Dangerous Currents

The week-long warm weather sunk abruptly into overcast skies. Up the road, Iggy’s bread sold out before 10:15am – a new record for the bakery.

Tom and I soldiered on towards the beach; past the park where we’d encountered a free-roaming macaw two days prior, through crooked streets testament to a suburb evolved without planning, past retro coastal-brick apartments wedged between larger, post-modern designer homes, and on to the iconic white-wood fence gilding the the eastern suburb clifftops.

Bruised cloud hung over a turquoise sea flecked with wild white caps. A cry ran from the shore as ten tai chi devotees, robed in white, danced in sync across the sand. A lone figure sporting red speedos and cap braced the ocean’s rage with hands planted on hips. Bobbing up from the surf like penguins returning from a hunt, fifteen others soon joined him. They huddled together a moment, discussing the trek from Tamarama in the adjacent cove. Then, one-by-one, launched themselves back into the waters.

A Dangerous Currents sign staked the sand in place of the usual red and yellow flags. Tom and I walked the shoreline, dodging dying blue-bottles and disassembling the shape-shifting beach front: wide and flat some seasons, gutted by king-tides; then a sharp drop-off to the breakers in the months when the local council replenished the sand.

We climbed to the ocean pool to watch the surfers paddle out through the lazy-faced waves. Their rides were short and scarce, much of the appeal simply sitting on the board, surrounded by stormy elements.

One surfer, distinctive for his canvas backpack, carved his way through the others to deeper water where the waves are only fluctuating thoughts. We joked that perhaps he had packed his picnic lunch. He sat abreast his board and swung the satchel around, removing with difficulty a white canister. Perhaps it was underwater camera housing instead.

But he removed its lid and raised it above his head, tipping its contents to the wind. We grew quiet.

Ashes fell like talcum powder, streaming back behind him. In fact, coating the surfer behind him, who dipped into the water and pulled away.

The surfer knocked the last from the tin, dunking it in the ocean, swilling and emptying the pale-grey water. The event seemed somewhat solo and unceremonious, yet I felt we had witnessed something significant; out of the ordinary.

Dry, but with sandied feet, we made our way to the cafe strip to read the weekend paper.

I’ve been reading Hugh Mackay’s “What Makes Us Tick?” recently. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

Firstly:

If we lack self-knowledge and are unable to resolve our own internal conflicts, we’re less likely to be able to express ourselves clearly. If we’re not in touch with ourselves, it will be harder for other people to get in touch with us.

The greatest barriers to connection are within us.

And:

If we only consume and never create, there’s every chance we’ll become jaded in our response to the arts, increasingly hard to please, too worried about the “meaning” and “value” of the work. Create something yourself and such questions either dissolve or evolve into a more sympathetic appreciation of the power of the arts to connect us to ourselves.

The narrow focus of the creative process admits no distractions and that’s therapeutic in itself. Creativity is all about exploring the self; the therapeutic benefit of learning how to express yourself.

Skin

The sheet sticks to her skin like an unwashed floor. She blows her palms but it only pushes humidity. Take-away Thai hangs in the air and the clock hand pounds. She waits, apprehensive. She waits for her mobile to illuminate the dinge. Silent at the foot of her bed, its corpse eye threatens to snap open as soon as she looks away. Her foot slides across dated magazines as she rolls off the double bed. At the mirror she smears lip balm and sheds her clothes on her rack of shoes. She flicks the fan on high. It sparks and coasts several revolutions to a halt. With a hiss she swipes it to the floor and crashes face down into her pillow.

Green dash lights illuminate his frown like a stage production. Across the front lawn, saplings billow and curtain the house. The building sleeps but for the bathroom window. He shuts the driver’s door softly, locking it manually to avoid the pips. Ceiling stars glisten. Crickets are silenced by his footsteps across the grass to the front steps. He splashes water on his face from the garden hose and slips through the rickety screen door.

Suspended in glass, she strokes her way to the reef bed. Shoals of fish brush her skin as she winds her way though seaweed swaying to the sweeping waves. Surface space; blinding. Salt air crashes into her lungs. He stands on the dune, his lone figure silhouetted on blue sky. Treading water she waves, but he remains static. He must be facing the mountains, she thinks, and calls his name, but her cry is drowned on the waves and the stifling off-shore wind. She sets out for the beach. With each stroke the breakers remain distant. Her body aches as it strains the current and limbs grow heavy. The figure remains frozen on the dune.

His eyes gradually adjust to the ambience as he shuffles down the burgundy Persian rug that lines the hall. The skin of his arm tingles on her cashmere coat, hanging on the inside the corner of her bedroom door. Beads of sweat sparkle and collect down the line of her back. The moon carves its highlight across the deranged sheets and the dimple of her spine. He sits in the shadows at the foot of her bed – he sits on her phone. Pulling it from under him, he checks the next alarm, cancelling the 5:30am due in 2 minutes time. Though a mop of brown hair covers the pillow, he knows the angst written on her face. He reaches for a strand and twines it through his fingers. His absence for days at her most vulnerable could have been avoided. He dare not touch her skin. He would not be able to explain. She stirs; he freezes. And backs off her bed.

The heatwave encroaches from all sides. She wakes wet and burning, rolls to the dry edge. At the kitchen tap she suckles water from her hand.  Suddenly the ticking of the midday clock catches her ear. She stops.

He had come.

Carry Me

Find me
Carry me forward
that I may carry you also
In my frailty
Wrap your body round me
as I wrap you in mine

I need an ally beyond
this modern discontent
A feeling state from past-time
An arena where hand held mine
And tender hearts beat beat
Nudging you and I
out to face the rest of them

I lie
Warm and comforted
Cold and terrified
Displaced and unaware
of the nearness of your thoughts

Make it easy for me
In this social disenchantment
Make it more than an educated hope
that you still remember
The time I carried you home

Disjoin

n’t even have t
he memo
ry of an ex love
r to fill the gap
ing hole t
hat needs secure
ity and the reassure
ring touch that the
re is so
meone in this mess
y, confuse
sing world that love
s me, knows me, a
nd would cry if I did
n’t come home to
night. W
hat should I Do

Stronger

I wish that you were stronger
That hearts could bend, not break
To stay a little longer
And see what we could make

Germinate this friendship seed
Buried under words that bleed
From a calling crying heart
Branded by your mark

You spoke in just a whisper
The last I heard was silence
Open spurn is crisper
Than withdrawn cold defiance

And so I enter knowledge
Of a place already known
Through old letters forage
With none to call my own

Why must I sit in exile
Anna don’t you know
My heart is slow to travel
My trust needs time to grow

I wish that I were stronger
To know just who I am
Reveal my heart as fonder
And grasp your parting hand

In Your Eyes

In your eyes I see your smile
Photograph speaks a
Gentle heart un-presuming
Not needy for attention
But seeking connection

With my eyes closed
I see yours open
Baby-wide with innocent regard
Black-lined blue set on
Oyster pearl

Behind your eyes I feel I know you
Or wish perhaps to trust you so
And from the inside
Look out through your eyes
See how you see my soul

Beauty is a Choice

Perhaps it reflects an unfulfilled desire. Given I’ve really only had about one or two failed relationships, I wondered how on earth I settled on making a film about love.

The film turned over in my head as I lay in bed the night before the shoot. The culmination of five months of hectic development and preproduction boiled down to an uncanny stillness, like the serene lapse in activity just before you board an international flight: with all preparation finalised, you just enjoy the inflight movies (assuming you have enough legroom). That things are moving smoothly can be unnerving.

In the darkness I reflected on my choice of subject and style over various years and projects – in my writing and storytelling, my photography, films, in my poetry. I realised beauty was a recurring theme in my worldview, and henceforth, my creative outlets. It’s something I look for: a desire for life and relationships… to be wonderful.

One of the film school staff criticised this aspect of my work during pre-production. We were talking about image creation. One of the images in my film was a minimalist, pristine backyard: glass railings around a deck with an infinity pool on Sydney Harbour’s southern headland. My Indian protagonist was standing at the glass railing on the edge of the cliff, looking out to the ocean.

She challenged me to put my Indian girl in shabby clothes rather than make her look beautiful. The teacher made the generalisation that my photographs are “too beautiful” and I should look for contrast instead. I think I was more intrigued by what seemed to come across as an evaluation of my instincts rather than an embellishment to a film – someone who had seen my films and photographs and found them wanting. Superficial perhaps.

I understood what she meant, though felt misrepresented. In my film, I was constantly trying to pull the drama of the love back into the characters’ weakness rather than strength. I hate untested romance; I hate sentimentality devoid of actuality.

The analogy I gave to my actors was that as the son of a rich white man, the Australian male character was the “King”, with all the power, wealth and security that Sydney’s eastern suburbs entail. As the immigrant about to be deported, the female character was the powerless peasant girl.

To stay where he was and expect her to come to him would present him as selfish and arrogant, given her circumstances. The king had to step down from his throne, leave his “crown” and entitlements, and meet her where she was. He would win her, not by being the all-conquering Australian male bulldogging his way through, but by exposing his heart and insecurities and by making himself as vulnerable as she was. For when she is deported and they are thousands of miles apart, their strength to continue to pursue love had to come not from his money or privileged position, but from their emotional investment, the entwining of their hearts (to borrow from the film’s title) and the knowledge that each had sacrificed their world to pursue the other’s.

I am not unaware of the ugliness of this world. I have seen marriages fall apart, the powerlessness of teenagers hating and destroying themselves, youthful idealism die, careers blow like chaff.

I’ve travelled to places where people live in extreme poverty and are torn apart by conflict. The Brasilian favela that I lived in during 2007 was unpretty, yet filled with beauty. It was a hard and dangerous life and the police were the enemy, but it contained people who made the time a delight. I don’t want to romanticise the favelas much more than that, for as an outsider I can dip in and out of these experiences… suffice to say: beauty can always be found if you choose to see it.

Insights about oneself are interesting because they often counter expectations. Beauty as a recurring theme in my work is one I’d personally reject to some degree in a media culture super-saturated with the portrayal of perfection… in body image, lifestyle, relationships, finance, property, attitudes.

Yet the pursuit of beauty is not a bad objective. It just depends on what you prioritise as “beautiful”.

It’s like a man’s love for his woman (he says in his grandfather’s voice…). It’s easy to say he should love her above all else, but what action does that love take? She’d like you to have a healthy body, but I think maintaining a buff bod is a little further down the list of importance than connecting with her emotionally. I know people who have damaged their relationship because their pursuit of the perfect body has tapped into their partner’s insecurities and pushed her away.

Even moments of death, when your world is ripped apart, can contain beauty, should you maintain that perspective. This poem about my grandfather’s passing last year reflects the paradox of such events.

I think we need beauty – true beauty. The capacity to choose to remain tender whilst heartbreak rages.

The pursuit of beauty carries with it the ability to transcend the world’s present state – not to deny the existence of its imperfections, but the optimism to strengthen our passage towards the dream: the way things could be.

Tears

Back to back they sat in wind-whipped sand, beating hearts to bumpy spines. Her brown hair streamed and stung his cheek. Twisting his elbow, his hand found its way to her lap and she met it with locked fingers.

His thumb stroked absently back and forth across her knuckle until she squeezed his hand gently.

Stop thinking.

I’m trying, he answered. The waves crashed. Do you think it will ever pass?

She dropped his hand and swung around to straddle his lap. And what if it doesn’t? Her brown eyes penetrated his, leaving him childish. He tried to hide under his usual cheery composure, but not today.

Today his heart ran thin and he dropped back into the sand. Grains pressed into his hair and down the collar of his sweater and he didn’t care. His gaze diverted to the shoreline, despite burning to level with hers.

She sized him up from above. Her man. An oversized boy. She bent down, arms folded across his chest, her nose and inch from his cheek.

Her warm breath contrasted the ocean breeze, commanding attention. He returned from the shoreline to her wide eyes, so close his focus was soft. The weight of her body pressed into his and he received it.

I don’t know how to word it.

She felt him pulling away again. I know. Or else you would have said it already. She took the palms of his hands in hers and pinned them to the ground above his head in surrender.

I don’t want to be like this…

I know that. Her eyes remained steady on him.  And it’s ok. She nudged him sideways and he lay on top.

She faced him squarely. Patiently. Presupposing nothing. And with those constant eyes he was knocked breathless, until he had to sit up. Not to escape to the shore again, but to comprehend what lay before him.

It doesn’t bother you?

I don’t like it. But I understand it’s there.

With those words, he felt the first of it begin to seep from him. Unresolved. But it drained from him unresolved like a swing-set unraveling its twisted chain.

She brought his head to her breast and held him as his tears ran wet and unawares to him.

And the weight of his body pressed into hers, and she received it.

Sometimes a yearning enters me, like an illuminating bubble that soap-shines and sparkles energy into an otherwise too-familiar grinding drive to stack box upon box, deed upon deed, believing that someone will love me through these words. But writing is my lover, my solace; patient with my idealism, delighting in my childlike take on the world. Writing is my mentor, the one who expands my capacity to imagine a future worth living.