YEAR IN REVIEW: 2019, THE YEAR THAT LITERALLY SEEMS TO BE DYING IN A FIRE.

Time for me to review the year that was. Let’s be honest: this isn’t going to be a cheery gagapalooza of cheeriness. 2019 was a terrible year, where everything was overshadowed by one moment so deeply traumatic that we will be struggling with its aftermath and connotations for years to come.

But bad should be recorded with good. That is why we journal. To lay down our own truths, and share our lives, no matter where they take us. I mean, that and nob gags, obviously.

So, read on if you wish, forewarned and foreskinned  forearmed:  this year contains more on the truths side and less on the usual level of nob gags. And let the wind grip the ashes of 2019 and blow them into the ocean.

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?

Attended my child’s funeral. Signed on as a high school teacher. In a few days, saying goodbye to our daughter Erin as she moves out of home.

 

2. Did you achieve your goals for the year, and will you make more for next year?

No. The plan was to lose 8 kilos, write a novel, and read 24 books. I managed the first, then grief-ate my way back through 6 of the kilos I’d lost. The second never bothered happening, and truth is, I have no idea when it will again—I finished the first draft of a rhyming picture book for adults, but fuck, who the hell wants to see something like that? Writing seems to be dead for me right now, and I highly doubt it’ll happen in 2020: too much to deal with, too much to get over. The last goal I did complete: I read 33 books, as well as 74 graphic novels, and I might get through another one or two before the year is out.

All in all, a bag of crap of a year, really.

Things are in flux for 2020. I’ve signed a contract to teach a higher number of classes, and given how much teaching ate my life this year I’m expecting it will eat even more next year. Writing seems dead. I have to take this weight back off—to be honest, it’s pretty much the only thing I have any focus for. Talk to me again in a year. Maybe I’ll have achieved something worthwhile. Don’t hold your breath.

 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

One of my students was pregnant. Does that count?

 

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Let’s start small, and work our way up, shall we?

Firstly, my father. It was a long time coming, and I’d exhausted all my emotions on the subject by the time it happened, but happen it did. The man betrayed our family deeply and viciously when he left us, and the next thirty five years of sorta-making-some-overtures-and-giving-it-with-the-bonhomie-when-it-occurred-to-him never really bridged the gap between us. After a while I stopped caring, and eventually, I just stopped trying. In the end, he gave in to dementia, I was living a thousand miles away, and it came down to a brief phone call and an inheritance that fit into a standard envelope. My mother died years ago, and I’ve been estranged from my brother for over a decade, so this was the breaking of the final link to my birth family. Ultimately, it was more relief then grief.

Secondly, Blake. Our son. Gone at 25. A week after his birthday, in the midst of completing a highly-successful teaching practicum in Bunbury. He lost his battle and took his own life. We’ll never know what constituted his final straw. We’ll never be able to piece it all together. We’ll never stop wondering: why he went through with it, what more we could have done, how we could have saved him. If we could have saved him. Ultimately, only one fact matters: he is gone.

It’s been thirteen weeks, as I type this. It is still too soon.

 

5. What countries did you visit?

None. I can’t even make a joke about it.

 

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?

A purpose. Right now, I feel as if I’ve lost all direction. There is no need for me. I produce nothing, create nothing, contribute nothing. All I can do, right now, is hope that something presents itself, because at the moment I’m lying on my back, staring at the clouds overhead as the river flows me along, and I can’t bring myself to turn my head to see if there’s a waterfall, sandbar, or crocodiles ahead.

 

7. What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

21 September. The day Blake left us.

 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Does the fact I considered asking Luscious for the answer to this one give you an idea?

 

9.What was your biggest failure?

I couldn’t save my son.

 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I’m constantly in pain. Right now, I’ve torn or strained something behind my right scapula which makes a range of movements, including typing, painful. Serious, no. Ongoing, constant, wearying: yes, always.

 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A week in a homestead in Toodyay with most of the kids and their partners. We spent the time just hanging out; being away from social media; playing D&D, Cards Against Humanity, and snooker; relaxing; eating; and just generally chilling. We got away from the world, and it was the last time we spent with Blake before he died.

 

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

The way my family pulled together through the dark days of shock and sorrow fills me with pride, none more so than Aiden and Rachel, who lost a brother and housemate but were at the centre of funeral and wake arrangements, threw their house open to all and sundry, housed the four of us, and threw themselves into making certain everything went as well as it could. They were towers of humanity and grace that we all clung to.

 

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

The world is a repressive, right-wing, wannabe-fascist trash fire right now. Even by those appallingly low standards, Scott Morrison is a mindless, Kool-aid swilling happy clapper of the most loathsome variety. His abandonment of firefighters and families to die while he holidayed overseas is only the latest example of his willful desire to drive our country closer to the apocalyptic rapture he and his mentally clusterfucked Pentecostal ratweasel peers live in constant hope of achieving. He is an unbalanced religious zealot who should be locked up where he can’t hurt anybody and then starved to death.

 

14. Where did most of your money go?

I have no idea. I’m going to say food and DVDs. There was a holiday, and another trip to Perth for Blake’s funeral, and that’s where it all really went, but I seem to have bought more food and DVDs than anything else, so that’s what I’m saying.

 

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The chance to get my Lego out of storage and build again. I’ve started a giant rebuild and am reviewing each set as I go along. Part play, part therapy, part attempt to keep in touch with at least writing something on a regular basis. It’s probably where most of my head will be in 2020. Other than that, I can’t think of much.

 

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?

Singing of the Bonesaws, by Future of the Left. It’s a song, and a band, that Blake introduced me to, and the one I played repeatedly in the days after his funeral. It is my personal Blake-anthem: I’ll never be able to hear it without thinking of him, and how we lost him.

 

 

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer?

Sadder, fatter, poorer. All reasons explained throughout this increasingly depressive missive.

 

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Being worthwhile. Following through on anything. Making a difference. Honestly, this year was a total dumpster fire, and I didn’t even have a bucket of sand.

 

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Grieving. Eating. Spiralling. Drifting.

 

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Aiden and Rachel fly in on Christmas day. They’ll leave three days later, taking Erin along as she moves out of home and takes up residence with them in Perth. In between there will be feasting, game playing, DVD watching, swimming, crying, and pretending she isn’t leaving us.

 

21. Who did you meet for the first time?

A legion of excitable, bouncy, raucous Year Seven Labrador puppy-humans that made my days immeasurably brighter. A slouchy platoon of Year Elevens that reminded me I have a long way to go to be a ‘real’ teacher. New work colleagues.

 

22. Did you fall in love in 2019?

Out of love, mainly. With writing, with my direction in life, with myself.

 

23. What was your favourite TV program?

We watched a bunch of new stuff, as well as revisited some old favourites, throughout the year. Possibly the oddest thing was using the thoroughly horrible Big Bang Theory as comfort food: I ingested eight or nine increasingly-depressing seasons in very short order before I bailed, and the family finished off the rest.

True crime features large: hard to pick a single favourite, to be honest, but the theme certainly presents itself. Killer Ratings was probably the oddest combination of wtf moments strung together. Call it the winner by a series of defaults.

The full list:

  1. MASH S2-11m Goodbye Farewell & Amen
  2. Sunderland ‘Til I Die
  3. The Ted Bundy Tapes
  4. The Innocent Man
  5. Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer
  6. Addams Family S1
  7. Titans S1
  8. The Twilight Zone S1
  9. The True Story of Jonestown
  10. Killer Ratings
  11. The Alcasser Killings
  12. Nailed It!
  13. Blown Away
  14. The Making of the Mob S1-2
  15. Flint Town
  16. The Great Hack
  17. The Irish Mob
  18. The Family
  19. Diagnosis
  20. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling
  21. Big Bang Theory
  22. Last Chance U
  23. The Good Place S4
  24. The Fix

 

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No, but my bone-deep, abiding hatred of Conservative politicians—particularly those of the Lieberal party—settled ever-deeper and darker. Ditto religious zealots. Double dog ditto those who combine the two.

 

25. What was the best book you read?

Much like our TV viewing, it was a very true-crime reading list this year, specifically a Mafia-heavy list, along with the usual rogues gallery of odd murders and Victoriana-Edwardiana-crimes that make up the bulk of my reading fascinations anyhoo.

Best of them, or at least oddest of them, was The Mad Sculptor, by Harold Schechter, a book whose hint is pretty much revealed in the title, but whose contents have to be read to be revelled in. Sadly, the TMI Award for Never Meeting Your Heroes is hoisted aloft in a privileged fist by Peter Davison, whose egobiographical Is There Life Outside the Box? shows him to be exactly the kind of pompous, repressed, self-righteous, vaguely misogynistic flannel you really hope he isn’t in real life when you watch him play exactly that on TV.

The full list:

  1. The Dominant, by Tara Sue Me
  2. What, and Give Up Showbiz? By Rusty Berther
  3. The Training, by Tara Sue Me
  4. Is There Life Outside the Box?: An Actor Despairs, by Peter Davison
  5. Inside British Intelligence: 100 Years of MI5 & MI6, by Gordon Thomas
  6. The Family, by Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones
  7. Murder on Easey Street, by Helen Thomas
  8. The Mad Sculptor, by Harold Schechter
  9. Wedderburn, by Maryrose Cuskelly
  10. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep
  11. Roadies: The Secret History of Australian Rock’n’Roll, by Stuart Cope
  12. Playing Dead: True Tales of Fake Suicides, by Wendy Lewis
  13. Muhammad Ali: The Greatest, by Walter Dean Myers
  14. BTK: Bind, Torture, Kill, by Wenzl, Potter, Kelly, and Laviana
  15. Square Mile Bobbies by Stephen Wade
  16. SAS: Nazi Hunters, by Damien Lewis
  17. Hollywood Godfather by Gianni Russo
  18. Collar by Tara Sue Me
  19. The Snapshot Killer, by Duncan McNab
  20. Handsome Brute: The Story of a Ladykiller, by Sean O’Connor
  21. Murder by Candlelight, by Michael Knox Beran
  22. Killing for Pleasure: the Definitive Story of the Snowtown Serial Murders, by Debi Marshall
  23. The League of Regrettable Superheroes, by Jon Morris
  24. The Sinatra Club, by Sal Polisi
  25. Five Families, by Selwin Raab.
  26. My Mother, A Serial Killer, by Hazel Baron & Janet Fife-Yeomans
  27. The Suicide Bride, by Tanya Bretherton
  28. Rothstein, by David Pietrusza
  29. Deal With the Devil, by Peter Lance
  30. Prick With a Fork, by Larissa Dubecki
  31. Hard Bastards, by Kate Kray
  32. Mr Briggs’ Hat, by Kate Colquhoun

 

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Post-Blake, I set out to listen to as much Future of the Left as I could cope with. They’re a band he always had a love for, and he had shared with me several of their songs over the years, to various degrees of me digging them. However, this time I made a concerted effort to hear them in… uh… volume… and grew to love what they were doing. They fit snugly into the corner of weird, experimental, fuckyoupunk I enjoy, alongside ever-presents in my playlist such as the Butthole Surfers and late-era Thomas Dolby, and they’ll always be the band that brings my boy back to me. French Lessons is an unusual departure for them, but is just about my favourite track.

 

The other – perhaps more accurately referred to as a rediscovery, or an expanded meta-discovery – was James. Like everyone else in the Universe, I have Laid and Getting Away With It All Messed Up on my playlist, but for reasons unknown had never really connected with anything outside of that. This year I did, and (as you all already knew before me) wow. What a perfect pop experience. This is my favourite of the many songs I gambolled through this year, but baby, where have they been all my life?

 

27. What was your favourite film of this year?

Over forty films this year, old and new, and there is simply no contest as to the best of them. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is a truly sumptuous, joyous, celebration of all that can be done with the animated medium. It’s a tour de force of technique, character, and narrative. It is, simply, all that is good about comic books, in a format that shows off all that is good about movies.

This is made doubly so by the fact that the winner of the All Ur Cashnsouls Is Belongs to Disney Award for Soulless Cash Grabbins is shared by the charmless and tedious Lego Movie 2, a film which managed to bottle everything that made the original Lego Movie so special and wondrous, and then threw that bottle into an ocean of porridge; and Spiderman: Far From Home, a movie that answered the unasked question, “What if Spiderman was at the centre of a second-rate teen holiday romcom from the 80s?”

Also, Aquaman. Jesus, Aquaman.

It is, literally, cheaper for me to buy three DVDs than take my family to the cinema in this town. Wasting my money on these films made me feel bad. You should, too.

The full list:

  1. The Room
  2. The Beguiled
  3. Near Dark
  4. Suspiria
  5. They Live
  6. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
  7. Aquaman
  8. The Addams Family
  9. Glass
  10. Fetishes
  11. BlackkKlansman
  12. The Death of Superman
  13. Captain Marvel
  14. Ant Man and the Wasp
  15. Lego Movie 2
  16. Shazam!
  17. Avengers: Endgame
  18. The Princess Bride
  19. Poltergeist
  20. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  21. The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
  22. No Country for Old Men
  23. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
  24. The Limehouse Golem
  25. The Professional
  26. Dirty Harry
  27. Lifeboat
  28. Shadow of the Vampire
  29. Goodfellas
  30. The Godfather
  31. The Godfather Part 2
  32. Spiderman: Far From Home
  33. Blade Runner 2049
  34. The Untouchables
  35. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay
  36. Shaun of the Dead
  37. Krull
  38. The 13th Warrior
  39. Jurassic Park
  40. Raging Bull
  41. Dragonheart

 

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 49, and I taught Year Elevens who didn’t give a shit about being there in a final effort to help them get to the end of the goddamn year and all bugger off to the apprenticeships they wanted. Clearly, I am Jesus. Except for the living past 33, obviously. And the actually existing.

Also, I had a wonderful breakfast and dinner with my loving family.

 

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Do we need to ask, at this point?

 

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?

Sad, fat, old-man teacher, and in the off-hours, fuck-it’s-too-fucking-hot.

Many a singlet was worn, my friends. Many a singlet.

 

31. What kept you sane?

Nothing. I sank and kept on sinking. My head pills. Even then, maybe not.

 

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

I may have mentioned that the world is a repressive, right-wing, wannabe-fascist trash fire right now, but that happy-clapping coal fucker Scott Morrison abandoning the country to holiday in Hawaii while under-resourced fire fighters he refused to fund died fighting the most apocalyptic fires this country has ever seen tipped me over into outright hatred.

I won’t be happy until he, and the Government he fronts, dies. Preferably in a fire. The best we can do now is to ignore everything they do and say and – like the fire chiefs who announced “Fuck him” and held their own summit, and found their own solutions – ignore their existence and simply do what we know is right.

Ghost the Government. #ghostthegovernment

 

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019.

I can’t. Nothing was learned, only regretted.

 

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Not a song lyric, but stanzas ten to fifteen from the Sonatorrek — the Norse Saga that translates as “On the Loss of Sons” — that I read at Blake’s funeral.

‘Me hath the main
Of much bereaved;
Dire is the tale,
The deaths of kin:
Since he the shelter
And shield of my house
Hied him from life
To heaven’s glad realm.

‘Full surely I know,
In my son was waxing
The stuff and the strength
Of a stout-limbed wight:
Had he reached but ripeness
To raise his shield,
And Odin laid hand
On his liegeman true.

‘Willing he followed
His father’s word,
Though all opposing
Should thwart my rede:
He in mine household
Mine honour upheld,
Of my power and rule
The prop and the stay.

‘Oft to my mind
My loss doth come,
How I brotherless bide
Bereaved and lone.
Thereon I bethink me,
When thickens the fight
Thereon with much searching
My soul doth muse:

‘Who staunch stands by me
In stress of fight,
Shoulder to shoulder,
Side by side?
Such want doth weaken
In war’s dread hour;
Weak-winged I fly,
Whom friends all fail.

‘Son’s place to his sire
(Saith a proverb true)
Another son born
Alone can fill.
Of kinsmen none
(Though ne’er so kind)
To brother can stand
In brother’s stead.

 

 

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