And something completely different, and beautiful — as memories, but also present comfort. I happened on this from 2016, having been unaware until now that it had happened. But first just one past blog entry among many I might have chosen:
Trinity Sunday in South Sydney Uniting Church — 3 June 2007
Dorothy McRae-McMahon’s blessing for Malcolm came back home today and sat on the communion table throughout the service. Dorothy had, as you may remember, visited Malcolm on a number of occasions and the visits and the blessing were much appreciated. Today his own life summary was read at the start of the service. While Malcolm was not himself especially religious, he knew of and welcomed the interest from the people of South Sydney, which also had its practical side. For example, the South Sydney Herald, the church paper, stood ready to go into bat if necessary when Housing were being problematic, though that did not have to come to pass thanks to this blog, Clover Moore, and Jim Belshaw and, of course, others in the NSW Housing Department.
Malcolm enjoyed Dorothy’s profile of Bob Gould in the May 2007 edition too.
I was given a card and a plant today, which I very much appreciate. It has helped to have the church folk behind me in the past year.
I added: Privileged to have known Dorothy! See the comment for just one instance, but a powerful one, from 2007. It is very likely one of the most beautiful things you will ever read, and full of the spirit of Dorothy. See this item from the 21 July 2021 Launceston Examiner. This is what I referenced in the comment section, the service Dorothy wrote and conducted for Malcolm’s Memorial Service at St Vincent’s Hospital 29 June 2007. An extract, showing the spirit of both:
I only met Malcolm Gleeson three times in the days towards the end of his life. It says something about him that those three visits are ones which I will never forget. It was not that we talked much, although we did have some conversation on living and dying and how I perceived that.
There was something about this man which told me that I was in the presence of a special human being. I can’t even describe what it was. I loved his beautiful face and told him that – even when it had lost its normal fullness which I saw later in an early photograph, it was still beautiful. I like his quirky sense of humour and his directness – an extraordinary mixture of unusual strength and yet vulnerability.
As I tried to get some insight into what had formed his life, I could see that to soar into the skies or spread your life across the oceans was part of him. Still I puzzled about sensing something much more in this person – an indefinable depth of being.
Last Sunday, his friend Neil gave me a loan of a little notebook in which there were a few pages of quotations which were precious to Malcolm. He had written them in tiny handwriting, some of them in other languages. He noted that the black pen quotes were about love “following Williams’ precedent”.
There were quotes from Dante, Hegel, Kant, Karl Marx, Kierkegaard, Wordsworth, Nietzsche, Foucault, Freud and others whom I didn’t even recognise. Many of the quotes were so profound that it took me some time to reflect on what they might mean. I have photocopied them all so that I can go more deeply into them with my philosopher daughter.
A couple I liked and understood were both by Kierkegaard:
“At first sight, I perceived that he was a poet – if for no other reason I saw it in the fact that a situation that would have been taken easily in stride by a lesser mortal expanded into a world event for him”
“I know that what I have hitherto understood is very little, so there will always be enough left behind, hiding in the shadows of the soul’s vaguer intimations”
His last entry was by John Barth:
“Things must be wept for.”
Yes, they must, Malcolm and we weep for you.
The quotes which I read helped me to understand the instinct which I had about Malcolm – that the fragile body I saw before me was holding a deep and complex person. It also explains why I immediately wanted to write a blessing for him, which he framed and kept beside him.
As beautiful now as it was at the time — and let it be noted that Malcolm was taken by the late stage of another pandemic, one that motivates the pronouncements on the present one by one of the heroes of that struggle, Bill Bowtell.
But back to Dorothy: I commented further:
Dorothy! And South Sydney Uniting Church… Such a positive, amazing person, and so humble in the right way. What you see is what you get with Dorothy. I knew her late partner too, though not as well. She was a photographer, and once accompanied me on one of my junior reporter gigs for the South Sydney Herald.
Now a recent example of fandom, innocent of course. I do find myself rather attracted by the talents of that young pianist I introduced you to the day before yesterday. Now why should that be? Let is look into it further:
Not just any rabbit. This rabbit: At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland… Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day… Mr Rabbit was 20 at the time, and had his say as well:
We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.
Only $400,000? You would need maybe THREE TIMES that these days, Rabbit!
Anyway, after an absence Rabbit has reappeared on Facebook. He is no longer 20 just as I am now much nearer 80! He is also a very experienced High School English teacher — indeed Head of English somewhere in the Blue Mountains, where he currently lives.
Our latest conversation was conducted via Facebook comments. I had posted a link to the following quite disturbing story in The Guardian, which certainly raises interesting ethical and aesthetic issues.
Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion’s den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty. Sitting alone in Stockholm today at the age of 66, he looks more like Gandalf with his white beard and his gaunt face framed by shoulder-length white locks. His eyes twinkle as alluringly as ever but he’s no pussycat. Asked what he would say to Visconti if he were here now, he doesn’t pause. “Fuck off,” he says.
No one who sees The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, a new documentary about Andrésen’s turbulent and tragic past, will be surprised by that answer. Visconti, he tells me, “didn’t give a fuck” about his feelings. He wasn’t alone in that. “I’ve never seen so many fascists and assholes as there are in film and theatre,” says Andrésen. “Luchino was the sort of cultural predator who would sacrifice anything or anyone for the work.”…
The Rabbit began:
Rabbit: haven’t seen the film but recently listened to the audiobook.
Neil James Whitfield: The book is very good.
Rabbit: It is. Shorter than I had realised too. · Neil James Whitfield: The movie is magnificent too — it is reading what it did to the boy playing Tadzio that gives me pause.
Rabbit: the Polish boy was played by a Swede?
At which point I posted the music from the movie.
Rabbit: well I think I will watch it during this lockdown
Neil James Whitfield: So I am rereading “Death in Venice” right now as it is in my eBook library.
Rabbit: The theme of pestilence seems relevant.
Neil James Whitfield: Parts of the last chapter seem very relevant. Yes, I have finished it now. That final paragraph really is something.
Rabbit: well I just watched the film. It’s quite something. They nailed the casting of Tadzio.
Neil James Whitfield: Yes, I was absolutely speechless when I first saw it — and I hadn’t read the book at that stage. The boy really IS Tadzio, and Dirk Bogarde is very good too. The cinematography, the music, everything — all so good. That’s why that Guardian article really does raise interesting questions.
Rabbit: visually such a beautiful film. [Referring to my comment.] Yes very true. I want to watch the new film about the boy actor and also other films with Bogarde who I don’t know much about.
Neil James Whitfield: Wikipedia as usual is a good intro — Bogarde was in some great films and had a very interesting life. What Wikipedia says about his sexuality is very true.
Rabbit: the film Victim is on YouTube and I’ll start with that.
Not all Facebook time is wasted!
Nor is listening to great music and viewing great movies a waste of time. Thanks, YouTube! Not so long ago we could not have had this pleasure.
NOTE: I am replacing the final video I had earlier as I see its maker has produced something even better, and more relevant to The Guardian article.
So many memories. I was a regular in the late 1980s through the 1990s to the early 2000s at the Albury Piano Bar where Sylvana performed. Indeed, yesterday’s post included some memories of the Albury. including the fact that I met Michael Xu for the first time in that very piano bar in July 1990.
YouTube and then (once I have shared) my Facebook page keep taking me back to the years c.1987 — 31 October 2007. That last is a very specific date because that was the day the Albury Hotel closed….
Oh yes, I have blogged before about this place. Remember when it closed? Is it that long ago? 31 Oct 2007 The Empress has sent an edict: Lest We Forget 31 October 2001 Yum Cha this morning was myself, The Empress, Clive, James, and eventually M, absolutely exhausted and needing the food….
As I said in 2012 in Priscillas I have known: “Oh yes: The Albury – where I met M in 1990 and Sirdan and chatted with the former Premier of South Australia, Don Dunstan – and The Unicorn, and all that 1980s-early 1990s scene.” There are some vids there. And: Is it that long ago?…
But my favourite was always the Piano Bar. I am indebted to Howie Hughes on Lost Gay Sydney for this photo:
The names there! Aside from Sylvana, I particularly patronised Adrienne Lamb and Hugh La Rue, real name Hugh Patrick O’Keefe, who has written a “tell-all memoir” — Palely Loitering; Growing up Gay in the 60s, 70s, 80s and Beyond. On Lost Gay Sydney in 2010 he wrote an extensive post about The Albury, taken from that memoir.
MY NIGHT WOULD start around eight o’clock with a warm-up of show tunes as background as the crowd drifted in. Then, with a few bods on stools around the piano – and a few white-wine-and-sodas under my belt, I’d take requests, of course, and indulge in some rather camp patter as well in between numbers. I could be a camp bitch at times (would you believe?) and I’d get as good back from some loud mouth in the crowd from time to time, always in good humour. But, as I was fond of pointing out, I had the microphone, so I always had the last word.
Except for one memorable occasion. It was a very busy Saturday night and there was a group of young people talking non-stop and ignoring the show. This was quite acceptable, of course – I didn’t demand any reverent silence – but they were sitting at the table closest to the piano and it was rather off-putting.
I decided to deal with them. “Let’s just stop and have a listen to this lot,” I said, “as they obviously have something important to say.” They were oblivious to my comments. I stopped playing and my listeners gradually fell silent until we could hear that they were discussing recent university exam results.
Very quickly they became aware that they were being targeted. They stopped talking. They assessed the situation. One of their number stood up and addressed me loudly:
“Well, you may think you’re clever and witty – but we’re young!”
With that they all stood up and swept out.
Even with the microphone, I had no answer to that one.
Then there was the lovely Adrienne Lamb, whom I had come to know from 1985 on at Beau’s Britannia Hotel of fond memory in Chippendale. She was an old stager from the best of Sydney jazz and cabaret and had an amazing repertoire. Make a request, no matter how obscure, and she could probably perform it.
But back to Sylvana. She can’t have been all that old when she passed. I gather she had been ill. RIP indeed, and thanks for all the wonderful nights — you, and all the others in the old Piano Bar.
On Facebook I said this is one of the best novels I have ever read, and that was when I was only half-way through. Now I have finished it I have not changed my mind. “You have probably noticed that I like this book, troubling as it is. In reading it you find yourself living the lives… Or I do…”
There is any number of reviews out there — I will let you find them for yourselves. Most of them are positive. Similarly the ordinary readers on goodreads trot out the maximum stars, with some exceptions — one of whom is someone I know through other connections, whose opinion I respect.
I am of course not the son of an alcoholic mother, nor have I ever been to Glasgow, lived in a desolate coal-mining village after the mine has closed, lived in Thatcher’s Britain, or ever aspired to be a hairdresser… But on the other hand there were so many resonances. I will leave those who know me to guess what some of them might be! I will say however that as a 10-year-old in Sutherland I did find myself pretty much in the position of looking after my mother who was bedridden for some time with a thrombosis in the leg, as I cooked the family dinners… And there were some interactions at Sutherland Primary School: the accounts of playing soccer seemed very familiar.
There are also many excellent videos featuring Douglas Stuart and the novel. Here are two — the first just 15 minutes, the second 52 minutes — but with a writer I greatly admire, Colm Toibin.
Good review, but she fails to pick where Shuggie Bain ended up in the Booker!
I really had forgotten I did this series, having just rediscovered it when I looked at my May 2011 archive, this being the first post for May 2021! I think it is well worth replaying some of the series now.
That was Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07. As you’ll see it began just over five years ago. It still gets plenty of visits, and these are the most visited posts in the last five years. [NOTE: These links open in the same screen as this post!]
Consider another of my blogs: Floating Life which began in 2007 and continued until superseded by this blog. Later archives from Blogspot (mainly) were added, taking the entries back to 2005.
Near the end of its run I did a retrospective series under the tag Decade called “Blogging the Noughties”. Another series followed, Picks from 2009 photos, and then Floating Life closed.
One of the “best of 2009” pics
In the “Blogging the Noughties” series I refer to my old Diary-X site a number of times. Diary-X was a bit like a WordPress that failed, though it was much less ambitious. It was a nice place and we regulars loved it.
20 Jul 2001 While the Prince is away… Holiday almost over
The salt mine beckons…
With the Crown Prince being on a Royal Progress at the moment, I feel I must make sure the Diary is kept up pending his return. I confess ICQ seems slightly bleaker though…
Today I coached in Chinatown and ran into yet another ex-student who was doing business there. Prior to that I spent some time in the UTS Library, where I found an excellent article by Wayne Martino from Murdoch University, published in The Teaching of English (a journal I have neglected of late) 127-128, May 2000 (published by the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE): “The Boys in the Back: Challenging Masculinities and Homophobia in the English Curriculum”. While some of that journal is available on the Internet, that article isn’t–which is a shame. It slots well into the issues I raised in the diary before last. I did find on the Net, after searching for “Wayne Martino” on Google, some interesting things from the Tasmanian Department of Education which those interested may follow up.
There was also a thoughtful cautionary article in an earlier Teaching of English (124, March 1999) by Andrew Kowaluk, “Boys and Literacy: Challenging Orthodoxies”. This article questions using critical literacy as an instrument of social change on the grounds that as it challenges values it may well meet resistance and entrench the values it seeks to problematize. Oh my God, I have used that word! In referring in the diary before last to the reception of the efforts of a female colleague, I hinted at that phenomenon, and indeed I think teachers need to move carefully in raising such issues.
The whole thing is something I must give more thought to, because I know that what we have (in my school anyway) is, despite exceptions, the ethos entrenches a conception of masculinity that is really destructive. Those exceptions are large and important, of course, but should they be exceptions? Why should the power elite in the school so often be unreflective? Why should bullying tactics on the part of certain staff go unrebuked? Why should a certain type of maleness be so rewarded?
Yes, there are people reading this who know precisely what I mean (and who I am too) and I would be interested in their views.
My late mother’s birthday today: makes me a bit sentimental.
7 May 2001 After the storm A bit of a roller-coaster
First, let it be said that banks have lost the human touch. No elaboration–sorry!
There was a bit of a storm a day or so back, but comparative calm has returned. In fact, a couple of storms–one work-related, one domestic! The value of one or two who regard one in a positive light was brought home to me.
Yes, it’s one of those cryptic entries again, folks.
Lunch was like a clear pool and a shady tree in a desert place. I heard too at lunch that a slightly radical change in accessories is in the offing; I look forward to seeing the result.
Kenny was Ken Sinclair, a Melbourne priest, 6 Feb 1927 – 19 May 2005 – but his website lives still. * See note below for an obituary.
Here are the links to some friends’ sites. The first one, known as “Ninglun”, is a teacher at a boys’ high school in Sydney, and in addition to his routine teaching, has a lot to do with teaching and inculcating attitudes of anti-discrimination. The second, “Sal”, contributes a lot of material to a group called “The Gay Catholic Clubhouse”, and is a great guy. In fact, they are both great guys!
The next link is to the site of Michael Coyne, an internationally known photographer, who,as I tell him, I’ve known for so many years that I knew him before he was famous. The link “Present Australia” belongs to a couple of long-time friends, Mike Clohesy and Oliver Scofield, who set up this business called “Present Australia”, that handles everything for people wanting to visit Australia. The next link is to a site called “Woodchips”, set up by our Fr Wood’s brother and nephew, to be about the Wood family. In the graphic, Fr Wood is the tall guy second from the right at the back. He is 81, and his mother, seated in front, is 103!
Ken’s link led me to my VERY FIRST SITE on Angelfire! Well, not quite, as I had a site on something called Talk City for a while beginning 2000.
This is rather ironic:
A shame that didn’t stick: imagine the difference a decade of not smoking would have made financially as well as healthwise!
On my Diary Key page I have three other diaries linked, all with permission obtained some time back. I thought I’d tell you a little about each one today, and think about why we do this.
I’ll begin with the youngest diarist, Lucas in Montreal. He is about eighteen and uses this diary (he has another) to reflect on his feelings, what happens, his growing definition of himself, and what appears to be quite a battle sometimes with depression. I like his sense of humour and his touch of self-irony. He is a very aware young man.
Queer Scribe is also a North American. His diary is often raunchy as he is much more, shall we say active, than I am. He is a bit younger than I am, but not all that much. He is also very reflective, very self-aware, and, it seems to me, very honest. This is a sample from the latest entry, not so raunchy this time. He is telling of his contribution to a talk-back show:
“But, you know,” persisted Tracey, “I’m not so sure I like this having to watch what we say. I mean, doesn’t language constantly evolve? Like the ‘that’s so gay’ thing; sure, maybe it was once a homophobic slur but when we use it now without knowing that, isn’t it ok?”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t lose too much sleep over whether this phrase gets said or not. But I think it’s good for us all to be sensitive about the language we use. That’s not political correctness, it’s just about recognizing that the words we choose have an impact on who feels a part of or apart from the dialogue.”
(I’m not sure that last sentence is verbatim; I doubt I said anything quite so “articulate”.)
…It’s good to be a little uncomfortable because it makes us think about what we’re saying and who our words might be trampling upon. That’s not censorship so much as it is a desire to communicate.
The last one linked from my Diary Key is Drew. He is a thirty-something English guy, very bright. He writes very well indeed. When I first came upon his diary he was living in New York, and his entries around September 2001 make very interesting reading. He is now back in the UK. He has a section explaining his reasons for keeping an online diary–that is what the link in this paragraph takes you to. I rather like what he says, which includes:
I’m a shy self-effacing person in my daily life, but my alter-ego craves attention. I get a kick out of seeing my words, thoughts and observations published on the web and out of knowing that someone else might see them too.
But there are more noble and important reasons as well: The knowledge that I have an online journal to maintain gives me a new sense of responsibility towards my diary. It disciplines me into writing daily, or almost daily. It also encourages me to write well, or as well as I am able.
And I know that I’m a happier person when writing is part of my life.
I can’t stop without correcting an omission. One of the first sites of this kind (though it is not strictly a diary) that I encountered is Yawning Bread, a very articulate gay man in Singapore. It is well worth visiting for all sorts of reasons. He writes beautifully and thinks…boy, can he think! His entries for March 2002 are just up and deal with religion, culture and gayness from an Asian perspective. The bill of fare on this site is extraordinarily rich, sustaining, sane and humane. You would be mad not to read it regularly, as it is better than mine!
And there is Mitchell’s site too (see below) which is also a kind of diary, but sometimes a knowledge of wrestling helps, especially on the guest book. A quirkish irony/humour pervades Mitchell’s site, with an underlying seriousness at times (I think he might admit to that if pressed and in the right mood.) I have been known to have been taken in by it in its more ironic modes. It is also a bit elliptical at times. Oh, and there is a gallery.
An issue raised by all this – in fact I had read the article before starting this entry – is in today’s Sun Herald: Journey past the last post by Neil McMahon.
We live so much of our lives online but what becomes of our digital selves when we’re gone?
Neil McMahon reports on virtual life after death.
… This phenomenon of us sharing lives in various virtual worlds is so recent that we’re still contemplating what it means in the here and now, with most of us yet to consider what it means when we’re dead and buried. But the debate is beginning. In the US, entrepreneurs have given thought to questions yet to trouble most of us: what to do with the digital trail we leave behind, from Facebook accounts to Twitter posts, from the endless gigabytes of email to that personal YouTube channel that was fun at the time but which may not withstand the demands of eternal life. And these are not mere memories – many will also leave behind significant financial assets online, from music libraries to valuable e-book collections.
In the meantime, some of us will go about creating that digital legacy with the only assistance from outside being asking a trusted loved one to hit “Send” on our final words.
Jessica Horton was not the last blogger confronting mortality to consider how best to give eternal voice to their online self. This month Canadian writer Derek Miller, 41, used his blog, penmachine.com, to deliver what he called The Last Post. It began: “Here it is. I’m dead, and this is my last post to my blog. In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down from the punishments of my cancer, then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote – the first part of the process of turning this from an active website to an archive.”
For Miller’s family, as for Horton’s, the lesson seems to be that a legacy managed is a legacy the bereaved can live with. As Horton’s mother, Julia Whitby, says: “We respected her wishes. I like the fact that it’s out there. I know Jess would have liked that. She loved to write, and if she’d lived I think she would have been a writer. I’m very proud that she had an impact, because that’s what she wanted to do.”
It’s an interesting issue, eh!
*Ken Sinclair, 6 Feb 1927 – 19 May 2005
Fr Ken Sinclair, openly gay man and priest at St Francis (Melbourne) for many years, died earlier this year, aged 78.
Many of us who went to the national homosexual conferences of the 1970s and 1980s will remember Ken with affection. He only missed one of the 11, and was a great counter-example to the prevalent view of the time that Christians were the enemy of gay people. The conferences helped Ken affirm his confidence in being gay – and in gratitude he spoke publicly for gay rights, sometimes in the face of considerable censure from his own Church. Ken contributed to the gay community in many ways: in his pastoral work, in his writing, as a supporter of groups, the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives among them, to which he donated large amounts of material over the years, and in friendship to the many whose path he crossed along the way. His PhD thesis in 1995 examined the churches’ responses to HIV/AIDS through the filter of their attitudes to homosexuality, based on interviews with clergy and people living with HIV/AIDS.
There is an interview with Ken in Dino Hodge’s book, ‘The fall upward; spirituality in the lives of lesbian women and gay men’ (1995), which captures much of what was so likeable about Ken. For Ken, simple principles of love and charity were at the heart of his religion and nothing could excuse cruelty dressed up as piety. It was summed up in this passage about ‘particular friendships’, which were frowned on by official teaching when Ken was a novice.
“But as our director said: ‘Any friendship has to be particular otherwise it’s not a friendship’. I can’t remember if it’s Charlie Brown or Linus in the cartoon strip that says: ‘I love humanity. It’s individual people I can’t stand’. But of course you can only meet humanity through individuals.”
#Strongwomen. "I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful - for all of it." Kristin Armstrong