I am the cockroach

This weekend, once again, I had a burst of determination. It happens every now and then, and goes like this: I’m going to find a part-time job writing, so that all the time I spend writing, instead of doing housework or paid work or interacting with my family members or socialising, is not just indulgent, time-wasting, anti-social and ultimately meaningless.

On most occasions, immediately following this decision, more hours of time are wasted in anti-social activity as I trawl through internet results gleaned from a search for “Writing Jobs.”

This exercise never fails to remind me precisely why I don’t work in copywriting, advertising or any other field where I could theoretically utilise my writing skills (such as they are) and write to a brief. It’s possible to stumble across hundreds of advertisements for writing jobs, but as soon as I start to read one and sense there would be expectations, limitations, permutations or combinations imposed on what I had to write, I disregard it as a possibility. Where’s the fun in writing restricted, claustrophobic, boring copy to someone else’s requirements? Yawn.

Nevertheless, tonight I wasted half an hour or so on searching yet again, in a naively deluded fantasy that there may be someone out there with a position for a writer with little-to-no published history, to write about whatever they feel like, on a weekly (or fortnightly, depending how I’m feeling) basis, no restrictions imposed.

I’d had no luck so far, and had even investigated page 2 and 3 of the search results. When I desperately clicked on to page 4, I came across the heading: Termite Specialist. We all know it can be easy to fall down an internet rabbit hole, so I checked the search terms – yes, I was still on the search results for “writing jobs.”

Well, as nothing better had been on offer on pages 1-3, I paused to consider this opportunity for a moment. I was intrigued to discover that a writing job for a termite specialist existed. Writing jobs for termite specialists must surely be few and far between. If you happened to be a termite specialist who had been longing to spend less time wearing head-to-toe extermination gear and more time writing a character portrait of those frisky little buggers, this job opportunity would surely be your dream job!

Judging by the title of the position, and the accompanying url, I could confidently rule out the possibility that a university science department was looking for an entomologist specialising in the life-cycle of the termite. It appeared that some commercial company had created an ongoing, (or perhaps fixed-term) role for a writer to write specifically, and exclusively, (with specialisation) about Termites.

It seemed feasible, after all, last time I conducted the same search, I found a legitimate, permanent ongoing role with a Bollard company, writing content for their e-news, which – I have to assume – is focussed on the topic of bollards, and probably called “What’s new in Bollards this week?”

So in light of that, it seemed only natural that there should also be an ongoing role writing content for a e-newsletter dedicated to termites. This seemed to me to have even more potential for creativity than writing a newsletter about bollards. After all, bollards are, let’s face it, inanimate objects, and don’t really do or say very much. I suspect I’d find it a challenge to come up with new material after a few weeks of writing about bollards, unless the Bollard company was open to my taking inspiration from Gogol’s short story, The Nose, and creating an ongoing series about a Bollard that runs away and becomes a bit uppity; starts to dress in designer gear, and worms its way into Melbourne’s upper classes, driving a huge 4-wheel drive, smoking cigars at the Men’s only club on Collins Street and sending its children to schools somewhere in the Kew/Toorak area.

Termites, however, are alive, and fairly active from all accounts. There must be something interesting to write about them, but the first question to ask was, what was the purpose of this writing to be? (I didn’t bother to click the link, preferring to speculate.)

Firstly, as any writer considering a commercial project would do, I considered the potential readership. Who, I wondered, was the audience for The Wandering Termite (the name I was tentatively considering for my new termite website/magazine/newsletter)? Was it yuppies who had purchased small Victorian weatherboard terraces in Richmond, only to find that their supporting beams are continuously being devoured by those pesky little critters? If it was, how much new information about termites did these people require on an ongoing basis, and what sort of information were they after? I suspected, rather grimly, they were probably looking for articles detailing the latest and most effective ways to exterminate them, rather than creative surreal short stories about a bunch of renegade termites taking over Question Time in State Parliament.

Next, I considered my eligibility for the job at hand. While it would be stretch to call myself a Termite Specialist, I have read Metamorphosis, and written a post about cockroaches before. That makes me almost an expert on cockroaches, and surely they are almost the same thing?

An artist's impression of a termite/cockroach. (To tell the truth, the artist is not sure which it's meant to be.)

An artist’s impression of a termite/cockroach. (To tell the truth, the artist is not sure which it’s meant to be.)

A moment after having that thought, I face-palmed myself as I realised that a true Termite Specialist would never think such a thing!

That would be like an Irish person saying that a Dutch Cream potato was pretty much the same as a Desiree – something that would never happen. In real life, an Irish person stopped my (Australian) sister in the supermarket in Dublin once to say incredulously, “Surely you’re not going to use those potatoes in that are you?” – indicating an understanding of the nuances of potatoes vastly superior to mine, or hers. As well as an admirably passionate desire to eliminate potential potato calamities, even at the cost of intervening in a stranger’s shopping.

Anyway, back to the Termites. I checked the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and found that in fact cockroaches and termites come from the same order of insects. The order is one with the lot, including a handful of termites and cockroaches, to go, thanks.

No seriously, according to Wikipedia, termites

 evolved from close ancestors of cockroaches during the Jurassic or Triassic.

I wasn’t too far wrong then. Termites and cockroaches are basically third cousins, with a great, great, great grandmother in common. Or something similar.

Wikipedia also informs me that there are about 3,106 species of termites who have been described, and a few hundred more still to be described.

Aha! Maybe this writing job is for someone to describe a few hundred more species of termites. Well that’s pretty easy.  Small, spindly, 6 legs, 2 little antennae, creepy little heads with no discernible eyes, icky whiteish color….there you go – there’s another one described already, (*description based on a picture on Wikipedia of the Formosan subterranean termite) – and that was for free!

Perhaps, I thought hopefully, the Termite Specialist is really a guerilla marketing tactic and the employer just wants someone to write an interesting, mildly amusing post on any topic the writer likes, creatively including mention of a termite in every post? If so, I’m the person for that job. I could apply for the Bollard job and do them simultaneously!

Just imagine the whacky adventures the termite and the bollard could have together. Especially if the bollard was made of wood. I’m laughing already.

*

 

*The title of this post is a song by Aussie punk/rock musician, Kim Salmon, about the inevitability that the cockroach, which has existed across millenia, will survive on earth after humans are long gone. Link to lyrics above.

 

I’m waiting for the band.

Name 3 musicians that I hope to see live some day? Well, I can easily name 2!

The first is Tom Waits. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever see him live, as apparently he doesn’t particularly like flying overseas (I’ve read the unauthorised biography!) But if he ever decided to make the effort to come to Australia – God, what a rush on tickets there would be from all those Aussie Tom Waits fans who’ve been hoping he’d make it out here some time!

Tom Waits

Tom Waits

Apart from the fact that I enjoy his music, I know that, like all truly legendary musicians, Waits would be fantastic to see live. People like Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, John Cale, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed – they don’t become legends for nothing. Becoming a legend requires character and personality as well as musical talent. When you are lucky enough to see artists like these live in concert, it’s not just the music you experience, it’s also the person behind the legend. Thus, their legend grows.

The second is PJ Harvey. Despite liking her music, I have not yet managed to see her live. Last time she came to Melbourne, Sonic Youth were playing on the very same night, with support from Kim Salmon, a Melbourne muso I admire. What kind of scheduling is that? Surely half of the 3RRR listening audience must have been in the same dilemma over who to go and see!

Pj Harvey

PJ Harvey

As it happens, I’d already seen Sonic Youth once before, and Kim Salmon countless times over the previous decade or so, so I preferred the idea of seeing PJ Harvey – but couldn’t get anyone to go with me. The friends who liked PJ Harvey were not available that night, and the brothers (# 1 and 2) who were PJ Harvey fans expressed disinterest on the grounds that they’d seen her before. However, Brother #3 (it can be handy to have a lot of siblings in these situations) is a huge Sonic Youth fan, so I decided to go with him and see Sonic Youth. I booked the tickets. Decision made.

Lo and behold, days later, brothers# 1 and 2 had a change of heart, got motivated, and booked themselves tickets to PJ Harvey! Not only that, but then Sonic Youth announced a second show, so those lacksadaisical brothers also booked tickets to that, and through their slackness, they got to see both concerts. How annoyed at them was I? Very!

But a third band/muso that I’m dying to see? I’m a bit stuck to think of one that’s still alive/together that I haven’t yet seen and am really dying to see. There are bands it would have been great to have seen before they split up, there are bands I had tickets to but didn’t get to for one reason or another, and there are bands that I’ve seen already that I’d happily see again….but I guess those are other stories, for other posts!

 

PS, once again this is a Plinky prompt, but the sharing function on Plinky just doesn’t seem to work any more.

Metamorphosis: harder than moving house? You be the judge.

It didn’t escape my knowledge, when writing a post about cockroaches and their rightful place in the annals of history, that those supposedly loathsome little critters have been the subject of more than one artist’s output. Not only has Melbourne musician Kim Salmon written a catchy little tune about the cockroach, but of course, more famously, German born writer, Franz Kafka wrote an upbeat little story about a man who changed into one.

Oh alright – I admit that Kafka’s story is about as upbeat as Salmon’s song is catchy. Nevertheless, both are pretty interesting pieces of art, in my opinion.

I remember when I read Metamorphosis. I read the entire book in one sitting.  Where I happened to be sitting at the time was on the floor of the new house that my partner and I had bought. I was alone, in the late afternoon, surrounded by boxes, with no furniture. It already felt kind of weird anyway, in a “twilight zone” kind of way – you know how it feels in a new house (which is actually an old falling-down house) when the furniture is not there yet? The house smells like the previous owners, and it’s all empty and echoey (and in this case, had way too many pink walls). It’s unnaturally quiet and there is nothing to distract you because there is no food to eat, no tv, and you forgot to bring over a radio. You don’t know any neighbours and the entire suburb is completely unfamiliar to you. Yep, it feels weird.

boxes

From boxes to....more boxes

Sitting there on the floor, I was supposed to be unpacking books and putting them away so that we could re-use the boxes to pack more stuff from our flat and move it to the house. Ho hum. Is there anything as tedious as packing up to move houses? Apart from maybe unpacking again at the new one? I hated doing it so much that sometimes I think I would have preferred to just chuck all my possessions away and stroll over the threshold and across the 80’s teal colored carpet in the lounge room unencumbered, and start accumulating junk again from there.

Anyway, clearly I was enthralled in the riveting task of pulling books out of boxes and placing them on shelves, when suddenly amongst the books, Metamorphosis caught my attention. It must have belonged to my partner, since I’d never read it. Being utterly bored, I opened it for a quick squiz….

*

Sometime later, I finished the book, and looked around me. Darkness had fallen while I’d been reading. The unfamiliar, too-quiet house now really did feel a little bit eerie. With a slightly guilty feeling, I stood up, stretched, locked up the house, and headed off to the train station. The whole afternoon had gone by and I hadn’t unpacked many books, but I had read Metamorphosis.

I recommend that you read it sometime, too.

metamorphosis - kafka

PS. Did you see the potential for twisting the end of this post into a nicely thematic link? I could have said that unpacking those boxes was the beginning of another metamorphosis, because the house slowly morphed into a dazzling new creature, with cream colored walls instead of cracked, pink ones, and polished floor boards instead of teal carpet, and ended up smelling like frangipani and sandalwood instead of like the previous owners. I could have said it, but it just didn’t feel like it suited a post about reading Metamorphosis. Plus that didn’t happen.

Forgotten, again. Poor cockroaches.

Any cockroach will tell you that it was inevitable. Being an arrogant human being, of course I would completely overlook cockroaches when I wrote my last post.

Of course, cockroaches can’t type, and if even they could, they don’t have little cockroach sized computers. Maybe we are lucky that they don’t, because otherwise they would no doubt write their own history of the universe and conveniently leave out humans, who, after all, have only popped up to annoy them in the last 100 thousand years – they’ve been around for more than 300 million years!

Cockroach costume

I knew she would forget about cockroaches! Aaaagh! I’m really f**ing annoyed!

For those who haven’t tried it out yet, my last post was an extensively researched history of the entire universe so far. It differed somewhat from Stephen Hawking’s attempt to do the same thing, by including literary references to help the literary minded reader put things into a familiar perspective, and by coming in at less than 700 words.

Unfortunately, however, my research assistant neglected to give me any information on the cockroach. It was only when watching Hungry Beast the other night that I was reminded that the cockroach has been on earth for over 300 million years, and immediately realised that this was a serious omission in my post on the history of the universe!

(To anyone who wishes to lodge a complaint at my omission, I can assure you that my research assistant has been severely reprimanded. As she is imaginary -and in keeping with the theme – I have threatened her with extinction if she doesn’t pick up her act.)

So anyway, apparently the cockroach should have been included a long way back on my time line, as apparently those pesky little buggers were scuttling around on Earth even before the dinosaur emerged. Dinosaurs of course were large, fearsome creatures, still admired by little boys all over the world, and their lives have been mythologised in thousands of stories and films, (none come to mind right now) –  yet they couldn’t even manage to make it through the ice-age/ asteroid impact/ volcanoes (the jury is still out on what caused them to disappear off the face of the earth)! Cockroaches, meanwhile, are tiny, ugly, infamous, unloved, held in contempt and considered as vermin, yet they scuttled their way right through the ice age with barely a shiver, thought the asteroid impact made a nice fireworks display, and found the volcanoes to be a cosy spot for holidaying. Hundreds of millions of years later, they are still zipping jauntily across our kitchen floors in much the same form they took 300 million years ago!

Obviously, like jellyfish and  some of those other weird deep sea creatures I mentioned in an earlier post (for this very reason) cockroaches also got it right way back at the start of their evolution. Unlike humans, they had no need to continue to evolve just so that they could develop thumbs, lose excess body hair, express themselves in crude wall drawings, learn to cook, ponder the meaning of life, develop the internet, and finally culminate their evolutionary sophistication by being able to simultaneously write a blog while making a playlist on itunes. They were already right where they needed to be.

When I think of cockroaches like this – a creature that connects us with some primordial past that goes back hundreds of millions of years before humans existed, they suddenly gain some extra kudos, although even so, I am still not keen to accidentally put my hand on one when I’m looking for the vegemite.

Fake cockroach

Just to make it up to cockroaches, I thought I would attempt to transcribe the words from a song by Melbourne musician Kim Salmon, who obviously had a similar revelation about cockroaches. It’s hard to find the lyrics to his songs anywhere so this is my interpretation. Salmon envisions cockroaches surviving on Earth long after humans are gone. As do scientists, according to that report on Hungry Beast. Apparently scientists are thinking about turning cockroaches into human time capsules via genetic coding. That would be a weird twist in the evolutionary graph, for sure! Humans recognise that cockroaches are superior, in an evolutionary sense, so we  inprint our genetic coding onto them, so that when we are extinct, some other creature might be able to turn to cockroaches to find out all about our history.

But what if the only creatures left are cockroaches, who is going to be interested in the information?

*

Cockroach (Kim Salmon and the Surrealists)

Nature has provided

Nature has provided some people

they did my cooking

they built me a home

I might not like their cooking at first but I can learn how to eat it

Cos when they get round to poisoning each other I’ll have this whole place to myself

and I’ll have learned how to live in it, when no one else can

I’ll have this whole place to myself

because I am the cockroach

I am the cockroach

you can look up to heaven

you can look for a sign

you can look where you like 

but I’m the ultimate design

I’m what he had on his mind

I’m the best that you’ll find

I am the ultimate design

I am the cockroach

I am the cockroach

I’m the natural conclusion of God’s evolution and it follows that I’m what he planned

You fools! you don’t realise

this planet wasn’t meant to be manned

I’m what he had on his mind, I’m the best that you’ll find

I am the ultimate design because 

I am the cockroach

I am the cockroach

*

cockroach repellent

%d bloggers like this: