I was happy to be recently asked to go into the ABC Studios at Collinswood in Adelaide to appear on the radio program Afternoons with Sonya Feldhoff. The program airs daily on 891 ABC Adelaide. Sonya had asked me to come in to discuss empathy. I arrived, as instructed, 20 minutes before air time, which was to be after the 3pm news. A security guard promptly escorted me in the elevator up to a waiting area. I was then invited into the control room, and asked how I pronounced my surname. Obligingly, I told the producers, but stressed that whatever way Sonya said it would be fine with me (I’ve heard many fascinating variations). Once Sonya wrapped up a segment, she came out, introduced herself, and asked if I’d like to stand or sit (the desk can be adjusted to either position). Desperately trying to downplay the prima donna label I imagined my Uniqlo jacket conveyed, I told her I’d be happy with either. A little bit of off-air conversation during the news, and we were ready to go!
I really enjoyed being on the show. Sonya had done her homework and, from my point of view, we had an engaging chat. We covered a whole range of topics, including the meanings of empathy and sympathy; how we use our past experiences to understand others; emotional contagion (feeling as if you have taken on another person’s emotions); and the problems one might encounter from having a lack of empathy. I got to quote Atticus Finch; the good one, not the racist one. I even attempted to explain some of the physiological processes associated with empathy. I’m just glad that I didn’t point at my head as if to say, “Thoughts come from here”. Given it was a radio broadcast, that could have been a lot of dead air.
The time flew, and I was glad to be asked to stay a little longer after the 3.30 news. Here’s the link to our June 1 interview if you’d like to listen.
Of course, if you can’t spare a half hour, perhaps you’ll like this shorter discussion between Mark Ruffalo and Murray of Sesame Street about empathy. I love it.
My friend, Fredrik, swears I resemble Mark Ruffalo. I don’t necessarily see it, but he’s insistent. Actually, (the very friendly) comedian Eddie Bannon was finishing up a segment at 891 just as I sat down in the waiting area. He walked toward the elevator, stopped when he got close to me, and asked if I’d ever seen the video of a guy discussing the word “djent”. Supposedly, I looked and was dressed like a very talented man named Steve Terreberry. I had dressed very buttoned-up for my radio debut, so perhaps there’s something there. Like one of my favourite childhood authors, Marvin Miller, would advise, “You be the jury”.
It’s pouring down. I wonder if a good litmus test for whether someone has crossed the threshold into adulthood is what they think when looking out of a window during a storm. If it’s along the lines of, Oh wow, I can turn the sprinklers off and save on the water bill, you’ve not just crossed the threshold, but performed a little pirouette on it. I’m certainly at that point. Maybe not a pirouette; I’ve never been that physical.
I’ve wanted to write a little update for a few weeks, but needed some down time. Turns out that I developed shingles. When I told my friend, Karl, he was incredulous. “Shingles?” he asked. “What are you, Victorian?” Well, it’s true that sometimes I wear my shirts done up right to the top button, but alas it’s a virus. It’s not really contagious (a point I’ve bellowed as friends ran screaming out the door), but lies dormant in anyone who has had chickenpox, waiting for the right time (in my case, probably stress) to come up and make itself comfortable. You might say that I “manifested” it. Isn’t that what Oprah encourages? Well, I have a pretty powerful mind and all I got were these lousy spots on the right side of my torso…yes, you get them on only one side. Symmetry is no longer á la mode, it seems.
When I went to the doctor, I didn’t expect to find out it was shingles. I thought that my spots and feeling like I was sunburnt (that’s how I would describe the initial feeling) were the result of working out too hard at the gym and not wearing a suitable t-shirt. It turned out that my bursts of running on the treadmill while watching The Chaser or reruns of M*A*S*H weren’t the cause. Friends and strangers told me that they were surprised someone my age would get it. The first few times I heard this, I thought they were trying to flatter me, and I would playfully throw back my head á la Blanche Devereaux. Turns out they weren’t flirting because, well, who wants to flirt with the shingled patient.
The worst of it has now passed. But this episode has made me evaluate the ways I handle stress and anxiety. It also gave me some time to slow down. I’m rarely bored, but days and nights on the couch with itchy spots and a pricking sensation in my spine started to wear thin. I did start watching Nashville after planning on doing so since it started in 2012! We also watched the really lovely Boy Meets Girl starring Michelle Hendley and Michael Welch. In these days of fearmongering regarding trans issues, I thought it was a sincere and charming film. I hope Michelle makes another movie soon; and I was pleased to reacquaint with Michael Welch, whom I loved watching in Joan of Arcadia but hadn’t kept up with. I’m glad to reacquaint with him.
I also started researching three new interviews (the interviewees are really being patient with me), as well as continuing work on a long-term project. When I haven’t been able to work, I’ve been inspired by creative friends who have completed exciting projects. Bob is doing a great job hosting his Sunday Sleep In on Three D Radio. Another Bob, Bob Evans, has a new album, Car Boot Sale, and podcast, Good Evans, It’s a Bobcast! Simon Williams’ jewellery label, USE, is making its way to international fashion festivals. Nat Luurtsema, who wrote the delightful memoir Cuckoo in the Nest, has a new book coming out very soon: a young adult novel called Girl Out of Water. In the U.S. I believe it will be called Goldfish, and who knows what the translations will be in other countries (well, I saw on Amazon that the French title will be Moi et les Aquaboys, which is really so fabulous). She has also completed a short film called Three Women Wait for Death (replace “women” with “men”, and you’ve got my social activities covered), which I was happy to be able to help along in the final stage with a little Kickstarter money. Karl Geary has inked a deal with publisher Harvill Secker for his first novel, Montpelier Parade. Like Nat, Karl’s a beautiful writer and filmmaker, and I’m so pleased for him. Patrick Harvey is co-starring in a new horror film named Scare Campaign with Ian Meadows and Meegan Warner. I love a horror film. Speaking of horror, Matthew Currie Holmes, who is well-known for his horror movies (remember him as the director, M, in Wrong Turn 2?), is in post-production for his writer-directorial debut, Traces, starring Pablo Schreiber, Rick Springfield, Sharon Leal, and Sosie Bacon. Matthew is a music aficionado (making music, himself), and music will play a big part in this story of a record-store flunky and former one-hit wonder given another chance at the big time. And Donna Loren has a new pictorial biography coming out, Donna Loren: Mover and Shaker in the Center of a Mid-Sixties Pop Maelstrom. Do you like candids of people like The Supremes, James Brown, and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as the sets of Batman, The Monkees, and the Beach Party films? Well, it’ll be quite the coffee-table book in beautiful black and white and far-out colour. I have so many people around me who inspire.
Well, that’s all for now. Back to research, writing and, with any hope, sharing some new projects with you. The picture above is a rainy day in Tokyo. I loved the design of the umbrella. I tried to bring it back, but it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, and I didn’t think the Japanese would have been fond of my Emma Peel impression if I carried it as hand luggage. Right now, I’m reading up on reflexes in infants for a developmental psychology presentation I’ve been asked to give. I’ve come across one I’d never heard of: the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex. It’s also known as the “fencing reflex” because the infant’s head, arms, and legs resemble the position taken by a fencer. Maybe that’s the sign you’ve crossed the threshold from childhood to adulthood: when the tonic neck reflex is replaced by the tonic and gin reflex – the sudden urge when confronted by limes and ice to fix oneself a highball. Bottoms up, I say!
There have been some changes around these parts. I am still trying to figure out where exactly these parts are. In late February, we were notified that our landlord was selling the house and the lease would not be renewed. This was not welcome news. We had a long-planned trip to Japan scheduled for early April, and I had a lengthy work promotion application due the day we were to leave. It also became apparent that I couldn’t buy us an additional couple of months with subtle hints or out-and-out flattery. Flower shops don’t sell “Please Don’t Evict Me” bouquets or potted pink quill bromeliads. Logistically, we would have to move out of one house and find and move into another before leaving for Japan. That and I wanted to learn some functional Japanese words and phrases for the trip. Friends assured me the most important would be sumimasen – sorry or excuse me. I’m still not sure if that was general advice, or advice specifically tailored to me.
It was not only all the tasks before us that overwhelmed me. I was bereft. I loved that house. Work getting the property ready for sale started around us. There is dissonance in caring so much for something that doesn’t belong to you. At the same time, as one friend pointed out, landlords may not always realise you’ve made their house into your home. This is the great landlord-tenant divide. It’s hard to have workmen coming into your home, praising the doorknobs that, over night, are no longer yours.
After about a week of silent (or not so silent) grief on the couch, I sprang into action. We looked at new places, slowly packed non-essential books and records, and ticked off an every-growing list of things to do. We found a place, and the application process was extremely efficient. Now it was time to pack in earnest and move on.
It’s funny how when it’s time to leave a place, you develop affection for things that were hitherto disliked. There is a gargantuan gum tree on the property. It’s the kind of tree that engenders admiration from most visitors. That’s unless your visitor is Italian. Whoever amended Julius Caesar’s much-referenced phrase to the Roman Senate from “I came; I saw; I conquered” to “We came; we saw; we concreted”, describing the perspective of European migrants in Australia (and perhaps elsewhere) was only half-joking. At its worst, a bin could be filled in five minutes with all the leaves and twigs the tree had dropped. Musician and poet Chad Sugg wrote, “Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year”. Maybe so, but I often pictured the tree being replaced by a replica of Laocoön and His Sons, a statue unearthed in Rome and considered by Dr. Nigel Spivey “one antique sculpture [that] furnishes us with the prototypical icon of human agony”. What seeing that depth of human emotion through the kitchen window every morning would do for a house’s feng shui, or my general disposition, I had no idea; but I made no secret I detested that tree. If you are interested, the tree is the backdrop to my picture on the About Adam page. Remember, I said I hated it; not that I can’t spot a good photo opportunity. But I did find myself making peace with the tree, even taking a series of photos when the sunlight shining through it was most splendid, and the honeyeaters and lorikeets on its branches plentiful. You tend to cling to the old and ill-remembered when faced with change.
Moving into a new place is all about new things: learning where the closest supermarkets and takeaway eateries are, memorising the litany of street names, and finding a new way to travel to work. Then there’s the actual house. Playing Tetris with furniture largely bought for one home was not the most difficult. It is actually adjusting to the little things, such as where and how bright the indoor lights are, the water pressure of the shower, and even where to fold out the clothes horses when the weather isn’t right to use the outdoor clothes line. Necessity is the mother of invention; but it all felt a little weird.
Once we had moved in, we still had the old house for a couple of weeks. A friend remarked to me one day how quickly a home becomes a house. The furniture was gone; pictures on the walls were taken down. On the last day, everything had been ticked off the lists and the final inspection complete. I took the last packing box in my hands and walked out the back door. I thanked the house. I think we used it well. The one thing I would have changed was using the house more with friends. It was a great entertaining house. Two days later, we jetted off to Japan.
It may seem odd to write largely about moving house when the most exciting thing to have happened recently would be the trip to Japan. This will, of course, come later. We only returned home last week. I’m still processing all I saw of those beautiful people and their country. This is more of an explanation of why there hasn’t been a post here in a while. While I didn’t post during the move, I was still deep in research for some interviews. One involved looking through old 1960s Australian newspapers, which had not yet been digitised, at the State Library. I hadn’t used a microfiche reader since high school. The readers are much updated, with the ability to save a newspaper page as a JPEG or PDF. It was a lot of fun, so much so that I found myself saving articles not only relevant to my subject. Pages I copied included one with photographs by Cecil Beaton of the Royal Family and infant Prince Andrew; another detailing an 18-year old dress maker’s apprentice spitting at Marlene Dietrich at the Park Lane hotel in Dusseldorf; and still another with reviews of three new books about Japan. Closer to home, there was an advertisement for Shelley Berman’s show at the Palais Theatre in St. Kilda, Melbourne. Another story covered a worrying trend, for some, of poodles being treated at beauty parlors. Mrs. A. Davies, poodle shop proprietor, felt that, “People are pampering poodles and making fashion fools out of them”. I didn’t realise treating poodles to “roses, pink toe nails, bows and jewelled collars” was a relatively new trend. One or more poodles had already “been shaved, tinted and shampooed” at a beauty parlor (The Age, September 5, 1963, p. 3).
It’s time to settle into the new house. More posts are on their way. It’s also time to catch up on TV we missed while in Japan. I was late to the party in starting Mad Men, a fact many friends found outrageous given my love of the ‘60s. We started watching shortly after moving into the old house. One night after watching three back-to-back episodes of Season 1, I went onto eBay and bought a vintage wooden lamp. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a lampshade, and finding a lampshade with the spider fitter has proven a bit difficult. Consequently, the lamp sat on a sideboard for most of our time there. Mad Men finishes its run soon. Strangely, paying the old house’s last electricity bill a couple of days ago made that chapter final. Now that the show is coming to an end, maybe it’s time to get the lamp rewired and dressed.
The holidays can be a stressful time. I’m usually pretty on top of Christmas shopping, but this year I wasn’t – and it seemed a lot of people weren’t either – really in the festive spirit. We were also away in Sydney mid-December and some Christmas shopping was done more or less at the last minute.
Book shops at Christmastime are a useful starting point. I was in one of the large chain stores a few days before Christmas and watched intently as two police officers walked sternly toward a timid assistant. Fearing the worst, I was relieved to hear the taller officer raise his gruff voice to ask, “Do you have Hairy Maclary?” I had actually forgotten about the adventures of this little black terrier. As a child I had the first book, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, but had no idea that Lynley Dodd has continued the series to the present day from the first adventure in 1983.
I was speaking with my friend Mikaila a few months back about the series we loved as children. She was looking into books in preparation for the birth of her first child. Mikaila found that another favourite, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda Armitage, had continued into breakfast the next morning, a picnic, and even Christmas. With this in mind, I was curious to check out the children’s section in the book store and made my way to those aisles. A little way down one of them a young girl of no more than eight or nine explained to her friend the plot of a novel, “Her parents are divorced and her mother goes out a lot looking for men”. The solitary life of the Lighthouse Keeper hadn’t prepared me for that kind of story.
For my Christmas shopping I was also happy to make my way to Adelaide’s Pop-up Bookshop in Rundle Mall, where I found a mammoth book of Audobon’s paintings. Once I’d purchased it, I was curious to see how mammoth it actually was and did the usual trick you might try with a suitcase: you weigh yourself on a scale and then add the suitcase (in this case, the book) to the scale. This book clocked in at just over 4kgs (almost 9lbs). I also found a gift for myself (because what does Christmas shopping do other than let you know how well all the department stores have got your demographic cornered) of A History of Greece by J.B. Bury and Russell Meiggs.
As the year draws to a close, I want to sincerely thank all the people who have participated in interviews that have made their way on to my site in its first year (you can click on their name to revisit the articles): Kellie Flanagan, Adz Hunter, Kevin Mitchell, Mark Smith, Wendy Strehlow, Charles Tranberg, and Mikey Wax. The same goes for the talented individuals who participated in my All We Need is an Island posts (click here and here): Jesse Bradford, Mark Deklin, Fabian, Yvette Freeman, Dick Gautier, Eric Hutchinson, Sheila Kelley, Ben Lawson, Rick Lenz, Matt Long, Donna Loren, Chad Lowe, Matthew Jordan, Josephine Mitchell, Erin Murphy, Dylan Neal, Don Rickles, Holland Taylor, Mikey Wax, Shane Withington, Lana Wood, and Francine York. All of you have a place at my table if and when you’re in my neigbourhood.
I would also like to sincerely thank you for reading. My site stats for 2014 report that I’d need several NYC subway trains to transport all of my visitors (that’s a nice metric). I’d happily ride with you, and our travelers would come from 83 countries. I so look forward to sharing more with you in 2015. I haven’t read T.S. Eliot in a long time, but I came across his words when looking for something about New Year:
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
I don’t tend to take a computer with me when travelling for business. My most pressing task when I’m out of the office – unless working to a tight deadline for a project – is keeping on top of emails. This can usually be accomplished on an iPhone. However, the main reason I don’t travel with a computer or even an iPad (most of the time) is one to which a lot of people can probably relate. The idea of going through airport security with both a carry-on and a computer bag, and having to remove the computer to be x-rayed while fumbling around with getting things out of my pockets fills me with dread.
As a result of this concern, my bag from a recent trip to Melbourne is stuffed with complementary Sofitel writing pads. On these pages are notes and not fully-formed essays so it may take a while for the ideas to see the light of day here. In high school, I would always draft an assignment with paper and pen. The computer was essentially nothing more than a word processor. That’s if it was used at all. This was at a time during the transition from writing an essay with paper and pen to typing it (and probably writing the whole thing) on the computer. As with most things I do, there was a modicum of method to this madness. Often by the time I got to the third paragraph of an Ancient History essay, I had run out of things to say. With pen and paper, you could be creative with spacing and make it look a bit more robust than it actually was. These days my process for writing is different. While I can write notes or parts of paragraphs on paper, I really need a computer for the wonderful switching around and editing of paragraphs. It’s a bit sad, really; if I were to write someone a letter by hand for the personal touch, I’d probably have to type it before I wrote it out.
My travel worry is not all bad. Anxiety can be a motivator, and I think that I’m a very good passenger. My phone and wallet are out of my pockets before I even reach security and everything is neatly contained in a moderately-sized bag. When a group of friends and I travelled the U.S., shoes, belts and jackets were off with lightning speed. If you took us all out for a night on the town with the only thing on your mind to get us out of our clothes, we’d be a very cheap date. I’m reminded of how a sleep-deprived Jimmy Wayne, the country singer and all-round good guy, misunderstood a security-officer’s instructions once and ended up handcuffed in his boxer shorts. I’m sure that even my preference for an aisle seat began because I wanted to be close enough to the overhead baggage locker when the plane landed. That’s if I wanted to live on the edge and not use the much safer option of under the seat in front of me.
My friend Paul probably wouldn’t understand why I’d avoid taking an iPad on board stocked with the latest shows, particularly for long flights. But I’m usually content with a book and the in-flight entertainment. On a flight back from Singapore, I watched back-to-back episodes of the then-new Dallas. Putting fingers to keyboard today, I was originally going to write that I watched them on my way to Dallas, Texas. But I realized that I’m just fusing my memories of going through the airport in Dallas and seeing many men with the “ten-gallon” cowboy hats with watching the wonderful Larry Hagman on TV. I’d imagine he would tell me that “that’s an understandable cognitive error, darlin’.”
This update is also an attempt for me to make sure that I continue to post regularly. Conducting and writing up interviews is very much an ebb and flow business. Sometimes, I’ve got back-to-back interviews and am deep in research for more with little actual output to put here. My friend Mark would admonish me for not posting more regularly in the last couple of months. When I started the blog almost a year ago, he advised that to get people to come back, there’d have to be regular content. Admonish is probably too strong a word and I can’t imagine he’d admonish me. If I did suggest to him that he was being hard on me, he’d ask me over our regular Negroni (it’s Negronis this season), “Are you projecting?” I hate when he’s right. I’m being hard on myself. That being said, I’m happy to say in the next few days there will be an interview here with Kellie Flanagan, an actress on The Ghost & Mrs. Muir when she was a child and now a writer. But do be sure to stop by regularly here; in fact, you can subscribe so you never miss a post. Brendan O’Brien has a web page for his late father, Edmond, and I love a quote on that site: “Love is many visits”. I will be more direct: Y’all come back now, y’hear?
The title of this update post doesn’t really reflect what I’m writing about, but serves two purposes. The first is that the other day I was walking around the garden. To my astonishment, flowers were all of a sudden blooming, there were blossoms on the trees, and the grapevine was covered with green leaves. Mercifully there were not yet grapes to step on. After thinking winter would never end, it finally has. The second reason is when I look over the ‘Updates’ I’ve posted during the last year, there is a lot of weather talk. I’m just trying to be consistent. But you would prefer me making small talk about the weather, rather than that local sporting team. Right?
I hope that you’re enjoying the blog six months on. I’ve been busy with many new interviews that will appear here shortly. Some of them are with people who haven’t participated in an interview in a long time and I’ve really enjoyed their perspective.
It’s hard to find the inspiration to leave the house in the middle of winter. Adelaide has seemed colder than usual. My usual explanation for these unexpected swift changes in weather (as I wrap around a warm scarf bought from a store in Haight-Ashbury a few doors down from Piedmont Boutique) is climate change. I felt the same earlier this year. In my defence, Adelaide was the hottest city on earth when the temperature reached 44.2C (111.56F) on 16 January. Maybe I’m catastrophizing. It could just be that the weather right now is due to “a deep low pressure which gathered over the Bass Strait” (The Guardian, 23 June). That’s if the Bureau of Meteorology is to be believed.
We did head out recently on a cold, wet night to see the latest X-Men. I’m learning more and more that choosing good cinema seats is both art and science. Our friend Paul usually picks them, but he was away. Left to our own devices we ended up in the fourth row from the screen on the far right-hand corner. It reminded me of Bette Midler admonishing those sitting in the front row of her Diva Las Vegas concert. Nonetheless, it was a good film and I was happy to see a pre-adolescent from a family that got split over rows sit in the aisle at one point to share some popcorn with his mum. Fire risk, yes; heartwarming – absolutely. Between Mad Men and this latest adventure set mostly during the ‘70s, I am experiencing a rather severe case of lamp envy.
I’ve just returned from a very quick trip to Melbourne for a workshop. Although Melbourne is always cooler than Adelaide, and even the nights in Adelaide have been getting colder in the last few days, my two days there seemed particularly piercing. As usual, I hadn’t packed clothes that were warm enough, and found that tossing my favourite black scarf into the briefcase on my way out the door was a fortuitous addition. Wish I could say the same for the book I took along with me. The book was on a topic important to my work, and I’d hoped it would deliver the promise on the back cover of a fresh take on a much-studied problem. It didn’t maintain my interest past the first two chapters I read in the hour before takeoff from Adelaide. Instead, while on the plane, I busied myself reading in the Qantas magazine about the top five hotels in California (for enquiring minds, The Beverly Hills Hotel was #1) and engaged in some low-level origami with a newspaper and the tray table. On my second day in Melbourne I happened upon (as I often do) The Book Grocer on Bourke Street, where I gravitated towards works on Lyle Talbot, Patricia Highsmith, and Ahmet Ertegun. I decided to go with the Talbot one for the ride home, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century written by his daughter, Margaret. I’m quite enjoying it.
I’m also looking forward to posting some new articles on the site very soon. I’ve been busy for most of April with conducting interviews and researching future ones. I think you’ll like them.
The photo below is from a little while ago, but what’s more Californian than Santa Monica Pier?
Hi there. I’m looking forward to posting the first interview on the blog in the next couple of days before the end of 2013. The title of this small post comes from a song Better Midler would perform as her character Nanette and which appears on her 1977 album Live At Last. Bette biographer Mark Bego described Nanette as “the forlorn shopping bag woman who turns despair into optimism”. Isn’t that a perfect metaphor for New Year? Or maybe I’m just tired after the post Christmas sales. Guess I don’t have as much moxy as those really wanting 25% off of Ralph Lauren.