What Happens Next
You can’t beat country hospitality. If this were a
train, they probably wouldn’t bother to make the announcement, just leave the passengers twitching, wondering why the bloody train has stopped this time. Melbourne
But being a country train, they pay you the courtesy of announcing, Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for the delay. This is due to the train having a little bit of interaction with a cow – even though it’s unnecessary to announce it, that fact having first been discerned by all from the Mooooooooo! (presumably the bovine equivalent of, Oh fuck! A train!) then again by the cow body parts flying past the window.
Given the improbability of flying pigs, I would have thought flying cows impossible. There you go. Live and learn.
I’m on the way to a town with the irresistible name of Wild Dog to meet the man who is about to become my landlord when the cow/train interaction happens. (Uh, ladies and gentlemen, we apologise again for the delay. We’ll be stopping here for a little bit while we give the front of the train a bit of a wash.) The passengers speculate that they will be in reality firing up the barbie, out of our sight.
What writer could resist a town called Wild Dog? Yeah, I’m still kidding myself that I’m a writer. But now, unable to work for the foreseeable future, more than ever I don’t see what choice I have.
So Wild Dog it is.
At first I don’t get on so well with the landlord. Actually, truth is had I not been staying in a motel at the other half’s expense, I wouldn’t have taken the place, but as it was, I was desperate. He’s nervous about whether I’ll be a good tenant. He’s only prepared to give me a six month lease, until I demonstrate my good character. This gives me the shits, to say the least. In my entire rental history I have always been the only party to the lease agreement to actually abide by the lease agreement. This time will be no exception. I really feel like telling him where to shove it, but I need a place to live so I suck it up.
Until we both sign the lease.
Then he’s showing me the garage, saying, But as you don’t have a car, I guess you won’t be using the garage.
And having signed the lease, I look him in the eye, smile and say, You mean my new meth lab? Oh I’ll be using it all right. It’s so much nicer than the last one, even before it blew up. Don’t worry – I’m pretty sure I know what went wrong. My next cook should be a testament to workplace safety.
Rent: twelve hundred and thirty-five dollars a month. Look on landlord’s face: priceless.
I had hoped, the first morning in my new country home, to awake to birdsong, to the laughing of kookaburras.
But what actually peeled my eyes open was this:
Herpes! Herpes! Herpes pussy pussy pussy pussy herpes pussy…
Jesus! For the love of Christ, will you not come?
YOU MONGREL DON’T YOU DARE BITE MY BLOODY ARSE.
I sit up in bed. Slowly. Holding my breath. Slowly. If this is a kookaburra, then it’s one dysfunctional bird. Maybe someone’s making a porn movie… whoa baby, if they are, then that’s one sick plot. There it is again.
Herrrrrrrrpeeeeees pussy pussy pussy pussy here puss. Pussy come! Pussy come!
Jesus! If you don’t come right now, this will be your last supper, I tell you!
Salman Rushdie! Come here you great slobbering idiot. I’ve got a nice bit of kangaroo for you. There you go, sink your fangs in like it was a nice fresh piece of arse, you cross-eyed motherless bastard, ye.
Tenatively, I pull back the curtain. The voices belong to my neighbours. Oh jolly. Out of the rat race and into the fucking asylum.
Say hello to my new neighbours, Mike, Josephine and Daniel.
I would never hear quite the full story, but over the months ahead, I glean a PG synopsis of it. Mike, a former priest, Josephine a former wife, and Daniel, like me, an aspiring writer but with a higher I.Q. – that would make him a failed writer then – all of them refugees from somewhere else, all landed in Wild Dog about the same time with the same sort of baggage, and it wasn’t Louis Vuitton.
One night, presumably for reasons cathartic, they went out on a bender to end all benders. They came home three days later, bleary-eyed and straight-line-challenged, having stopped at the local pound on the way to each save a stray from the big sleep – in Mike and Daniel’s case, dogs, in Josephine’s case, a cat, which, presumably also for reasons cathartic, they named Jesus, Salman Rushdie and Herpes respectively, which is how it comes to pass that, looking out my window, I see Salman Rushdie doing his best to catch Herpes, and why, on any given morning, I can wake to find I have Herpes, Salman Rushdie or Jesus in my backyard; or frequently all three.
Now, I’ve dedicated many an hour to speculating, and I’ve got more than a vague notion that they named their strays after the reasons why they each left their former lives behind. I can’t say how many hours I’ve spent wondering what it means that a priest would leave the priesthood because of Jesus. That’s more complicated than I can get my head around, but I know it speaks of a wealth of pain, an unimaginable crisis of faith and one very complex human being. Which probably accounts for Mike’s drinking habit. I think maybe the priesthood’s version of Jesus didn’t measure up to the Jesus in Mike’s heart, just as Daniel couldn’t measure up to Salman Rushdie, which would account for his drinking habit. I try not to think too much about why Josephine named her cat Herpes, but if my theory is right then that would also account for her drinking habit.
All in all I’m in pretty good company.
Whatever Mike’s reason for calling his dog Jesus, however cathartic, it would have unfortunate consequences one night when Jesus didn’t come home, (like all good deities he is extremely selective about answering when called) forcing Mike to wander the streets looking for him, calling Jesus, Jeeeee-ssssss-uuusss, come here, Jeeeee-sssss-usssss.
Naturally, phone calls were made. Actually, local legend has it that the switchboard at the nearest psychiatric unit fairly lit up.
As you can imagine, Mike was most expeditiously collected and transported there in a very fetching white jacket with a generous sleeve allowance.
The situation, as again you can imagine, was not at all alleviated when Mike tried to explain that Jesus was a dog.
So, said the men in white jackets, not only do you see Jesus, but when you see Jesus, he appears to you as a dog.
The situation was further exacerbated when Mike, still a priest at heart, the brightest of theologians and diagnosably Irish, challenged the men in white jackets on the more esoteric principles of faith and omnipotence: namely, that Jesus could appear in whichever form of his choosing and those who see Jesus in a dog are perfectly entitled to do so.
It would be several days before Mike would be seen again.
Salman Rushdie, it turns out, has quite a thing for biting anything and everyone on the arse. A great drooling hairy mass of a dog of indiscriminate origin, he is often found to be cross-eyed – but not both eyes at once, either one or the other, and it varies. If he were a person I would suspect him of being a long-term substance abuser but as he is a dog… actually I still suspect him of being a long-term substance abuser. His tongue is forever lolling from his mouth and his head constantly tracing circles in the air, as though he is trying to follow an imaginary butterfly flying in front of his face. The only time Salman Rushdie is still is when he has the prospect of biting someone or something on the arse, at which point he becomes like a statue, his eyes co-operate with each other and come together the better to focus on the arse in question while he stalks his prey with uncharacteristic grace and silence. In fact, with a nice piece of arse in his sight, forty thousand ululating Arabs could sneak up behind him and he’d be none the wiser.
God only knows what he has against arses. Presumably one did something to him early in life – one can only speculate what an arse can do to a dog.
Morning roll call for hungry animals is nothing short of hilarious. Salman Rushdie, you arse biting lunatic, if you want fedDDDDDD frequently ending on a high note as Rushdie’s teeth meet Daniel’s arse. (In the dog’s defence, he never breaks the skin.)
In addition to his arse biting duties, Salman Rushdie apparently also believes it is incumbent upon him to keep Herpes at bay. You could say Salman Rushdie has issues with Herpes. There are loose palings in the fence surrounding the jungle which optimistically calls itself my garden. Many a glorious sunny morning sees Herpes slinking through the fence with a gentle jingle of his bell, hunting the good feline toot as the sun moves through my yard. And always when he reaches the same point beside the willow tree, does Salman Rushdie burst through a paling in the opposite fence, forcing Herpes to retreat with rapid bell jingling.
I often wonder who is tormenting who.
The dog who has to wait and wait and cannot rest until the cat has made his appearance and been satisfactorily retreated? Or the cat that cannot venture forth into the sun without being hounded?
Does Herpes know how far he can go before Salman Rushdie catches him, or does Salman Rushdie know not to let Herpes go any further otherwise he would catch him? I suspect Herpes is in charge, even if Salman Rushdie is the one doing the chasing. Sometimes I imagine Herpes keeps Salman Rushdie waiting behind that fence, knowing the dog can’t rest until Herpes makes his appearance and is repelled. Sometimes I think that if Herpes didn’t run, then Salman Rushdie would come up short, not knowing what to do, and beat a hasty retreat himself. Sometimes I think it’s like the passive-submissive thing in BDSM – the submissive is in charge – and sometimes I think I’d like to have normal thoughts like a normal person, but I’m a writer, so these are the thoughts that occupy my ground zero days.
Most of us know what it’s like to go to sleep with the electric blanket on and to have the heat assimilate itself into our dream – we’ve gone to hell usually (or is that just me and mine?)
That’s what it’s like for me to be awake. And it never lets up. That’s what writing is like.
In everyday life, everything I see, everything I hear, presents itself to my mind in the light of the novels and stories floating about in my head and clangs about demanding to be processed accordingly.
I’m not about to complain about that, but nor will I let anyone say that it is nothing, just pure pleasure without work. Anyone who thinks its reasonable to reject a work because the author has used the copyright symbol or because the author has addressed them by their first name has never written a novel and has no idea of the considerable effort, or the sacrifices, involved.
I am thinking about a story in which a woman, fed up with domestic drudgery loses the plot completely. To say I am thinking about it tends to suggest choice, when that is not the case. I wake up and there it is, demanding my attention, along with my current novel, and four other stories. I am going to the pool. I open the front door. Even from a distance, from the colours and shape of the card, I recognise the council’s hard rubbish notice collection in my backless letterbox. So, suddenly my character has put the bastard in her life out for the hard rubbish collection. Okay, very funny. If it sounds like fun, it’s because it is – to a point. But really, I just want to go to the pool and do my laps. I’m crossing the road, I look left to check for traffic, suddenly see a garbage truck at the end of the street, with the men hanging off the back shaking their fists at her, shouting, Nice try love, here’s to brotherly solidarity! turn forward again and see that her useless bastard’s still lying on the nature strip in front of me, wrapped in a rug.
But for the moment I just want to go to the pool. Please guys, please, – leave me alone until I come back and I sit at my desk. It’s unusual for me to want this, but on the occasions I do, well it just doesn’t work that way.
To have such an imagination is a blessing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But imagine what it’s like to have that imagination trying to cover everything pinging about in your head at any given time: commercial fiction to fund the fiction you really want to write, short stories both commercial and earnest, three possible novels, a cooking project and innumerable other bibs and bobs floating about, all demanding your attention, all at once, all the time – I’m not even getting into the domestic junk, the stuff other people fill your head with to save them thinking about it themselves.
It would be stupid to compare writing to schizophrenia. I’ve heard that schizophrenia is similar to the nightmares we all experience, but that people with schizophrenia have the nightmares all the time. I do think though that it’s probably reasonable to compare writing with dreaming all the time. If that sounds like full-time fun, then you’ve never done it. The thing about dreaming is that it’s so intense. To dream all the time is to have the most intense demands made of your mind without cease.
I don’t have children, but I know what it’s like to wake up to children. No sooner do I peel my eyes open in the morning than half a dozen littlies’ eyes light up and they smile at me, waiting for me to smile back. They were just waiting for me to wake up, before they came to life. The way they look at me, it would kill me not to give them life. Then they follow me around everywhere, six, twelve of them at any time. Sometimes in my study, I’ve stepped around one of my characters rather than hurt their feelings by walking straight through them. Given I tend to think in pictures instead of words, what is happening in my mind is visually chaotic. In trying to write commercial fiction to fund my dream of literary fiction – and everything else – it feels like I wake every morning to eighteen children, eighteen orphaned children, who ask nothing more from me than a smile, who follow me around for every minute, asking nothing but hoping everything. They’re on my heels all the time, asking for so little, but they never let me go, not for a minute. While I sleep in warmth and comfort, they curl themselves on the hard floor beside my warm bed only to be roused by the cold morning for the want of covers, then the pail little waifs stand patiently beside my bed, while I sleep in luxury, waiting for me to wake once more and warm them with a smile.
I know that’s just imagination, but imagination is where I live, imagination is my reality.
And yes I know it sounds pretentious as well. I would have thought that once too, before I tried it.
My mind is spread too thinly. (Whoops, sounds like brain pâté. Try again, Bruce.) My mind is spread too thin. You can’t caper around with that many people in your head, it isn’t sane.
I just can’t do it anymore.
And so I give up trying to write potboilers, and for the first time I write a novel I actually want to write. At first, I think there’s no point in doing it. It is an unusual book. If I can’t tell the agent slash publisher what genre it is, is there any purpose in writing it? Because unless I can, I’ll never sell it.
I’ll just make a start. Give it a day. I give it a day then I give it a week and then I can’t stop writing.
The last potboiler took eighteen months, but when I, for the first time, write something I actually want to write, it’s finished – a hundred and twenty thousand words of it – in seven and a half weeks.
I am disappointed.
I was aiming for six.
Of course, I couldn’t sell it.
The other half was still supporting me because I was sick. I needed to earn some money to let him off the hook. That was when I first thought about writing erotica. Jesus. I just kept going backwards all the time.
Youth has no time for the middle-aged, and mine was no exception. It was running away from me fast as it could go, and I was chasing it – my faithless Lolita, careless of my breaking heart – as hard as I could go, at least for my time of life.
My yellowing life. The life that was tick tick tick ticking away from me.