It seems like every minute of every hour of every day we are keeping this running inventory—this is good, that's bad, she's nice, this is crap. This Rabbit Hole gives pause and pen to that process.
My ex was doing this project. She asked a bunch of people to send her photos of things they think represent 'everything right with the world and everything that's wrong.'
She asked me to do it too, and I was at a bit of a loss for what to do at first. I thought about things like homelessness and racism in Australia, but I couldn't think how to capture those things. In the end, I found a few pics I'd already taken that I thought might fit, and then took a few more. I picked four and decided to write about them. It was a pretty fun writing exercise if you're looking for one.
1. Everything right — “Old people’s homes”
I know it sounds ridiculous to think of old people’s homes as something right with the world, but for me the one pictured is.
My friend’s mum has Alzheimer’s—in fact, three of my friend’s parents do. It’s such an awful thing to face, and even harder for their families to try and figure out how to deal with and manage the illness as it progresses.
Alzheimer’s is such a sh*tty thing to have: you stay you—the world you carry around inside of you remains the same—but outside, everything keeps changing on you all the time when you're not looking and without explanation.
The photo is of my friend’s mum on her eightieth birthday at the residential home where she now lives. She and her family invited all her close friends and their close friends to come to her party.
The woman in the tie-dyed-looking dress is the home’s director. She played host all night, chatting and joking with all the residents and guests. She served food and made sure everyone had something to drink. It was like going to someone’s house. My friend’s mum knew her and loved her and had a hell of a time.
I think it might be the best birthday I’ve ever been to.
2. Everything wrong — “Smoking”
I took this picture five years ago. It was meant to be symbolic, a memento, my last cigarette.
I wrote in my diary that day:
Today is the day that I’m going to smoke my last cigarette.
Smoking is gross. My mouth feels horrible—spiky in places, chemical and rough. It makes my throat feel sore, like I’m almost about to catch the flu, but never quite catch it. I cough now and again, and feel feverish at times too. My lungs feel sore. I can feel how shallow breathing has become, and sometimes, after chain-smoking, I think I feel what an asthma sufferer must feel when they’re hungry for oxygen.
The smoke itself is this wafting, sweet sickness that reminds me of old people. God, other people have to smell this while I'm oblivious! There's no smoking in secret because the smell pervades everything. I feel embarrassed by my habit.
Then there are those moments of panic when I run out of cigarettes…
I didn’t like smoking at first, but over time I taught myself to like it. I had to practise. I started around 1990. It’s been twenty-four years now and I’ve struggled with quitting the whole time.
A cigarette is a perfect expression of capitalism. It’s cheap to make and serves no other purpose than its own consumption. It’s addictive with no real high except the momentary feeling of gratification that is, in fact, just another short deferment of withdrawal that will inevitably lead you back to the next cigarette, and the next, and the next. Consumption creates demand, making an awful lot of money for a few big corporations with little sense of responsibility towards their customers, which brings me back to what I asked myself back in 2009.
Why have I smoked for so long? What is beyond this simple, anxious economy?
3. Everything right —“Free front yard lemons!”
There are a few houses on my street, at least three I can think of, that put out lemons and oranges for people to take as they pass by. It’s so great on the way back from the shops to grab a lemon or two to take home for dinner.
We have olive trees in our backyard. Once a couple of old Italian men and a woman came knocking at our door to ask if they could pick them. A month or two later they left a big jar of olives for us on the doorstep.
4. Everything wrong — “Tagging” (this is why we can’t have nice things)
Tagging bugs me. Graffitti is fine—it's art. But tagging is something different.
To me, it serves no purpose. It’s just someone’s self-chosen nickname written in texta, usually on someone's property, or on stuff we all share.
I see it everywhere. Here are two particularly crappy examples. With the telephone booth, someone spent ages scratching their name into the glass. They do it on buses too.Tagging makes the city look shitty. It prematurely ages things—makes them appear worn, beyond use, and unloved.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want some clean, utopian paradise. Peeling gig posters, stencilling and graffiti are totally fine with me. They’re evidence of someone doing something creative—an impulse to communicate something, or leave behind a trace of ourselves on the spaces we inhabit. But, tagging, to me, communicates nothing. All it says is, ‘I was here! This is mine! I've ruined it now.’
I think about my own fumbling attempts to make things. When I finish, I stand back and think, ‘Yeah, it’s ok. It’s not great, but I made it and it didn’t exist before I thought of doing it, so it has value whatever it is.’
But I wonder what people who tag think. Do they get the same feeling? Do they feel a little buzz of accomplishment? Or do they think, ‘Take that society!!’? I’m sure they don’t think, ‘Wow! Cool! I’ve made the world just that little bit more crappier.’ But maybe there’s other reasons for doing it—reasons I don’t get.
I have a recurring fantasy that one day I’ll catch a tagger in the act. I photograph him and ask why the f*ck he’s doing that and why shouldn’t I give the picture to the police. (I say 'him' because I presume they’re mostly young males.) I tell him to go to art school. I’ll pay if he can’t afford it.
But maybe he doesn’t want to go to art school. Maybe he doesn’t want that at all.
I guess I don’t like tagging because when I see it my reaction to it makes me feel conservative. I see it and think, ‘Someone get this little sh*t a brush, or something to sculpt with! Get him to a university!’
Between free front yard lemons and tagging, between my friend's mum's party and my anti-social smoking habit—maybe I do wish for a utopian society after all.
[Update: Since I wrote this I've given up smoking and I don't feel like going back to it. Hur-f*ckin-ray.]