David Stevens

Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

Things I like: monsters

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2018 at 7:53 am

I suspect he must have made his way into dream at some stage, for me to feel about him the way I did, though I have no memory of the dream itself.  It would not surprise me.  My parents recall that I ended up in their bed in the middle of the night after being terrified by a man dressed in a hairy suit on an episode of ‘Lost in Space’.

I remember seeing him interact with humans.  It was during a fund raising telethon, no doubt for a children’s hospital, and there he was on a lounge with other habitues of TV land (I don’t know how else to describe them, we did not have celebrities in those days, and in my head, the world of television was separate from but equal to the mundane world).  “He’s with other people”, I said to my father.  He was puzzled.  Years later, I understand Dad had no perception of how seriously weird my understanding of the world was, the bizarre conglomeration that no doubt all kids make of the bits of information provided to them*.  [For instance, Commander Strongarm.  He presented the morning cartoons on one channel.  The conceit was that he did this from an orbiting space station.  As I understood it, he arrived at work on time every Monday morning, then departed after the final cartoon on Friday.  Did I entertain the possibility that this was true?]

Perhaps it is not true that I have no memory of the dream.  Writing this, aspects of it rise.  A serious young man, sitting down, unfazed while about him great evils are committed.  Though he does nothing, somehow he is complicit, his presence facilitative in some way.  The age I was, and remembering other dreams, the great evil would have included harm to my mother and father.  And yet, no one did a thing about him.

The young man was Deadly Earnest, who presented weekly horror movies on television (a la Roddy McDowell’s Peter Vincent in the original ‘Fright Night’).  It was bad enough that he had his own world to which the rest of us were exposed each Saturday night, but here he was on a lounge chair chatting with other people, and they were laughing at him.  Didn’t anyone know?  Was this allowed?  Somehow he had leached out of his own place, and was spreading to other domains.

Knowing my parents, it cannot have been that they would deliberately have allowed me to see the introduction to Creature Feature or whatever it was called, at that young age.  Perhaps we had had visitors and for some reason the TV had been left on, unsupervised.  Sometimes i was up late when a sibling had a fever.  My father was a shift worker, and there were times when I could not sleep and I would sit with my mother.  For whatever reason, I saw Deadly Earnest.

Why write all of this?  I wanted to record one of my earliest memories.  I can remember being afraid in my bed.  i can remember some form of dissonance, that this person was allowed to be, to persist, was even encouraged by others, despite being associated with great evil.  Anxiety grew within, and I tossed, uneasy in my bed.  I can remember the feeling of growing fear and great stress.  Then all was better.  I was calm.  For I had made a decision.  I would murder Deadly Earnest.  I would remove him from the world, and all would be better.  I felt relieved, and sleep soon followed, the long, deep sleep of the innocent.

No wonder that (some) years later, I readily fell into the thrall of the vampire hunter.

*Perhaps I had been frightened and he had tried to reassure me at the time that he was only on TV, that he could not get out, he was just on that show, and yet there he was TALKING TO OTHER PEOPLE AND THEY WERE TALKING TO HIM

Here he is, the unscariest thing you will ever see.  But then, I understand there are even people who like clowns.

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Things I like: the end of the world

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2018 at 5:21 am

In my comfortable childhood, how I longed for nuclear war(1).  My friends and I, we were prepared.  We didn’t have a bomb shelter, but we would make one in “The Darkies” (2) at fairly short notice.  We didn’t have supplies, but we knew where to get them, at the very last minute.  I convinced my mother to buy me “The Nuclear Survival Handbook” for Christmas.  I was set.  Far from the main action, we would not do too badly in Australia (I hadn’t read “On The Beach” at that stage).

What was the attraction?  I do not think that we were drawn to a life of hardship – die Hitler Jugend would not have found many willing recruits where I lived. (In primary school there had been a boy who wore lederhosen.  His name was Peter the German kid.  We could tell by his pants.  Apparently he could not be beaten in a fight, and so I was distraught when I heard that my little brother was in the wash sheds having a fight with him.  Turned out his invincibility was overrated.  Turned out too that he was Czech, and his family were some kind of refugees from behind the Iron Curtain.  Don’t press me on the details.)  A bit of it was the same attraction of gnosticism and cults – we know what is going to happen, and only we will be able to deal with it, with our insider knowledge.  Most of it was movies.  Adventure!  No authority!  We would be in charge of the crumbling ruins.  We even knew what to do if Russia invaded.  You just had to kill one soldier, then you had his gun, and could use that to kill a bunch of other soldiers, until they were all beaten and you had all the guns.  Hey, they won’t shoot us first, we’re just kids.

This was all stuffed by nuclear winter.  Instead of fighting psychic mutants and talking apes and riding on a horse with bikini clad Nova, at best we’d be wearing rags and pushing  a shopping cart through the Rockies and avoiding sand-shoed cannibal armies.  Not fun at all.  I went to university and attended Hiroshima Day marches and stopped nuclear war.(3)

 

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Things I like: Here

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2018 at 4:44 am

I feel a great sense of gratitude that the great conspiracy that is life and the universe unfolded in a way this week that I was able to see David Byrne perform in concert in Sydney. I saw Talking Heads perform at Narara ’84 as part of the Stop Making Sense tour, and it was one of the great performances of my life. Kids, work, money, fatigue, all those things often convince me or lead me not to make the effort to see something or to venture out, but something deep inside told me to book the tickets and go. I won’t pretend that I had been a big follower of Byrne post Talking Heads, so I did not know all of the songs that he would perform. There was a niggling, oh, what if you don’t like them. I joke with my kids that I don’t like / want new things, that there was enough music made before 1990 that they can just stop now. Yet part of my love for Talking Heads was that they kept making new stuff, kept challenging me with their moves and changes. When I buy my concert ticket, I want to know that I am going to enjoy the thing because I already know and enjoy the songs. Part of the endless circle of thoughts going round and round. Well, for once, those thoughts were quietened. The inner chatter was stilled. The concert opened with a song that I did not know, and it blew me away. Byrne alone with a brain in his hand. Through the first four songs – Here, Lazy, (neither of which were familiar to me) I, Zimbra, and Slippery People, tears of happiness ran down my face. I can’t do reviews, but I will share that feeling with you. It was that good. That was Tuesday evening, and now it is Sunday afternoon, and I am still on a high. The concert, the performance, the untethered band, the energy and dynamism, it blew this old man away. Absolutely loved it. What a great joy. Thank you.

 

Things I like: Death

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2018 at 4:28 am

“You will be free; you will die and be reborn. I will guide you to what you want, and to what is fit and proper for you. Tell me what it is.”

“You don’t want me to kill the others …”.

The Intercessor inclined his head in a nod. “It is for each of them to decide. You may decide only for yourself.”

“I’d like to be a desert plant,” Seth Morley said. “That could see the sun all day. I want to be growing. Perhaps a cactus on some warm world. Where no one will bother me.”

“Agree.”

“And sleep,” Seth Morley said. “I want to be asleep but still aware of the sun and of myself.”

“That is the way with plants,” the Intercessor said. “They sleep. And yet they know themselves to exist. Very well.”

He held out his hand to Seth Morley. “Come along.”

Reaching, Seth Morley touched the Intercessor’s extended hand. Strong fingers closed around his own hand. He felt happy. He had never before been so glad.

“You will live and sleep for a thousand years,” the Intercessor said, and guided him away from where he stood, into the stars.

 

A Maze of Death, Philip K Dick

Real Dirt

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2018 at 6:57 am

Following on from the last instalment, I am moving books around because if you move them from one spot to another quickly enough, you can magically make space for other books. In my hands I have a book I enjoyed, Real Dirt by James Woodford. James is / was a journalist and writer on environmental issues, and the book is about how he left the rat race, set up an eco-friendly home in the rural south coast area of NSW, made and re-made a family, pissed off some local farmers, killed chickens deliberately and a beloved dog accidentally, and regenerated damaged land. I read it. I would also just hold it from time to time, hoping to introduce some change into my life by osmosis.

It was published in 2008. A few years after, I saw some blog posts indicating Mr Woodford had moved to Queensland for a warmer rural existence. There isn’t much after 2011 from him, and I can’t find anything after 2014.

Mr Woodford, I hope that you are alive and well. I hoped that your story after Real Dirt would be eventful but happy, and I had looked forward to a follow up volume. However, I am a little afraid to ask any more.

(4 posts in 2 days. Can you tell that I set aside some time to work on my novel? Hmmm …)

Hutchinson’s Europe continues to expand …

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2018 at 2:41 am

Europe at Dawn

Just came across the latest / last volume of Dave Hutchinson’s “Fractured Europe sequence” – well, that’s how they describe it on The Book Depository, where it is available for pre-order. The timing is perfect – a big chunk of my book collection returns home on Wednesday, including the previous volumes of this series, so I will get to re-read them before the latest / last volume arrives in the post, I hope.

As I say, I don’t do reviews, so here is the link to my comments about the first two volumes of the series.

 

 

 

 

John Purcell on books

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2018 at 1:06 am

This from the SMH last weekend (the Saturday SMH is the only newspaper I buy anymore, for the occasional nugget like this, but their review section is becoming so dire I may give up on newspapers altogether):

“My memory bank is not my brain: its my book collection. I can’t do without it. When I had my books in packaging for six months, I got dumber. I wasn’t running up against them, I wasn’t exposed to them, I forgot things. As soon as I saw them on the shelf I remembered them; it comes flooding back and I will often go to my collection and hold them.”

John Purcell, director of books (what a title) at Booktopia. SMH 6/10/18 p28

Not precisely accurate, but it rings so true. A chunk of my personal collection is about to arrive home, and I have been making space for it afresh, ready for my old friends to be reunited with each other, and with me.

I am extremely privileged that I grew up a two minute walk from a public library. I read so many of the books there. My life would have been far poorer for its absence, and even these decades removed, would have remained irreparably impoverished. But when I started to earn money, I started to buy books, and have never stopped. I maintain, despite my culture (my words are chosen carefully here), that it is a vice superior to tobacco and alcohol. The public library, a very important institution, will never be my own collection, my own cultivated “set”. My books reflect me, the times I have lived through, my changing tastes and interests, my growth, my passions, my follies. Though I have in (very) recent years learned to part with books, I will never have the ruthless instinct required of the public librarian, to shed and dispose.

It is now possible for me to sometimes walk out of a book store without a purchase tucked under my arm. This is a new stage of development, and a welcome one for my wife, who has after some decades decreed an absolute limit on bookshelf space in our home. But I cannot promise my wife (a librarian!) that under cover of darkness, while the house sleeps, that I won’t creep online. Having snuck onto the internet, I confess there is the chance that I may enter into my browser the names of the very titles I lingered over that afternoon in the shop, that I so unwillingly replaced onto the shelves. And perhaps a week or two later, a brown cardboard parcel will arrive, and if I don’t get to the letterbox first, eyebrows will be raised. It is a testament to the ability of the human mind to hold onto vast inconsistencies in thought and behaviour that I am able to continue to wander the world, somehow convinced that my virtue is intact.

First Man

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2018 at 3:30 am

My review of the Apollo / Neil Armstrong biopic is that it is bloody brilliant and you should run out and see it. There you go.

I am about as young as you can be and remember the first lunar landing. I recall where I was – climbing on the back paling fence at home. Miss Rosemary had not been on TV that morning, and I lived in hope that the delayed morning cartoons would be shown after the landing thing was over. They were not. My ambivalence was understandable given the importance of morning cartoons, but was not reflected in the rest of my life – I had a preference for books about space exploration, and astronaut related clothing (I mean t-shirts, though I am pretty sure I would not have minded my own space suit).

I decided early on I was going to be a scientist (that never worked out), and that space travel would be part of my future (hmm). However, they were not the important bits. The real stuff was an inner life built around an unarticulated poetry of disparate parts; of images and stray unattached emotions. I suppose any childhood is built around such things, as everything slowly comes together and we make sense of the world around us. A lot of those parts returned to me from the depths as I watched First Man. The opening sequence of Armstrong’s face quivering from gravitational force as his jet shuddered about him on an early voyage to the edge of space was, for me, almost as powerful as the (real) start of Saving Private Ryan (not the goofy sentimental prologue with the old fellow staggering about the cemetery – the Normandy landing). I had not expected the strength of my reaction, sitting bolt upright, fear climbing my spine. I (almost) felt the vertigo, the terror of the void, the desperation as the altimeter started to climb again, even though I knew it would be alright, even though I have known for over 49 years that Neil Armstrong is the first man on the moon. My wife’s reaction at the various shuddery parts was fair enough: ok, I get the point, it was very dangerous many times. Me, I did not wish one minute of it away. And I was left with a feeling of gratitude – not for that stoic generation nor for the sacrifices, that is tucked away in a more complicated part of myself. No, watching the film I was grateful to have just a little feeling of what it must have been like, a tiny idea of what it is to stand on the surface of another world. I have lived with the moon landing and the idea of space travel all my life. I don’t read much about Apollo, like I do about other historical events, but somehow it is part of me. I will never get to travel into outer space, and I am fine with that. But the film makers gave me the tiniest sense of what it might be like, and the sounds and images gelled with some of the flotsam / jetsam of my sub/un/conscious, so that I was lifted out of myself, and reminded of the awe and wonder that attached to so many things in my childhood. And I don’t think I can really ask for more than that, for the price of a cinema ticket.

My story, This Neil Armstrong is not dead, reflects part of my childhood preoccupation. The conversations with my father and grandfather are based on my memories. It is as close as I can come to poetry about this, or probably about anything.

Me me me me me me me me me

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2018 at 9:43 am

I have strong views about many, many things. I do not express them here. But I do speak a little bit about vampire novels and perfectionism and being true to one’s self in writing even if that means you write weird little stories about a man recovering from living in a lizard, or the unknown true story of Lawrence of Arabia, or why Grandma has strange rituals about opening up her car, over here in an interview with the very kind folk at Breach magazine.  It is the most fascinating thing you will read about me all year (unless of course I get my rocket car to work very soon, then you should read about that instead).

Baby, cold outside

In Uncategorized on September 27, 2018 at 10:05 am

Dear Reader, the latest edition of BREACH magazine, featuring Australian and New Zealand writers, is available for your reading pleasure. The former group includes yours truly, with my contribution being a weird tale, “Baby, cold outside”. If you are cold outside, what do you want more than anything, baby?

I wrote the first draft of this story last year, during breaks on a work conference to Krakow. The next day, we travelled to Auschwitz. The story is not about the Holocaust or Nazis, but perhaps it was informed by the strange mood I was in.

Breach #8 is available for $2 USD here and here.

Breach #08