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"You've Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad" is now available on Amazon. Childhood angst, marathon swimming, international exploitation and the threat of impending pinniped intimacy. on 2014-08-13
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Posted February 3, 2014
  Posted by in Uncategorized

It wasn’t really a novel. It was 25000 words or thereabouts. Still, an impressive word per day rate.

The 1988 Adelaide Festival Fringe had a three-day novel-writing contest. You entered, then wrote your novel on a long weekend and posted your manuscript to Landin Press. There, some poor soul read as much as they were able and picked a winner.

The winner that year was Up to your arse in alligators, a rather amusing terrorist farce written by Margo James.

Here’s a section of my effort. I have to say that Up to your arse in alligators was a worthy winner.

The main protegonist, Mike (a guitarist in a mediocre Adelaide band) is borrowing a bike from Warren (self-styled suburban intellectual).

“Warren?”

“Yes?”

“Why do you talk like that?”

“Talk like what, exactly?”

“You know how you talk. I know it’s a personal question and you don’t have to answer it or anything, but I’d like to know.”

“Why this sudden interest in my mode of speech?”

“Well, it’s something I’ve always wondered about. I guess you didn’t always talk that way but I remember when I was a kid and you seemed a lot older than me and you started using longer and longer words. I guess that was when you met some new people, or something.”

“Yes, I do remember. It was a conscious decision to adopt a mode of speech which imitated the classes to which I aspired.”

“Yeah, I think I know what you mean. Look, I’m about to meet a whole bunch of art students that are friends of a girl I just started seeing. What they say is going to be weirder than what you say.”

“Well… yes. I would say that the reason I speak as I do is similar to the reason that resulted in you playing in a rock music band.”

“What?”

“Well, it’s all a matter of approval. In our society, ‘survival of the fittest’ has another meaning. It is no longer necessary to be physically fit to survive. Paraplegics, people with spina bifida, the mentally and physically handicapped, babies with circulatory abnormalities… medical, surgical and technological advances have ensured that they all survive. Now the quality of survival is assessed with reference to entirely different criteria. These pertain to the ability to survive and advance within society.

It is one’s self-concept which dictates how one will be able to relate to other members of the species – one must have approval. Altruism and generosity: these are null concepts. The reason behind a person being altruistic or generous is that he will thereby gain approval – this is the cause of what we call being noble and self-sacrificing. Man is not a noble animal – it is simply that the prime causative factor for behaviour is the improvement of the ego by soliciting approval in various ways that are being constantly tested by experiment.

This is obviously a mere summary of the mechanism. Yet any positive action can be traced to this common motivation. Of course, everyone’s target audience is different. For example, some people require that their lives have some meaning and adopt a previously invented god and generate their behaviours according to the tenets of a religion. In this way, they can withstand negative reactions by much of the populace. The taunts of the ephemerals are as nought compared to the forthcoming divine reward. In this way, martyrdom is born.”

“Er… yeah. I’m struggling a bit here. Remember I wasn’t too good in Matric.”

“Yes, dear boy, but I credit you with a good deal of intelligence. I have faith in our genetic make-up, though not your eye make-up from my memory of the one occasion I was subjected to your group’s performance.”

“Thank you.”

“Yes, well. Obviously, you are part of my target audience. I think a person will always feel the need to seek approval from that initial influence – one’s family. In fact, the first tactics one learns in the battle for the enlarged ego are learned from the family. One finds out which deeds will elicit praise. We discover which will bring attention and surface disapproval but we all recognise sympathy for the underdog, the grudging respect given to the David, who by underhand tactics, brings about the demise of a mighty Goliath. And so we learn to be naughty. We learn to do what we can get away with. We learn not to tell tales. We learn not to boast even when we desperately want recognition for our deeds. And we learn ways to make our deeds know without us directly conveying the information to our target audiences.

Then come the friends. And more – we are sent to school. The influences widen. The teacher is a substitute parent. We must accept products of different families with different values. We are faced with behaviours, hitherto unacceptable, but now blatantly exhibited by others. We inform authority of these but are met with disapproval. We try these behaviours and receive more disapproval. We are puzzled. We are told to be ourselves – a manifestly ridiculous instruction as the self is the sum of our perceptions of our experiences in gaining approval from those from whom we require approval.

So every new experience in life threatens us. The threat is disapproval, especially from those we know and respect, but also, somehow, from that waiter who smirks at your pronunciation of Italian menu items.

We can analyse any person and discover the influences that formes their personalities. It may be easier with the aged who are said to become set in their ways. This is because they have collected such vast experience in the behaviours that deliver the required approval that they scarcely seek feedback as any new information is as nothing when compared with their vast archives of previously acquired knowledge.

As one example in millions, let us consider a caretaker I saw recently at a youth camp. He would seize upon any violation of camp protocol and berate the hapless miscreant mercilessly. This individual was not a man of great education or standing in the community, but he gained his approval by visualising others seeing him as firmly in charge. Every time some poor youth disobeyed the rules, that child would instantly know that this man Knew What He Was Doing.”

“Yeah, I’ve met them.”

“Well… in my case, I went to school and reacted to the influences as does everyone. I resented being asked continually what one called ‘a bloke with fourteen rabbits up his bum’. Naturally, I avoided these individuals as I could not retort with insults which they found sufficiently cutting. Crudity did not come easily because of my family influences.

I socialised with the types who also avoided the insulters. I found them in the library and gained my approval from success in scholastic endeavours. In high school, I joined the chess club. With these people, longer words brought approval. An accent such as this followed naturally.

I went to university and received a shock. There was no more obvious and direct teacher approval. The impersonal nature of the lecture hall did not allow close relationships with professors, and in tutorials I was rather slow to communicate my points. Scholarly achievement no longer brought the rewards I had come to crave.

So… well, I entered the public service. I can now do a job where, to be frank, I can impress people with my learning and my command of words. I would imagine that you are in a band because at school, those to whom you gravitated socially valued rock musicians to the extent of having them as social heroes.”

“Yeah… I guess so. Everyone had pictures of pop stars on their books and band names on their schoolbags.”

“You have been fortunate in realising, at least partially, the ambition to gain approval by this method. Yet, perhaps your success in this venture has not forced you to seek the necessary kudos elsewhere and make a financial success of yourself.”

“You’ve seen our parents recently?”

“Yes. They are concerned about you, dear boy.”

“Yeah. Still unemployed and collecting a tiny, untaxed income.”

“And your social security cheques.”

“And my social security cheques.”

“Well, I envy you in some ways. You have achieved a reasonable standing in what I formerly considered to be mainstream culture.”

“Er… thanks. Look, why don’t you publish this philosophy of yours?”

“Ah… I have the results of eighteen months of research on my study desk.”

“Great. When will you finish it?”

“I am not at all sure that I dare.”

“Why? I don’t get it.”

“It’s like this. I have a comfortable lifestyle with a position in which I am valued. People consult me about everyday problems. In my own way I am a leader. People know that I am writing this amazing philosophy.”

“Yes. So do I and I’d like to read it.”

“You may never do so. You see, to complete a work such as this, I would need to perceive sufficient approval to be forthcoming as a result of publication. But I do not. In order to complete the manuscript, I would be taking a risk. The evidence would be there in black and white for trained specialists to examine and dispute. I can speak impressively but I am not good at fielding the types of questions which would undoubtedly be flung. I may lose approval. People would not wish to recognise themselves in my examples. Cultured people do not wish to know that the only reason they do not pick their noses in public is that they fear disapproval.

So when I have my holidays, I become enthusiastic and sit at my desk with blank pages and sharpened pencils, but when I come to place my life’s work on paper, I see the experts picking at every sentence as I think it.”

“Oh… Have you heard of anything like your ideas before?”

“Oh certainly, dear boy. It’s officially termed ‘egoism’ and many writers have skirted quite convincingly around it, damning it as a theory with some good points, but… The problem is, nobody really wants to know their true motives. Denouncing the courage of soldiers or the compassion of Mother Teresa as approval-seeking behaviour is rather worse than burning the Stars and Stripes on Capitol Hill.”

“I see what you mean.”

“”Well now… About your artist and her threatening friends.”

“Yes…?”

“I cannot furnish you with any advice which is guaranteed to work. If you are exceedingly adept and able to interpret feedback immediately, as I cannot, you may use the Theory to your advantage.”

“What’s the Theory?”

“It is my concise appellation for that system of socialisation which I have briefly described.”

“What do you mean, I could use it?”

“Very well, let us consider your alternatives. Where is the meeting with these individuals to take place?”

“Ah… in a theatre… it’s a dance thing… production. I don’t know what the theatre’s called.”

“Well, you could go as you are, with no formal preparation. Or you could attempt to learn as much as possible about some field of art or a similar esoteric topic in order to convince them that you are well versed in some abstruse technique. I doubt that this would achieve any success.”

“Yeah. Michelle knows I don’t know a lot about art.”

“Michelle. A good private-school name.”

“Yeah.”

“What may work is a means of finding some way of giving them approval that has some meaning to them. Now, in order to achieve this, you will initially need to project an image that will convince them, for the purpose of a first impression, that it is worth their while trying to gain your respect. If you can do this, they will talk about themselves ad nauseam, enabling you to shield the dreadfully mundane truth about yourself.”

“Yeah, but what am I supposed to do? Stalk down the stairs in an ermine gown with my fifth husband in tow?”

“Dear boy, that is entirely up to you. I have no idea of your capabilities in such a role. I would suggest something in the way of participation in a rock music band.”

“But Michelle knows that my band’s nothing special. She saw us play on Friday night.”

“Well Michael, you are on your own.”

“Can I borrow your bike now?”

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Posted December 2, 2013
  Posted by in Uncategorized

fish1

65 Blame

“Krechter!” Ulyanov loomed at the end of the corridor. “Krechter, it’s all your fault.” Nic froze as Ulyanov strode towards him behind the barrel of an accusing finger. “You’ll have to answer for this.” The finger came to a halt before Nic’s nose. “Tell me what you’re going to do about it.” He sat down in front of Nic’s desk and waited. “Well?”

Nic had no idea what to say. “What’s my fault?”

Improbably, Ulyanov grinned. “You’ve got to lose this naivety, Krechter.” He threw back his head and roared, “Coffee!” He looked at Nic again. “The Press has identified you. You’ve been seen to be in charge. You’ve had your photo in the paper directing things. Did you see anyone else taking responsibility?”

“No.” Nic remembered his frustration when he had tried to find people to do something. “I had the impression that everyone was hiding.”

There was a knock at the door and a moustached face peered in. “Two!” boomed Ulyanov. The face disappeared. “Of course they were hiding.” Ulyanov made eloquent movements of his arms and shoulders. “If you don’t hide, people see you.”

“But I thought…” Nic shut up.

“It’s up to you now,” said Ulyanov, shaking his great head. “It’s a disaster but you might have made a brilliant career move. What made you throw yourself to the sharks like that?” He chuckled in a half-admiring way.

“Sharks? As soon as the earthquake struck, I came into the Ministry. No-one was here so…”

“…so you just took charge.” Ulyanov frowned. “We’ll have to smooth out your story a bit. Don’t blame anyone directly. Make it sound like a decisive course of action. Have you given any thought to your press conference?”

The door opened. The moustached man brought in two cups of coffee. “Get Wolker!” Ulyanov ordered. The man nodded and retreated.

“You’ve got two choices,” Ulyanov explained. “You can say it’s not your fault. The Press has already said it is. Or you can admit that it is your fault and take charge completely. It’s brilliant if you can do it. If you get the Press on your side, you eliminate all your competition.” Ulyanov blew on his coffee. “What did you do to the Patrons? How long have you been planning this?”

“The Patrons are on courses.” Nic quoted from a statement he had prepared in case anyone came asking questions about them. “They are working towards aligning their skills with the approaches demanded by the application of information technology.”

Ulyanov snorted. “You have powerful allies, Krechter. Just remember that everyone has friends in unseen places. What you see on the surface of the System only masks the sharks. As you become more powerful, everyone else’s defence systems start concentrating on you. But your timing’s good, I can’t deny that.”

“Timing? After the earthquake, somebody had to do something. If it wasn’t me…”

“It would have been nobody. That’s why this could be a move of genius.” Ulyanov took a sip of coffee. “Or it could be your grand suicide gesture. It all depends on this statement you’re about to make.”

“Mr. Ulyanov,” Nic began. “Do you have any idea what has happened to my girlfriend? And my secretary.” He stared at Ulyanov.

Ulyanov looked away. “Remarkable, the quality of coffee you can get in the middle of an earthquake zone.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Any structural damage to this building? You’ll need to get it checked. You can’t take care of everyone else without making sure you’re in no danger yourself.”

Nic’s thoughts were sucked beneath the surface of Ulyanov’s layers of meaning. He tried to think of something to say that would yield some kind of answer to his question. A small knock announced Wolker’s entrance. He began assembling his customary mound of equipment.

“Now, Krechter. Have you thought about what to say?”

“No,” said Nic.

“Good.” Ulyanov’s expression was fondly indulgent. “You’ll be mouthing your usual generalities, then. That’s probably best in a situation like this. Just remember, if this really is your break for power you’ll need to be forceful. The citizens are wondering where the leadership is. Be it, Krechter.”

“What should I say?”

“That’s up to you.” Wolker arranged a microphone on Nic’s lapel. “At least you’re dressed for it. Nothing triggers panic more than some startled official in pyjamas standing in a spotlight.”

“We’re ready,” said Wolker from behind the camera.

“Should I go into specifics?” Nic flapped helplessly.

“What does it matter? Just sound as if you have a plan.”

“5 – 4 – 3…” Wolker held up two fingers, then one.

“Good morning,” said Nic in a voice deep and authoritative enough to convince him that he could be convincing. “This is a time of great sadness. A disaster such as this is a terrible thing. But we must treat it as a test. When we have passed this test, the System will be ready for new challenges. Our position as the greatest nation can only be strengthened by the experiences that we use to transcend this temporary affliction. We are already finding our way along this arduous and ultimately successful road. We will emerge strong and ready for the future.”

Nic saw Ulyanov giving him a thumbs-up signal, then lean back for more coffee. “This is the time for strong and decisive leadership. The people normally thought to be in charge were absent when leadership was most needed. I must take the blame for this. I wholeheartedly apologise for the outrageous cowardice of your leaders.” Nic heard a spluttering sound. Ulyanov was wiping coffee from his suit jacket. He braced himself for Ulyanov’s blustering interjection. Nothing happened. Nic continued.

“I am now in charge. I am pleased to inform you that medical and transport services are returning to normal. People are in trouble, but we are targeting the worst-hit areas and will deal with all situations according to our master plan. Those citizens who need help most are receiving it as you hear me.”

Nic continued for no more than five minutes. “So I ask you, citizens of our System, put your trust in me. I will guide you through this troubling period in our history into a new era of prosperity. Work together, citizens, for we have not yet seen how great we can be!”

Nic allowed his features to compose themselves into an image of solidity. Wolker waited a few moments then said, “That’s gone out”. Nic looked at Ulyanov. He was gazing at Nic with his mouth open.

“Do we have to do it again?” asked Nic. He remembered the impact of editing on his previous efforts.

Ulyanov shook his head. Wolker was already unplugging things and coiling cables. Ulyanov put his coffee cup carefully down on Nic’s desk.

“Congratulations, Krechter.” Ulyanov began. “That was the most superb piece of blame-taking I have ever witnessed. You are now the Leader.”

Nic recognised Ulyanov’s elaborate irony. “Thank you, sir. All my fault, just as you said.”

“Yes, but…” Ulyanov breathed hard. “I didn’t mean take the blame for everything. You almost claimed responsibility for the earthquake itself! You are now the official cause of everything that goes wrong. You know how slow the System is. There will be people without homes for years. That’s now your fault. There are people still buried under rubble. Who is to blame? You.” A broad smile spread across his face. “Thank you Krechter. I couldn’t have hoped for better.”

“If I was doing such an amazing job of self-destruction,” Nic reasoned, “why didn’t you stop me?”

“Why would I do that?” Ulyanov laughed. “I couldn’t anyway. That went out live to the System and beyond. You’re in charge now. The slate is wiped clean.”

Nic was familiar with this expression. He just did not understand why Ulyanov was using it now.

“They’ve all gone, Krechter.” Ulyanov continued. “All of those moustaches and black suits with chauffeurs and expensive tastes, they’ve disappeared. You can’t blame them now. You’ve taken responsibility. In fact, I can go now.”

“You can?”

“Yes!” Ulyanov leapt to his feet, sending the heavy office chair skidding backwards. “You have freed me.” He whirled around the desk and picked Nic up in a breath-taking bear hug. “Thank you!”

Ulyanov put him down. “I’ll be seeing you, then.” He was like a schoolboy suddenly released into the eternity of summer. “Speaking figuratively, of course.” He made for the door. “Be good to the System, Krechter. I’ve been fond of it.” He turned once more. “Wolker’s all yours now.” Nic heard Ulyanov whistling down the corridor. A door slammed and the sound disappeared.

Nic looked around the office. His eyes came to rest on Wolker, crouching in the middle of the office festooned with gadgets and wires. Wolker’s eyes raised themselves from the floor and met Nic’s for an instant.

“Get to work, Wolker,” said Nic.

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