Epistemysics

Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

Critique: The Seagull (INCOMPLETE)

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[IMAGE REMOVED AT REQUEST OF BELVOIR]

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This review is unfinished.  Why I didn’t finish it is an essay in itself, but I suspect it had much to do with the form of the piece, and my perhaps premature solving of the problem it had created.  Plus I’m lazy.

It is also much less of a review than others I have written, so reader beware.  Partly this is why I abandoned it – it aims to be more than a review, but no matter how successful it is at breaking away from the label of ‘review’ it will always be tethered to the term, thus tainting what otherwise might have been something greater.  This is, of course, nothing new for me, but the scale of this review in particular brought into sharp focus whether I was using my time in the best way, and I decided I was not.  If I was going to spend that much effort on something, I thought, I wanted to have a piece that was more worthwhile than a review when I finished, and that could never have been the case here.

I post it online because, unlike other aborted attempts at reviews (and there have been many), this review is large enough to have become somewhat self-sufficient, and thus hopefully it will hold some interest, if not from the existing text, then at least from the hints of what are to come.

There is no program review, because reviewing the program is my reward for finishing the review of the play.  That did not happen, obviously.

And if you think this is a self-indulgent waste of time, fear not, normal reviews (whatever ‘normal’ means) will resume soon.)

———

For Tim

Nina (Maeve Dermody) and others

Like a man pinned beneath his car after having failed to secure the jacks properly before rolling under the chassis, I have a lot to get off my chest.

Always good to start with a joke: humour is a great defence mechanism, after all.  Plus I can do humour – make funnies, as it were.  I’m not so sure about the rest.

You see, I’ve had rather a bit of trouble writing this review.  (Please note how I say this now, when I’m less than a hundred words into it.)  There are many factors accounting for my troubles, most, if not all, of no interest to you, my dearest audient, except perhaps for one: the highly personal nature of what is to follow.  There’s a difference, I’ve found, between focusing the spotlight on the embarrassing areas of my life and shining it on the darker parts.  One can switch the energy-saving light bulbs on in one’s bedroom and reveal the mildly amusing remnants of times past – Pokemon posters on the wall, a closet door plastered with stickers (“Life’s better with a book”, “I support Ronald McDonald House”, “I was very brave at the doctor’s today”, etc) – but the blacker places need a stronger wattage.  The best one can find down an unlit well is mould and algae.  As for the worst…

No, I haven’t murdered anyone.  No, I’m not a paedophile.  And no, I’m not secretly in love with David Williamson.  Besides, you think I’d tell you if I was?  So fear not, dear audient – the skeletons in my closet were legally obtained.  No grave-robbing here.

Patience.  Have patience.

Nina (Maeve Dermody)

I’m underground.  There’s people.  I hear the clack-clack of a business woman in a tight black skirt and shoes of questionable stability making for the stairs to platform 21; the prattling of a Chinese man and his wife; the punctuated ‘like’s from a group of schoolgirls playing the truants.  Behind me comes the percussive fugue of the constant click-click-phwump-phwump of the ticket barriers: one click as the machine grabs the cardboard passes, another as it pokes them out, the phwump of the pinball-paddle obstacles pulled apart and released again.  My right hand is holding tightly the bit of my satchel where the strap and bag meet, my index finger cupping the metal rectangle that allows for length-adjustment.  In the pocket of my jeans currently resides a mobile phone and another hand – presumably my left (I don’t think I have more), but at the time I can’t tell.  And I’m standing there, the centre of my universe as the public orbits around, even though I’m late for my train.  In front of me, in a frame attached to one of the pillars holding all the earth above aloft, a poster rolls into view.  An advertisement, of course – I’ve yet to see anything non-commercial in such places, no periodic table of the elements, for instance.

Usually I wouldn’t take notice, notice of the advertisements, existing under the delusion that marketing is beneath me, but as I’m standing here when I shouldn’t be, stationary in the station, as it were, nothing (and yet everything) better to do, I wait, or at the very least do nothing else, while the banner finishes its upward scroll.

Click-click-phwump-phwump.  Click-click-phwump-phwump.

Well now, I think to myself in a British accent, how very curious indeed.

Dorn (Bille Brown), Nina (Maeve Dermody), and Polina (Anita Hegh)

Another fucking headache.  Fuck.  What is it about theatre and brain trauma?

Sit down.  Put the satchel on your lap.  Open the satchel.  Remove from within the zippered pocket inside the satchel a small clear plastic cylinder with white screw-top lid.  Set the small clear plastic cylinder with white screw-top lid on the middle-ear challenged table next to you.  Remove from within the satchel – but not from the zippered pocket inside the satchel – a Mount Franklin drink bottle filled with water, being reused for the umpteenth time.  Mentally congratulate yourself on your eco-friendliness, what with you having not thrown the plastic bottle away.  Remember using five paper towels just previously in the toilet, your wanting to make sure your hands were completely dry, them being rather raw in the winter weather.

Fuck the environment.  Fuck this headache.

Unscrew the top of the Mount Franklin bottle and place it on the table next to the small clear plastic cylinder with white screw-top lid.  Take the small clear plastic cylinder with white screw-top lid and unscrew said lid, remove a foil of two generic-brand-but-really-it’s-Nurofen caplets, and place it back on the table.  Dispense the caplets into your hand.  Place one caplet under your tongue, grab the Mount Franklin bottle and take a mouthful of water, then swallow.  Repeat.  Worry about whether you should be taking the caplets on an empty stomach, after the packet specifically warned against taking caplets on an empty stomach, lest one develops stomach ulcers.  Consider ingesting some of the snacks within the satchel (though not in the zippered pocket), perhaps a Jatz or Scotch Finger chaser.

Fuck stomach ulcers.  Fuck the environment.  Fuck this headache.

Replace the lid on both the Mount Franklin bottle and the small clear plastic cylinder currently bereft of white screw-top lid.  Place both items back in the satchel.  Attempt to remove from satchel a Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player.  Find that the earphone cords are tangled and resisting extrication.  Remove the Mount Franklin bottle.  Successfully remove the Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player.  Re-insert the Mount Franklin bottle.  Determine left and right, then do the same for the earphones.  Place earphones in your respective ears, looping the wire over the top of the ear before inserting them into the ear canal.  Activate the Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player and search through its music library for the track you want.  Select Debussy’s Clair de Lune.  Confirm that the music has begun to play.  Take some time to look around the near-deserted Belvoir Street Theatre foyer.  Recall the production you have just seen, a matinee performance of Benedict Andrews’ version of The Seagull.

Fuck that was a good play.

Konstantin (Dylan Young) and Masha (Emily Barclay)

But who is this ‘Tim’?  Who is this sub-titular man of mystery, this italicised dedication of an enigma?  What could his relationship with our valiant narrator and critic be?  What is it that our Adam has been most unforthcoming about?  Perchance he is his lover, though if you were to ask Adam that, he would turn dramatically and say, “like, just because I like theatre and stuff, doesn’t mean I’m like, gay.  Like, oh my god,” thwacking his tongue from the top of his palate, rolling his eyes upwards, and exhaling with excessive oomph, before retreating into a more heteronormal personality that attracts attention from his preferred gender but in the wrong age bracket.  Perchance he is just a friend.  Perchance he is a relative.  Perchance he’s the black-bearded and Indian courier responsible for the 18th Sub-District of the 5th Department of the Western Suburbs division of the DHM Parcel Company, the one always delivering his books ordered from overseas at a cheaper rate than any comparable operation in Australia.

Because Adam likes his books.  He likes them so much that he once had a dream where his house was directly in the path of floodwaters, and given the choice between saving the literature he had collected throughout the years or his mother, he chose the literature.  Admittedly, in the disturbed physics of such a nightmare, he was able to fashion a makeshift raft out of the hardcovers – the thrillers and fantasy novels forming the pulpy hull (he’d moved on to higher forms since then), leaving the greater works within reach in case he drifted out to the ocean and had to wait for the forceful blades of a helicopter to disturb his reading of Proust and save him, but not before lowering a net of chains that would winch both he and his sodden raft to safety whereupon a team of SES volunteers armed with hair-dryers would begin the process of controlled evaporation, thus mostly restoring the books to their former dullness.   Later in the dream he met his mother, saved by reasons his subconscious chose not to explain, and she had agreed with his course of action.

He, Adam, had once thought that a good idea for a play, a monologue, would be to have a former literary professor made homeless in a cold climate, and, needing to keep warm, having to burn his treasured books page by page, desperately trying to read each following section by the scant light of the former, failing hopelessly, filling in the gaps with what he could remember.  Or perhaps a writer, starving as usual, having to burn his manuscripts to survive now, but with no chance to survive later without them.  He, Adam, never got around to transforming these ideas into something more substantial, but he hopes they will be of use in the future.  He feels that the tragic scenarios somehow describe part of his own experience, but he doesn’t quite know what part, nor he is able to comprehend them as much as he would like to.  He feels myopic even though he is not.  He often feels this way.

But though the black-bearded and Indian courier responsible for Adam’s area may be named Tim (for Adam has no idea what his name is, having seen him merely as a service provider and not as a human being), though he may be named Tim and his immediate ancestors and descendants all too have Anglicised names that say much less about their heritage and more about their desire to fit in, though he may have gone so far as to give his children ridiculous names such as ‘Falcon’, ‘Avocado’, or ‘Herpes Simplex’ in a desire to emulate the idiosyncrasies of the idiotic celebrities suffocating the news channels, though he may have customised his number plates – but not on his work van – to say ‘IAMTIM’, so that a bogan, who might think of employing a bit of road rage on ‘that bloody Paki FOB!’ to siphon off the sexual frustration he feels because his wife refused to give him a blowjob the night before while he was watching Border Security, and was too tired at the time to concentrate on more than one task so couldn’t masturbate, might see the numberplate and think him an upstanding member of society and someone who’d make a good ‘mate’ and whose kids could play with his own (Holden, eight, his son, and his five-year-old daughter Spearmint) while they drank beers and discussed the asylum seeker situation without a pigment of irony – though he may have been all this – the black-bearded and Indian courier responsible for Adam’s area was not the Tim we are interested in.

The Tim we wish to focus on is Adam’s elder brother.

Masha (Emily Barclay)

Fucking Nurofen-but-not that doesn’t fucking work.  It’s been at least a minute.

Reopen the satchel.  Remove from the satchel – from within the zippered pocket – the mobile phone.  Flip the mobile phone open and unlock it.  Check the inbox which is ninety-nine percent full for new messages, particularly from Samuel, friend with who a meeting has been planned later in the afternoon or evening (it’s winter, and the two periods have a tendency to blur).  See that there are no new messages.  Navigate to the ‘Sent Items’ section and delete the two most recent messages to free up some space in case the inbox was more than ninety-nine percent full.  Reaffirm your position that you can have your inbox as full as you like, even if it means sometimes having to delete a text message or two when a new one comes in to make room, and then having to wait while the phone provider sends you the text message again.  Be strong as the recollected opposition of friends and family to such a state of SMS-affairs flashes through your mind, their expressions placing you, in their own minds, somewhere on the spectrum between ‘stupid’ and ‘lazy’.  You have your reasons.

Re-lock your phone and place it back in the satchel, specifically in the zippered pocket.  Continue to listen to Clair de Lune.

Dorn (Bille Brown) and Masha (Emily Barclay)

But this Tim, the one we wish to focus on, this Tim we wish to focus on who is Adam’s elder brother, who is he, really?  We know that he isn’t the black-bearded and Indian courier responsible for Adam’s area, yes.  We know that he isn’t a lover, assuming that we believe Adam is both straight (which we have no reason to doubt, other than his interest in theatre, and one time when he knitted a large scarf for himself because he wanted to, which, while virtually useless as a statistical piece of information for correlation with certain homosexual stereotypes, is nevertheless not statistically negligible), and that Adam is neither partial or at least impartial enough to the concept of incest as to render any speculation about super-fraternal intimacies ridiculous (though if you were to ask Mrs. Steinglass, neighbour of the house where Adam and Tim grew up (and where Adam still lives), about such matters she might, provided she was in a talkative mood – an emotional state of hers less common now after her husband passed away last year -, invite you inside, serve tea and some stale biscuits, and, after saying “Well!” with all the effort of someone trying to unroll a red carpet in a single push, clearing the way for the conversation ahead, would tell you about the time she saw Adam and Tim, this quite a long time ago, both of them in the pool in their backyard, before it had gone a dark green from disuse and become an embarrassment that lowered the tone of the neighbourhood, even though she was the only one who could see it, but anyway, both of them were in the pool, at night, and would you like another biscuit, and she was sitting in her bedroom looking out the window and could see that the two boys were swimming with no clothes on, both of them naked can you believe it, some sugar perhaps, and she didn’t know what to do but she did know that she thought it disgraceful and would never have allowed her children – George, whose lovely wife and their three kids came to visit just last week, and Harold who’s working for a big finance company over in America – to do such a thing, and what was your name again, dear, oh, that’s a lovely name, but we should talk about something else, because I don’t like to gossip, though there was this one time…).  (He, Adam, had yet to hit puberty, though his brother had, so while his brother was indulging a hitherto latent exhibitionist streak, he, Adam, just thought it cool, fun, and a little bit naughty, in the way that him getting kissed in the second grade by a girl, Lucy, on the cheek wasn’t anything untoward but something to giggle about afterwards.)

So knowing all that – that he is neither courier nor lover – we know he must be something else, as something cannot be nothing, and being a brother is something.

What kind of a brother was he?  Was he kind, like when he used to let Adam play his Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES, for short) when their parents were out of the house, especially the violent games that he never got to play during the hour-a-day-ration that had been bestowed by the paternal authority (expanded from half an hour for good behaviour and conscientious attention to house duties)?  Or was he mean and jealous, like when Adam had, after a night alone, his parents gone to a dinner party and his brother testing a new form of remote-babysitting that involved him not being in the house but a few blocks away having sex with his girlfriend du jour – Anna or Lucy, he can’t remember (though it was a different Lucy from the one who had kissed him in the second grade) -, when he had, after this night alone, accomplished the feat of getting an almost unbeatable record time in Super Mario Kart, on Rainbow Road, the most difficult racetrack in the entire game, the one his brother had always been teasing him about, saying he was terrible at it, and when, his brother having come home smelling of hairspray and with a post-orgasmic smile on his face (possibly inspired by the alcohol he had no doubt been having as well), and having seen Adam’s achievement, wrested the controller from his hands, knocking it on Adam’s forehead on the way, and proceeded to reset the ‘Best Times’ to the factory default, telling Adam, now in tears, that if he told his parents then he’d tell them he was playing the SNES when he should’ve been in bed and he’d get in big trouble?  Yes, just what kind of brother was he?

Tim, Adam’s elder brother, the one we wish to focus on, was both of these personality traits and more.  Everyone is a combination, after all.

But that was then.  What kind of a brother is Tim now?

Dead.

Everyone’s a combination, though not everyone has the same ingredients.

Masha (Emily Barclay) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

Fucking Nurofen still doesn’t fucking work.  Decide to rise above such petty issues as personal pain.  Congratulate yourself on your stoicism.

Get up and leave the Belvoir Street Theatre foyer.  The Opera House awaits.  The Seagull isn’t the only show you’re seeing today.

Dorn (Bille Brown)

He, Adam, likes to daydream about the future.  He finds it keeps him from thinking about the present and the past, but especially the present.

One time, not so long ago (after he had seen The Seagull), he got so caught up in daydreaming, daydreaming about the future, that he wrote down what it was that he had been imagining.  He had been sitting in his bedroom, on his bed, his laptop next to him, wondering whether masturbating a third time that day was really the most constructive thing he could be doing in his life right now, for while it was an act of creation per se – though perhaps it was more creation aborted, the chances of his sperm finding an egg somewhere within the folds of the Kleenex, let alone the amount of natural laws that would have to be broken for the ejaculation to have not been in vain… –  for while he would be creating something, he didn’t think it was anything that others would be interested in, nothing that would help establish a reputation, as it were – not the type of seminal work he wanted to leave behind him.  And so he thought about the future, and what he would be delighted to have happen to him, and decided that he’d like to give an interview to the Paris Review at some point, and decided that he needn’t wait to be asked, but would write one himself, now, on the off-chance that he would be asked, so he’d have had practice at it.  That, and he’d been a bit overeager beforehand, having got somewhat caught up in the moment and exceeding the safe limit during the RAM-cycle of his genital stimulation (read: Rapid Arm Movement).  His penis could use a rest, and he also felt confident in arguing for the relative constructivality (a word he coined because he felt that ‘constructiveness’ was not the term he wanted) of the two proposed activities, the Paris Review fake-interview coming, as it were, out on top.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

Epistemysics, The Art of Fiction No. 242

Interviewed by George Plimpton

At the time of this interview, Epistemysics was near the end of rehearsals for his new play, The Immortals, which opened in Sydney in March, 2016.  For the duration of the rehearsals Epistemysics had rented a furnished apartment in ‘The Rocks’, one of the arts precincts in the city, in order to avoid commuting, and although he had said, “I would never volunteer to talk about my work and myself more than ninety seconds,” he was extremely generous with his time and attention.  Epistemysics is tall and exotically handsome, and he speaks with a very slight lisp.

INTERVIEWER

How are the rehearsals going?

EPISTEMYSICS

Splendidly, splendidly.  That is, nothing out of the ordinary.  There is a great contradiction for playwrights during the rehearsal process, I find.  There’s this overwhelming sense of exhilaration, yet at the same time it can be utterly nerve-racking.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean?

EPISTEMYSICS

Well, after working alone for however many months, though in my case it doesn’t usually take more than a month to write a play once my subconscious has all it needs, you finally get to have other people manipulate and interpret it, so there’s a great sense of excitement there.  It’s a bit like watching your child interact with other children, you know?  But it can be strangely stressful as well, what with the changes you have to make, or the decision over whether you should make changes – you know that you’re not infallible, of course, but there’s always a worry that changing one section here is going to affect another section there adversely, though you don’t realise it at the time…  So yes, it’s stressful and exhilarating at the same time.  I imagine it’s probably the same feeling that one gets when you jump out of an airplane.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve been skydiving?

EPISTEMYSICS

Not myself, personally.  No, I just pushed a friend out of a plane once – somewhere over northern New South Wales – and he was lucky enough to land in a haystack, so when he came out of the coma he told me what it felt like.  The tape isn’t on yet, right?

INTERVIEWER

One of the actors warned me that you had a twisted sense of humour.

EPISTEMYSICS

That’s a rather nice way of putting it.  ‘Sick’ is the word I’d use.  But in answer to your question, no, I’ve never been skydiving.  I prefer to imagine such things.  On the ground.

INTERVIEWER

Can you explain how you chose your name?

EPISTEMYSICS

I think you’d have to ask my parents about that.  Oh – the other one.  Right.  I’d started a blog, you see, when I was in my honours year at university.  Due to a mix up in the academic rules which I’m still convinced to this day that the university changed on me midway through my degree, the powers that be told me I had to do six more units of General Education sometime in the next two semesters otherwise they wouldn’t give me my degree – professors are hell bent on making sure every Computer Science graduate has a smattering of a foreign language, or can sound educated when talking about a sub-section of film history, and so on.  I suspect whoever made the rules was sublimating some embarrassing moment from his earlier life.  Anyway, the course I chose was Metaphysics and Epistemology – philosophy, no less – which was, for the most part, enjoyable.  When it came time to pick a name for my blog, I simply chose the former half of the latter name and the latter half of the former name, and voila – Epistemysics.  Later on, when I started to make a name for myself, I thought, all the famous writers in history are only referred to by one name, why don’t I just skip the intervening period?  Or maybe it was an homage to Madonna.  I’ll let you decide.

INTERVIEWER

You didn’t worry that it might sound pretentious?

EPISTEMYSICS

Oh, yes, I did at the time, but I chose it more because it sounded cool, rather than any desire to gatecrash into the party where all the literary giants are.

INTERVIEWER

I see.  Speaking of literary giants, perhaps now is a good moment to talk about your Nobel Prize, then.

Masha (Emily Barclay) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

He, Adam, the younger brother of Tim the elder brother, spent over a week daydreaming about the Paris Review interview.  He had read somewhere once that an effective way to reach your goals was to actively visualise them first.  He remembered that one time, when he was in high school, the entire year had been pulled from their classes to come and sit in the hall and listen to a motivational speaker tell them how to achieve their dreams, how to study more diligently, how to use their time more efficiently, and many other ideas he listened to earnestly at the time but forgot about within a week.  He could still remember one example that the motivational speaker had given, however, of a young man who needed a UAI of 99.4 to be accepted into his preferred university and university degree, and this young man, this student, went so far as to put on his numberplate his initials (which Adam can’t recall) followed by the desired score – “YM-994”.  The motivational speaker had told the students that this young man had got exactly that mark.  Adam remembered wondering at the time why the young man didn’t put “YM-100” on his numberplate instead.

He, Adam, considered whether this transcription of an imaginary interview that he was working on would be for him like the numberplate was to that young man.

Semyon (Gareth Davies)

Fucking headache pills that don’t cure headaches.

Walk down Belvoir Street.  Turn right onto Elizabeth Street and continue walking.  Walk past the two brothels on the left.  Don’t even consider it.  You don’t have the money, and even if you did, you wouldn’t.  Stop thinking about the brothels.  Think about the brothels.  Stop thinking about them.  Think instead about all the sex you’re not having.  Walk clear of the brothels.  Realise that you haven’t pleasured yourself all day.  Marvel in your asceticism.  Become aware of the hypocrisy of taking pleasure in not taking pleasure.  Turn left onto Devonshire Street.

Think about taking up poetry instead of theatre reviewing.  It can’t be that hard, and both don’t pay.  Wonder whether it would be possible to not have to pay for a date with a girl if you had instead written her poetry.  Decide that it isn’t possible.  Most women, especially those who are relative strangers to you, would probably be averse to your verse.  Make a mental note to write your not-so-clever wordplay down when you get a chance.

Walk towards Central.  Walk down the stairs of Central.  In one awkward action, stop walking and rip the earphones from your ears after – Clair de Lune having finished, and the next track on your alphabetical playlist being a pop song that has no respect for the raised volume required to listen to Debussy’s piece without missing anything – being blasted with a thumping bass line and lyrics about sex.  Think about sex again as you lower the volume of your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 player.  Listen to the world as you do so.

Click-click-phwump-phwump.  Click-click-phwump—

Quickly place the earphones of your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 player back in your ears.  Activate the FM Radio feature of your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 player.  Set the frequency to 96.9, Nova FM.  Recommence locomotion.

Walk into the long tunnel that runs from one side of Central to the other.  Lose your radio reception.

Fuck.

Nina (Maeve Dermody)

INTERVIEWER

In a, it must be said, controversial decision, the Nobel Prize Committee last year awarded you the Nobel Prize for Literature, the youngest recipient ever, ousting Rudyard Kipling by over four years.

EPISTEMYSICS

I’m still smiling.

INTERVIEWER

The rationale they gave was “for an epic and psychological narrative art which has reintroduced a new continent into literature”.  The New York Times, a few days later, said that you “were the greatest thing to come out of Australia since the Ugg Boot”…

EPISTEMYSICS

That’s quite a good line, that one.  Wish I’d written it.

INTERVIEWER

The critic made special mention of your epic novel, Time and Consequence, saying it was “as if Shakespeare had sat down and written Proust”.  Did you expect to get this acclaim when you started, especially at such a young age?

EPISTEMYSICS

Yes and no.  I think most writers – most good writers, anyway – have an innate sense of their worth.  But it’s not as strong as that.  Because most of the time you’re thinking nothing but negative thoughts, about how your prose is terrible, how your ideas are ill-formed, how your characters are clichéd…  There’s a lot of faith involved, I think.  Against pretty much all evidence to the contrary, you’re convinced that one day you’ll be great.  It’s what gives you the drive.  Logically you know the chances are slim, of course, but there’s always something, in the back of your mind.  So I guess you could say that I not only expected it, but was also surprised when it happened, if that makes any sense.  A bit like a charlatan psychic having to suppress his amazement when one of his outlandish predictions comes true.

INTERVIEWER

Right.

EPISTEMYSICS

I’m delighted that I won the Nobel so young, as well.  I’ve often wondered what the older writers who win must feel, being given a million dollars in prize money with only a few years left to spend it.  To get it when you’re young, so you don’t have to starve – that’s nice.

INTERVIEWER

I’d like to move on to your essays, if I might.

EPISTEMYSICS

Certainly.

Masha (Emily Barclay)

Fucking technology.  How hard can it be to get radio in a tunnel?

Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Take no notice of the bum.  Walk.  Walk.  Ignore another bum.  Put another bum behind you.  Smirk at the unintended pun.  Lose the expression and turn your head the other way so the girl you just smirked at by accident doesn’t think you’re a psycho.  Not that you care what she thinks.  You’ll probably never see her again.  Avoid tripping over another bum.  Walk.

Hear a snippet of radio.  A quantum of signal.  Recognise it as a song you like but won’t get to listen to because you’re not even halfway through the tunnel.  Consider listening to one of the bums’ music, but decide against it.  Listen anyway.  Even with your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player’s customised earphones that are designed to block as much noise as possible from the outside world, you can still hear the melody.  The beat.  The average singing.  They’re not noise-cancelling headphones, but noise-reducing earphones, after all.

Listen against your will to the music.  Determine to defy this aural invasion.  Purposely adjust your walking cadence so that it does not synchronise to the beat.  Look uncoordinated as you do so.  Determine not to care.

Dorn (Bille Brown) and Polina (Anita Hegh)

He, Adam, had noticed once, on a school trip of his to the local ice-skating rink (as part of the school’s weekly sports program), that when the beat of the music quickened, so did the speed of most people around the ice rink.  He often wondered whether there was a limit to how much people would be subconsciously influenced by the music, or if they would, during an artificially inflated high-tempo song, go so fast as to lose balance and fall over.  He wouldn’t have been surprised.

Nowadays, he, Adam, would have thought, “people are sheep”, and thus, in one statement and one statement only, have accounted for all the evils in the world, all the lack of thought, all the unintended sorrow.  But then, then during those innocent years in high school where all the fledgling shoots, too small to produce much shade, get to grow alongside each other, during those happy times before the forest, the jungle, starts to take shape and some shoots rise to the top and block out the sun while the others fester, then during that glittering era of unknown ecstasy, then he went faster as the music went faster, the frozen-food-aisle air pushed aside by his never-shaved face, faster, faster, until time was called, and he, glowing with non-sexual exertion, would get on the bus with his friends, looking ahead to the next week.

We look ahead when we’re young.  It’s only when we age that we turn the other way.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Konstantin (Dylan Young)

Fuck.

Step.  Step now.  It can’t be that hard.  How can it be so easy to step in time with the music, but not the other way?  Stop walking.  Determine to sort this out now.

Realise you’re standing next to a bum.  Turn your head to see what you’re up against.  See too much hair.  See not enough teeth.  See the bum looking at you and feel yourself looking at the bum.  At least you’re not smirking this time.

Walk.  Walk.  Walk.

Did he notice you?  Of course he noticed you.  Maybe he was blind.  His eyes were clear, though.  But looking into his eyes for half a second doesn’t count as a service.  Listening to one note of his music, some terrible tune on a guitar with only five strings, doesn’t count as a service.  Feeling like you just looked at yourself in five years time and being terrified of what you saw doesn’t count as a service.  You don’t owe him anything.  And even if you did, it’s not like you’ve got money to pay him.  Can’t afford a brothel, can’t afford this either.  Realise that there’s no person in the world who would think that a good line of argument.  You do have money, you just don’t have it for him.  Especially when he didn’t provide you with a service.

You don’t owe him anything, even though you’re now walking in time to his music.  Fuck.

Trigorin (David Wenham)

INTERVIEWER

One of your earlier works…

EPISTEMYSICS

Sounds a bit weird when I’m only twenty-nine, doesn’t it?  I expect this whole period I’m in right now will be classed as my ‘early’ period, assuming I survive to old age.  Puts things in perspective.  Huh.

INTERVIEWER

One of your earlier works, released when you were just becoming known as a major playwright, was a collection of essays entitled The Seagull and Other Essays on The Seagull.  What made you choose that title?

EPISTEMYSICS

Pretty fucking obvious, isn’t it?

Masha (Emily Barclay)

Radio reception!

Your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player has decided to pick up the signal once more.  Exit the tunnel.  Turn right onto George Street, or whatever the name of the street is.  You know you want to end up on George Street.  What does it matter if you don’t know the name of every street between here and there?  You know where you’re going.  You do.

It’s getting dark.  Cold.

Fuck.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Trigorin (David Wenham)

EPISTEMYSICS

Sorry about the language.  I just said it because I thought whoever might be reading this in the future would get a laugh out of it.  The surprise of the genial interviewee suddenly turning on the interviewer, you know.  Nothing against you personally.  Nothing against you at all, actually.

INTERVIEWER

Always the entertainer?

EPISTEMYSICS

I’ve yet to find another point to life.

INTERVIEWER

So The Seagull and Other Essays on The Seagull – how did you come to write it?

EPISTEMYSICS

Well, at that point in my life, I found myself rather fond of a play called The Seagull by a man called Chekhov – Russian guy, you may have heard of him.  I’d seen quite the glorious production of it about half a year before I set down to write the first essay, and I still found myself thinking about it daily.  Benedict Andrews – a favourite director of mine – was the mind behind it, adapted the script and put it in an Australian setting and all.  Judy Davis was Arkadina, and my goodness was she fabulous, may she rest in peace.

INTERVIEWER

Lung cancer, wasn’t it?

EPISTEMYSICS

Yes, very sad, very sad.  And David Wenham was Trigorin, Maeve Dermody was Nina – I had the hots for her at the time – and Dylan Young was Konstantin.  And the rest of the actors…  What a cast that was!  I’m so glad I saw it twice.  Probably could’ve seen it another five times and still enjoyed it, no doubt.  So yes, I’d seen this production – plus I was already a fan of the play to start with, and it just sort of inspired me, you know?  Great art tends to do that.  Turns the tap on to full.  But it’s a very long story.

INTERVIEWER

We’ve got time.

EPISTEMYSICS

Oh, excellent.  In that case – did you just look at your watch?

Masha (Emily Barclay) and Ilya (Terry Serio)

Now you’re on George Street.  Fucking semantics.

Semyon (Gareth Davies) and Masha (Emily Barclay)

INTERVIEWER

It was just a reflex action.

EPISTEMYSICS

Reflex?  Like a gag reflex?  Except it happens when you’re bored?

INTERVIEWER

It just happens.  Please, go on.

EPISTEMYSICS

I’m not sure I want to any more.  I mean, I wouldn’t want to keep you here against your will or anything.  I mean, God, you could be interviewing Dan Brown or someone like that, instead of some paltry Nobel Prize winner.  No, I wouldn’t want to keep you.

Silence.

Oh, alright.  Fine.  You’ve convinced me with your contemptuous stare, you Machiavelli you.

INTERVIEWER

Thank you.

EPISTEMYSICS

Don’t you get cocky now.  Now then, let’s see…  Well!

INTERVIEWER

Why are you laughing?

EPISTEMYSICS

Oh, just saying “Well!” like that reminded me of someone I used to know.

INTERVIEWER

Used to?

EPISTEMYSICS

My neighbour.  She died a year ago.  It took over a month before anyone noticed.  Anyway, let us not talk of death – there’s too much of it in this world.  Everyone’s dying.  Let us talk of my essays.

INTERVIEWER

Your book was split into four sections…

EPISTEMYSICS

Yes, well there were four main entries into the play, or at least I thought so at the time.

INTERVIEWER

And what were they?

EPISTEMYSICS

Rather simple, actually: Memory, Love, Art, and Suicide.  Who’d have thought I’d get an entire book out of that?

INTERVIEWER

So I take it that the first essay, The Seagull: An Overblown and Underdeveloped Analysis of its Characters in the Proustian Mode with Reference to the Spare Room, is about ‘Memory’?

EPISTEMYSICS

Yup.

INTERVIEWER

Care to expand on that?

EPISTEMYSICS

Can’t people just buy the book?

INTERVIEWER

In case they haven’t.

Silence.

EPISTEMYSICS

Again with that stare!  Fine.  Ahem!

I’d finished the first volume of Proust, around the time that I’d seen that production of The Seagull.  I’ve finished them all now, but at the time I wrote the essay I hadn’t.  You know, I’ve always – I’m going on a tangent here, well, sort of…

INTERVIEWER

I’m getting used to it.

EPISTEMYSICS

An attitude!  That’s new.  As I was saying – I’ve always wondered whether there wasn’t some sort of childhood tragedy in Marcel’s life, where he used up the surface of a postcard inefficiently, not writing around the edges, not writing in microscopic fonts, wasting the space, as it were, such that he was severely scolded for his lack of respect for money and the area of paper.  Maybe that’d explain why his prose is the literary equivalent of the spare room in my house.

INTERVIEWER

The spare room?

EPISTEMYSICS

My spare room is filled with, well, stuff.  Full of it.  Pretty much no space to move at all, except to open the door.  I’d say there was a kitchen sink in there but I don’t think there would’ve been room for it.

Semyon (Gareth Davies)

He, Adam, had always wondered why his family had so many belongings in their spare room.  When it had been his brother’s room, before he moved out, before he died – there was a sizeable gap between the two events – it had very little inside it, as humans take up more space than just their body.  Apart from a few old clothes in one of the closets, it held nothing but his brother and his possessions.  But when Tim left to make his fortune, to do his best to make a mark on the world that would be impervious to time, a vacuum appeared, and its name was storage space.  Nature abhors a Hoover, and so stuff found its way into the spare room.  But not all at once.  And not to begin with.  Cemeteries don’t become overgrown in an instant.

Polina (Anita Hegh), Konstantin (Dylan Young), and Masha (Emily Barclay)

Fuck.  George Street is long.

Konstantin (Dylan Young)

Tim, the one we wish to focus on, had a disappointingly stellar career in education.  That is, he went to the best of schools and scored below-average marks, but nevertheless he graduated.  Branded with a UAI in the mid-sixties, the time came to choose what his future would be.  His parents, Adam’s parents, were, if internally perturbed, on the outside the picture of optimistic diligence, attending all the university open days, Tim plodding along behind, bored out of his mind, tied to his progenitors by a leash of free money.  They listened patiently to all the talks, took duplicates of all the informative handouts, and discussed their son’s enthusiasm for being a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, even if his marks were not, as his father was fond of saying, “a true reflection of his capabilities”.  Tim would stand there, staring into the void of a crowded room filled with people doing exactly the same but with other professors, and periodically affirm in no more than a few syllables what his parents had just said.

On the long trips home in their car – a four wheel drive that, unlike the majority in the city, was used to go off-road on occasion – Tim’s parents would discuss his options.

“I’m feeling very positive,” his mother would say.  “I thought we’d found the place last week, at UTS, but after talking to Mr. White about the AEPs” – Alternative Entry Programs – “that UNSW has to offer…”

His father would turn the volume of the radio down and look at his son in the rear-view mirror, their eyes meeting.  “Just one year in a business degree, and with good marks you could be let into law.  Good news, son, good news.”

Tim would say nothing, but continue listening to his Sony Discman.

“Aren’t you pleased?” his mother would ask, forcing a smile.  “It’s not all doom and gloom as we thought it might be!”

“Yes,” he’d say, unconvincingly.  “Yes, I’m pleased.  Sounds like it could be a plan.”

One time, he, Adam, unable to get to sleep after a day out at an Orientation Day – “It’ll be good practice,” his mother had said – had heard from the other side of his wall, as Tim’s bedroom was adjacent to his own, what sounded like his brother crying.  He pressed his ear to the wall, trying to collect more sensory data, but after half a minute the noise stopped, and he went back to reading Lord of the Rings.

The next morning, he, Adam, had heard his parents speaking in the corridor, while he was still in bed, secretly playing The Legend of Zelda on his Gameboy.

“I think he’s depressed,” his mother had said.

There was a silence, then his father spoke.  “He just needs to find a career, that’s what.”

“And the professors, I’m sure they can sense it.  How depressed he is.  We make the introduction for him and then he barely talks to them.  It’s all I can do to keep the conversation going…  I don’t understand.  Why is he depressed?  I could understand, before, when his marks were low and he looked like having no hope, but there’s so many options for him now, like that program at UNSW, and there’s that aptitude test he could take for UWS…”

Their speech descended to murmurs, then a minute later his door opened.  “Adam,” his mother said sweetly, “time to wake up.”

Every Christmas for the past five years, his parents, or rather Santa, had bought Adam what he wanted – the Gameboy, games for his other consoles, books, and so on.  For the last two years Tim had asked for a season ticket to the Sydney Theatre Company.  His parents had been surprised, having only ever taken the boys to two or three musicals a year, that Tim would want to go and see theatre proper, but they had bought the tickets nonetheless.  They were worried about his lacklustre marks at school, and thought that something cultural might spur him onwards to better results.

That evening, after dinner, Tim called a family meeting, and told his parents, Adam’s parents, that he wanted to be an artist.  They told him that they loved him.  A couple of hours later they said they supported him as well.

When he, Adam, finally went to bed that night, not particularly caring what had just happened – he was more interested in watching the cricket on TV – he, resting his eyes between chapters of Lord of the Rings, stuck his ear to the wall once more, and heard, this time for sure, the sound of his brother weeping.

Masha (Emily Barclay)

EPISTEMYSICS

But it wasn’t what Proust did with his prose that interested me, though he did use many techniques to illustrate what did interest me, namely, his views on memory.

INTERVIEWER

The madeleine.

EPISTEMYSICS

Exactly.  It’s all about the madeleine.  That snatch of sensory input that triggers it all.

INTERVIEWER

How so?

EPISTEMYSICS

We all have madeleines in our life, you see.  Keys to memory, as it were.  Some are more potent than others.  For me, the spare room was one of the most powerful of these keys.  But others have their own keys.

Semyon (Gareth Davies), Masha (Emily Barclay), Sorin (John Gaden), and Konstantin (Dylan Young)

He, Adam, had, of an afternoon, been playing The Legend of Zelda – still – on his Gameboy (this being not so long after Tim’s surprising, at least in the eyes of his parents, change of heart regarding his career), when his brother had calmly opened his bedroom door, though not serenely, for his was a calm that comes from focusing all one’s rage into a single point, readying it to explode on queue.

“Where,” Tim had said, “is my ring?”

Adam, fighting a particularly hard dungeon boss that had been frustrating him all day, and hence not looking up from the Gameboy’s screen to see the stern expression on his brother’s face, nor the clenched fist, nor the signs of the tenuous grip Tim had on his emotions, didn’t talk at once, all the available neurons in his brain being used on the game, leaving little to allocate to something as complicated as speech.  Then, “what?”

“My ring.”

“Ring?  I don’t…” said Adam, the neurons reallocated mid-sentence.  He was finally getting somewhere with the evil scorpion and its poisonous tail, both rather larger than normal through either magic or genetic modification, though that wasn’t of much concern to him, directing his character across the screen.  He had had time earlier in the day to wonder whether the scorpion might not be evil but misunderstood instead.  He’d decided that he didn’t care.  We rarely consider the feelings of obstacles.

Tim liberated the Gameboy from his brother and Adam’s neurons followed.

“Give it back!”

“Tell me where my ring is.”

“What ring?  Give it back!”  Adam lunged for the Gameboy but his brother held it out of reach.  He could see the scorpion, and more importantly, the scorpion’s tail, heading towards his valiant, albeit uncoordinated in the hands of his puppeteer, hero.

“Jenna’s ring!”

Adam lunged again.  “Who’s she?  Give it back!”  And then he heard the sound he’d been listening to all day – the tiny speakers of the Gameboy announcing that his hero had died.  The time for negotiations, whatever little he thought there could’ve been between he and his brother, was over.  But he made one final, unsuccessful, lunge anyway.  “Mum!  Tim won’t give me my Gameboy!”

Their mother screamed from the kitchen.  “For God’s sake, Tim, give your brother his Gameguy.  How old are you?”

Adam grinned at the plan well executed, and Tim threw the Gameboy at him, hitting his wrist, before leaving the room.  Adam waited until his brother had gone before he started rubbing the painful spot.

Semyon (Gareth Davies)

Wait at the traffic light.  Cross the road.  Wait at the traffic light.  Cross the road.

Fuck.

Ilya (Terry Serio), Arkadina (Judy Davis), Sorin (John Gaden), Dorn (Bille Brown), Semyon (Gareth Davies), Polina (Anita Hegh), and Konstantin (Dylan Young)

He, Adam, didn’t know it at the time, that the ring, the ring Jenna gave to his brother, was one of his most valuable possessions.  But it couldn’t be helped – Adam didn’t know who Jenna was at the time either, his eyes too busy reading books or looking at electronic screens to observe or care about his brother’s activities.

But then one day, a day not so long after Tim had stormed into Adam’s bedroom and inadvertently murdered his hero, Adam found himself alone in the house.  His brother had been out all night, partying no doubt, and had yet to return home, presumably, Adam thought, stewing in his own vomit somewhere (this is what Adam’s understanding of ‘a night out’ was, having never been on such an adventure – or at least nothing that could be counted as such – before).  Added to this fortuity was the Good News that it was a Sunday, and his parents were at church.  He, Adam, should’ve been there too, but he’d told his mother that he felt out of sorts, and wished to stay home.  “We’ll be back in a few hours,” she had said.

The front door had closed, the four-wheel-drive had strummed to life and boasted out the driveway, and Adam had, without a trace of malady, leapt from his bed and calmly rushed to the family computer, his attention-seeking erection pointing the way like a machete through a jungle.  He touched the nipple of a power button and turned the computer on.  The Internet came next.  He wondered, as the PC was loading, whether he was going to hell, replacing one form of worship with another, far more concrete and pleasurable, idolatry.  No, he thought – he’d be fine.  It’s not like he was Catholic.

Typing the URL of the site he wanted to see from memory – he dare not leave any trace of his activities on the computer itself – he was interrupted by the sound of a car in the street.  He hesitated, it dopplered off, and he resumed typing.  Guilt, he’d found, honed the senses.  Half a minute later a key entered the lock of the front door.  The computer was shut off, his erection was trapped between his stomach and the waistband of his pyjamas, and he waited.

“Home, sweet home,” he heard his brother say, followed by a feminine giggle and a soft smacking noise.

A mysterious voice spoke, of a timbre that didn’t help the suppression of his tumescence.  “Since when have you worn a necklace?”

“It’s a chain, babe, it’s got your ring on it, so I don’t lose it again.”

“You left it at my house, it’s not like you lost it.”

“After what happened at your house last time, I think I should leave it there more often…”

Sniggers.  Tender looks.  Gropings.

“Hi Tim.”  Adam made his surreptitious entrance.

Konstantin (Dylan Young)

EPISTEMYSICS

It complicates things, this Proustian idea of memory, the forced recall of his madeleine.  ‘Involuntary memory’ is the term.  But yes, things become…tangled.  Especially the concept of free will.

INTERVIEWER

How so?

EPISTEMYSICS

Is that all you say?

INTERVIEWER

Stop half-answering questions and I wouldn’t ask it.

EPISTEMYSICS

And Hemingway, and Stoppard, and Faulkner – they all got through their interviews without throwing heavy objects at you?

Nina (Maeve Dermody)

It was Jenna that he, Adam, saw that day, interrupting their rendezvous.  He remembered thinking that his brother had done well for himself.  His brother had.  Tim was drawn to Jenna and Jenna to Tim, and Adam, bored onlooker, thought it was sweet, at least until he realised that they would spend every moment they could together, the result of which meant that the house was usually occupied by more than one amorous and hormone-driven teenager at a time.  He, Adam, who was already nervous enough about such things, refused to succumb to his desires with company present, even if they were in the next room and no doubt not caring or even registering that Adam was in the vicinity.  Decorum had to be maintained.

And so he, Adam, tried to read his latest fantasy novel or play his newest video game while he listened to the murmurs from the next room, Tim reciting love poetry that he’d written – he’d decided on being a writer by then -, Jenna either enraptured or comatose, making no sound.  One time he, Adam, had stuck his ear to the wall and heard Jenna reciting some poetry to his brother in a, it must be said, more captivating style.  Eavesdropping some more, he discovered that Tim had written both sets of poetry – the odes to his love and the odes from his love.  Adam stifled a laugh.

“You’re so passionate,” said Jenna, “even if I don’t understand your poetry.  How’s cannibalism related to love?”

“It’s a metaphor.  I love you,” said Tim.

Adam sneezed, but if they had heard, they ignored him.

“One day, when I’m a famous actress and you’re a famous writer, we’ll travel around the world, performing everywhere we go.”

A pause.  Adam lowered the volume on his Gameboy, and noticed how loud his breaths seemed.

“My darling!  My dream!  Stay tonight, please, and I will write you the play you deserve.”

“I can’t – my parents…  They think you’re a bad influence.”

“What would the bourgeois know about influence!  Their entire life is structured around being influenced by others – corporations, politicians, the media…  Stay just a little longer.”

“I can’t.”

“What if I follow you home?  And howl outside your window all night?”

The feminine giggle.  Adam checked to see if he’d paused his game properly, his hero cryogenically frozen in the stasis of the LCD screen – he’d read about cryogenics in a science-fiction book recently.

“What?”

“They’d probably turn the sprinklers on!  No, no I have to go…”

Them, the chastity belt to his virginal pleasure, out in the hallway now, Adam’s ear detached from the wall.

“My darling, you are my muse.  It’s animal cruelty, it is.”

The front door.  Sucking noises.  A thump against the wall.  The front door again.

He, Adam, waited for his brother to walk back down the hall, and a minute later he did, shuffling along, the ring on the end of the chain twirling in his fingers.  He saw Adam looking at him, and Adam braced for impact.  But the crash came in the form of a smile.  “You too, one day…” he said, before heading back to his room.

Adam thought his brother mad.

Nina (Maeve Dermody) and Konstantin (Dylan Young)

EPISTEMYSICS

So much of our lives, you see, is based around memory, both in the avoidance of it and the search for it.  Take my spare room, for instance – it’s filled with stuff, objects that have no real value apart form their sentimental properties.  While Proust’s madeleine didn’t have any sentimental value for him, having just entered his life, his nostrils, and his mouth at that moment, other objects do, and they’re no less potent for it.  I mean, there’s other stuff in the spare room too, like cans of baked beans that won’t fit in the pantry, but on the whole…  You know, I’ve often wondered whether some Ancient Greek philosopher didn’t argue that one of an object’s literal properties was its sentimental value, that held within a wedding ring is the memory of all that that ring has been through, all it has been witness to, and not only is such a record accessible to the owner, but if alchemy were to advance sufficiently, it would be accessible to another as well.  Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had thought that…

INTERVIEWER

Do you?

EPISTEMYSICS

What?

INTERVIEWER

Do you think that?

EPISTEMYSICS

What are you, nuts?  Of course I don’t.  We know nowadays that all the information – or at least we believe it to be so – is contained in our head, while the object in question is changed no more than by the rust of time.  But what I’m trying to say is, is…

INTERVIEWER

Yes?

EPISTEMYSICS

Give me a chance – God, do you think the readers will care if there’s a pause in our interview?  They’re not going to hear it.  …  What I’m trying to say is that the memories we have in our head are almost as inaccessible to us as the memories of a wedding night are to the alchemist and his ring.  Of course we can remember it if we want to – a glint of memory can itself be an object – but quite often the information is out of reach, encrypted, if you will.  There, but not readable, like a library of books with their pages stuck together.

INTERVIEWER

Not a very good library, then!

Silence.

EPISTEMYSICS

Are you intent on sabotaging me?

INTERVIEWER

How so?

EPISTEMYSICS

By being an annoying…I promised my mother I wouldn’t swear.

INTERVIEWER

I apologise.

EPISTEMYSICS

Excellent.  Shall I go on?

INTERVIEWER

Please.

EPISTEMYSICS

So, as I was trying to say, it’s the objects, the stuff, that is the key, the method by which one deciphers the past.  To have an object in your hand is to revive the memories of it.  That’s why – at least it’s why I think – throwing old things away is often a painful experience, because we’re not just decluttering the house, having a spring clean and whatnot, but we’re also, and far more importantly, abandoning any hope of awakening the encrypted memories that all these old objects are key to.  Just because the process of remembering is involuntary, doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to voluntarily rid ourselves of the stimulus, yes?

Yakov (Thomas Unger), Polina (Anita Hegh), Arkadina (Judy Davis), and Dorn (Bille Brown)

Fuck.

What is this?  The tenth traffic light?  And why does all of George Street have to be uphill?  And, more importantly, why do you always seem to walk up George Street, rather than down it?  Is there never an opportunity for you to go the other way?

Listen to half a second of an advertisement on the radio station currently being picked up by your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player.  Switch through the pre-programmed stations until you find some satisfactory music.  104.1, 2DAY FM.  Mentally revel in your latest victory over the advertising companies.

Watch the pedestrian signal of the traffic light.  Red.  Red.  Green.

Look ahead and see, on your left, the cinema complex.  Greater Union.  Event Cinemas.  Whatever they’re calling it nowadays.

Progress.

Arkadina (Judy Davis), Ilya (Terry Serio), Dorn (Bille Brown), and Masha (Emily Barclay)

EPISTEMYSICS

You know, I’ve often resented Proust.

INTERVIEWER

Why do you say that?

Silence.

EPISTEMYSICS

I see what you did there, not saying “how so”.  Very good.

INTERVIEWER

That’s why they pay me.

EPISTEMYSICS

I’ve often resented Proust, because, like any literary great, he got there first, or at least mastered the form first, closing the door on anyone who wanted to follow, you know?  Like Shakespeare as well – no one is ever going to topple him, unless civilisation crumbles, there’s a dark period, another genius emerges, and Shakespeare becomes like the Ancient Greeks are to us, yes?  Even if there was a genius of Shakespeare’s calibre today, I doubt his reputation would be as great.

INTERVIEWER

You don’t think they’d even out over time?

EPISTEMYSICS

Who knows.  You never can know, can you?  But yes, I’ve often disliked Proust because he got there first.  Pure jealousy, basically.  Of course, I can at least be thankful, I suppose, that tea and Scotch-Finger biscuits were not involved in any particularly momentous or memory-rich events in my early life, so I can partake of caffeine-and-treats without worrying that my mind will be thrown into a one-and-a-half million word recollection of things past.  No, tea-time is quite the unmemorable occasion for me.

INTERVIEWER

Me too.

EPISTEMYSICS

But I’ve often wondered whether people, whoever ‘people’ might be, when thinking of a term such as involuntary memory, ever fully realise just what the word ‘involuntary’ implies, you know.  That the process, the remembering, isn’t a voluntary one.  Which sounds obvious, I suppose.

INTERVIEWER

Yes.

EPISTEMYSICS

You weren’t supposed to say anything there.

INTERVIEWER

Sorry.

EPISTEMYSICS

I often think about free will, you see.  Because all experience points towards us having it, but all evidence suggests otherwise.  I’m not sure if there’s anything else in this world that can lay claim to such a contradiction.  And it gets really interesting, for me anyway, when memory – involuntary memory – is involved.

INTERVIEWER

How…in what way?

EPISTEMYSICS

Well!  How long do you have?  Actually, let’s not go there again – it led us into aggressive areas last time.  What I’ve found is that sometimes experience doesn’t point completely to us having free will.  Like, often times, the brain, or rather the consciousness, acts on its own, yes?  Usually during a moment of involuntary memory.  Sometimes we bring an object into our senses with the sole purpose of instigating a memory, other times we bring a madeleine to our mouth for another reason entirely, yet either way the effect is the same.  A memory is activated, like the light switch in a large warehouse being flipped, the rows of globes one by one being illuminated until the scenes beneath dazzle our thoughts.  What power these objects have!

INTERVIEWER

Yes.

EPISTEMYSICS

Sorry.  Got a bit poetical there, didn’t I?

INTERVIEWER

It’s allowed.

Trigorin (David Wenham) and Arkadina (Judy Davis)

Fucking crowds.  Imagine what a tour guide would say, their thin-poled flag protruding from the obese mass of the populace.  “And we’re moving, and we’re moving.  Everyone keep up.  And on your left we have the George Street Cinemas, where many Sydneysiders go to numb the pain of their daily lives by watching useless art.”

No, they probably wouldn’t say that.

Approach Town Hall.  It’s even more crowded.  Peer at the screen of your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player and increase the volume by a few bars, letting the booming pop music enbubble you.  Wonder if ‘enbubble’ is a word.  Decide that it is now.  If Shakespeare can make up new words, so can you.

See the crowd.  See the somewhat less crowded area past Town Hall.  See your goal.

Look at the pedestrian signal.  Red.  Red.

You are you.  You are Adam.  You are confident.  Tighten the grip on your satchel.  Make sure you have a firm hold on your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player.  Other people around you are talking on mobile phones, to their drinking friends, one to themselves – though maybe there is a Bluetooth headset in his non-visible ear.  But you are not talking.  You are focused.  Wonder whether you should have paid extra to take the additional train trip today, the one from Central to Circular Quay.  Decide that it’s too late to bother with thoughts such as that.

What is it?  A hundred metres?  Two hundred?  You were never good with distances.  But it’s not that far.  You haven’t even started yet and you’re almost there.  All you need to do is—

Green.

Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Weave in and out of those people like you’re an Olympic skier navigating the flags of a downhill run.

Fuck you hate this part.

Konstantin (Dylan Young)

He, Adam, remembered the day that he’d walked past Town Hall, however many years ago it was.  It wasn’t the first time he’d done it, nor, obviously, the last, but this occasion, this time through the crowds, stuck.

Trigorin (David Wenham)

Fuck.  You’re across the road.  You’re on the other side.  Now comes the hard part.

Fuck.

Konstantin (Dylan Young)

He, Adam, didn’t like change, or at least the change that he didn’t bring about himself, for it isn’t change that we fear, so much as it is the lack of power that often impresses itself upon us when change comes, the lack of self-determination.  Indeed, the narcissist in all of us hates it.  When our world transforms itself with no input on our part, it reminds us, reminds the narcissist deep in our brain, that we are not as in control as we like to think.  We feel the universe trying to drown us, and we know not whether the surface is in reach.

His brother, on the other hand, did like change, as any true artist in this world must, for being an artist is like being a shark that needs to constantly move through the ocean to breathe – to be static is to suffocate.  But while he still preferred certain aspects of his life to remain constant – his relative distance above the poverty line, for example – he looked upon such misfortunes, if they happened, not with terror, as Adam would, but instead with minor displeasure only.

While Adam was too scared to move lest he drown, Tim was too scared to stop paddling lest he sink.

And so he, Tim, called a family meeting.  His parents were instantly worried, the last such meeting having denuded their eldest son of all prosperous future career paths – what was it this time?  They feared, not the worst, but something not too far from it.

His father, sitting at the table that night, his hand covering his wife’s hand, both reassuring her and also himself, had been the first to speak.  “I just want you to know, son,” he never used Tim’s name when he was being serious, “that whatever you’ve done, whatever it is that you’ve called this meeting for, we’ll always love you.”

His mother tried to add to what her husband had said, but could only manage a sincere nod.

“If you’ve…” his father began after a few moments, “If you’ve got your girlfriend pregnant, then—“

Adam remembered that Tim had looked like one of those rotating clown heads whose mouths you feed the balls into outside the circus.  “Oh!  No, no, it’s nothing like that.”

His father gripped his mother’s hand tighter, and his mother had placed her other hand on top of it.

Adam noticed that his brother, who looked – at least from Adam’s side of the table – like he was sitting on his hands, seemed nervous, unusually so, as if whatever he was about to say meant nothing, was nothing, until he said it, and that once the spell had been uttered, the enchantment could never be broken.  He remembered that it was the same look Tim had had one time, some years before, when he had been waiting for his father to come home from work with the car in which he was to pick up his girlfriend that night.  It was the first time that he had been allowed to drive the car alone, having graduated the week before from his Learner Plates to the much cooler – at least in high school circles – Provisional Plates.  His Driver’s Licence had changed colour from green to red, and his face had done much the same that night as he paced around the house, desaturating from a healthy red to very pale white.  Adam, seeing in his brother’s domestic perambulations an opportunity, had seized the SNES, the game console languishing from not having been used in the last ten hours.  Tim had seen his brother do this, but did nothing.  Every couple of minutes he would wander into the lounge room where the SNES was, watch Adam play on it for half a minute or so, and then search out another room of the house.  Adam remembered making a particularly stupid mistake – running his hero off a cliff – when his brother was standing behind him, but Tim, instead of taunting him like he usually did, had once again done nothing, said nothing.  He, Adam, remembered seeing his brother reflected in the TV screen, his left hand reaching into his pocket every ten seconds or so to check if something was there, something that Adam heard crackle softly.  Adam had thought that something was amiss, but he wasn’t about to waste valuable SNES time thinking about it.  Later that night, a long time after Adam had been forcibly disconnected from the SNES by repeated threats from his parents (“I don’t care if you’re just about to finish the level, if you don’t get off there now and unpack the dishwasher you’re not getting any pocket money for a month!” his mother had shouted), his brother had come home.  “How was your date?” their mother had asked him with sickly eagerness.  “It was okay,” Tim had said, his cheeks, his entire face, saturated once more.  Adam noticed his brother’s return to normalcy and was thankful for it.  Even though he’d had more than his usual amount of time on the SNES, ever since he had seen his father hand Tim the keys to the car earlier that night, ever since he’d seen Tim make one final check, when his father had left the room, of whatever it was in his pocket, he’d felt slightly queasy, like he always did the few hours before a piano exam.  But now Tim had returned, surly and sarcastic as ever, and equilibrium had re-established itself.

And so he, Adam, sat on one side of the table looking at his brother on the other side, waiting for him to say what he had to say.  Tim breathed in.

“Jenna and I are moving to Melbourne.”

Adam remembered the look on his mother and father’s face.  By their expressions, he guessed that they probably would’ve preferred it if the girlfriend had been pregnant.

Semyon (Gareth Davies)

Fuck.  How many people are there in Australia?  Twenty million?  Why does it feel like they’ve congregated in this single block of a single city of a single state?

Don’t panic.  You’ve done this many times before, and you’ve yet to die, yet to be asphyxiated by the masses, yet to experience death by squeezing, your thin body squashed between packs of obese businessmen, prowling the city for the nearest fast food outlet.  You are you.  You are Adam.  You can handle these crowds.

Dart to the left.  Powerwalk to the right.  Grab your satchel and hold it behind you so you can slide through the gap of fat that just opened up in front of you.

Dart to the…  Powerwalk to the…  You’re trapped.  Don’t panic.

Fuck.

Just keep walking, walking with the masses, like a gazelle in the middle of a herd of elephants.  Nothing bad is going to happen.  Yeah, that’s what the gazelle said just before it got pancaked.

You’re not even halfway there yet!  Fuck.

Do not hyperventilate.  Do not hyperventilate.

The city air is full of pollutants, anyway.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Trigorin (David Wenham)

He, Adam, was surprised at his brother’s news, and didn’t sleep that night.  He felt, not sick, but unwell, as if he was standing on the edge of a cliff but with his back turned, consciously unaware of the drop behind him, yet something deep in the primal part of his brain was trying to get his attention but failing, like the audience of a bad pantomime.  Tim and Jenna would be moving to Melbourne within a fortnight, both going off to chase their mature dreams, both running towards their chance at entering culture, while he, Adam, would stay in Sydney, would stay in high school, and spend his days playing video games and reading books.  He didn’t understand the desires that Tim and Jenna were acting upon, and therefore didn’t understand why they wanted to move.  Why bother moving when Tim could stay at home and play games all day?

But even though his brother had promised to leave the SNES in Sydney – something that Adam was almost instantly concerned about, thinking of it only moments after Tim had revealed his intentions to the family – he, Adam, still couldn’t sleep.

But then the feeling passed, and the next night, and the night after that, he slept soundly, though in his dreams he always seemed to play the piano.

One doesn’t confront eternity until they get older.

Masha (Emily Barclay)

Fuck.

You’re slowing down.  Why is the crowd slowing down?  Why does traffic slow down when there are a lot of cars, especially on a highway?  Surely, if everyone maintained the same speed, the speed needn’t decrease.  Think of trying to explain this to the people pushing around you.  Decide that it wouldn’t be useful.

Don’t hyperventilate.  Don’t stop.  Please, don’t stop.  Fuck.

Nina (Maeve Dermody) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

His brother was not one to leave without saying goodbye.  “I’ll take you to the city,” Tim had said, barging into Adam’s bedroom a few days after his announcement.  “Just the two of us.  It’ll be fun.”

Adam doubted that.

But he went along anyway.

The two brothers took the train to Town Hall.  He, Adam, had rarely been into the city, for as he lived in the suburbs, and spent most of his time by himself or with his friends who also lived in the suburbs, he rarely had a reason to go, apart from the odd musical that his parents might take him to, and other such activities.  But these activities were not ‘in the city’, as such, for he would climb into the four-wheel drive, pick up a book, and an hour or so later look up and find himself outside the Capitol Theatre, or the Theatre Royal, or the Lyric Theatre – the one at that relatively modern casino whose name he could never remember.  For Adam, there was virtually no connection, no link, between his house and the city centre.  It was as if he closed his eyes and opened them in another world.  So when Tim pulled him onto a train, when Tim talked to him about what he was going to do in Melbourne, thus denying Adam the opportunity to read a book, when Tim did all of this, Adam connected the two once separate locations for the first time in his life.  He realised his house was here, the city was there, and the world seemed both smaller and bigger at the same time.  He was unsure about the situation.

When they reached the station, Tim walked ahead and Adam behind, Tim knowing where he was going and Adam knowing that he was going where Tim was going.  Every few seconds Tim would turn around to see whether Adam was still following him, urging him on.  Tim was never the most patient of people, and Adam realised that this trait had manifested itself in a very clear way – Tim knew how to move through crowds.  Where Tim would find a gap, Adam would politely wait until those in front moved.  Where Tim would circle around a large group of commuters ambling in random directions, Adam would calmly wait for them to part.  At one point, Tim had turned around and walked back to Adam.  “Come on, dickhead, we’re going to be late.”  “Late for what?” Adam had asked, his brother insisting on the trip being a surprise.  But by then Tim was making his way up the stairs to street level.  Adam tried to get past the other commuters, but was too shy to do anything drastic, and as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw his brother disappear from the top.

Twenty seconds later he, Adam, felt the unusually cold summer air hit his never-shaved face.  He moved away from the stairs to let others past him, and he found himself in the middle of the footpath, shops on one side, road on the other, people all around – people who were unknown to him, all of them.  He saw his brother in none of the faces.  He was about to shout “Tim!” but didn’t, embarrassed that someone of his age would do such a thing, for high school students do not need elder brothers.  High school students were independent.  If there was one thing he’d learnt by watching those in the years above him, as well as the adults in his life, it was that weakness was never to be shown.  Puberty was the time when you buried your vulnerabilities.

And so he, Adam, didn’t shout, but he did panic.  He looked all around him, sometimes standing still, and other times letting the mass blow him around like a toy boat in an eddy.  No one looked like Tim.  No one looked like anyone.

After half a minute he, Adam, not only realised but accepted that he was lost.  He felt the new connection between the city, here, and his house, there, snap.  Images of a nightmare he had had once flitted through his mind – he, an astronaut on a spacewalk, cut off from the spaceship when the cord that tethered the two together broke.  In his dream he was lost to the vacuum of space, and now he was lost to the opposite.  He decided to not move from where he was – only ten or twenty metres from the entrance to the station – and wait for his brother to find him.  But as the minutes passed he began to feel sick, like he was about to take a piano exam again.  He remembered the night Tim had taken his father’s car out alone for the first time, remembered the feeling when Tim had informed the family of his voyage down south.  He had thought what he felt was worry over the SNES being taken away from him, but now, standing outside Town Hall, the static being in a swirling sea, the crowds getting thicker, the suits and bellies pressing in on him, refusing to adjust their own courses to accommodate this statue of a boy, he didn’t know what to feel, but he didn’t want his brother to go.  And yet it was now too late.  Tim had abandoned him, had gone to Melbourne a week early, had thrown him into the world without telling him the secret, the one that all the adults seemed to know, the secret that let the old people function properly and with confidence.  He was too young for this, too shy for this.  He wasn’t prepared.  What would happen at home now?  He would be the only one there, the only child.  No more would his brother be in the next room, no more would he break his occasional bouts of boredom by sticking his ear to the wall, no more could he have something there, on hand, to hate, to love, to measure against.  He, Adam, felt the fear of the boy forced to be self-sufficient while lacking the skills to do so.  No longer did the members of the crowd seem distinct from one another, but now they merged into one black-suited blob while he, Adam, breathed heavily, while he, Adam, felt as if his stomach were about to jump out of his mouth, while he, Adam, finally got that change was coming, while he, Adam, realised that life goes on, that the future can’t always be the past, that the world was not only not his but nobody’s, while he, Adam, felt, almost as if God had reached down and sliced his body in two, while he, Adam, experienced, in one moment, his entire innocence shatter.  He thought he’d lost his brother and he didn’t know want to do without him.  Stupefied he stood there, imprisoned and liberated.  Then.

“There you are.  Keep up for god’s sake.”

Dorn (Bille Brown)

A gap.  Go, go, go.  Walk.  Weave.  Dart.  Go.

And you’re there.

Fuck you hate crowds.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

EPISTEMYSICS

But these moments of involuntary memory, they’re not always for the best, you know?  Sometimes you don’t want to remember.

INTERVIEWER

Give me an example.

EPISTEMYSICS

This interview, perhaps.  If it goes horribly wrong, that is.  Because every time I look at a copy of the Paris Review, invariably I’ll be reminded of it, you see?  I won’t be able to do anything to stop the memory, and memories can often lead to even worse thoughts.  But sometimes you can control a memory, though only occasionally, and only in their nascence.

Nina (Maeve Dermody) and others

Fuck.  Finally you’ve arrived at Circular Quay.  You’re almost there, you are.

Reflect on how long the walk has been so far.  Determine that the exercise has done you good.  Either that or it’s increased the chance of a heart attack.  But you’re young and you’re thin.  You don’t have to worry about such ailments.  You don’t need to concern yourself with anything health wise.  Indeed, your biggest concern is what your chances are of catching an STD, but considering how little sex you have, you  often find yourself more concerned that you have no chance of contracting a virus of venereal nature, except through contact with the surfaces in a public bathroom.  Can you catch herpes off a toilet seat?  You have no idea.

Keep walking.

Nina (Maeve Dermody)

He, Adam, had followed his brother, finding himself much more aggressive with the crowds than in the moments before, occasionally having to apologise for pushing past someone so as to keep up with Tim.  He thought of telling his brother of his recent epiphany – even though he had no idea what it meant – but decided not to.  He didn’t know why.

The two brothers came to an intersection.

“Do you know where you are?” Adam asked.

Tim, seeing the pedestrian light red but the street empty, stepped onto the road.  “Of course I do.”

Dorn (Bille Brown), Nina (Maeve Dermody), and Polina (Anita Hegh)

Fucking writers.

Look down and see your cultural nemesis – The Writer’s Walk.  Forty or so metal plaques honouring Australian and international writers spread around the shore of Circular Quay, specifically placed so that the populace has to walk over them if they want to get anywhere.  What better metaphor is there for the general state of the arts?

Make your way to the Opera House.  Walk over some writers in the process.

Mark Twain.

Rudyard Kipling…

Konstantin (Dylan Young) and Masha (Emily Barclay)

He, Adam, wasn’t impressed.  “So we’re going to the Opera House?  That’s your big surprise?”

His brother didn’t answer.  The two of them walked beside the water, the sun yellowing the pages of the landscape, the crowds considerable though not dense – physically, anyways -, and then, “Stop!”

Tim was standing over a plaque that Adam had never noticed before, at least on his rare trips to the Opera House – his school thought it a good idea to take their students to see Shakespeare for English class, and so he had been twice in recent memory.  Adam moved closer to his brother.

“We came all this way for a plaque?”

Tim looked at him like he’d just expressed a desire to dress up in a leotard.  “No, dickhead, this is a bonus.  Watch and learn, young one.”

Adam watched.  He watched his brother look around at the crowds to see if anyone was focused on them, then, satisfied that they weren’t, position his head over the bronzed circle inlaid in the ground and, after a moment’s build-up, spit.  He, Adam, watched as Tim’s saliva fell to the ground, hitting what looked to be a name, the frothy liquid spreading out in the troughs of a capital W.  Adam was both horrified and intrigued by his brother’s sudden rebellion against society.

“Your turn,” Tim had said.

“What?  I don’t even know who these people are.”

“Spit already, before someone sees us.”

And so he, Adam, spat, his saliva hitting almost exactly the same spot that his brother’s had.  They walked on.

“What are these plaques?  Who’s David Williamson?”

“Writers,” Tim said.  “They’re all writers.”

The two brothers split away from each other to allow an elderly lady through their middle, before coming together again.  “And what’s so special about David Williamson?  I’ve never heard of him.”

“And hope you never do.  There’s nothing special about him.”

Adam noticed a slight vehemence in his brother’s voice.

“He’s a playwright.  Australian.  You know he’s hugely successful – a ‘sensation’ – but jaded.  The writing’s readable.  Too well-made for my tastes, but someone’s got to write plays that sell.”

He, Adam, didn’t know what else to say, and so he said nothing, and continued to walk.

Masha (Emily Barclay)

Mark Twain.

Rudyard Kipling.

David Williamson.  Bring your heel down on the plaque extra hard.  Stomp it.

Fucking writers.

Dorn (Bille Brown) and Masha (Emily Barclay)

“And voila!”  Tim gestured onwards.

Adam wasn’t impressed.  “I’ve seen the Opera House before,  you know.”

“But not with me, not with your brother.  Come on!  Up the steps we go.”

Masha (Emily Barclay) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

Fucking writers.  Fucking steps.

Walk halfway up the Opera House stairs.  Sit down on one of them.  It’s nice to sit down.

Fuck that was a long walk.  But you’re here now.  How far away Belvoir Street Theatre seems…

Dorn (Bille Brown)

He, Adam, and his brother, Tim, found a suitable step and sat on it.  Adam remembered seeing the profile of his brother’s face against the setting sun, Tim’s hair moving with the wind.  Around them were people, tourists he assumed, a large majority of them Asian, walking up and down the stairs, taking photos of each other, pointing at the famous building behind them.  Tim’s fingers were interlocked, his arms resting on his knees.  From Adam’s perspective, he seemed to be focusing intently on his thumbs.  He, Adam, had seen this pensive look of his brother’s once before, the day he had caught his brother walking down the hallway and fiddling with Jenna’s ring dangling from his neck.  Adam thought of asking, “Where’s my surprise?”, but something about the mood of the moment stopped him.  He felt the cool breeze against his face, followed by the soft warmth of the sun.

Tim looked up from his thumbs, but not at Adam.  “There’s something I want to tell you.”

Adam felt his body go rigid.  Something was wrong.  “Oh.  Right.  I know what you want.”

His brother turned to face him, looking confused.  “What?”

“You want the SNES, don’t you?  After you told me I could have it.  I should’ve known.”

He, Adam, watched as Tim’s hair scattered across his brother’s forehead.  Behind his brother, an Asian couple ‘cheesed!’ another photograph.  Tim laughed.  “You idiot.  I don’t care about the SNES.”

Adam said nothing, but in an indignant tone.

Tim returned to examining his thumbs.  “What I wanted to say…  Well…”  He tried again.  “One day, one day I’m going to have a play on here…”  The thumbs were analysed some more.

“Has David Williamson had a play on here too?  You could get a plaque like him.”

“What I’m trying to say,” Tim said again, more forcefully this time, “is that I’m doing what I think needs to be done.  That’s why I’m moving to Melbourne.”

He, Adam, only heard what Tim was saying.  “Okay…”

Tim faced him again, this time looking into his eyes.  “Just…  If you remember nothing else that I tell you in life, remember this.  If you ever find out what you want to do, don’t hesitate to do it.  If you have to move to Melbourne, then move to Melbourne.”

He, Adam, had no desire to cross state boundaries on anything but a casual basis.  But he felt his brother was trying to say something important, so he gave him the benefit of his personal doubt.  “I’ll remember.”

Tim smiled, then returned to his thumbs.  “Good.  Good.”

The wind blew, the sun shone, and the tourists took photographs.  Half a minute passed.  Adam broke the silence.

“That wasn’t the surprise, was it?”

“No, you idiot.  I’m taking you out for dinner.”

Adam smiled.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

Feel the night’s wind on your five o’clock shadow, as you sit on the steps of the Opera House.  Turn to your right.  No one is there.

Fuck.

Masha (Emily Barclay) and Dorn (Bille Brown)

EPISTEMYSICS

How often do our thoughts get away from us!  How often do we see some involuntary trigger and suddenly we’re remembering details we’d rather not – an ex-lover, a deceased relative…

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about it.

EPISTEMYSICS

I might get poetical again.

INTERVIEWER

That was actually rhetorical, what I just said, but don’t let me stop you.

Semyon (Gareth Davies)

Fucking wind.

Place the satchel on your lap.  Remove from the satchel – from within the zippered pocket inside the satchel – your mobile phone.  Check to see if there have been any missed calls or text messages from your friend Samuel, who you are to meet tonight.

He has yet to contact you.  Think about contacting him first, but decide to eat some of your snacks – a plastic bag full of Jatz biscuits and another with Scotch Fingers – instead.  Samuel can wait.

Nina (Maeve Dermody)

He, Adam, remembered the night before his brother left for Melbourne that there was a family dinner.  His mother had cooked a full roast meal, and his father had carved the roast beef and provided moral support.  The conversation was subdued.  Adam remembered not having much of an appetite.

“Are you nervous?” his mother asked Tim as she spooned a gumball machine of peas onto his plate.

Tim was sitting on his hands, waiting for all the food to be allocated.  “A bit.”

“Your father and I,” continued his mother, now avalanching some peas in Adam’s direction, “mentioned your move at our Bible study, and the whole group is going to pray for you.  It’s on the list of prayer points, it is.  Judy typed it up then and there and printed a new version for all of us.”

Tim had stopped going to church many years ago.  “Thanks.”

Their father coughed.  “Just remember, son, you can always come back if things get…”

The peas tumbled onto his plate.  “Your father wanted to change your room into a study, but I’ll make sure it’s left just the way it is.”

Tim stared at his peas.

“An artist!  Must be the first in the family, I reckon.”

“No dear, there was Brendan – Jean’s nephew – who wanted to be a dancer, remember?”  The peas hit home base.

“First artist in the immediate family, then.  Gravy on everything.”

Their mother dispensed the brown ooze.

“If you need any money…” began his father.

“I’ll be fine,” said Tim.

He, Adam, distinctly remembered that there was a long pause.  It was the type of pause that starts innocently enough, everyone taking a breath or a sip of their drink, but then a set of simultaneous failures occur, those tasked with the conversational duties lapsing in their responsibilities, which builds pressure and makes it seem as if the next line to be spoken has to be important, and this mythical next sentence, as time goes on, becomes more and more hyped up, and more and more does the tension rise, so that thirty seconds in one finds it impossible to think of anything to say that could ever live up to the increasing expectations.  He remembered just such a pause.  He remembered that during it, the family had begun to eat.  His father had placed a slice of beef in his mouth, chewed it carefully, swallowed it, then.

“At least Adam will get a proper job.  Won’t have to worry about money.  Something in I.T. like me.”

Tim had said nothing.  Adam as well.  He hadn’t thought about his future much, living his life from one book and one game to the next, his high school career so far nothing but a series of tests that had to be overcome for no other reason than that you were meant to get good marks in exams.  But he thought what his father had said was probably true.  He was a nerd, he loved to play with computers, and I.T. seemed the obvious choice.

“I’m sure Tim will write a hit play soon enough,” his mother had said.  “Won’t you, dear?  Eat up, Adam.”

That night, the night before Tim left for Melbourne, the night before he left for Melbourne and never stepped foot in his bedroom again, Adam remembered pressing his ear to the wall and hearing his brother cry.  He thought his brother prematurely homesick.  He remembered going on a school trip to Canberra once, and being so distraught at one point that he had to go to the bathroom and lock himself in so he himself could weep.  He’d never told anyone about that, though.  Not even Samuel, his closest friend.  Besides, after five minutes or so, the emotions had passed, and the rest of the time in Canberra had been a joy.

Tim wept, and Adam returned to his book.

Masha (Emily Barclay)

EPISTEMYSICS

Here goes.

INTERVIEWER

I’m listening.

EPISTEMYSICS

You’re interrupting, is what you’re doing.  Shut up.  Right.  You see, memories can be controlled, though only occasionally, and only in their nascence.  While I would do nothing to fight against some memories – the pleasant ones – there are some other memories, nightmares unwelcome yet ineradicable, always harassing like cockroaches invading a house, and never truly gone.  A dormant memory, once activated, spreads through our minds like a synaptic bushfire, and only by dousing it at the very start can we hope to prevent the inferno.  You see, by thinking another thought with much rapidity, we can sometimes flood the neurons and becalm the burning synapses, focusing only on the second idea, even while we are aware of the first.  It is interesting that in this state we feel both in control and out of it, willing ourselves to discipline that which does not heed our command.  It is not so much that we control the unwanted thought, but that we instead deprive it of grey matter, so it cannot take a hold of our mind.  Whether we have free will or not, I suspect the answer is not a clear-cut one.  So you see, this comes back to the spare room.  Because while it contains many an item that has no meaning – such as food, blankets, toilet paper, and so on – it also has sentimentalities of my brother’s, both good and bad in nature.

Silence.

Aren’t you going to say something?

INTERVIEWER

I thought you said it’d be poetic.  I was waiting for it.

Dorn (Bille Brown) and Polina (Anita Hegh)

He, Adam, remembered that the night after Tim had left for Melbourne and taken Jenna with him he had sneaked into the now unoccupied room.  Remnant’s of his brother’s life were still scattered around, Tim having left most of his possessions in Sydney.  After standing in the middle of the room for some time – no more than a minute or so – Adam found himself staring at his brother’s bedside table.  But not only did he find himself staring at it, he also found himself opening it, looking at what was inside.

There were two items: a pack of cards and a Rubik’s cube.  The Rubik’s cube was unsolved, its sides the face of patchwork.  He, Adam, remembered what his brother had once told him, when he was younger, having asked why he never left the cube solved, jumbling it up again whenever he had managed to un-jumble it.  “I leave it unfinished,” he had said, “so that no matter what else, I’ll always have a goal.”

He, Adam, had thought this stupid at the time, but now he wasn’t so sure.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Konstantin (Dylan Young)

EPISTEMYSICS

I’m ignoring that.  Rising above it.  Anyway.  What I’m trying to say is that, you know, one might ask why, if throwing stuff away is like throwing away memories, one doesn’t discard the bad objects so as to not risk unleashing a nightmare in one’s mind.  But as those who have been bereaved – especially prematurely – would know, often the departure of a loved one casts a happy light on memories otherwise considered bad, as one, faced with a future where no more memories will be created, decides to be undiscriminating in their recollections, because it is not the memories that we miss when a person is gone, but rather their presence, and so we grab on to all evidence that they were, at some point in time, here, suffering under the same sun as us.

INTERVIEWER

Still waiting for the poetry.

Trigorin (David Wenham)

Fucking headache that won’t go away.  You’re eating food, you’re filling your otherwise empty gut.  You’re protecting yourself from stomach ulcers.  What more does your nervous system need?

Masha (Emily Barclay)

A year later Adam had been sent to Samuel’s house for a sleepover.  He was excited about this.  Sleepovers meant one thing and one thing only for him – gaming marathons.  When else in your life could you play video games in such long stretches?

He didn’t particularly care what the reasons for this sleepover was, though he did know.  Tim, down in Melbourne, living with Jenna in an apartment with some other flatmates, the Tim, his brother, down in Melbourne who was struggling to become an artist – that Tim – that Tim had written a play.  But he’d done more than that.  He’d found a way to get the play staged, having got together some of his new artistic friends and found a cheap venue.  Jenna would be acting in it, performing the words that Tim had written.

His parents had been invited to both the opening and closing night.  They were the same.

He, Adam, had been invited too, but his parents had wanted him to stay in Sydney, and, through that secret network that all student’s parents seem to have with each other, that level of communication that goes on above the pupils’ heads, he had been shipped off to the next suburb for the weekend.  Adam was delighted, of course – while he was interested in seeing Melbourne, his enthusiasm for video games far exceeded the other desire.  Plus he didn’t see the point of plays.  He liked the musicals, but what was the point of people talking to each other on stage if there was no music?  Yes, there was Shakespeare he’d seen, but people only put Shakespeare on because they had to study his plays in schools.  Nobody actually thought that they were any good.  He thought it weird that his brother would bother staging his own play.  This was Adam’s entire understanding of theatrical culture – he knew of Shakespeare, he knew his brother was putting on a play, and that was it.  If he had thought about it, he would have concluded that there was probably more theatre in Australia – indeed, he would have remembered his brother talking about David Williamson -, but having not wasted time on a subject he wasn’t interested in, he assumed there was no other theatre in the country.  Every now and then, someone would stage Shakespeare, he and his class would go to see it, and that was that.  That there could be a modern theatre culture – with playwrights who were still alive – was an idea he found absurd.

And so Adam stayed at Samuel’s, and his parents flew to Melbourne.

Arkadina (Judy Davis) and Trigorin (David Wenham)

Check your phone for new messages.  Eat another Scotch Finger biscuit.  Check your phone again.  Where the fuck is he?

Masha (Emily Barclay) and Ilya (Terry Serio)

They had fun, Samuel and he.  Samuel had just got the newest Legend of Zelda game – ‘Ocarina of Time’ – for his Nintendo 64, and they spent most of the weekend playing it, swapping the controller between each other when one person consistently failed on a certain section, combining their powers to defeat the evil wizards and monsters in the mythical land of Hyrule.  And to save the princess.  Saving princesses was important.  Monarchists through and through.

The two – Samuel and Adam – had discussed the reasons for Adam’s sleepover.  Samuel had been battling a particularly hard boss on the TV screen and had just died, whereupon he turned to Adam and swore, less because of the situation – which was about as severe as a root beer hangover – and more because his parents were not around, and swearing was something he had decided to practise, so he could use it in the school yard.

“Fuck.”

Adam reached out.  “Give me the controller.”

“One more go.”

“You’ve had one more go five times.”  Adam grabbed the controller.

“So,” said Samuel, as the two of them waited for the game to load up again.  “Your parents are going to Melbourne?”

Adam pressed the start button.  “Yeah.  My brother’s doing a play or something.”

“Cool.”  Samuel rubbed his eye, the battle against the boss recommenced.  “I think you’ve gotta slingshot the red spot on his back.”

Semyon (Gareth Davies) and Masha (Emily Barclay)

Check your phone again.  And again.  Fuck.

Semyon (Gareth Davies)

He, Adam, was back at his house that Sunday evening, his parents having come home.  He felt a sort of tension, the kind of apprehensiveness that he experienced whenever he failed to do his homework and the teacher went around to random students in the class checking to see if they’d completed their studies or not.

Later that night in his bedroom, as he was thinking of ways to convince his parents to buy him his own Nintendo 64, he heard them from the kitchen, his mother first.

“I don’t know why he’s so upset – how did he think I’d react?”

“But you didn’t have to call out during the play, dear.”

“He said beforehand that there was to be audience participation.  I was just playing along.”

“Yes, but…”

“But what?”

“Saying, ‘I take it this is experimental theatre?’, saying, ‘Is there supposed to be a smell of sulfur?’, is not what he meant.”

“And how am I supposed to know that?  How was I supposed to know that his idea of audience participation was…was shoving genitals in our faces, was smearing faeces -” she said it in a whisper, ” – on the walls, was pushing his poor naked girlfriend around in that Perspex box to scare the life out of me?  And what about the sex–“

“There was no sex–“

“I saw one of the girl’s mouths touch one of the men’s penises.  I saw it.  No, he did it just to provoke me, I bet.”

“He was trying to express himself, I think.”

“He can express himself all he likes, so long as he does it away from me.  He can stay in Melbourne forever for all I care.  And to think – to think – oh my Lord – to think that our Bible Study group has been praying for him all this time, and then he goes and does something like that.  What are we going to tell them?  That while we were all sitting together around a table with tea and scones, praying to God to help Tim get the resources to put on his play, he was in Melbourne putting together a glorified striptease?  God help us!”

He, Adam, had very little idea what had happened down in Melbourne, though he was intrigued by the idea of Jenna naked.  But it had been some time since he’d heard his parents fighting like this.  When his brother left, left a year ago, he’d thought that his life would change much more dramatically than it had.  Routine being the backbone of his life, the holes in his daily schedule made by his brother’s departure were soon filled with other activities, many of which involved masturbatory explorations, he no longer needing  to worry about the lovers on the other side of his wall.  So there he was, his parents in the kitchen arguing, his brother in Melbourne most likely crying, and he laying on his bed, one hand in his pyjama pants, stimulating the fictive memories of what Jenna’s breasts looked like without clothes in the way.

He, Adam, fell asleep before he got too excited.

Polina (Anita Hegh), Konstantin (Dylan Young), and Masha (Emily Barclay)

Check your phone.  Again.  Fuck.

Open the inbox.  Maybe you missed something.

Konstantin (Dylan Young)

The next day he, Adam, was interrupted while playing his SNES.

“Adam,” his mother shouted from the lounge room.  “Your brother wants to talk to you.”

Adam paused the game and picked up the phone.  “Yes?”

“Hey, dickhead – what’s up?”

Adam thought of the game he’d just paused.  “Nothing much.”

“Mum and dad treating you okay?”

“I suppose so.”

“School okay?”

“I suppose so.”

“Life in general okay?”

“I suppose so.”

Tim’s breath was audible on the line.  “You in the middle of a game or something?”

“Kind of.”

“Well, as long as you’re okay…”

Nothing.

“I’ll let you go then.  Bye.”

“Do you want to speak to mum?” said Adam, but the line went dead.

He thought his brother weird, as he had thought many times before.  He put the phone in its cradle and resumed his game, but after ten seconds or so he turned the SNES off.  He didn’t feel like playing any more.

Masha (Emily Barclay)

Fuck.  Nothing new in the inbox.  But can you be sure?  Maybe you scrolled down by accident, so you’re not seeing the newest items.  Scroll up.  See a text message from your brother.  Feel the cold wind on your face.  Realise that the text message is years old.  Keep scrolling, not thinking of anything.  See one, two, three, four more messages from Tim, all of them sent within an hour of each other.  Remember the night you got them.

Don’t.  Fuck.  Think of something else.  Scroll up.  Scroll up past the hundreds of other messages, all of them meaningless to you, all of them filled with banalities such as “see you there” or “it’s at 7, right?”.  Scroll up.  Scroll up.  Think.  Think of The Seagull.  Think of the actors in the play.  Think of how much you enjoyed it.  Think of the food you just ate.  Think of the tunnel under Central.  Think of that bum that you saw, the one with the five-stringed guitar.  Think of your headache.  Think of how it’s still hurting.  Think of the music playing on your Creative Zen Touch 8GB MP3 Player.  Think of the different radio stations that you’ve listened to.  Think of the times you’ve masturbated.  Think of the hot girl you saw the other day.  Think of the actress that you saw today.  Think of Maeve Dermody, that was her name.  Think of the books you’ve been reading.  Think of the theatre you’ve been seeing.  Think of the music you’ve been hearing.  Think of the television you’ve been watching.  Think of the movies you’ve been watching.  Think of the Bible.  Think of that Patrick White novel you just read.  Think of sex.  Think of fucking.  Think of the coldness on your face.  Think of the internet.  Think of Jatz crackers.  Think of Scotch Finger biscuits.  Think of the Opera House.  Think of Samuel.  Think of your mother.  Think of your father.  Think of the periodic table of elements.  Think of anything.  Just don’t think of your brother.

Fail.  Remember.  Remember that night.  Don’t.

Look at the people around you.  Think of your phone.  Wonder.

Wonder if your phone’s inbox is like your spare room, filled with junk to keep those objects unwanted but unforgettable and unlosable out of sight, out of mind, out of memory.

Think of something else.  Close your inbox.  Close your phone.  Feel the breeze on your face.

“Hey dickhead.”

What?  Turn to your right.  See Samuel standing there.  “What?”

“Tickets?”

“Haven’t got them yet.”

Semyon (Gareth Davies), Masha (Emily Barclay), Sorin (John Gaden), and Konstantin (Dylan Young)

INTERVIEWER

Well, I think that’s enough of that.

EPISTEMYSICS

If you say so.

Semyon (Gareth Davies)

Fuck.  Fucking mind.

Converse with Samuel.  Enter the Sydney Opera House foyer.  Collect your tickets.

Watch the Sydney Symphony’s presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan: An Extravaganza!.  Feel afterwards that art is fucking useless.

Go home.  Take the train.  Fuck.

Ilya (Terry Serio), Arkadina (Judy Davis), Sorin (John Gaden), Dorn (Bille Brown), Semyon (Gareth Davies), Polina (Anita Hegh), and Konstantin (Dylan Young)

INTERVIEWER

Shall we move on then?

EPISTEMYSICS

What do you want to talk about next?

END OF PART ONE

———

PART TWO

INTERVIEWER

What do you love?

EPISTEMYSICS

Travesties.  I love Travesties.

INTERVIEWER

Travesties?

EPISTEMYSICS

The play.  By Tom Stoppard.

INTERVIEWER

Oh.

EPISTEMYSICS

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

Right.

EPISTEMYSICS

Exactly.

INTERVIEWER

And?

EPISTEMYSICS

Well it was the start of everything, you see?  I can remember that night two and a half years ago as if it were yesterday…

INTERVIEWER

Seven and a half years ago.

EPISTEMYSICS

Seven and a half?

INTERVIEWER

This interview’s in 2016, even though you’re writing it in 2011.  So you’ve got to add five years.

EPISTEMYSICS

Smart arse.

INTERVIEWER

Just trying to help.

EPISTEMYSICS

If I want you to go all ‘meta’ on me, then I’ll ask.  And have I asked?

INTERVIEWER

No.

EPISTEMYSICS

Exactly.

INTERVIEWER

Go on.

EPISTEMYSICS

What?

INTERVIEWER

Why do you love Travesties?

Konstantin (Dylan Young)

Fuck.  Fuck!  Fuck you hate shopping.  And yet here you are, in a supermarket, shuffling through the aisles of your local Woolworths, your mother in front of you.  There are at least twelve other places you’d rather be right now, and you’d know, having just mentally compiled such a list.

Nothing ruins the afterglow of an artistic triumph like banality.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: And this would be where I stopped writing, sometime around the 6th September, according to the time the drafts were saved.  In the interests of satisfying any curiosity that some may have, I post my notes that I kept while I was writing below.  They are somewhat contradictory, as my mind constantly changed throughout the writing.

Good luck reading my handwriting.  Click on the pictures to zoom in if need be.)

(And that’s it.  Unsatisfied?  You’re not the one who didn’t finish it.)

9.1/10.  The Seagull by Anton Chekhov in a version by Benedict Andrews at Belvoir Street Theatre from 8 June 2011 to sometime later.  Directed by Benedict Andrews.  With Emily Barclay, Bille Brown, Gareth Davies, Judy Davis, Maeve Dermody, Mel Dyer, John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Terry Serio, Thomas Unger, David Wenham, and Dylan Young.  Music by Stefan Gregory.  Set by Ralph Myers.  Costumes by Dale Ferguson.  Lighting by Damien Cooper.  Photos by Heidrun Lohr

Written by epistemysics

December 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Theatre Reviews

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