The Last Line (Beth McMullen : Obstinate Little Tart)

“Excuse me.”
I look up. I’m zero words into a five hundred word short story, which means…any interruption is perfectly welcome.

“Do you know you look like David Marr?”

I’m laughing now. At the woman waving her debit card. She was about to buy a coffee and has mistaken me.  For David. 

Not David my twin brother. But David Marr. The journalist and author. 

“You’re the second person that’s said that to me,” I reply. “Although I can’t hold pen or quill or keyboard to him (or something).” Well that last was what I meant to say. 

You see I was meant to be writing. At Writers Bloc, 107 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW. 5th September, 2019.

And I’m telling Beth McMullen, she with the identikit eye about the first time. In Canberra, where a random man accosted and accused me of being David Marr. 

And I said he was happier than me. For he had left News Limited, for the Guardian, I think.

Unlike me. I was doing the gig from hell. Well one of them. I make sure that I leave that bit out. You see I don’t want to say much about me. 

After introducing herself Beth says she’s doing a show. Here. Tonight.

“That’s me in the poster over there,” she says.”The Crying Girl.”

I don’t say anything. Yes that’s her alright. But her show isn’t called the Crying Girl. It’s called something else which I can’t read.

“What it’s about?” I ask.

Always get other people talking about themselves, I remember. Then they won’t find anything about you. Yeah Nah. 

“Tragedy and Comedy.”

“Dramedy perhaps?” I think. But like the sixth sentence, I only thought of that later.

I write my five hundred words. Quite an odd assortment of words as it turns out. One on a canine career change. The other on how to defuse a Hollywood bomb!

And I think why not?

The last time anything like this happened was in Brisbane. A random told me about the Laramie Project. “Sort of like an oral history?” I asked at the time. “Go and see for yourself,” was the reply.

I did and was completely emotionally numbstruck. And probably was the only straight person there. But no one disowned me… And maybe something might happen. Thought dismissed, I say to myself. Nothing ever does. 

So I break open my debit card…$15.00, one ticket, Beth McMullen in Obstinate Little Tart. And that thought is still scratching at me. All the way in on the train. 

I arrive after 8:30 and before 8:45. Almost the only one there. Until everyone turns up ten minutes before. Now I can hide in the crowd.

9:00pm now and a little after that, we all file in. I chose a chair down the back. I want to stay unobtrusive.

Beth McMullen appears. With her backers : the three highlighters : pink, white and yellow.

She starts off almost unobtrusively. She describes how she was named Beth. And from that she fashions her journey.

And for forty minutes, she proceeds to tell us of the bumps, bruises and her nearly broken heart. Usually preceded by a word or two written on the wall.

“You obstinate little tart,” she says. I’d never say that but I felt it. For they’re hardly the words you’ expect from a loving parent. More like one who sees the child as a threat. But that’s my take at the time. 

And I listen as it all unravels. And listen as it all becomes clear.

And I’m numbstruck again. Not homosexuality and hate crimes in Laramie Wyoming. But patriarchy and its emotional price line played out in northern NSW. And Beth’s journey back. Similar to mine but different too.

Let me put it this way. If you’re a man, and you see Obstinate Little Tart, it will make you uncomfortable. And you know what? You should be. As I said to someone afterwards.

Which should have been the easy post script.

Show’s end I’m out. I’ve left. I’m about to go. I’m heading one way and I see Beth. Heading the other way. Towards me.

I think this would be a great time to become unobtrusive.
But remember. I look like David Marr. Still. And I’m recognised.

“Courage…vulnerability,” I think I said to her.

I continue, “The hardest part is not to pass on what happens to you to others…” So much for being unobtrusive. So much for saying nothing about yourself.

Beth nods. I haven’t said what I meant. Then it happens, unbidden, uncalled for and unforced. 

“The curse stops with me.”

And Beth McMullen wordless now thanks to me, is just staring at me.  

“Oh no. I’ve done it now. I’ve said the wrong thing.” Or the other thought appears…perhaps I’ve happened on the perfect set of words.

And Beth answers, “That was the last line.”

Candy Royalle

I saw Candy Royalle perform four times. The first was at the Friend in Hand in Glebe where she was co hosting an open mic night. She performed this amazing poem that together pinned me to the wall with its passion and left me short of breath with longing.

Then I saw her at WestWords and she performed a signature poem about how the coloured people would triumph through love and diversity. I laughed my head off even it would happen there and then. She talked about sometimes life gets in the way when one can’t write (but didn’t mention her illness).

I saw her again at Kings Cross and then at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (I got the second last ticket for that one). Both times I was the only white guy in the audience but felt like all the poems (hers and the others) had been written just for me.

She answered my unspoken questions: what is a poet really ? Why be a poet? Why write the words? Every poet should aspire to do what she does! And yes she did and yes I know and yes I am. 

See Julia Baird’s tribute…she expresses it better than me…

Everyone Failed Social Media : Except Mark Colvin

I knew Mark Colvin (and his kidney!) purely through Twitter! And sad at his loss.

I did read some of his interview transcripts: a gentle questioner able to get a better answer! But in the maelstrom that is Twitter, he came across as funny, intelligent, curious, never ever patronising, clever and subtle, a joy to read.

And his last tweet!!

I think every one failed social media except for Mark Colvin.

Never Unknown Again

You know I'm staring at you
Though you won't look at me
Your head is bowed low
Over Candy Crush or TV

I can wait with my empty cup
You'll remember, you'll see
You'll bob your head up
And stare full back at me

And when our eyes meet yet again
We'll create our own serenity
Only for another three seconds
That last another eternity

Never unknown again.

Light, Inspiration and Chocolate : Vivid Sydney 2016

On a reluctant impulse, I went to Vivid Sydney on a Sunday night (29th May 2016). I would have preferred to stay home. I would have preferred a movie. In either case I was too tired for both and decided against falling asleep for money at the Dendy Cinemas.

Rather than feeling sorry for myself too much, I took the train to Vivid.  Once the sun departed, Vivid announced itself as a post sunset dance of light. The Harbour Bridge lit from end to end glowing and flashing to a new rhythm.

The Opera House patterned in colours and pictures. I managed a sideways glimpse.

Crane your neck to see Vivid at the Opera House

Crane your neck to see Vivid at the Opera House

I managed to take two photos before my phone ran out of battery. Worse, than that, I checked my pockets and I had left my spare charger behind me. Fate was against me that night it seemed.

Which meant I had to watch Vivid without a camera. Which meant too that I was in the minority. Most people were snapping and selfieing? and I thought to myself ruefully, they are welcome to it.

Which meant I had to knuckle down and enjoy the experience. And have fun.  So  I had fun, though reluctantly at first.

I first noticed the parents oohing and aahing over the light shows to their children. They had put aside their cameras and phones to create a moment instead of capturing one. Then I noticed the cathedral in the Botanic Gardens! It was beautiful and mesmerising.

I retraced my steps and watched the people queue up for a mini sound light show. And noted their bemused expressions as they exited. And children playing music by foot at an interactive exhibit.

And then I recalled randomly a house-sit I did for an artist. Her house was that eclectic mix of colour and shapes that attaches itself to an artist rather than the other way around. It had an ambience that flowed through to me. And Vivid was doing that to me now.

I wasn’t tired anymore. I wasn’t reluctant anymore. I didn’t want to go home.

Martin Place : Gotham City to the Bat Cave

And in the midst of that new atmosphere, it happened. While walking from the Botanic Gardens to Martin Place, a story I had sent away returned to me.

I had attempted to expand this story. But I was dissatisfied with every possibility and have given up. All that was left were some pages of scribbled lines.

As I’m walking up Macquarie Street, it is now being told to me in its entirety. Which annoys me somewhat as it is too much to remember. I have neither phone nor pad nor pen to record it. Luckily I find a convenience store and buy what I need.

Yes that’s me crouched over a pad, scribbling furiously while eating a Drumstick : inspired by chocolate and Vivid.

Waiting for The Sequel

A Not So Crowded TrainOn a not-so-crowded train. She is the only one standing. Back pressed against the only space that is neither seat nor door. Light brown curly but wiry hair, clear open face, same colour eyes (my best guess as far as I can see), all fully engrossed and engaged.

The bumps and lurches of the train don’t bother her. She just doesn’t lose balance. She sways slightly to the rhythm of the carriage. She is not dancing though. Perhaps inwardly.

Her head is bowed. As if in prayer or contemplation.  And her forehead is smooth. Her face serene. And I watch to see if she will raise her head. It’s not just to look at her face.  For I’m curious as to her quiet calm and innate peace. Now she is even more fully engrossed and engaged. With her hands held up in front of her.

Not a newspaper. Not a smart phone. Not a magazine. Not even one of those slate-sized flickering whispering mini TVs.

For a second, time stops and everything around her is removed. So much so that I stop and wonder and look again.  Yes, now I know what it is. It’s like she’s behind a lectern. She’s reading. A tattered dog-eared hardback with yellow threads fraying the red cover. No title that I can see. The Story

I wait to see if she’ll read what holds her so aloud.

For the last person that held out a book like that let me read it.

And I wanted to read it aloud : it was that good…a children’s book too…

Perhaps I’m waiting for the sequel.

The Child that changed Everything

I was handed a small child in a bundle. I briefly held you. Then I returned you to the midwives. They filled a small bath with water, tested it with wrist or elbow I don’t recall exactly. They then started to wash you. You cried just a little and then you relaxed. They laved you gently, picked you up and then dried you. You enjoyed that. They then wrapped you up and handed you back to me.

This is what I saw. Two bright eyes. Eyes that even at the moments after birth missed nothing. Eyes that took everything in. In those moments you were already who you were meant to be. You were born complete.

I met someone who had entered life and just wanted to get on with it. It was like you had been waiting to enter life and at last it had finally happened. And that’s exactly how you have grown.


In that moment I realised my calling. It was to ensure life continued : starting with you. After that everything was different.