a sensation of him

Author: Rory Sorenson

*

Teach me your secret so I can see

the way you listen to your world.

Can I give you something broken?

Would you fix it

or remake it

or just let me be?

*

We spoke once in a dream you had

I forgot what you said when I asked you to

give me a truth.

I kissed the question

to your hand,

and held its echo to my ear.

*

You should know

I think

A part of you

will always be inside me.

(Or maybe me in you).

*

Describe your favourite sound to me.

And why it looks that way.

I found a story for you to whisper,

or roar,

or both.

Just keep it hidden in your lungs.

*

Because salvation found me early,

—being baptised by your tongue—

you must carry my misdeeds from now.

But you will be my burden

when I am

fluent in speaking you.

*

I’ll let you close enough

to love me if you promise that

it’s only pretend.

And you can leave

now please.

*

Take my feet

into your hands,

and press me to the ground.

When it storms, I

smell you in the rain.

(Have you ever tasted lightning?)

It reminds me of your scent

when we first met for the last time.

*

I’d missed you for eternity

when I heard you hiding moments

in tomorrow.

You sing in your sleep

sometimes

when you think no one can hear your breath.

*

Let me act like

this is our final night together.

I’ll return.

Promise.

Just give me something for my journey,

so I can hold on to my home—

Your calloused hand.

Before I go,

I’ll leave you with

the map your eyes traced

on my skin.

You could find your way to me.

Or not.

*

When I’ve waited forever to feel you

Beautiful Man,

what’s a few more moments apart?

*

Featured image courtesy of Mona Khaleghi via Unsplash

a love like you and me

Author: Daniela Abriola

I really shouldn’t have let my best friend set me up on a blind date.

They never work out well. Not even in movies. If it can’t even work for fictional characters, why would it work for me?

I don’t mind that I’m single, but my friends do. Just because they all have someone, doesn’t mean I need someone.

Life doesn’t have to be like a Taylor Swift song, dancing with your soulmate in the kitchen with nothing but the light from a refrigerator. It isn’t my kind of life. I’m fine on my own.

But no one can shield themselves from Ava. When she sets her mind to something, she doesn’t stop till she gets what she wants.

‘Rhys,’ she said. ‘I just want you to be happy.’

I wish I could believe her. I’m sure, deep down, she does want that for me. But I know that she’s tired of organising couples’ events and having me tag along. Sure, she tells me she doesn’t mind, but her constant murmurs of ‘oh, Rhys, I guess you can come too,’ tell me otherwise.

So here I am, sitting at a table in a small restaurant downtown that’s way too classy to be something I can afford. The number of forks place across the table is enough to make me feel inferior to everyone here. Why would I I let my date pick this restaurant for me?

I don’t know what this mystery girl looks like at all. Ava was so excited that I had (reluctantly) agreed to go on a date with her ‘super-hot friend from yoga class’, that she forgot to mentionany actual details. Apparently, she is ‘just my type’, but I’m 21-years-old, and I’ve been single for all of them. I don’t even know what my type is. Ava was persistent, however.

‘You’ll like her, trust me.’

Something about that phrase made me not want to trust her. But I promised.

There’s no sign of this ‘super-hot yoga friend’, and it’s fine. I’m fine. I got here early anyway.  But as the minutes tick by, the more restless I get.  I feel the endless need to fidget– if my hands were occupied then my anxiety would be gone, or at the very least, I could ignore it for a while. Well, that’s what I tell myself when I accidentally knock the pepper shaker all over the table. I wipe my hands on my jeans, trying to rid myself of the pepper grounds covering my skin. I wonder if maybe I am overdressed, but as I watch a couple walk into the restaurant, I realise that maybe I’m not dressed up enough. Either way, it’s too late to change my clothes now.

A slim figure moves from the corner of my vision and sits down on the chair in front of me. Her eyes are captivating. They’re  bright shade of emerald green. Jewels that seem so incomparable they make my heart skip a beat.

‘Hey,’ she says. ‘I’m Ashley.’

My phone screen lights up, alerting me that I’ve received a text. I check my phone discreetly.

From: Ava

How’s the date going?????????

Instinctively, I run my thumb across the silver ring on my middle finger, and I don’t stop until the cool metal band begins to settle me. Ava is desperate for this date to work. How can I tell her that Ashley is, despite first impressions, the most boring person I’ve ever met?

She spends the first ten minutes telling me about this ‘amazing’ juice cleanse she’s on. I don’t understand why she picked a restaurant for our date if she wasn’t going to eat anything, but I know better than to say anything.

In the next twenty minutes, she lectures me about the meat industry, telling me that I ‘really should go vegan’. There are a few choice words thrown in there – at one point she calls me a murderer for eating meat. Ashley spends so much time talking that I don’t get the chance to tell her I am, in fact, already vegan.

I can’t tell Ava that the date is worse than being on the Titanic. I’d rather be Jack, clinging on to that door for dear life, than have to listen to this girl tell me that ‘she doesn’t hate gay people’ she just wishes they ‘wouldn’t do it in front of her’. This would crush Ava. I mean, she is more invested in my love life than I am.

Ashley smiles. ‘This has been really fun.’

I try to keep a straight face. Fun for who?. This is the exact opposite of fun for me. But I don’t tell her that. Instead, I smile and nod my head.

‘Yeah.’

‘I’m just going to the bathroom,’ she says. I’m sure she also mentions something about freshly squeezed juice ‘going right through’ her, but at this point I’m too tired to care.

I must be more tired than I thought, because before I know it, she’s sitting across from me.

My first thought is, wow, that was fast. But when I see that it’s the waiter who seated me at my table, I stare at him questioningly.

‘I’m on my break right now. I thought you could use some saving,’ he says.

There’s no one else sitting at the table – it has to be me he’s talking to. But his words still catch me off guard.

‘Me?’

He pauses for a moment. ‘Yes, you.

‘Oh, I- uh, um,’ I stutter.

Yep, good one Rhys. That’s exactly how normal people speak.

‘It looked that bad?’ I ask. It sure felt bad.

‘I’ve seen many bad dates in my life, and that looked like one of them.’

He flashes me a smile, and oh. I realise that he’s gorgeous. He’s tall, with the softest brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and his hair is dark brown, with a sheen like parquetry flooring. That comparison isn’t entirely fair, actually. Parquetry flooring doesn’t move like this guy’s hair does, brushing softly around his face as he speaks. I’m trying not to stare, but honestly. He’s the most handsome guy I’ve ever seen.

‘Oh,’ I say. Oh? That’s the best you could come up with? Idiot.

He’s so hot, and my hands are sweating like never before.

It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

Except it is. It’s a disaster, actually. Or possibly an epic shit-storm of a disaster, because how am I meant to tell Ava that I am more attracted to the waiter who had to explain what the different forks at my table were for, than I am her friend.

I haven’t considered that I might be gay, but I definitely couldn’t deny that sitting across from me is the hottest person I’ve ever seen. The more I think about it, the more the word gay makes sense to me.

‘Leon,’ he says, and I jump a little. I forgot that he’s still sitting in front of me. But he is, with his hand extended out for me to shake. 

I wonder if shaking hands is something that people still do, but then Leon laughs, and I realise I’ve said this out loud.

Shit.  

‘I’m Rhys,’ I awkwardly mumble.

‘You’re an interesting guy, Rhys,’ Leon smiles again.

Usually, I’d be a little offended by that. But the way he says it…it’s nothing less than endearing. Then he quickly looks me up and down. ‘And very good looking.’

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is inappropriate. This is his place of work, and my date will come back from the bathroom any minute now. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t feel my legs anymore, and my brain is not thinking in coherent sentences. He’s flirting with me, and I know for a fact that I’m grinning from ear to ear.

Maybe Leon senses that I’m having a hard time responding, because he doesn’t wait for me to make a complete fool of myself.

‘Well, Rhys,’ he says, stopping mid speech as his eyes travel to the bathrooms across the restaurant. Great. Ashley is walking back to the table.

In a matter of seconds, Leon pulls his notepad out from his apron and scrawls something down. ‘If your date is as bad as I think it is, you should call me. Hopefully, I can show you a better date than she did.’

Leon hands me the piece of paper with his number on it, and for the first time, I understand what all those Taylor Swift songs were about.

Featured image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash.

letters from emily

Author: Eli Thomas

“I wish I could play the ukulele…”

There was no explanation, no greeting. The letter, which had been tucked away in a box of childhood toys in a blank, unmarked envelope, didn’t start with a “hello, my name is…”. Nor did it need to.  I recognised the handwriting instantly.

            “…Or the guitar, but it feels too big in my lap and the strings are hard to push down. The ukulele is smaller and looks easier with less strings. I want to sit on my bed with sunlight coming through a gap in the curtain. It has to be nice, warm sunlight. I’ve seen videos of people doing it. The sun will hit half of my face as I play, and maybe I’ll even improvise some lyrics in a really soothing voice. I’ll be like a cool singer who can make anyone feel alright, maybe even myself. And I would wish to remain in that moment forever.”

Well, you can play the ukulele now, and still chase that aesthetic you were after. It is not as easy as you imagined, though. You have to keep adjusting the curtains, because the sun is not hitting your face right. Sometimes you spend all day waiting for light from the setting sun to fill the room, only to miss it and have to wait to try again. Other times it is simply too bright and hurts your eyes. It is definitely not as easy as you imagined, but you still find yourself trying. This was the reason you tried to learn the instrument. You wanted to recreate this moment for yourself. Sometimes you get it perfect and it feels amazing, even if you can’t sing as well as you hoped for. And sometimes, just sometimes, you do get to convince yourself that everything’s alright.

You still wish those good moments could last longer. That hasn’t changed.

            “I wish I could wear the cool clothes all the boys wear. I hate the dresses Mum gets for me. The guys have all the coolest jackets. I want to wear them, but I don’t want it to be “dress up.” I think Mum and Dad would get mad if I tried to wear Jude’s clothes outside.”

Oh, they did get mad. One day, you got so fed up with the girl’s school uniform, you put on Jude’s even though it was too big. You had the sleeves rolled right up and a belt trying its best to keep the pants up that kept tripping me. Mum and Dad didn’t let you leave the house like that, but now no one’s here to force you into a dress ever again! You get to wear all the cool boy clothes. Your closet is full of button-ups with unique patterns and jackets that make you feel like a badass. I’m sure you’d love it.

            “I wish I had the words to describe how I feel. Everyone says I’m a tomboy, but that doesn’t feel right. Should it feel right? I think I want it to feel right, then everything would be nice and simple.”

You found your identity in this new language you discovered, with a whole community standing behind the words you now use proudly. It took a while, but you figured it out. You’re not a tomboy, a daughter, a girl. It was a terrifying realisation to make, and hard to accept that you weren’t how everyone saw you. You had always known something was off, and this wasn’t the simple solution you were hoping for. But it became the best realisation of your life. You are a son. You are a boy. You are trans, and that language turned your life around.

            “I wish on the brightest star I see each night. Sometimes I think the stars are looking over aliens and their worlds, and since God is busy listening to every single person on earth, I talk to the stars instead. You probably think that’s stupid now, I don’t know, maybe they can help me, maybe they can take me away to their world. I wonder if there’s an alien like me out there, who understands what it’s like to be me. Maybe they ask the stars for the same wish.”

For a long time, you forgot the night sky existed. You gave up when you learnt the stars weren’t going to change anything. You so badly wanted to believe in wishes, or prayers, or miracles, in magic that wouldn’t rip your heart out the next day when nothing had changed. But now you have found the power of science and hormones and surgery, and it would feel wrong to not call it the magic you always wished for.

You still believe in aliens though, and maybe they do have Gods of their own. You no longer hope to be taken away to a faraway planet. You’ve found others like me on earth. You are no longer alone here. But trust me, if the opportunity to be abducted arises, you will not turn it down.

            “I wish I was me.”

You have always been you.

            “I wish I knew who me was.”

You will figure it out. And everything will make sense.

            “I wish that I’ll be happy when I’m you.”

A signed name had been scrawled onto that letter before being violently crossed out – first with a pen and then a sharpie, when it was clear the pen couldn’t erase it enough. I smiled slightly at your persistence. At my persistence. I was so certain something was wrong, even if I couldn’t explain why. But I now know who I am.

I picked up a pen from my desk, and gently, right next to my own scratched out mess, wrote down my name.

            Ethan.

Featured image courtesy of Jacek Smoter via Unsplash.

 

COVID-19 Series: #7

Author: Tina Tsironis

2020, for lack of a better metaphor, is an onion. A ridiculously frustrating and repetitive onion, with craploads of layers. Yes – I kind of stole this metaphor from Shrek. Sue me. (Please don’t sue me). Honestly, though – the first few layers, as much as they elicit a sizeable sting, are relatively easy to handle. They consist, after all, of the things we’re sad about losing, but which bring with them a strange sense of novelty – novelty which, at least for me, continues to this day.

Who can say they’re mad about rolling out of bed one minute before a lecture or a workday is due to begin, after all? I’m sure some of you can. But many of us cannot.

It’s when we keep peeling, however, that we unearth the potent layers. They elicit the type of sting that feels more like a burn; immediate and forceful enough to pierce through our tear ducts with such force that we can’t help but remark, to nobody in particular, that we’re not actually crying because we’re sad. God no! It was the onion that made us do it!

But then those layers unravel and fall away, against all odds, and now we’re forced to reckon with the layers within. If the shittiness of this metaphor wasn’t immediately clear to you, it sure as hell should be by now – because there’s no onion-core in the world that can describe the feeling of being forced, against all odds, to reckon with your own mortality.

To her credit, the moment the threat of COVID-19 became clear to her, my friend Kushlani Premachandra confronted the pandemic head-on. She practiced social distancing, stayed home after being stood down from her job as a conference producer for an events company, and tried to throw herself into her first semester of postgrad study.

“Before lockdown, I had a semi-pattern of going to work, coming home, and then on Thursdays and Fridays doing my uni work,” Kush told me during a Zoom call.

During the first month of lockdown, when this routine disintegrated, Kush said she “just felt excited.”

“I wanted to go on leave anyway, so this was kind of an extended holiday, except I’m at home. So I [figured] can spend more time brainstorming and doing all this stuff, and study whenever I want.”

In reality, however, the separation from home and study was non-existent. “I was waking up at midday and staying in my pyjamas all day, and then I didn’t feel motivated to do any work…you just want to be a couch potato.”

By the time we sat down for our chat, Kush had been out of work for four months. With a large part of her role involving interstate travel across Australia, her eventual path back to normality seemed like a long way off. At this point, Kush believed she should be picking up more units as part of her course.

“It felt like this internalised pressure,” she said. I should be spending all my time writing…I should be picking up more units.”

The combination of her disintegrated routine, however, and the continued threat of COVID-19, proved to be a potent motivation-sapper. Amidst this upheaval, Kush’s uncle Sumith, a 55-year-old disability nurse, had also been diagnosed with coronavirus in March.

“I was dropping food off at my parents’ house during the week, and while I was over there my mum got a call from my aunt, and she told my mum my uncle was in hospital.”

Sumith was struck with the virus after covering a colleague’s shift at work. “He was isolating at home from the weekend, then within three days it got worse, and he was in hospital by Wednesday.”

The family had been told that if Sumith didn’t improve, he would soon die. But by the time Kush heard from her aunt again, one week later, her uncle “had not gotten better, but he hadn’t gotten worse.” At this point, Kush and her family had no choice but to settle into a strange pattern of distorted familiarity. If you’re trying to imagine what this feels like, imagine the exhaustingly mundane, subtly unsettling “new normal” we currently experience while rolling out of bed for the 50,000th time this week, and multiply that feeling by thousands. This is a waiting game that no family should have to endure – but sadly, thousands of Australian families have.

Kush, myself and another close friend communicate primarily through a messenger group chat that we bitingly, yet somewhat accurately, have entitled Hyped Up Anxiety Corner. During this early April week, Kush stayed silent about Sumith’s illness, instead treating the chat to videos of Ina Garten making huge cocktails at 9:30AM, and WA premier Mark McGowan struggling to contain his laughter during a widely shared press conference.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable dread she must have been feeling, Kush’s warmth and quirky humour remained on-brand, serving as a wonderful source of comfort for our friend and I, who were both wading through our own isolation-driven feelings of dread. But on Monday the 6th of April, roughly two hours before my workday was due to end, Kush sent the Hyped Up Anxiety Corner a series of messages that appeared to come out of nowhere:

“So

My uncle passed away

The 38th Australian death”.

Sumith had passed away the night before.

“When I got the call from my brother I just remember asking, are you sure?” Kush recalled.

With her mind laser-focused on an assignment she had coming up, at first, all she felt was shock. “I remember it was raining that day and I went and sat outside on the back steps and just got rained on, because I didn’t know what else to do,” she explained.

“It was during stay at home orders, so it’s not like we could go and see my aunt, because she still had to be isolated…the two-week period hadn’t passed for her.”

The impact of Sumith’s passing on his loved-ones and friends, of course, cannot be overstated. Every single tribute I have come across has mentioned his kind heart, friendly nature, generous spirit, or a combination of these these qualities. When Kush spoke to me for this story, she not only echoed these sentiments – she built upon them, painting a vivid picture of a joyful man with a witty nature. Much like this niece.

“Whenever he saw you, he would just envelop you in a giant bearhug,” Kush told me. “He was so lovely, he radiated joy.”

“I remember once, he picked me up with my cousins and we went to the movies and watched Spy Kids or something. Then we had a sleepover and he made sure we had snacks and stuff like that. But I just remember at the movies, 10 minutes in, all of a sudden, we just hear snoring. I look over and he’s fast asleep in his chair, and it was loud.”

“He was snoring in the fricking cinema with his head up,” Kush continued, “and my cousins and I were like “shut up!”, and then he’d wake up and say, “I’m not snoring, I’m not snoring,” and then go back to sleep and repeat the process.”

The weekend before I interviewed my friend, she finally got to visit her aunt. Kush worries about her, as she now lives alone, and is scared to venture outdoors due to the continued spread of COVID-19 – especially because, at the time of our interview, cases had steadily been rising again in Melbourne. The family cat, Benji, provides a slight semblance of normality. The British Shorthair, in fact, is dealing with Sumith’s passing in his own unique way.

“There’s a small table in the living room where my uncle’s urn is located,” Kush told me. “[Benji] never used to go to that table, and when the ashes came home, he was really confused, like ‘what’s this?’ Then I think he realised, and now he sits next to the table.”

Sumith’s grandchildren, and Kush’s nephews, aged one and four, have also been deeply affected by his loss.

“The elder one was very close to my uncle. He will go over to my aunt’s house and hug my uncle’s clothes and cry, and say, ‘I miss papa’”, Kush said. “He loved those kids so much.”

Kush’s own semblance of normality comes from connecting with her friends, her partner Lauren, and her partner’s father, who she lives with. Though this support cannot soften the blow of losing her uncle, alongside the stability of regular life this year, it has certainly flittered sparks of comfort throughout 2020’s otherwise tough, incredibly polluted air.

Kush’s partner Lauren, who is a trauma counsellor, has been especially supportive. “She’s been giving me all the cuddles, asking if I want to be left alone, or if I want her to come and stay with me and just be quiet,” Kush explained. “She’s very intuitive. Even without her training, she’s so caring and loving.”

In an effort to deal with her grief and continued hiatus from work, my friend threw herself into her studies. She told me that when she initially found out about her uncle, she thought, “I’ve gotta push through and keep going and not say anything.”

Ultimately, and understandably, staying quiet proved impossible. “I couldn’t do it, so I had to email my tutor Jacqui [Ross],” Kush said. “She was so understanding. She responded to my email quite quickly, maybe within the hour. She was like “don’t even worry, when you’re able to, if you’re able to, you can come back to do your work.” That was great, because it was one less thing to worry about.”

Kush finished this first unit of her course and progressed to the next with the attitude that it would serve as a useful creative outlet. During our interview, she told me that study “feels like a lot sometimes, but it’s pretty motivating and exciting.”

“I’m trying to work out what to write for my next research assignment, with of everything happening with the world,” she explained. “Not just COVID, but the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s so much happening, that’s been kind of motivating and a bit inspirational, and I can use what’s happening and tie it into my fiction piece and the current climate.”

A few weeks after our interview, however, Kush let me know that she had made the decision to take a leave of absence from her studies, due to her mental health struggles. The very fact that she momentarily tried to push through her pain in order to learn and practice her craft is admirable. But ultimately, the kindness and honesty of self that Kush has exercised, by confronting her pain and grief head-on, and pausing her creative endeavours, is far more inspiring.

In fact, Kush extends this kindness to others, stressing that, “most of us have never lived through a pandemic or anything like this, so you’re allowed to be sad.”

“You might be missing a friend’s birthday, an event that might feel small,” she said. “You’ve got to be kind to yourself, but also realise that even if you’re a young, healthy person, you’ve still got to think about your neighbours and the people around you.”

Kush does not want us to forget that all the cases, and all the deaths that have now started happening again, are completely avoidable.

“My cousin [Sumith’s daughter] was supposed to have her wedding the week of my uncle’s funeral. My uncle was 55, he did not need to die. He was called into work because [a colleague] was unable to come in. He wasn’t supposed to be working. These are completely avoidable deaths. The better we all are together, contributing to the bigger picture, the easier it’ll be trying to go back to the norm.”

While returning to the norm won’t happen for a while yet, especially for us Melburnians, Kush suggested that immersing ourselves in relaxing, pressure-free hobbies can ease the blow of our continued lockdown. Her hobby of choice? Quilting.

“I have become my mother. She made me a quilt and so I decided I wanted to make one too. She gives me little tips, telling me “no, not like that,” and I’m all like ‘thanks mum’”, Kush told me, mimicking the pouty, self-deprecating tone of a child who has just been chided – the exact type of voice that I look forward to hearing in person eventually. Hopefully by the end of this year.

“I’ll chuck something on Netflix,” Kush says, “and start sewing for a couple of hours, and it feels really productive – like, look what I’ve accomplished!”

When our eventual return to normality does come, its path will be punctured with strangeness and sadness for many of us, and continued grief and anxiety for others.

Facing these feelings now, as they’re brimming above the surface, is crucial. Face them while flicking on Netflix and weaving needle through fabric, or face them while penning stories featuring shitty onion metaphors – the specifics don’t necessarily matter. Doing so won’t completely alleviate the blow that is 2020, yet it will provide us with the opportunity to take a pause.

So, before we embark on this punctured path to normality, join me in taking a pause. Shut your mouth, take a few deep breaths, and enjoy this brief moment of silence. Remind yourself of all that you’ve accomplished, simply by enduring the last nine months – strangely and sadly, sure, but hopefully with the mortality of others front of mind.

About Tina Tsironis

Tina is the 2020 editor of SWINE Magazine. If being a certified hot sauce/BoJack Horseman enthusiast was a legitimate thing, she would be it. When she’s not obsessing over intense existential cartoons and spicy condiments, Tina is a Masters of Writing student and a marketing specialist/copywriter for a software company. She currently lives in Hawthorn with her partner, and no pets . She wishes there were pets. 

Iso Pet Peeves: Lockdown 2.0

Author: Grace Ashford

By now, I’m sure everyone has experienced their fair share of frustration regarding all things corona. But is there anything more irritating, blood boiling and hair-pullingly exasperating than having to go back into lockdown because a security guard couldn’t keep it in his pants?

We’re back for a Lockdown 2.0 edition of Iso Peeves – this time, focusing on our favourite variety of aggravating personalities, all of whom played a role in The End of the World: Part Two.

“I just needed to see my gals!”

I hope that ‘last hoorah’ with the squad was worth Grandpa getting sick, Tiffany! Just a quick reminder: our mate COVID-19 doesn’t pick and choose when it will be highly infectious. It’s the night before lockdown, not the night before you’re most likely to contribute to the spread.

In a single night, you and your girls jeopardised the health of everyone you came into contact with afterwards! I trust you found the perfect Snapchat filter to hide the shame. ♥

“Pete Evans is my god.”

5G conspiracists, please leave the chat. It’s really cute how you think you can fight science – oh, wait! It’s actually not, because people are dying. Take off your tinfoil hat and read the stats.  It seems you haven’t allowed yourself time to process the severity of the global pandemic we are amidst. Once you’ve come to terms with your denial, please kindly buy some hand sanitiser and stay the fuck home.

“Wearing a mask doesn’t actually do anything.”

Out of everything to complain about, you lot are choosing to get strung up over a piece of fabric. (And you were likely the same people to blame the BLM protests for the outbreak while simultaneously hanging out at Chaddy with your other 7000 pals every weekend). Fact check: you’re wrong. While wearing a mask doesn’t stop you from contracting anything, data from the World Health Organisation states it severely reduces the spread of oral and sinus droplet transmission via breathing, coughing, and even talking by 95%. That’s a serious statistic, and if you feel the need to take issue with attempts to reduce the spread of a disease with a global death toll of more than eight hundred and twenty-nine thousand (as of 27/8/20), you need to check yourself.

“Just one last stop at Woolies on my way home from getting tested.”

Congratulations Patricia, you are literally doing the opposite of what has been so clearly reinforced since the beginning of this sh*t show! While our everyday supermarket workers are putting their lives at risk for minimum wage before our economy comes crashing down, you thought you’d quickly nip in for some quarantine supplies. And yet, you’ve not even had the respect to place actual necessities into your basket. Instead, you’ve had the audacity to snatch up a family size bag of Maltesers and a nice big tub of iso ice cream. Hope you ate up your chocolatey treats along with your words when you saw the news announcing Stage 4 restrictions.

Featured image by Tom Radetzki, via Unsplash

a fool’s paradise: the lost history of the idiot

Author: Andrew Dopper 

Idiot.

The word chatters off the tongue as it hits the roof of your mouth once, then twice, like the flourish at the end of a Spanish dance. Even those with a weaker grasp of the English language know both the word and the meaning. But what does it really mean?

A fool?

Dim-witted?

Yes, and, well, no. To truly understand the word, we must cast our minds back over two thousand years, to ancient Greece. It was here, deep in the Mediterranean, that the word idios was birthed – later adopted by Latin as idiota.

From angry old European men to Ren and Stimpy, the use of the word bears more history and importance than we give it credit. Variations of “idiot” existed as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, who used the term idi, meaning “to be deaf”, and in Old Babylonian with the word idim, meaning “to be blocked”. But it was in the ancient empire of Greece where the word became the insult we see today.

As you walk the well-trodden road in lower Athens, a woman passes by leading a goat. She asks of your health, and whether you have an interest in the purchase of the animal. You decline and carry on. A breeze sighs over the land from the Aegean Sea, and you detect the subtle tang of brine and fish from the docks where another trade ship has just moored. The breeze catches at your robe, and you nod a greeting to a passing mason, well known and respected. He respects you, for you are a politician, of sorts. It is 456 BC, and you are on your way to an assembly.

The term “democracy” first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. The word comes from demos, “common people” and kratos, “strength”. The Athenians established what is generally considered the first democracy between 508–507 BC. The assembly you head to is of a smaller scale, for the citizens of only three local townships vote.

You enter the court atop the hill to warm greetings and the wave of friends. Your brother leans up against a column sucking on an olive. Then, you are greeted by Andros. You agree to go fishing with him come weeks end, and he moves on. Andros is a nice enough fellow, but unfortunately, my fair reader, this man is an idiot.

A senior member of the parliament you often visit the bathhouse with steps up beside you. A vibration runs up from his vocal cords, and his tongue presses the roof of his mouth like a mother testing a child’s forehead for fever. His mouth changes shape and muscle memory produce the final vibrations that reach your ears.

Idiotai.

In this form, the word is not inherently negative. The older man was referring more to Andros’s class as a layman, a private citizen. Idios, after all, most commonly describes a private person. There is nothing wrong with this, but whilst all men over thirty are allowed to attend and vote at assembly, not all have to. Some take the label of idiotai, conceding to their class, maintaining that they are unskilled in the area of democracy. Yet whilst many humble commoners do not attend parliament, some do.

Andros is normally just another shuffling robe and raised hand. A good father and husband. A terrible fisherman but a decent carpenter. But, as mentioned, he is an idiot. Especially on this day, for the assembly plans to vote for a new road to a shrine of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, passion, and procreation.

Andros does not agree to the paving of this road. He insists on a road to the Eastern fields, to aid carts in reaching the Cephisian plains to the East, where the rivers flow long and slow. But the Eastern road is only an issue for the final month of winter when it becomes muddy. The shrine walk, however, is overrun by brush and thorns and visitors get lost.

The vote comes and all raise their hand, except Andros and one other man.

Talks begin.

“The road to the fields shall be repaired come next winter,” announces your uncle.

A compromise.

Nods and grunts.

A slave boy offers you more wine and you take advantage.

All hands but Andros’s reach to the sky now. It is the third time this vote has been held. Andros pleads his case and others too have prepared statements. A senior member makes his declaration, and all agree.

Andros shakes his head.

You see, the year passed, the term idios has been used with growing negativity.

The word is spoken now, and, soon enough, yelled. The senior members, too, mumble their labelling of Andros. Andros throws his arms up and is collectively ejected from the assembly. He has finally been pronounced an idiotai, or idios.

If, after reasonable and lengthy discussion, one person continues to hold up the vote, despite overwhelming research, evidence and agreement from experts, their attendance becomes pointless. Defunct. They are an idiot and are ejected from parliament. Some concede earlier. Some agree to carry on with the consensus of the most knowledgeable: the people of science, architecture, and philosophy. Some, like Andros, are sent back through the stone arches of the assembly to the scowling and shaking of fists.

It is not until the word idiot was used colloquially in 17th-century theatre, that it truly came to be used the way it is today. But its existence in early democracy gave idiot its foundation. The Greeks, in fact, held one of the greatest civilizations in human history. They invented machines, democracy, universities, mathematics, and science itself.

Don’t get me wrong; they were not flawless. War was perfectly viable as a tactic for expansion and resource gaining, and while the life of women in ancient Greece was not Hell, it was far from desirable.

a fool’s paradise: the lost history of the idiota fool’s paradise: the lost history of the idiot

Pericles’ Funeral Oration (Perikles hält die Leichenrede) by Philipp Foltz (1852)

Bringing our mind back to the present day, do we still go to war and destroy entire cultures for political tiffs and resources? Are women equal to men globally?

One thing certainly remains superior in the days of early civilization.

An idiot was an idiot.

Today, not only are idiots not ejected from parliament, they band together. These idiots remain, despite having no evidence, research, or even democratic majority. In fact, in many places, the idiots rule entirely.

The Eastern road or the road to the shrine of Aphrodite?

Often, in the present day, it takes years for such roads to be finally built. In many cases, the Eastern road will take priority to quieten the idiots. More and more, we see roads paved to nowhere, and sometimes, no roads at all. Yet the idiots remain content. Whilst the fisherman and the carpenter are skilled and vital members of society, they’re unskilled in the areas of science, civil engineering, and commerce; an idotai.

A comparison:

Climate change.

Yes, the infamous political topic of today. Science, majority belief, and global benefit and safety heavily lean towards the issue of climate change not only being true, but something that needs to be addressed immediately.

Yet, it is a topic firmly ruled by the idiot.

By denying science, math, experts, and the greater good of humankind and indeed the natural world itself, the idiots are winning. The idiots are louder, not more numerous. They are stubborn, not correct. In Australia, it is overwhelmingly common for political leaders to only be educated in business, maybe law, or to have received no higher education whatsoever. If these people sat in parliament in ancient Greece, they would have only occasionally been consulted on monetary issues; or perhaps would not have attended at all.

Australia’s current minister for welfare has a single degree in business – not welfare. The minister for education? A Master’s in foreign affairs.

And the minister for health, impressively, has two degrees – in law and international relations, however, rather than health.

No member of the entire party currently in power, in fact, has any form of degree in health, welfare, or education. None have a PhD. Three have no higher education whatsoever, and only one, in the entire government in power, has a degree in science.

This is a far cry from the parliaments of Ancient Greece.

Have we entered the age of the idiot? If so, what is the remedy? Is it to equal the loudness of the fool?

Mark Twain once wrote: “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

How do we eject the idios when the entire assembly are idiotai?

Perhaps the idiot must reclaim their title. A scientist knows nothing of fishing, so why would the fisherman be expected to know science?

Next time you call someone an idiot, cast your mind back to the assemblies of ancient Greece, when there was no shame in being an idiot, but there was in pretending you were not.

“It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool’s paradise.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

 

Featured Artwork: King Lear and the Fool in the Storm by William Dyce (1806–1864)