Goodbye Jack. I will never forget you.

My friend Jack passed away yesterday. I wrote this story about him in 2012. It was the first non-fiction story I ever wrote. It was for a university assessment.

Badly Drawn Boy

The first tattoo I ever saw was on my brother’s ankle.  It was a badly drawn skull and dagger.  I was fascinated by it, and as he got older and sported more tattoos, I became hooked on the indelible ink that tells a story of a life.

Jack and I sit on my verandah.  Florence and the Machine play on the radio in the background and I feel watched like I always do when I’m out here so close to the road. Jack smokes and leans back over the railing to ash his cigarette in a way that looks completely natural, as if he has lived in this house his whole life.  I don’t tell him, but he is the only person I allow to smoke on this verandah.  Everyone else must go down onto the yard, and they are never allowed to drop their butts on the grass.  I make exceptions for Jack.  I don’t tell him where to put his butt.  I find one later in my favourite pot plant, but I don’t hold it against him.

I met Jack at the local pub. We were at a charity auction and my husband introduced us, whispering to me, “he’s the one who blows stuff up and sets the dump on fire,” before wandering off to talk to someone else.  Jack stayed with me, pouring out the details of his escapades.  He showed me the videos on his mobile phone of washing machines and microwaves being hurled skywards, while he and his friends ran laughing to safer ground.  I feel sorry for Jack now that our small country town dump has been fenced off, his own fires and explosions partially to blame.

On the verandah Jack and I eat peanut cookies that are too hard. As he stretches and yawns I notice the tattoo on his arm.  It’s his newest one, but for the moment I am more interested in the one hidden by the leg of his shorts.  It started out as a swastika.

It was around 2.30am New Year’s night and Jack and his mate were as Jack puts it, “pretty fucking blind.”  His mate had a tattoo gun and suggested that they give it a go. He wanted a skull, so Jack got the gear ready and started drawing a skull on his mate’s leg. The drunken drawing ended up rough as guts with no straight lines at all. Ever the smart arse, Jack decided that the tattoo would only be improved if he added his initials, JDG.  His mate was less than impressed when he realised what Jack was writing on his leg, so to avoid a flogging, Jack allowed his mate to apply his own artistic skills to one of his legs. His mate drew a small swastika above the right knee.  The guys thought they were pretty cool and off they went to bed.  The next morning was a different story and Jack felt like a bit of fuckwit when he woke up with a Nazi symbol on his leg.

Jack works for the Gold mine in our little country town.  He drives huge dump trucks, shifting tonnes of ore at a time.  Bored one night shift, he climbed out of the cab, stripped down to his undies and photographed himself hanging off the side of the truck, one hand rubbing a nipple.  He wore sunglasses for disguise, but I’m fairly certain that if the photo ever fell into the wrong hands, the sunglasses wouldn’t be worth much.  The mine boss knows Jack is the only larrikin who would pull that stunt, but I think people in town have a soft spot for Jack, the mine boss included.

Jack yawns and stretches, then takes another cookie.  I don’t think he likes them, I sure as hell don’t, but he’s being polite.  He’s got nice manners and I like having him around.  He’s the only person in town who regularly calls in for a cuppa.  We are always careful to sit outside, because small towns have a way of creating plots where they don’t exist.

Not long after an Indigenous nurse almost spotted the swastika on his leg during a routine medical for the mine, Jack decided it was time to cover it up.  He headed off to a mate’s place in Gaeta, which is the North Burnett’s answer to Nimbin. He didn’t want any more backyard tattoos, but I wonder if the small studio set up at his mate’s house was much different. I think about the overpowering smell of antiseptics that pervades good tattoo parlours and hope that is what Jack experienced as he walked through the door.  Jack wasn’t picky about what he wanted and told his mate to go for his life and draw whatever he liked, just as long as he covered up the swastika. He felt irritated by the constant sharpness of the tattoo needle as it pricked his skin, but it wasn’t really painful.  He thought easily of a dozen things that hurt much worse.  His mate drew and stopped every now and then to re-ink the needle. He wiped away excess ink from Jack’s leg and then started drawing again. The tattoo gun emitted a high pitched buzzing, which added to the irritation of the needle piercing the skin, kind of like a giant mosquito, but the tattooist chatted away and distracted Jack from the irritating sound and sensation.  The tattoo that started out as a swastika finished as a very well-drawn Frankenstein. It looked great and Jack was really happy with it.

I got to see the Frankenstein one night at the pub.  Jack was there with a handful of local lads having a beer. He had his work pants on, so he unzipped, pulled them down to his feet and proudly stood in his undies so I could see his new ink.  I thought it looked really good, but was careful not to appear too enthusiastic in front of the other pub patrons.  Who knows what they made of a married woman staring at a half-naked young man’s upper thigh.  Jack certainly didn’t care.

I watch Jack drag on his cigarette and wonder what he’s thinking. He hasn’t stopped stretching and yawning since we sat down.  It’s really bright on the verandah and his sunglasses prevent me from seeing the expression in his eyes but his body language reveals that he’s comfortable just hanging out with me in the winter sun talking about tattoos, Nazis and blowing up shit.  He rests his hands on his head and leans back in his chair.

Jack and I know that tattoos can be both beautiful and ugly. What appears ugly to some may be beautiful to others, which is something Jack experienced as a young artist when he discarded a stencilled desert scene in primary school. He thought it was ugly. The vulture, snake, cactus, and sun brought to life by a ten year old boy with a toothbrush and paint was destined not for the rubbish bin, but an art gallery to be sold for $80 thanks to being rescued by the school principal.

Jack went on to excel at art in high school but  It’s been 3 or 4 years since he left school and when I ask him why he doesn’t draw anymore, he cannot answer.  The art on his body is the only evidence that he has an affinity for passions captured in images of ink, paint and charcoal.

Jack decided it was time to get some new ink.  He adopted a horror theme after Frankenstein and drove his Holden ute to see a tattooist in a nearby town.  The tattooist was a professional and accomplished artist with an accredited studio, but like most tattooists, was a little on the strange side. Jack allowed him to guide his decisions about placement of the faces and figures in the semi-sleeve on his forearm.  One face was the character of Michael Myers from the old-school horror movie Halloween; the other was Jesus-Frankenstein from a Rob Zombie album cover.  Jack has always loved the old school movies because they were classy, unlike the stuff churned out by Hollywood nowadays.  He was stoked with his new ink and drove back home thinking of adding some colour to the greywash and how far he might extend the ink up his arm.

Jack showed up at my house one day keen to see my books on wildlife identification.  His mate had seen a strange paw print and they thought one of my wildlife books might help them work out what it was.  None did, but we sat for a good while talking about wildlife while Jack thumbed through one of my field guides.  He wanted to see a platypus and thought there might be one in the creek up the back of his house.  He told me about the bilby that had been on his front verandah one morning when he woke up, how it had hung around for a while, and then took off, never to be seen again.

I think Jack has a soft spot for animals. He told me once that he’d seen a dog that had fallen from a ute tray get run over by a truck. The dog wasn’t dead and he watched the owner heartlessly pick the animal up and hurl it into the bush on the side of the road. He said he wanted to stop and punch the prick in the head, but he kept on driving, probably feeling sick and angry at what had just happened.

When I first heard about Jack, then saw him in person, I thought he was a bit wayward.  My husband told me that he was a good guy, but that he might appear to be someone who could easily go bad.  To look at my friend, you would probably think the same.  His blonde hair is unruly, he has a pretty foul mouth with a typical Aussie drawl.  He often looks like he’s recovering from a big night and of course, there’s the big tattoo on his arm, not to mention the fact that he’s seen as the local larrikin. I guess I thought him a typical young person with not much direction, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Jack still wants to blow shit up, but instead of doing it with homemade explosives at the local dump, he forked out the three thousand dollar fee and got a qualification to become a shot firer.  After logging five single shots with an assessor he will be fully qualified to store explosives and conduct domestic blasts and mine blasts.

He’s also keen to make sure that his tattoos have meaning and that they relate somehow to his life.  He’s not interested in following trends or copying what some footballer has. His indelible ink will show a little of his inside on the outside and let him be true to who he is, even in this very small town of ours.

Something Brand New

It’s good doing stuff that makes you feel nice. This is why trying new stuff can be hard; it makes you feel uncomfortable and your poor little brain goes, “No! I don’t wannaaaaa!” while figurativley throwing itself on the floor, crying and flailing about.

I like tricking my brain into action. See, this is what it does: I tell it that it would be great to try this or that and it gets excited, but then it goes back to its comfortable little life because it believes that nothing will change. Take for example this:

Me: I want to drive a truck.

Brain: Yeah, that sounds awesome, but as if you’ll ever do that.

Me: Yeah, but I reckon I could.

Brain: You are full of shit.

Me: Yeah, well watch this!

So before my brain could get in the way, I rang the Semi School and made an appointment for a driving lesson in an MR truck and did it.

I’d been wanting to drive a truck for years. Just because. I was uncomfortable with trying something brand new, but once I got going I was surprised that it wasn’t really that hard. The instructor told me not to bother with anymore MR lesson and that next time I should just go straight to HR.

I wrote a while back about how we can hold ourselves back from doing new things because we believe we aren’t “that kind of person”. I never thought I was someone who could drive a truck, but guess what? I am.

 

It’s Simple, but Hard

Challenging yourself is a fairly simple concept, but not easy. Take hiking for example, it’s simple enough; you pack your gear, put one foot after another and walk, just like you do everyday at home to get from one place to another. But, hiking is hard.

It’s hard because it hurts. There’s nothing anyone can do to take away the pain. Even the fittest athletes in the world have to endure pain when they are training, competing or just taking part in their sport of choice for a bit of fun. I’m a fit hiker and I’m used to carrying 20kg+ in my pack, but it hurts like a bastard. My muscles ache, especially my legs and I have a weird hard lump that comes up on my right shoulder. Sometimes it goes down, sometimes it stays put for a couple of months at a time. I get blisters, my pack chafes my lower back and hips. If I hike for more than one day my feet really hurt and it feels like every step I take is a step into a bucket of boiling water.

All of it hurts, but that’s the whole point of challenging myself. I don’t love the pain, I’m not a freak, but I do love the fact that I can push through it and get to the end of the trail and basically say, “fuck you, pain, I smashed you down!” That’s when I feel like I own the world.

Photos online of adventures and adventurers mostly show happy people who are having a great ol’ time in nature with their buddies, but what the photos rarely show is how hard adventuring can be: the brand new tent that leaked like a sieve in a sudden downpour, saturating my down sleeping bag; the rat that ate through my previous hiking tent in an attempt to get to my granola, which I shouldn’t have had in the tent in the first place; getting shot at and having to spend the night at a police station in a town thousands of kilometres away from my home; getting covered in leeches and ticks and having to go to the doctor because almost my entire body came up in a disgusting pimply rash; having to cut a shirt up to tie socks to my feet because my boots caused most of my toenails to lift off; getting lost in the bush and wandering around for hours in the dark; on and on it goes. Yeah, these things are hard and some of them bad, but they didn’t kill me and I got through them, just like I get through the real pain of challenging myself.

I don’t get through these things because I’m better, stronger or more physically able than other people. I get through them because of the story I tell myself about who I am. That story is about a person who is one tough mofo. This mofo can smash down enemies and rise above those who seek to bring her down. It’s a story about a bad-ass mofo who is the master at overcoming adversity and coming out the other side of a challenge with her integrity intact. I get through the hard stuff because I tell myself that I’m a person who can get through the hard stuff, after which I literally become a person who can get through the hard stuff.

What I’m saying here is this: It’s pretty much all in your head. If you accept the pain and suffering, the only thing that will prevent you from achieving your goal is the voice in your head; your voice: It’s all up to you.

Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside.

Taken in 2015 right before most of my toenails lifted off and I had to tie socks to my feet to continue the hike. I still had more than 20km to go and one more night at a walker’s camp before pick up.

The Silver Brumby

I was doing a course on the awesome free elearning platform Future Learn the other day and came across a writing award that commemorates the excellent Australian author, Elyne Mitchell, who lives on through her work, The Silver Brumby. From the award website:

“Inspired by Elyne Mitchell’s work, the Writing Award seeks to encourage writers to share their stories and to keep the art of storytelling alive.  It gives rural life profile not only through country authors, but urban dwellers also write stories about their experiences and dreams about country life.  It doesn’t matter where you are in Australasia – we want to read your story.”

Do it! Write a story. If you’ve never done anything like this before, it will be an adventure. Once you’ve got your story completed and want an outside perspective, let me know and I can check it out for you. Writing short stories is a great way to build confidence in your writing and in yourself. It’s amazing to look at a story and think, this never existed before I wrote it down.

I’ve written butt loads of short stories and I never thought I’d do anything with them, but recently I have compiled some into a collection that is now being edited for publication and I’m working my way through another collection. After that there will be two more collections and most of the stories that will fill these are ones I’d written years ago. All it took to bring my stories back to life was to shift my view of what they were. I used to think of them as silly and a waste of time, but once I gathered them altogether, I could see they were nothing of the kind.

It all starts with one word

 

 

Woodgate Slam

I wrote a post earlier about doing a street slam in Bundaberg. Well, I didn’t go into Bundaberg last week, so I did a Woodgate slam instead, to an audience of one: my mum! I got up on a picnic table opposite the caravan park cafe on the esplanade and recited two poems that I’d rewritten: Desiderata by Max Erhmann and Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas.

I changed the words a bit because I find the first one a bit too prescriptive and the second one a bit too morbid. I laced them with my own ideas of hope and positivity instead. Click here for the transcript.

A few people walked up from the beach to go back across the road, but they looked in the other direction and acted like they couldn’t hear me. I find this unbelievably strange! Do they do this because they’re so used to seeing people stand on table tops or is it because they’re scared that I might be dangerous, or maybe they’re just really, really busy! It’s hard to know what other people think, but my curious mind wouldn’t let me just pass on by as though nothing strange was happening. I’d simply have to stay and listen, even if it was just to see what would happen next. Who knows, I could’ve started tossing $2 coins into the air after I stopped speaking. I also could have done a little jig, which would have been worth more than ten handfuls of $2 coins.

Me and a tabletop today, not yesterday, but you get the idea.

Do Not Go Gentle 

Do Not Surrender

Conquer tabletops and your fears

 

The Vest and the Philosopher

Maybe I should have brought my hiking poles…ugh, this is harder than I remember. I might just go back home, I thought. It was hard, but I didn’t go back home and next time I’ll remember to take my poles. Hiking wearing a 20kg weighted vest is harder than carrying a pack weighing 20kg because you can’t properly shift the weight off your shoulders with the vest, which means you pretty much have to suck the pain and discomfort up for the whole time you’re wearing the vest because you can’t easily get it off once it’s on.

“Hi!” I said to some fellow walkers at about the half way mark (7km). The girl said hi and the guy just kind of stared at me. Rude! I thought, but I forgot what I looked like. “What are you doing?” He exclaimed, “is that at weighted vest?”

“Yeah, it’s about 23kg in total.” (I had a small backpack too).

“You masochist!” He said.

Not long after that I decided I’d have to take the vest off to pee. I couldn’t initially work out how to do that and it wasn’t something I’d thought of when I left the house. Should I try and hang it over a sign? Should I try and get a tree branch through the back of it? Those ideas were baseline stupid and in the end I found a wooden seat in the dunes and with a fair amount of wriggling and swearing I was able to lay down on it and manoeuvre the contraption off me. There was even more swearing when I had to put it back on.

I was at Burrum Point campsite and instead of walking back via the loop I’d come on I decided to increase the distance and effort by walking back along the sand 4WD track to the bitumen and then home from there. I started philosophising about the nature of existence and the origins of life. It was a really interesting conversation, even if I only had the trees to talk to. I really thought I was by myself, but I wasn’t. I was closer to the walking track than I realised and a couple of hikers popped out to cross the 4WD track only about 20 metres away from me. “I’m not crazy!” I yelled out to them in what I thought must have been a reassuring voice. “I’m just having a conversation with myself, see, I do this all the time when I’m walking. I’m not crazy.” I felt it very important that they understand my position, but they kept walking and looked in the opposite direction. They should just think themselves lucky that I wasn’t singing, especially my wonderful rendition of What’s Up.

I must look like a total freak with that vest on. It’s huge and it looks like it could be full of bombs. On the road a car stopped and asked if I was ok. I told them I was wearing a weighted vest incase they thought I was a terrorist. “Are you trying to lose weight?” The man asked. I almost laughed at him because losing weight is the last thing I need to do. I’m actually attempting to gain weight by training with a weighed vest. At least they were nice enough to stop.

When I got home I was glad that I went out and walked a hard walk. It took me almost four hours (I faffed around a fair bit at the campsite) and I was pretty well cactus when I got home, but it was a good type of cactus (maybe peyote?). As usual I was amazed at how pushing myself physically makes me feel like I am the coolest person out there, well, at least the coolest person to ever carry a weighted vest to Burrum Point campsite.

All of this because I was too lazy to drag my hiking pack out and fill it with 20kg worth of stuff. This is what 20kg of hiking crap looks like:

Live a limitless life by way of adventure