Sunday, March 30, 2008

~ a ukrainian girl with an altered consciousness

Some of us - perhaps most of us - naturally seek out altered states. To quote Andrew Weil’s classic book The Natural Mind...

"The desire to alter consciousness periodically is an innate, normal drive analogous to hunger or the sexual drive."

And now a concept which may possibly be familiar to you – and which almost certainly, found its origins in this particular study …

"Anyone who watches very young children without revealing his presence will find them regularly practicing techniques that induce striking changes in mental states. Three and four-year-olds commonly whirl themselves into vertiginous stupors …"

For me – and, I think, for a great many others – this ‘innate drive’ gathered steam during my teenage years. Because real drugs – heroin, acid, pot etc. – were not within reach, or barely understood, necessity became the mother of invention. I have no idea how the information filtered down, but we learned that ephedrine , a low grade speed, was easily obtainable over the counter, if you had the right story for the pharmacist.

To our sweet, naïve minds ephedrine seemed like a pretty decent high.

On some nights, I would steal one of mum’s cigarettes, sneak out to the carport and smoke it like a joint. Until I caught the habit, this practice would pleasantly spin me out for about twenty seconds. It was thrilling but pungent, and surprising thoughts would jangle through my brain.

Once, just as my mind was clearing, I heard a monstrous noise in the shadowy dark - a noise I could only equate with the utterances of degenerate mutants or bog monsters from shows like The Outer Limits. I couldn’t believe my ears. The noise came again, and again. Guttural. Deep-throated, phlegmy. Threatening. Hovering between disbelief and terror, I backed away and made haste into the brightness of the house.

Later, I learned it was a brush-tail possum. Before that period – the mid-seventies – the species had been unknown in our zone.

But back to altered states…

I’ve always been prone to fainting – not the neurasthenic crumpling of Victorian England, but the blood-draining kind that occurs when you stand up too quickly after sitting for too long. As you regain consciousness, your brain is suddenly awash with freshly oxygenated blood and the world, briefly, seems vibrant and seething with fresh possibilities. It can feel like waking from a deep and healing sleep to a brand new beautiful day.

With practice, I found I could kick off a fainting spell pretty much whenever I liked. A big long stretch, hanging from a door – these were reliable techniques.. I came to use it - along with the ephedrine – as a revitalising study aid. There still remains an indentation in the kitchen door where my head impacted after a particularly gratifying collapse.

Of course, my parents used to worry. I explained what I was doing, but they tut-tutted and worried still more. They pointed out that there were dangers in passing out all over the place. My mother thoughtfully advised me to clear any sharp objects from the vicinity before I applied the technique.

Sometimes she could be very practical, my mother. Allow me to give you an example

I recall a sunny, somnolent afternoon in Mt. Waverley. It was the dawn of the Nineties and I had moved back there after breaking up with my girlfriend Charlotte, who chose this day to rock up in a condition which could reasonably be described as insane.

Recently, there had been an agreeable but drug-fuelled and ultimately false resurgence in our relationship. Nothing had been solved from previously and things very quickly turned sour. Only weeks prior, after the premiere of my play The Hive, she had lain like the Vitruvian Man on the bonnet of my mum’s kingswood, gripping a windscreen wiper with each hand, while I accelerated before braked hard in an effort to throw her off onto the road. To my drunken amazement, I could not dislodge her.

My mum was first to notice the wiper-damage. I spent some days recovering from the excesses of that night, both in Mt Waverley and in the lock-up at the Carlton police station. Mum, despite her ingrained, depression-era respect for property, managed to see the humour in it, god bless her. She just couldn’t figure out how those wipers had come to be fixed at ninety degree angles to the glass. Of course, I couldn’t reveal that Charlotte had been grasping them for dear life as her unchecked momentum threatened to launch her onto the macadam - so I lied, explaining that evil Charlotte had vandalised them out of spite.

Then she reeled into that quiet afternoon like a drunken harpy seeking bloody vengeance. Observing her approach, I locked the doors, closed the windows, but it was not enough. She found the back gate.

Although it was not locked, she proceeded without pause to scale the five foot hurdle.

Now, Charlotte has refined tastes and very good fashion sense. She wore a tight knee-length black skirt, a white silky blouse with frilled edges and a black velvet jacket. Characteristically, she was bedizened with beautiful Ukrainian jewellery – golden heirlooms gifted by her mother, strewn with diamonds, alexandrites and rubies. But as gate-scaling wear goes, it didn’t rate.

I can still see the image in my mind’s eye, as clear as day. Charlotte, the flashing curls of her dyed cinnamon-red hair framing a lead-white complexion. One leg, in fishnet stocking and black high-heeled boot, thrown over the top, along with a shoulder, one arm and a raging head.

Seeing my mother emerging from the back door, [probably with the intention of offering tea and biscuits], Charlotte immediately seized upon the opportunity to embarrass me. She ramped her invective: Your son fucks prostitutes, Mrs Sejavka! Did you know that?

For the record, it was not true. Charlotte was so infuriated by my betrayal that she had cast her breeding and decorum wholly to the wind – and was just spitting out the worst kind of poison she could cook up. My mother – a trained nursing sister, but nearing seventy years of age - assessed the situation and with a caring expression advanced towards the girl.

Gently, she took Charlotte’s hand, softly stroked it, calmly told her to remember who she was, to think about what she was doing. I can’t recall the words exactly, but they were effective; it worked. My mother had been a nurse all her life and would have had tricks up her sleeve to soothe a savage patient.

Charlotte was dumbstruck, as was I. Then she exhumed her rationality - at least partially. After that, my memory fails…

I realise I've strayed a long way from my intended subject. But I couldn’t resist the sharing of such a nutritious tale, and, Charlotte, if you’re reading, I trust you can look back fifteen years to see the funny side.

Oh, and my original subject? Next post.

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kate said...

brill story I also find find your tags very amusing

lily was here said...

There's a great book title in there -- "The Fainting Boy of Mt Waverley"

You've got to love a persistent woman losing it. That was a pretty funny story, and you're not the only one who's been spooked only to find it was a possum...guilty


dysthymiac said...

... and God bless your dear mother.