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Without Baggage - Sloan James

 There is something to be said for peace. Harmony; always such an evasive little bastard. Too big for one person. It sticks in the throat or backs up your bowels. In some manner you are constipated by the efficiency of worldly connectivity. Things are cheap or things are old and stale.

The airport felt like they usually do. The feeling of getting away, of going away, seeps into the skin and the blood and the mind goes wild. Before you know it, you’ve downed a full and non-repressed Xanax brick and a three quarter tab of buprenorphine before reaching security. The paranoia of sniffer dogs at your bags and pockets. The ques. The time. Always the time. The gate number. The flight number. The baggage, to check or not check? Oh, the bag’s too big? check it in at $70 like a fool. Legs sway you through security swipings and beepings. Adult sized x-rays like idiotic toys and stupid serious morons in funny uniforms who are this country’s last line of defence against TERRORISM and DRUGS. Your legs bowing and disbalanced like when they listen to Duke Ellington in Gondry’s Mood Indigo. You glide onward as though you’re already on the flat escalator belts on the other side, seamlessly moving without bones or fibres from gate to gate with dumb luggage. The whole thing is being on one of those in auto-pilot. And then memory vanishes and you’re at a bar and drinking before you board and you don’t recall that. And you don’t recall ordering drinks and taking photos on your phone of yourself wearing sunglasses and a HURTSVILLE long-sleeve in the plane bathroom in front of the grimy mirror. You don’t recall what chapters of the book your bookmark indicates that you managed to hazily thumb over, eyes bouncing over words like karaoke. You don’t remember how loud you were ordering Chivas and Furphy’s with your little plastic shelf down. A phone photo tells you, you mixed the furphy with Pepsi, they must have been out of coke, but why’d you mix it anyway? Your book is full of nonsense ramblings and pen squiggles. Little pictures of nothing. Strange phrases seeped in egoisms. Thin lines attempting to etch words like, “best friends” and “friendship” and “know certain what book will be about – old friends”. Spotify tells you, you were attempting to listen to Sun Ra, but you don’t recall. And the layover is on the phone too, not in the head. The vacation has started from the body and the mind, but not quite for the soul. For the soul it is the opposite. The soul gets to swim through changeover airlines but the soul doesn’t know how to look at the clock or the gate number. The soul doesn’t know how to get anywhere because it can’t get through to the brain. The brain is vacated. And there’s pictures of things that say “egg” and there’s a video of buying a carton of Camel Blues. And there’s a repeating mantra that somehow lingers on the tongue when you do come to – “beer and a cigarette. I just want a beer and a cigarette.” The mantra keeps you from the connecting flight along with the drugs that are still the only tether your soul has to the exterior world. A thin frayed silver string at best. Naturally, the flight is missed and Karn blames an imagined Jetstar employee a hundred meters down the way camouflaged by the queer Singaporean carpet. His giant size and bloodshot eyes scare the staff enough to grant us a free flight, but tomorrow on the next airbus to Phuket.

Now coming out of the getaway rush. Now the daze is fading in to touch and reality and something that can be retained in memory after hours and hours of disappearance. A hotel is booked after many being full and a taxi isn’t recalled too well and the night search for beer is remembered now and the night search for food. And the night sleep heavy in the same room and a conversation with a Netball coach by the smoking bin out front of the Singapore hotel. And still, and yet, despite, there is no feeling of worry. One could suppose it’s the Xanax. But Xanax isn’t in the soul. It was the feeling of escape that quelled any concern and when we arrived in Phuket, after you’ve done all the drugs and drinks that a flight pleads for and the hostesses stress over, your luggage is of course lost and you are stranded in the long-sleeve HURTSVILLE shirt for the next week.

The first evening you are calm and eager to drink. You sweat in one pair of clothes and walk through markets leaping over puddles looking for a pair of women’s pants that you eventually find. You wear them to a weed shop and watch Karn’s face beam with joy as he sniffs every Kush behind the counter. Then you wear them to a bar and then another bar and then you walk back to the hotel in rain heavy as led. It’s past 1am and the streets are flooded the colour of cold black tea but smell very differently. You take off your shoes and roll up your new second hand women’s pants and wade to cover with one question, “is this a thing?”. The same street you walked down a few hours ago was barely wet. It is now two feet deep. Google says the rain experienced in Phuket is the heaviest experienced in decades but of no concern. You sleep and drink and smoke semi-legal weed and dart in and out of pharmacies for Valium, Codeine and Tramadol for three days until the airport bags are found and flown to where you will later be in peace and harmony in Lamai. 

When you badge yourself with writer, you are aware of the weight and the coolness against your skin. You’re aware that the colours in the sky and the dilapidation of the buildings or the ornate designs on walls and ceiling and smells of feet and temples and petrol fumes in small streets and murky green shit in waterways and floating Evian bottles and voices pitched low and high become residual. You’ve decided for them to leave a mark unusual. You’ve decided to switch on your automatic sifting system. You are in a state of magnetic intuition. As events come and unfold and you traverse the frequency of them and meddle with them in little tinkering ways. Your name becomes something more than the thing you respond to. It is cast out to the world, albeit a miniature world, a pond you might say, that you’re fishing in. The great fish is whatever it is to you. Write and it better be good. It better satiate the tummy tum and the mushy throbbing brain. You better get some tingles and offer up a glass of water and a shot of tequila to those who come inside to watch you scrape away the scales. This fish can nourish you for a lifetime if you treat it properly. And it can nourish others beyond fathom, if you treat it very very well. 

This does not mean being necessarily careful, no, it means being a just a fisherman and nothing more. The anxiety can become immense and near crippling. In work that taps against the window pane of the soul, you’re bound to, at the very least, glance at the shadows moving around worried indoors. Anxiety is not a frequent companion. But when you’ve decided that you are going fishing and you’ve no idea for what, something happens. And this is the context I am finding myself in. It is ingrained in the style.

The world is jazz and I thank Kerouac for that. I don’t need to be talking jazz to approach my work as jazz, on stage, with smoke in my eye and a drink spilled beside my shoe. Flying into Lamai, it all feels as though the groove has caught us. The beat is in the air, down the roads, dripping down our forehead. There’s a full moon party not 20 minutes drive from our villa, yeah a villa. Here you can afford a villa overlooking the Andaman sea, the parent to liberty and cemented love, the parent to mistakes and cleansing, the parent to life-long memory. Well, needless to say, though I am saying, we will not be attending that monstrosity. Maybe if I was with Darren or Kial we’d stick our noses in and see what depraved and audacious patheticisms the tourists primarily Australian and bri’ish are up to. I imagine the wave of promiscuous fat hornets more enveloping and omniscient with STI’s than the Andaman is of waves itself. The plans are simple. Rent scooters, bikes, mopeds whatever, and cruise and drink and smoke some dope. Sit on the beach, lay on the beach, swim in the beach. Drink by the beach eat by the beach and talk endlessly and effortlessly by the beach. 

And that’s what happens. My nerve switches off. The desire to note everything and file it away for easy instantaneous access. The necessity to link, link, link shit in my visual cortex and whatever plumpy matter is coerced with feelings and narrative is finally and gradually released as carless ether. The gassed up throttle that overtakes the pursuant. The driver. The detective. The chaser. Like a Bourne movie the brain rattles through a universe of different conversations, bodily movements, spiritual twists and forks and splits and divides and brick fences and leaps over shit in the street and climbs ladders up city apartments and leaps through windows and scales walls and sprints across roof tops crossing rooftop to other rooftop, sprints down subways or whatever the Australian thing of that is, Melb Centch? Whatever eat a dick. Riding on the roof of trains and getting crushed between them and running upstairs and smashing car windows and hot wiring the car and hand brake turning into intersections where fucktards back home are shuddering at doing a hook-turn. There’s chasing the thing to the end of a pier and driving off with you both escaping through the window as the cars crash into the water and you swim up to the thing and you grab it by the neck and you stuff it into your book. Found one thing. Found one character. Found one idea. And then you see another idea float under the water and you have to hold your breath for 8 minutes diving after it and it’s the same exhausting shit all over again.

Idea not idea. Because it is not your own. It is a lived thing. It is noticing something unfold and believing that it will lead you to more. You didn’t think of it. You just noticed it. And wondered if it might be something and then you stick to it and you follow it as far as you can go. The idea is as much being there with the story as it is the story itself. There is no discernible difference. The idea is a hunch and a push and kind of like being aware that as soon as you got home it stopped raining outside. But the brilliance of idea is that it will always be written down. It yearns to live as through an individual. It wants to be passed on through the subjectivity. It becomes story. And it can feel like a state of absolute mania before it is. It’s longing and electricity makes you a fucking eel that’s shocking itself. Like a fly in a bag of cocaine. 

The mania disappears. You’re floating in the pool. You hear the heavy blue water stretching itself over the ledge and splashing into a million self/non-selfs against the rocks. You’re wearing sunglasses and your skin is hot and your body is weightless and the water laps over the ledge splashing into a million self/non-selfs against the rocks. And the water is cool and you feel like a cigarette. Listening to Sun Ra.

No lighting both ends of the candle and throwing a hand grenade at it. You’ve not had peace in such a long time. You forget that it’s not merely a concept, but feeling. You forget that you don’t have to do anything except swim and drink and smoke a joint if you feel like it, and talk to Karn. You forget that you can eat rice and vegies and ride around in the rain at 2am with one eye open burping up whisky. Nobody gives half a fuck. You give less. You’re allowed to give less. When my baggage was finally picked up by a taxi and dropped at the villa I’d gone through the process of losing my own. You owe yourself a paradise. And paradise does exist and you can just go there.

For two weeks Karn and I do whatever we feel like doing. We don’t do much at all. I’d forgotten a lot of things. I’d forgotten that I am alive outside of words. That I do not have to be an embellished solipsistic eclipse of my silly human form. I’m just whatever. And I can come home with a sunburn and another tramadol addiction. That’s fine. That’s all I need.

Written by Sloan James


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