Saturday, November 27, 2010


Photographs by Christina

Some things defy understanding, some things the mind just cannot grasp because they go beyond our limits of experience, empathy, logic and reason. Grappling with such difficult things the mind just shuts down, thoughts become repetitive, circular and even pointless. J.N has taken his own life. There is no understanding it. No way of making sense of what happened.

He was brilliant, a musician and talented artist; a loved friend, brother, uncle and son. He studied visual art with my twin and we would go and drink coffee at his house that backed onto the university and he would be using the last clean coffee cup as an ashtray, so he would make you a coffee in a bowl or a jar, whatever could be found. Later he moved in with my sister in a little old Queenslander in Camp Hill, they lived in student poverty together, taught each other, shared, learnt together, loved each other. In all the years since, they always remained strong friends.

Not so long ago we all met for coffee together, he was my friend through her. We were in West End and sharing recent stories and adventures. J.N now missing a tooth but smiling broadly. He was at times erratic and frenetic, unpredictable, unfathomable, but always charismatic and engaging. He could draw elegantly and evocatively and also with the grit and sensuous line of Egon Schiele. He was the genius that we all thought would "make it", seriously, no one I know has ever come near the talent he had. He was the one that you thought people would be writing biographies on one day, and you'd be answering interviewers saying "Yes, I knew him through my sister" and "I thought he was brilliant". I remember the view from his rental in West End... all these memories keep coming back.

This is the email he sent me a few months ago:

Czech out Lydia Davis- good short stories. Nice translator. All round good read.
P.S- If you are still researching early bohemian Australian writers, I was befriended by Shelton Lea, who I never realised was a thing until the ABC interviewed him and the gaff-boys hung out and bought illicits off him during one of my archive sessions at his bookstore.
Shortly after, he died. I got sad, but anyway.
Congrats on the academic success- use it well. Be good

Well I bought and read a book of Lydia Davis' short stories and never had a chance to discuss them with him. And I knew that J.N had a history of mental illness and I would never have pegged him as a living to 89 in a nursing home kind of guy, but I never thought, and still can't believe, that this wonderful, talented, twenty-eight year old took his own life.

There was a 4ZZZ (radio station) tribute to J.N, start at 4mins 44secs - they played some of his songs.


  1. There really are no words in the face of this, even though it is a cliche to even say this. Someone once summarised for me the difference between grief and depression: grief is when everything matters, depression is when nothing matters. I've always remembered this.

    I have lost people I love, talked to many people who have too, and all I can say is that it will get better, it really really will. That dim, lack of understanding, will turn into something else, something more eloquent.

  2. I am saddened to hear you've lost such a friend. You are correct in saying there's no understanding it, and I sincerely hope you find some peace in thinking about the ways J.N. made your life richer and more fulfilling.

    If it helps, plant something living in memory of him -- a tree, or flowers -- in a place you pass by often, so you can watch your planting grow. As hila comments above so wisely, something more eloquent will come of this, even as there are no words to express such sorrow.


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