Newsletter 366

Published November 23, 2020
Hobbies & pastimes during lockdown

 COVID-19 has obliged us to reconsider many aspects of the world we live in, but some things make me feel as if I’m from another planet. Listening to Radio National I was struck by an interview with ‘Mickey’, a 32-year-old habitual drug user, who complained that the pandemic had interfered with her usual supply of meth and cocaine, meaning she had to fall back on pot, which she found a depressing alternative.

Mickey said that although she was “pleased to be forced off some drugs, she turned increasingly to cannabis”. Alas, the “negative effect” of marijuana was that it made her a lot less motivated to do anything after work, whereas her friends (in the drug-taking community) had developed hobbies such as crochet and cross-stitching. Mickey was puzzled why she hadn’t developed a passion for these other kinds of needles.

“It makes me feel a bit stuck. It seems that all I do is go to work and spend a lot of other time outside of work stoned, which is not the way I want to live my life,” she lamented.

“It’s certainly been challenging,” she said, “because coping with loneliness and isolation during lockdown, with no substances available to make loneliness more palatable, was definitely a bit of a slog. We drug-users use drugs for specific reasons and we would like people to have less stigma when talking about us.”

A few thoughts sprang to mind:

  1. Mickey is very lucky to have a job in the first place if she has been taking drugs on a daily basis for ten years. Many less fortunate people, without a habit, are out of employment altogether.
  2. Mickey only seems to be having her dark night of the soul (“It’s not how I want to live my life”) since her supply of meth, cocaine and psychedelics was turned off. With no pandemic would she simply carry on in the same congenial fashion?
  3. Mickey’s sole idea about how to cope with loneliness is to take “substances”. It’s seems she’s never heard of such desperate expedients as reading a book or watching TV.
  4. She mentions her “friends” then says she’s lonely. Is this because her friends now devote all the time they previously spent taking drugs to extreme sports such as crochet and cross-stitch? Are crochet and cross-stitch the new meth and cocaine? This puts quite another complexion on the quilters, whom I’ve always viewed as a fanatical subculture.

It reminds me a little of David Bromley, who led a wild, dissolute life as a young man before devoting all the energy previously expended on drugs and other self-destructive activities to pottery, and then to painting. The rest is history. I’m relieved nobody got David started on cross-stitch.

If Mickey feels there is “stigma” against habitual drug users, does this somehow excuse the user? Does it make them into a victim? As someone who’s never been the least bit attracted to drugs it’s very hard to understand the mentality that drives people who want to ‘get out of it’ at every opportunity. Is it especially satisfying to spend one’s life sitting around in a daze or babbling uncontrollably at parties? The Mickeys of this world are not criminals or damaged goods, but people who refuse to take responsibility for their lives. They normalise abhorrent behaviour, finding reasons such as “loneliness” to excuse a preference for mere self-indulgence.

Am I being wildly insensitive? I think it was when Mickey couldn’t understand why she wasn’t attracted to crochet and cross-stitch that I realised I wasn’t listening to a tragic victim of social stigma, but to a tragic nitwit.

Leaving the narcotic free-association aside, allow me to mention this week’s column, which is another round-the-galleries affair. It begins with Karl Wiebke at Liverpool Street Gallery, who gets all his narcotic needs from the most uncompromising forms of abstract painting. Every show by Wiebke is an event, and the seven works in this show are as dense and complex as anything he has ever produced.

Next up is another painstaking, but more playful exhibition by ceramic artist, Ebony Russell, at Artereal. In Sad Birthday, Russell is showing miserable faces, small twisty landscapes and two ‘useless’ vases, in an extended meditation on the aging process. It took an effort not to identify.

Finally a quick look at shows by Lea Ferris and Dave Teer at Defiance Gallery. Ferris’s Homage to the Reef, which has been ten years in the making, features detailed sculptures of coral made from coloured marbles. Upstairs, Teer has made a series of “monuments” to the recent bushfires, albeit in the most unconventional manner.

As a blog I’m also including a ‘first look’ piece on the National Gallery of Australia’s big show of modern Australian women’s art, Know My Name. If ever there was a time and a good excuse for holding such a conspicuously ‘virtuous’ exhibition, look no further than the COVID-19 crisis. As it is, the curators have exercised a lot of care and imagination on this survey which deserves to draw an audience.

This week’s film is David Byrne’s American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee. I’m a fan of Spike’s work but this event is all David Byrne: a brilliant concert with 11 musicians who never stand still, playing music that stretches from the first Talking Heads album of 1977 to the present day.

What sets David Byrne apart from the average muso is his wide-ranging intelligence. As I thought about the songs in this set and looked more closely at the lyrics, a vision of American society and culture took shape, all set to the most vibrant rhythms. Byrne is obviously a man who’s never considered the cross-stitch and crochet alternative.