Nobody Knows

Self Portrait in Black and White

Nobody knows the world is ending
Nobody knows we’re all alone
Nobody knows how we got here
Nobody knows the way back home

Nobody knows the pain you live with
Nobody knows the masks you wear
Nobody knows the promises you’ve broken
Nobody knows the scars you bear

Did you think love would save you?
Did you think everything would just work out?
Don’t you know life’s not like that?
Don’t you know what it was all about?

Nobody knows if Jesus is coming
Nobody knows if God is dead
Nobody knows the clock is ticking
Nobody knows the end is up ahead

Nobody knows what it has cost you
Nobody knows the lies you tell
Nobody knows how hard it is to keep going
Nobody knows how far you fell

Did you think you would find forgiveness?
Did you think you would explain it all away?
Don’t you know some things can’t be forgiven?
Don’t you know there’s nothing you can say?

Nobody knows the war is coming
Nobody knows it’s already too late
Nobody knows the game is over
Nobody knows how to change their fate

Nobody knows the prayers you whisper
Nobody knows the secrets you keep
Nobody knows everything you’ve lost
Nobody knows why you weep

Did you think it was going to be easy?
Did you think you would just start again?
Don’t you know your sins have to be paid for?
Don’t you know there was a price, even then?

Nobody knows how the inmates took over
Nobody knows who’s running the show
Nobody knows who’s going to save us
Nobody knows how the future will go

Nobody knows why I still love you
Nobody knows why I hate you too
Nobody knows why it’s so hard to forgive you
Nobody knows what I’ve been through

Nobody knows, no nobody knows

Photo: Self-Portrait in Black and White © CJ Levinson 2016
Poem licenced under Creative Commons

Dusk Silhouettes

Moments fade quickly
There is only how you live
And the way you love

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago now. I had thought I’d shared it after I took it but I just noticed that I didn’t. Oops! I guess I’m getting forgetful in my old age. In any case I really like the photo so I thought I’d share it now anyway.

I had popped down to the lake to shoot the sunset and I’d been down there for a while without getting anything interesting… it was one of those lovely days that you hope will end in a beautiful sunset but ends up being a bit of a fizzer unfortunately.

But just as dusk settled and I was about to give up, the light changed and this beautiful band of yellow light spread across the horizon – the day’s dying rays.

So I started setting up my tripod to capture the scene, fiddled with the composition, and then… just as everything was finally ready and I was about to take the shot… a mother and her son walked into the frame and started fishing!

I know there’s not much you can do when something like that happens – it’s just bad timing and it is a public area, after all – but honestly at the time I couldn’t help but feel a little pissed. I thought I’d lined up the perfect shot, only for someone to walk right into it. Plus I was there first and it was obvious what I was doing – couldn’t they have waited? I only needed a few seconds!

I grumbled a bit to myself under my breath and wondered what to do… I still had a shot lined up but usually I don’t like taking photos that have children in them without permission, particularly if it might show their faces (occasionally I will with street photography when they walk into a scene but again I try not to show faces). But the mother looked over at me and sort of smiled and nodded at me so I took that as permission and took a couple of shots.

It was actually nice watching them fish through the lens, they were laughing and having fun and I felt guilty for feeling a bit annoyed before. So I took the shots and then left them to their fishing and headed home.

When I got back I loaded the photos to have a quick look and this one immediately jumped out at me. The dying light and the colours and the water were beautiful, but it was the human element that really jumped out at me; the emotion, obvious even in simple silhouettes. And ironically, after all the fuss, I think it is that element that helps to make it a far stronger image than if they hadn’t been in it at all.

My only regret now is that I hadn’t thought to offer them a card, I thought afterward that they might like to see it. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Photos and haiku © CJ Levinson 2017

Sitting by the Window

CJ by the Window

Each morning
I look in the mirror
And fix my mask
To face the day

I took this photo yesterday. I wanted a photo for a new profile pic for my social media sites and possibly for an about the author photo. I’d been meaning to practise taking more self-portraits as well (mainly to experiment on myself first so I can feel more comfortable directing lighting and poses) so I thought this would be a good start too.

I’m usually quite difficult to photograph so this is quite a good one for me. Most photos of me come out looking a little strained and flat. The reason is because it’s quite hard to capture a posed photo of someone when they’re in pain a lot of the time; sitting still and holding a pose is difficult and I usually look better in more spontaneous photos. They tend to capture the real me, not the me hiding his face behind a mask.

I think we all wear masks in life; there is the real us and then there is the persona we want others to see, the mask we wear to project an image we find desirable. I find with chronic pain that is doubly true as I don’t want people to see I’m in pain and so I have a carefully created mask I wear that I only take off when I’m alone or with very close family and friends. It helps to hold me together in public and let me function when the pain is awful and for me, my smile and my sense of humour are my mask. They help deflect questions and attention and tell people I’m okay.

The haiqua above is very much a reflection of my daily routine; before I go out or see someone, I always look at myself in the mirror and make sure my mask is in place. Sometimes it is harder than others depending on how much pain I am in or how tired I am but I never go out without practising a smile and making sure it is in place.

Ironically though that mask usually tends to fail with posed portraits like this. I can’t sit still and hold a pose for long very easily and trying to hold a smile in place tends to end up looking rather strained or flat in the photo. That’s why I quite like this photo as it doesn’t have that look and for once I got it without having to take a few dozens photos to capture it. That could have been luck or maybe it’s that I’m now starting to understand more about posing and so I’m starting to get better at capturing the real me sooner.

I could have done more with it; some gentle lighting across my face would have softened my face and removed some of the shadows under my eyes and a flash might have created a little more separation. But to be honest I didn’t want to do any of that. This is close to the real me and the real me usually does have those flaws and shadows from being tired and in pain. If the goal was to try to capture the real me then removing those wouldn’t be an accurate representation.

I also like that there isn’t too much separation and you can see the photo frames and some of my books etc properly. They’re a part of my life and I wanted to show that too and make it more of an environmental portrait.

CJ by the Window 2

I took this photo at the same time and converted it to black and white in Lightroom afterward. I like it as well, particularly the black tones, but you can probably see my expression is a little more strained in it. I thought it was a useful comparison anyway.

Photos and Haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

The Empty Bench

The Empty Bench

I am like
This empty bench:
Worn, faded,
I sit and watch the world turn

This is a photo from my archives. I’ve not been able to get much further with my writing or take many photos recently, so I thought I’d take the chance to post this photo in the meantime as it’s one of my favourites and I don’t think many people have seen it before.

It’s of an empty bench near a small lake in Sydney’s Centennial Park and I took it almost two years ago now, just after I’d bought my first SLR and was going on a photo walk to try it out. The original photo was just a simple landscape shot and I was quite happy with how it turned out but on a whim I decided to come back to the photo again about a year later and I thought about how I could re-imagine it differently. The kind of stark, minimalistic feel of the photo inspired me to re-edit it more like a painting and this was the result.

I really like it and it’s definitely one of my favourite images. What I find really interesting though is how it shows that the process of editing never stops; you might think you’re done but every now and then it’s worth going back and looking at old images with fresh eyes because you never know, something new might emerge that you just couldn’t imagine before. I find the same is often true with my stories as well; I’ll often rework ideas from past abandoned stories into new ones and in ways I never would have imagined before. I guess it’s all part of honing your skills.

If you’re wondering where the haiqua came from as well, I’ve had a lot on my mind these last few weeks, so the haiqua is a bit of a reflection of that. I’ve always found that writing helps a little and while it is sad, it’s not meant to be particularly depressing; the world turns and the sun sets and rises each day, and life goes on. That’s what I take from the haiqua – that no matter how hard things get, the sun will always rise again tomorrow.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2011-13
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Summer Sunset

Summer Sunset

A summer sunset
A moment of pure beauty
In an ugly world

I took this photo this evening from our balcony, just as the sun began to set. It was a spectacular sunset, with the entire sky seeming to catch fire for many minutes, before gradually fading away.

After receiving some upsetting news today, it was nice to end the day with a sight of such beauty and grace. It’s a reminder that, even in your darkest moments, beauty is never that far away. The world really can take your breath away sometimes.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2013

Blue Motorcycle

Blue Motorcycle

Dirty Streets
Whisper my name
Fill me with longing
To find my way home

I took this photo last week. I saw the motorcycle out of the corner of my eye and took a quick photo without really thinking about it at the time but looking at it now, I find the contrast interesting, the shiny bike propped up against the run-down garage and street.

What you can’t see in the photo is that the entire street was in a similar state; most of the houses looked slightly rundown, with paint peeling and tiles missing and overgrown gardens – but they all had expensive cars in their driveways and satellite TV. I guess having a car and staying connected is more important for many people these days than if a house needs new paint, particularly in the current economy.

I thought it seemed like an apt analogy for the world at the moment. I wonder how many other streets and houses are like this around the world… probably too many to really comprehend, sadly.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2011

Where the Dead Rest

Waverley Cemetery

Marble tombs
Forgotten by the world:
Where the dead rest
Forevermore

Went to Gosford yesterday to look at a few houses to rent (no luck unfortunately). It was a long drive and on the way back I went for a short walk around Bronte to stretch my legs. I took this photo outside Waverley Cemetery, just before sunset.

The cemetery opened in 1877 and is one of the most historic sites in Sydney. It’s a lovely spot on the top of cliffs overlooking the ocean and many notable people are buried there, including poet Henry Lawson and Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister.

I’ve walked around the cemetery before but for some reason the condition of many of the graves seemed to jump out at me yesterday. The cemetery is well cared for but many of the graves are so old now that they’re almost impossible to read and walking by, I kept wondering who they were, what lives they had lived – if they were remembered. I guess we’ll never know.

It makes me wonder how we’ll be remembered, in 140 years.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2011

Songs of the 00s

Have you seen this video? It was recorded in 2005 at New York University’s annual talent competition, Ultraviolet Live. It’s sung by a young woman called Stefani Germanotta. Or, as she’s now known, Lady Gaga.

Hard to recognise her, isn’t it? It’s a good performance, notably without any of the histrionics she’s become known for. She just sings and it’s the first time I’ve been able to hear her voice before, without the autotuning or other effects.

I’m not a big fan of Gaga or of mainstream pop but some of her songs are catchy. This Gaga, though, I like. If you compare it to her latest single, Bad Romance, it’s hard to believe it’s the same singer.

Watching it, it makes me wonder if the only way artists can become successful these days is through these constructs… if music is so much about personality and persona and controversy now that a good voice just isn’t enough.

I think Gaga is a good representation of music in the 00s. Music has changed so much in the last 10 years. Like Gaga it’s become a mix of styles, autotuned, over-sexed and notable as much for controversy as talent. But there’s been a lot of good music that has continued to push the boundaries as well.

I listen to a lot of music, particularly while I’m writing, and it’s been interesting watching how music has evolved through the decade. There’s really been no one theme to the 00s; it’s been a mix of styles – hip hop, R&B, chillout, dance – and I think that reflects how our attitude towards music and the industry has changed as well.

For me, and I imagine many people, the iPod has become synonymous with the 00s. It’s changed the way we listen to music. But the biggest impact on the industry this decade has been online. Illegal downloads have taken a huge chunk out of the industry and when you consider the influence of sites like YouTube and MySpace as well, you can see how much of an impact the net has had on the 00s.

Personally I think it’s been an interesting decade for music but not a particularly good one. As the decade’s gone by a lot of music has become sterile and repetitive and my taste in music has shifted more towards alternative artists these days. Perhaps I’ve just grown up. But there’s still been a lot of good music in the 00s as well. Protest songs, dance music, and just good pop that gets in your head without your even realising it.

As my last post looked back at my favourite books of the 00s, I thought it’d be fun to list my favourite songs of the 00s as well. To give a bit of a sense of my musical tastes and what I’ve been listening to while I write. So this is a list of my top 30 songs from the 00s, with links to their videos as well.

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know which ones you like (or hate). What are your favourite songs of the 00s?

  • 30) Thank You (2001)
    Dido

    A beautiful song with Dido’s gentle voice. Was everywhere in 2001.
  • 29) Straight Lines (2007)
    Silverchair

    Silverchair’s return after a four year hiatus. Alternative rock at its best.
  • 28) Anyone Else But You (2001)
    The Moldy Peaches

    Best known from the film Juno. Deceptively simple and catchy.
  • 27) Young Folks (2006)
    Peter Bjorn And John

    A charming song with dreamlike tones. It’s become an anthem for Gen Y.
  • 26) Don’t Stop the Music (2007)
    Rihanna

    Rihanna’s transition from pop to dance. Catchy with a great beat.
  • 25) Dear Mr. President (2006)
    P!nk

    A letter to George Bush. One of the best protest songs of the 00s.
  • 24) Cry Me a River (2002)
    Justin Timberlake

    Catchy R&B/pop as Timberlake responds to his split with Britney Spears.
  • 23) It’s My Life (2000)
    Bon Jovi

    A lively, affirming rock song. One of the great anthems of the 00s.
  • 22) The Rising (2002)
    Bruce Springsteen

    Powerful reflection on 9/11. One of Springsteen’s greatest songs.
  • 21) My People (2007)
    The Presets

    An angry electropunk/synthpop hybrid, with an incredible clip.

  • 20) Hey Ya! (2003)
    Outkast

    A rousing mix of funk and hip hop, with one of the best clips of the 00s.
  • 19) Fallin’ (2001)
    Alicia Keys

    An R&B/soul powerhouse with a brilliant vocal. Dominated the charts.
  • 18) One More Time (2000)
    Daft Punk

    One of the first innovative uses of autotune. Very catchy.
  • 17) Idioteque (2000)
    Radiohead

    One of Radiohead’s greatest and most experimental songs.
  • 16) The Blower’s Daughter (2004)
    Damien Rice

    Haunting ballad with an incredible refrain. Featured in the film Closer.
  • 15) Falling Slowly (2006)
    Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

    A beautiful love song written for the film Once. Won an Oscar in 2008.
  • 14) Steer (2007)
    Missy Higgins

    A bubbly, effervescent pop song. Catchy and infectious.
  • 12) Gather to the Chapel (2007)
    Liam Finn

    Beautiful song about saying goodbye. Inspired by Paul Hester.
  • 11) Beautiful Day (2000)
    U2

    One of U2’s most anthemic rock songs. Perfect for the new millennium.

  • 10) Where Is the Love? (2003)
    The Black Eyed Peas

    Angry anti-war anthem. The Black Eyed Peas’ breakthrough single.
  • 9) On a Night like This (2000)
    Kylie Minogue

    A seductive pop song that came to represent the Sydney Olympics.
  • 8) Explain (2006)
    Sarah Blasko

    Haunting ballad set to Blasko’s raspy voice, with a beautiful clip.
  • 7) How Far We’ve Come (2007)
    Matchbox Twenty

    Rousing anthem for global warming with a catchy chorus.
  • 6) Seven Nation Army (2003)
    The White Stripes

    One of the best rock songs of the 00s, with an incredible riff and clip.
  • 5) The Scientist (2002)
    Coldplay

    A beautiful piano ballad, driven by Chris Martin’s gentle falsetto.
  • 2) 1234 (2007)
    Feist

    Brilliantly simple, catchy pop song that became the face of the iPod.
  • 1) Crazy (2006)
    Gnarls Barkley

    Refreshing mix of R&B and soul. Sounded like nothing else this decade.

Dreams

Fields

Do you ever have strange dreams? The kind that seem so real when you’re asleep but when you wake up, they make no sense? I’ve had a few; being chased by wild animals, finding myself in a different body…. they can be quite scary sometimes.

The strangest dream I’ve had involved clowns. I’ve never liked clowns. When I was a child I used to think they were evil… something about the way they could all fit into one car really freaked me out. In my dream I was standing in a field surrounded by clowns. There were dozens of them all moving in sync; they’d take several steps, stop and harvest the corn, then move on. They’d do it again and again, not knowing I was there. It was all so eerie, so quiet…

When I woke up I remember lying there, trying to work out what I’d seen. But it made no sense! Were the clowns supposed to be some metaphor for illegal immigrants? For cloning and genetically modified foods? I still don’t know now but in the end something about the dream stayed with me and a couple of months later I turned it into a story. I took the clowns and the fields and created verandis, a drug which gave people a high of fear; in small doses it was a cheap thrill, but in high doses it proved effective for torture. The Drug of Fear was one of the first stories I had published and it’s funny to think that without that dream, I’d never have written it.

I had an experience earlier this week which made me think of the clown dream again. I was getting the bus home and listening to some music. Usually I like to watch what’s going on around me, but this time I was staring out the window. There was a seagull flying overhead and one of its wings was bent; I watched it for about a minute, wondering if it was broken, how it might have happened. When I finally looked away I caught the gaze of a girl a few seats in front of me.

She was watching me, smiling slightly, and she didn’t look away like most people do when they’re caught staring. She just smiled again and the funny thing was, I knew what she meant. She wasn’t smiling at me, but she knew what I was doing; it was like we were the only two people on the bus who had noticed the seagull. It was a moment we shared and without words, it seemed special. We got off at the same stop and neither of us said anything, but it was a nice feeling, like for a moment we’d been linked in a dream…

But then in a way it was a dream, a daydream. While I was watching the seagull I wasn’t aware of anything else… I was somewhere else, far away. The strange thing is that usually I don’t dream when I sleep, or if I do I don’t remember them. But I daydream quite often during the day, and since I’ve been having trouble sleeping I’ve actually been dreaming more than I was before. Whether that’s a good thing or not I don’t know – maybe it means I’m too active and carrying my thoughts into my sleep.

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting. Dreams fascinate me; we know so little about them, but they’re just one example of how amazing the human body and mind can be… even if sometimes your dreams are of fields of clowns. 😉