Flowers and Doorways

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on October 22, 2017 by josieemery

Suicide. How do we deal with it?

I’m terrified of death. I don’t want it to come, even though I know it will come. And the older I get the closer it comes. I cling to life almost desperately. So, when someone else makes the choice to kill themselves…?

I’ve been close to a few suicides. A good friend, a neighbour, a stranger whose life briefly touched mine…and I was the last person they spoke with. That was all in the cities. I came to a small country town, fleeing the dark trauma of the cities. In a country town everyone is a neighbour. We are all family.

And there’s the rub. We’re all connected. So when one of us un-connects like that, we all feel it. You feel it in the street. In the air. In the hills that suddenly seem to crowd closer and more forbodingly around your tiny little settlement.

Suddenly, all meaning and purpose is held up to harsh questioning. And those of us left behind feel a tide of guilt, of shame, of pain and rage. We remember the last thing that person said to us, or didn’t say. A look that – in retrospect – was full of meaning but at the time was just an odd look. A meeting of eyes where the other’s were clouded and ours full of un-comprehension.

We walk out to the town’s edges and there is that dark night; the blackness which you never find in cities. A darkness which makes human-kind not just insignificant but unimportant. So we turn back and all we can find to do is place some flowers in that doorway.

I confront my terror by placing words and sounds into ordered arrangements. The writing of a story and a song becomes my escape from the pain of living on the edge of death.

Flowers In Your Doorway. A song about suicide.

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DANCIN’ ON THE GENDER DIVIDE

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by josieemery

So there I was, cruising down the freeway and, for once in my life, in the passenger seat. I had time to ponder and reflect – mostly about my life and its challenges. The confrontations over gender and its so-called ‘dysphoria’. The idea that male and female were eternally opposed. All the arguments I’d read through the decades. And now here I was, cruisin’ with my man. Society had now defined me as ‘woman’. I was happy.

I saw the sign before it saw me. It read, GREAT DIVIDING RANGE. We were driving through forest and hills. The Great Divide! And suddenly something in my mind opened and words poured through from some other realm.

I’d been a writer all my life, but had retreated into silence in the mountains. I thought I would write no more. Now IT was writing me. I grabbed a pad and transcribed the words from above. Then I realised they were not stories, not poetry: they were song lyrics. I wrote all weekend. By Sunday night I had six sets of lyrics.

Over the next two years I had to learn to sing them. I had to upgrade my guitar skills. I had to rediscover my childhood keyboard lessons and start transcribing the melodies. All the time acting under a compulsion far greater than myself. A challenge had been issued. I didn’t think I was up to it. Like the prophets of old I’d been commanded and commandeered. But IT would not let me rest.

So, here’s the first song that came to me.

Songman From the Plains

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 8, 2017 by josieemery

For me Glen Campbell was the ‘voice’ of Jimmy Webb. Webb’s soaring melodies and Campbell’s sweeping voice. So to think of Glen now in death is also to think of Webb’s words. I responded to the wide-open plains feel of both. The one song above all was ‘Wichita Linesman’. As a child on the farm I lay awake listening to the sweeping melody of the phone lines that the linesmen had brought to our farmhouse there on the Southern Ocean coast. Beneath that melody was the steady beat of the 32 volt diesel generator that gave us our warm yellow light. ‘Wichita Linesman’ had both that aching and arcing voice and then the dead-string sound of a baritone guitar that was like the generator’s pulse.

As a writer what caught my ear in the song was how it evoked a character and a life. How it got beyond being a pop love song to being a biography. It was an adult song for an adult audience. People who worked hard jobs conscientiously. Who went out into the weather to honour their pact with society. In this case to keep the power lines running. It caught the inner life of this conscientious man. His love, his need. Things I’d striven for in short stories. Decades later I would strive to catch such ideas in my own songs. Ideas as hard to catch as the sound of the wind in the wires in the dark and lonely night on the plains. Farewell Glen Campbell. Songman From the Plains.

 

The Return of Zarathustra

Posted in Uncategorized on July 21, 2017 by josieemery

Copy of 2016-08 Josie Emery 002

After four years of silence on the mountain – listening to the wind and what the eagle says – I return to the marketplace, like Zarathustra before me, bringing my songs, speaking in a new voice filled with old wisdom. Wisdom learnt the hard way.

“I’ve been through the fiery furnace/ I came out the other side.

I watched people burning/ I saw how they died.  

Only one thing I know/ One thing I can do.

Keep myself honest/ Keep myself true.”   (from, ‘Born in Armour’, J. Emery, 2017)

My first venture into the marketplace is at

WHOLE LOTTA LOVE BAR

452 Lygon Street, East Brunswick, Melbourne

Sunday, July 30, 3-4pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I Were a Carpenter

Posted in 1 with tags , , on March 3, 2013 by josieemery

It’s interesting that when I started this blog I subtitled it ‘A writer’s life, work and ever-evolving identity.’ Interesting because I no longer see my identity through the lens of ‘writer’. Interesting because even though I was prepared to shift my identity from ‘male’ to ‘female’ I needed to hang on to something of my past as an anchor. Sure, I never abandoned my football team despite changing cities. I needed that identity as ‘A Crows Fan’ more than I needed the identity of ‘male’. Even though I have no desire to visit the city where my football team resides.

But ‘writer’, that was different. Somehow whatever I went through, whatever I shed or adopted or grew into or was challenged by could be dealt with by understanding that, as a ‘writer’, I was an observer with a mission: to experience, observe and report upon my condition.

But my attempts to use those observations as the basis for ‘writing’ met with resounding disinterest. And a writer is surely someone who writes to an audience – not to the void. In despair at the disinterest I gave up writing. Alone on a mountain I was forced to face myself without a defining lens.

All through my changing life there was something else I’d never let go. Something physical: my father’s, grandfather’s and my own woodworking tools. I’d carried them from Adelaide to Sydney to Maldon. And the skill, ability and knowledge to work with them and transform timber into furniture.

As the ‘writer’ identity crumbled like Ozymandias’s statue I found myself in need of furniture. I had no money. But I could scrounge old timber and I had the tools – which had been in storage for a year and not used the previous 3 years. Which had come from Sydney to Maldon in a van with my books and clothes.

I started up my grindstone and cut new edges on the blades.

I made a table. I made a bench. I made a cabinet.

And a new ‘identity’ rushed up through my working hands as I slid my grandfather’s Jack plane over the old wood, or my dad’s No 6 jointing plane, or used my own biscuit jointer. I felt a surge of reconnecting with the neglected masculine line of my life. I was a Jointer, a Carpenter, a Cabinet Maker. I was a Maker of things. Someone who brought new identity to pieces of old and abandoned timber.

Somewhere in the Tao Te Ching it says that the carpenter who understands the Way works all day and his tools never grow blunt. The wood is one with him – just as the Gnostic Gospel of St Thomas recalls Jesus saying that he is as much in the wood as in the hands that work the wood.

So it is with me. carpenter 3carpenter 2carpenter 1

The Olympics? Just another reality TV show.

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , , , on August 5, 2012 by josieemery

 

The television version of the Olympiads is no longer the broadcast of a sporting festival but a form of reality television. Once this is grasped then the behaviour of media and audiences is explicable. The tears, the dummy-spits, the outbursts, petulance, rage. These are the fodder of reality television. And, of course, the indignant responses of infuriated audiences is simply part of the loop.

For the Games to work as reality television requires cameras to have immediate access to private moments of the athletes (and sometimes their parents in the stands). At the moment when an athlete is at their most exhausted and vulnerable, that’s where the real ‘gold’ is found.

My first intimation of the way sporting television was moving was in 1985 when I covered the inaugural Adelaide F1 Grand Prix. Drivers were raced from the seats of their cars into the media tent to be debriefed the moment they’d completed their circuit. I watched Aynton Senna stumble into the glare of the camera lights immediately after having set the fastest lap. Wherever his eyes were, it was not in that room.

”What were you thinking on that blistering lap?” someone asked.

Those distance-focused eyes roamed the room and then he said, “By the time I see something, it is behind me. I don’t have time to think.”

“What did you do on that lap that made it different to previous laps?”

“I drove balls out,” he said.

That’s when the cameras grab the athletes. Before they can think and while the testosterone and the adrenaline are still in the red zone.

Twenty years later I had my own chance of being reality television fodder. A very persuasive documentary producer had talked me into letting him document my gender transition. At first I was eager to co-operate. But then I began to see the damage the process was doing to the delicate balance of emotions and needs within myself and my immediate family.

“That documentary tail is wagging your dog,” a wise friend advised me.

The crunch came when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Our relationship had become very fraught before that news. To the producer it was the golden moment. “If we can get a camera into the hospice with you and your mother as she is dying, we’ll have a network sale!” he enthusiastically advised me.

I refused. He pressured me…strongly. This would clinch the deal. Maybe I could take a mini-camera in with me? Or just grab some stills of her dying face? I refused. The deal fell over. Eventually I summoned up the courage to confront him and advise I was no longer part of his project. He threatened legal action.

He was, by his lights, right. The documentary would have sold. He was now out of pocket.

The effect of documentary film-makers on their subjects (or of any intruder into a human process – say, an anthropologist living with a tribe) is itself well-documented. But now the reality cameras are affecting the performance of athletes at many sporting events.

When the ref. blows her whistle, when the umpire raises his finger, the challenged sports-person looks immediately to the big screen over the grandstand to watch the replay of their actions. Media-management is now an essential part of elite sports training. But time and again the rush of blood, the “brain explosion” short-circuits that learned behaviour and then the cameras swoop like the vultures they are.

And we, the audience, respond – whether with glee or outrage being irrelevant. We respond. That is all that is required of us.

For the logical extension of this mind-set, a viewing of Dee McLachlan’s new movie, 10terrorists, is mandatory. (A movie in which I do have a financial interest.)

HEW WOOD, DRAW WATER

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , on July 24, 2012 by josieemery

“Now therefore you are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being slaves, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God…”

King James Bible, Joshua, Ch 9 verse 21.

“Before enlightenment: hew wood, draw water.
After enlightenment: hew wood, draw water.”

Zen Koan

Isn’t that interesting? One culture sees the hewing of wood and the drawing of water as a punishment. Another sees it as a path to liberation.

On the Internet there are very few hewers of wood and drawers of water. Most are drawers of electricity from the grid. It’s been my privilege the last year to move back towards that more primal state. A privilege evoked by my loss of status, income and privilege.

To save myself I had fled to a tiny hamlet in the bush. I arrived in mid-winter. I and the wood fire became a symbiotic couple: we needed each other to stay alive. I did not need to draw water from the well, but I did need to hew wood to heat it. And to cook and keep myself warm.

I was on call 24/7 to answer the fire’s needs. As needy as an infant it was. And as hungry.

As I tended it so my stress and anxiety, my guilt and shame, fell away. My mind was cleansed, and my soul too. I reflected upon many things and let myself explore strange waters.

One such backwater was the apocryphal Gospel of St. Thomas,

Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”

He could have added, “Draw a bucket of water and I am there.”

I split many a piece of wood and slowly I began to understand those words. I learnt them too as I dug the garden and prepared the soil for spring. I began to see the Holy in the simplest actions. I saw God in the split wood and the turned soil.

I thought of something that Thomas had recorded, which I had earlier discovered: at first to my cost and later towards my liberation.

Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you will kill you.”

I had brought forth that which was within me – which I had denied for far too long. I brought it forth and it liberated me.

Liberated me to where I could at last be one with hewing wood, drawing water, watching clouds and walking on the mountain. Where I could speak the poet, W.B. Yeats’, lines with truth and conviction.

My fiftieth year had come and gone,


I sat, a solitary man,


In a crowded London shop,


An open book and empty cup


On the marble table-top.


While on the shop and street I gazed


My body of a sudden blazed;


And twenty minutes more or less


It seemed, so great my happiness,


That I was blessed and could bless.

I will shape wood with these tools my father bequeathed me.