Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Take two: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, F Scott Fitzgerald (1958)

The publication date shown above is for the Bodleigh Head collection, and isn’t the original publication date for these stories, which all came out originally in the 20s and 30s. I’m not sure when this Penguin book came into my possession but it has “$8” written in pencil on the first page. On the same page is a signature with the year “1972” written in the same hand, so that’s when the original owner got it.

I took this photo in the living room and in the background are a number of items. The painting was given to me and the linocut above it was framed when I lived in Maroochydore. It shows a boat and is one I did when I was about 20 years old. The ceramic camera on the entertainment cabinet is by Alan Constable. 

A camera is a curious device as the name derives from the Latin word for “room”. A camera uses a closed-off space in order to function. Fitzgerald’s ultimate demise puts him, to a degree, in a closed space. A casket is closed, and since I don’t believe in the soul once you’re dead it means you have no way to communicate with the living. Unless you’re a writer. This book offers the reader some puzzles, which I talk about in my Patreon review. Subscribe if you want to learn more. 

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

TV review: Bordertown, seasons 2 and 3, Netflix (2018-20)

The bodies keep piling up but what gets me with this show is how people are allowed to have feelings. It’d probably be nice if the filmmakers showed in more detail how victims of crime and their families deal with all the murders, but even without that focus there are lots of slow shots with people just being themselves, plain and unadorned. Having awkward conversations. I think back to ‘Doc Martin’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ to find other examples of shows with neurologically atypical protagonists, people whose unique ways of seeing the world animate the shows and make them engaging. I think about my own character, and reflect back on my personal history to find traces there of strangeness. What is “usual”? What is normal? Who’s to say that I’m not? 

In ‘Bordertown’ atmospheric aerial scenes capture columns of cars angling through the Finnish countryside and are skilfully mixed with shots of the interior of police headquarters and people’s bedrooms. At the same time a secondary story involving Kari’s (Ville Virtanen) wife Pauliina (Matleena Kuusniemi) evolves to emphasise the human side of the show. It’s striking how important such things become for the viewer, and you get a sense of what the producers are trying to do as they slow down the action so that a look or a glance can take on epic proportions. In a way that reminded me of daytime soaps.

As in the first season the Russian angle is prominent in the first two episodes, which involve an historical crime Lena (Anu Sinisalo) has a connection to. Her daughter Katia (Lenita Susi) plays a part in this plot, which inducts a retired special forces soldier from across the border into the life of Lappeenranta. 

A major innovation in season 2 is Kari’s hallucinations. These strange scenes aren’t introduced by any special effects – for flashbacks you get a washed out palette, by contrast – so you segue seamlessly from a segment that carries the story forward (as usual, at a fast pace) to a dreamy conversation between Kari and someone from his chequered past. As a narrative device, this tactic adds drama while avoiding the trap of taking the viewer too far from the main plotline.

‘Bordertown’ switches to winter mode in season 3 but it’s always creative, and the way it helps the filmmakers interrogate humanity keeps you grounded because it avoids facile voyeurism. The importance of overarching themes – such as loyalty, power, or wealth – thus remains central. I watched in wonderment as Kari’s daughter Janina (Olivia Ainali) went off the rails, but these scenes were only possible because of how Kari’s family is involved effortlessly into the crimes rendered in dark tones. 

Colours full of night and love. It’s hard to see how you could get further from a stereotypical Hollywood variation on a well-trod map. Do we really need more police procedurals? If they’re as good as this one, I think they’re definitely warranted. Some people are addicted to the suspense, to the undertones of sin, to the strange symbiosis of prison and its colleague – a kind of populated freedom.

Although ‘Bordertown’ almost jumps the shark in season 2 eps 9 and 10 (‘Without a Shadow’), as each episode is unfolded – with quick shifts of focus from office to apartment building forecourt, from bedroom to crime scene – it’s almost impossible to work out the pattern and you wonder how the filmmakers are going to get it back in its envelope. The design is large and their vision is expansive: this ambitious show wants it all, even our memories.

Monday, 24 January 2022

Take two: Worm: The First Digital World War, Mark Bowden (2011)

I bought this book at QBD (Queensland Book Depository) in or after February 2013. At the time I was living in the Sunshine Coast and there was a QBD store down at Sunshine Plaza where I’d drop by to pick up things from their sale tables when I had a few minutes free and when I was down that way. The book cost me $7.99.

In the background in this photo are two engineers in my life. On the bottom is my father, Peter. On the top is my brother Peter. Brother Peter is a computer programmer and dad was a sales engineer for Honeywell. I’m not sure what brother Peter would make of this book (I’ll have to ask him next time was talk) but dad would’ve enjoyed it as it’s quite easy of access, and includes a short history of the origins of the Internet (yes, it’s capitalised in the book). Full review on Patreon. 

Sunday, 23 January 2022

A year in review: Creativity, part two

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about art! – and the post you’re reading is the thirtieth (final instalment) in the series. 

On 12 August my friend Ming came over (she’d moved out by this time) and spent the day in her studio on the first floor, painting. She made me help her move the desk away from the wall – she’s always concerned about feng shui, and this small change (which we accomplished without any trouble) meant she’d be sitting in the centre of the room with the windows to her left and a blank wall in front of her. I didn’t ask her why she’d wanted to change the arrangement of the furniture, but imagined, when I thought about it afterward, that it was preferable to have the wall more distant from her head, giving her more room to think. I took her home in the car just after 5pm and left her outside her apartment building; her boyfriend Omer was to arrive shortly but I called him as I was driving back to check that he’d met up with her.

Ming’d called me at about 11am the next day to ask me to come and pick her up. When I arrived at her flat she had some rice paper sheets in plastic sleeves that she wanted to bring over, and she gave me these to put in a bag then changed her mind when she suspected that doing so might cause them to be creased – she had books also she wanted to put in the black tote she’d handed me to carry. Before getting back to my house we stopped at Botany and I found a parking spot so she could go into a Chinese restaurant and buy prepared food, which she ate when we got to my place. For most of the afternoon I was downstairs reading a book while she plied her brushes, her water, and her black ink.

The next day she came over even earlier and stayed in her studio painting all day, so that it wasn’t until about 5pm that I took her in my car back to her building. She got me to walk with her down to Botany Road at one point late in the afternoon so that she could buy some fried food at the fish and chip shop. I used my gate key to get back inside then operated the digital lock to open the front door so that we could stroll indoors. On this day she made paintings on Styrofoam that had been covered with pasted sheets of rice paper, one painting being of a river and the other of a house with a tree standing outside it.

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On 20 August another request for illustrations by Adelaide came through, again from a UK outfit. I passed the email to Ada’s Gmail address but she was very busy with other work and just asked me to find out the scope of work. I emailed the sender who replied and I passed this to Adelaide who said she’d reply in a week, and the guy, whose name is Jon, when appraised of the situation, was willing to wait, averring that there was no hurry and that they could hold their horses while Ada sorted her workload. 

The other English company that had commissioned work from Adelaide was Universal Music, and because they have Japanese staff most of their communication was done in Japanese. I did help with some emails however, making sure Ada understood what they contained, and crafting replies on her behalf. I didn’t make a note of when the money was paid but it did come through to my account. I got back to Jon on 7 September and asked him if he could set up an online meeting where the job could be discussed. He didn’t reply however, probably because Ada’d delayed more than the promised week before telling me she wanted to know more. I slated this failure down to a learning experience for my daughter as it’s tricky to do business across cultural boundaries and what might seem inconsequential (being late after a promise) to a Japanese person (who might be more willing to come to understand that there had been extenuating circumstances) might be unpardonable for an Englishman. I mused ruefully and a mite sagely that international business can be complex.

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On 10 September I got another request from Fevers of the Mind literary review to do a book review. I’d done some for David O’Nan in July and in September he sent me two more books, one as an ebook. I had a response from Sadie Maskery, whose book ‘Push’ I reviewed at this time, a delightful chapbook containing suggestive and evocative poems that describe a world of pain and pleasure. Sadie thanked me on Twitter and even said she’d post her book in a hard copy, but I declined as it’s 8km to my PO box and we were in lockdown when I learned of her offer. 

The day before I’d spoken to my psychiatrist for the first time about my dreams of being an artist, and how my father’d crushed them when I was 17 years old – old enough to have a sense of responsibility that would prompt you to ask this person for permission to drop a subject at school, but young enough so that his decision could ruin your entire life. My psychiatrist understood with words and nods of his head how my feelings of resentment would now prevent me from making art. I felt heard for the first time and remembered what friends’d said when I talked in this way, how they’d just pressed me to begin regardless of what the past contained. 

I made a mental note to return to this subject the next time I met Dr Ouzas but in the meanwhile went back to those painful memories as part of a new project that could – given enough time and reflection – possibly help me to overcome it. I had asked an old university friend who lives in her native Poland if she wanted to do a series of blogposts with me about works in my collection. The idea was to single out one piece and get my correspondent to ask five questions that I’d then answer with the result then published on the blog. However, Basia wasn’t free to do this because she was making her own videos about her art practice and was also working full time as a curator. So I asked Roger, an old secondary school friend who lives in northern New South Wales, and we started with the first post, about Joash Tuinstra’s ‘Bondi’, a painting in my living room, on 7 October.

When I got tracks put up in October, increasing the amount of wall space this type of fitting makes available for pictures, which hang off the rails on cords (also called “drops”), I was reminded of mum in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. In the staircase I’d promised myself to hang drawings made by my daughter when she was small, and once Ollie had gone home on the day the work was done I set about putting things up. Four colourful crayon drawings of the family – me, my ex-wife, Adelaide and her brother Vivian – found space to display their naïve charm. The pictures’d been framed many years previously when mum and dad had received them in the mail from Japan, where I lived at the time with my family. There’s still a sticker from the framers’ in Maroochydore on the back of each picture showing where the work was done. Mum and dad used a fake bamboo-effect frame and had them sitting in alcoves on a wall in their apartment overlooking the estuary.

I never thought about the bamboo until I considered another picture that mum had framed – this one done much later, once dad was in a nursing home and mum and I were living close to each other in Cotton Tree. It’s a photo of her aunt when Madge lived in Japan on account of the Commonwealth occupation. Madge was teaching the children of servicemen and their wives and was in Japan for about five years living in military establishments. Mum had a photo showing Madge playfully pretending to eat out of a hot pot, though it’s clear from looking at her fingers that she’s not holding the chopsticks properly; given the way the implements sit in her fingers, nothing could be picked up and transported to her mouth. Mum had the photo cropped so that a Japanese woman who’d been in the original was missing from the framed version, and mum also used a fake bamboo-effect frame for this item. In fact the manufacture of the frame is the same as it was for the children’s drawings apart from a different colour being used to paint it: for the photo of Madge the frame is black whereas for Adelaide’s drawings the frame is silver. I find it curious that mum chose an stereotypically “Asian” design for these pictures in a way that would never have suited my taste. I’d have thought such a choice, if it had occurred to me and were it were my commission, gauche and insensitive. But perhaps there were things about my mother that she never talked about, things that slept inside her because they were things of which to be ashamed. “Oh, it’s nothing so strange,” you might think if you saw the five articles hanging on my walls, “your mother wasn’t racist.” But I’m not so sure. Mum never said anything to me about ethnicity being something she regretted in my choice of a wife, but my moving to Japan to live was unquestionably something that dad regretted. There were also recriminations when I left my family home and eventually the four portraits Adelaide’d made were taken down from their spot in their wall unit up north and mum didn’t put them her walls when she moved to a ground-floor apartment later on.

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I got a new Patreon subscriber on 23 October after I did a book review on the blog. I normally don’t put book reviews on the blog anymore, preferring to make reading of them chargeable, but on this occasion a Facebook friend had promoted a new book of poetry on Messenger. I’d bought the book as a Mobi file and read it on my Kindle and it was very good so I made a positive review. The man whose poems make up the majority of the book said that he appreciated the favour, and took the time to commit a dollar a month to my Patreon. The next day, inspired by this small victory, I added some text to a blogpost containing a review of a TV show. The text went:

Wait a minute! If you’ve enjoyed this review you can read more at my Patreon – but you’d have to subscribe. It’s a small cost for regular book reviews that are as incisive and elegant as what you’ve just sampled. Your support is appreciated.

It contained a link to my Patreon site so people could just click through and make a pledge. Patreon works by charging a set amount – in my case I don’t specify how much the monthly charge is – and giving credit card or PayPal details so a deduction can be made. With the new subscriber I was getting $2 a month for my writing, which might seem like a pittance and which (in the event) would be almost totally eaten up by processing charges. 

On 14 November I posted on Twitter:

Did laundry y'day, then sold some books, went out to enquire abt art school, came home and salvaged a chest of drawers w a friend's help... Busy day.

The same morning I repeated myself, this time on Facebook:

Did laundry y'day, the weather held all afternoon and it only started to spit a bit quite late. Sold some books in the morning to a guy who'd bought some before and had this time seen the photo of media books I'd put up, and who took three of 'em ($5 each). Then I went by bus and taxi to enquire abt art school, which included a chat w the head of postgraduate studies who recommended me doing the bachelor's degree. I still haven't decided what to do and it's a bit weird as my portfolio is 40 years old. With two friends I came home at around 4.30pm and two of us salvaged a chest of drawers that had been left on the street in Botany just up the road ... Busy day.

Ming, Omer and I had stood in Building 11 talking with a master’s student who was on staff just for Open Day and who explained many aspects of student life for my benefit. She was standing with an older man from the academic staff. The woman introduced me to some of the parameters of the postgraduate program, including how you have to do more academic writing in order to pass, and how you need to have a plan of study for a major body of work, which also involves writing an exegesis. The man’s recommendation struck me as more plausible.

Even so after a few days I was disinclined to enrol. I gave the two of them a run-down of my story and while the man’s observation as to my fitness for advanced study seemed correct on reflection even then it seemed impossible for me to make this type of passionate commitment. The woman said I might be able to gain advance standing on account of the two years of Fine Arts I’d done in the 1980s, but since applications for the masters closed on 30 November (applications for the bachelors close on 6 January) and I’d need to make some new work before applying, in my heart of hearts I knew even the man was wrong and that I’d never apply. 

It might seem defeatist to admit defeat in this way but when looked at objectively it would be a miracle if I managed to get into even the bachelor’s course. In any case fees for either course are over $14,000 per year. For the moment ignoring the implications of such a high financial cost, I went to apply at the UAC website and got this message when I clicked on the relevant link: “Our application is unavailable between midnight and 7.30am (Sydney time) each day.” 

It was 7.20am. I’d been saved by my habit of rising early. The curse of my father would endure. A father’s curse is the worst sort because mothers generally do what their husbands advise. My own mother had never in my hearing even suggested to dad that preventing me from fulfilling my destiny and allowing me to drop French would be the best course to follow. In the first place the school betrayed me by putting the two subjects on the same day at the same time – confirmation if any was ever needed that the institution didn’t regard creative subjects as of equal importance as such subjects as maths or economics – and dad allowed their ban to apply. The evil was compounded when there was no discussion at home about dad’s decision to enforce compliance with his priorities – borrowing evil, in his turn, from the school – and ignoring mine. What I wanted was of no account. What the school thought was a suitable course of study was more important than what my innate talents dictated.

My happiness! Evil laid down upon evil in a close procession that led, like a conga line, to a party of disasters that overtook me with their rough credit when I was 39 years old. 

It took 32 years for this drama to play out, but once it had finished and once I was receiving the dozens of postcards and letters that dad’d prompted when he told family familiars that I was inside Jikei Idai Hospital, I truly felt on my shoulders the full weight of his oppression. His tyranny had, like an ouroboros, come full circle to eat its tail and now the man in his adversity was coping with the fallout of his own depravity and guile. To betray a child! The feeling of helplessness I experienced at that time would revisit me often over the years and would eventually turn into panic attacks that made it impossible for me to drive on some roads. I would struggle to even get to the house of a friend who lived on the other side of the airport so even local roads sometimes defeated me. I ended up taking three different medications in order to combat the conditions I laboured under as a result of a sense of duty.

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On 6 December I finally moved the files for two sequences – ‘Winter Nouns’ and ‘Before Dawn’ – out of the “2021 poems” folder where they’d been stored since the middle of the year, this put a mark on them (or, at least, a date stamp) but it also gave them a substance – a meaning and significance –that before they’d lacked. Here’s the ‘Sequences’ folder at this time with nine subfolders sitting like princes on their thrones (the green tick means that the backup is current for the contents of the relevant files):


I hadn’t thought about which letters of the alphabet the two new sequences began with, but it occurred to me, once the shift had been completed, how there’s a pattern.

The day before I’d spent hours working on ‘Winter Nouns’, revising the whole of it twice in order to make sure expression was clear and that the selection of words ideal. Doing so therapeutic, giving me a way to focus on something meaningful apart from daily troubles, in a way much like reading a novel for enjoyment. Words are like anchors in the storms of life and they help me to pass the time when the demands of existence, troublesome and pressing, fix upon me like a boulder. Writing and reading alleviates the pain I feel when things don’t go my way. Some people might take the dog for a walk, play a computer game, listen to favourite music, or go shopping, but my best therapy is literary.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

A year in review: Creativity, part one

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about art! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-ninth in the series. 

I didn’t do much writing in January with the exception of changes to some sonnets in ‘The Words to Say’, a sequence I put together the previous year. If you don’t remember, in 2020 it was assembled using bits and pieces written over the previous decade and added to in order to form something ambitious and verging on coherence. I kept my hopes alive.

Coherent, at least in my mind, though another reader might take a different position, and might instead see it as less than fantastical, possibly going so far as to say that it lacks unity. I respectfully refer such individuals to consult bees fanning wildflowers that I saw in the Wollongong Botanic Garden on 1 January.


My vision was, equally, both focused and scattershot, but made use of careful framing. I endeavour to render, in verse, the entirety of human civilisation from the most ancient Eurasian peoples to the boundaries of space exploration, from Greek warriors of antiquity to modern-day politicians. No-one could accuse me of laziness. If ambition is bad then I’m very bad indeed but in January I wasn’t thinking only about writing, I was also plotting out the linocuts I’d make once my studio/study was set up. A table was coming (said Joe, the builder/owner – he had one to give away as he’d sold his house) and I’d soon have a twelfth bookshelf. About twenty boxes – some containing books – sat on the floor of the studio waiting for someone to take their contents and place them in a more permanent and accessible situation. 

That would be me again, who paid a retailer for a bed to go on the wooden floor in the back bedroom on the first floor – the spare room, as I’d come to think of it – where, in cupboards that entirely line one wall, I’d resolved to stow photographs inherited when mum and her brother died, along with family records that’d similarly come down to me. 

A spare room had served this purpose in my old home in Pyrmont. In the new house space would be freer as guests couldn’t possibly own too many things, I mused, aware that, whatever I did a circumstance would change to block my assumptions or contradict inclination. In the event the photos didn’t go in this room until much later in the year, and in the interim remained for many months in the studio stored in boxes.  

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What about art? I proposed an image segmented by lines made away from parallel. Three sections, each of which would contain a different design. A policeman, a flower, and something else (I hadn’t decided yet) in the bottom left corner. To get the design oriented the right way I’d have to scan the drawing or collage and flip it in GIMP, then print it out in reverse. The reverse image’d make the design for the cutting, from which prints’d be created with ink and paper. I liked my idea of combinations of various images: one moment settled against the next like friends in a suburban café. This one says one thing but that one says another and together they cause a dialogue to form. 

From a concert, after all, you get more meaning than from tuning instruments. Again that basic need for meaning to defeat the confusion of lived minutes, hours, days, weeks – though it’s hard to imagine life beyond the span of a week – two weeks an eternity in human terms since we dwell in tiny segments of time like ocean birds perched on a rock waiting for our cue to take flight so that we can dive for the best and biggest fish. Often the call never comes and we sit, frozen to the spot, intent on our own eventual destruction through the mechanisms of time roaring forward and breaking over us in silent waves. In silence, years beforehand, we watch this all happen in slow motion as, trapped in the everlasting present of meagre, manifold dreams, we cling to the gaps that pull with the wash of our beating hearts.

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In the first full week of January I spoke on Facebook Messenger with my daughter Ada because another expression of interest in her illustrating work had come via the email address I’d set up. This was the second such email and the first from South Africa. We nutted out a reply and I sent an email to the gentleman whose company had a new project with the team coordinating it recommending Ada because they liked her drawings. This job however fell through because they wanted too many drawings too quickly, and Ada didn’t have the bandwidth to cope with their pace.

In the middle of February I offered a magazine posting on Twitter – it might’ve been on the timeline of the #poetry hashtag – a sonnet written in 2010 that had initially been published seven years earlier in Southerly, the literary magazine of Sydney University. The Twitter user had asked for published works to republish, and ‘On the Way to New England’ seemed like the perfect choice. When they accepted it (the link went up on 11 February) I was more than pleased.

Though not ecstatic. I had so many sonnets written – hundreds in fact – so then made a next step and on the morning of 13 February, I resuscitated my Patreon poetry page. I’d done so because I received an email from the company the day before in which management asked me about unclaimed funds. To address the issue I requested a reset for my password – in 2017 I’d stopped using the site because of problems logging in I’d tried, unsuccessfully by email, to resolve – and an enabling email now came through. 

There was also me now deciding to move book reviews off my blog and onto Patreon. In 2013 I’d first mooted getting subscribers to pay for reviews – not on Patreon, but rather on the blog. To enable the change in my tactic – the strategy was still the same (to be a professional reviewer, or at least a writer of some kind) – I set up an alternate Patreon account. I used Twitter to advertise the link and, on the 15th, pinned a promotional tweet. I also used LinkedIn to promote my Patreon page, and using Twitter DMs singly contacted select individuals asking, as a favour, if they could tweet to their followers the promotional link. 

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Ming moved in on 18 February, making a mess of the downstairs area. Her boyfriend stayed over one night to help her settle in, but even with this help it was clear that it’d take a good deal of time for this process to complete. The two of them returned to Wollongong and on the morning of the 21st I drove down to help bring back more stuff that she’d not had the ability to include with the first load of belongings delivered by the removalists who’d come three days before.

By 7 March she’d been in the house long enough to complete one week of art school, and on that day in the morning – before her boyfriend woke up – we went for a walk through the streets talking about art. It was a still autumn day and boys and parents were setting up for a cricket match in the park as we spoke of styles, representation, and relevance. Jeff Koons impelled our conversation, and bypassing Pop art we made our way via Aboriginal art to Oriental art and the importance of white space. The previous evening I’d voiced disappointment with my own progress. I told her how, in recent days, using my Amazon Prime account, I’d accessed such composers as Beethoven, Schubert, and Bach. Their renditions of works in the Western tradition contained for me more pain than anything else, and I vocalised calmly in front of my two friends how I felt as though time had been stolen from me.

The pain was real and my realisation would only increase with time. I could feel something in my chest: a dull, persistent ache, like a severe case of influenza of the mortal soul but, in my case, it wasn’t a matter of staying in bed for a few days and reading some volumes of light prose. I had a case of a rare disease that afflicts only children of good households where the memory of deprivation is still alive. I’d entered a book that I’d read in childhood, and was, now, walking on streets I’d once dreamed of. I was my own dramatic plot, the denouement yet to be realised but promising oceans of anguish like what I’d already experienced so many times in the course of my long and eventful life. 

I’d needed to continue to be patient. To be kind to myself. Time might not do the trick, however when, in April, I bought tools for making linocuts I felt no urge to use and they sat in a paper bag on the floor of my studio. On the 24th I rearranged furniture, shifting the room’s unpacked cartons to sit under a desk or to stand beside the stairway where they’d be out of the way. I was making things ready – in my own time. It was as though I were eyeing the prize out of the corner of my eye and heading in a different direction from the one which’d allow me to seize it. 

Crab-walking my way through remembered torment. Why had I not been able to do what I most wanted to do? It struck me at times like this that artists who manage to get through the noise and past the obstacles obstructing their progress are mainly of a certain, dogged, determined type, society running interference on creativity which results in the survival of only a particularly extreme form of practice that negates tradition and the collective and, in order to valorise its own journey, deprecates care and the nurturing bias that a healthy relationship with the unknown should foster. Artists reject their creative forebears with the same lack of sympathy with which they reject the stultifying and – for the most part – rebarbative and antagonistic culture that daily surrounds them as they grow up, equating a love of artistic tradition with a love of the bourgeois culture that sustains their ideological enemies. So they reject everything lock, stock and barrel. A mistake. As for me, I’d come out the other side of the gauntlet naked and bleeding from still-fresh wounds, though others – people with thicker skins and more contrary ideas – emerge relatively unscathed but prompt to launch retrospective barbs at the those who – from whatever lack of empathy they’d themselves been brought up to prise – had rained down blows on the soft surfaces of their bent, shivering backs. 

With what, now, was my pain to be compared? It was no less real, what made me different being the fact that I’d come away without the artistic tools – in a visual sense – with which to insult my oppressors. I’d been pushed toward writing but had never had the talent for it that would enable me to support myself from practice. Which of them would ever be able or inclined to read this memorial? Only family and friends, I guessed. People who are like them will not venture to come forward either. My message will not get through, and so the thoughts of a compliant son and diligent brother will be ignored by yet another generation. 

All I wanted was a chance. I would’ve been the most deserving of servants. But it was not to be. Meanwhile, we accelerate on a shared trajectory toward nihilism and the Absolute from which it gains its winking glamour. 

Half measures are needed for the survival of the species, not totalising solutions. I still consented to feelings sustained by such thoughts six weeks later, on 28 May, when I came back to read them. 

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On that day I also received a welcome boost for my ego when a person I know subscribed to my Patreon. Earlier in the month I’d by chance picked up a poetry anthology from the shelf in my studio – a place where I should’ve been, by this time, making art – and had read it eagerly as poetry is not something that often comes into my orbit. It just happened that the woman who pays me for reviews at Mascara Literary Review had some poems in that anthology, and I was impressed by them, in fact hers were among the pieces I singled out for praise. Then, a week or so later, I went to a poetry reading in Glebe where this same woman was reading her work. I stayed there for an hour or so then the next morning put up an account of the proceedings, and tweeted so that she would see it. It was then because I’d linked to my Patreon review of the anthology in my blog post that she subscribed.

Partly, I have no doubt, out of a sense of curiosity, but also partly, no doubt, out of solidarity – which is what had drawn me to the pub on that cold evening in autumn when I found a parking spot in a quiet street and on foot dodged traffic on Bay Street. There weren’t many people in the small room upstairs but those who’d gathered were of one mind and it was this sense of belonging – finally seeing and hearing things that consoned with their view of the world – that made them venture out in the middle of the working week to spend an hour hearing others’ thoughts expressed in a styled, considered and enduring form.

On 9 July I submitted two poems from a new sequence titled ‘Winter Nouns’ to Fevers of the Mind, using an email address posted on Twitter. This sequence uses a free form and is largely biographical. The poems submitted were ‘Ballad of Elmer Johansen’ and ‘Lavish soil sports a rich humus for fruit trees’. The folder the poems are stored in was made on 18 June, which indicates how much time’d been spent making them. By the morning of the 12th the editor still hadn’t replied to my email but on the 14th he published it on the blog.

Mostly I was writing in the early mornings, my days on the couch largely spent reading books of nonfiction or novels that I would review on Patreon. The poetry mostly took the form of sequences of linked sonnets, but ‘Winter Nouns’ allowed me to branch out in new directions. I also, at the end of July, started a sequence of shorter free-form poems titled ‘Before Dawn’. While ‘Winter Nouns’ is made up of poems (largely) in three parts – each part separated into two sections – ‘Before Dawn’ is made up of short lines in sets of three, with a split in the middle bisecting the poem. I don’t know why sectioning is so necessary for me to concentrate, but it might have something to do with the importance, in writing sonnets, of the 140-syllable structure. I seem to need structure in order to organise my thoughts. 
Perhaps I need to practice more. By this time I’d begun or finished a number of different sequences, the ones I was still working on being the ones listed below.
  • Winter Nouns (free-form, long)
  • Before Dawn (free form, short)
  • Salve (sonnets, miscellaneous)
  • Beaconsfield (sonnets, biographical)
  • Water Creature (sonnets, subject being the environment)
  • The Words to Say (sonnets, subject being the history of the world)
There are other sequences, but these are not ones I was working on, one aspect being, finally, after eight years, on 10 August bringing a poem about a paperbark out of ‘Salve’ – where it had unhappily (I now saw) sat among poems to do with the city, a locality to which I didn’t return until 2015 – and putting it into ‘Water Creature’, a sequence that mainly catalogues reactions to a tropical storm that came in over the continent in the Northern Territory and migrated slowly down the Queensland coast to finally end up petering out in central New South Wales. Rehousing this poem put punctation to a process started almost a decade before, and that, as well as removal and insertion, meant rewriting parts of the poem so it parsed better. 

For sonnets I make a note of when changes were made. In some years this wasn’t always my practice and I sometimes regret being lazy. The date can be important as with poetry often it’s biographical. In fact this is usually the case, and for my reviews I class poetry as nonfiction.

Friday, 21 January 2022

A year in review: Garden, part two

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my garden! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-eighth in the series. 

On the final day of October I went with Omer and Ming to Sylvania Waters to pick up three large pots found on Facebook Marketplace. The woman selling them was waiting at the end of a cul-de-sac in a white ute. Omer and I put $99 worth of pots upside down in the back of the RAV4 and drove back north, stopping at Wolli Creek to drop Ming off at her house. While there Omer and I visited a building on Gertrude Street to meet a man who took us down into the garage of his building where he had two pots for sale. He agreed to take $40 each for them – though together they’d been advertised at $90 – when I asked if he’d be willing to lower the price. Omer and I carried the heavy things, which came with ceramic stands, heading up in the lift to the street where I put mine down and went back to get the car from where I’d parked it in another street. Back at my place we put the pots in the garage next to the ones bought earlier in the day.

On 3 November I found someone in Abbotsford selling 12 ceramic stands for $20 so agreed to come out on the ferry the next day to collect them. Early on the morning of 4 November I read through a comment on Facebook left by Anthony Crellin, who I’d gone to school with 45 years before, and because his answer to my question was long I did so carefully. He suggested that different plants like different soil types and different pot sizes, so I did some research with Google then bought two books on Amazon: ‘Simple Container Gardening: Growing Vegetables and Herbs in Small Spaces’ by Arianne LeBeau and ‘Costa's World: Gardening for the soil, the soul and the suburbs’ by Costa Georgiadis. I’d met this local celebrity a decade before at an Armidale conference I’d attended with mum (getting there from southeast Queensland in the Aurion) when driving on country roads was still an option for me (see ‘Health and wellbeing’ part of this memorial). One book is specially for pot plants and I hoped it would answer some of the many questions I had, for example I’d posted on Facebook:

I put up a photo recently showing new Fb Mktplace pot purchases, so want some advice abt how to go about filling 'em. I see a lot of free soil on Fb Mktplace and wondered if it's possible to get some of this and mix it with potting mix, or if I shd just use all potting mix. Do you layer what you put in pots? What about drainage (one guy said to put a piece of flyscreen in the bottom to stop soil leaking out of the pot). All advice welcome. My grandfather was a gardener and dad had a large garden but with this house I'm confronting the miracle and mystery of gardening for the first time in my adult life.

The woman selling the pot stands drove over to meet me in her little grey car. I’d asked her to come to the ferry wharf because I had a big bag of books I was selling further up the river and I didn’t want to traipse around Abbotsford getting tired and miserable in the rain. Once I’d dropped off the books in Parramatta my rucksack was much lighter as the pot stands aren’t heavy and I dropped the little singlet bag containing them into one of the pots once I was back in the garage at home. 

The next day it also rained with the weather forecast saying it’d do so for another week. A negative Indian Ocean Dipole was delivering on its promise and while it rained the next day early in the morning, when I went to Camperdown in the car to pick up another ceramic pot it was just cloudy. The woman who was selling at this place told me before I left home that she’d be at home at about 12pm and I arrived ten minutes early. She then messaged saying she’d be 10 minutes late so I hung around outside her building until I saw a silver SUV entering the garage. I messaged a question about exactly how long she’d be delayed and then she got back to me with a short message that just contained the unit number, so I rang at the front door. On level six she was waiting with her door open and I paid her with the banknotes I’d prepared while telling her how happy I was to get the pot, went down in the lift, and returned to the car. At home I put the pot in the garage with the rest of them.

I read ‘Costa’s World’, finishing on 13 November. At over 200 pages it’s quite bulky though because the text is set in columns that are about the width of a newspaper column it’s easy to read and there’re lots of pictures breaking up the text. Instead of doing the obvious and giving advice straight off the bat – about what to grow where – Costa starts by outlining such fundamental issues as how to embrace regenerative farming, how to cater for pollinators, and – something impossible for me due to the size of my garden – how to keep chickens! 

Costa’s idea of a garden is broad and his plans involve baseline ideas about what a garden should be, not just how to plant and whether a particular species likes full sun or not. If you want to grow natives, indigenous plants, or endemic plants, then you’ll find a certain amount of guidance in Costa’s book but I missed reading information about soil types. I specifically wanted this because, having bought so many pots, I was now ready to start planning further purchases: in this case bags of potting mix from Bunnings. Before venturing out however I wanted to know what type of potting mix I should buy. I’d already got information from social media that using – free – soil available via Facebook Marketplace wouldn’t (according to some people) suit my needs, but because gardening is such a big subject – Costa’s intense focus on basics being only part of a bigger puzzle – I assumed that there’d be a range of soil types available on the retailer’s shelves. I also wanted to know if I should put potting mix right down to the bottom of each pot or if the bottoms of the pots should be filled with a different type of material. 


Costa did give me some ideas about what plants to buy, at one point I thought that a fig tree might do well on the deck next to the pool. Herbs and flowers could go out front on the path where I planned to situate pots, but first things first: I needed a medium in which to house growing organisms. One person who’d commented on a Facebook post had warned me about choosing potting mix but by the time I got to the end of Costa’s book I was none the wiser. This is all the more surprising as he’d given a lot of information about fertilisers and other additives when, in 2010, I watched the TV host demonstrate in a New England park how to make a plot out of straw. 

Hoping to get more detailed advice I opened a second book I’d bought from Amazon, ‘Simple Container Gardening’ by Arianne Lebeau, but it turned out to be completely useless as it’s exclusively for a northern-hemisphere (and, more particularly, an American) audience. It did say to put closed water bottles in the bottoms of pots but all measurements are in empirical notation and south-facing in her case means full sun! Disappointed with Amazon on account of being allowed to buy such an unsuitable book, I resolved to be more careful in future and planned a tip out to Gleebooks where I might be able to find local offerings. 

Lebeau learned by trial and error how to garden in containers, and it looked like I was going to have to do the same. 

On 15 November I was at Redfern to drop off some books with a buyer who’d said she’d take ‘em if I toted ‘em to her workplace and while in the area I walked through Chippendale to Glebe in order to visit the bookshop, where I found three local gardening books which I bought for $110. The next day someone responded to my Nextdoor post about ‘Costa’s World’ – in which I’d lamented the difficulty of finding local books about gardening (the bookseller in Gleebooks’d commented that the Australian market is very small, and this was the reason, in his opinion) – telling me about a gardening book by Indira Naidoo. It was in fact two people directing me, one mentioning how it’d been a Special Broadcasting Corporation host who’d written the book and another who just said, “Indira”. Putting one and two together in the evening I went online at the AbeBooks website and found a copy in Britain that I proceeded to order. A few days later a friend remarked that I should subscribe to an Australian gardening page on Facebook, so I did. I’d told her that I’m almost entirely text-oriented and so need specific instructions, and this was her solution to the impasse I found myself in having made purchases of hardware but without the certain knowledge I would need to successfully grow things. 

When I left a post several people replied with advice, including to check the Gardening Australia website for articles about potting mix. I asked for more specific instructions, or links to individual articles, but none were forthcoming (“there is a whole segment on potting mixes,” said Barbara, “Search on the site”, while Gail said “they have great all round advice”) so despite the goodwill shown by some individuals I assumed that a bit of trial and error’d be required in order to achieve my aims.  Some of the advice was contradictory. For example, Jan told me that potting mix isn’t necessary:
with some very large pots I have used broken up polystyrene to fill out the lower part of the pot, then covered it with shade cloth or weed mat and put the soil on top of that. It means the pots are lighter, so easier to move, and it means you use less soil. It also gives very good drainage. You don't have to only use potting mix. commercial potting mixes are only recent innovations and growing plants in pots goes back centuries. You can make your own mixes, and would generally aim at good drainage, as well as incorporating sufficient nutrients. compost, sand, charcoal, ordinary soil – all can be mixed appropriately to make a good potting mix.
This advice was mirrored by Lisa:
With my raised beds I did a lasagne garden method and layered all sorts of different matter, garden waste, lawn clippings, cardboard etc and topped up the top half with good soil, you can do similar with large pots
But Gail said that choice of potting mix is “very important”:
For big pots get a terracotta and planter mix that has water crystals and slow release fertilizer. It needs to be free draining but not with so much bark or vegetable matter that it becomes hydrophobic. There is no need to put crocks or charcoal in the bottom with commercial potting mix. For short term small pots a regular potting mix is ok.
Tony authoritatively and helpfully added a good deal of additional information in his considered reply:
Here is what i use to grow pretty much all my fruit and veggies with excellent results.
I start with cheap tomato and veg potting mix from Bunnings, I use a 50/50 mix of that and my compost but you can do this with just the potting mix. Add into that a handful of dynamic lifter pellets, a handful of blood and bone, a handful of sulphate of potash, a teaspoon of Epsom salts, half a teaspoon of trace elements, half a handful of garden lime. I would add a teaspoon of water crystals as well if using pots.
Mix all of that through the soil before filling pots,
This will give the soil and plants enough of a wide variety of nutrients to grow very well for a couple of years with just regular water, no need to fertilise.
Pro tip... rain water is a crapload better for plants than town water.
Lizzy even wanted me to spray paint the pots to make them all the same colour!
Just a tip. With different coloured pots it can look a bit mismatched so I bought spray paint in cans from Bunnings and sprayed mine all the same colour. With the bigger pots if you’ve got any polystyrene you can pop that in the lower section of the larger pots. I’ve also crushed up cardboard in the bottom of some as well.

Tony’s comment came on 21 November, though the day before I’d promised myself to go to Bunnings to buy potting mix. Friends had to go there for something else so I took them in the car but once inside the store the crowds of people were too thick and the number of staff too low for me to bother delaying leaving and I went home with nothing purchased. The traffic arriving had been horrendous, though on the way home it was quicker and I took a route along the narrow street past Mascot Station (I sometimes take the longer route that bypasses the busy street outside it) with my heart obeying the dictates of my will instead of something else. 

Joe’s gardener did some work on the terraces, including clipping the nature strip, and I paid a total of $15 (on 2 December and 6 December) as my part toward the cost of keeping the complex tidy. Joe had to message residents twice in order to get people to fork out. I’d gone outside on the Friday and clipped my own lawn, using the hedge clippers also to edge it where it comes up next to the pavement. Joe took his own clippers to the hedge – and I wasn’t convinced after he’d finished that it was a good idea to pare it down so low, but I decided not to say anything and to let him have his way since he was doing the work himself and there was no charge attached to it – and when he’d finished I saw that it was level with the fence. 


The dragon trees out the back started to droop (see pic above). I asked the Facebook group Australian Garden Enthusiasts for help, posting this photo with some words, and someone asked me if the pot had drainage holes in it. If so, Pat said, I should remove the water. “Otherwise move to sheltered spot away from rain for a while. That’s what I would do.” The pots are so big and heavy and they’re filled right to the bottom with soil so it’s hard to tip them up to look underneath, and moving them without emptying them is virtually impossible. 

I went to Messenger and sent a question to the guy who’d bought my dragon trees in March (I hadn’t had word from him since the 17th of that month) and Cooper responded saying, “Yes they do have drainage, you can cut the leaves.” He also asked to see a photo, then he said, “Yeah they look a bit water logged but that’s okay they will still survive.” I resolved to wait until the weather turned and hoped the leaves would run straight again without any intervention on my part. 

On 10 December – a day of fierce rain when I was out having lunch with a friend – I picked up Indira Naidoo’s ‘The Edible Balcony’ from my PO box. In it in addition to tips on growing veges there are, oddly, recipes for food. I ignored the recipes and enjoyed reading the parts about gardening and around the same time I also started to read two books bought at Gleebooks, including one about how to grow veges from kitchen waste. 

Around the middle of November therefore I bought five gardening books but I still hadn’t, seven weeks later when I spoke about the garden with my friend Basia (she advised going to a municipal library to ask for help), visited Bunnings to buy potting mix. My ignorance was a block I had to grope my way past but finding the will to enable me to make the move was, in the event, turning out to be more than a little problematic. Unlike the rain, motivation was in short supply and I made a mental note to try again in the new year.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

A year in review: Garden, part one

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my garden! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-seventh in the series. 

In the middle of March I got rid of some planter boxes and vegetation in them when I put the items up for sale on Facebook Marketplace. Doing so was a revelation as there were so many questions it was evident I’d listed them for too low a price. I called the guy whose offer I’d accepted ($50 for both pots and all four plants) and asked him to up his price but he refused, so I changed the price on the listing and waited for better offers.

The guy who agreed to buy at the new price came over to survey the situation and I took a deposit, then on the Sunday he told me via Facebook Messenger that he wouldn’t be coming that day to pick up the items, but that he’d come the next weekend. Something had come up, he said, and I’d have to wait for a vacant space in his schedule. But he got in touch in the middle of the week, when the rain stopped, and came over with a friend; together the two men dug out the plants, put them in containers, removed the dirt from the planter boxes, transported the dirt in sacks to their trailer, and got everything out of the house with a minimum of fuss. In the upshot the delay had been ideal, and the day they chose for the move was optimal as the rain had temporarily ceased. The best buyer had been chosen because the disruption and mess was minimal.

I was busy on the morning of 28 April scrubbing chairs. They’d been given to me by Joe – who again asked for nothing in return – and had sat unused downstairs in the garage waiting for motivation to take over so that they could be cleaned. I’d always had in mind to take these black plastic chairs out of the basement and put them on the top verandah where I had a Bunnings café table (written about in an earlier memorial) still, at this time, unclaimed by morning meals despite my plans for a rooftop vegetable garden. 


On 29 April I had to go to Bunnings to buy chlorine for the pool and while there I got a pair of secateurs, some shears, and a rake. I also priced planter boxes for my planned vege garden. They have some on raised legs for about $100 each that you assemble when you get home though on Facebook Marketplace similar items are priced at about $50.

The day before I’d gotten in touch with an old friend – his name is Antony – who’d recently set up a vege garden at his place, asking for tips. He put questions about the location that I answered and then he said he needed to go to a meeting. He promised to come over one day and have a look first-hand, so that he could give accurate advice.

In early May I decided to buy an electric hedge trimmer as the shears I’d been trying to use to cut the grass out front were too time-consuming, having me clip exhaustingly for five minutes to get a small area trimmed and I’d twice given up out of frustration. On Facebook Marketplace I asked about the viability of an Ozito electric model but the owner hadn’t got back to me by the time I jumped in the car to drive to Bunnings where, in an aisle near the front door, I came across a stack of boxes with similar devices in them priced at $35. This was more than the one available online but had the advantage that it’d be new, so I picked a box up, paid for it using EFTPOS, and drove home with it in the back seat. I’d already dragged out my extension cord and so, immediately I was inside, plugged the device in and went out to set to the grass, getting the job done in a few short minutes. 

Joe’s gardener had charged me the last time over $20 for the same service so I calculated that, with the purchase, in almost no time I’d save a ton of money. I contemplated offering to do Joe’s grass for $10 – I could deduct this much monthly from the building insurance premium – but decided against it as I didn’t want to be accused of being a smartarse.

I bought a hand trowel for digging up weeds on 3 July. I almost bought one from a stallholder at Campsie market – held on Sundays – the previous month when I was up there with Ming. The guy’d wanted $5 fort the tool and I said it was too much. He retorted saying that he’d accept $2 but, irritated by his greed, I’d already started to walk away. One day I went to the catastrophic hardware store on Botany Road near my place but the old guy there wanted over $6 for a trowel and I guessed that I could get a cheaper price elsewhere. In the end it cost me just over $5 new from Bunnings. I did the weeding on that Saturday, removing extraneous growth from the lawn out front and clipping the grass with the hedge trimmer. The grass had grown quite thick by this time and it was a relief to tidy up the area near the street where everyone walking past can see in. 

By the end of winter I’d swapped the chairs on the top balcony because they were corroding, replacing them with chairs Joe’d given me that have aluminium legs. By late October I’d dug up a good deal of the yellow nutgrass that had infested the front lawn. The weeding must be done when the soil is dry but since I’d discovered by using Google the growth to be a weed that must be removed mechanically I’d begun to pay more attention to this patch of lawn. Not every day as it’s fatiguing but often enough that the job could be done before the next rain. 

I learned about when it’s best to do weeding one day when I tried it when the soil was wet. Yellow nutgrass is difficult to remove even under the driest conditions, but when the soil is wet there’s too much resistance and the stems just break off, leaving the “nuts” in the ground to sprout later. I also trimmed the grass around the little magnolia that’d almost died but that, stubbornly, had inched back into action with new leaves evident as spring advanced.

The lemon tree was also showing new shoots, some near the end of the stem that I’d cut off. I’d trimmed the plant down because, one day when it was windy, the stem’d cracked. This was my fault as I’d left a lemon on the tree and the stem was insufficiently supported and moved too much in the breeze, snapping halfway up the stem. By spring there were still a few flowers and some little fruits budding and I’d also trimmed the hedge, which is made up of box and lilly pilly. The latter is very low in stature and had been overshadowed by the box, so I used the secateurs to remove some of the lower box branches, hoping this would let in light so the smaller plant could flourish. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

A year in review: Health and wellbeing, part eight

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my health! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-sixth in the series. 

On 20 October aiming to go to Richmond – a town just outside the northwestern borders of the city – I got in the car and drove along Botany Road heading for Wentworth Avenue. I had the phone plugged in ready for a long drive but by the time I’d arrived at the intersection just before the turnoff to get onto the main road my heart had started to race. Inside the car I called Omer asking if he could drive me and when he agreed to granting me the favour so I turned off Wentworth Avenue and headed over the rail line toward Wolli Creek. Once there we went down to the car but Ming quickly SMS’d me saying she wanted to come too so I rearranged the back of the car where my artworks had been sequestered and lay down the spare seat for use. 

The detour delayed me by an hour but Omer quickly got used to the motorway and my comments were less frequent on the way home. While in Richmond, a small town just outside Sydney, the three of us took a break from the task of designing things for framing and went to a shop with a café that has a little garden out the back and a fountain. I had a coffee even though it was already lunchtime while Omer and Ming shared a piece of cake. At home that evening I was soon busily putting things up on the walls because I still had a reserve of drops and hooks to use on the new rails I’d had installed. On the staircase going up to the first floor I situated a collection of five crayon drawings Adelaide had made when she was small. Some miniature watercolours – into which Amanda (the framer) had put D-rings – were hung in the kitchen next to a Sandra Hendy painting she’d just finished off for hanging up.

On 1 November I started out on a journey to Broadway Shopping Centre but aborted due to my heart beating heavily. It didn’t go fast, just made its presence felt, so I went to pick up Ming – who’d said she wanted to come over to my place to paint – and while waiting in her lobby phoned the Blackwattle Clinic to make an appointment with my psychiatrist. The earliest available time was the end of the week, a Friday (I organised to do the consult remotely) and while in Wolli Creek I drove to Woolworths to do grocery shopping. 

I’d planned to shop at Broadway where they have low-carb bread, which was out of stock at Woolworths in Wolli Creek though I still had a quarter of a loaf in the fridge I could get by with for a few days. I bit the bullet on Wednesday and headed north on Botany Road on the bus. I got off at Redfern and walked to Campos Coffee, bought three bags of ground Superior blend (you get a 10 percent discount for bulk purchases), then proceeded on foot to Broadway Shopping Centre. Here I collected mail and bought two loaves of low-carb bread – taking the last two off the shelf – as well as the mayonnaise I like and a bag of Brazil nuts. I left the building and walked across Wentworth Park to Pyrmont to visit the pharmacy – where I collected shampoo I’d ordered as well as medication – but I also took possession of the medical scripts I’d left with them to keep. The pharmacy’d been keeping them for me for a long time but, due to the unpredictable nature of panic attacks that periodically overcame me, I now wanted to buy my drugs nearer to home. 

I then headed east across the Pyrmont Bridge to the Queen Victoria Building, where I caught the light rail to Central Station, and then got on the 309 toward home. The trip overall consumed four hours and back home I rewarded myself by making a pot of tea. I was on the 309 again the next morning and by the time I got to Mascot I was sensible of my heart in my chest. It alternated between being noticeable to borderline as I made my way on the light rail, then the ferry, to Parramatta. I’d never caught the ferry up the river before, and was obliged by circumstance to stop this time at Abbotsford (where I was harassed by an aggressive noise miner) to pick up one Facebook purchase before boarding a second ferry to take me all the way to the head of the river in order to drop off a bagful of history books to a different person, a buyer. 

To get back home I caught the train then at Redfern got on a 309 heading south. That day I was out for about five hours and two days later I again risked a panic attack, this time in order to get to Camperdown. It struck me as somehow shameful to be limited to such a degree that I couldn’t make my way to the university where I’d completed the course of study dad’d so strongly wished for me so, ignoring my heart but full of anxiety, I conveyed myself to Newtown’s traffic snarl and on King Street, where it goes slow, I was sure of myself and the debility didn’t return on the way home. 

I ate some nuts and drank a cup of tea and immediately readied myself for a psychiatrist’s appointment on Skype. As usual he was late but on this occasion his customary tardiness suited me as I’d only just prepared myself. Dr Ouzas advised increasing the dosage of the anti-depressant I was on and he also wanted me, while waiting for the higher dosage to kick in, to again start taking the beta blocker. I got him to email a script to my local pharmacy and, after we’d hung up, I walked down to Botany Road and spoke with a salesclerk who took my scripts and told me that they’d make a file for me. “We’ll look after you,” she said before I left the building and I’d explained why I wanted to change pharmacies. This punctiliousness is part of growing old: because you rely on drugs so heavily once you reach a certain age they take on a special significance along with everything related to the body.

On 7 November I took a risk and drove the car to Campsie to pick up Omer and Ming, who’d been shopping, then the three of us drove along Victoria Road to Longueville, the trip to this leafy, distant suburb (to pick up a Facebook purchase) successful because for a change my heart behaved itself. After putting the pot I’d bought in the back of the car we went back to Botany via the Harbour Bridge and the Eastern Distributor. On the approach to the Harbour Tunnel I said to my two passengers that a week earlier it would’ve been impossible to drive on this road, and that I felt proud of myself (though it was my psychiatrist and the drug making it possible), but two days later on a trip away from home – using satnav because the way to the beachside suburb of Coogee was unfamiliar – I experienced an accelerated heartrate halfway and had to stop at the side of the road to try to get it calm down before going on.

Strangely, the palpitations didn’t recur on the way home, even though this small feat was also achieved using satnav. I didn’t chance it on 19 November and caught a bus and train to Crows Nest for a book sale, guessing that my heart wouldn’t tolerate exposure to the quick road and the tunnel. In fact this wasn’t a hardship as I was able to get out at St Leonards and walk – it’s only ten minutes on foot from the station to the hall where the tables were set up laden with items for purchase – and probably in the upshot saved money because not only did I avoid tolls but parking isn’t free in the vicinity of the community hall where the books were on sale. 

I had a major scare on 1 December when I got a heavy heart beat while watching TV. I’d had the problem since the day before that my front doorbell wasn’t talking to the intercom. I’d rung various companies but still hadn’t been able to get someone to come out and have a look at it. A company called Yates quoted me $200 for the first 30 minutes then about $65 for each 30 minutes after that but they never called me back to make a time to visit. On top of this I’d discovered a couple of days earlier that the annual premium for my home contents insurance was coming due. The amount was up almost 20% on the previous year, and came in at over $1000. Then more worries as money from my rental property, which I’d been expecting to arrive in my bank account, had again been quarantined for unpaid strata levies. On top of all that a guy next door was practising drums for about two hours. I was frazzled and my heart sped up, necessitating me going upstairs to take a beta blocker, which took effect after about 30 minutes. I got to sleep that night but it was pretty hairy and twice I almost called “000”, eventually messaging Ming when things started to look like they’d remain stable. 

I had another event a few days later, during the Sunday following our municipal election day. Ming’d messaged me at 4.30pm because she hadn’t voted and so I jumped in the car to speed over to her place. On the intersection to Botany Road the car ahead of the bus in front of me failed to move into the crossing as the light was green, and I beeped my horn at length to urge the driver to proceed. Then I didn’t stop at the amber light and crawled into the road just as I saw a police car stopped in the carriageway coming from the city. As I moved off they flashed their lights – which is what cops do to tell you you’ve been given a fine.

For the next few days I ended up checking my state government app to see if a fine had been issued for my car. For most of Sunday I read a book, recuperating my equilibrium following the event, but comforted myself reading people’s LinkedIn posts about family deaths, cancer survival, and other everyday tragedies. A few hundred dollars lost would be quite mild by comparison with what many people go through, I assured myself, but negative feelings persisted for a week until I became certain no fine would eventuate.

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On 18 December I saw a post by Mark Mordue on LinkedIn about his getting a booster shot at his local chemist. Mark’d gone down to the shop a touch prior to the point where five months would’ve passed since his second shot, and I guessed my pharmacy on Botany Road would be doing something similar so I tucked a shopping bag in my pocket along with a mask and headed out. I made a booking for the 29th – just before New Year’s Day – and felt virtuous in advance of getting the Pfizer jab for additional cover.

A major panic attack beset me on 22 December when I vowed to pick up my mail at 4pm. I’d had the election day contretemps with the police car and since it was about three weeks since that event I was worried when an email from the post office arrived telling me I had something in my post box. The trip to Broadway Shopping Centre started out ok, but by the time I got to Redfern Station – just five minutes down the road from Bay Street, where the shopping centre sits – my heart was beating noticeably and I worried that it’d accelerate even before I got to my destination. This was alarming as it’d happened on an earlier occasion (before I’d gone back on the Lexapro) that, coming out of the shopping centre car park, I’d had palpitations.

In the end I arrived at the car park without palpitations this time. I picked up my mail (it wasn’t a fine) and got back in the car and made my way in the long queue to the exit gate. After pushing my ticket into the slot in the machine I drove out onto Bay Street and made it to Fig Street without too much of a problem. When I got onto Wattle Street, however, my heart began to thump alarmingly so I pulled off near Broadway and parked, took my car’s resident water bottle, and stood drinking water on the pavement for a few minutes. Long enough so that when I got back in the car – my hands shaking with nervous tension – I was able to drive back into the traffic at the lights and get home in one piece.

But my heart was alarmingly heavy until about 6.30pm. By this time, sitting on the couch in front of the TV, I’d taken a beta blocker having almost called an ambulance several times. My next psychiatrist’s appointment was in three weeks’ time, in the middle of January.

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

A year in review: Health and wellbeing, part seven

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my health! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-fifth in the series. 

Again I got a reminder of my health’s frailty when, on 9 August, I felt heart palpitations driving on a local road. It was just over past the airport to help Ming, a trip I had been completing several times a week in order to provide her with the care she needed at this time, but on the present occasion my heart accelerated and went alarmingly fast for the majority of the 6km journey and only calmed once I got close to arrival. Then the two of us got in the car and I took her to Arncliffe post office – a trip that caused me no problems at all, as it was all performed on low-speed roads – and then once I’d finished doing what was needed for her convenience, when I drove alone back to my home in Botany, on the road past the airport I managed to get the trip done with no dramas. 

To test the animal the next day I went over again – this time to drop something off that’d been left with me by Omer – and this time the beast was calm throughout. I didn’t completely understand how it worked, but anticipating fear seems to make the fear manifest itself, as I found when, on the 15th, I took the same road – again with a disastrous result. What I mean to say by saying this is that, on this occasion, my heart went fast the whole way there and once there, on my suggestion, Omer gave me his “L” plates to put on the car so he could drive back to my house, which he did without mishap.

On 17 August I spoke with my psychiatrist and we agreed that I should go back on the antidepressant I’d given up in March. I restarted the medication in 5mg doses on the 18th and on that day drove without mishap to Eastgardens Shopping Centre to drop off a Facebook Marketplace item, for which I’d been paid via PayPal. The next day I took the medication again and drove to get petrol and groceries at Mascot. On the next two days I took 10mg instead of the lower dose and on the 21st I managed to drive on Qantas Drive without an accelerated heartrate, indicating that the medicine was quickly working to alleviate anxiety. The electric shocks that before I’d felt coursing through my legs was absent, and I didn’t even have a tightening of my scrotum indicating panic.

By this time my weight loss had, with sustained and concentrated daily effort, stabilised (see chart below) under 83kg. It took discipline to keep the reading at this level, with any overindulgence immediately, the next morning, punished by higher numbers. I had decided intuitively – it just felt right – to stay at around 83kg or just under in case I was at a restaurant eating something I’d normally avoid. 


I’d have leeway for a temporary lapse. I was also careful with medications and by 24 August was on 20mg of Lexapro every morning, though I still experienced brief bouts of anxiety. The night before my heart had beat heavily when I got into bed but eventually I got to sleep without further disturbance, waking up refreshed late the next morning (late by my standards; it was 6am). I drove to Mascot and got a Covid test because I had a slightly sore throat in the morning. This was alarming as my house guest had only just had his first dose of the vaccine. Ming, also, was vulnerable, and hadn’t had any vaccine doses at this point in time. When I got home I spoke with Omer about the test, but he didn’t appear to be alarmed by what I said, which was surprising. 

The test required filling out a paper form using a pen supplied on-site, including Medicare number, name, date of birth, address, and phone number. When I spoke with Omer a little after returning home he said he wouldn’t immediately isolate but would wait for my results to come through which, he said, should be the same day. I tried phoning Ming but she’d turned her phone off or had blocked me, it wasn’t clear as there was no dial tone. When Omer went out to look for an apartment to rent I watched the daily Covid press conferences. The result came while I was sleeping, at 11.31pm, from Laverty Pathology, the company that did the test, and it was negative. I saw their SMS the next morning after I weighed myself.

On 30 August I put Waxsol drops in my left ear and repeated the dose the next night because it was blocked. This has regularly happened since childhood, and I imagined myself making an appointment to see Dr Nanda on the Wednesday (he doesn’t normally work on Thursdays) so he could syringe the wax out of the auditory canal, but on the first of the month I used earbuds to dig out the blockage, and the channel mostly cleared itself.


I wasn’t trying to lose weight but I kept on hitting new lows, then would be unwilling to go above the new mark, with the result that the kilos kept coming off. On the night before this snapshot was taken I had a heavy heartbeat after I got into bed and I couldn’t ascribe a reason for it.


On 10 September I scratched off a black spot that had troubled me sufficiently to make me, on 27 August, visit Dr Nanda for a consultation. He briefly looked at the discolouration and said that we should watch it, and on the same visit in August he gave me antibiotics for an infected cuticle that was troubling my right hand. On 16 September I successfully clipped my toenails without damaging the cuticles on my toes. Because of weight loss I could easily reach my feet with my hands.

Health concerns made an impact on my life in another way on Saturday 18 September when I went in the car to Officeworks to do some photocopying. I took the Mill Pond Road route via Airport Drive and turned into O’Riordan Street but when I hit the lights before the turn traffic slowed down to a crawl. The cars and trucks stopped and then moved forward a few metres at a time and it wasn’t until I got around the corner that I saw a road block the police had set up to prevent people – I found out later on as I watched the TV – from getting to Sydney Park for a lockdown protest rally. A female officer prompted me to move my car forward to a point where she was happy and then approached my window, which I wound down using the electric switch. "Obviously, we're just wanting to do compliance checking,” she said apologetically but firmly, and when I told her where I was off to she asked me where I lived then requested to see some ID. I pulled out my wallet and showed her my driver’s licence and she released me. Later, in the afternoon, about six hours after my first trip, I went back to Officeworks for the same purpose and along the same roads but by this time the roadblock had gone.

I visited Dr Nanda on 13 October in order to discuss a vaccination booster shot but he told me that for the present time the authorities were only allowing people with compromised immune systems to get a third jab. He showed me a couple of photocopied sheets of printed paper containing directions and we briefly discussed the matter before I turned the conversation to other things, including my sore coccyx. He suggested getting a sheepskin to put under my bum, but I’d already taken steps to rearrange the furniture in the living room. 

I also got my GP to give me a script for reflux medication because sometimes I got twinges in my throat. I’d stopped taking reflux pills at the beginning of the year. Dr Nanda showed by his voice that he was curious to learn that I’d gone back on the Lexapro and asked me what dosage I was taking. I told him my weight that morning was 79.5kg and he added the new data to his records. As usual he didn’t charge me for the visit and I left, taking off my mask as soon as I got to the street.

Monday, 17 January 2022

A year in review: Health and wellbeing, part six

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my health! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-fourth in the series. 

Blood tests done after I visited Dr Nanda’s clinic on 12 July came back with a normal result on the 15th – the receptionist phoned me to tell me the news. On the 12th I also visited the pharmacy where they keep my scripts; it’s also in Pyrmont. I got some more of the antipsychotic I take each night, and left with them the beta blocker script so that, if my existing supply ran out, I could go back to get more. 

On the 16th I’d been about a week at my target weight (see image below), and was still dieting to maintain my gains; if I let myself go it was easy to put on weight. However I started to alter my regime as too much cheese had resulted in some constipation and for this reason I would eat scrambled eggs for lunch (a meal I take at about 9am).


I was still eating a piece of fish with vegetables for dinner (at about midday), but from time to time adding something new, for example olives or artichoke hearts. Scrambled eggs for lunch might include broccoli and sliced chicken breast and mushrooms, and at Coles I bought bacon and cauliflower so I’d have different things to eat. Dr Nanda had told me to vary diet so as to assure a reliable plenitude of nutrients.


Ten days later I began to have palpitations upon going to bed. I thought this new development might be due to stresses Ming had occasioned but had to promise myself to consult about it with my psychiatrist. I’d in fact on that day tried to make an appointment but they hadn’t picked up the phone, so I’d just left a message for them to call me back. 

At this time (see image below) I was still losing weight – though here I wasn’t actually aiming to lose weight rather I was aiming to keep it off, but in the process of attaining one goal a second comes closer. I’d started by this time to boil veges to have with lamb chops or baked fish, usually something like cauliflower and broccolini, but also pumpkin. 

As usual, my main meal was in the middle of the day – I’d eat dinner when other people were eating lunch – and I was still mostly having cheese with an apple for lunch (taken at about 9am) since I’d decided long before that mum’s preferred regimen suited the achievement of my aims. I could sit on the couch watching ABC News channel while the daily disaster report came over the airwaves while munching on savoury and sweet, and I might add variation by, instead of an apple, choosing from the fridge a plum and a kiwifruit, with the effect (as you can see) being identical.


On 1 August as usual I put up the monthly “Shopping list” but due to personal circumstances this time found the process intensely painful so resolved, in future, to scale back. On the same day I resolved to stop putting dietary intake into my Fat Secret app, though I’d still be entering my morning weight. Noting the bathroom scale’s electronic reading is the last line of defence necessary to keep tabs on food intake; if it goes up I know that I must curtail what I feed myself because otherwise I’ll just keep gaining and things will quickly spiral out of control. As for continuous reliance on recording everything I eat, it’s ponderous and becomes more difficult when eating with friends or at a restaurant because every possible meal ever devised is not found in the app’s database. On the day in question I had hotpot with Ming and Omer at their house and found it impossible to enter the meal using my phone’s software.

I’d started the shopping lists in December 2018 and it wasn’t until 18 September the next year that I included images, in that initial case a screenshot taken at an online interface while shopping with my computer. Photos of receipts started to appear on 24 December the same year, initially to illustrate a trip made to the Fish Market. The first Woolworths receipt appeared on 13 January 2020. At the outset posts comprised mainly lists of items bought and used text only. Once I started diligently including images of receipts, the amount of detail increased but I think that some of the charm of my early posts was lost. In some of them I’d talk about the person who served me behind the counter, or about a fellow shopper in an aisle. For online shopping I’d relay information also about the delivery of each shipment as it arrived at my apartment building. These aspects of the undertaking were eventually abandoned – I’m not sure why – but on 18 October 2020 I began to include screenshots taken from the Fat Secret app in order to illustrate the progress of my (remarkably successful) diet.

Sunday, 16 January 2022

A year in review: Health and wellbeing, part five

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my health! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-third in the series. 

Though I was beset by grief amplified by concern over the unresolved matter of mislaid photographs, at least a shot of the vaccine hadn’t adversely impacted my health, and on 10 May – eight days after getting a Covid jab at the doctor’s office – I was just typing away as usual on my computer’s keyboard (at 6am with my third cup of morning coffee placed close to me). Again at my desk upstairs, the black-and-white plastic parts of the keyboard functioning as designed but cooperating with quick fingers, appendages that might’ve more profitably been wielding pencil or knife.

On 13 May as usual I’d gotten a fresh reading from my scales, but this time one that illustrated how the most recent lost kilo had so far been the most stubborn. It took three weeks – give or take a day – to get rid of it and though I’d felt puzzled (though not exactly angry) at the delay I pressed on regardless.


On 21 May, I wrote on Facebook:
Up early this morning and was concerned abt soreness at bottom of left foot. I'd chucked out a pair of shoes bec the inner sole'd been worn through and had formed a hole. But then I looked up symptoms of AZ and it said a pinpoint bruise is one of them, so called 000. They put me onto a triage nurse who asked questions, and then she said I shd go to Emergency. I caught a cab. The doctor at RPAH checked out my foot and said it was a callous, so I left and caught a cab home. Back by 7.15am and met my nextdoor neighbour outside the front of the house. The driver on the way out was listening to 2GB and the one on the way home was listening to 2KY.
I felt a bit stupid explaining this to the taxi driver on the way home but early in the morning – before dawn – things can loom large. I’d apologised to the hospital doctor who checked my foot but she said it was ok and not to worry. While I was sitting waiting to be called inside a young woman fled through the Emergency Dept’s entrance, shrugging off her hospital gown and her jacket and leaving them on the floor of the room. A man picked them up and put them on a chair then went to the receptionist nurse to explain what had happened and she then looked at the CCTV footage.

The taxi driver on the way out an Italian migrant. We talked about Israel on the trip. His son is a doctor, and his daughter also has at least one degree. He said he’d never gone to university and it was unclear if he’d even gone to school.


On the second-last day of May I had a flare-up of my old problem and impressions of doom alternated with sensations linked to ideas of salvation. This was linked to the New England trip I’d planned, and for which I’d already booked motel rooms. The day before I’d gone to a meeting of the Sydney Friends of Myall Creek where plans relating to the annual commemoration ceremony were made and discussed. I’d offered to help but, a day later while sitting at home at my desk surrounded by the ephemera of my life, I had second thoughts and imagined I’d cancel the trip. I got through Saturday night, then Sunday night. Then Monday came around and I was still calm, each moment a cause to celebrate – I’d gotten this far! – my reserve accompanied by happy intimations.

Though never realised. I wondered if uncertainty would now be my default setting. The weight loss sped up again (see image below) so I was on track to meeting my target goal of 85kg. It was about this time that I decided finally to cancel the New England trip due to stress associated with the long drive and the three-day stay in country motels where I would have to eat food that might lead to me breaking my diet. I felt overwhelmed on Sunday 6 June so called the Inverell motel to cancel the booking I’d made some weeks earlier. I admitted to myself that I’d tried to bite off more than I could chew, but I couched the decision in terms that wouldn’t result in a sense of failure. I decided to be kind to myself and privilege my city life, giving my attention and all my energies to writing – which was the thing, at this point in my life, occupying most of my thoughts when I wasn’t scrounging Facebook Marketplace for cheap art.


It was taking about two weeks now to lose a kilogram (see below). The day before this screenshot was taken something very upsetting happened while I was driving.


I’d agreed with a woman in Wyong to pick up a painting. This trip would necessitate going on the Pacific Motorway, which I’d used in May to get to a town near Newcastle, a trip that’d been successful but extremely stressful because of heavy rain. For my new adventure it was only raining slightly, nevertheless as soon as I entered Northconnex I started to experience an accelerated heartrate, and at one point in my journey down the tunnel pulled over into an emergency bay in an attempt to pacify it, putting the car in “park” and switching on the hazard lights. I sat waiting for my chest to grow calm and after a few minutes started moving again but found that, in order to keep my heart at an acceptable rate, I had to stay at 80km per hour at the outermost. 

I stopped again to rest at Mooney Mooney and in this way – tootling along with, for part of the journey, a teal-coloured VW Kombi sitting at my speed to the rear of me – I made it to my destination and picked up the painting. The woman asked me, “What’s so special about this painting?” I asked her why she had such a question and she said, “I’ve had so many people asking about it.” It is a lovely little oil that needs a bit of work to restore it to its original perfection but otherwise unharmed (no scratches or chips). I’d asked the woman before going up there if there was damage and she replied to the effect that there wasn’t. 

I completed the journey in the company of MMM Newcastle and Hope FM (a Christian radio station based in Sydney) on the car’s dial, the trip back better as I could go at 90km per hour without experiencing a rapid heartrate and when I got home I celebrated by making coffee to drink while I relaxed in front of the news. The heart problem happened again on the first day of July but this time within the geographical confines of the conurbation of Sydney. I’d gone to see the GP about a corn on my foot which needed to have cold applied to get rid of, and after my appointment drove to Broadway Shopping Centre to pick up my coffee from the post office and get milk and bread from Coles. But as soon as I started rolling down Bay Street toward Wentworth Park, in fact once I’d emerged out of the parking garage, my heart rate went up, and I gently went all the way to Mascot with the thing thumping alarmingly in my chest. I stopped twice to calm down on Botany Road – once at Waterloo and once at Green Square – but it made no difference, and in the end I decided each time just to suck it up and get home as quickly as possible. As I approached my ultimate destination the heartrate became more regular so that, as I drove on my street just before turning into our driveway, it was almost normal. Once home I phoned my psychiatrist to make an appointment, but the first available slot wasn’t until the end of the month. The receptionist said she’d put me on the list of patients to be notified if someone else cancelled an appointment, and a few days later she called back to tell me a slot had become available on the following Friday.


The chart above shows my progress, having, now, practically reached my ultimate goal. I found no problems driving very locally (to Wolli Creek) but had had problems driving on busier suburban roads (to Lakemba) and had consequently learned how to master the animal that is me but that also lives inside me as a separate entity. By just telling myself to chill and by slowing the car down a bit I can bring my heart under control. It seems as though my being – I don’t know what else to call this thing that is “me” but that seems, also, to have a mind of its own – can’t handle too much stress, and that just by slightly reducing the burden the world puts on it I can gauge and rein in its response. 

It’s difficult to express how it works; if I say I just tell myself to “chill” then people might think I’m being flippant but I can feel fear shrink my balls and my legs become light before my heart starts to speed up in response to fear. Submitting to it only makes the problem worse. It’s a warning sign and when I feel it I concentrate on the road, telling myself I’m in no danger – the traffic might be a bit heavy but there’s no need for alarmed at cars cruising along on either side of me. That hill up ahead is manageable and – look! – if I just break a little bit early then I won’t be at risk of getting too close to the car moving along the road in front. I tell myself that it holds no danger, that I will be fine driving along like this – turn the RAV4 to the right and prepare to stop at the traffic light I can see in the distance – and my heart remains docile, like a small animal in its burrow that has settled down for the night so that it can rest. 

I lull it to submission so in this way on 9 July I successfully made it to Pyrmont to see my psychiatrist. It’d only been a week since my last visit but the new dispensation made another appointment urgent. As we talked I came to better understand the thing. I’d mulled it over on the way to his office as I headed down the street to the GP’s clinic to get my second Covid shot. The fear I felt at home before leaving, on the way downstairs to the car, let me anticipate more fear, and if I gave into it I’d be left with a feeling of shame but also with the boredom that must accompany the dull terrain of capitulation. My future would be closed, those treasured avenues of escape from the present blocked, so by continuing to walk downstairs to the RAV4 I opened up the future to new possibilities – things that would otherwise remain closed off, stolen from me in advance of any action on my part. I talked about this with Dr Ouzas and he – possibly predictably – agreed it was important not to let the feeling of fear overcome me. He took the practical step of giving me a prescription for beta blockers as this type of medication can be useful to subdue the heart. Unlike antidepressants it doesn’t need to be built up in its dosage over time, and can work immediately, therefore function as a kind of prophylactic. He said that people who face the public to give speeches sometimes use a pill, taking one or two on each of the preceding few days leading up to the event they feel nervous about. I wished I hadn’t earlier taken myself off this medication.