocket, pressed the starter button, and laid his barbecuing tools out on the bench next to the hot plate. While he waited for it to heat up, he opened the esky. He grabbed a beer out from beside the carcass, skinned and shining under the cling wrap. He paused and looked at it, then he ran a finger down the length of its spine. The flesh squished at his touch, just like any other meat.

Suddenly angered, he slammed the lid of the esky and went back to drinking his beer and prepping for the cook up. It might not be the right thing to do, but he was here now. He was locked in.

Skinning it had taken longer than he’d expected. There were so many little toes to get around. He knew he could have just cut them off, but if he was going to go out this way, he was committed to enjoying every morsel of flesh he could suck off those bones.

When he was satisfied that the tiny corpse was seared to his liking, he picked it up with the barbecue tongs and threw it onto his dinner plate. It nearly filled the whole thing. Perfect.

For almost a year now, he hadn’t been able eat a single mouthful of sausage, a sliver of steak, even a taste of chicken breast without breaking into hives, at best. At worst, he would go into full blown anaphylactic shock. The doctors had puzzled over it for months; meat wasn’t something you just became allergic to overnight, if at all. Kevin was a medical curiosity, poked and prodded by dickheads with stethoscopes who couldn’t tell him when he’d be able to sit down to a lamb kebab again. Finally, after analysing test after test and realising that there had been a spike in related cases on Sydney’s North Shore, they asked Kevin if he’d ever been bitten by a tick.

“Yeah,” Kevin had replied. “A couple of times. But I flicked it off and it was all good.” He’d laughed. “Don’t tell me that little bastard’s the reason for all this!”

But it was. Kevin had been struck down by mammalian meat allergy, and he would never be able to eat the flesh of another creature again.

All those beautiful Sunday roasts, Saturday night barbecues and late night Maccas runs had been ripped from his grasp, all because one little bloodsucker bit one little marsupial that couldn’t digest animal products, and then bit him, passing on one tiny protein from that furry bastard into his circulatory system, where it multiplied and took over his body, until he was allergic to that one thing integral to every red blooded bloke’s identity (after beer): meat.

Apparently there’d been a massive increase in the number of bandicoots in the area around Kevin’s place, and with it had come an explosion in the local tick population. Their favourite food? Bandicoot blood, although Kevin was apparently a close second.

After six months of nothing but rabbit food, Kevin had almost lost it. He decided he needed to eat flesh again, even if it killed him, which it probably would. He desperately longed to have something that could bleed between his teeth, something you could order on a range from blue to well done. He wanted to devour a victim of factory farming, from paddock to pan to plate.

The worst bit was watching his wife Sharon chow down on anything she wanted. You could do that when you were pregnant. While she was downing a steak and chips, Kev was stuck sucking on a kale smoothie or some other hippy bullshit. Now the baby was here, the smell of breastmilk was constantly wafting through the house, reminding Kevin of veal and lamb and all the other baby animals that were even more delicious than their parents. It was driving him mad.

He knew he had to get his revenge, even if it killed him.

Kevin took one long, final look at his last meal. He could smell the meat juices hanging in the air, making his stomach queasy while making his mouth water. He pulled out the pictures of his mum, Sharon and baby Eddie one last time, kissed each in turn, then put it down on top of the esky.

He tore into his kill. It was such a relief to taste non-plant based proteins again. Plus, it was fucking delicious.

Once he was done with his grisly feast, Kevin lay down and waited for his immune system to betray him. He thought about what the cops would think when they found his body, probably frothing at the mouth, tiny bones strewn around him, an enamel plate smeared with tomato sauce by his side. He wondered if they’d be disgusted by his crime, or if they would find his tastes understandable once they understood his circumstances. Maybe they had always wanted to do it themselves, but never had the guts to do it. Maybe they’d find it ironic that Kevin didn’t have the guts for it either.

But at least they’d know he had gone down fighting. He hadn’t gone quiet into that good night. He’d seen the cause of his own problem and taken vengeance in his own proud way.

At least they’d know he’d taken one of the bastards down with him.

Fucking bandicoots.

Resolutions Rejected: A Toast to Intentional Failure

Here is number three in the series about my 2018 resolutions/goals/things. Yes, I’m just as shocked as you are. You can find the full list of posts in this series here.

3. Go a year without buying alcohol for myself.

This seemed like a fantastic idea. I already had almost no alcohol in the house: just one bottle of wine, and some terrible gin, which I poured down the sink after the latest attempt to drink it. I had recently come around to soda water, which is something I can sip on slowly, unlike every other soft drink in existence, which I tend to gulp down with the kind of gusto that leaves me wondering if there was even in a drink in the glass to start with, I could have sworn it was there a minute ago. And due to my social life pretty much coming to a halt of late due to my epilepsy flare ups, I wasn’t drinking that much to begin with! How hard could it be?

The best thing about this idea was that it allowed for wiggle room. I could drink alcohol given to me, but I couldn’t go out and buy myself a bottle of wine any time just because I felt like it. I couldn’t ask for a drink, but if someone offered, I was allowed to accept if I wanted.

The reasoning behind the idea was simple. I would save money. I would get better at socialising without a chemical crutch. The chances of suffering a hangover would be lessened, and my sleep patterns would probably thank me for it, as it’s hard to stay out until 4am when your evening high is fueled only by carbonated water. The fact that there would be less calories in my life was just an added bonus.

But then I heard about the woes that one of my favourite watering holes in the whole world, The Phoenix, was facing. I’ve spoken about how much I love that little hole in the wall before, and though I’ve not been frequenting it as much of late, it still holds an incredibly massive part of my heart within its dark walls.

Immediately, I was struck with an ultimatum of sorts. Do I stick to my guns and my soda water on a Saturday night, or do I chuck in a few extra bucks via a few cheeky pints? The Phoenix needs its patrons to step up right now, and for me, that would likely mean breaking my little resolution.

I couldn’t make a choice. I wanted to have a bit of both.

So I made a compromise. A few times a week, after work, I will go in to The Phoenix and buy one drink of whatever I like. Whatever it is, I will nurse it while I read a book for a little while, and then I will go home. Any time outside that period, I will not be purchasing alcohol for myself.

I read somewhere once that allowing yourself to cheat a little bit on massive resolutions can help you keep them overall, so maybe this is for the best.

So should you find yourself in Civic on a weekday afternoon, pop into the friendly little Irish bar on East Row, pull up a pew and join me for a bevvie and a book. It’ll be nice to have the company.

EDIT 26/1/18: You can donate to the Phoenix’s GoFund Me Page here. They’re a little over $30,000 short of their goal, but more importantly, over $40,000 has already been raised to help keep their doors open.

Making My Brain My Bitch

This is the second in a series about my goals for 2018. The fact that I’ve gotten to a second entry is likely as surprising to you as it is to me. You can find the full list of posts I’ve written on this theme here.

2. Get my epilepsy in check.

You don’t have to have read much of this blog to know that my brain is a bloody mess. Epilepsy, depression, just being generally scattered and forgetful: it’s not a particularly ordered thing to live in.

Since I started tracking my seizure patterns again in August 2017, I have had 15 seizures, including two this morning. That doesn’t count the number of times I have lost feeling or the ability to move my limbs or extremities for no apparent reason.

Something needed/needs to change.

This year, I’m going to try to get better sleep. I’m going to be as compliant as humanly possible with my medication through the use of Webster packs. I am taking notes on every seizure, and fighting for extra tests just in case. I’ve been able to negotiate a part-time work arrangement so that I have time to rest mid-week and I can reduce my stress levels.

The effect of these steps and sacrifices remain to be seen. I have a neurologist appointment and ambulatory EEG in February which will hopefully offer some more answers.

Until then, I’m just here at home counting milestones – seven days, thirty days, three months – hoping that it will all pay off sooner rather than later, and I can go back to living a life that I feel comfortable in.

Ten Thousand Little Words

This is the first in what I hope is a series of posts about my goals for 2018. Knowing my tendency to start these things and never follow through, I am incredibly skeptical that any of them will come to fruition (including the completion of this series), so I expect you to come into this entry with the same frame of mind.

1. Write 10,000 words a month.

I have tried NaNoWriMo twice now, and both times have been an absolute failure. I wasn’t even trying to do it properly – both times I had an idea that I had already started working on. The second time, I wasn’t even reaching for the full 50,000 words. Instead, I set myself what I thought was a more suitable goal of 20,000 words on top of what I’d already written (from memory, about 3,000 words). A month on, and I’ve reached 10,000 words of varying degrees of quality on what I believe may be no more than a novella. At this stage, I don’t really care. I just want the damn thing finished.

My last job was a “creative” one, writing advertising for radio. I’d spent my entire life working towards it, but after ten years of work experience, study and working in the industry, I was sick of the job. I was writing for the local street press, and it was scratching my itch to write, but it didn’t feel particularly creative. I had a short story sitting in my To Do pile, and my major project to finish, but nothing was coming to me anymore. I was thinking up ideas in the shower, or dreaming amazing things that set my mind alight with possibilities, but I wasn’t putting any of it on the page. It just stayed in my head, and I did nothing with it.

When I had The Seizure That Turned My Life Upside Down in March 2016, I lost the will (and the ability) to work on anything. I tried to keep my column up for BMA, but it wasn’t giving me the same pleasure it used to. It had become a chore. I thought about blogging again, and did a few times to try and get my anguish out, but it felt hollow and narcissistic. I needed a new project, a new drive, and a new job that wasn’t going to wring all my creativity into 30 second chunks for a wage that was almost half the average wage for the city I lived in.

I achieved the third thing on that list last August. I’m now working for significantly more money, in a (very) challenging job, surrounded by the kind of work culture I could never have dreamed of in the radio industry. The people I work with are incredible, the support I’ve had despite my significant health challenges over the last few months have been beyond my wildest dreams, and I’m learning new things all the time. I’m so incredibly lucky to have stumbled into this organisation. (For a number of reasons, I won’t be sharing the name of my employer here.)

But what about the other two? That need for a project and for that drive to move me forward in terms of my writing?

That’s why I’ve set this goal. Broken down, it works out to be a little under 350 words a day. It doesn’t matter why I’ve written them, what they’re about, or whether I intend to publish them. They just have to exist on the page.

Just 350 little words. Or 2,500 a week. However it happens, a total goal of 10,000 a month.

Even if I only achieve it in January, I’ll be happy with that. Because hell, it’s a start.

And I’ve got 616 words to prove it.

At Risk of Being Wrong, Here’s To 2017


I feel like being optimistic about 2017 is foolish, but here I am, doing just that. Looking through my journal the other day, I found exactly the same optimism in my first entry for 2016, and look where that got us.

While 2016 was shitty for a lot of people because of wonderful people who died (I’m still not ready to believe Carrie Fisher is gone), or because of certain election results (there’s the obvious US and UK cock-ups, but the Australian election and its repercussions for Centrelink and Medicare scare me more), but the biggest issue for me was my health.

For most of 2016, I was ill. It wasn’t a physical malady, so even I’m a little reluctant to use the term, but there really is no other description that fits the bill.

In March, my epilepsy took me from a place of optimism and drive, to somewhere dark I hadn’t been since 2012. The ensuing depression was some of the worst I’ve ever dealt with, but this time I was willing to be open with those around me about what it was doing to me and the kind of help I was in desperate need of. I can happily say that has started to pay off over the last few months, and I’m getting the medical help I need to move towards the more even keel that will make the shift into the real world and employment a reality.

Last time it took me 10 months to recover; so far I’m clocking in at 9, but I’m in a better position now than I was then. I’ve not been working full time, but I’ve got a couple of freelance clients, and doing those occasional projects has really boosted my confidence in my own writing and in the idea that I might be able to do this as a side project.

Last time, serendipity delivered me back into a radio gig, but now that I’ve decided I need time away from that industry, where I have spent almost my entire career, that won’t be so easy. I’m working with my neurologist and GP to make sure I’m not going at it too hard, and working with Employment Services Group in Braddon to assess what my skills and strengths are so that I can find a job where I will be a good fit. I’m still in the process of completely re-writing my CV for temp work, and I’m still trying to work out what the hell I’m going to apply for, but the cogs are finally turning and I feel like I’ll get to where I’m going in the next month or two. (With the job market in its current condition, that might be a little over-optimistic, but I think I can do it.)

diary 2017In previous posts, I’ve talked about the symbolic importance the New Year holds for me. I like beginnings, but in the past I’ve often struggled to see them through in my personal life. Resolutions fall over in 24 hours, and my optimism barely lasts the week. So why is this time so different to previous years?

This year, I’m taking the advice of Joe Biden, and I’ve made a plan. It could fall through, but I’ve been slowly integrating it into my life over the last month or so, and it seems to be gradually working. I’m getting things done and creating healthy habits, and I’ve not forgotten my medication in at least three weeks! I’ll write a post about it next week (oh yes, I intend to write here a lot more in 2017).

And resolutions? Sure, I’ve made a few, but I’m going to keep them to myself for now. Hopefully I’ll spend 2017 writing about how I’m achieving them rather than reflecting on how I haven’t come close to achieving them…

Getting me through 2016 was a team effort, so there are many thanks that need to be said. Mum and Dad have been the best parents a girl could ask for, looking after me in their home, keeping a roof over my head in Canberra and supporting me as I’ve taken my first shaky steps back into the real world. My sister Justine has given me a lot of hugs when I need them, and I can’t overstate how wonderful that is. Thanks to my best mate Miranda for always being there for a chat and giving me kindness and well-deserved tough love in relevant measure. My housemate Karina, for being incredibly tolerant of my untidy and lazy ways being amplified by my less than ideal condition, and my constant travelling back and forth over the last few months. BMA’s editor Andrew Nardi has been an absolute saint in terms of my struggles to reach deadlines, and so many of my Canberra-based friends – Nigel, Beth, Ali, Cam, Rhonda, David, Josh, Justyna, Bondy, Chris, Nick, Emma, Gerry, Kath and so many more – have been much loved and appreciated connections back to the life I love to live. My former work colleagues have been incredibly kind during my illness, with special mention to Kirstan, who has been the best co-copywriter I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and a bloody good mate who has inspired me with the goals she keeps on kicking. Dr Kaitlyn Parratt at the RPA epilepsy clinic and Dr Chowdury Beg, my GP at Dubbo Medical and Allied Health Group, have both have been absolutely critical in my long term treatment and recovery. To my extended family: I count my blessings every day that I was born into our mad mob. Finally, a massive expression of love goes out to my Internet Party buddies who have been on the front line of most of my expressions of anguish this year: Alex N, Alex B, Fin, Britt, Tim, Lizzy, Beth and Lauretta.

I know 2017 is going to involve a lot of hard work, personally and politically right around the world, but for the first time in a long time, I not only think I’m ready to do it…

…I’m absolutely going to.

Happy New Year.

Dear Mr Springsteen

born-to-run-front-cover-only12 May 2016

Dear Mr Springsteen,

I have epilepsy, and I have spent the last month and a half recovering from a bout of seizures I suffered in the middle of March. I used to work in radio, had a reasonably happy life in a city I love, living independently and working towards becoming a freelance writer. I’d recently joined my first band (!) and was starting to engage with some of the challenges I’d been dreaming about since I was a kid.

Now I’m living at my parents’ house, in a regional area five hours from where I want to be, with a stutter that has killed any chance of continuing work in radio and significantly effected my employability across the board. Even the most basic of tasks can be incredibly tiring due to my motor skills going AWOL, and holding a conversation is a struggle most days. I’m an avid lover of live music – oh, I’m sure you’d love some of the artists coming out of Canberra at the moment – but I won’t be going to any gigs anytime soon because now loud or unexpected noises put me on edge, further limiting my speech and greatly heightening my anxiety levels, leading to an further increased risk of seizure. My doctors and neurologists have no idea why this is happening (except that it’s not a tumour, stroke or blood clot, which is a blessing) so there’s no treatment plan for me, except waiting to see if it comes good.

Cripes, that was a bit of a downer to start with. Sorry about that.

But it’s important that I break it all down, because I am in a pretty dark place right now. I have nothing to hold onto. The rewards I would normally give myself to try and feel better – a trip away from home, a night out with friends, seeing a band – are all out of reach. All the little goals I’m setting for myself? I’m missing them by a mile.

In the days after the first in my cluster of seizures, I bought your Born To Run album off iTunes at the suggestion of my aunt. (I prefer concrete copies, but I haven’t been able to get to a record store since this all hit the fan.)

Since then, your album has been what I cling to. I was never really one for much mischief, but the youthful abandon and longing to throw off the shackles of life and be free described in “Thunder Road” and “Born To Run”? I was working towards living that, taking advantage of my youth (I’m 26) and being myself and how the system can go to hell. I had felt trapped in my last job, and I’d just broken out of it, putting in my resignation two weeks before I fell ill. I was starting to feel the wind in my hair, and I was looking forward to seeing where the road would take me.

And then came the contrast. Certainly not as violent or criminal or broadly devastating as the actions and consequences of your characters, but just as desperate. Locked in, and clawing to get out, to no avail. That’s me now, stuck in a brain that feels like it is short-circuiting almost constantly. I am writing this letter in one of the few moments of clarity I have been blessed with.

Your album has reminded me of two things. The first is that I am very lucky. I don’t have to resort to cross-river deals or run from guns and cops, because I am a white, middle-class woman, living in my parents’ house in a country town in Australia. The second is that I was so close to beating this condition – I’d been seizure free almost two years before my relapse – that I should be able to do it again; I need to fire up the engines and get going. (Ironic, since my condition eliminates me from being able to drive.)

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to Born To Run. It is the soundtrack to my days, my solace in the darkness, my motivator and my comfort. Though the story is different, the emotional ups and downs are calling me back to my own type of freedom. I listen to it every night as I go to sleep, willing it to imbibe me with its energy and the drive you used to make it happen, 40 years ago. (How was it that long ago? It still sounds fresh and vivid and alive.)

I’m yet to dive into your full back catalogue, although it does come highly recommended. I just don’t think I’m ready yet. If it’s alright with you, I’m just going to curl up with this album a little while longer, a little musical safety blanket to get me through the next few weeks, months, however long.

I honestly don’t know if I’m going to get through this, though. My speech was so precious to me, and now it’s barely there. I haven’t seen my friends in over a month, and the distance makes me ache. But even if I don’t, if I’m stuck in this shitty existence until I’m dead, I wanted to thank you for the little bit of peace you’ve brought to my soul and the little bit of fire you put in my belly. Born To Run is what my motor is running on right now, and I have needed every note of it.

Thank you. Thank you so much, for forever and a day.

Sincerely yours,

Noni Kuhner

*****

I initially didn’t want to post this here. I wanted to send it off into the world and never hear from it again. I wanted to send it to some vague record label address in the hope that it might one day get to the eyes I wrote it for. If it never did, that didn’t matter. It was the act of writing it, and of sending it that held meaning. It was an act of healing, where the process was more far more important than the result.

Two months later, I’m in a much better space than I was when I wrote this. I’m back in Canberra, starting to work again, and my speech has mostly recovered, though it does have the occasional hiccup. My brain still struggles a little when there’s too much sensory stimulation or I’m trying to think about more than one thing at a time, and I had another small seizure a few nights ago at band practice, but apart from that, I’m doing okay.

I’ve been taking some time off Born To Run over the last month or so, just to get back into the swing of listening to new things again. I’m loving Brendan Maclean’s funbang1, and some of the older gems in my collection from Inland Sea and Paul Dempsey. I made a mixed CD as a belated wedding present for a friend, and caught up on a whole bunch of podcasts. I finally got around to digging into some of Bruce Springsteen’s other works (Born In The USA is good, but inconsistent; Darkness on the Edge of Town is easily #2 on my list of favourite albums of his).

Right now, I’m listening to Born to Run again after a month or so’s break. I still love it. It still means so much to me. I still feel the need to say “Thank You” all over again.

It really is a great album.

Recurring Gas Pain: The Reissuing of Bad Bills

Photo: Jaroslaw Puszczyński
Photo: Jaroslaw Puszczyński

Over the last seven months, a lot of my energy has been taken up by a battle with my gas company. Not only have we been getting huge bills, which I was quite okay with taking on the chin, they developed an infuriating habit of reissuing bills, sometimes up to 6 months after it was originally issued.

Naturally, I was less than impressed.

Firstly, I expect that a company with remote access to my meter readings would be able to get it right the first time. If they had an issue, you’d think they would let me know that there had been an error with the meter, then fix it. Pretty simple premise, but apparently far too difficult to put into practice. In fact, it was so difficult that in two separate cases, they had to revise the bills twice, and the second time, they didn’t even send me a new invoice. Instead, they just put it on my account without telling me, making for an unpleasant surprise in the form of an unexplained “overdue amount”.

Photo: Unknown

During my time doing accounts at two different radio stations, if I had made two major errors on two different bills on the same account in less than six months, I would have been pulled aside and had it recommended to me that I consider a new career path. Three times, and I most likely would have been sacked.

Nope, apparently in the case of my gas supplier, that’s all hunky dory.

Then there was the issue of the time frame. I’m pretty reasonable and I get that mistakes get made, but there were three occasions (one while I was in the middle of the dispute in question) where bills were reissued (usually with a hike in price) more than three months later. That meant that I couldn’t check the reading on the meter, so I couldn’t effectively dispute the charges. It also meant that I couldn’t budget for them – I’d already paid the bill, and these revisions were coming out nowhere. Why were they coming back to haunt me again half a year later?

Those timeframes seem pretty unreasonable, don’t they? Well, it got worse.

A good five months into my correspondence with the company, during which I had asked the question multiple times, they told me that they didn’t have a revision policy in place. That means that there isn’t a maximum number of days between first issue and any revisions, nor a maximum number of revisions that can be issued. I was flabbergasted. Surely there must be some kind of rule in this regard to stop bills being issued with wild abandon?

ACAT logoAfter seven months of this nonsense, and after I got the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) involved to mediate in the matter, I found out that there is a rule. And it stinks.

This is a quote from my gas company about the National Energy Retail Rules as relating to re-billing, with the information confirmed by my contact at ACAT.

“An account can be re-billed at any time, however [it] cannot be charged more than 9 months period (3 billing periods) [sic].”

Thankfully, my case has been resolved – the entire disputed amount was wiped from my account, and I’m satisfied with that for now, though heaven won’t help them if they screw up again.

But now I know the current state of play in regards to re-billing, this is about more than just me.

“The National Energy Retail Rules allow the recovery of undercharges for a period up to 9 months.”

The National Energy Retail Rules regarding re-billing offer inadequate protection for consumers. Despite all these issues, I could still be re-billed for some of the invoices that were issued and corrected, anytime in the next three to six months. If they are reissued, due to the time that has passed, I can’t go back and check that their new readings are correct for that period. That could happen to anyone on their gas or electricity bill, at any time. It’s frustrating, it’s outrageous, and it’s wrong.

I’m currently gathering more information about what departments and individuals I talk to about getting this changed to a more reasonable timeframe. I feel that 30 days is the absolute maximum that is acceptable – if you can’t get your business sorted in that time, there is something seriously wrong, and your customers shouldn’t have to pay extra for your shortcomings.

I suspect this is going to be a long fight, but since I’m currently not working, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands. Once I’ve got my research together, there will be a petition, I’ll be doing my utmost to get meetings with relevant parties, and I won’t stop until these rules reflect more reasonable timeframes for consumers. Stay tuned, and I’ll keep you posted every step of the way.

This isn’t over. This little gas flame has only just started to burn.

*****

Note: The name of the company I’ve been in dispute with has been left out deliberately, only because chances are that your gas or electricity company has the same lack of revisions policy. I’m gradually working my way through the list of Australian gas suppliers, but so far none of them have had a policy regarding a maximum number of days between revisions or a maximum number of revisions.

Have you ever had your gas or electricity bills revised in an untimely manner? Get in touch via the Contact page.

You’ve Got Mail, My Dear

Email Logo

I have a lot of emails to read. I’ve committed to the idea that I’m going to read all of them. I’ll reply to those that require it, bookmark websites I’ve sent to myself, transfer the words in my drafts into documents and file them where I can find them later.

I’ve been stuck at my parents’ house in Dubbo for over a month now. My speech is still a mess, and loud noises still make me quite distressed. I’ve been spending all my time playing various iterations of The Sims because at least I can create a decent life in that universe. It’s my own quiet shame, but a remarkably effective coping mechanism, which is probably why I’ve used it every time I’ve been depressed and am trying to rebuild my life.

It doesn’t feel like depression this time, though. It’s frustration at the physical, not the emotional. I feel like I’m locked in my own head because my mouth can’t spit the words out. When I’m silent, it’s not because I have nothing to say, it’s that I literally can’t hold a conversation. I’m sitting at dinner with my family, desperately wanting to add something but knowing that the scratch of cutlery on crockery feels like it’s cracking my eardrums and now the moment has passed so even if I had been able to spit the words out, they’re too late to be counted. Contrary to what you might think, it hasn’t made me a better listener, just a bitterer one.

I spend most of my day in bed. When I try to do something on my laptop, I immediately lose all my focus and find myself on Facebook or Twitter or something else, searching for an indication that it’s going to be okay, but only finding myself in a puddle of muck full of envy and self-loathing that I can’t do any of the things that I love anymore. Gigs, plays, parties, going to the pub or a café with friends: they’re all too much for my sensitive little head. I can barely get through a quiet day of nothing without a meltdown, so doing something that would actually excite my senses just isn’t going to happen.

Ingress_logo_512pxHere’s an email about Ingress. They’ve given me some kind of code to get me back into the game. I haven’t updated the app in months. Maybe I could do that? Let’s see how I feel tomorrow. If I get up before noon and have a good start to the day, maybe I could go for a walk? Heck, maybe I could even go unaccompanied. Probably not. I’ll set a reminder to ask Justine or Dad to come with me, just in case.

Last weekend, my housemate came to visit. We sat on the back deck for at least an hour, my parents’ dog falling over herself at the arrival of a new human. We talked, or at least she did as I stumbled through stammered sentences, and it was the best little while I’ve had since I came back home. Afterwards, I was both invigorated and exhausted.

I’ve suspended my MEAA membership, so there’s an extra $50 or so back in the kitty each month, and I’ve whittled my way from forty emails to thirty. That’s a good start. Sure, most of them were weekly digests from Scum and HerCanberra and other blogs that I try to keep up with, and none of them were things I had to take action on, but it’s a start. Maybe, just maybe, I can do this.

I’m leaving so much undone, either because I can’t physically manage it (calling ActewAGL’s sub-contractor about our gas meter – it’s hard to be authoritative when you can barely get words out) or because I’m terrified of it and what it represents (emailing or writing or chatting to people because I don’t want to confess to them directly just how vulnerable and scared I am; much better to shout it to them all at once in a blog).

That said, the stagnation is driving me mental. I want to be applying for jobs, heading into agencies and doing some freelance work, just like I was planning to before it all went to shit. I was ready to be active and pursue some goals. I’d got so far as setting the wheels in motion, signing up for websites that would give me leads and options, even getting the fire up to apply for an ABN. All of that is so far out of reach right now, and now all I feel when I think about it is anger, resentment and despair.

born-to-run-front-cover-onlyThe one thing keeping me going is music. I’ve found solace in Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, an album which has grown on me with every listen, taking me to a strange film-like place where disenfranchised youth are struggling under their individual yokes, yet still finding time to stick a middle finger up at the world by getting up to the kind of romanticised shenanigans I never dabbled in. I regret not engaging in mischief as a teenager, and not getting up to more at university. I felt like I was starting to hit my stride before this mess, another frustration that keeps me awake at night and makes me hide beneath the covers during the day. If I ever get back to the real world, I hereby commit to focusing on having more magnificent times, creating more memories to both entertain and torment me should I end up here again.

I’m down to twenty unread emails now, although some of them I’ve just re-marked so that I remember to bookmark them once I’ve finished reading everything else. All that are left are the notifications of new releases from Canberran musicians that I need to at least sit down and properly listen to, at best use a little more of my savings to nab a copy. The digital variety is most likely; apparently nobody makes CDs anymore.

This is how life is today. My music and my correspondence is ethereal, floating through networks and wires in streams, downloads and inboxes, when all I want is to hold them in my hand. The only thing that seems physical right now is my anguish and illness, both things I would gladly change from concrete to conceptual.