Exploring "Join The Dots"

Started by SueC, August 06, 2019, 14:28:23

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Dear @word_on_a_wing , I have been racking my brains to find lyrics of a similar calibre to the ones you have lately provided with which to return the favour, but regrettably to no avail so far.  I simply have nothing that competes, although I am sure such items exist.  All I can tell you is that to me, the popular number Achy Breaky Heart achieves towering heights of awfulness in relation to a whole spectrum of criteria - but the song is simply outdone by The Lemon Song on lyrical OMG-ness, and I never thought I'd be able to say that.  I thank you heartily for educating me on this front, and hope I can somehow repay you for this service. :)

...how do you like this little snippet though, from The Smiths:  Let me get my hands / on your mammary glands.  Personally, I want to give it some awards, but I'm still trying to work out what sorts of awards.  I do have to give them points for use of anatomically correct language; it's so much more refined than "Show us your tits!" - for which I've long loved our Kaz Cooke's comeback, "You can always tell a bottle-fed baby!"  That Smiths line is so, "Oh, I've met an anatomy student!" and kind of begs the comeback, "Let me stimulate your bulbourethral gland for you!" - if you're contemplating taking them up on the offer.  And you can just imagine how this conversation then proceeds... "Your labia minora are like rose petals!" - "Thank you kindly, and you have a very fine prepuce in excellent working order!" and so forth...
SueC is time travelling


Having obtusely started with the middle CDs of this B-sides box set, the question was - 1990s next, or go right to the start?  I was sort of veering towards CD-4 because I knew there were things on it I would enjoy.  However, we just came back from a seaside walk, and on the road home, we had a spare half hour and popped in CD-1.  Given our reaction to it, I am now thinking it might be best to review this lot next,  so that I can finish on a happier note.


Just to reiterate:

1) We are in our late 40s
2) Neither of us were into The Cure as teenagers

So, we sat back and listened to the start of CD-1, and we were just going, "Do you like this? OK, next!  OK, next!" Basically, it was like listening to a teenage garage band.  I want to be clear here - like listening to a teenage garage band, and not like listening to teenagers in general making music.  The subset, not the age group - because I have heard a lot of fine music from that age group, including in contemporary music.  Here's someone who used to be in my English class, doing a local gig when he was 18 and just barely out of school - and I really like what he is doing, and what some of his friends who have also stuck with music are doing:

You can hear his influences, but it's not a postmodern pastiche, it's very original, and actually adds something interesting to the huge ocean of music in this world - which is more than you can say for the vast majority of new music.  Would I listen to this?  Yes, I would, and I do, and we've been to a couple of gigs by him as well - and not just to show support to young people I've worked with, but because he's really good at this.

And he's only one example of teenagers I've personally known who've been really, really good at performing arts.  The high school he was from was bursting with them, even though not a specialist music school.  The combined lunchtime concerts were fabulous.

So - our response to CD-1 is not a prejudice against what very young people can do, just a dislike of particular music for us.  It might be that we'd have to be teleported back into the 70s as adults and acclimatise a bit to be able to appreciate this CD more, but we can only do this from the here and now.

Brett immediately said the the first song on the CD was obviously influenced by The Clash; and the first three were definitely very punk - imitate what you love, and eventually you might be adding to it, you've got to start somewhere and with humans, it's usually monkey-see, monkey-do.  The main reason we were turned off by this stuff was, for both of us, predominantly lack of space, and also a difficulty hearing the lyrics.

The first song in the sequence that sounded vaguely interesting to me was Splintered In Her Head.  I was totally unable to catch the lyrics (being in a car doesn't help) and will do that later; I'm just going to relate our first impressions of the music.  I thought it sounded like a bunch of people whose project for the day was making tortured sounds on their instruments to a jungle drum rhythm.  Brett said, "Yeah, but you know, I can also hear that this is the band which is going to do Burn down the track.  The hint of that is there."

...we went back to listening to the above tracks a bit more (making felafels, opportune moments), and talked about them a bit more.  It really struck me that one of the things that's putting me off is that they sort of sound like many other bands from that time - just nothing that really distinguishes them for me.  The other thing - and this is a big thing - is that they don't sound like they mean it, to me.  They sound like they're playing at it, but not like their hearts are in it.  I'm not hearing any passion, I'm sort of hearing people playing at being in a band.

I'm sure other people see that differently from us.  We weren't teenagers when this stuff came out, and as teenagers in the 1980s our tastes didn't include The Cure - not because they didn't make some amazing music at the time, but because we got to hear very little of it for various reasons - and what we did hear was mostly their highly repeated radio songs, which mostly weren't our thing.  Similarly, I bet you at least half the people reading have no clue either that the Hothouse Flowers actually had many fabulous songs which were very, very different to pedestrian radio tunes like I'm Sorry, Love Don't Work This Way and Movies, or that U2 once sounded raw and spine-tingling and utterly compelling, before they hit the big time and well before they played those annoying multi-media shows in the 1990s.  Those songs just don't get played on the radio.

So in the 1980s, as a high school student, Brett was buried deeply in Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene, getting into film soundtracks, discovering Suzanne Vega, and listening to 96fm's Especially For Headphones and 6UVS-FM for alternative music.  I had the same tastes in radio, also enjoyed Suzanne Vega, and had a huge enthusiasm for bands that did their own thing, and sounded like they actually meant it - back then, bands including U2, The Waterboys, Big Country, and Lou Reed and his various outfits - people who really wore their hearts on their sleeves, and who most certainly didn't make pop music, thank you very much (says the 15-year-old me).

Something occurred to me about all that - neither Bono nor Mike Scott nor Stuart Adamson had happy childhoods - is that part of the reason they had such driving passion in their music early on? And why, from a likewise difficult background, I was drawn to it?  Robert Smith appears not to have been through hell and back as a kid - is that why he sounded comparatively blasé to me in a lot of those early recordings?

I'll keep adding as I go - picking up with Splintered In Her Head again next time.
SueC is time travelling


Your comments sound pretty harsh to me, and so I'm gonna throw my 'two cents' in.  Perhaps my comments could come across a bit blunt, but I feel your someone who appreciates some honest thoughts from others ...and these are mine ...so here goes:

To start, I have to question the validity of your apparent review given this seems to be the first time you have listened to these songs (correct me if I'm wrong on that).

It reminds me a bit of reading NIN forums after new music had just been released, and people were already making comments about what they viewed as good or bad.  ...sorry, no.  Is that really the way to experience music?

A few years ago Trent Reznor was discussing about the experience of listening to vinyl, which forces the listener to stay with the album a bit more and give it more of a chance:

" It's something that, you know, I turned out the way I did, and the music I loved, the music that's shaped who I am as an artist, is because I had to — I listened to it that way. I only had a few albums that I could afford, and frankly, I didn't like some of them. You know, I didn't like the Talking Heads' Remain in Light when I got it. I couldn't understand it. It scared me, you know? But I only had 30 albums, and that's the one I invested in that month, and I listened to it. You know, and on the third listen, it started to make sense to me. You know, and on the 10th listen, I enjoyed it. You know, and on the 50th listen, it made me smarter, you know, and it changed my viewpoint. And I don't think — when you have access to everything, that it's so easy to say no, no, no, no, skip, skip, skip — you know, you live with that stuff."

God knows many of my now favourite albums and songs would never have been so if I hadn't allowed them time, so I could really understand them  (and some I am still, many years later, still allowing them time, as I feel I still haven't fully absorbed and understood them). 
The Fragile by NIN would have been in the bin after my first listen ...thank goodness I restraint myself.  It actually took several years and MANY listens before I really truly heard that album.
I'm still absorbing the most recent EPs from NIN (particularly the last one), and aware that although I've initially found them a bit hard to digest and 'get', by no means will I judge that this means they aren't good. ...it just means that I haven't yet managed to fully connect with them.  I'm not sure if I ever will, but I'm willing to suspend making hasty judgements.

But anyway, back to The Cure and the 1st disk of Join the Dots.  I'll admit there are some tracks on this disk that I've struggled to connect with (but perhaps in the future that may change ...who knows?).   In particular I've yet to feel the love for Plastic Passion, Do the Hansa, the Flexipop version of Lament, Mr Pink Eyes, or Happy the Man.  (Ok, now it seems I'm the one giving the harsh review ha!).   But what I feel also is just because I don't connect with these songs doesn't mean they aren't good, others may hear it differently (This is one thing I love about the area of psychology, and actually the concept that propelled me into this field as a career :    The idea that there can be one stimulus, such as audio or visual, and MANY different perceptions of the same thing.  ...and yet no one is right, and no one is wrong ...its just perception.  Who is to say what the objective TRUTH is?)

..aannnddd back again to Disk 1 Join the Dots  ....there is SO much I do love, and what an variety of different textures there is ...one moment at Descent and Splintered in Her Head and the next moment at Just One Kiss, Lament, The Upstairs Room, Speak My Language.  Then throw in The Exploding Boy, Stop Dead, A Man Inside My Mouth... whoooo yeah!!
...and Another Journey By Train is one that continues to grow on me. 
...and oh my gosh ...A Few Hours After This... LOVE!

and yes, while it may not be their 'best' work, it probably shouldn't be expected to be as if they were viewed by the band as their best songs then they would have made it onto the albums (rather than this compilation of b-sides).  I personally feel the songs here capture something very important, as it is part of the story, that joins-the-dots on who they became.   

....This whole discussion reminds me a bit of the recent Disintegration shows.  I still recall how stunned I was at the first show that people were leaving during the b-sides and rarities, and hearing comments afterwards expressing disappointment. People saying the b-sides and rarities weren't the songs they prefer to listen to  ...fine, perhaps audiences like that would be happier to go listen to their favourite Cure album (for some at that concert I'd guess it may be the greatest hits CD).  Meanwhile those who value a release like this one, and a concert like that one can enjoy. 

"Where the flesh meets the spirit world,
Where the traffic is thin..."


Quote from: word_on_a_wing on August 31, 2019, 16:21:01Your comments sound pretty harsh to me, and so I'm gonna throw my 'two cents' in.  Perhaps my comments could come across a bit blunt, but I feel your someone who appreciates some honest thoughts from others ...and these are mine ...so here goes:

Yeah, as I said, some people are going to disagree - and should obviously feel free to.  :) Also, in my smorgasbord analogy post a while back I did say people's personal tastes differ, and that I would be really interested to hear from people who like the things I do not, and can tell me what makes it work for them.  What is it about the music, and / or is it the associations that pop up in your mind - is it a soundtrack to a particular significant experience for you, or a link with good memories that were being made when you first heard it, for instance?  So, go for it - tell me what you like about it! :cool  And I'm glad it's working better for you than it is for me!

Remember your reaction to The Only One?  To people who aren't offended by its directness and its sexual references - which are worlds apart, to my mind, with the Led Zeppelin songs we looked at in comparison - it might seem harsh that you're judging a man because he expresses effervescent enjoyment over his sexual relationship with his wife, and thinking he's somehow less evolved or somehow doesn't "get it" on some level because he's celebrating the physical aspects of that.  (Which is not the same as saying you didn't have a right to be uncomfortable with the level of explicitness, because everyone has a right to determine where they draw their personal boundaries with things like that. Or that I thought you were judging the person, I think you were just trying to get your head around something you found intensely uncomfortable. Perceptions and realities often diverge.) We come at music, at life, at words with different perspectives, and one of the really interesting things to me is when people start to talk about their differences in those perspectives, because that is potentially very enriching - suddenly there's not just two eyes and one brain, but there are many eyes and brains that have engaged with life.  So thank you very much for pitching back here, that's great! :)

QuoteTo start, I have to question the validity of your apparent review given this seems to be the first time you have listened to these songs (correct me if I'm wrong on that).

I did say repeatedly through this thread that this is not intended to be a dry, academic type review of the material, but a personal journal type exploration of listening to Join The Dots after it arrived in our mailbox. :)  Quite different exercises, with quite different purposes.

In the last post, it was also pretty clear that I was giving an instant reaction to a first listen - and that I would continue to write down my impressions as I went.  Both Brett and I can tell on a first listen whether something rubs us up the wrong way, for us to ever hugely enjoy it, and that's the case with these tracks for us.  People's musical tastes differ.

Also, we were playing the Boy album - from the same era, U2's 1980 debut album - criss-cross with these tracks yesterday night, to figure out why one appealed to us very much and the other stuff left us cold.  There was a warmth, a depth, and "meaning-it" and a passion to the singing and playing on Boy that there simply wasn't on those half-dozen Cure tracks.  Brett points out that this is comparing B-sides to album tracks, but I generally like B-sides, both from The Cure and from U2, as it turns out.  And you know, there are many, many songs by The Cure where they absolutely do have warmth, depth, "meaning-it" and passion in their music.  We just don't see it in those particular ones, and they are from the beginnings of a group, when people are still finding their feet.

The funny thing for me is that U2 and The Cure are almost reversed here:  U2 started out really original and sounding like nothing else, they were really distinctive from the start, and just playing what was in them - and then at the end of the 1980s they began to look closely at how other musicians did things, and stopped sounding like themselves, which I thought was detrimental, but again, other people will disagree with this, and obviously you have to grow and evolve somehow, and this they did.  Personally I prefer how Mike Scott did his growing and evolving over how U2 did theirs, but again, I'm not those people, and when everything is shaken up, Bloodflowers and Songs Of Innocence are both albums that resonate immensely with me, and albums I love to bits.

So it seems to me that The Cure started out sounding like other people, and then learnt how to be themselves - which is how many bands do it, and how many people do life, as well.  And if anyone here feels I've got the wrong impression, then educate me! :)

When I compare U2 and The Cure, I see one band that was once undeniably authentic, but to me lost something along the way - and I see another band that didn't sound as authentic at the beginning, but when they found their feet and grew up a little, they grew into their own authenticity, and no matter what they've done since, and whether or not I like particular songs, they've managed to hold on to whatever it is that I feel is missing from U2 these days.  While I think U2 are still a fabulous band, and can still relate to a lot of their more recent music, I've never quite felt, after about 1987, that I live in the same universe as Bono, but I do feel that I live in the same universe as Robert Smith.  (Brett says, "That's because Bono's universe is population = 1!")

(And now I better hide under a chair, because this is like managing to offend both the Republicans and the Democrats simultaneously!)

QuoteIt reminds me a bit of reading NIN forums after new music had just been released, and people were already making comments about what they viewed as good or bad.  ...sorry, no.  Is that really the way to experience music?

A few years ago Trent Reznor was discussing about the experience of listening to vinyl, which forces the listener to stay with the album a bit more and give it more of a chance:

" It's something that, you know, I turned out the way I did, and the music I loved, the music that's shaped who I am as an artist, is because I had to — I listened to it that way. I only had a few albums that I could afford, and frankly, I didn't like some of them. You know, I didn't like the Talking Heads' Remain in Light when I got it. I couldn't understand it. It scared me, you know? But I only had 30 albums, and that's the one I invested in that month, and I listened to it. You know, and on the third listen, it started to make sense to me. You know, and on the 10th listen, I enjoyed it. You know, and on the 50th listen, it made me smarter, you know, and it changed my viewpoint. And I don't think — when you have access to everything, that it's so easy to say no, no, no, no, skip, skip, skip — you know, you live with that stuff."

To which I will say, we're in our 40s, and know ourselves pretty well, we listen to a very broad range of music, we are predominantly album listeners - and some things just don't do it for us, and we can usually tell pretty quickly, because of the absence of certain things - space, complexity, passion are all really important to us.  It also wouldn't matter how many times I listen to Kylie Minogue, I still wouldn't like it - or how many times I eat mangoes, I still wouldn't like them.

But we do listen to, and like, a lot of experimental music, and still pick up new things that really appeal to us, and stretch us as well.

I also think there's a big difference between being a kid who doesn't understand adult music, and being a midlife adult who isn't drawn to most people's juvenilia - I often favour people's more mature work, whether that's Dickens or The Cure, or preferring Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 to his Sonnet 18.  There are exceptions, of course - some people seem to be really extraordinary right off the bat.  Also, Brett says that in music you're more likely to hear people's juvenilia because the threshold is a bit lower - so you didn't see Jane Austen's juvenilia, or the Brontës, etc, until after they'd had success with their published novels.

QuoteBut anyway, back to The Cure and the 1st disk of Join the Dots.  I'll admit there are some tracks on this disk that I've struggled to connect with (but perhaps in the future that may change ...who knows?).   In particular I've yet to feel the love for Plastic Passion, Do the Hansa, the Flexipop version of Lament, Mr Pink Eyes, or Happy the Man.  (Ok, now it seems I'm the one giving the harsh review ha!).   But what I feel also is just because I don't connect with these songs doesn't mean they aren't good, others may hear it differently

And with the bit I've highlighted, you and I agree completely! :)

I'm only up to Splintered In Her Head;)  More to come.  As this is in chronological order, I expect that I will meet things that appeal to me more, as this goes on.  I'm looking forward to the rest, from what you've said about some of the upcoming tracks!

It's fabulous to talk to people who care about music! :cool Have a wonderful day!
SueC is time travelling


"I did say repeatedly through this thread that this is not intended to be a dry, academic type review of the material, but a personal journal type exploration of listening to Join The Dots after it arrived in our mailbox. :)  Quite different exercises, with quite different purposes."

...apologies, I hadn't read the earlier posts when you said that as I was on holiday, I only started reading the last little bit of this thread.

"I'm only up to Splintered In Her Head!"  ...I also didn't read that the first time. That makes more sense to me now, I find tracks 2-5 are a bit challenging to my ears too, but it does get better. Overall I'm still glad they released all of these songs  (even the ones I'm less fond of). Perhaps a bit like seeing a play and it all contributes to the story unfolding of what is developing.

I meant no offense, and can we please drop any further mention of my irrational The Only One trigger. It was never intended to convey judgment towards him, I recognise it is my own Shenpa (ie something that hooks me, gets me stuck). I find it remarkable how things can align that further highlight this. I listened to The Cure in shuffle and what songs appear? A Reflection followed by The Only One (*me calling out to the universe "ok! I get it!!"*)

"Where the flesh meets the spirit world,
Where the traffic is thin..."


No problems at all, @word_on_a_wing - and I'm sorry if there were any misunderstandings, which I really didn't want to create.  Sometimes what we really want to say sort of doesn't come out unambiguously, and I really don't want anyone to be uncomfortable.

Hope you're having a lovely week!  :)
SueC is time travelling


This has led to me thinking about choices, though - how we make them, regarding music and life in general.  So I sat down and journalled about that the next day, and am going to post that for anyone interested (bookworms are probably going to have points of overlap).  If anyone wants to respond to that with the way they go about things, and do a "scenic drive" post, that's great - I will get back to B-sides when we listen again.  But, yesterday I moved the wrong way and impinged a nerve in my back - and that produces all sorts of ouchiness not conducive to listening to music.  Better today - and that'll teach me to be more regular with doing Pilates.  If only there were 40 hours in the day...


I was 14 when I first stood inside a university library.  I'd gone there for the day because our school had a staff development day, which meant the students had a day off.  I was in the city for senior high school, had just started Year 11, and could take a bus to places like this.  From the age of six I had spent much of my spare time in school libraries, browsing and then borrowing voraciously across fiction and non-fiction alike, books like treasure to take home.  I could open them up and jump in, thresholds to other worlds, and to this world too – but like in Gulliver's travels, where you could see things both in finer detail and from further away than your everyday perspective.

So a building reputedly with several floors of books drew me like a pilgrim might be drawn to a cathedral.  I'd never been to a place like this before.  I walked through the sliding glass doors; two university students smiled at me.  I was struck by that because generally, older age groups in school hadn't been that welcoming.  These people were old enough to vote, were doing degrees, and they were friendly, acknowledged me.  It gave me a good feeling, on top of being about to see more books in one place than I ever had in my life.

And it was extraordinary.  The ground floor alone was ten times the size of our high school library, the shelves much taller, rows and rows and rows of books, and long, wide tables in the middle with people sitting at them, books piled around them, writing furiously into notebooks.  Ground floor, sociology, philosophy, theology, history, art, literature.  Basement, botany, zoology, physics, chemistry, geology, geography, a section of coffee table books filled with photographs of the world.

After a reconnaisance through the building, I settled into the sociology/philosophy section and browsed.  I pulled titles that intrigued me off the shelves, opened them to the chapter index, flicked through randomly, and got shivers down my spine as entire new ways of looking and thinking opened up to me and tripped open trapdoors in my mind.  Eventually, I chose a handful of books on the American civil rights movement, and on the philosophy of nonviolent action, and carried them to a distraction-free study desk tucked away by a window.  And I read, and read, and read, electrified and barely breathing.  When I looked up, the sun was setting, and my stomach was growling at me – I'd completely forgotten to have lunch.  As I returned the books to their shelves, I was suddenly struck by a piercing realisation:  Even if I lived to be one hundred, I could never read all the books in this library.

Two years later, I returned to spend four years doing a double-major science degree at this university – Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia – and even with all the required subject reading, and taking home recreational reading predominantly from the literature, art, and philosophy sections, I wouldn't have read 0.5% of the books in that library.  And it makes you think, about how you might make your choices, both in books and in life.

Brett always says to me, "Life is too short to read books that don't interest you."  Like me, he's very aware that the amount of worthy reading material on offer vastly exceeds the amount of time we will have to read.  And the same is true for movies, and art, and music as well – we have to find ways of choosing from the vast sea of these things, and that tends to make us very selective.  Also, cultural forms of recreation and self-education need to share space in our lives with other priorities, like physical activity to keep our bodies in good shape, enough sleep, doing our part-time paid work, managing our farm, and growing and preparing food.

We often wish for 40 hours in the day, as a sort of bonus life, to fit more in, but when we look at it, we actually do fit in amazing amounts, and tend to use our time well.  At midlife, you tend to review how things went in the first half, and make priorities for the second half.  We're both happy with what we've achieved in our first 40 years on this planet – and then we tree-changed, of course, owner-built and downshifted, so we no longer work full-time outside our home, and we finally have enough time for each other and for the important things that were always on hold before we quit the rat race.

We're pretty happy with our decision-making protocols – I know I've become very much the kind of person I aimed to become, when I was a teenager, and I've contributed in ways that mattered, and continue to do so;  and if that weren't enough, I also found a sort of personal Eden – the thing I didn't have as a child, and not until I met Brett a dozen years ago – namely generous lashings of love, support, connection, camaraderie in the household I live in; and a microcosm run according to our own shared values and preferences.

So in the context of that, making decisions over which music to listen to is just one small piece of the puzzle.  But how do we decide?  Well, here's what I want from music:  I want it to be nourishing in some way – either emotionally, or by making me think.  I prefer it to be beautiful, although I also have time for experimental music.  If it is those things (and much of this is subjective), it will find a place in me.  I'm the kind of person who prefers to have deep engagements, rather than more superficial ones – I will re-read books I like many times, knowing it means there will be some books worth my while I will never read at all; but I really want that deep engagement with things that have especially moved me, instead of endlessly chasing all over the place for more things that might.  Same with music, films, art.  With that approach, I get a balance of continuing dialogue with "old friends" from whom I am still learning, and picking up new material from the as yet unfamiliar.

And I'm with Brett on this:  In general, if it doesn't make you sparkle, don't waste your time – not when every yes to something is a no to something else.  So for us:  Don't eat Cadbury's chocolate when you could be eating one square of Lindt.  Climb a real mountain if you can, walk a real shoreline, instead of just exercising in buildings which make exercise one-dimensional.  Pick the things that are good for you off the smorgasbord, and be confident in your instincts.  It's your life, be responsible for it, live it.

Of course we all have chores to do in life, which may not be so pleasant, but even there we can choose our attitudes, and our reward systems.  When we do housework, we are both motivated by wanting our partner to have a nice environment to live in, good food to eat, etc; and often we will do a particular task so the other person won't have to do it when they're tired.  Brett usually won't let me wash up; he turns into a growly bear at the sink and tells me washing up is man's work and I should go sit down and relax.  Since I do most of the food preparation, which I really really enjoy, that's fair – although doing dishes is dull, Brett says not to worry, he has audio dramas on his iPod especially for this purpose.  It's so much easier to do your chores when you're doing them out of love, as well.

That's chores... and as for listening to music or reading books, for us that should be a joy, or at least highly thought-provoking.  So those are some of the values we live by, and each person must decide for themselves what their values are, and how to live by them.

Sending best wishes to everyone out there for living your own lives authentically.

SueC is time travelling


This is just an "under-construction" note to say that this thread will be continued just as soon as we've gotten around to listening to more B-sides!  We made an attempt on Sunday returning from a hike, but this turned out to be incompatible with Brett getting a headache, so back to acoustic guitar music it was (Rodrigo y Gabriela).

Both Splintered In Her Head and Lament (Flexipop Version) distinguished themselves from their predecessors though, by having a soundtrack quality to them - a soundtrack to madness perhaps, in the former; at any rate, an attempt to capture a mood with music.  It's not pleasant listening, but I don't think it's meant to be.  The lyrics to Lament were interesting, if brief.  More soon...
SueC is time travelling


OMG, is it September 20 already?  (...and is it really 2019??? What am I doing so far in The Future???)  Time to listen to more B-sides I think - which I promise to do immediately I start making spaghetti sauce later this evening.  It's raining tomorrow and miserable apparently, so this means I should be able to write something more up... :angel

...and then add it to this post...

PS:  It didn't rain much today, so I did outdoors stuff.  I have written up some songs, but won't be posting the thing until I finish the whole of CD-1.  I'm looking forward to the next CD! :angel

...one of the most unpleasant tasks is finding you're not drawn to an entire CD's worth of music (as is the case here, and re-visits aren't helping any) and then you write and delete and write and delete and think, "Maybe it would be best if I simply said I really don't love anything on this CD and like very little of it and leave it there and then just go to the next one, instead of saying why I feel this way..."
SueC is time travelling



There's few things more dull than talking about a CD of songs you don't actually like, so it's taken me forever to post this.  Executive summary for our response to CD-1 of Join The Dots:  We neither of us love anything on it, and like very little of it.  It's still been interesting historically to give this a listen, given there is so much stuff this band did later on that we do really love.  But, this part of the archaeological dig has been unexciting for us.

It would be great to leave it at that and skip things over, but this is an open-journalling exercise in which I'm trying to do the same thing that I would do on paper in the privacy of my own home - i.e. be honest about all my responses, positive and negative, and go wherever the thoughts set off by this listening expedition might take me.

For anyone who's not read the rest of the thread, there was lots of material we happily engaged with on other CDs in this box set - we've just hit a dead zone for us here.

In summary from more recent posts, and in stark contrast to many of the B-sides already reviewed from CD-2 and CD-3, tracks 1-6 on CD-1 were not our thing at all, but we thought things improved a bit after that because at least the next couple of tracks began to sound like they were intended to create an atmosphere, and less like a garage band.  Please refer back to those earlier posts for further details.

Then, things nose-dived for us again.  Just One Kiss, The Dream and The Upstairs Room strongly reminded us of the things we really didn't like about a lot of 80s music first time around, as teenagers.  Coming back to these three songs again a week later didn't improve the experience for us.  I pulled an 80s album off my shelf which I'd bought about 20 years ago from a $5 specials rack for historical interest, and had similar reactions to back then - it's one of the least played CDs in my collection and I doubt I've given it a spin this millennium.  I played it back and asked Brett to tell me if he liked it better, worse or about the same.  The album in question is Real To Real Cacophony by Simple Minds.  Brett said "OMG, it's all such dire, insipid 80s crap!" (we don't usually spend time listening to music we don't actually like, so it can get exasperating) but that he slightly preferred the Cure songs because they were slightly more acoustic; cautioning that this shouldn't be interpreted as him enjoying any of it because he really wasn't.  When I looked at the lyrics for a while, I said to him, "I'm trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, I'm looking for something to commend, but I keep getting the impression that these things were written on the run and/or in a state of substance intoxication."  He said, "Well, they probably were, you might be wasting your time looking for something profound here."

All three tracks are off Japanese Whispers, which we bought a while back and were largely (but not entirely) unimpressed by, and which is our least favourite Cure CD to date (I guess it's now our second least favourite, if we're going to count this one).  So, we'd heard these tracks before a couple of years ago as well.

I kind of like Lament, especially the guitar on it – not so much the vocals, or the keyboards, or the drum-machine sound.  Lyrically, I'd caution that it's thin ice to be describing people with different philosophical and religious views to your own as fools (glass houses, etc), but other than that, it's nice to have a coherent theme here, and something that's a bit more together.

Speak My Language, we already knew from Japanese Whispers as well, and it shares some instrumentation characteristics with its A-side, The Lovecats, but without rising anywhere to the heights of that song.  It also showcases a through-the-nose, distorted singing technique which kind of gives me a rash - we've seen from later work that Robert Smith actually has a really lovely singing voice when he's using it fully.

Mr Pink Eyes, Happy The Man, Throw Your Foot and New Day are back in the same territory as Just One Kiss etc, discussed above - the same broad comments apply lyrically; and the music now sounds to me like a chimera between Playschool and an opium den - not something I'm going to inflict on myself again, not when there's so much wonderful music in this world that I could be listening to instead, including by this very same band (!!!).

The Exploding Boy is a far more pleasant song musically than its four predecessors, and slightly reminiscent of its A-side In Between Days, but the lyrics still have the same feel as the predecessors.  Here's a thought - maybe a clear head isn't incompatible with creativity and quality lyrics.  I was getting rather riled at this point, listening to song after song that comes across so puerile - and I was remembering that this was the exact thing that really put me off The Cure as a teenager, because the pool of music I heard from them back then on the radio very much felt like this most of the time.

A Few Hours After This, A Man Inside My Mouth, Stop Dead, are to me much of a muchness as what I've already discussed, and I'm really glad I've come to the end of this CD at last and can now go on to the last CD in this set, which isn't going to be such musical purgatory for either of us.

I don't like to end on a low point, so I want to relate what happened after a re-listen to this CD on the weekend, where we attempted to identify what it was that didn't appeal to us about these tracks and then fast-forwarded to 1989's Fascination Street for juxtaposition – and what a world of difference by then – there's proficiency and musicians listening and responding to each other, there's space, complexity, counterpoint, and a whole lot of finesse that just wasn't there on the CD-1 B-sides; and the track is so mesmerising that you don't care there's no singing for over two minutes, and when the voice does kick in, it's just right, and Robert Smith isn't singing through his nose, but from his heart – and that's the sort of music that attracted both of us to this band for further listening.
SueC is time travelling



This is a little side post on how people respond to music, literature, art, etc - what determines whether they're going to love, like, be neutral, dislike or really loathe something.

A lot of our "like/dislike" can be quite subjective - particular genres and styles can rub us up the wrong way for sometimes mysterious internal reasons, the same way certain dishes at a smorgasbord can be off-putting to us even if they are prepared to a high culinary standard - nothing innately wrong with the cooking and preparation, just it doesn't agree with us: Maybe we have a food allergy, a chemical intolerance, we don't like the taste or the look, we have bad associations with a dish, our body is steering us to other dishes which are more likely to address particular deficits currently being experienced, etc etc.

So, there are some music genres I don't enjoy, much as I don't enjoy pineapples or stuffed capsicums - it's not about the food or music necessarily being substandard, it's that it doesn't agree with me.  I personally generally dislike heavy metal, grunge, elevator music, schmaltz (is that a genre? ...but you all know what I mean! ;)), Country & Western, rap, keyboard-heavy plasticky-sounding insipid 80s mainstream music, and cock rock.  (I had no idea there was such a genre as cock rock until I started writing this thread. :rofl  ...but the description fits perfectly... I also refer any bookworms amongst you to the relevant chapter of Desmond Morris' classic The Human Zoo :) ...if you've not read it yet, it changes the way you look at things...)

So, some of my reaction, and my husband's reaction as well, to CD-1 of Join The Dots was because much of it (from Just One Kiss onwards) fell under the umbrella of a type of 80s music we have simply never liked.  I'd have a similar response if I had to listen to a Country & Western album, or trash metal, etc.

Humour spot:  I've just finished reading the novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Perfectly Fine, which I enjoyed very much and from which I wanted to share a really funny scene of un-worldly-wise Eleanor going to a gig without knowing exactly what she would be in for:

The bar was poorly lit and, as implied by the name, utterly filthy.  Loutish, unkempt people of both genders sat around in Stygian gloom, and the music from the stereo system was both unfeasibly loud and unspeakably terrible.

We went downstairs to the venue.  It was already almost full.  As I'd stood waiting for Raymond in the doorway, I'd noticed a procession of ridiculous-looking young people entering the premises - this, it transpired, was where they were going.  We were surrounded by black - black clothes, black hair, spiked and shaved and sculpted.  Black make-up on both men and women, applied in a way that Bobbi Brown would not have endorsed.  There were a lot of spikes everywhere too - hair, jewelry, even on backpacks.  Almost no one wore normal shoes.  All Hallows' Eve, I thought.

...The audience started making a collective animal noise and surged forward.  We stayed where we were - the musicians were now on-stage and had begun to play.  I put my hands to my ears, unable to believe what I was hearing.  Without exaggeration, it could only be described as the cacophonous din of hell.  What on earth was wrong with these people?  The 'singer' alternated between screaming and growling.

I couldn't bear it a moment longer and ran upstairs, rushing outside into the street, panting and shaking my head like a dog in an attempt to rid my ears of the sound.  Raymond followed shortly afterward.

"What's wrong, Eleanor?" he said, looking concerned.  "Are you OK?"

I wiped the tears from my face.

"That wasn't music, that was...oh, I don't know.  The horror, Raymond! The horror!"

Raymond started to laugh, proper belly laughs (for which he was very well equipped), until he was actually bent over and struggling to breathe.

"Oh, Eleanor," he said, wheezing.  "I knew you weren't a fan of grindcore!  What the f*ck were you thinking?"  He started giggling again.

"I just wanted to see the venue, listen to a band," I said.  "That such sounds could exist - it's beyond human imagining...Let us retire to an inn or public house, Raymond - a quiet one - and please, allow me to buy you some beer in recompense for this wasted evening."

"Oh, it wasn't wasted, Eleanor," he said, shaking his head.  "Your face!  This is one of the best nights out I've had in ages."

We've looked at how quite a bit of our inclination to like or dislike music, literature and art is subjective, and often more to do with our tastes than with objective criteria.  However, this doesn't mean objective criteria can't be applied to give you some idea of the quality of music, literature, art, cooking etc.

With food, if it's accidentally burnt or if it's overcooked, over-salted, maggot-infested etc, this decreases its objective quality, and most people's enjoyment of it.  Of course, rather paradoxically, if it's deliberately burnt (the stripes on chargrilled meat), or deliberately mouldy (Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Brie etc), this can indicate you're dealing with a very high-quality food as well.

With writing, there are also quality criteria.  When we're formally assessing student poetry or creative writing, for example, criteria include:

* Technical aspects like grammar, spelling, paragraphing

* How well does the author convey their chosen topic to the reader? Is what they're saying clear, understandable, evocative, does it capture the reader's imagination? (some of which is of course subjective, but you can compensate for this)

* What literary devices are being used in the writing?  If it's poetry - use of onomatopoeia, similes, metaphors, imagery, alliteration, assonance etc to convey meaning are often very effective.  You don't have to have everything off the list, but it helps to be able to use these techniques.  What kind of rhyme scheme, if any? Rhythm, meter, arrangement of stanzas?  Allusions to other works?  Satire, parody, comedy, tragedy?

These kinds of criteria can help get writers thinking about their writing, and help in grading people's work for assessment in schools and universities.  It's not like assessing maths tests, of course - it's more nuanced, and though there's lots of things to look for, the overall effect is the most important thing - and different pieces of writing can be brilliant for very different reasons, and sparse prose can be as extraordinary as a word painting, and free verse as breathtaking as a well-written, highly structured sonnet.

Similarly, with music, there are criteria which can help point to quality.  The most obvious ones are things like:  Are the musicians competent on their instruments, at least for what they are attempting to play?  Are they playing in time?  How well is a mood created, an idea conveyed, can you dance to it, does it matter if you can't?  Is there simplicity, complexity, counterpoint, call-and-response, etc etc, how are these used, how effective is it?

These are questions to consider, but not black-and-white prescriptions... because we all know what happens when you get too black-and-white about this:

Anyway, thinking about the difference between personal taste and objective quality can be helpful in our encounters with food, writing, music, art etc.  Too often, people think that because they don't like something, it's automatically rubbish.  It helps to know whether you don't like a particular crime novel because it's not that well-written, or because you don't like crime novels (or both).  :)

As always, if anyone wishes to chime in and relate their own ideas and thoughts, you are most welcome.  And, for those of you who enjoyed CD-1 of Join The Dots, or love particular songs from it, I'm always really interested in hearing from people who like the things I do not, and can tell me what makes it work for them.  What is it about the music you like?  And / or is it the associations that pop up in your mind - is it a soundtrack to a particular significant experience for you, or a link with good memories that were being made when you first heard it, for instance?

Similarly, is there music that sends you running from a room?  Why does it do that to you?

One of the most interesting times in a high school English classroom is when teenagers bring in their favourite music and do projects on it.  It's wonderful when they start to listen to things they wouldn't have considered listening to before, simply because they know and respect another person with different tastes to themselves, and they understand the distinction between our personal tastes, and ideas of objective quality - and when they then say, "Although it's still not a genre / band /song I personally enjoy, I can see why you like it, and I see it differently now because I've seen it through your eyes, thank you for letting me borrow your eyes." :)

SueC is time travelling



I'm becoming rapidly familiar with CD-4, which is easy because it's mostly right down my street.  I'm going to discuss the songs on it chronologically when I get around to it, but I'm a bit busy at the moment and would like to do a small advance post on the big big treat that I found on CD-4 - something I'd not heard before and my favourite track off this CD.  It was apparently an unreleased song from the Bloodflowers sessions.  Bloodflowers was, of course, the album that got me into The Cure in a big way when I first heard it five years ago in consequence of my husband encouraging me to borrow his iPod when working outdoors.

I've not made a habit of posting clips of the songs I've talked about on this thread, since all of us know how to use YouTube etc, but I'm going to make an exception for this one because it isn't as well known as it should be, and because I'd like to encourage anyone reading who hasn't heard it before to give it a spin.

I was listening to this CD "by osmosis" while doing other things, rather than headphones-in-the-dark, which was my method as a teenager - and this song just leapt out at me, first musically, then lyrically.  I love the creation of atmosphere on this track, the spooky, dislocated feel.  This fits the lyrics to a T - a very cleverly written Jekyll & Hyde number.


The other one feeds on my hesitation
Grows inside of my trepidation
Buries his claws in my dislocation
I whisper your name to lose control

I take a step and over my shoulder
His roll-white eyes shine wilder and bolder
His snow-white thighs press closer and colder
Murmur in me to let him go

The other one thrives on my desperation
Fills me up with my intoxication
Sinks his teeth in my deviation
Suffering me to lose control

Hold my mouth, taste his breath
Hissing, breathing are the same
Snakes its sound inside my head
Sickening me to let him go

I take a step and over my shoulder
His pain-white eyes shine wilder and bolder
His stain-white thighs press closer and colder
Murdering me to let him go

I try to resist the gruesome kiss
I twist to deny the blood-hot bliss
But I always feel myself becoming him
And the last thing I remember
It isn't me, it isn't me, it isn't me

But then it never is...

Now there's something to get your teeth into.  I'll discuss this in more detail when I get back around to it chronologically because once I start on this, I'm not going to finish in under 500 words...

When I was listening to this track, I was reminded of another song, very different musically, which also deals with this general theme, but in a very different way.  I love the twist at the end - the whole way through, when I first heard it, I thought he was talking about his father. 

The self, having a shadow, and how to manage all of that...

PS: Brett also reminded me of the Billy Joel song The Stranger, on a similar theme:  http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-stranger-lyrics-billy-joel.html
SueC is time travelling



Open-journalling is like journalling at home in your paper journal as far as content goes - you're just writing in the open, where someone might get something out of it (and others not, but that's OK), and where conversations can happen and things can get interactive if someone wants to jump in, which can be fun.  I've done this for years in a journalling group on my "home forum" where we're all used to each other and know each other quite well, and jump in and discuss all sorts of things on each other's journals.  There we have designated journals with specific interaction rules, but you can really apply the principles of that anywhere on a forum.  This thread isn't a journal, but I'm open-journalling responses to music here - specifically to the Join The Dots box set which arrived at our very rural West Australian mailbox a couple of months ago.  I could have done this on my online journal, but because it is so specifically on music by The Cure, it made far more sense to do this here, where other people have a familiarity with the general topic, and enjoy this band and alternative music in general.

I've had paper journals since age 14, and used them from the go-get to think out loud, record experiences, host alternative music awards from parallel universes, explore all sorts of subject areas, review books, films, concerts and CDs, write poetry etc. When you journal, often you're trying to make sense of the world, or understand who you are and why, and this naturally carries over into all sorts of subject explorations.  You're not stepping back in this kind of writing, it's more of a dialogue.  I'm not reviewing Join The Dots in the traditional sense, I'm journalling a personal response to it - so there's the music, and there's how it affects me as a listener, what it makes me think about, etc.  I think that's actually an important part of what music does - what happens at the listener end - but we don't usually get to read about it, not as a two-way street.  Music is reviewed in the general media by "experts" and rated by them, often without half the understanding of it a thoughtful general audience member would have, and often without making the distinction between opinion and fact.  I'm fed up with various "experts" ranking all the Cure albums from "best" to "worst" when what they're really doing is to rank them from "the one I like the most" to "the one I like the least" - and those are not the same thing.

We're so encultured to think this way that I still frequently have to remind myself to correct my language as I'm writing down impressions, to make the distinction between personal response and objective quality - to say, "I really don't like..." and, "This really rubs me up the wrong way..." and, "This doesn't agree with me..." instead of, "This is crap, this is bad, blah blah blah!" and conversely, just because I like or even love something doesn't necessarily mean it's objectively brilliant.  That's in part what the Subjective vs Objective scenic detour above was about.

Today I have another scenic detour, as is the nature of responding to music or books or films etc that move us personally.  It's a long detour before getting back to the music, so unless you are interested in scenic stuff, you might want to skip this one.  ;)


It was impossible for me not to think about the recreational drug culture and in general about addictions to substances and more covert things, when listening to this material - those are referred to both specifically and in passing on a number of songs in this box set, and in associated interviews as well.  I listen to a lot of podcasts too in my everyday life, on all sorts of subjects including neuroplasticity, brain biochemistry, the mind, addiction, mental health, etc, and this will tie back to other things I'm doing or writing about.

1. Personal background

Last night we were discussing Coming Up and made a list of songs we know on related subjects, which I will interweave when I get back to discussing songs chronologically in a bit, and this started a long conversation between us.  My husband and I have both always been outliers when it comes to recreational drugs and binge drinking, because we've simply not gone there at all - much to the astonishment of some of our friends recently, when for some reason that came up for discussion - since we're not religious, or anything like that.  One lovely young woman we know said, "What?  I don't know anyone else like that in my whole circle!" and we laughed.  She was quizzing us on how we could possibly not have had boring lives (we really haven't) and how we could possibly deny ourselves such pleasures and explorations (because we have many alternative pleasures and explorations which mean the world to us), and then telling us how she lost two to three years of her life and an architecture place at university because she got incredibly affected by excessive pot-smoking and just ceased to care or have ambitions.  That's not how it goes for everyone, of course, but we did ask, "Was that worth the price, to you?"  She reflected on that, and really, we worked out that in that scenario, family of origin issues played a large part anyway, for her.  She says that the heavy dive into drugs for her delayed dealing with the real issues, and of course that's often the case when people have addictions, to drugs or to the many other things we can get addicted to.

Brett and I were thinking last night, "What made us avoid recreational drugs?"  Both of us, from childhood, reacted badly to cigarette smoke, and weren't going to be interested in anything administered that way, and of course, that was the main thing about when we were growing up.  I always gagged at cigarette smoke - and pot smoke is actually worse, for me - just one whiff of that, with its sickly sweet smell, gives me instant, horrible nausea.  I have sensitivities to a lot of synthetic chemicals as well - can't handle perfumes, and have to walk through the cleaning agents aisles in supermarkets with my breath held, unless I want nausea and migraines.

Brett told me that his high school was a high drug use high school, mostly peopled by pot smokers.  He was offered drags, but always politely declined.  He says it wasn't just the smoking aspect, it was that he decided he liked his brain chemistry the way it was.  Also, he says there was a park opposite the school where groups of alcoholics lay in a stupor during the daytime, and that this always made him think, "I don't ever want that to be me!"

After he left school, he ended up in a tertiary course where people were far more interested in video games than recreational drugs - "And they're really addictive too!" he told me, laughing.  He had some musician friends whom he understood to be partaking various things, just as they understood him not to be, so they just mutually respected that.  (How very civilised!  You try not drinking, in some social environments. :1f62e:  Some drinkers can be extraordinarily judgemental and rude - presumably, that type is insecure when confronted with behaviour unlike their own.)

Brett says, "I've always wanted to buy books and CDs in preference to acquiring and financing substance habits.  Quite apart from the health ramifications, I would consider smoking and regular drinking etc a waste of my book and CD money, and if I won the lottery, I'd just buy more books and music - and pay off the remaining mortgage, of course, and travel more, and fix the driveway.  I love my books and CDs, they're exploration and experience and alternative universes."

In my case, people at school knew better than to offer me drugs, since I wasn't shy about my stance on that for my own self.  I remember a friend who was on the yearbook committee with me, coming up to me at the end of one lunchtime in an incredible fluster, going, "Sue, I just tried some pot and I'm scared my teacher will be able to tell when I go back to class."  I said, "Don't breathe on anyone and quit looking like a rabbit in the headlights!"  That advice was probably no use to her - when I was 22, and doing my final practicum for my post - B.Sc. Grad.Dip.Ed, one of the department teachers was laughing uproariously one lunchtime and telling me, "If you're not teaching next period, come into my Year 10 class, I have something to show you!"  As it turned out, he knew a group of boys in his class were regular lunchtime pot smokers, and he derived great amusement from the amount of paranoia that he could induce in them just by looking at them.  He said he didn't report them because they were far less of a disturbance to his class when they were in a pot haze than when they weren't, and far easier to manage. :rofl

When I was a university student, binge drinking was de rigueur at all the social functions - they had drinking competitions where you could avoid elimination if you needed to vomit, so long as you threw up in your glass and drank it again, and people actually did that. :1f635: I thought that was really disgusting, and ceased going to these functions - you couldn't have a decent conversation with people at these things anyway.  I simply socialised with people in the private study room, after classes, over lunch etc.

I spent my first 11 years of life in Germany and Italy, before coming out to Australia, and I'd never come across binge drinking back there (although it probably existed in enclaves away from me).  The culture was simply different - people drank a glass of wine with lunch in Italy, but they didn't drink to get legless.  Children in these cultures are offered tastes from an adult's glass, so it's never a big thing that's not allowed until you're grown up, and doesn't get the same rite-of-passage mystique attached to it.  I decided I disliked beer and champagne before age ten, and have never reversed my opinion on them - beer to me tastes like something brewed from the socks of soldiers who have been on a forced week-long march in the tropics, and champagne is sickly - so sickly I threw up a tiny glass of pink champagne pressed on me at a New Year's function as a kid, all over the sofa - it was just as if I'd been forced to drink diluted mustard - instant vomit, and "No thanks!" from my body.

I did enjoy Advocaat on my ice-cream occasionally from little - some Germans said, "OMG, you're training her to be an alcoholic!" and actually it was quite the reverse.  I don't like the stuff on its own.  My biggest adult use for liqueurs, wine, brandy is making desserts.  We occasionally have a glass of wine with cheese - usually when friends bring wine when coming to lunch.  We enjoy cider and perry in summer as a treat after working outside on hot jobs, but I'd get a sore stomach if I had more than a standard drink, so we share a small bottle between us, and we only do that about twice a week on average, that time of year.  We have sweet tea with brandy in the winter - a cultural thing from rum-and-tea in Central Europe (we just prefer brandy) - everyone had their thermos - I once watched a girl showjump an obstacle course after having too much of that, and she was quite unable to effectively communicate with her horse.  She eventually got dumped headfirst into an obstacle, and her horse jumped over the arena entry gate and raced back to the stables, while a little friend and little me were rolling about with laughter at the silly thing the older girl had done.

Coming to Australia was a shock - many of the kids at school were obsessed with alcohol, in a way I'd never been because it was just something you had in moderation with food where I came from.  Binge drinking was a life ambition for school leavers... and then those antics at university... Travelling to London at age 26 on a working holiday, I was sharing house with three other young women give or take a couple of years from my age, and couldn't get over their habit of drinking themselves under the table every Friday night, and much of the weekend.  I spent my Friday nights journalling, and my weekends sight-seeing, going to museums and art galleries etc.  I sat with Emma on a Friday night if she found herself left behind by her pals, and chatted.  She'd have a bottle of wine or two she'd brought home after work, and proceed to drink herself through these.  She'd offer me some, and I'd sometimes accept a glass (my limit).  I noticed that Emma actually started to open up about stuff I talked about as a matter of course, when she'd had a glass or two, and we could have interesting conversations.  I couldn't understand why she couldn't just be open without drinking alcohol.  She'd keep on drinking, though, and then went through a progression from silly to maudlin before starting to slur and then finally collapsing unconscious on the sofa or floor.  It was winter when I was there, and I worried about her getting hypothermia, since the central heating switched off after midnight in the lounge, and there was no way she would make it back to her bedroom upstairs - so I'd get her quilt and wrap her in it, turn off the light, and go back to my journal, bemused by these strange things. I often feel like an alien who's accidentally landed on a strange planet.

Part of my personal avoidance of drunkenness and recreational drugs came from a very strong drive to survive, which I had from childhood, because I had a really difficult childhood, from which I have complex PTSD. I didn't know I had complex PTSD until my early 40s (I've related that on the Music for Emotional Health thread), but the brains of children who grow up in war zones - domestic or international - develop differently to normal brains, because they get pickled in stress hormones and because particularly when your home environment is profoundly unsafe, that little brain can end up throwing all its resources at survival, and becoming prematurely independent, so that safety might eventually be reached - which is how my brain responded to that environment.  PTSD and alcohol / recreational drugs are not a happy mix - same with depression.  It tends to make it worse overall, while giving people temporary relief from symptoms.*  I seemed instinctively to know that it would be dangerous to me, and I actively avoided it from the outset.  On a rational level, as a teenager, I knew I had a lot on my plate already and that the last thing I needed is to make more trouble for myself.  I steered actively towards activities that made me feel genuinely better, like spending time in nature, hiking trails, reading, listening to music, sleeping 8-9 hours a night, and focusing on good nutrition once I was out of the student poverty trap.

So that's our current personal contexts and how they developed from our backgrounds.  Next I'd like to look at a wider view.

(*A few exceptions apply - I'll refer to the experimental use of psilocybin etc in the treatment of depression in Section 5.)

2. Overt and covert addictions

When I was growing up, my father often voiced his decided opinion that people who took recreational drugs are weak, stupid, useless, criminal, and a general waste of space.  He was also intensely homophobic, fat-shamed my mother, thought poor people ought to be sterilised, punched me in the face for putting a poster of a male pop star wearing make-up and a kaftan on my bedroom wall when I was 13, and often came into my room to mock the music I was listening to - amongst many other things - so it can be quite safely assumed that I didn't think him a reliable source of good opinions, and tended to think (and journal ;)) about alternative points of view.

In retrospect, I think his diatribes against recreational drug users were a case of, "Look over there!"  His brother was an alcoholic and looked down upon in the family because of it, but my father is a workaholic, and my mother is a TV addict who schedules her life and social engagements around re-runs of Days Of Our Lives and other dreadful American programmes where everyone seems to be living in a sort of fantasy world which viewers love but to me is one of the nine circles of hell.  My mother kept house, but was not available for conversation to me as a child - the familiar refrains were, "I don't have time!" and, "Wait until the commercial break!"  My parents were as effectively disabled from meaningful, positive parenting by their addictions and unsorted emotional baggage as full-on heroin addicts, while still retaining their social respectability.

I think, looking back at this from my late 40s, that my father is one of those people for whom a dose of hallucinogenic mushrooms might have been therapeutic, to break him out of his mental prison, black-and-white thinking, and general ruts.

A friend's sister actually experimented with this quite literally.  They were twins and had grown up in a strongly religious northern Irish family who'd migrated to Australia, and they were belted and shamed and emotionally abused as children in ways that were more extreme than what happened in my own upbringing.  My friend took on the role of "the responsible one" and "mother's slave" - but her sister rebelled.  She drank, smoked, swore, openly came out as lesbian, and when the parents were somehow cajoled into attending her wedding recently (I don't know how they fandangled that, my parents didn't attend our wedding because of the inconvenience of our living four hours' drive from them, but that was probably a blessing in disguise anyway, knowing what they're like at these kinds of milestones), she turned up drunk, dressed in leather, on a motorbike, and tongue-kissed her bride.  It's kind of funny, but the sad thing is that she is probably as much defined by her parents as the daughter who did not rebel, instead of living freely (if we can aspire to such a thing).

Anyway, family Christmas used to be an ordeal for both these women as adults.  They were expected to turn up, and the biddable one was fat-shamed in front of all assembled - her mother actually brought out bathroom scales and put them next to the dinner table and ordered my friend to get on, in front of everyone - which to her credit she refused to do.  The mother was so unpleasant in so many ways that one Christmas, the rebellious twin brought Christmas cookies into which she had baked marijuana, just for the parents - and my friend said that was the best Christmas they ever had together.  Her parents practically melted into their seats and giggled a lot, while the sisters took care of Christmas dinner.  It was the only time they ever received compliments from their parents for their efforts at this event, instead of constant criticism.  It's a pity the effect wasn't lasting.

The best thing, of course, is simply not to go to things like that, when people have appalling manners and the occasions are never happy.  Unfortunately, it takes many people who grew up with childhood abuse a long time to break away from these disrespectful relationships. It's amazing how long people will still go back to families like that, when they'd not put up with that sort of treatment for five minutes, coming from anyone else.  It's like Stockholm Syndrome.

3. Intermittent variable reward

You don't need to have externally sourced chemicals to get an addiction.  A lot of covert addictions work by triggering our own brain chemistry - things like dopamine and endorphins (= endogenic morphine).  We have internal chemical reward systems which are, in evolutionary terms, meant to encourage us to engage in life-sustaining activities, like eating the right foods, getting enough exercise, engaging socially (for social mammals, like humans), sleeping sufficiently, bonding with a partner, engaging with them sexually, etc.  This works very well in less complicated mammals than ourselves, but it's a bit of a Pandora's box with the strange brain we humans have ended up with - especially when we're taken out of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and plonked into the modern world of our own construction.

Now, the internal chemical reward systems give false positives to industrial non-foods high in sugar and low in actual essential nutrients, widely distributed depictions of other people engaging in sex, social media "friending" and "likes", telephones beeping at us, poker machines, video games, the acquisition of materialistic status items, and a whole horde of other things that aren't necessarily great for us.  Our internal chemical reward systems aren't adapted to our strange modern world.  This is one reason a lot of people report feeling so much better when they've sea changed or tree changed and are getting back in touch with nature, and when coming off the treadmill gives them time to reflect, and figure out what's important to them and how they really want to live.

One thing that's put to work when corporations hire psychologists to design strategies to manipulate consumers is the concept of intermittent variable reward.  It has its roots in needing to survive in nature, and it rewards persistence, which is great when you're out hunting, or looking for wild strawberries, or fending off a bear, or helping a friend in peril - but not so great when you're sitting at a poker machine, or doing Facebook, or engaged in a dysfunctional relationship with a narcissist.  All three of these are examples of the use intermittent variable reward to purposely create addiction in others.

My husband and I actively avoid things like Facebook and other deliberately addictive social media.  By its nature, the Internet is a rabbit hole of intermittent variable reward anyway.  This can be great when you're researching something, or writing something - hunter-gathering, so to speak.  It can also be an awful time-sink when you're tired and unfocused and procrastinating, and we've designed strategies to help us avoid the pitfalls of all this, while allowing us to use the Internet for things that we've decided are important to us.  We both engage in a couple of forums, which to us are the more benign forms of social media, and which encourage discourse and even actual friendship and community.  I'm always really aware that the people I'm talking to on forums are real human beings, just as they would be if they were in a physical discussion group with me.  I'm from a generation who had snail-mail pen-pals as children, and we often met our pen-pals and became face-to-face friends.  Forums can be like pen-pals all talking to each other, and it's amazing what can be shared on that medium - not just words, but music, art, photos, film clips, you name it, and in real time - much more alive and immediate than the pen-and-paper medium (which still has its place for us though).  As forum communities are so international, you'd need a TARDIS to catch up in person with people on it.  ;)

A couple of superb and accessible resources related to this subject:

..including these books:



4. Cold turkey off covert addiction

I didn't know half this stuff when I was 24, and going cold turkey off my own hijacked brain chemistry after a breakup from a long and painful relationship with a narcissist (which is textbook for people from backgrounds of serious childhood trauma).  This wasn't love, this was addiction - as became patently obvious to me when I finally left, and house-sat for a friend while getting back on my feet.

In a normal, healthy relationship, the default setting is for people to be nice to each other, treat one another with respect and consideration, offer their authentic selves, really look and listen, nurture each other, work as a team and avoid being an ass.  When one is an ass, one offers apologies and reparation, and works conscientiously on avoiding slipping up like that again - both out of self-respect, and out of respect for the other person.

In dysfunctional relationships, the being an ass is a default in at least one person, and is not truly regretted by them, although they may occasionally offer hollow apologies / fauxpologies when pressed.  The ass(es) operate superficially and often don't understand authenticity because their lives are cut to an external template (many templates for how to be are offered in our consumer society, and most of them are money-spinners for corporations).  Being nice is intermittent, and because it's intermittent, this can be really addictive as the other person subconsciously tries to work out what they can do to make niceness happen again.  Meanwhile, they're getting depleted, and their biochemistry becomes hooked on the game the other person is playing.   Also, perversely, sex becomes terribly loaded under circumstances like that, and when you're young you might think that nothing can ever possibly beat that, when in reality it's yet another trick of your biochemistry (and trust me, what I thought was so stratospheric very much pales in comparison with how it can be when you've got a respectful partner, and a healthy relationship - you just can't know this until you've experienced it) .

Many "love" songs have been written, which are really about this sort of thing.  The beautiful, lilting Cranberries tune Linger is an example of a song that actually romanticises dysfunctional couple relationships:

It's a gorgeous song, but I can't listen to it without a bitter taste in my mouth, because I've been there, over twenty years ago now, and it's beyond awful, and should not be romanticised.  People shouldn't think that it's not love if you're not suffering, and not giving up your personal boundaries and self-respect.  These kinds of ideas need to be thrown out into the cesspit where they belong, instead of being recycled to make yet another batch of human beings miserable - but they are often taught in the home, overtly or covertly, as they were in my family of origin, which is why children from those homes often have painful relationships until they can work out that they actually have the equivalent of a software virus, propagated by dysfunctional families and also by aspects of popular culture.

You can get rid of that virus, but you have to know you have it before you can do that.  It's not easy, but it is possible.

So when I was 24, Linger was still constantly being played on the radio, and I'd finally managed to extricate myself from that sort of relationship.  What followed was roughly two months of significant physical illness.  At the start, I was shaking uncontrollably, cold all the time, nauseated, not eating, all my muscles hurt, it was painful to move, painful to open my eyes, loud noises made me feel like I was dying, I was crying uncontrollably for hours, I felt miserable and completely hollow inside.  I had to make myself get up and shower, make smoothies for myself in an attempt to coax some kind of nutrition into my body, make myself walk around the block, make myself do things that were normal and healthy, to break out of that cycle.

The physical symptoms were very like what people describe coming cold turkey off heroin and similar substance addictions.  That's because the brain biochemistry is very similar.  And the thing that makes it stop almost instantly is to go back to the person, like going back to a drug, and this is also why a lot of battered women return to their abusive partners (and why rebound relationships are a thing).  This is exactly why I had returned to this partner after two previous breakups (I was dealing with systematic emotional abuse and serial infidelity, and of course he was always angelic until I had re-committed), but this time I had a shadow of an idea of how these things might work. I was starting to look beyond the emotional level and its traps, and the BS idea that you've not forgiven someone unless you let them do it again, and the romantic, dysfunctional songs on the radio, and instead was looking at biochemistry, in which I happened to get an A as an undergraduate.  I was highly trained, dammit, and it was time to apply my brain to this, and I finally managed to do that.  Compartmentalisation is an interesting phenomenon - and re-integration is fantastic.

So, obviously, the other way to get past the biochemical withdrawal misery after that kind of relationship is to realise that this misery with which you're going to live for a month or two is something of a biological trick, and that it's the only way you're going to actually remove yourself from something that's been harming you, and that going back is not a healthy solution, no matter what anyone twisted who might be around you says.

When I was 24, I experienced that final breakup from that painful relationship consciously as the equivalent of a drug withdrawal, and this helped to address a lot of the instinctive fear and dread that has so many people going back to situations like this.  It's good to have your rational brain switched on and on your side when you have to brook something like this.  The rational brain is very good at organising the practical things you need for recovery - like showers, smoothies, walks around the block - and at talking to the rest of you, reminding you about the biochemical trick, and that it will fade in time, and that each positive thing you do for yourself will make you better.

My rational brain was probably particularly good at it, paradoxically because it is a complex PTSD brain with many disaster drill and self-care routines I had already pre-established in childhood.  All I had to do was access these things, and it became almost automatic.  And so, in the midst of the very physical misery, I didn't miss even half a day of my part-time work running laboratory sessions and tutorials for undergraduate science students - I was always able to somehow gather up the energy to do that, even if I spent a lot more time in bed asleep or resting than usual - and though I probably looked tired, I always arrived at the university clean and tidy, with my professionalism, courtesy and sense of humour in place, and glad of the positive human interactions and the interesting work.  And it's so, so important not to get isolated from people (in healthy, safe contexts), when you go through rough spots like this.  Good interactions are as important as rest, and smoothies, and long hot showers, and walks, and any other TLC you can bestow on yourself when you sorely need it.

Gradually, the physical illness and misery subsided, and one day I woke up genuinely wondering what on earth I'd ever seen in this man, and why I had stayed in that situation for so long. This is where I needed help - I did a lot of self-educating on family of origin, toxic behaviours, addiction, personal boundaries, dysfunctional patterns, healthy relationships, and what respect looks like, through many excellent resources that were available. I also consulted various professional people about these things on and off for many years - some were brilliant, others a bit ordinary - you have to find what works for you.  Eventually, the puzzle pieces came together, and then I met Brett nearly 13 years ago now, when I had finally re-written the dysfunctional script that had always drawn me romantically to exactly the wrong sorts of people.  The difference is enormous for me, between past and present - it's fabulous to be in a healthy, respectful partnership, and I feel it the more because I never had a healthy, respectful home environment as a child growing up.

Sharp Point, Torndirrup National Park, February 3, 2008

As is also typical, I wasn't diagnosed with complex PTSD until quite a few years after I was finally in a safe relationship - that's when my brain decided it was safe to show me some suppressed footage from my early childhood.  I've discussed what that looked like on the Music for Emotional Health thread - and it was a real "aha" experience which forced me to confront some very awful realities.  What helped me the most during that time, apart from my husband's love and support and the long conversations he had with me about really difficult things, and my GP who'd clearly been there herself, were the many firsthand stories of other people who had been through similar experiences growing up, which I read over the next couple of years.  They made me realise that this was common, but not much talked about - that I didn't have to feel like a leper.  And in time, these people's stories gave me the courage to finally speak and write openly about my own story, and I saw that this in turn helped other people who had been down this same dark road.

Some places that helped me come to terms with my childhood:



I also, of course, discovered the album Bloodflowers on Brett's iPod around this time, and it struck so many chords all over the place for me.  Where The Birds Always Sing was just the right fit somehow when I had to re-assess and re-jig a whole lot of things about life.

Then Songs Of Innocence was released, and this particular song was also right place, right time for me:

It's funny how human beings are hell, but also redemption.

Stay safe, everyone.
SueC is time travelling


I'll finish this long scenic detour with a fun section where we can all laugh.

5. Non-neurotypical brain with automatic mushroom setting?

We all have a brain.  (And this is how you can prove it:  If you look in an ear and can't see daylight, there's something there, most probably a brain.  Test this on people you know today. :angel)

We tend to think, at first, that everyone perceives the world the same way as us, and learn as we grow up that this is not the case.  If we could magically swap noses, ears, eyes, tongues, fingertips for a bit, we'd see some of the differences in sensory perceptions.  But, even with sensory perceptions, the processing centre is more important than the sensory receptors - because the way the brain interprets the incoming signals is what we really experience.  Swapping brains would be much more instructive in observing our differences in perception.

We think we experience the world, but we don't.  We experience the interpretations our internal software makes of the incoming sensory signals.  It's a construction, an interpretation of reality.  It is not the same thing as the external reality.  For instance, we visually perceive solid objects, like tables and doors and rocks, as really solid - when they're actually just lattices of mostly empty space.  An atom is over 99.9% empty space, with the tiny subatomic particles taking up very little room in that space - and if we could squeeze all that empty space out of you, what was left would fit into a full stop (and that's what black holes do).  We don't see all that empty space.  What we see starts with photons being reflected off objects entering our eyes and interacting with receptors in the retina to produce an image, and electrical signals going to the brain from there, for processing on internal visual "software" - and that's what we perceive.

The differences in perception are even greater between species.  Here's an idea of the difference between the average human and average bee visual perception of flowers:

A link to a super article comparing bee and human vision further: https://www.beeculture.com/bees-see-matters/

Each species senses the aspects of the environment that were important historically to its survival, i.e. aspects crucial for obtaining food and shelter, avoiding predators and accidents, finding mates, migration in migratory animals, etc.  We're none of us given access to objective reality, not via our limited spectrum of senses and the processing of those signals.  We only see what we biologically need to see.  It's sort of like living in a matrix that simplifies reality.

Human beings as a species have extended their perceptions of the world beyond their own biological equipment through science and technology, with extensions to existing senses (e.g. using telescopes, microscopes, night vision goggles etc), and with equipment that senses what we can't sense at all, like the magnetic field (compasses).  Brett is just telling me that he read about an interesting experiment where researchers tried to add another "sense" to humans participating as test subjects, by equipping them with belts which would apply slight pressure at the magnetic north point so they could now be physically aware of compass directions.  They became extraordinary at not getting lost.

The take-away point here is to be aware that our senses are very limited and only allow us access to a small spectrum of reality.  I remember when I was about eight and first heard that dogs couldn't see in colour.  I cried rivers for our dog, and all the lovely things it couldn't see that I could.  Of course, I learnt later that dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, compared to which my nose is basically deaf.  All species have strengths and weaknesses in perception - and none of them sense more than a limited spectrum of reality.

That's perceptions - and then there is thinking.  There's a whole lot of variability in how we approach that as individuals as well, and aspects of it can change with time, as it should if you're continuing to be open and to actively learn, instead of shutting off because you think you've "arrived" - and I know people like this, who seem to think, "I'm an adult now, out of school, nothing left to learn, don't want to learn, how boring, and I already know everything I need to know, and my mind is made up on everything, set opinions in place and in stone."  (Very sad.  The walking dead.)

I didn't get an awareness of my patterns of thinking until I was at university - and this great thing called metacognition got better for me, the older I got.  An awareness of your own limitations, both as a biological specimen and as a person, can help you develop what you haven't yet, and to work around some of the hard deficits creatively.  - It never ceases to amaze me that the people with the highest amount of confidence are certifiably closed-off and ridiculously unaware of their own limitations.  You don't get intellectual humility without being acutely aware of how little you know compared to all there is to know, and you need intellectual humility in order to think well.

In case you've not noticed, I'm not neurotypical. ;)  Neither is my husband.  Neither are probably quite a few people reading.  Brett and I aren't just social and cultural outliers - never peer-group driven as teenagers, tending to be outsiders, tending not to jump on bandwagons, not interested in fashions, more interested in alternative culture than mainstream culture, we usually vote for people who never end up getting in, and we're Australians who aren't interested in cricket, football, or beer :1f631: - but we're also neurological outliers.  Our brains don't operate the same way as typical people's operate.  As far as we're aware, we aren't Aspies, but we seem to be cousins with Aspies, and share some characteristics with them.  Some of these appear to be inborn, others can be explained by upbringing, yet others by conscious development and highly driven learning, some by the way my brain was structurally changed as a young child by living in a really stressful, unsafe environment.

Comparing notes with an Aspie friend: Brett and I both get extra annoyed by tags in clothing, seeds in socks etc - a far bigger deal than for typical people.  Also we can't listen to music when eating, or we won't be able to taste the food like we want to. Things like that. We also get deeply into our areas of interest, which are quite wide as well, so we really wouldn't get bored if we had 1000 years to live, and can't understand how anyone does.  We both graduated as the top academic students in our respective tertiary programmes.  Our brains are very interactive and very much on, a lot of the time. We enjoy the particular brains we have, more so now than earlier on in our lives. And of course there is neuroplasticity - the ability to keep learning new things, and to make new synaptic connections, all your life if you actually use your brain. Brains and muscles have in common that if you don't exercise them properly, they turn into custard...

As kids, both of us had low kinaesthetic intelligence in some respects - we both found it really difficult to learn dance steps.  In my case, this was at least partly due to the fact that my parents didn't do the usual catch and turn-taking games with me when I was a toddler, and that they shamed me when I spontaneously jumped around to music as a pre-schooler, and anytime after when I tried to move in any way to any kind of rhythm, to the point that I was automatically embarrassed well into adulthood when anyone asked me to attempt something like this.

On the other hand, I needed very few lessons to catch onto horse-riding as a nine-year-old (my best friend from primary school went, and so I was eventually grudgingly allowed to go too), and was eleven when I first trained up a yearling to become a competition-level riding horse, with the aid of some excellent horse training manuals, but completely on my own on the ground.

Little me above; and with my current riding horse a couple of years back below - I saddle-trained this fellow when I adopted him in 2009 post harness track, as a replacement for the above mare, who was in her late 20s by then.  I may not be good at dancing, but I'm good at riding horses, and communicating with animals in general.  Unlike many people, I don't anthropomorphise the horse when I work with it, but respect and try to understand its own perceptions of the world, and work with those.  I also don't think of myself as the superior species, or the one in charge - I think of my horse as my dancing partner, and hiking partner, and I negotiate and encourage, rather than bully them into doing what I want - and you get better results when you work in partnership with an animal, and it actually wants to do what you're asking, than if you're compelling it.  Just like with people, really!  ;)

I also progressed rapidly when I took up a musical instrument as an adult learner in my late 20s, after many years believing the hype that you could just forget it unless you started as a child.  So clearly, I'm not a total kinaesthetic dunce. :)

Brett and I are both voracious lifelong readers, but started differently.  I was reading simple books on my own at age four (I really craved positive human interaction, and seeing as that was in short supply in my family of origin, I dived into books the moment I learnt to de-code them).  By age eight I was reading mainstream adult reading level books, and by 14 literary and academic material.  Partly I'd say there was a genetic propensity, but probably even more so it was environmental, because that was my way of experiencing connection with the world, and other ways things could be - things I was so desperate for.

Brett had a reading delay early in school, but discovered Dr Who novelisations at age eight and this became a complete obsession for him until he was 12, at which point he started branching out and reading other books as well.  He still re-visits Dr Who novelisations in his 40s, but is a voracious literary omnivore, which is one of the things that really attracted me to him  :heart-eyes - here was a person who was even more obsessed with books and reading than I was, and who introduced me to all sorts of fantastic authors and concepts!  :heart-eyes  Here was another individual who had spent his childhood earnestly reading dictionaries and thesauruses!  Who wrote for his personal entertainment, regardless of whether or not there was an audience.  :cool  ...and he had the most unbelievably gorgeous speaking voice - I was often weak-kneed in our lengthy telephone conversations early on.  He sounds like an audio book commissioned by the BBC.  And he has the most extraordinary thicket of hair, and such kindness in his face... but I digress, and I'll stop with this train of thought before it turns into a novel...  :winking_tongue 

So, come on, get on with the mushrooms already, I hear you say...

At this point, I really have to relate a funny mushroom story.  When I was training in biology, I spent half a year reading about and researching mycorrhizae - symbiotic fungi that sit on plant roots and harvest minerals for the plant in exchange for sugar.  When you read extensively about fungi, you also catch some hilarious anecdotes of their psychedelic properties and the lengths which people will go to in order to trip on them.  The funniest story of them all came from Siberia, where a certain mushroom was very popular historically, so that a shortage would often arise, and prices would go up.  The catch with this mushroom was that the psychoactive substance in it was one of the few such substances that passes through the body unmetabolised - i.e. completely unchanged.  Can you see where this is going?  ...the psychoactive substance is excreted in the urine, so that you can trip by drinking that urine, and people actually did this.  Poor people who couldn't afford the exorbitantly priced mushrooms would actually buy the urine of those who could afford the mushrooms... :yum:

It's a recyclable tripping agent... :rofl  ...I should write an article about it for the hippie magazine I contribute to, hee hee.  Forget my usual DIY rustic furniture, wholefood recipes, livestock management, environmental rehabilitation.  I mean, mind-altering substances that are also recyclable?  Like wow, man!  :heart-eyes

The reference to "automatic mushroom setting" in the subtitle earlier is due to a friend telling me a while back that I didn't need psychedelic mushrooms because my mind seemed to conjure that kind of mode on a regular basis anyway.  Well, having not swapped bodies with a neurotypical person and gone tripping on mushrooms during such a body swap, I can't tell you if she is right, except to say that I certainly have never experienced vivid visual hallucinations as described by some mushroom trippers (but go read the first couple of chapters of Ezekiel, and tell me if he was possibly on mushrooms...or perhaps had temporal lobe epilepsy, which we'll explore later).  Like pretty much everyone else I've talked to, I occasionally get mild visual hallucinations lying in the sun with my eyes closed.  Initially, you just see the typical sight behind closed eyelids in the sun - reds and oranges airbrushed into each other, whose intensities and patterns you can change by screwing up your eyes - and that's all normal perception.  Sometimes, at certain angles, I seem to see the actual capillaries in my retinas in enlargement - which is also in the realm of normal possibilities.  But, if I lie there long enough, and especially if I'm drifting into half-sleep, the colours can change to include greens, blues, purples and greys, and start to swirl or to arrange themselves into shapes or chequerboards.  I can then somewhat affect what I see with my mind, and/or by moving or screwing up my eyes - make the shapes move or change or re-set.

All of this is pretty mild, and mildly entertaining - it's something I've experienced since childhood, and that my friends also seemed to spontaneously experience.  It's colourful, but not hugely vivid or defined - nothing like a kaleidoscope, or a swirly screen saver.  I'd guess that as you relax and drift towards a sleep state, your brain gets a bit more permeable somehow - regions talking to each other and interacting with each other that stay more separated when you're fully alert.  And I'd guess that people on psychedelics would be experiencing way more amped-up stuff than this.

That drifting-towards-sleep state (and also gradually waking up in the morning) is an interesting one creatively, because things will often just suddenly occur to you and jolt you back into alertness - like answers to questions you've asked yourself, a name you tried to remember, the solution to a problem you've been working on, a new idea, a sudden recollection.  There's always background activity in the brain, and whenever that arrives at something deemed useful, it just messages your consciousness like this.

So, nothing unusual there, I think.  However, there are other things which I used not to think were unusual, but they seem to be.

The other day I was listening to this podcast:


You may have seen this guy in The Guardian last year, and read his book:


In the podcast, there's a description of how Michael Pollan experienced his garden while tripping, and I thought, "Well, that doesn't sound very far from how I experience nature when I'm switched on properly!"

And then I realised I probably sit more towards his experience than the "standard experiences" as my own "normal" - and that I've always had a deep-level connection with nature and a sense of sacredness about it, that a lot of people I talked to couldn't quite relate to.

For instance, the way beach sand forms cusps because of wave action is something of a spiritual experience to me - it's very emotionally laden, with joy and a deep calm and a sense of eternity.

Also the way light strikes through the water surface and casts patterns on the sand below, at our beaches at certain times of day - the way sheets of water left in the sand reflect light when the waves have receded - the way light slants through leaves and dapples through trees - these are some examples of things I don't just oooh-aaah over aesthetically, but things that I've always really felt deeply.  Nature gets inside me somehow, just as I am inside it, when I go into a wilderness area.  I don't feel any distance, I don't feel separate, and I can't understand anthropocentrism - people feeling they're somehow something apart from and superior to nature.  Superior?  No they're bloody not, they're wrecking the planet and one another, while paradoxically feeling superior.  I could quote Revelation at them, For you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.

♦ ♥ ♦

I realised overnight I'd have to go into a sort of time vortex to write the next bit - or into a Pensieve, if you're a Harry Potter fan - and return to my childhood and adolescence.  Nature was always a huge consoling presence for me, from the time I was tiny.  Because my earliest memories are this... and I'm sorry, this really isn't pleasant, but the antidote will come later...

From my online journal:

Some Notes On Physical And Emotional Violence

Physical violence is really obvious: Cheeks are slapped, your ears are banged, fists fly, noses bleed, skin is bruised, wooden cutting boards are broken over your head, your shins are kicked viciously, you are chased with implements which will be applied to you violently if you don't get away, skin is bunched and twisted till it burns, hair is yanked painfully, you are thrown against walls and on the floor, your stomach is punched. All these things happened to me at the hands of my family, and all three of them participated: Father, mother, eight years older brother. I was the youngest, and no physical match for them. At age 14, I was taller than my mother and once, after she broke that cutting board over my head and pursued my running self with more threats and flying fists, and I got trapped in a corner, I caught and held on to her wrists to stop her hitting me, and she hissed, "How dare you!" and started kicking my shins to pulp.

I don't remember a time when there wasn't physical violence in my family. It was already a dark presence when I was in the cradle, and I could feel it even then. People say there are no memories before age three, but this is wrong. There are no verbal memories, but there are impressions, mental photographs, states of feeling that can be remembered, just as other nonverbal creatures can remember, especially if you felt in danger from the beginning. If there is neural pruning that deletes early memories from most people - well, that didn't happen to me. I could reliably describe the first nursery I was in back to my parents as an adult, even though I was in it for less than a year and had no recollection of the rest of the house we lived in then, and moved from when I was still a toddler. I knew where the door was - right in front of me and slightly to the right, and have memories of it opening in the dark and making an upright rectangle of light, like a film someone has shown you. I knew the window was to my left, a square of light in the daytime, although I didn't know it was a window. I saw the bars of my cot and I experimented with moving my legs, which were over there visually, but somehow seemed connected to me. I asked my mother once, as an adult, about a doll I was sure I'd had once and was missing from my childhood collection - a red doll, simple fabric, flattish, round head - and she said that was my first doll that was taken away when I was eight months old, because I'd sucked its arms to pieces and it could no longer be washed and made presentable and hygienic. She wondered I could remember it.

I was a restless and anxious baby, and sucked my own thumbs raw. I was still doing this at age three and had mustard applied to them, bandages around my hands at night, and admonitions to be sensible. My parents apparently had no clue about the reason I was doing this; it always seemed to be treated as some sort of vice. I was terrified and I remember the terror. It was the first sensation of my dawning consciousness. There was a darkness and I was alone. The darkness was more than the physical darkness that came on and off in the day-night cycles of this planet. It was an ominous thing; it inhabited the air.

I don't remember anything specific apart from this - other than that I hated the sensation of lying in wet nappies from very early on, and cried, and learnt to cry when I knew it was coming. My mother's side of this story is that she took me to the doctor at three months because she'd find me in a purple fit and open my nappy to find it dry - and then I would immediately empty my bladder. The doctor was very practical and told her to hold me above a potty instead of letting me go on my nappy. My head had to be supported, but it worked. If there's any sceptics out there about early bladder control, they should read up about the African tribes that toilet train their babies from birth, to a sound cue, and hold them over the bushes - or research the Scandinavian concept of "elimination communication". It's a nice alternative to learned helplessness.

The first act of violence I distinctly remember in detail is when I was around three or four? I don't know, except that it happened in Italy and that the dining table still towered over the top of my head, because I remember that. There was yelling from the kitchen and then my father put my mother into the rubbish bin. I was mortified - and strangely I laughed, hysterically, in big sobs of brittle laughter that felt as if it was coming from someone else, and I was ashamed and horrified that I was laughing, and thinking I must be a bad person to do it. And then I sucked my thumbs even harder at night.

The episode disappeared under the surface of things. Nobody referred to it. People swanned around in their holiday clothes and went sailing. Whipped cream was served with the cake. What violence? It was always like that. It officially didn't happen. You were just crazy and had a vivid fantasy life. You'd been born neurotic, what else could be expected? You were a bad person to make such things up. You had a perfectly nice, happy family. So you stopped asking about it. And you sucked your thumb, and hid behind people, and were afraid of new people, and were "the problem child."

There is this saying in psychology that if parents bring their child to psychotherapy, it's they who really need the treatment. My mother went psychologist shopping until she found someone who agreed I was the problem and she was the victim. By this time, she'd made me into "the other woman" competing for her husband's affection. When I was six or seven, I overheard my primary school principal irately telling my father once, after listening to my mother going on about me and my ills, that my mother needed psychiatric treatment, not me. It was a little fairy light in a dark universe, a fairy light that said, "Maybe it's not true that you are a freak, that you are bad, that it's all your fault."

Other people were both hell and redemption. My family was unsafe, skating on this perfect disneyfied surface but turning into hell beneath on a regular basis, a hell that was afterwards denied and glossed over, until it ate everybody. Redemption was in people like my first primary school teacher, whom I had for two years: In her thirties, warm, colourful, encouraging, player of multiple musical instruments, facilitator of art and craft and stories, patient and highly competent instructor in grammar and spelling and mathematics. I secretly wanted to sit on her lap, to hug her, to tell her my troubles. I didn't, but she picked up a fair amount, I think, and was so helpful to me on my road.

Within six months of being in her class, I was no longer undersized and skinny, I had hope in my little heart, and lovely things to look forward to every weekday. I learnt to smile - I'm smiling on my Year 2 class photo, beaming ear to ear, delighted to be there - and I learnt that there were warm, safe people in this world. And I excelled academically, blossoming with the encouragement, and the acceptance of me as a person, which she gave me. Art classes were heaven. I loved to paint. I loved the new ideas she showed us, and the materials she brought in - the paints, the glitters, the matchsticks for making cute wooden hedgehogs with pointy noses. I loved her clowning, her involvement with us.

At home there was none of this. My mother cooked and cleaned the house and made sure I made my bed and did my homework, but it was like living with a caretaker, not a mother. We didn't do art and craft, or colouring - I was given colouring books to take to my room and do on my own. We didn't do storytimes, and if I came out of my bedroom wanting to read a book passage I'd just come across and loved out to my parents, their expressions froze, and they tried to find me other things to do that would get me out from under their feet. As a family, we played cards and board games - and my mother was always upset if she got beaten at the silly competitive games, and I learnt early on to make deliberate mistakes and let her win, to avoid that emotional fallout.

It was much more fun playing with my friends, who had non-competitive games like fishing for magnetic fish with a magnetic fishing rod, or loading up a mechanical donkey's basket with goods until its spring was activated and the donkey kicked up its hindquarters, scattering everything while we laughed and laughed. Or we played with plasticine - the hairdressing salon with the plasticine hair sprouting from dolls was particular fun - or we braided bracelets, or made flower crowns, or pretended to be fairies, or Indians, or veterinarians tending to our plush animal collections. We flew kites and rolled in the mud and rode our bicycles, and went to the dairy farm to brush the cows and help with milking. We went to the circus when it was in town, and begged to brush the ponies. My father was angry about that, saying that these people were exploiting child labour. I felt bad, but went back anyway, with my friends, breathing in the scents of the big animals I learnt to love.

And so I was a bit buffered, from what went on in my family. In those days, the violence was successfully concealed - it was done quietly, without the neighbours hearing, with promises of more painful punishments if you screamed. And of course, you always deserved what you got, which is the pattern in such families. The usual conflict point for me was when I didn't agree with something my parents said, or when I wanted something different to what they wanted, or when was tired of being insulted, and flung a name back at them for a change, or when I called my mother a bad mother because she would instruct my brother to beat me to spare her the dirty work. There was a lot of conflict with my mother when I was in primary school, over things like my not wanting to wear pink clothes and pointy shoes, or not liking sugar in my cream, and not eating it, or generally expressing personal preferences. My favourite colours were, variously, yellow, red, blue or green, early on; violet and other complex colours later. I didn't like pointy shoes, they hurt my feet - and I ended up with deformed toes from footwear like that, and from my feet getting too big for my shoes as I was growing.

Once we moved to Australia, the gloves were off. We were on a remote farm, and nobody could hear what was going on. Loud yelling and physical violence were now a daily reality. When not at school I hid in books, over my homework, under headphones, went walking on long walks to where I could not hear the yelling. I remember being 14 and waking up, once again, to raised and angry voices, and praying that one day, when I was an adult, I would have a family where people loved each other, and treated each other with decency, and enjoyed one another's company. It took a while, and the quest took wrong turns, but it did happen.

Emotional violence is a harder thing to detect than physical violence, especially if you grow up with it, and it's your daily "normal". There are no visible bruises, and you do not bleed, or swell up. The overt stuff is put-downs, gaslighting ("You're imagining things again!"), undermining your confidence - but there are also lots of very subtle versions of this, which I too did not fully understand until more recent years.

Here's an excellent website about this common problem - thank you, Veronica:


When I started under the current subheading, I wanted it to be a fun way to end this long scenic side trip, because I'd already gone some dark places before that - but this is so much worse.  However, I realised that trying to discuss the idiosyncrasies of my particular brain would not make sense without going down that particular vortex.  You have to know what shaped you, to make sense of your own mind.

Anyway, that's the backdrop of family life to which I had to find consolation elsewhere.  I was fortunate to grow up in places where nature loomed large - I really don't know how I would have coped had I been cooped up in endless suburbia on top of everything else - artificial places like that.  Access to wilderness areas was a huge thing in my favour.

You can see just how large nature loomed in the place we spent four months every year, in Italy.  These were the exact foothills and mountains behind the old town where I spent many hours, over many days, walking with the dog as a child, getting away from that atmosphere described in my journal extract:

It's an image I found online, but it best represented what the place looked and felt like to me, and looking at it now, I can see exactly why, once we got to Australia, I eventually made my home on the South Coast:  Because here too are mountains, extraordinary shorelines and wilderness - which is exactly what I deeply bonded with as a child.

That last photo captured my unconscious "Wow!" gesture as I went down the steps to this little beach we discovered a couple of months back.  I first lived on the South Coast in 1994, we've both lived here since 2008, and we are still discovering new places because this is such a wonderland...

Here's a short clip I found of one of our favourite places - it's amazing how few people know about this mountain, which has a cave on top.  Yes really!  A cave you have to climb through...

...and once you get out of the other side, you see this - like Lord Of The Rings...

I can't go to places like this, and not feel that it's something far bigger and more profound that human beings and their troubles.  I am instantly lifted by being in places like this - they're like enormous natural cathedrals against which anything of human construction simply pales in comparison.  And if you let it, nature will embrace you.

Here's a song which always expressed that well for me.

I first heard that when I was 14, and seriously beginning to get into alternative music.  Here's a few other "landscape" songs that were significant to me as a teenager, starting with another Waterboys song which really "gets" both connection to landscape, and to life:

It wasn't until I first came down to the South Coast in 1994 that I found a landscape that matched the power of that song!

Another song that was significant to me:

This song fitted me well because I had a habit of going out when rainstorms came in at night, just to experience their power - and frontal storms in Western Australia are often deluges, like turning the tap on full in the shower.  There was no point taking an umbrella, as the gusts would turn it inside out, and I didn't have a proper raincoat, so I went in jeans and a jumper, and when I returned after walking around in the downpour for an hour or so in the bushland around the farm where we lived, I'd hang my clothes up off the line and towel myself dry.  My parents rarely knew I went out; I'd sneak out quietly after bedtime and walk in the dark, without a torch.  There's actually a lot of ambient light once you go out at night and your eyes adjust, even when there's a new moon - just the stars make quite a bit of light, unless they're behind cloud.  If it was really pitch black, I'd play a game of 'trust' - I would find my way around by touch.  I remember a number of really amazing thunderstorms I witnessed over '85/'86/'87 - those were the best, with their sky shows and electricity.  So, Step in, step out of the rain was exactly what I was doing, and this song was a pretty good soundtrack of how that experience felt.

I tell you what does it even better though - and these were later discoveries, in my adulthood.  The first ten minutes of this:

And this:

Both of these tracks have a raw power to them, and light and darkness, and the same amazing grandeur you can witness standing on a remote floodplain at night in a full-on thunderstorm, with lights flashing off everywhere and thunder shaking you and water pouring down from the sky -  as I did repeatedly as a high schooler.  These were spiritual experiences to me, things that gave me hope and recharged me.

Here's a song about confronting art made by survivors of Hiroshima, which I was very drawn to growing up.  It's incredibly evocative, and conjures up landscapes for me like every other song in this section:

The next song is forever associated in my mind with a six-hour impromptu daytime walk I did sneaking away one day on my own, following the Harvey River all the way up to the Peel-Harvey Estuary when I was 16.  I remember the sea birds flying off the estuary as a sheet, and filling the sky:

And finally a rousing track that works for me for both physical and metaphorical journeys, and has done that since I was 14:

All these songs have a sense of power and hope in them, which is enormously useful if you have some dark things to deal with.

♦ ♥ ♦

By the way, the top of Mt Talyuberlup looks like this, after you go out the other side of the cave, and turn right, and climb up this little goat track until you're on the actual summit, on top of the cave - this is us in the cairn in 2018:

And the view east out of the circular summit cairn:

That tall mountain in the middle distance with the three spires is Toolbrunup, on the central spire of which Brett proposed to me nearly 12 years ago.  Since then, I can never glimpse the shape of that mountain on the horizon without my heart flying upwards in me.  It's so lastingly lovely to me, and so fitting given everything, that he asked where he did - in the wilderness, and not in the human zoo.

♦ ♥ ♦

I'm conscious of leapfrogging around a bit trying to get to my destination.  I wanted to stay with the 14-year-old, but when I talk about dark things in the past, it's inevitably painful, like any grief is painful - it never completely leaves, but is gets less sharp and you learn to live with it over time, like broken glass buried under enough sand.  So, every now and then I have to come up for air and look at our present reality, which is a good reality.

Getting back to commonalities with the positives that people like Michael Pollan report from their mushroom trips: Deep connection with nature, deep awareness of interconnectedness, deep appreciation of all that, seeing yourself as part of something bigger - that's all true for me.  And so is having a huge transformative experience I can look back on, which changed a lot of things for me.  I don't generally talk about this in public, so this is going to be a bit of an undertaking.  And, it takes me back to that 14-year-old.

So: When I was 14 years old, I had an unexpected and profoundly spiritual experience that changed my life and my thinking enormously, ever after.  I didn't talk about it with anyone, or even mention having such a thing, for many months afterwards, in part because I felt that words were completely inadequate to express this experience.  It would cheapen it somehow.  When I did start to allude to it, it was in response to other people bringing up related topics in discussion.  I could say, "Something like X has happened to me."  But, I would not describe it, because I couldn't.

As I got older, I got better with words, and I read profusely about these sorts of experiences, which allowed me to compare notes.  I started to talk about that experience carefully sometimes, always prefacing with the dilemma in trying to talk about it:  Imagine you have seen a face beautiful beyond anything you even imagined possible, and then someone gives you a piece of rough charcoal and some paper, and says to right-handed you, "Please draw me what this face looked like with your left hand."  You might be able to point to aspects of the experience, but you can never adequately depict it.

One of the reasons I included that extract from my online journal earlier is because I think it's good for readers to know the context in which this experience took place.  It will be pretty obvious that home life wasn't happy, and that it regularly entered the principalities of hell.  I had nobody to talk to about any of this, and carried it on my narrow kid shoulders for my whole childhood, forever absorbing absorbing absorbing more horrible stuff.  It was particularly bad in my middle school years, when I was physically isolated on a remote farm with my family, and attending school was my only form of social contact with my peers - the school bus took me there and back each weekday, and there were no opportunities to spend time with friends after hours.  If things got too much at home, I'd take a walk, maybe take a book down to some secret places I found on the river bank.

When I was 13, I had decided to give up crying.  I was determined not to give my family members the satisfaction of obvious pain any longer, when they insulted or hit me, or devised other ways to hurt me.  I cultivated a stony face and nonchalance, and kept my feelings bottled up.  They'd try to hurt harder, and I'd just go away mentally.  (Psychologists call this dissociating.)  I thought I'd found a better way to manage these scenarios, to keep my dignity intact - but underneath, I was still paying the price.

One evening, there was a violent argument, and I ended up on the ground getting punched in the face and ribs and bleeding from my nose.  This was so violent an incident that my mother, who normally both perpetrated and incited violence against me, attempted uncharacteristically to restrain my father.  The cynic in me thinks that happened because she became afraid that I might end up in hospital or dead, and then there would be some explaining to do that might out the family's dirty secret and decrease their respectability in the eyes of the world.  (My parents have never apologised to me for their violence towards me as a child.  If they regretted any of that, they didn't show it; not when I brought it up with them repeatedly as an adult either.)  I was a kid who worked hard at school and to pitch in with family chores.  I kept my room clean and did my homework and won academic prizes.  Punch-ups would happen over things like music and differences of opinion - and one memorable time over my having put a poster of a male pop star wearing make-up and a kaftan on my bedroom wall.

That particular night, my mother shoved my father off me and told me to run.  He was quickly in pursuit of both of us.  My mother told me to get in the bathroom and lock the door.  She stood in front of the door and there was a screaming match, and threats from my father to break down the door if I didn't unlock it.  I took one look at the narrow window, removed the flyscreen, and squeezed myself through it into the night.  I ran and didn't stop running until I was far away from the house, safely hidden in the bushland and the night, and completely out of breath.

And then I went to pieces emotionally.  I'd not cried for over a year at that point, but now the dam broke and everything flooded, and all the horror and loneliness and despair of the situation I was living with, and had been living with for all my life, just hit me full-on.  I was bruised and bleeding and full of adrenaline and tears, and I felt so terribly alone in the world.  I wondered what was the point in even trying, and why justice wasn't available to people like me, and why people had children at all if they couldn't love them.  I wished the ground could just open up and swallow me.

And then suddenly I was filled with light, and it was as if another dimension had opened up all around me.  It was as if I was soaring off into infinity, and meeting the infinite.  Everything I had known and thought significant dropped away until I saw how tiny that was, and how vast and unstoppable the light that now blazed all around and inside of me.  And there was love.

Not as I had conceived of it, but love showing its true face to me, and an infinity of it, and it both took me in, and filled me up until I was completely overflowing, and where there had been cold and despair and loneliness and pain there was now only warmth and gentleness and healing and intimacy and bliss.  There was so much bliss I was struggling to breathe.  I felt like I was going to explode out of my skin, like I was going to take off like a firework, like I was going to turn into a comet and go flying off into the vastness of the universe, all the while enveloped in this infinite light and warmth which was everywhere, and which was eternally unstoppable.

JMW Turner, The Morning After The Deluge

Just a reminder, that's only a rough charcoal sketch of that experience...

The way I interpreted that experience as a 14-year-old, and the way I interpret it looking back over 30 years later, are very different.  As an adult looking back, especially post complex PTSD diagnosis five years ago, I'm so well versed in psychology and in human brain biochemistry - and these are lenses I absolutely didn't have at age 14.  I've heard so many podcasts with people discussing out-of-the-blue experiences like this and what they made of them, and how that changed over time for them, as their world views altered.

What I see looking back is a teenage brain at crisis point and very close to giving up, and for good reasons.  I see a warm-hearted, complicated kid in a cold universe, who is extremely emotionally starved and has noone to go to with very difficult and painful problems.  Children need love, support, emotional nurturing, encouragement.  Babies who aren't held can develop failure to thrive - they get physically ill, don't gain weight or grow and develop normally.  I was held a bit as a baby, but also left on my own a lot, and my mother really disconnected from me when I was two or three and, like every other toddler, developing into a little person with opinions and preferences.  I was skinny and plagued with physical illness throughout my childhood, especially my early childhood.  I caught up in size and my health improved when I had the good fortune to have two years of warmth, support and stability courtesy of my wonderful Year 1/2 teacher.  It was other people outside of my immediate family of origin who saved me, who saw me, who thought I wasn't a waste of space - significant adults like my first teacher, the parents of some of my school friends, a few neighbours in Italy, my art teacher in middle school, most of my teachers in senior school, random senior citizens on the bus.  Their kindness and openness mattered.  (And please, be that kind of person to someone, even just on the bus - smile and acknowledge people, show them courtesy and be open - it's good practice anyway, and you don't know how significant that can be to some of the people you might randomly encounter.  The world is full of venom.  Make anti-venom.  Start chain reactions of kindness and hope.)

Of course, I couldn't go to them about what was going on in my family - as a child you're too ashamed and terrified and you fear losing those people if you confide in them - but I know some of them could see it, especially after they met my parents and saw their interactions with me.  My senior school English teacher actually wrote a letter to the school principal about it, which he CCd to me - saying he could see I was unsupported emotionally and in other ways at home, and would staff please keep that in mind and help me out and not think I was just some bomb-proof high achiever.  Reading that letter, part of me went, "Wow, things could be different, should be different at home!" - because most of the time, you're too busy trying to survive to think about that much, and too engaged in activities that promote your survival, like homework, and journalling, and reading, and listening to music on headphones, and going on walks - getting qualified so you can become independent, and DIY therapy, when you really look at it.  It's so valuable when adults take the time to mirror accurately for young people who may be getting really distorted un-funhouse-mirroring at home... to mirror their good qualities back for them, and to say what they see.  What you want is to promote good outcomes, so a young adult from a troubled background can say this as they go into the world:

As an adult looking back on that transformative experience I had as a 14-year-old, I am now so aware of what a human brain under duress will do in order to survive.  I'm so aware too that my brain was just bursting into formal-operational thinking at the time, and that the experience I had coincided with an explosion of new connections being made, with a huge opening up of my world view, with the onset of critical thinking, with a flood of adolescent sexual chemistry.  These things were correlated in me.  Correlation and causation are not the same thing, of course - and I can't make any black-and-white conclusions about what was really going on, in objective reality - whatever that is, and considering I don't think we have nearly as much access to that as we like to think.

People can have experiences like that spontaneously, as I did, especially under duress.  They can have them mushroom tripping, they can have them as a result of temporal lobe epilepsy, they can have them after long bouts of sleep deprivation, they can have them after brain injuries, they can have them as part of psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder.  You can see such experiences as extreme mental/emotional phenomena, as constructs thrown up by the brain under certain circumstances when the brain is "leaky" and temporarily not in its railroaded normal getting-on-with-daily life mode, entirely internally generated, and sometimes, as in my case, with huge survival value.  I am very much, these days, tending to that point of view.  But that's not how a lot of people see it, and it's not how I saw it at 14.

JMW Turner, The Angel Standing In The Sun

At 14, when I was in hell one moment and then inexplicably flying around the universe the next, so completely filled with and surrounded by light and joy it felt like I would burst into a stream of happy silvery meteors and ricochet around the space-time continuum for all of eternity, when I was wide-eyed seeing infinity instead of constraints, warmth instead of ice, hope instead of despair, and a big-L Love that completely embraced me, and everything was dropping away around me to make room for endless beautiful space, and eternity literally took me by the hand and said hello, I quite reasonably thought I had met God.

Depending on how you define God, maybe I did.

I was not from a religious household, and my grandmother, the only person in my family with whom I had a warm and happy relationship (and whom I saw only once after we came to Australia), laughed when she told me a funny anecdote once about the time I was six and explained to her that I was giving up on angels and Santa Claus, "Because Granny, they've sent astronauts up there, and it's just space and stars, and they didn't see angels or Santa, or God!" :angel

When I was reading back through that recount above of the night I had that transformative experience, I joked to Brett, "It was really just Dr Who pointing his sonic screwdriver at my brain, reversing the polarity!" :rofl

At the time though, it felt really personal, and I embraced it, and ran with it.  I decided I had met God, and that I was going to have faith in this experience.  I also decided that the God I had met was very, very different to the God I had been told about at school, and in popular culture.

God didn't have a beard, and wasn't a vengeful dictator.  God wasn't watching you so he could catch you slipping up and make black marks against you in a book that would be referred to in order to torture you after the apocalypse.  All those ideas of God can be traced back to the effects of dysfunctional parenting on the human psyche.  It's just a big case of, "Wait till your father gets home!"

And the "God-experience" I had wasn't like that at all.  It was beautiful and blissful and respectful and warm and benign, and incredibly powerful, and encouraging, and supportive, and mindblowing, and everything amazing. It said, "Let me help you.  Here's some waves you can ride across space-time, and through your own life.  Here's light that can transform you, and you can be a lamp filled with this light."

It also said, "I'm sorry, but they are wrong, and you don't deserve this.  You deserve to be loved.  I'm the real source of you, and I care about your life, and I love who you are, and who you are becoming."  That sounds kind of nice on this virtual paper, but in the actual experience, the thing that struck me so deeply was that God wasn't interested in punishing me, only in knowing me, and in filling me with light and love, and in inviting me to dance.  And I can't even begin to convey the sense of infinity that went with that, and how that made everything so indescribably astonishing.  I'm trying here to use greyscale to give a hint of an idea of the colours that I saw, and had never seen before.

At 14, as a direct result of all this, I became a very unconventional and largely standalone and broadly Christian mystic.  That sort of happened because the same month I had this experience, we were all given little red pocket-sized New Testaments at school, by a visitor from The Gideons.  Some of the boys in the class ran out into recess to use pages they tore from these books as toilet paper, and tell everyone that's what they were doing.  These were the stupid boys in our class, and some of them were hurtful bullies to boot.

I decided I wasn't going to judge something I hadn't read.  I'd just finished The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and was between books, so why not?

It's a good thing they didn't give us full Bibles, because if I'd started with Genesis, I'd have given up on my reading pretty quickly.  But, this started me smack bang in the Gospels, and those contain lengthy tracts of beautiful and inspirational reading (and we'd been given a language version that wasn't dumbed down, and was all poetic prose).  The ideas about love and life in these passages were consistent with my own "God-experience" - they were inclusive and expansive and transformative.

When I got to The Apostle Paul, I got really outraged by the contrast, and attempted to resign from my newfound spirituality.  I said, "This is stupid, and it's unjust, and if that's how it is, I quit!"  But that's not how it was... for around two and a half years after my initial "God-experience" I was able to slip back into that alternative universe whenever I wanted, to compare notes.  And when I dipped back in, it was, "Hello, yes, that's fine, that's just someone's human opinions, don't let it bother you, come sail on the infinite light."

And I never afterwards took seriously for long anything I was reading that was inconsistent with the overwhelming sense of love and justice of my own "God-experience" - not in the Bible, not in other "holy books" and not in secular literature either.  This, as you can imagine, made me generally uncomfortable with organised religion.  I got on well with Quakers because they're completely undogmatic and concerned mostly with social justice and environmental stewardship, which are also huge areas of interest for me.  I could work with that.  I was also surprised, much later, in my late 20s, that I could work in the Catholic school system without getting uncomfortable - obviously I'm not comfortable with the systematic paedophilia amongst what the Catholic laity call "the Career Catholics" (or with the systematic paedophilia which also rears its ugly head amongst secular power structures involved with the education and welfare of young people, by the way), but a classroom full of kids there was like any other classroom, nobody interfered with the Science curriculum (just don't try teaching at Evangelical schools), and there were philosophical points of overlap I really appreciated.

I never had any issues reconciling my spirituality with my intellectual life.  I didn't need God as an explanation for the universe, and I thought the fundamentalist ideas about God were harmful to both religion and science (not to mention people).  I saw God as Love, basically - not as something to beat people over the head with.  When I ceased to believe in a personal God in my 30s, my values remained much the same.  A Buddhist once said to me, "Ah! Dismount your donkey at the summit." ...very true.  You can have a rough landing from the dismount, but you'll still be in a place with a good view.

I think Alain de Botton gets so much of how this works (https://www.alaindebotton.com/religion/), and I love many of his talks and basic philosophies, and the concept of never throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  At 14, having that experience and subsequently believing in a personal God was something that allowed me to be re-parented on a psychological level, and for a significant amount of the damage that was done to me in childhood to be undone.  It was very helpful to feel truly loved when there was noone else to help, and to have running internal dialogues about the things that mattered to you.  It was very helpful to not feel alone when something terrible happened, and to be able to process the many subsequent experiences of family violence between that night and when I left home at age 16, by dialoguing about them internally with a God you believed in who loved you - instead of pushing these things behind The Great Wall Of China.  It was good to cry and to express your grief openly, in your own safe space, away from the people who were doing this to you, and not feel alone or uncared for.

Michael Leunig, Australian national treasure ♥

Something I find really interesting is that when my complex PTSD eventually manifested in a stream of sudden vivid nightmares five years ago, none of the flashbacks were from 14+.  They were all from before I had that transformative experience.  After that experience, I was processing these things, so while those memories are still difficult to talk about and are never going to be easy, they also never returned to terrorise me in the middle of the night - unlike the unprocessed experiences.

It's instructive in that context to look at the current work on the potential role of psychedelic agents for the treatment of depression and anxiety (see the Michael Pollan podcast link earlier, and also https://www.oliversacks.com/books-by-oliver-sacks/hallucinations/).  They hinge on the production of a "leaky brain" type transformative experience.  If they can be therapeutically produced, that might work for some people.  Of course, I think those things are butterflies, and you have to avoid chasing them too much to really get one to sit on your shoulder.

♦ ♥ ♦

Well, that's been quite a ride.  The thing about journalling is that the tangents are inevitable, and often as important as the main theme you came to the table with in the first place.  You never know where a sudden urge to follow a thought around a corner may lead you.  :)

Music, books and film can all make excellent springboards for examining and clarifying our own points of view, and juxtaposing our own experiences with those of others.  These things can tap you on the shoulder, and 5000 words may fall out before you know it.  I've seen it in me for a long time, and I've seen it many times in high schoolers doing free-response music and book projects.  It's good to go there.  These things humanise us, and help us understand the world and each other. ♥

PS: This was not a postscript to the main topic, it was just an aside. ;)  I've still got all of CD-4 to go - after a little holiday from writing furiously. :angel
SueC is time travelling


Side note on re-watching the Opera House gig from May for the first time since it was streamed live - which meant watching it complete for the first time, without the signal dropping out and costing us a couple of songs in the middle:  The difference is also that we were now watching after getting, and getting familiar with, their B-sides box set.  The reason we ordered Join The Dots is because what we saw at the Opera House gig impressed us.  We really enjoyed those B-sides for which a lot of nincompoops gave them flak on Reddit and in mainstream concert reviews, and that gig is the first time we heard a lot of the ones they chose for that night.

By the way, we just loved the instrumentals they played near the start of the show.  Each time we sit down to watch a Cure concert, we're just impressed afresh by how together and professional their shows are.  I've been to, and seen on video, some gigs by some international artists I like where I was very disappointed with the singing, for instance - a fair few singers just seem to take shortcuts on stage and abbreviate a phrase, or skip some notes.  I don't think singers (or instrumentalists) have to sound exactly like on the records when playing live, I like when people improvise and change things, but not when I'm under the impression that they're just taking the easy road, that they actually couldn't sound like they do on the recordings even if they wanted to.

Great live bands actually sound better live than in the studio - no matter how good their studio material might be.  We both think The Cure are a really amazing live band - I've never been disappointed watching them play, or hearing Robert Smith sing in a concert - and there was a fun spot in that gig we watched last night where there was a great demonstration of lung capacity and a note just went on and on until it filled the whole house, and we were looking at each other after what seemed like an impossibly long time, "Is he going to fall over now or what???"  Or what.  :rofl  Just excellent.

Whoever shot and edited the film side of that gig did a really great job too (and on the hop - for a live stream).  I like a live film to clarify for me who is playing what (when there's multiple guitarists etc), and I like it to not just focus endlessly on some band members at the expense of others.  There's a lot of concert films where you hardly ever get to see the drummer at work, or the bassist - but the rhythm section is so important, and underpins so much musically, and I find it frustrating when I hardly get a glimpse of that.  I like it when people shoot and edit a gig in a way that's more equitable.  Yes, we should see the singer singing, but that's not all we should see, and we don't have to have the camera on them every time their mouth is open either.  I love the way this gig was shot, and Trilogy was shot as well - it supported the enjoyment of the music for us, and of watching how people put music together, and was educational rather than just presenting some kind of visual spectacle or saying, "Look, eye candy!" as lots of pop films do, for instance (I need a vomit emoji!).

When Brett was getting into The Cure in the late 90s, he bought two of their live albums first.  He tells me he always starts with a live album (if available) when he's listening to a new-to-him band, because if they're crap live, he doesn't actually want their studio albums.

LIttle update:  WIll definitely be getting back to this after I've dealt with a few deadlines.  It's never a good idea to start on a recreational tapeworm when supposed to be working on other stuff,  Meanwhile, I will post a little ditty on the experience of doing this B-sides open-journalling exercise.  It came about because of a rule I have that if I don't fill in daily entry sections in my paper journal, I have to retrospectively fill them with nonsense ditties.

SueC is time travelling