Yesterday I heard Goyte's song, Somebody That I Used To Know while walking around an antiques store. And I thought, actually, you know, that song's really quite good. I only recognised it because 12 months ago at a dinner party I apparently embarrassed myself by admitting that I'd never heard a Goyte song, and in shouts of disbelief, Somebody That I Used To Know was played while everyone waited for me to have that aha moment of..Oh, yes, I know that song. Except I really didn't. And I thought the song was, you know, okay. But yesterday I had an epiphany. And I went home and played the music video on youtube. I am the 387,316,513th person to watch this video. And subsenquently the 387,316,514th and 387,316,515th since I'm playing it on repeat. I've always been a late bloomer, but perhaps, after 20 years of listening to the Pixies Surfer Rosa on high rotation I should pay attention to some new music. Isn't there some new band called Jet that used to be quite good?
I was 22 and wanting to make a big impression on the older man I had just started seeing. We were on one of our first dates, and had gone to see something at Sydney Cinematheque - an old western or perhaps the 1955 French crime film Rififi. We stood on the street after the film, having met up with a couple of my date's uber cool & cinema-obsessed friends. They started playing a game - you know - the one where you name your favourite film of all time; and as they spoke my skin started to burn and a deep panic rose inside. A lively debate was starting about, oh I don't know, say the merits of Fellini's conspicuous visual flair in 8 1/2 or the cinematic triumph of Herzog's Aguirre the Wrath of God. Or what about Ingmar Bergman's disturbing investigation into the psyche in Persona. I despaired. I could only think of one film. If they turned to me as inevitably they would and asked me what my favourite film was I could only think of one movie. And I could see how it would play out. So Victoria, do you think Persona is a postmodern lesbian romance or an avant garde cliche? "Ah, well, I haven't seen that one but I do really love Breakfast at Tiffany's - specifically when Holly has a house party and she inadvertently sets fire to someone's hat and then moments later inadvertently puts it out with a glass of wine. And the scene where she has the Mean Reds and the only thing that can make her feel better is a trip to Tiffany's. And, no, I don't know offhand who directed it. But I'm sure they're, well, good". As luck would have it, I was wrong, no-one actually wanted my opinion, obviously judging on face-value I wouldn't have much to offer. But not to be one to be put on the back foot, I decided to get myself a film education. And the best way to do that I decided, was to subject myself to a Tarkovsky retrospective. No less than 6 films over two weekends, and since his films are on the long side, that would be a rough total of 18 viewing hours. Perfect. So I took myself along to the cinema and stood patiently in a long line of film students and enthusiasts. First up The Stalker. I don't remember much of this film other than some trees, and the feel of the stranger's shoulder I was nuzzling when I discovered I'd dropped off to sleep. Then there was Andrei Rublev. I really did love this film, there was more of a story and I loved the big bell. But yet again I kept nodding off. Then there was The Sacrifice, in which I'm pretty sure there was a fire and not to be deterred I stayed and watched The Mirror - and fell asleep again. Somehow, despite spending most of this time asleep, I did have some success. I truly loved Solaris, the film that Soderbergh quite successfully (I thought) re-made in 2002. And while I have retained hardly anything from The Mirror, there were a couple of scenes with wind that somehow seeped into my soul and which I recall quite often. You can watch them below. They're nothing really. Just wind blowing through the grass and bushes. But I love it in a very visceral way. I can't describe it. I guess that's part of Tarkovsky's charm. So what did I learn over the course of my marathon? Well if only I'd known that 13 years later instead of attending a Tarkosvky retrospective you could look up reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, find out what those movies were about, and then spout off some crap in public that can save you from cinematic blasphemy then perhaps I wouldn't have gone. But that would be cheating. And you wouldn't find out how much you loved wind. And big bells. And while Tarkovsky rightly deserves a place in history, if not just for causing narcoleptic type episodes, so do films like Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's FUN.
There are places in our life that we never expected to end up. And those places often seemed so foreign to us that they could only happen to OTHER people. Until they happened to us. Most people thing they will never end up in a cult, but it is no different to gambling, drug addiction, homelessness, abusive relationships - these experiences don't discriminate. I've been interested in cults for a very long time. I'm not sure why - maybe because cults are such an extreme example of human interaction and behaviour, and I have an insatiable curiosity for exploring that. Most people who become involved with cults are intelligent, middle-class people. It isn't predicated on you being in a particularly vulnerable moment in your life. The initial contact with a cult may come from a healthy interest in spirituality, or a simple need to make friends. Much has been written on the charisma of the cult leader, and certainly it must play a part when the foundations of a cult are laid. But what makes someone charismatic? Is it innate? Or something you can pinpoint? David Millikan, an Australian broadcaster who has reported on cults for over 25 years has met with a number of cult leaders. He interviewed a cult leader who believed he was Jesus. David writes that you could not match "the ferocity of his self-belief". That self-belief is beyond simple confidence, or being self-assured - that ferocity of self-belief, by its nature, must generate a certain amount of charisma. When you first encounter a cult they may be hiding behind the front of a business. Some cults have stalls at Mind & Body Expos, offering healing or massage treatments. Scientologists set up in malls and shopping centres, offering a 'stress' test. Regardless of how they present themselves, when you first have contact you will be LOVEBOMBED - a very deliberate showering of affection. Cult victims describe having an instant family, and the appeal of that is immense. I spoke to a man who had recently left a cult, and he said the best analogy he had for his experience, one that most of us can relate to, is that it's like you have fallen in love with the wrong person. There is the honeymoon period, where nothing anyone says could sway your heady love. If you make it past the first year, you're committed. You want to make a go of it. There may be small signs, but once you've made that commitment it's easy to brush off those signs. And when you're in love with the wrong person, in the sense that you're not just a good match, but they are damaging in some way to your mental or physical being, the wrong person has clever and manipulative ways to keep you there. In a cult, these techniques are universally similar. They have the same aim - to keep your mind shut down and suppress critical thinking. Cults will demand more and more of your time. One person I spoke to had a rigid timetable that involved activities from the moment he rose at close to four in the morning to bedtime at midnight. With only four hours sleep a night he had no time for deep thinking and as a natural consequence of this schedule, began to lose contact with family, friends, and the outside world. Hard labour, extreme bouts of exercise, sleep deprivation. These things are all designed to control the cult member's routine and keep them in a state where they are less likely to challenge the beliefs of the organisation. Slowly the cult may demand more and more money, until perhaps the member is also dependent on the cult for their welfare. The cult plays upon every fear the cult member may have - convincing them that if they leave, or if they do not comply with what the organisation demands of them, that they, and their families will endure pain or lose their souls. The cult will build the member's confidence up, praise them, make them feel loved, them shame them in front of other members if they are perceived to have done something wrong. This dynamic is not unlike abusive marriages - a dynamic that is damaging and deceptive, but often successful in keeping the person there. After a while, once the gloss has worn off, a cult member may have doubts and want to leave. But like a long-term relationship or marriage, just getting up and leaving isn't that simple. You've been with the person for so long, your confidence has been battered, and to admit that the X amount of years you have been in this situation are not what you thought it was, can be too much to bear. Someone described it to me as the person experiencing cognitive dissonance - the discomfort of holding conflicting beliefs simultaneously. And without assistance, it may be just too hard for to admit that the reality you've acccepted with every molecule of your being is in fact, a lie. In this respect every person who's been a victim of a cult deserves our empathy, just like you would empathise with a victim of domestic abuse.
What we know about cults is often what has filtered through the media, and then it's the most bizarre and extreme details that are reported and catch our eye. The slogan, Don't drink the Kool Aid was made famous by the 1978 mass-suicide and murder of the People's Temple cult. Heaven's Gate, another suicide cult, referred to their bodies as 'vessels', and believed, at the time of death, that a spaceship was travelling behind a comet, ready to collect their souls and take them to the 'next level'. Of course, from an outsider's perspective, this seems frankly bizarre, and you wonder, just HOW could anyone in that cult truly come to believe such things. But the truth is, people don't JOIN cults. They are not, one day living a normal life, and the next, entrenched in a cult, isolated from family and friends. It is a gradual process - the tasty outer leaves of the cult slowly peeling away to reveal a much more dangerous truth, while they simultaneously erode the last vestiges of your freedom. It is endlessly fascinating, and given there are hundreds of cults in Australia, a subject that deserves greater understanding.
I come from a family of enthusiastic coffee drinkers. Before babycinos were invented, I sat with my mother while she had a cappuccino and I was allowed a spoonful of chocolatey froth off the top. In my first year of university, my mother called me for the sole purpose of excitedly reporting my younger brother had had his first coffee. (You'll be pleased to know he wasn't four but of a legal coffee drinking age) In our family, coffee isn't merely a hit of caffeine to gird the loins, but a social punctuation in the day, a chance to catch up with family of friends or enjoy a quiet moment on your own reading the paper, or more likely in my family, to draw up extensive 'to do' lists. However, in recent years, going out for coffee with mum had been a cause of embarrassment. When it comes time to order, she first makes sure she locks eyes with the unsuspecting server, and then, with over annunciated words like she's speaking to a toddler says "I'd like a strong, HOT latte please". If social decorum didn't have to be regarded you could be sure she would stand up, grab the server's head between her hands, put her face only inches away from theirs, and like a boxing trainer giving a pep talk to his bloodied novice, look them in the eyes and in a gravelly voice say "Make my latte fucking HOT you prick". After mum orders I wait in trepidation for our coffees to be served. At least 50% of the time Mum has a sip, screws up her face, clunks the cup back on the saucer and says with disgust. 'It's not HOT".
Well dear mother, you will be pleased to know that I no longer will squirm in my seat when you say these words, I will no longer smile sweetly at the waiter as if to apologise for a slightly senile parent. Because enough is enough.
Firstly, may I say we are certainly blessed in Melbourne to have a thriving coffee scene. There are few places in the world you can feel safe in going to pretty much any no-name cafe and getting a decent coffee. No, it might not be single trade and the espresso might not be pulled by a bearded hipster who freshly shat the coffee beans that morning, but generally it will be okay. And I am a bit of a coffee snob, so I do love that we have so many cafes taking coffee seriously. It's wonderful to be able to try freshly roasted single origins from around the world, take part in cuppings, and write poetry over a cold drip that's been extracting for 8 to 10 hours.
But for god's sake, what is wrong with making the coffee HOT? I know that the coffee tastes better at a certain temperature and NO, when I ask for a hot coffee I do NOT mean I want it so scalding that it loses all flavour. But when I am increasingly paying up to $4 for a latte, I actually want to enjoy it. I would like to be able to sip it, rather than knock it back like a shot of vodka because if I don't it will be stone cold by the time I finish typing this sentence.
In certain establishments asking for a hot coffee is met with scorn. If you are talking to a barista who has taken to wearing a t-shirt bearing the chemical symbol for caffeine they are likely to inform you of the optimal temperature for serving coffee and then stare at you, forcing you into submission. To get your coffee hot you have to be strategic. I have started asking for my coffee "a bit hotter than normal" because if you come right out with it and ask for it hot the barista is likely to burn the milk just out of spite.
But generally, I end up bending the knee to the 21 year old barista who stares at me from high above with their advanced barista certificate in non-traditional brewing methods hanging from the wall. So after waiting ten minutes to order my coffee, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I don't ask for it hot, I just simply ask for a Strong Flat White and I ask in a perfectly pleasant voice. I sit down, wait ten minutes for the coffee to arrive, take a sip, and yes, it's lukewarm. The energy I would expel in taking the coffee back, the strong gesture in returning it, is often just too much for this people-pleaser to bear.
So I sit there, and stew (but only for a minute because that's how long it takes for me to finish my coffee). When I get up to leave I scrape my chair back in a final, childish act. I walk into the cool day outside, and scream to the world "Make my latte fucking HOT you prick!!".
David and Goliath Shady Oaks Trailer Park t-shirt, garment of Victoria Thaine, resident of many bedrooms and known to have lived on the floor for long periods of time. Died peacefully on the 13th May in Yarraville, Melbourne with family by her side, in fact, wearing her. She was bought in New York in early 2002 when $30 in American dollars for a t-shirt was actually pretty pricey. In the first days of her new life she had her first outing during the NYC protests against the invasion of Iraq, in the wake of September 11. As she settled in to life in Australia, Shady Oaks lived a colourful social life but partying took its toll. After years of abusing her body, a sudden physical change occurred. Shady Oaks got arrested for indecent exposure when a rather large rip exposed her owner's breast. After that her mental and physical health took a turn for the worse and while she made a few attempts to go outdoors, life was largely restricted to under the covers. The photo below is the last known public outing of Shady Oaks, and that's how she'd like to be remembered, when life was good and beer free flowing. Please note she has requested no flowers and funeral arrangements will be announced in later issue.