Dispatches #171: Beautiful savages, unremarkable brains and tainted love

in #life4 years ago

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Welcome to Dispatches, a weekly summary of my writing, listening and reading habits. I'm Andrew McMillen, a freelance journalist and author based in Brisbane, Australia. (No 'sounds' this week.)

Words:


I wrote the cover story in the December issue of Men's Health. Excerpt below.

Jason Momoa: "There's Too Much Shit I Want To Do" (1,300 words / 7 minutes)

Jason Momoa put in the work to make it big in Hollywood, but his passion for being a husband, dad, friend, climber, surfer, and all-around rascal makes him the man he is today.

Jason Momoa cover story in Men's Health, December 2017, by Andrew McMillen: "There's Too Much Shit I Want To Do". Photograph by Damian Bennett

Glad for a few hours off from shooting Aquaman, Jason Momoa is shirtless and polishing off a bowl of chicken and peanut butter. A superhero physique requires that he ration his carbs to even enjoy Guinness. But as he's quick to tell you, being Aquaman has its perks too.

The meal over, the Hawaii-born actor, 38, stands beneath a custom-built indoor rock climbing wall that plays an integral role in his workout routine. In short order, he's excitedly leading a tour of a man cave that has become an important refuge during his six months of filming here on Australia's Gold Coast. Between filming commitments, this cavernous space offers the extensive gym and weight training machines Momoa needs in order to maintain his muscular, 230-odd-pound frame.

Of even greater interest to Momoa than lifting heavy objects, though, are the musical instruments set up in a far corner of the space. "Look at this thing, man!" he says, strapping on a Fender bass. "This thing is so fuckin' badass!" He plugs in, flicks on an amplifier, and gives a groovy demonstration of his new creative outlet. Using his thumb and fingers against four strings, Momoa plays in a pop-and-slap style that'd sound at home on a vintage Red Hot Chili Peppers record. "There's a bunch of stuff I want to learn. Instead of waiting around on set all day, I'd rather be learning something cool."

The photographer approaches for a few candid shots, and Momoa rolls his eyes. "We'll do it later," Momoa says to him. "Let me get a shirt on." To me, he says, "That's all they want–me with my shirt off!" He laughs, plays a few more notes, gets lost in the music, and then reconsiders. "Ah, fuck it. You can take one. Momoa continues with the funky technique and then switches to a more intricate piece. "I just started learning this," he says, eyes on the fretboard. "I just can't sit still, man. There's too much shit I want to do."

To read the full story, visit Men's Health. Above photo credit: Damian Bennett.

How I found this story: A fellow Australian freelancer couldn't fit this one into his schedule in September, so he kindly handed the assignment to me at short notice. Within a day, I'd visited a film set on the Gold Coast for a short interview with Jason Momoa, and now the resulting story is on the cover of an American magazine with a monthly circulation of 1.8 million. Life as a freelancer can be strange.

Reads:


'First Got The Internet' comic by Stuart McMillen, November 2017

First Got The Internet by Stuart McMillen (~5 minutes). My brother's latest web comic compares the scarce, costly home internet connection of our childhood to today's always-on world of smartphones. Stuart has bucked this trend by choosing to own a 'dumbphone', and this short comic illustrates how he has chosen to structure his life in such a way that he tends to stay offline during work hours. 

In my Nineties kid childhood, internet access was a scarcity. Today, the internet is ubiquitous and is a major distraction.

On The Table, The Brain Appeared Normal by John Branch in The New York Times (1,200 words / 6 minutes). A sharply written piece about an examination that was recently conducted on an apparently unremarkable brain, yet neuropathologists by shocked by what they found inside. This story appears under the sports section, but Branch writes it in such a way to not name the brain's owner, who died at 27. Anyone who has been following the relatively recent rise of reporting on conscussions and CTE, however, will already know the brain that Branch is referring to. Great writing.

The brain arrived in April, delivered to the basement of the hospital without ceremony, like all the others. There were a few differences with this one – not because it was more important, but because it was more notorious. It went to the lab outside the city, instead of the one in Boston, where most of the examinations are performed these days, because it was less likely to attract attention that way. Instead of being carried in through the service entrance, it was ushered in secretly through the underground tunnel system. The brain was given a pseudonym, and only three people knew how to identify it. Other than that, the brain came alone and disconnected from its past, unattached to its celebrity. The sordid details of the man's rise and fall, the speculation over what went wrong, the debate over justice – all that was left behind for others to assess. It was just a brain, not large or small, not deformed or extraordinary in appearance, an oblong and gelatinous coil weighing 1,573 grams, or about three and a half pounds, just carved from the skull of a 27-year-old man. 

Tainted Love by Megan Lehmann in The Weekend Australian Magazine (3,600 words / 18 minutes). What do you do when you discover that your spouse has been viewing and storing child pornography on their computer? This is the horrid question that confronted Victorian MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins last year. It swirled in her mind for some time, before she decided to go public with the story. This is a sensitively written profile of her decision, and how she is rebuilding her life in the wake of that terrible discovery.

Her sixth sense had been jangling like an exposed nerve and on February 22, 2016, the sensation was too strong to ignore. When the public hearings she was attending at Parliament House in Melbourne broke for lunch, Rachel Carling-Jenkins, a crossbench MP with immaculately coiffured blonde hair, strong socially conservative views and a warrior's drive to defend the vulnerable, excused herself for the afternoon. Mind racing, the 42-year-old drove the 23km to the family home in the outer northwest suburb of Hillside and, with the help of her tech-savvy son Terry, 18, logged on to her husband's laptop computer. Her suspicions at this point were vague and shapeless. Gary Jenkins, her husband of 10 years, had grown cagey and withdrawn, gruffly batting away any efforts to engage him; she thought he might be clinically depressed. The same instincts warning her something was wrong told her the answers were on his computer. Within minutes her son had excavated some hidden files and without hesitation Carling-Jenkins clicked on them. Scores of icons bloomed into life on the screen. Each icon was a picture of a little girl. "I went cold and I just felt ... sick," she says now. "I didn't explore widely, but I clicked on a few and it was just absolute horror. There were lots and lots of icons and I realised some of them were videos. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

Among The Fallen by Cindy Macdonald in The Saturday Paper (1,000 words / 5 minutes). A wonderfully evocative travel story about the writer's attraction to visiting overseas war memorials.

Milan J. Blasko. His name means nothing to me and yet here I am blinking back tears as I study the stark white marble cross that bears his name. Blasko was from Pennsylvania and died on October 20, 1944. He was a member of the United States Army's 788th Amphibious Tractor Battalion. Later research reveals Blasko was a driver who, along with three other men of the 788th, died, of shrapnel wounds, landing on Leyte, an island in the Visayas group of the Philippines. The landing launched General Douglas MacArthur's campaign for the Allied Forces to recapture and liberate the Philippine archipelago, which had been under Japanese occupation for almost three years. I do not know how old Blasko was when he died, if he was married or had children. I do know his bones lie some 13,500 kilometres from his home and those who loved him. He was awarded a Purple Heart for giving his life "so that others may live", though he would never know that his countrymen went on to claim a decisive victory in the operation he died launching, the largest naval battle in modern history. He would not know – and perhaps would not care – that many thousands of Japanese naval men were also killed in the Battle of Leyte. In war the losses can never be one-sided. As the sun becomes less forgiving with each minute that passes on this mottled-blue-sky Manila morning, I feel my bare shoulders start to succumb to the sting of its rays. But Blasko's cross looks as though it has been chiselled from ice, pristine white against the perfectly manicured verdant lawns. This cross is one of more than 17,000 at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio near Taguig, Metro Manila. The identical grave markers stretch in almost hypnotically symmetrical rows over 11 plots, forming a circular pattern that from above would look like a green and white dartboard on the 62-hectare grounds.

Farewell Timmy by David Astle in The Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum (650 words / 3 minutes). This recent Wordplay column by David Astle is a gut-punch, as it's a moving and beautifully written ode to his dog, Timmy, with whom he shared his writing space for 14 years. BYO tissues.

Walk, wait, sit, cross, stay – these words marked the sweep of Timmy's language. He also knew heel and halt with lesser fluency, plus his own name. Eight words in a nutshell, my labrador's vocab, nine if we count the cautionary arghh I'd grunt whenever he'd veer towards a roadkill possum. Not bad for a canine, though I shouldn't sell my old mate short. After 14 years of living with a writer, Tim was familiar with the length and breadth of English, at least as sporadic sounds that escaped my mouth. Last year a newspaper story declared labradors were being used as story-bait, persuading reluctant readers to read aloud. Kids mainly. Somewhere in Newcastle. The experiment entailed dogs sitting spellbound at the child's feet, absorbing the narrative recited from a book. The article's photo confirmed the rapture. Enlisting an audience spurred the kid to persevere, even if the audience would later flunk the comprehension. Still, the scam worked a treat as I can vouch first-hand. Tim was the keeper of all my manuscripts, every crossword puzzle, each Wordplay column. A born confidante, he'd sit there and hear me out, workshopping the latest argument, helping me identify where the hairs were. That was his gift, his superpower, those tadpole pupils so eloquent in what words worked and which needed banishing.

Niagara Reflections by Martin Mckenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper (1,600 words / 8 minutes). A thoughtful, troubling essay about the writer's recent visit to Niagara Falls, where he finds a fellow tourist in the grip of a mental health crisis.

Not far from us is one of the natural wonders of the world. The Horseshoe Falls, the most famous segment of Niagara Falls, cascades thunderously from the semi-circular lip of the gorge. An eddy is perpetually maintained 50 metres below, and from this basin rises a huge and permanent cloud of mist. People take photos with their smartphones and high-powered cameras. Not of the falls but of the shirtless man on the wrong side of the metal railing. Beneath him is a fatal drop. Yellow police tape cordons off a small section of the footpath that runs along the Canadian side of the gorge. It is a brief perimeter. Small enough that tourists crowd 15 metres from the man and the police officer negotiating his survival. It is hot and humid. The man takes a silver flask from the ledge and empties its contents on his back. He is careful to splash water over both his shoulders. I wonder if he brought the flask, or if it was a rapport-building gesture from the policeman. Then I think: what man cools himself like this if he is about to die? It's an optimistic thought and I dismiss it immediately. It is a product of hope, not insight. A woman walks past and says to someone: "He's having a meltdown." She seems disgusted. A paramedic waits beside an ambulance. People keep taking photos, lifting their phones for a better frame. There are two spectacles today.

La Belle Sauvage: The Book Of Dust, Volume One by Philip Pullman (2017, Knopf). It is difficult to describe the exquisite pleasure of revisiting a fictional world in which I was first immersed as an adolescent, and wherein every living human has an animal companion known as a daemon. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series was a life-changing reading experience for me, and I can trace my passion for written storytelling to those three books, as well as other serialised fiction by authors such as J.K. Rowling and John Marsden.

With this book – the first of three titles planned for release in the coming years – Pullman tells a story that begins ten years before the events of His Dark Materials. Its protagonist is an eleven year-old boy named Malcolm Polstead, who is at the cusp of adolescence and intensely curious toward everyone and everything around him. The protagonist from His Dark Materials, Lyra Belacqua, is a wordless baby in La Belle Sauvage, and as events unravel, Malcolm takes it upon himself to save her from evil forces and seek sanctuary.

This book's title refers to the name of Malcolm's trusty canoe, in which he navigates a great flood that envelopes the lands surrounding his childhood home. Philip Pullman excels at this sort of a coming-of-age tale, and as I was drawn deeper into the story, I felt that familiar tug of fascination that I first encountered as a wide-eyed boy reading His Dark Materials for the first time. My emotional connection to this story and fantasy world is so enmeshed with my childhood memories that I can't really pretend to have any sort of objectivity. I will say, though, that Pullman remains a master storyteller. I greatly enjoyed La Belle Sauvage, and I'm now eagerly re-reading the original trilogy while waiting for the next one to be published.

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Andrew

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Hi @AndrewMcmillen,

I'm @joshua-golbuu, or Josh for short and I just joint @TeamAustralia a few week ago (I moved from the islands of Micronesia to Australia to study and live here).

I just wanted to drop a note to say hello. I don't have many recent post because I just finish my last exam yesterday, but I very much like to get to know everyone in our team. Hope we will meet on Steemit 🤙

here is my re-intro with more details: https://steemit.com/teamaustralia/@joshua-golbuu/from-micronesia-to-australia-my-journey-re-introducing-myself-to-teamaustralia-and-to-everyone-in-steemit-after-my-exams

Peace ✌ & 💖 love!