Very rough drafts of a sketch of an idea
In my Instagram feed today is this motivational quote:
~Never Settle For Anything Less Than Butterflies In Your Stomach When You See Him~
Black serif font on a white background with small silhouetted butterflies set around it. 3,456 likes. 189 comments. Posted by a health and wellness blogger I once fucked while her two year old son was playing in the room next door.
( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
Ah, my dear friend. I know what you’re thinking. That it’s just another poorly-worded, narcissistic snippet in a world full of them. One of a billion voices shrieking out its response to a question no one ever asked.
I’m thinking it too.
Yet there’s something in this statement that I’d like to explore, if you don’t mind. A tender morsel of interest hidden on a carcass of inanity that could, if it’s cooked in the right way, deliver an almost pleasant intellectual satiation.
Specifically, I want to fillet the feeling that’s got my lycra-clad lemming all light in the tummy – her expectation of undulation on account of her bae – and what this means for us as, well, a race.
Oh I won’t cut too deep, I promise.
But just for a second, since you’ve made such an effort, let me butcher this little ~butterfly~ and see if we can’t tease some taste out.
For starters: The physical sensation we know as butterflies is actually the signal of a battle between belly and brain. You see, your stomach is a massive influencer in your body’s neural network. When you get a sudden rush of nervousness (be it from the approach of your life-long love or last night’s dhal) blood is diverted from your guts to your muscles to prepare for the perceived threat, and the butterflies we feel are the stomach’s protest.
You could say butterflies are a biological fuck you. The stomach knows what it wants and doesn't give two fucks who it needs to fight for it (see: gut instinct).
And it’s no wonder. Your stomach has as many neurons in it as a cat’s brain (100 million of them, if you wanted to count). Sure, it’s a little like comparing apples and tennis balls when you look at the function they perform, but it does give you an idea of how sophisticated a piece of technology it is. With the requisite fuel your stomach can adapt, react, dictate, and demand. You can abuse your lungs, your heart, or your kidneys for decades on end and still they’ll plug away in dutiful service to you. But if you’re even half an hour late with giving your stomach what it needs, boy oh boy is it gonna let you know.
It’s a well-oiled machine that loves nothing more than being fed and is, in my mind, a true biological masterpiece.
While the size and complexity of your gut is nothing compared to your brain, its constant need for attention does beg the question: who’s working for who?
Like, ok, evolution’s done a pretty good job of getting us to where we are today.
Our brains are capable of complex thought processes that allow us to do any number of amazing things and our bodies are perfectly adapted to thrive on the narrow slice of Earth we inhabit.
And what has really set us apart is our ability to form relationships with other humans that allow us to bond and work together towards common goals, like building communities and raising families. All thanks to the biological and genetic capabilities bestowed on us by our predecessors.
But what is the basis of our desire, our need to connect? What keeps us going?
Some would say that it is the Darwinian urge to procreate, and advance our species – to come out on top of the rest. And I wouldn’t disagree with that, friend, not for one second.
But does that mean our whole existence is geared towards the simple act of multiplication? That our minds, capable of the most horribly beautiful abstract thought; and our bodies, able to perform the most amazing feats of physical stamina and endurance; are just there to increase our chances of fucking?
The most advanced piece of machinery in the known Universe exists solely to help me get my end away?
But consider the stomach. I could just as easily argue that my digestive system is really running the show: its ultimate goal is to be nourished, so to do that it has created a body to house it, a brain to search for it, arms and legs and fingers and toes to catch for it, and a reproductive system to help it build more of its kind. It’s the unconscious Emperor, pulling the strings behind the scenes in a state of Zen bliss while the self-aware, self-conscious mind/brain complex lives in the lie that it is in control, when it is in actual fact the slave.
The amazing anatomic infrastructure that is our body. The vehicle that allows us to climb trees and hold hands and care for our young and build homes and start fires and fight wars. All an elaborate construct evolved to keep the yearning pit at the centre of its mass satiated.
Sure, it all just depends on how you cook it. But in a world of instant gratification and emotional gluttony, of Facebook Live entrepreneurs and like for likes, of algorithmic marketing and #branded #content #strategy, of constant fucking feeding, maybe it’s the sickly sweet pill we have to swallow. Previously accepted narratives on How Things Work are falling all around us… so why not this one too?
Anyway, look at me prattling on.
Let’s flutter back to the feed where this all started, shall we?
@tamaramamamma you’re getting a double tap from me.
You know who’s in control.
Now, where was I?
I am on a bus that’s sitting at the main intersection of Bondi Junction - the first rise of the valley in the city of Sydney.
It's an unreasonably warm afternoon in March, with a blowtorch westerly wind leaving people scampering between air conditioned enclaves like cockroaches under kitchen lights. But the sun has just dipped below the CBD skyline into the relative cool of the approaching evening, and life is slowly creeping back into the city streets.
The bus isn’t moving, though, and it hasn’t for some time. Traffic is banked up in every direction, beyond the curve ahead and on into some unknowable delay. Cars are blaring their horns but it makes no difference. The lights are green and we’re going nowhere.
At least I'm not alone on the bus. I'm with my friend Dion, because I told him this would be the quickest way to get to the dinner party on Glenayr that we’re late to.
I’m only going to the party as a favour to him. He knows there will be an array of models there and he needs a wingman. Who better to take than me?
Dion’s sitting behind me – aisle seat, so no one can sit next to him – with his lean, muscular frame bent forward so that his sinister little mouth is right in my ear. I can feel his pencil-thin moustache positively bristling with anger.
“This is so fucked,” he’s sneers, motioning to the clogged arterial ahead. “Why are we taking the bus anyway? Why don’t we get an Uber?”
“What difference would an Uber make right now?" I reply. "Besides, I like the bus."
“You’re a fucking weirdo, mate. We may as well have walked. I hope no one recognises us.”
There's always that chance, I guess. Ironically we've both dressed the same (Nike runners, straight cut jeans, short sleeve linen collared; all black; not the first time it's happened) so we're already standing out.
'Which two influencers were spotted stuck on public transport last week dressed like they were going to an active wear funeral? Just a reminder guys: Nike trainers are half a season away from the General Pants discount bin.'
I look outside as a Foodora cyclist with an Uber eats sticker on his carry bag snakes past my window and sounds his shrill bell.
Ding ding ding.
Ah, this fucking heat.
Dion stands up in his seat now, straightens his crinkled linen shirt, and yells to the bus driver: Oi matey, what’s the hold up? and the fat, moustached bus driver looks at our reflection in the mirror and responds: filming for latest series of The Block; it’s been like this all week.
“Oh word, Joss has been helping the EP on that,” he tells me as he sits back down.
“You mean Joss that used to sleep with Benny?"
"No, Joss that runs the Sansi vintage emporium with Danni."
"Did I tell you about the fight I had with her a few weeks back?"
"Who, Benny Joss or Sansi Joss?"
"No, I don’t think so."
(Other fights Dion's had in the last 48 hours: with taxi driver for slowing down into green light; with real estate agent for misleading 'ocean views'; with me for unpaid debt.)
"Well, you know how her sister has just opened up that new café on Faveux that’s doing all day vegan breakfast?"
"She was telling me about it when we were at the 77 re-launch, so I was already pretty fucked up, and she says how opening up this café is basically about as safe as investing in gold stocks."
"Especially now that it's looking like Sunday penalty rates are being removed - it's the busiest day by far so it improves the overhead margin even more. Supposedly Joss' sister is stoked."
"I know right. And I’m just like – well, firstly, you know what I think about cafes."
"I do, I do."
"And like I know her sister has worked hard to get it open after that shit with council planning, and good on her. But I just can’t stop myself, partly 'cos of the coke and partly because this shit gets me so fucking riled up."
He runs his fingers across his moustache like little windscreen wipers, as if he's preparing them for the onslaught.
"So I say to her, you know I think that café culture is the single most fucked thing about our society today. I think that the very concept of spending your Sunday morning going and lining up at some fucking stupid new venue, waiting 45 minutes just to get a table and then another hour to eat something that’s either horribly bloating or tastes like cardboard, just so you can compare notes with other fuckwits about how good the single blend roast was, while some bearded fuck barista is passive aggressive telling you what a beautiful fucken Sydney morning it is, is just fucking dumb."
"And that the majority of 'small business owners' like her sister are so quick to put fucking 'overheads' over the needs of their poor-arse staff, who are now going to have to rely on working extra hours or getting tips from the tight-arse Radio National set, who sit there every sunday morning reading their Sun Heralds and crying about Malcolm Turnbull but still complaining to the waiter when it takes 40 minutes for their coffee to come out."
"What did she think of that?"
"She's just looking at me like I’m the most vile thing she’s ever laid eyes on. But I’m just getting stuck into her, on a roll, listing, like, EVERYTHING I hate about cafes. The jug of stale, room temperature water that you’re lucky to get one drink out of when you’re so fucking hungover and it’s all you want to drink."
"The glasses that smell like eggs."
"The dead café air, the tables full of active wear and puffer vests, the groomed poodles thinking it’s ok to run under your table and lick your leg, the shitty hip hop sound tracks…"
"Yep! And finally, that spending $40 for a meal… hang, on, check this out."
Dion points out the window to a junkie with no shoes squatting in a thin recess between two shops, pissing on a pile of pallets.
"Daaaaaaaaaamn. Icees huh? Anyway, that paying $40 for a meal before lunchtime is tantamount to a class war crime, bourgeois extravagance at its worse, and that cafes like her sisters are basically the stomach flab of modern day capitalist society and the harbinger of its downfall."
"And she just looks at me and goes, yeah Dion, absolutely. And so if you want to speak about bourgeoise excess, tell me again about the $350 bag in your pocket and how many of them have been up your nose tonight?"
"Ah, she got you there."
"Yeah, she did," he says as he eases back into his seat. "Even though I'd got bags off the Leb that night, so they were only $200."
Dion turns his attention now to the crowd of people outside waiting to cross the intersection.
“Did you ever notice that Asians are always overly touchy feely in public?”
“Not really, Dion.”
“Well I have. Is that racist?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Whatever, I always share posts from Amnesty, and I'm practically putting the Leb's kids through their madrasa."
He pulls his phone from his pocket.
"What time’s dinner tonight?”
“Six, I think."
“Fuck dude, we’re already late!”
I know, I know.
It feels unnatural, sitting at a green light like this. Like walking up a broken escalator, or jumping off a cliff and never hitting the bottom.
From my vantage point (left window, two rows from the back - always the same) I look at the rush hour refugees crowding the bus. Pastel grey office workers interspersed with the odd blonde backpacker mop or green and blue private school cap. Each and every head bows ever so slightly to its corresponding smart screen.
Do they feel it too, do you think? The longing for that sudden, surging rush that just won't come?
The afternoon sun has found a crack in the skyscrapers and is spilling in through the bus window behind me now, washing everything in an orange, Trumpian haze with its last triumphant thrust. The tinned staccato of two dozen head-phoned soundtracks washes under and over the idling bus motor. A hot mix of stale air and Lynx deodorant punctuates the mess, waiting to be cleansed.
We live in a world of green lights. A world of positive affirmation and boundless possibility where we're constantly assured that the only thing stopping you is YOU! Follow your heart's desire and don't let anything stand in your way! Constantly move, evolve, and improve. Never stagnate. Always Be Better!
We're all led to believe that we deserve to be somewhere better, somewhere not here. Yet still we all sit on this dank fucking bus.
They must feel it. They have to feel it.
I look out the bus window again and this is what I see: a swarm of people snaking between the stationary traffic.
There’s Hasidic Jews and Deliveroos and tens in gym clothes with their double D arse cheeks and office workers with backpacks and dreadlocks skating on longboards and mums pushing strollers one-handed, looking up from the phones in their other hand just enough to avoid running into cars and each other.
And in the park across the road are two mildly over weight middle aged women in their Lycra armour, pained expressions on their faces, doing squats while their sepia-toned instructor yells positive affirmations at them.
His muscle shirt reads: PAIN! PERSEVERANCE! REWARD!
Behind them, a sprawling fig tree, limbs swaying across the grass. Two Asian couples lie underneath, each of them looking longingly into their phone.
Parked on the side of the road bordering the the park are a row of 4WDs: BMW, Audi, BMW, BWM, Toyota, Audi. White white black white white. Parking inspectors take photos of their number plates and mark times down in their books.
Above them on a building covered in scaffolding a sign screams in red “New apartments approved BUY NOW”.
And as I read it the bus jolts from its sleep and we're finally moving forward, into the darkness, away from the retreating sun.