Anthony Graham

by Horror Sleaze Trash on January 30, 2012

Anthony Graham has written for various publications and websites you’ve never heard of. A renaissance man, capable of changing a head gasket and his mind, he’s made short films, played in bands and had an art exhibition; but writing is his true, and currently only, mistress. He lives in Melbourne and he doesn’t know much, but he knows he loves you.

Life Between Drinks (1)

“He looked at the pieces of silver… the insignificant results which reward the ambitious courage and toil of mankind whose day is short on this earth of evil.” – Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

I dream about answers. About one concrete, correct thought that I could possibly stand on and then leap off. But even in dreams I’m held down. The trick of consciousness is to give us self-awareness but only up to point; after that it becomes self-deception.

The alarm goes off and I drag myself upright.

A sliver of sunlight pierces the room from the tiny slit between blind and window frame and, from this particular angle, illuminates the thousand pieces of floating nothing moving in and out of this small, momentarily revealed space.

I can discern no pattern or design to their movement. No direction they’re going and no clue about why or from where they could have originated. They’re just there, each tiny, weightless particle, blowing on the small, temporary ripple of disruption in atmosphere my stirring has caused, existing only in this thin shaft of light, only as my eye catches them at the right angle, at the right time.

Conrad was right about one thing; there is something arbitrary about this life.

Still, some days are harder than others.

I pull the covers back over my head and am thankful for the darkness.

Life Between Drinks (2)

Waking is the easy part.

The first strands of sunlight complete their improbable journey to my skin as a building I have passed hundreds of times before reveals itself from a new angle, in a new light. Seven colours appear streaked and bent across the sky, the entire visible spectrum of the physical universe. I am reminded again of the absurdity of this Goldilocks’ porridge Earth. Looking over my shoulder for no one in particular, I board the tram, alone with everyone else.

Looking into the blank faces of the middle nothing, it’s hard to see anything redeemable about what we do when we’ve chosen to reward dishonesty, self-absorption, vacuousness and ignorance. Politesse only goes so far, only lasts so long. Most of the time I don’t speak because I know how the conversations will go.

We must also be capable of some other things, for we are nothing if not inconsistent. We must occasionally, and most likely quite accidently, get it right. If I squint, I can just make out the faint outlines of something worthwhile: Tenderness?

I swing left and right from the handrail, between bottomless empathy and complete contempt. The key, I remind myself, is not necessarily not caring, but applying the same level of care to all things. Like water, I will eventually make my way.

Two girls stand next to me, chirpy and shower-fresh. My eyes involuntarily check them over and part of me wants to fuck them. Vibrant and promising, all potential and no follow-through, they are the opposite of death; they are growing. Part of me wants to tear them down. Innocence is no cure. Youth is another false prophet. For what courage is there without fear?

Nature has no rules and makes no mistakes. The distractions we talk ourselves into become ingrained and evolution follows as blindly as it should. People have kids because offspring, the promise of legacy, is the only way to make the graft worth something. The meaning of life has folded back in on itself; meaning is sought via its continuation as its continuation has failed to reveal any meaning. Darwin was better than we give him credit for.

Science cannot offer us certainty either, only progressive likelihoods. Objectivity is an equally unreachable replacement for God. There are no footholds that aren’t already stuck into something else. Every philosophy or religion we have is reactionary. The cleansing clarity of existentialism sets it apart but it remains, essentially, an intellectual tool for pain aversion. Anything can be learned until it becomes intuitive. But at some point it becomes self-aggrandizing.

There’s an old man, shrivelled and hunched, sharking for a seat. He was once young, only that much is certain. Meaning vanishes and the truth, or lack thereof, becomes apparent; we’re all on the same conveyor belt. The body has a thousand ways to betray you. There can be no other way. Life is underachievement. Life is procrastination. This is the beginning of futility. I step up and pull the cord.

The difference between acceptance and apathy becomes academic. My action is inaction. My effort is effortless. By standing still, relative to the river, the fisherman is still moving against the current.

I cross the road. In a car stopped at the lights a girl sits in the passenger seat with her bare feet on the dash. She smiles and wiggles her toes at me and for a brief moment, somewhere between simple and serene, I am untouchable.

Life Between Drinks (3)

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus, The Stranger.

Sitting there alone, in God’s greatest paradise, whatever I wanted within my reach, it still wasn’t enough.

We are actors without a script. Awe and the faint feeling of a broken promise are my motivation today. Tomorrow it will be something else. Indifference has given way to variance. Which may give way to indifference. And that’s ok. But it doesn’t sell sneakers.

I half-paddle half-float in the ocean as the sun moves higher and begins to bear down. I like not knowing what is under me; I like letting the water wash past me and then rush back, constantly correcting itself against an unknown rival. On my back, with my ears below the surface, is as close to stillness as I’ve found. Lethargy and hedonism unconvincingly disguised as Zen: Whatever I am doing, I have nothing better to do.

The first thing we truly learn about love is that it hurts to lose it. When you have been cracked open, the brain and heart get frozen in place; the realization that no means are available, nor ever will be available, to right the situation cripples in ways that don’t become clear until later. Once is enough, you say. Instinct tells you to pack whatever is left as tightly as possible and lock it away, never again to be exposed to the unfathomable. Thoreau seemed closest: Respect only that which is inevitable.

Breakfast is an omelette and fruit and too sweet coffee and a cigarette that turns into two cigarettes that turns into mildly refrigerated beer that never quite has the foil around the top fully removed. For a short moment, time passes as comfortably as it ever has. I am, and will remain, thankful for some things.

The previous night I had dreamed I was in love with a Mexican girl; the kind of love that you walk over broken glass for. That beginning, that first feeling, is the only one worth anything. She stared at me like I was a magic eye picture, waiting for the surface to dissolve and for some hidden meaning to emerge. I woke up and the girl was gone and there seemed nothing to do but to lie back down. After a while, even bitterness tastes wrong.

Two 60 year-old women with surgical facemasks and motorbike helmets deliver bottled water and Marlboro lites while people ready digital cameras to take photos they’ll never look at again of people they’ll never see again. I watch an insect land nearby and think of the cicada, which spends 17 years of its life underground, readying itself for just six weeks of life on the surface. When the time comes, it leaves its hardened outer shell behind and flies, seeing the brilliant sun and tasting fresh air for the first time. The 17 years of crawling through the dark must seem like a forgotten nightmare; the six weeks of awakening like the sweetest dream. The masked women depart on 150cc steeds and wireless Internet continues to operate in a jungle.

There is a specific type of madness that afflicts us. We are so desperate for meaning in our blink-of-an-eye existence that we cling to the meaningless. Evolution, like love, is no longer blind. It is not survival of the fittest, but who can make the best rationalization, who is the most believable, the most gullible. We’ve gone from killing natives to making celebrities of people with big asses and called it progress.

The bottom of everything isn’t there. Science explains procedure, not policy. Clear your head of the blinking lights, eat a full breakfast and know that the extraordinary, the mundane, success, failure, love and the loss of love are all fruits of the same tree.

I return to the ocean, floating on my back, ears under the surface. I watch the sun, now low in the other side of the sky, smug with the knowledge that the sun isn’t moving at all, I am.

Life Between Drinks (4)

“My heart’s in the strangest place and that’s how it started”
– The Walkmen, In the New Year

The cutest girl I’ve met in four and half years is about to order wine for her and her disapproving friend. She moves towards the bar, towards me. She is all smooth skin, lean limbs and wild hair, a eucalypt in the wind. She says my name and I say hers.

I wonder why she wears her hair that way, why men have chosen short hair and women, long. She laughs about something. I try to picture the people in her life, if they make her laugh, if she’s happy. I know very little about her and can’t imagine that changing, that process ever fully happening again: Whatever we are is what we have chosen to be. But we can’t truly be that because the option is always available to be something else. Outside, the rain falters and three inches of white paint separate the living from the dead.

Around us the race to separate from consciousness, to escape ourselves, goes on. Like a drunk, existence stumbles from one moment to another, appearing from nowhere and heading nowhere. Everything seems so trivial. Everyone seems so ridiculous, chasing the smallest pleasures. It could all be so different.

The years disappear as quickly as a dream. Everything rushes past so rapidly yet change is so slow as to be unnoticeable. History counts by its complicity. So much has already passed, so many things already gone. The older you get the further away you get from formative experience until you’re far enough away to see that there won’t be any more.

It will all disappear and you will wonder what it was all for, how much easier it should have been, how much easier you could have made it. It will slide away slowly at first, frailty, senility, form losing function, and then it will pass instantly, painlessly. Consciousness will no longer be around to feel, to know, to register that anything was ever any different. This is coming for all of us, the pinnacle of time, the climax of existence, the transition from being to nothingness.

She takes her drink and moves away. The mirror behind the bar sends back a smudged facsimile, a weathered shell that no longer resembles the one in my head. The problem with beauty is that it’s always irreplaceable. Unable to think of another option, I continue to polish my heart with gin and cigarettes.

Disappearing into the flesh seems the thing to do. To give up my soul as best I can. If not to forget, then at least to be so present as to be unaware; if not for acceptance, then for the familiarity that comes when there’s nothing left to protect; if not in the hope of love, then for something that can temporarily resemble love. I will fuck my way out of this.

Once you figure out how the trick works, however, you’re left with a series of rehearsed conventions and mechanical performance; the hideous buttons and levers of a flesh that is decomposing day by day, sliding us surely towards death. Halfway between arousal and aversion, the only thing that vanishes is the magic itself.

I can’t speak. There is so much pretence, so much naivety, that I have no idea what anything really is. Dignity seems counter to humanity. I wonder why the heart beats at all.

The night is still and the sky settles on a colour I’ve never seen before. Fallen leaves cover the footprints that are now behind me, mapped in my head, and the asphalt, painted by rain, courses relentlessly through the city like a river.

The smell of a lemon tree triggers a memory and the mind casts back to some other time, something more complete. But that place doesn’t exist anymore and discipline must be maintained. As someone I don’t quite know put it, “the only thing that matters is now and now and now and now. Every moment now. That way the sadness can’t catch you.” Ten years is a long time to give to someone; 27 are far too few to be given. In the end, each life is irreducible to anything other than itself. In the darkness, powerlines follow me home and dual lane bypasses politely arrange themselves out of my way. I am reminded again that we are majestically alone.

On my side of the bed, I patiently wait for consciousness to give over to the passenger side. I think about oceans and their unimaginable creatures, of the elegant perfection of the metric system, about the impossibility of space and its cold, absent stars sending us their long extinguished light.

I think about the people I have lost, about the people I will lose and the countdown we all face in this life that is given to us for nothing. Sleep comes and I am finally able to rest my quiet heart, so full it is ready to burst at the seams.

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