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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

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Entries in nathan jolly (10)

Monday
Oct312016

In Which We Cannot Remember Any One Way We Felt

To celebrate the release of Nathan Jolly's new collection, Sydney for Strangers, we republish one of his classic TR pieces. Enjoy, and buy Sydney for Strangers here.

My Name Is A Secret

by NATHAN JOLLY

I was about to hurt a person I could have grown to love. It wasn't like ripping off a band-aid, and it wasn't self-preservation, and it wasn't her, it was most definitely me. It was just cold and cruel and necessary. I was wearing a red woolly Cobain jumper that I knew she hated, as if that would be the comfortable crash-mat that softened the fall. My hair was an unwashed nest, my eyes were blurry from the coffee that had kept me up most of the night and exacerbated my anxiety, and I had swallowed so much Extra chewing gum to counteract my coffee-mouth that I was afraid the warnings on the packet of a laxative-type effect would be realised on the 423 bus that was slowly steering me towards the sad scenario I had sketched for myself.

In the sunlight, when her eyes squint and those faint lines crease in that way that always sends me stupid, maybe when she laughs at one of my dumb fucking jokes with her entire body, and accidentally whips me with her hair while doing so, maybe then I will realise this isn’t what I want, and that I actually am happy with Mickey, and that it is just the rest of my life that isn’t sitting quite right. Maybe if we go to that café near the train station and I eat something not meaty and not bready that sits right in my churning, burning stomach, maybe everything will finally be in place, and I will be able to see that I need Mickey, that I love Mickey, that I don’t need to watch her face crumple, her eyes well up, and her voice quiver.

Once I watched a couple break up in a crowded café courtyard, and I was stunned by the callous cruelty of it all. The ingenuity of breaking up in a neutral zone to avoid the lengthy, lumbering, desperate debate was whitewashed by the awful humiliation; this strange girl’s quiet resolve, and this strange guy’s stung anger was impossible to watch without wanting to weigh in, but of course this wasn’t a movie and therefore we weren’t allowed to watch, comment, or judge — at least not openly. This is why I was traveling to Mickey’s place and not a shaded courtyard, taking a bus the eight or so blocks that separates us in order to limit the amount of time I could to and fro inside my head before having to face up to the decision I had long ago made, and was about to finally play out.

Life isn't so bad these days, I often decide during the brief moments I can think about it softly. I am writing at a rate that I can finally be proud of, and I'm placing insignificant articles in significant publications. I'm quickly tucking away a few pieces each month that I am happy enough about now to feel they won’t slay me when I revisit them at a later date, like an old photo taken at a party where I seemed happy and had incredible hair for a split, stolen second. I have always been aware I’m just collecting memories to be studied and missed at a later date. I’m forever envious of those people who seem so thoroughly in the moment that they aren’t even aware that these are the times they will miss. I have had these moments, I’m sure, but I recognize them too quickly, and in one quick shot, all is ruined. I file and catalogue and study and store. I miss the way things are now.

This is Mickey’s bus stop, so I swing around the businessman standing unceremoniously in front of the door, the kind of guy who will tread on toes and block doorways because he is arrogantly unaware of the space he occupies and where his body is at any given time. Those guys are worse than tourists digging sharp, lumpy backpacks into strangers on a crowded train, swinging and hitting some poor old woman as they talk with their entire bodies. I am outside of Mickey’s house now; she isn’t aware that I am coming around but I know that she is home, because she is an analogue clock I learned to read months ago.

Mickey likes clean-shaven, buzzcut, buttoned-up boys who study law but have no sense of justice, who watch cricket because it is on, who travel in packs, and hold their girlfriends like accessories. I have never gotten over the shock that Mickey was interested in me, and have been waiting for her to realise that not only am I not the one, I’m not even in the correct bracket of ones. There are guys built for her, and she should let one find her. I studied my appearance in the rearview mirror of a scooter parked out the front of her apartment, and decided I looked sufficiently not-the-one. I did feel a strange buzz looking in the mirror of that scooter, but decided to shelve that particular feeling for my inevitable mid-life crisis. It’s sometimes nice to know what lies ahead, even if it is tired and well-traced and ultimately embarrassing.

It was too late to lean on gin, I was too close to leave now. I held my breath, clenched my stomach muscles and knocked on her door, for the final time.

+

Sydney, you are a wonderful lover. I’m swaggering up lanes that belong only to me. My red-tinged sunglasses — bought for $7 at a discount store that sells postcards of the harbour, dubious drug paraphernalia, and long-expired lollies I haven’t seen or thought of since primary school — are painting everything with a Polaroid-perfect tinge, and I am taking photos, shaking photos and putting them in my jacket pocket to look at when I am old and no longer broken. I have freed myself from the only relationship that had ever caused me to stay up at night out of fear that I was circling too close to the sun, only I never felt in danger of being burnt, only of melting into her until I was wandering glass-eyed through farmer’s markets and nurseries, picking baby-names from books, and designer fruit from identical designer buckets. I was destined to be poor Charlie Brown, never quite getting to kick the football.

Now, I was walking back to the bookstores and dimly-lit second-hand shops which hold all that I love about this town. You know the feeling when you exit the cinema and are pierced by the blinding sunshine? That’s how I am feeling at the moment, and in a quick flash I decide that today, on this beautiful September afternoon, with the church bells singing a melody too perfect for religion, the streets sliding like a travelator under my feet, and everything bathed in a $7 red haze, that the deep depths of second book stores, the sad history and discontinued board-games no longer drew me in. Today was a day to sit in the dog park overlooking the courtyard of my favourite inner-West pub and squint into the sun. Today was a day to look forward.

Mickey would bounce back soon — of this I was sure. We were tourists at a colonial-style amusement park, getting our photos taken behind those old-timey wooden characters with the face-holes cut out. This wasn’t a whippable offensive. Nobody was drawn and quartered. If someone else was in the photo, Mickey would still put it on her fridge, and it would look perfect, like a family you would want to be in. I am happy for us to remain undeveloped, one of a host of blurry memories living in a film canister in a sock drawer.

I wanted to call Penelope — the girl I should have been with — to share the news: that we could start our new lives together, assuming of course that her block-headed boyfriend slept with a face-painted babe he met at one of the loud, sweaty clubs I assume he goes to on a Saturday night, with lines of fake tan and fake everything snaked around the block and two burly bouncers letting in one guy for every six girls. Obviously, I can’t call Penelope. Sunday afternoons are for boyfriends and road-trips to cousin’s backyard BBQs, and plonking on lounges to watch films that intersect those few commonly shared interests that most mismatched couples cling to. They weren’t for phone calls from people she’d never had to explain, and I knew this, and she knew this, and everywhere I looked this afternoon there were girls that I could start an entirely new life with right this moment. I could crawl into their townhouses, and meet their housemates, and flick eagerly through their book collections and DVD shelves, and stacks of street press I had written for months ago that hadn’t been thrown out yet, because the little hidden ledge under the coffee table is as good as thrown out anyway. I could wear her jeans, and try on her t-shirts, and drink beer with her in the morning because that’s the quickest way to get to know someone, and I always wanted to know everything right now — so eager to catch up, like a television show I had discovered when the sixth season was winding to an end.

But all these women seemed to cruelly pass me by today, with their dogs and their men, and their Sunday shopping lists, and their mobile phones. Sydney is a great lover, but it is also an ocean, which either propels you towards the shore, or drags you out to die. It lifts you, and dumps you, and fills your lungs when all you want to do is paddle. It blocks your sonar with seaweed and blinds you with saltwater. It is hard to see somebody in the ocean, and harder still to get to them before they have been scuttled across the shoreline, or dragged below the surface. In Sydney, when two people get together quickly, one of them is always being rescued.

+

Does love get in the way of life, or does life get in the way of love? I have spent months comatose and nesting, letting life whir by in the background like a carnival scene from a teen movie I’ve only ever seen posters for. Inside the rollercoaster capsule, there are only two to a seat, the background is blurry, and we seem motionless in the midst of it all: not scared, not screaming, and happy to stay where we are — until the ride kicks us off, and we are propelled back into the carnival, squinting into the sun, looking around like lost tourists.

After the type of breakup that makes me want to stay indoors alone, I often find that instead of locking myself away, I fling into the world, searching for a purpose that isn’t attached to a girl and her smile. I work more, I write lists and buy diaries, and plot and plan. I get things done. Free of the numbing calm that a relationship can provide, I am alone and against the world. I find myself ignited with a flame that burns so brightly it distracts me from the fact that I am on fire.

Being in a big city makes you acutely aware that anything is possible, and not only possible but probable —big things are expected of you in a big city, and the more people swarming in and out of high rise buildings and warehouses that store indie musicians, the more sense you get that it’s all important, that all the photos and art exhibitions, and banks and big money, and boats on the harbour are all working in service of something bigger, and all you need to do is tap into this, and start stacking, start spreading the news —however quickly that news changes from day to day. Every new hour is both a fresh start, and an extension of this thing that will exist here long after you leave. It’s comforting when you are alone, and only depressing when you are lonely.

I moved into a new house in a new street in a white, blind rush a few weeks ago for reasons too tedious and technical to recount with any sense of artistry. The constant scaling down of my realty expectations and a previous, grueling ten-hour day of holding open heavy doors with legs and torsos, while arms tried to Tetris heavy boxes through security grates — back and forth and up and down — meant that this time I hired a removalist (and felt guilty for not helping out, despite the very good money I was paying him) and took the first house with hardwood floors (all the better to spill you with), a gas stove and a bathtub I could live in. The moving process was, for the first time, quick and painless. Of course this disregard for detail meant that in these past few weeks I had found many displeasing elements were alive and squeaking in my new home: hooks that bled down the walls whenever you hung anything heavier than a hope on them; scarcely scattered powerpoints seemingly placed by architects or electricians who had never owned more than four appliances at a time; sinks too small to wash your hair in; and all the rest which I will discover soon. Still, I am settled and content for what feels like the first time in years. Until this feeling passes, nobody can touch me. I am white light.

A few weeks earlier, lying on a mattress in my packed-up house, after deciding to leave both this sleepy street and my sleepy relationship, I realised I ultimately felt tied down by my possessions, and that all you need is a good book, a soft bed and a head full of hope. And a microwave. And housekeys. And did I really pack away my deodorant? I hoped my television remotes were in the same box as the television — in my haste I wasn't quite sure where I had packed anything at all. I hoped I hadn't left anything behind — some trinket or memory hiding in a high kitchen cupboard. I needed everything I had ever owned and I needed to know where everything was at all times, or I could not sleep.

I paced the empty house, seeing new shapes in carpet stains, old dust in the sunlight, letting my pupils dilate as I stare into the uninviting fluorescent kitchen light. The kitchen was always too cramped and impractical to be satisfactory to anyone but a divorced dad lovingly dividing Chinese food into three mismatched bowls on 'his weekend’. I would probably be that guy in ten or so years, I sighed inside my head, vowing never to have another one night stand, never to fall prematurely in love and be too lazy and in the moment to safeguard against such a scenario. I knew a daughter would probably be able to fix me, but I saw that particular movie all around me, in sad little kitchens like these, and I knew that it never ended the way anyone hopes it will. Fourteen boxes and a suitcase filled with papers — this was everything I had collected, all the things I hadn't yet forgotten why I’d kept. All the things that would define me if they found my body in this empty, sad house.

I cannot wait until the main thing I look forward each evening is a glass of red wine, the kids finally fast asleep in their Disney-painted bedrooms, and me and my girlfriend (never a wife, that word belongs with consumption, castles and kingdoms best left in the past) watching 60 Minutes and tutting at the state of the world: a world long left behind for the everyday reality of child-care centres and kindergartens and Spongebob band-aids and packed lunches and soccer games and all the banal brilliance that I fear may never be a part of my life, until of course on bin day, when it all comes spilling out into the street. Right now, the only way to form this cosy future is to soak myself in gin, go to the loosest bar in the inner West and indiscriminately fling myself at anyone who looks like they may one day love me. It's five dollar drinks until dawn, it's meals from vending machines, it's unprotected everything; it's cold and cruel, and necessary. All the promises to myself: quietly, quickly broken and shooed out of the room by her lips and her hips and what they could hold over me and my future just by being there and being available. It sure feels like being alive, but right now I cannot remember any one way I have felt, any former aches or joys. I gun my drink, check my hair in the reflection of my phone and look around. Hi, my name is a secret. Would you like to have a daughter with me?

You can purchase Sydney for Strangers here.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about the one. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Isca Greenfield-Sanders

Thursday
Apr142016

In Which We Curse Ourselves For A Number Of Reasons

You Were My First Baby

by NATHAN JOLLY

There he is! At last. She knew he would look like that and stand like that and be just like that. It was a relief when she saw him there because she knew she could stop looking now.

He was talking to a guy who never made it past the friendship preliminaries: the boyfriend of a girl at his work, she’d later learn and recite, as their origin story became refined, edges sanded and bad jokes landed and fate understanding that this was their moment.

Of course, his shirt was wrong and her mascara was five drinks gone, and her skirt was an inch too long which crippled how she moved in a way where it haunted her head and dictated her movement to an infuriating degree, and he felt like he was getting hips that winter: proper hips, swinging lard sacks that he flattened and squashed into his side all evening, but they fell in love all the same or – if you believe such pronouncements belong only in soap operas – at the very least they collided suddenly and agreed to collide again at a later date – more softly and sweetly the next time, and the next time, until it was a dance they knew by heart. And so it was.

+

It wasn’t the last street, nor the street before, and all the streets look the same in this stupid Lego town, and this is her fault and she knows it, but he is being so fucking calm about it, because this whole visit – this whole trip, this whole experience – doesn’t mean a thing to him. He never tried. For once she would like him to just yell and blame her for not remembering to write down the address, or the phone number, or anything. Why won't he yell? He is happy to just drive. He already knows he is going to leave her. These are wet matches. He needs a big fire before he can do anything. He needs scorched earth. He needs her to have an affair. He fantasizes about her quivering bottom lip as she confesses everything, he dreams about his game-changing kiss off, about his complete radio silence, his lawyer’s letters, his short, sporty, summer fling, his reply to her dick of a father who has no idea. He wants to hurt her.

+

No salt, just seasoning. She knows she eats too much fried shit these days, but they are going to start a diet after all the weddings and baby showers and buck’s nights and capital H-Holidays stop shooting at them so constantly, but summer is coming soon, too, and drinks are cheap here — let’s live now and sweep the soot in our old winters. Bobby is beautiful but she can’t think like that. Not when they are saving $900 a month while cooking in bulk and drawing up budgets while he promises, "Because this is important to you, I’m gonna make it happen."

painting by Alice Neel

She can’t flirt with beautiful Bobby with those words rattling around in her head, not when they are saving so she can move to the city she cursed her parents for not bringing her up in. Not when he divided his home-made casserole into five marked Tupperware containers, and seemed excited and proud to do so. She wants everything, but can only whisper it for now; his plan is to get a suit and visit a bank in three months, and he is so steadily focused on this part of the plan that any further steps were sure to fall into place – he was sure of it. Her mid-afternoon daydream of catching a train to the airport, picking whichever flight is around $1,500 and leaving before she has time to shift and shuffle and talk herself sensible seems like mere sound now.

+

"This is not the park my children will play in," she decided firmly when they moved into that scorched red brick apartment with the needles and the screaming and all the other awful things happening across and above her. Bikini bottoms and tea towels hung over every three or four balcony ledges; while lizards withering on plastic furniture, burning cigarettes, drinking from boxes, yelling “fuckin’ this" and "fuckin’ that” at their kids – white, middle nothing. This was not the apartment her babies would grow up in.

They wanted the babies to come in quick succession, in twos if possible, in threes if they traded up to an eight-seater with adjustable headrests and a sliding door that got stuck if you didn’t slam it hard enough, but after Julian months became years and GPs became specialists and quietly they blamed each other and even more quietly they cursed themselves for doing so then, when they learned the truth, she blamed herself. He said it didn’t matter to him, and for a while it didn’t. One baby was plenty. There were carriages to push and car seats to fit, and first words to extrapolate and shifts spent anxiously watching him breathe, mini panic-attacks when he stopped crying long enough to possibly to be dead.

Each day Julian didn’t die was a victory, and when there was such a clear-cut goal, the rest of life hummed by until he learned to toss and crawl and not die — and the proper problems could no longer be a background blur. Now she views those early days as the best of her life, but at the time she often felt a snapped second away from drowning Julian in the shallow plastic baby bath, and driving to the airport with $1,500 folded neatly in her inside skirt pocket.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Alice Neel.

painting by Alice Neel

"A Line in the Sand" - P.J. Harvey (mp3)

Tuesday
Nov252014

In Which It Calls For A Different Type Of Drink

A House I Would Like To Live In

by NATHAN JOLLY

Past the long, dipped driveway, proud hedges block the neighbours out, while a bent basketball hoop guards those big, barn-style doors you pressed me against the night I knew I loved you in a different, more permanent way than I had loved before. The inside of that garage is still as messy as it was that night, but at least now it's an ordered mess - we know which box the CDs are in, and that the remote control boat we've only used once is in the clear blue plastic box under the piles of blankets we push against the inside of the barn doors when the rain begins sprinting down our driveway.

We know exactly how sharply that driveway slopes because we adjust for this with our bounce passes, and you sprained your ankle that night after the drunken RSL raffle where we won the meat-tray and hosted a second raffle to offload, buying twelve dollars worth of chocolate with the proceedings. Our daughters know how the driveway goes too, because they sit on skateboards with their laces tucked into the sides of their shoes, and slide down those same slopes until they crash into the barn doors.

You're on a computer near the front of the house, annoyed and late for some deadline your boss secretly set two days early to allow for your hopeless internal clock, and the girls pretend they can't hear you yelling at them to go out into the cul-de-sac and stop hurting the poor barn door. The girls laughed the first time you ever said that to them, because you showed them how it looks like a sad face with droopy eyes and a mopey handle-mouth and now every basketball dint is either a cute dimple or a gross pimple depending on which daughter describes it first - Barney is now a character that the girls wave goodbye to when we drive 90 minutes up the coast to stay at your uncle's beach house, which is in a nice enough area to deal with the handful of self-congratulatory references he makes to his own generosity each Christmas when we see him: "It's a good life down there, isn't it mate?"

It is making him money just by standing there, he tells us. It is his reminder of where he'd rather be. He bought it with the life that won't allow him to visit. You started sending him postcards each time we were down there, because you realised he just wanted reassurance that it was a good idea to buy a fibro-cement house on the beach a little too late for a little too much, and that it is waiting for him to return, yet keeping busy entertaining visitors. “Anyway”, you asked him one afternoon with the straightest of faces, “why exactly is a 58-year-old guy holding onto money anyway?” You were right, and that was when I realised that maybe you and I were just getting started instead of settling in somewhere. Life is long.

This afternoon I am arguing that the dents in the barn door add to the charm of our entire house, our entire life. You made our grumbling babies stand against the doorway, skimmed a school ruler through their hair and tracked their growth with permanent markers every few minutes. The barn door is another permanent marker: of our giddy girls smashing trikes, of our doctor hitting a cricket ball from the cul-de-sac into our door - in surf-shorts. We don't need the girls breathing in paint fumes either, and neither of our next-door neighbours know us well enough for us to breathe easy dropping them off there for a few hours - it's too cold this time of year to bundle them into the car and drive aimlessly, too.

You laugh at my flimsy excuses not to paint the door and then push me up against up it, softly this time.

When we moved up the coast to breathe salt instead of smoke, to wake early by choice, and curse bindis again, we couldn't believe we could afford this house; we were fresh from the trap of city prices and sizes and stoops sold as verandahs. We couldn't believe the takeaway store down the road with its ancient arcade machines, and fish plucked that same morning from an ocean you could see. We couldn't believe there was one local policeman, and that we knew his first name, that he lived in a four-room plywood extension carelessly nailed and glued to a store-front federation-era cop-shop, and that we bought stamps and parcel packs from his wife, and didn't inherently tense up when walking past him - unlike those policemen in the city that could own you just to own you. We've seen him eat coleslaw at a backyard barbecue in faded surf-brand shorts, and now we know a policeman by name, and a fireman and a shopkeeper, and a doctor - and we've seen them all in surf-brand shorts.

We stopped talking to our old friends, then we stopped talking about our old friends; pubs and doorways and bus-routes faded like the Darling parents and the idea of inhaling breakfast while buttoning a shirt and rushing around looking for ear-rings and squashy heels started to seem faint and comical. One Sunday newspaper came with free carrot seeds as part of some misguided promotion; now have a veggie patch, which gives us a new, more natural gauge on how time passes.

There are secret, future plans for that veggie patch but for now it sits sagging over the path as a grown-over reminder of two months last summer where days stretched into each other and we drank coconut rum because a new season in a new town called for a new more postcard-friendly drink.Tomorrow I have to go back to the city. I know that it will try to coax me back, and I know that I will let it. Tonight, I watch my daughters sleep, and watch you watch TV, and eat potatoes grown just down the road.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about communal living. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Alex Colville.

"The Prettiest" - Adna (mp3)

"Rain" - Adna (mp3)