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.

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In Which She Has The Confrontation Before It Happens

Click for source.

 

The following is a letter to an unknown subject, and a conversation that is yet to happen.

*****

Why do you keep doing it? Why do you have to share all our secrets with the internet?

I don’t have a satisfactory answer for him/her/them, but I don’t have a satisfactory mind for fiction at the moment, either. All I have right now are memories. So many of them are ripe for retelling, reworking and reinterpreting. There is nobody else living in my head right now, so I only have my own stories to fall back on.

You don’t have to tell everyone everything. You don’t have to write something every day.

Oh, on the contrary. I’ve let myself lie idle for far too long. I need to practice everyday if I can. I need to experiment with form and the way I think about stories, and oil the cogs so they can start turning more easily, all so I can get back to trying to tell the stories pulled from the lives of other characters, rather than being stuck in my own musings.

I don’t need to publish, certainly. But I do need feedback. I need criticism. I need advice and guidance. I’m not going to get that by keeping it all to myself, or by keeping it to those who think I’m already doing well.

Strangely, it’s a lot less confronting throwing it into the online ether than finding a one-on-one mentor. That said, I probably need one of those more than anything else. Until I find one and the courage to ask them, I will simply continue to practice in the public space. I am sure it will open more doors than it closes.

I don’t want to get caught in truncated, unstructured, rambling memoirs, but that’s where I am and I’m running with it. You work with what you’ve got, and these memories are what I have.

Can’t you write non-fiction about other things? You could write about politics, or famous people, or music! You’ve done it before. Why does it have to be about us/your family/your friends/yourself?

I will, and soon. But those things take time, research, resources, passion, and more. Again, my supplies are limited, but I’m trekking towards solutions for most of them. Baby steps, baby. Itty bitty baby steps.

And anyway, nobody even knows it’s you. Nobody knows how many lies are interwoven with my truth. You gave me these moments and I gave you fair warning that they would visit us again from time to time. And here they are.

I know that some will hurt, but maybe some will heal. Perhaps there will be a new peace now that it’s all been pulled apart and laid out like bike parts on the pavement. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe I will.

Don’t worry, baby. Don’t let it cloud your thoughts. Let it darken your opinion of me, if that’s what you want, but don’t fret about the marks on your screen. Nobody is paying attention.

Through it all, remember this: it’s just a phase. It will pass and soon I won’t need you to fuel my musings any more. There’s a box of letters under my bed, and that is where I’ll put you, along with all those other wonders, and once you’re there I promise I’ll never share you with strangers again.

Family Matters

Christmas 2007
Christmas 2007

I’ve just arrived back in Canberra after a ten day holiday with my family: mum, dad and younger sister. Half of that was spent in Dubbo in my parents’ house, the rest with extended family in Milton on the South Coast of New South Wales. To be honest, this has been one of the few times I’ve come back to Canberra wishing I was somewhere else. It’s only been three-and-a-bit hours since I saw them last, but I am already missing my family incredibly.

I’m constantly reminded just how wonderful it is and how lucky I am to have such a close and loving family. The way we all came together to mourn the passing of my grandfather back in April, the unbelievable support they’ve given me with present and future living arrangements, the career advice, the emotional support through humps in my personal life, and so much more: I’m so lucky to have them to call on when I need to.

After 27 years of marriage, my parents are still together, complete with the tendency to still be stupidly cute. They are a pillar of stability in a life that has been full of wobbles, and I’m so grateful that they’ve been there for me, time and time again.

My sister and I have a curious relationship that rocks back and forth like the world’s biggest see-saw. Sometimes she’s all cuddles and cuteness (I am always all about the cuddles); other times she wants to tear my face off (I don’t want to return the favour quite as often, but I have my moments). We live in a peculiar truce-like situation, ready to spark into a spat at a moment’s notice, but I would still do anything for a hug from her. (Except stop asking for them – she gives wonderful hugs, partly because I have to work so hard for them.)

My extended family are spread right along the Eastern states, with my mum’s family, to whom I am particularly close, all living within 8 hours drive. Most of them are in one of two towns in Western NSW. Knowing that an aunt or uncle or cousin could drop by is a nice feeling, and being so far from them most of the year sucks, especially when things are rough at either end. As my Grannie gets older, I realise that it’s also important that I get back to see her more regularly, but as I only get back to Dubbo once every four to six months or so, that’s really tricky. Seeing family is one of the reasons why I want to get my licence this year – it’s near impossible to hurry back on a 10 hour bus trip that only runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

One of the other things I’d like to do in the next year or so is live overseas. Friends of mine have gone to London, Thailand, New York and so many other wonderful places across the globe, and I want a piece of that.

But I keep coming back to one thing: how far away do I want to be from my family? Canberra is already a long way away – 5 hours by car, 5 hours and a couple of hundred dollars by plane and bus, and 10 hours by public transport. Do I really want to go any further afield? Can I even bear to be away that long, not knowing when I’ll get the chance to fly back and see them again?

Yes. I’m ready for the adventure of living in another country. But it’s all about baby steps: 7 hours of public transport to Sydney, then a 3 hour flight. I think I could do that. I’m ten hours commute away as it is, after all.

But the fact remains: it will be incredibly hard to be so far away from my family. That said, I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t go. They understand that.

And that’s another reason why I love them so bloody hard.

So every day, I count my blessings. This year, I resolve to call my family more often (I can already hear my mother whooping with joy), and write to them more, and do the best I can to spend more time in their company.

Because I have been blessed with falling into their mad lot, and you never know how long they’re going to be around for.

 

*****

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Inspired by a card from Ask Me A Question: 50 cards to start a conversation, from kikki.K.

His Own Aroma

 

He smelled like cloves.

Then again, I can’t be sure of that. I don’t know what cloves smell like, but they were exactly what he reminded me of: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; all those other warm, comforting spices that go into mulled cider or chai. He smelled delicious and exotic and alluring. Most of all, he smelled warm.

When he came close, I inhaled deeply, trying to embed every nuance of his scent deep within my brain. I was incredibly conscious of whether or not I was breathing in too loudly; I didn’t want him to know just how much I loved dragging him deep into my lungs like cigarette smoke. He was my nicotine. He sent my heart racing. My breathing rate increased and my brain tingled with lust-filled sparks. He didn’t even need to touch me; he just had to be close enough to breathe in. It was intoxicating, sending sensations running through my body from my torso to my fingertips like a sound wave. I could physically feel the pleasure of his aroma rippling through me.

I can’t remember ever smelling him on my skin or on my clothes, only when he was in the room. Every other man I had lusted after or loved had left a trail behind him, but for some reason, he did not. This was probably a blessing. I could have lost hours in his perfume. To have it weave its way into my sheets would have been the end of me.

We still see each other, now and then. His face is still handsome, his conversation still engaging, his sense of humour as dry as when I first met him. He still cuts a canyon through my heart, but it would be deeper if we didn’t speak.

We don’t sit close to each other. There is always a table, a friend or an incense between us, stopping our pheromones from mingling in the air the way they used to. We sit together and talk, but I can no longer smell his warmth. My lungs miss his touch, my breath longs to entwine itself in his, but this is the way things are.

Sometimes when I walk through the spice aisle in the supermarket, I look at the packets on the shelves. I am looking for cloves, but I never buy them. I don’t pick them up, and I don’t let their scent register in my brain. Instead, I exhale hard through my nose, wondering if I was right. I wonder if they smell like him after all.

But I never check. The illusion is better than the reality, and the nostalgia tastes better than the present. In the same way spice preserves meat, protecting it from air and rot, I protect my memories by hiding them from the truth.

 

Spice_cloves

Noni Did NZ: Friendly Faces

If you haven’t heard about me harp on about it yet, I went to Wellington (this one, not this one) last month. It’s taken all that time for me to be able to take a step back and start writing about it without dissolving into fits of giggles and nostalgia. That and I’m a little bit lazy. I’m compensating for the delay with sheer quantity. Over the next few entries, I’ll be writing about all the fantastic things I got up to in an attempt to give you a glimpse of Wellington that doesn’t involve that dude from The Voice. For the rest of the posts, take a look here.

*****

Travelling on your own is a funny thing. It can be incredibly liberating, wandering the streets of a place that isn’t home, knowing that there’s no expectations as to what you’re going to do or how late you will be out. You’ve got all the room in the world to make your own way without worrying about how it might affect your reputation back home. It leaves plenty of room in your head for soaking up experiences and meditation on what you want from life. Basically, it can be pretty damn rad.

Conversely, it can be incredibly lonely, full of nights spent in and wandering between unfamiliar bars, stuck in a hotel room or a backpackers with a lottery of transients who know about as much about your destination as you do. Before you know it, you’re wishing for faraway friends, or at the very least someone with enough local knowledge that you could find a decent band to wash away your homesickness. Your days can be spent scouring the internet and whatever street press you can find for scant details on what might be happening outside of the usual tourist haunts, but even with the most accurate information, you can never tell if your experiments will fly or pull a spectacular Icarus routine.

On my trip to Wellington, I was lucky enough to have the perfect combination of solo ambling and time with new friends and acquaintances. From those I spent whole days with, to those who humoured me with fleeting chats in the bizarre space that is Boogie Wonderland, I was surrounded by ridiculously awesome people I was completely and utterly blessed to meet.

This post is dedicated to just some of the magnificent human beings who made Wellington Week so absolutely marvellous.

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Anna and Petyr being total babes. (Source: What We Do In The Shadows Facebook page)

Anna

If it wasn’t for Anna, none of this ridiculousness would have occurred in the first place. Sure, I was really damn excited to see What We Do In The Shadows to begin with, but the marketing campaign that she devised and drove was more than the icing on the cake; it was fucking ART.

When Anna first got in touch, I was still sitting in shock at my computer, having won the TradeMe auction for an WWDITS artwork only a few hours earlier. There were a few emails back and forth over the following days, flitting across a few different threads: the joy I’d derived from interacting with the vampires through social media and the auction, the possibility of a personal handover of the artwork from Jemaine and Taika, or maybe I could come to the premiere, but how outrageous is that?

Before I knew it, I’d booked my leave and flights and was just about falling over myself with glee. It seems that Anna is not only a marketing and PR wizard, she is also remarkably good at dealing with insane Australians who are high on post-purchase euphoria.

Over the following weeks, Anna sent me information about the weather (“four layers” was the prescription in terms of wardrobe), made suggestions for accommodation and somehow wrangled me in for a brief TV stint in a story about the campaign. (Did I mention it was fucking ART?)

The initiation of my trip alone would have been enough, but I also had the pleasure of hanging out with her after the premiere and then again on the following Friday at the launch of her gentleman-friend’s exhibition in a venue that was so full of beautiful, stylish and awesome people it was unbelievable. (Daif is also incredibly rad.) Then we went and had Japanese and that was also brilliant. (Although I did discover that sake and I are probably never going to be friends.) After that, we walked through the city for a little while and she and Daif pointed out various locations from the film, adding even more sparkle to the places around me.

From start to finish, Anna was an incredible guide and phenomenal pal. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the New Zealand capital, and its community of insanely clever people, than the one she provided. I still feel so incredibly honoured to have met her.

Note: Somehow, despite all the joy and fun I had hanging with Anna over the course of the week, I forgot to get a photo with her. This is because I am an idiot.

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Pre-premiere drinks with Jane = THE BEST.

Jane

When it all suddenly became clear that I was actually going across the Tasman on this mad jaunt, Anna immediately offered to help me out with accommodation by way of sorting a couch surfing arrangement. Jane was the first name she threw at me, and she went on to be pretty much my guardian angel for the whole week.

My first connection with Jane was via Twitter. From there it was only a matter of days until I pulled up in a cab at her front door, fresh from the airport (and the cab driver charged an extra $100 on the fare by accident – OH HOW WE LAUGHED).

We got on like a house on fire, with hot topics including Dog on a Log (which I had somehow missed), the bizarre world that is Tinder, and the sharing of tunes from either side of the ditch (I offered up Citizen Kay and Brass Knuckle Brass Band, Fun Machine and Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen; she introduced me to Beastwars and The Phoenix Foundation). She gave me a room, a bed, fed me, gave me transport advice, accompanied me to the premiere, kept me company, helped me do my hair, taught me things and convinced me to do things that I might have otherwise passed up for nerves. (I can now say I my lips have touched something that was also used by Michael Palin. Pretty fuckin’ cool.)

Jane didn’t just treat me like a friend. When I was hanging out with her and her daughter and their cat and her housemate, I felt like I was part of a family. The degree of hospitality shown to me took my breath away, and I still feel like I haven’t said thank you enough. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

I hope that I when I have guests in my house, I’m half as good a hostess as Jane was to me. She truly is one of the kindest hearts I know, and I’ll happily call her family any day of the week.

Not a good face shot. Not a good fire shot. Honestly, who lets me use cameras?!
Not a good face shot. Not a good fire shot. Honestly, who lets me use cameras?!

Benjamin

Okay, so I didn’t exactly get to know this guy beyond throwing money at him and a quick chat, but he certainly made an impression. I spent the better part of an hour watching him entertain those ambling along Cuba St on a Friday night, before I bailed him up to thank him for the pleasure.

We got chatting: I told him how the smell of fire twirling brought back happy memories of university friends, and complimented him on his incredible live looping guitar skills; he told me that he was planning on heading to Melbourne to meet up with his girlfriend and how that seemed to be a growing trend among the young artists of Wellington.

He showed me the way to The Rogue and Vagabond, a craft beer bar a few blocks off Cuba St with a bulldog on the logo and a mad gypsy band playing in the corner. It was very much my scene.

I would have stayed and harassed him a little longer, but the bar was pretty full and he was keen to do some writing, so I took down the address of his Facebook page and told him to get in touch when he got to Australia.

Sure, I knew Benjamin for an hour and a half at most, but he reminded me of friends back home, was remarkable company and brilliant entertainment, and he introduced me to a venue I am definitely going to have to revisit when I go back to Wellington, whenever that may be. It’s not much and it didn’t last long, but you’ve got to celebrate the little things sometimes.

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Thanks to the windy hills near Wellington Airport and a magnificent tumble along the way, I’m as red as a bloody beetroot.

Taika

I didn’t get to talk to this guy that long either, but man, what a champ.

Taika and I probably talked for a grand total of about 5 minutes across four or five occasions, but in each brief instance he had a big smile and was just a totally awesome dude. Even when I was babbling nonsense from excitement, a touch of post-hill-walking exhaustion and a good serve of shaken-brain-from-nearly-face-planting-onto-concrete-on-said-walk-to-the-airport, and he was keen to get back to his car and actually do stuff with his Sunday, he was kind and accommodating. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to my trip than this: receiving an artwork from someone whose work I really bloody admire, who was also really nice about me being a complete numpty.

Seriously, I would give my right arm to share a pint and a chinwag with this guy. He’s just a freakin’ top bloke.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve really just put Taika here as a figurehead for all the beautiful people I had the pleasure of meeting through the What We Do In The Shadows premiere and in the hours (and days) afterwards, mostly because he’s the only one I got a photo with. Some other names that need dropping belong to Jemaine, Chris, Jackie, Theresa, Rhys, Vanessa, Mark, Daif, Nikkie and so many other brilliant, creative, kind, clever people who took a couple of minutes or more to chat to me, dance with me, be reasonably impressed by my trip or just cover the fact that they thought I was a bit of a twat. Whether it was the briefest of pleasantries, dancing around in an attempt to circumvent blocked doorways, dissections of Inter-Tasman media environments over wine, or barely decipherable conversations on disco-themed dance floors: every moment is treasured, and is going to stay with me until I shuffle off this mortal coil. (Even if you’ve already forgotten me. It’s okay: I’m particularly unmemorable.)

Of course, it is worth mentioning that not all the friends I made were of the human variety… But that’s a story for another time.

I really was completely and utterly blessed to have met these delightful folks on my trip, and I just want to remind the aforementioned awesome people (and those I’ve neglected to mention): there’s an open invitation for drinks at Smith’s Alternative or The Phoenix should you ever be in Canberra. (You showed me your town. I’d love to show you mine!)

Part of the reason why this post has taken so long is because I want to do these marvellous folks, and all the happy feelings they gave me, justice. Hopefully I’ve come relatively close to doing that.

tl;dr: Thanks dudes. You’re the best. Let’s go get a drink some time. x N