Internet
January 1, 2000
Vapourware
Richmond, Australia
by Greg Hills
Editorial
I know that Helnwein has been there
Around the man is a nondescript city street, the background fading into a pinkish smog-coloured haze. Cars and trucks bustle around on their own business, oblivious. Apart from the man only the puddle he is wading through and a coarse concrete traffic island with its filthy iron fence are detailed, and these are depicted with precision and realism. The pocks of the rain in the puddle, the wake left by the man _ these are picked out with a clarity which tells me Helnwein is working from personal experience. Where the concrete of the island meets that of the gutter can be seen the stuttered seam left by a hurried or careless worker. The fence is black and uncompromising, a grim barrier between the man and whatever he is gazing at. I know that Helnwein has been there _ for I have been there too, and that which is sharpest in his painting is that which is sharpest in my memory. The elements that comprise the picture are ugly and brutal; there is no grace anywhere in it. Yet from these components Helnwein has built beauty, and truth, and has incorporated hope into the midst of futility. The picture has grace.
Then there is the poster. It is a framed print of a painting by someone called Helnwein. I don't know who Helnwein is, nor much care, and if it wasn't prominently entitled `JAMES DEAN _ Painted by Helnwein _ Boulevard of Broken Dreams', I wouldn't have recognised the man depicted. The man's identity is almost incidental, a poignant clue to Helnwein's true message. Nevertheless the poster is important to me, and when someone starts trying to tell me what I think or who I am I have sometimes amused myself by challenging them to tell me what I see in the picture. To date they have all failed.
The painting is dominated by a man in a heavy cloth greatcoat. His shoulders are hunched and his head protrudes grudgingly into the rain. A cigarette dangles from his mouth. Face and forehead are etched by lines of weariness and defeat which James Dean never grew old enough to develop. He gazes from beneath his brow at something or someone out of the picture at viewer's right, his expression that slightly incredulous, more than slightly cynical expression people wear when watching someone who is too deeply immersed in life's immediacy to realise how silly they look. The man is scaled such that he dominates the picture without filling it.
Around the man is a nondescript city street, the background fading into a pinkish smog-coloured haze. Cars and trucks bustle around on their own business, oblivious. Apart from the man only the puddle he is wading through and a coarse concrete traffic island with its filthy iron fence are detailed, and these are depicted with precision and realism. The pocks of the rain in the puddle, the wake left by the man _ these are picked out with a clarity which tells me Helnwein is working from personal experience. Where the concrete of the island meets that of the gutter can be seen the stuttered seam left by a hurried or careless worker. The fence is black and uncompromising, a grim barrier between the man and whatever he is gazing at. I know that Helnwein has been there _ for I have been there too, and that which is sharpest in his painting is that which is sharpest in my memory.
The elements that comprise the picture are ugly and brutal; there is no grace anywhere in it. Yet from these components Helnwein has built beauty, and truth, and has incorporated hope into the midst of futility. The picture has grace.
Whenever life seems most bitter or useless, I find comfort in this picture. Dismal as my circumstances may seem, I am better off than the man in the picture _ for I am alive, and while that is true then by perseverance I may occasionally bring one dream or another to life. This can never happen for James Dean, though his talents, dreams, and achievements far overshadow mine, for he is dead.
According to the cult dominant in those portions of the world in which I was raised, the deity-ordained span of a human life is `three score years and ten'. I am now 35, and in a few months I shall be 36. By this reckoning, half my lifetime is sped _ making me quite literally middle-aged.
Of course, the average age at death for men in both my native and my adopted countries is well above the ordained span, and while my ancestors are not notably long-lived they have, despite all the disorders that afflicted them, generally lasted some way into their eighth decade. Even aside from this, I have only vague and fragmented recollections of my life from before the age of five. My first day of school seems to have been the spark that finally lit the streetlamps of memory. Barring a similar darkness in my old age, then, I have yet to reach the midpoint of my life's journey.
I realise that similar arguments might be contrived no matter what my age _ after all, until I left home at eighteen to attend university in a distant city, my personality was constrained by the proximity of adults who had known me through my childhood. I quite well remember being that child, but he was not me. We share name, heredity, and a common set of early memories; no more. That pushes the midpoint of my life beyond the year 2001 _ by which reckoning I shall enter the new millennium with half my adult life still before me.
The child me could never make up his mind `what he wanted to be'. The Protestant work ethic was strong in my family, so there was no doubt that I should want to work; what was lacking was a vocation. At various times I was going to be an astronomer (lacked the mathematical aptitude), a librarian (lacked the dedication), an astronaut (yeah, well) and so on. None of the available options really grabbed me. Those who followed my long self-involved ramblings through the `History' section of Secant should have noted my fascination with strange forms of employment. Of them all, only managing a Youth Hostel gave me any satisfaction _ and that was of a type I was and am still too young to stick with.
I drifted, working for money and taking my satisfaction from my hobbies _ science fiction and amateur publishing. Lacking a better goal I thought I might become a writer, but I lack the peculiar form of self-discipline required to succeed at that professionally, no matter that I have the writing bug and must needs write something every so often to quell the withdrawal symptoms.
In recent years I have found my vocation, and now I know at last why I could never make up my mind before. I could never choose my vocation for the simple reason that it did not exist! The first generally-affordable micro-computers only reached New Zealand in 1977/78, and they were neither good enough tools nor did I have enough to do with them to recognise a calling. Mainframe computers hold less interest for me than personal computers, though I was given a clue to my true affinity in 1977 and 1978 when the university computer club practically took over an IBM 1130 mainframe. The computer and its peripheral extensions may have filled a room but in user terms it was a personal computer, and though the device that now squats beside my desk far surpasses it in practically every respect of speed, memory, and power, it had the capacity (had I known I might want it) to perform the tasks I expect from today's PC.
My vocation? PC support, with particular reference to desk top publishing. The desk top publishing came from fanac; the affinity with the PC is innate. I like to think that if PCs had been around when I was at school, or if I was at school now, I would have no doubt as to what I want to be when I grow up.
In fact I never have really `grown up' _ not mentally _ probably in good part because I didn't know what I wanted to do when I did `grow up'. Now I have a new measure for my lifetime _ counting the last five years either as the first five years of vocational training or the first five years of my real vocation. By that count I'll be fifty or even sixty before I reach `middle age', no matter what my body says.
My, I feel younger already! <
Greg Hills, 5nov93
Vapouware
Front cover
Vapourware
Explorations in
Virtual Fanac
is edited and published by Greg Hills
PO Box 428
Richmond 3121
AUSTRALIA
Copyright c 1993 by Greg Hill




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