For those of you following the ‘Five Obstructions of Sam Twyford-Moore’ you may be wondering what’s been happening since Feb 6 when we challenged STM to rewrite his story in outline form to make him focus on the bare bones elements. This was an attempt to draw out a sense of direction in the work which was previously lacking.
What happened next shall remain lost in the sands of time, we will just abbreviate to say that we rejected what STM sent us, not once, not twice, but thrice. It seemed that we truly had struck on his weakness, which was a lack of respect for the nature of causality in our universe or in storytelling. It seemed beyond our young pen to wrestle motivations out of his character leaving them directionless and the plot non-sensical (DMH: sorry STM).
After each submission we reframed the challenge to try to draw out some thrust until we eventually settled on making STM rewrite every sentence to match the pattern of ‘This happened, which caused this’ or ‘Because of this, that happened,’ or ‘This event caused this effect’.
The results of this third obstruction are pasted below for your inspection.
We understand that this all proved especially difficult for STM, but as always we admire his bold and undaunted approach. There are two challenges left, and I think we all know what the last one is going to be, so for Obstruction number four we want to let STM have a bit of fun, while also practising the most loathed aspect of being an artist: self-promotion.
Learning how to talk coherently about your work isn’t easy. Condensing and abbreviating is instinctually abhorrent. But, being able to get other people engaged and wanting to read is vitally important to a writing career. As such, we challenge STM to write four scenes, each where he the writer is explaining his book to someone.
- STM meets an actor in an elevator who would be perfect in the role of Renee/Liam. He has one minute to get them interested.
- STM meets a girl at a party, and he attempts to woo her by telling her what his book is about.
- STM is taking a taxi from Rozelle to Newtown and the driver is persistently inquisitive.
- STM meets a publisher to pitch his book.
PLOT: OF TWO MINDS
Renee Cullen is driving to Melbourne in the grips of a hypomanic episode after being informed that she has failed her university degree. Renee has snapped. She is 22 and her family has a history of such things. She has no five-year plan, one-year plan, or even a plan for the next five minutes beyond continuing to drive along the stretch of highway in front of her. Her degree was in creative arts and that she managed to fail this makes her feel that she is not capable of achieving anything.
Renee doesn’t want to be alone so she stops at Canberra where she picks up her sometimes boyfriend Ben, who is studying his Masters at ANU, packing him into the car, before taking off again.
Ben still has feelings for Renee and because he can tell something is not right and wants to keep an eye on her, he agrees to accompany her to Melbourne.
Because Renee has no car maintenance skills the car breaks down outside of Yass.
Ben suggests they go to a house party back in Canberra because he thinks she will be safer amongst friends. Renee goes with him because she has no choice, she can’t stay on the highway.
Because she has sexual energy to burn and she is finding Ben a drag, Renee dances suggestively with several people at the party.
Because he is confused and hurt by Renee’s actions, Ben leaves.
Because Renee is feeling a need to make her life worthwhile and exciting, she suggests to one of her suitors that they break into the house of the Olympic swimmer next door.
Because he is the Olympic swimmer who lives next door, the blond boy goes with her and laughs when he reveals that it is really his house. She doesn’t believe him. He shows her a photograph of himself, but his hair is wet and she doesn’t think it’s him.
Because he strips for her, in order to prove he is the swimmer in the photos, and in doing so shows his clean skin, shaved for swim meets, she is attracted to him. And they go to bed together.
Because she seems to need no sleep, she walks around the house while he sleeps. She takes what she needs including a handful of money from his wallet and some CDs for the drive down to Melbourne.
Because of his need for approval, and that he is working as chef de partie at a respected restaurant in Los Angeles – neo-gastronomical, more laboratory than kitchen – Liam feels intense pressure to perform.
Because his bosses are making him experiment with form, he is having to work hard at conceptualising new meals. He is spending hours in the kitchen after work testing new recipes. His social life is non-existent and he feels isolated in this new foreign city. He is doing his best to heed the advice of doctors back home to keep his moods in check, but he can’t say no to the work or its rewards.
Because he is running out of travelling scholarship money, he is not eating properly. He gets by mostly on Diet Cokes. He is aware this is not doing him any good.
Because his palate is feeling numb he is finding it hard to do his work. He needs to solve this if he is to continue and believes the cause is the medication that he has been taking to control his mood disorders.
He goes into the cold storage of the kitchen and gets some blue cheese and some stinky tofu, and places the strong food on his tongue and lets it sit. He does it to test his palate, but also as a wake-up call for his taste buds.
Because this pressure to perform is part of the culture in the industry, Liam’s direct superior, Mark, is going through similar feelings.
Because of this pressure Mark drinks a lot.
Because they are opening a new restaurant in Mexico City, Mark will be sent to Mexico.
Because Liam finds Mark an instructive example of how not to behave, he stays and watches him break down in a car park, stopping him from throwing a rock through a Mercedes. He doesn’t want to get dragged down by Mark, but he feels caught now, holding the limp human in his arms.
Because Liam has lived through it, and needed someone when he was in a similar state, he drives Mark home and puts him in bed.
In Mark’s house, Liam makes himself some coffee and gets Zoe’s number – an LA Weekly food blogger who wrote of Liam’s food ‘it’s like bipolar on a plate – highs and lows’ – from Mark’s phone. Liam tries to convince himself that he wants the number for professional reasons, but in the back of his head he can feel the attraction to her. He looks through a series of photographs of her pickling vegetables.
Because he has Mark’s computer open, he downloads some recipes and puts them on his phone, as well as some industry contacts that could be useful to him. He sees them as reward for looking after Mark, and a potential way to save time, able to offer them as his own when Mark is down in Mexico.
Because he desires meeting her, Liam calls Zoe and goes into the city to her LA Weekly offices. She comes down to the street to meet him and says she needs to go out to try a new restaurant.
They take the Red Line out to Koreatown. The restaurant is solemn, with conservative tablecloths and clean wine glasses. Zoe orders two of everything – the food is as white as the walls. Liam spies a Salvadoran pupusería across the road and runs over pupas. He stuffs them with kim chi he buys from a corner store. Zoe having had a mouthful of each meal and having made her notes comes and joins him and laughs at his choice of food. She agrees to see him again the following night because of his strange behaviour, and because he seems like an interesting guy. Liam can tell there is some reservation, though, so he decides to dial it back.
Because he wants to get off work early, Liam offers his bosses one of Mark’s recipes that hasn’t been used in the restaurant as evidence of his work.
Zoe suggests a bar to meet at and he shows. Because they are in good moods they drink a bottle of wine between them and don’t notice the effects right away.
Liam gets a call from Mark, which he hangs up on. Then another. Then another. Liam answers the fourth. Because he is down, too down, Mark has decided to leave the restaurant and wants to know if Liam can take his place. Because Liam is drunk and distracted by Zoe across the table, he says yes. He forgets that he is committing to months in Mexico. He is scared of Mexico, because of what it might do to his mind, because of stories he heard and because he is finding overly-familiar America foreign enough as is.
Zoe smiles, congratulates him and asks if he would like to come back to her place. He says he will do the right thing and walk her home, and then remembers he is in LA where no one walks. She laughs and is attracted to his otherness.
Because he cannot get the numbed palate off his mind, he makes a very conscious effort to note everywhere he puts his mouth on her, and whether the sensation is the same as it once was when he was a teenager.
Because of this extreme attentiveness, she finds him even more interesting than she had the day before. Because he is lonely, he wants to fold himself in her and never go to Mexico.
He has taken on more, when he should have been scaling back.
Renee drives out of Canberra, and gets as far as Yass, before the car breaks down again. She stops at a farm, looking for a telephone.
Because Renee has no money she breaks into an empty farmhouse, where she steals food and money.
Because she needs petrol for the car, she pulls into service stations, waves hi to the security cameras, fills the tank and drives off.
Because of a U-turn she is returning to Sydney, which hits her eyes like direct sunlight. She drives into the backstreets of Surry Hills and parks the car near Ward Park. The car won’t start again. She is forced to walk to the train station to return to Newcastle. She walks into a hostel and steals enough money for the train ride home out of an anonymous foreign backpack.
Because she steals a phone, she logs onto Facebook and gets an invitation to house-sit in Avalon from her old friend Gemma.
Because the car has enough energy to get there, she drives around the bends that lead to Avalon and meets up with Gemma, who is bombed out on Valium she has stolen from a hospital after breaking her arm on a dancefloor.
Gemma is a high achiever – proto academic, poet, art installation star – and high. Renee finds her intimidating and turns down the offer of a stay in her house, but steals the script for Valium.
Because she has not told her parents where she has been, or indeed that she was going in the first place, they sit her down and question her. Renee’s father had filed a missing person’s report.
Because graduation is coming up, Neil, Renee’s father, offers to buy her a gown. Renee chooses to conceal the fact that she won’t be graduating.
Because of the pressure of living with her parents, Renee becomes addicted to Gemma’s Valium supply. Renee has a pharmaceutical salad in front of her, she takes as much of the Valium as she can. Because she blacks out in the bathroom, her parents admit her to a mental hospital.
Because she is assessed as suicidal, she is asked to remove her shoelaces and the book she has brought with her has to be put in the bedside cabinet.
Because she is sedated, she sits watching a windsurfer go back and forth on TV.
Because he is scared, Ben has decided not to visit her in the hospital.
Because Ben will not see her, she becomes obsessed with him.
Because she needs to see Ben as soon as she can, she convinces the nurses to let her sign herself out voluntarily. Because beds are limited and she seems clear-eyed, they let her go. Paperwork is filed and she is gone.
Because she is quick, she gets through the car park and out into the daylight and puts on running shoes.
Because she is good-looking, the bus driver lets her onto the bus without paying.
Because she is resourceful, she goes into a bank account and with only her proof of ID gets enough money to buy a mobile phone.
Because she is patient, she sits for hours while the company makes her sign for the phone.
Because she has the phone, she calls Ben to tell him that she is coming, but only gets voicemail.
Because she doesn’t want to be traced, and is paranoid that the phone is giving away her location, she goes to throw it in the bin, but Ben calls back. He says that he can’t see her again. He has to finish his Masters.
She decides she will finish it for him, so he can see her. She goes into a bookstore and steals books on Ben’s pet topic: poetics and space. Because she can’t come up with everything on her own, she copies and pastes large parts of Gemma’s thesis and her father’s articles from the eighties. She is suffering something close to hypergraphia without knowing it.
She gets to 100,000 words – way over the word limit – in a week and decides to take the paper to Ben to give to him to hand in. Because she needs to get back to Canberra to see him, she goes home to borrow her parents car again.
Because her parents are home, and surprised to see her, she can’t just back out of the driveway with it.
Because they can see she is still hypomanic, they refuse to give her the keys.
Because she has been denied something, she starts to tear up the photographs in her house.
Because her mother is out on the lawn, overwhelmed, her father is forced to restrain her, to hold her down.
Because of her violence, the police are called and she returns to the mental hospital.
Because she keeps breaking into houses and the summer is coming to an end, and there are no permanent beds in the hospital, her parents ask if she could please go and stay with her grandmother while she seeks treatment. They are exhausted and need a break.
Because Renee’s parents are renovating their house and are feeling at the end of their abilities to help her recover, they ask if she can move in with her grandmother at her beach house.
Because Renee has no other choice and her grandmother is one extremely relaxed individual, she agrees.
Because she wants to help, Renee’s grandmother gives her a haircut, which ends up looking lopsided and making Renee look a lot crazy than she actually is, which is still crazy, of course.
Because they share a sense of humour, grandmother and granddaughter laugh over this.
Because of a generational divide, however, the grandmother accuses the granddaughter of being ‘ergophoic’ – fearful of hard work.
Because she is feeling sensitive, it starts to eat away at Renee. She wants to wave the 100,000 words in front of her grandmother’s face.
Because her grandmother lives by the beach she has rich neighbours – a local businessman with a large art collection visible from his large windows lives next door.
Because she wants to replace the art she destroyed in her parents’ house and she still has a little kleptomania running through her system, Renee starts fantasising about stealing some of the works.
Because there are more works in that McMansion than would fit on the walls of her parents’ place, Renee starts to think about selling parts of the collection to raise funds to travel to Japan or Mexico.
Because her grandmother is trusting, Renee is able to go through her bank accounts and slowly transfer money into her own account.
Because she’s developing skills as a thief, Renee manages to get in and out of the house next door with one of the artworks and stores it in her grandmother’s garage. Because she is missing one particular skill set, she doesn’t know how to sell it and she is suddenly stuck with a large missing canvas and her grandmother.
Because of the tumor in her stomach – a physical illness that takes precedence – Renee’s grandmother is rushed to hospital.
Because Liam is working in the kitchen during an LA heat wave, he is his wiping sweat off his brow, which keeps threatening to drip into the food he is preparing.
Because of the numbing of his palate, which is worsening, Liam is sending out food over-seasoned.
Because Mark is gone, Liam has extra responsibilities, which he can’t keep on top of; his hit rate is even worse.
He sends out an abalone dish, which is promptly sent back by a customer because it is underdone, tough to touch, worse to taste. Liam becomes depressed as it is binned.
Because Liam knows that the meat is costed at $180 per kilo, he storms out of the kitchen and accuses the customer of being wasteful.
Because of the severity of this scene, the owners of the restaurant send Liam home immediately.
Because of his conviction that the medication is responsible for his perpetual dysgeusia, Liam decides to go off his medication, flushing what is left down the toilet, despite warnings and protestations from his now sometimes girlfriend Zoe.
Because he wants to really feel the effects of going off the medication, he does not go to work for days, and stays at home eating plain toast and soup, waiting for his palate to reemerge.
He will only communicate to Zoe on Skype, won’t let her into his house, even when she knocks on the front door.
Because he can feel the geography of his mind changing, he begins to cook again and out-performs himself.
Liam begins to mark up notes for new recipes, keeping book after book of preparatory instructions.
Because he is off his medication, he is starting to act and move faster than normal, and Zoe cannot keep up with the speed at which he talks, particularly as his already strong Australian accent is getting stronger.
Because he is talking so fast, she misses it when he says that she should meet him at the restaurant after work. He returns home out of control and furious, locks her in his room and starts punching the walls of the hallway.
Because she is terrified, she asks him to see someone and go back on the medication.
Because he is deaf to this, he goes out drinking and blacks out.
Because she is there when he gets up, she tells him he needs to sort himself out.
Because Liam is on a creative high, and wanting to grapple with his disease head on, he attempts to create a dish that replicates the experience of taking his medication, something that stimulates the palate before numbing it completely.
Because of the complexity of the dish, and its purpose-driven approach, he needs to research foods that can create such effects.
Because of the research, he drives down into the Mexican desert to find a hallucinogenic plant that is said to have such properties.