A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it's better than no inspiration at all.

~Rita Mae Brown
Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

~Alfred Adler


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The Army Taught Me How to Hallucinate Like a Man

Procrastinating through the request of fishboy to post more meandering posts from military training led me to a group email I sent out during that time that reflects the outside face of the experience - that I know he didn't get, although Vanessa did - so hopefully this qualifies .....

Imagine the worst day of your life.
Imagine the longest day of your life, say – 4 am to 11:30 pm.
Mix in a large dry sandy bowl.
Add 2 layers of dark clothing.  Toss in a hot sun. 
Don't forget the 20 lbs on your back. 
An eight pound rifle that goes EVERYWHERE with you and can only be carried by your right hand.
Add in the newfound ability to sleep standing up.
Stir in some hallucinations.
Give 45 people a revolving and mutating sinus / chest cold.
Turn the heat up in the quarters and the classrooms. 

Crank up the soundtrack of yelling and position the speakers beside your head.
Move with an extreme sense of urgency and speed.  ALWAYS.
Wear clothing and equipment designed by men, for men's bodies and sizes that will never fit properly no matter what you do to it.
Do 100 pushups.
Do 25 more with all the equipment on.
Add a pinch of slowly dawning realization that you will NEVER do ANYTHING right.  Even if you do.
Resist the urge to lose the will to live every minute of every day once you realize the above.
Fold in a bucketful of flies.  A tonnage of mosquitos.  A bushel of ticks.
Repeat every day for nine weeks.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the bare bones recipe for basic training.


Another Lifetime

During yet another neverending round of trying to rid myself, and my home, of some of these mounds of paper that threaten to suffocate me, I came across one of the little memo pads supplied to us by the DND during training.  This particular one seems to be a diary of sorts - of course I have no memory of it, nor can I believe that I ever had the time or necessary extra brain power, to write anything down.

I haven't read this yet and am just going to read along with you as I type, unedited...  This 'entry' was written almost at the end of my second round of training.

19th August 2006, 00:23

I'm not really tired at the moment but in an effort to keep boredom at bay I though I'd write some field notes while I sit.

We are three Platoons strong - roughly 100 troops - in a large concertina-wired base area.  I am currently on shift in a trench facing east toward some low hills with my machine gun as the milky way spins its way across my skies.

Most of the troops dug their own trenches but we were lucky enough to grab some existing ones to 'refurbish'.

It's been a long day in what I'm sure will be just one extended 'day' over the next four.

We spent most of the day readying camp as machine gun fire rattled off to the east and just as we were beginning to look forward to dinner our section commander rounded us up for a presence patrol.

We weren't given enough time to grab anything so at one rest point we all made do with a couple of my ever-present scotch mints.

The patrol took my section of 8 roughly 8 km through the woods and along sandy roads and we encountered only some locals who were being harassed at gunpoint by a PLA member.  The section broke that up and we directed the locals in the direction of the nearest refugee camp before heading back into our camp just before sunset.

During dinner there was a suicide bomber at the gates - although I'm not sure what happened other than that we heard no explosion.  Other than a couple of artillery attacks the afternoon has been relatively quiet although there has been machine gun fire in the distance all day.

After dinner there was something happening but unfortunately we were doing a little infighting so I'm not sure what was going on there either.

About 10 pm I racked out on the ground to get a little sleep before this current shift on the perimeter.  I tell ya, theres nothing like sleeping in the glare of the camp lights fully dressed but for boots with yhour rifle in your bag with you and smelly boots beside your head for a whole hour before being woken up by a flashlight in your eyes. 

There's no life like it.

Currently, half of our section is out on patrol to search for the PLA camp while the rest of us take shifts in the trenches.  I can hear attacks and screaming off to my right about 400 m but they don't seem to be getting closer and the Lieutenant didn't mention it when he came by a few minutes ago.

It's pretty chilly out - especially since my clothes are still damp from the patrol 51/2 hours ago.  I can see my breath in the lights as I sit here eating sunflower seeds and 'talking' to you.

I have an hour left of this shitf and am hoping for a little more sleep before anything happens.  Or at least to put on some long underwear until the day heats up.

They're saying the next few days will be 26 degrees with a thunder shower or two. 

My ass hurts. My hands are swollen.  It feels like I've got four horsesw tied to me - straining to pull my limbws apart - but slowly as I fight.  I smell.  I discovered last night back at the garrison that six of my toes are now as numb as the six fingers that lost feeling last week.  For the most part, though, I remain one of the most effective members.  I hope I can keep that up but the prospect of little sleep to allow healing/rest is not a cheery one.  The weight of this pain will be borne almost fully by the anti-inflammatories and the painkillers for a while to come.

I'm not sleep deprived at this point by any means but my patience level with the ineffective third of the section is, well, 'low would be quite the understatement.  Not only is their lack of desire to do ANYTHING affecting the team it also requires that a couple of us do twice as much.  Which, for me, adds up to eight times as much as my body can handle.  The whining is incessant.

Oops - close attack - gotta go.


Well, that just brings it all flooding right back.  When one is on perimeter watch and is attacked, you're supposed to sound the general alarm by screaming "ARTY ARTY ARTY" (for artillary) and I out-thunk myself and waited too long, thereby killing most of the camp. In that, the military failed to program me - at the end of it all, I still reasoned too much.

After that, we were no longer allowed to keep watch alone and had to do it in pairs.  I remember that I had asked my Corporal if I could sleep out there and gaining permission, dug myself a shallow depression beside the trench... passed out.  Only to be woken by a screaming face a few hours later.  Apparantly there was a little miscommunication but he took pity on me (probably because quite a few times I had been so exhausted and in pain that they were unable to wake me up, my body just refused to function) and let me stay out there the rest of the night.  It's the only time we were in the field that I got anything close to resembling 'rest'.  Considering the shifts were rotated out every two hours, it wasn't much.

So, there you have it.  A small, supremely inelegant snapshot of soldier qualification training.


Almost to the Valley

(Tuesday, March 23) 

Tuesday morning Yeti dropped me off at the train station and I headed into Perth to meet up with the tour bus. Of course, I got a little lost and of the two people I stopped to ask, one was from Melbourne and even more stunned than I and the other was from Houston, Texas although he did know the right direction to point me in. See, the thing that causes most of my lostness is that I have absolutely no innate sense of east or west so when I come to one of the streets I need to be on, without fail I ALWAYS choose the wrong direction to go in to find the cross street and so end up backtracking and then getting even more turned about so that when I inevitably ask for directions I'm usually within 200 metres of what I'm looking for. Back in the day I used to wander for quite a while before asking directions but I'm older now, and wiser, and far less self-conscious about asking as soon as I feel like I'm heading in the wrong directions. People all over the world have been amused by me and well, if that's my lot in life then it's been a job well done.

Ooo, it's raining here in Byron so I may just shut this down before my precious Dell gets wet and malfunctions. Back soon!


A Disturbed State of the Atmosphere

(Monday, March 22)

Today is really Tuesday, March 30  in the real world, and after checking out of the Atlantic Beach House I've wandered into 'town' and am currently sitting in some welcome shade looking out on the ocean and sucking back a Barmy Banana smoothie from the SoulBowl. I hate being this hot. I really do. I hate standing around with sweat pouring from my scalp and running down my face. It makes me feel like I'm back in basic. Thanks to my dad, I'm a notorious head-sweater. And I hate it. Did I say that? Anyways, I've got 3 hours until a facial because my face does not like this heat either and for 2+ weeks it's been greasy like a burger 24 hours a day. However, there is a lovely breeze and the shade is nice and I love being in a place where people say "Have a beautiful day." and so I am going to use these three hours to catch up on all the stuff I've done and learned.

After the workout of Rotto I was in need of a bit of a day of rest so Yeti went off to work and I stayed in to make a pot of chili and take it easy. The 'mild' chili powder here is definitely not mild in any sense of the word so Yeti got a big pot of stinking hot chili. More sweating. Gah.

This was a pretty uneventful day right up until the storm hit. There'd been less than a centimetre of rain in Perth for about 5 months and they desperately needed it. Although I'm sure they would have been much happier if it hadn't arrived so violently. There was hail as well which wreaked havoc all over the place. The windows at the university were broken, there was massive flooding all over the city and the next day our tour driver told us that one of their buses that had been in King's Park was completely destroyed.

Me, I love the violent storms. Years ago, after being laid off from Callaway Golf and at loose ends I travelled to North Bay, ON to stay at the home of one of my clients and work in the bar at the golf course (this picking up and going long distances to stay with people I've never met is not a new thing in my life). Anyways, after travelling for 24 hours - Victoria to Vancouver to Toronto, where I visited with another client in the Don Valley before hopping on a bus for a long trip north, I arrived into North Bay in a storm very much like the one in Perth (albeit a lot colder) and stayed up all night just watching in awe. Back then, it was my first major storm.

A couple months after that trip to North Bay I packed it in in Victoria and moved to Calgary and about 8 months later headed down to Florida to travel around with the same people and it was there that we got stuck in the tail end of a hurricane in Ft. Lauderdale.

I wonder what ever happened to Russ the golf pro. I lost track of him and Kevin the groundskeeper who ended up being my wingman for my stay there. I do miss Kevin.

Anyways, that was it for major storms until this one in Perth.

And I think that would be the end of this post as there's not much you can say about storms, really, except to endlessly prattle on about their coolness.


Biking and Snorkelling

(Sunday, March 21)

Rotto. In the great Australian tradition of nicknames Freemantle becomes Freo and Rottnest becomes Rotto (Yeti made me practice saying it properly - Roddo). For anyone not aware, Rotto is Perth's holiday island and you'd be hard pressed to find a Western Australian who hadn't spent time there as a child.

It's a beautiful place. And we bicycled a lot. 20 km around the island, during which my legs made it clear yet again that they do not work properly, do not wish to work properly and have no intention of ever working properly again. *sigh* See, it's hard to explain but the large muscles don't fire so it's the little'uns that do all the work. They tire out super quick and after about 10 pedals the lactic acid buildup or strain or whatever really HURTS so I have to rest them for about 30 seconds before repeating the process. Which is fine, really, unless you're going up a hill. Even a little one. After about 12 km, Yeti started pushing me up the hills so that was lovely...

Anyways, apart from feeling like a total invalid it's really horrifying to realize that all the work and the money that's gone into getting me to a place where I don't have 2 weeks of migraines a month, can actually move my arms without wanting to cry and having my heels go numb when I walk hasn't gone one iota towards actually fixing the injury itself. My arms are like this too by the way, but I think it's less a muscle workability thing than the impingment still hanging on. Back injuries are so complicated. The thing I can't really get my head around is that even though I'm working these little muscles they don't gain any strength / stamina / endurance. Not that I want large muscles where large muscles aren't supposed to be but you would think that there'd be some additional stamina there. I dunno. All I know is that the amount of whatever you want to call it my leg muscles had 3 years ago is exactly the same today. I'm on the list to see a specialist about prolotherapy and I seem to be a good candidate for that so we shall just have to wait and see.

I was just thinking I haven't said much about how I'm doing physically these days and I could expand upon that more but I really am here trying to get stuff down about the trip so that will all have to wait until I'm home and settled in again.

There's not much to say about Rottnest really that you couldn't learn by looking it up - it's beautiful. Full stop. We snorkelled in a couple of places and I can now check off seeing sharks (little ones) in the 'wild' - plus I got stung by lots of little jellyfish. At one point I felt a sting and went under the water a bit and when I came back up I could see a huge group of them floating above me. I'm not ashamed to admit I panicked a bit, those little buggers HURT, and so ended up sucking in a bit of seawater. If I had the time and the access I'd be posting pictures as I go along but unfortunately it's too expensive for me to do that so you'll just have to wait until I can get the photos up on smugmug and post a link.

Since everyone I've ever known who goes to a lovely beach posts one of those 'jump in the air' pictures I made Yeti take some and if I can get past the way my extra 20 pounds looks I will put those up as well as the underwater set that Yeti took.

We left the first snorkelling spot at Little Armstrong Bay to head back to the Geordie Bay settlement for a fish and chip lunch and were visited by some of the islands Quokkas, which are rodents I suppose, but hop about like kangaroos. About the size of a small cat, they are so soft and damn cute.... then we headed out to snorkel Salmon Bay where the water was much clearer before heading back and having a drink at the pub while we waiting for the ferry to take us back to Freo through an incredible sunset.


Jen Goes to Prison (Again)

The houses on Tim's farm were all made with bricks actually mixed and fired on the property and there are a couple of the outbuildings that were used for the aboriginals - Tim says that there are aboriginals still living in Brookton that used to live in those buildings. Every bit of this country was hard won and you can't swing a cat without hitting something with a long line of history attached to it. As a Canadian it's a really strange feeling, we've just not been around long enough and we didn't really "utilize" our natives the way the Aussies did.

(Saturday, March 20)

Saturday morning Heidi made us all pancakes with some of the maple syrup I brought from Canada (you know it's real maple syrup when the label is in french and english) and hopped in the car to head down to Fremantle (Freo). We stopped at a roadside fruit market to pick up some things and then headed into Perth to stop at Cottesloe Beach to see the sculptures. I had thought they were sand sculptures but turns out it was more of an art show. Sadly, I did some fucked up thing when I transferred the pictures over to the computer and so lost every single one of them...... nothing really exciting there except for the large blow up sperm... must remember to be more careful in the future so I don't lose any more.

I've decided I quite like 'tours' if only because you learn so much more than if you're just wandering about gawking at everything. One who doesn't want to be a 'tourist' really misses out on all the great history and information. I found that when they asked everyone where they were from, I always made a point of saying WESTERN Canada and the tour guides always made a comment about the French which wasn't my intent really - it's just such a large country I thought I should make the distinction between one side and the other. It may also have been influenced a little by the way the West feels that the federal government discounts us. Regardless, I don't identify with Eastern Canada at all - I am firmly a BC/ prairie girl.

The gentleman who took us on the tunnel tour was fantastic. Not a lot of pictures there either as we weren't allowed to take our cameras down with us. It's surprising, especially here in Western Australia, how much this country owes to the convicts.

Fremantle was just about at the end of their ability to survive when they appealed to the government to send out the convicts who then built the(ir) own prison. At the end of their sentences they were given the option to stay on as part of the community. The prison itself, which we didn't tour, seemed super interesting as well. It did it's duty for the convicts, then became just a regular prison for the locals and was actually operated as such until 2001.

It's of note here to say that one of the guides at the prison was super attractive and had been to Canada, as he put it... where every Aussie goes - Banff. Cause, yanno..... see previous post.

It was stinking hot down in the tunnels, 20 m down, and I had expected to feel a lot more claustrophobic but I didn't notice at all the tons of rock pressing down on us. The tunnels led out past the prison walls and we could hear the traffic above us at one point.

So, back in the day, all the convicts came to this dry stinking hot place, built their own prison and then tapped into the limestone to provide themselves with water. Turned out that there was lots of yummy water down there so they then dug these tunnels to access more of it and ended up supplying the town of Freo as well. We were all togged up in Tyvek suits and went down 20 metres, wandered around a bit and then hopped in little two-man boats to paddle down the tunnels. At one point they turned off all the lights and we floated about imagining what it would have been like to carve these tunnels by hand - solid dark - no ambient light at all - stinking hot, bare feet in water up to the knees for 8-10 hours a day. And to think, Bon Scott could have ended up here (he was processed through the prison but sent somewhere else). I pity the poor bugger who had to spend 12 hours a day at the bottom of the hole hand pumping the water up 20 metres until they got coal -fired pumps.

After coal fired pumps, they switched to electric? and at some point and along the way the petroleum company began using one of the tunnels/pipes to transport their oil. Which of course, eventually leaked into the surrounding limestone and polluted the water. They've found this funky kind of fungus that will eat the petroleum so that's all over the place sucking it up and then it needs to be scraped off but you can still see and smell it down there, floating on the water and leaking out the walls.

You should go look it up on Wikipedia - it's very cool. The walls in the prison around where the pumping systems are have some pretty cool (and pretty old) graffiti on them - the Irish fighters left their mark as well as some other convicts I can't remember at the moment.

Anyways, that's the update of the prison day - we headed home and Yeti bbq'd some lamb chops up for dinner and gave me a demo of his super cool radio controlled car. Of course I'm writing this on March 28th but we went to the prison on Saturday the 20th so currently I am all checked out of the hotel in Brisbane and have foregone my bus reservation to hang about on the deck to catch a ride with Sandy Ghandi - a stand-up comedienne who lives in Byron Bay and who lured me into riding with her by pointing out I could smoke in the car! I've got a couple hours to wait for her to come back from an interview for the paper so I'm endeavoring to catch up on some of my writing as I'm falling seriously behind.



I'm just sitting on my little deck off this fantastic hotel, wanting a glass of wine, back really hurting for the first time in the trip and smoking, smoking. I've been putting off sitting down and composing a post and I've just watched the first three episodes of "Long Way Round" in which Ewan McGregor says at one point, "I just can't get around this in my head. I need to get on the bike and ride for an hour and a half and let it just seep in."

It's occurred to me that I have, so far, just been using all my words to chronicle the things I've been seeing and the reason I've only gotten this far is that there is an overwhelming amount of information to impart here. It exhausts me just to think about getting it down. I've still got to tell you / myself all about Fremantle Prison, Rottnest Island, the tour to the Valley of the Giants, the giant storm in Perth and tomorrow, I'll add the Australia Zoo to that.

But I've yet to talk at all about how I feel about all of it. Because I don't really know. I'm feeling as if I've got about as much emotional depth as a photocopier.   As I said before my back is really hurting and I'm regretting not getting some acupuncture in the little mall I was in this afternoon. Up until now, my back has held up better than I ever imagined, although after the bike ride and snorkelling at Rottnest my knees were killing me for a couple days (and talk about saddle sore, whew!), so I guess I shouldn't be suprised that it seems to have decided to assert itself.

I would probably kill one of these massive bats here in Brisbane with my bare hands and eat its liver raw right now for a good ol' fashioned bathtub full of hot water and ginger.

I'm in a place called Fortitude Valley here in Brisbane and on my little walk about the area today (time to buy shampoo and toothpaste, etc, now that I'm not staying with friends), it's a place filled to bursting with Adult shops, bars open until 5 am, 'striptease' clubs and a strong gay community. Quite interesting really.In face, right now, at 8:40 pm on a Thursday night, I can hear the bass from a couple of duelling bars out there. I find that now that I don't drink I can't be bothered to check out the bar scene, as amazing as I'm sure it is here. I'm achy and I have to get up at 7 am for the tour and, although I would have still headed out 10 years ago, I just can't be bothered to now.

Strangely, I'd forgotten that a large majority of Australians aren't particularly attractive (well, the men at least) and yes, I know that's a generalization but I've been in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane in the last two weeks and I can tell you with authority that, well, hot men are in short supply, and were so 5 years ago when I was here. So, why, I ask myself, should I get all dolled up, head out to a loud bar I'm probably too old to enjoy, to yell / converse at people I'm not particularly attracted to when I can't even drink to give myself the semblance of having fun.

Oh, what the world of Jen has come to. It's so.... normal.

I'm so glad I got to spend the time I did with T3 and his family up at the farm and with Yeti in Perth. They're fantastic people and I wish I could see them more often than I do. There hasn't been much room in my head for Matt and that's good as well, although I did have a long convoluted dream about him this morning which has done my head in a bit today. It makes me a little resentful - which is nothing new, really, - as the Matt thing has made me resentful for a long time now. I wish I could get past that and really truly back to the part where we laughed and loved and then, moved on with intermittent moments of fond memories and a little smile.

So before I devolve into all that shite I am going to post this little interlude and hit the shower....

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