A J Thompson | Andrew Thompson, Rockhampton Australia

My Life as a Grown-up Child

First published 17 August 2013 ~ Rewritten 13 July 2016

Life is a strange, strange thing. The line between real and virtual is easily blurred. I know that fact better than most. Whether living my real life as Andrew Thompson, or immersed in my virtual life as Xay Tomsen, my worlds are hard to distinguish.

Andrew Thompson, age 7

I merge them deliberately nowadays. I never used to but now I do. It is no over-statement that virtual worlds saved me. Too many times, the real world pushed me to the edge of utter despair, and the virtual brought me back.

I've always been weird and arty farty. I've loved creating stuff since I was barely able to walk. I remember spending every day under the house as a toddler, just playing in the dirt. A large and solitary rock protruded from the earth, where the floor boards hovered maybe half a metre above.

The rock was smooth like a giant egg and one of its faces concave like a cradle. It looked like a crater on the moon.

The rock was always cold to touch, even on a hot summer's day. I would lay on it sometimes, willing myself to become part of the stone and the earth below, while above me, I would listen to the footsteps plodding across the floorboards just inches from my head.

That rock was magical. It was the epicentre of my infant world, and of my imagination. To me, it seemed a monolithic tor, and the enormous swathe of powdery brown dirt that surrounded it was a canvas begging to be drawn upon.

Always there at my side, odd little insects that I've never seen since - We called them 'devil devils' - created small volcanic mounds the size of strawberries. I imagined these creatures to be road workers helping me in my cause. I would gather as many as I could and bundle them into the back of a scratched but beloved Matchbox truck.

Roads and cities, farms and jungles, rivers and valleys and seas. I made it all, using anything I could lay my stubby fingers on. Paddle pop sticks and matchsticks were perpetual favourites, plus nails and wire and clothes pegs. Naturally, the garden hose featured prominently as well to feed the rivers and creeks and dams that criss-crossed my dusty paradise. At day's end, I'd demolish it all under foot, and the next day I'd start again.

My persona would change too. One day I would be a policeman, the next a crook, the next the king of the world. That rock and the dirt and the mud - It gave me so much joy. I played there for as long as we lived at that house, from infancy right up until the end of primary school.

It was during these later years, that I began to realise I was hiding, that I wasn't happy in the outside world. The cause was nothing specific. My home life was a little dysfunctional, but unremarkable for a Gen-X boy in the late 1970s.

In hindsight, I think the problem was largely internal. I dealt with conflict differently to most. I was different to everyone I knew. I didn't fit in, and I didn't particularly want to. Perhaps it was simply pubescent malaise, but now, forty years later as I write these words, I know that's not the case. I'm still exactly the same.

Paradise, a painting by A J Thompson

Now in middle-age, I remember it all so vividly - the way the dust felt on my fingers, and every facet and scarred angle of that rock. Most especially, I remember how it felt to view the world as a child - to regard my tiny universe with such open awe.

I don't say this as a memory but from the feeling I'm still there.

We moved from that house and the two years that followed were awful, full of fear and hatred and violence. The worst things that could happen to a 12 year old boy, did happen. Every night.

At that young age, I discovered the true meaning of silence. For six months it lasted until finally, he went away. A few months later, so did I, drifting from one guardian to the next.

Then suddenly in my mid teens I had a child of my own. And then another. At age eighteen, I was a father of three.

In many ways still a child myself, I introduced them to the joys of dirt and mud. Inside their innocence, love, and utterly primal happiness, I found a place where I belonged. My twenties, growing up with my children, were the very best years of my life.

Another decade passed and with my family grown, I found myself alone again. The unreconciled violence of years before returned of its own accord. So I drew and painted and wrote until most of my demons were excised.

In the wake of that process, unsurprisingly, I found myself yearning for childhood again. I remembered how it felt to lie on that rock and listen to the footsteps plodding on the floorboards above. I realised that I needed my rock.

Still weird and arty farty, and by accident rather than planning, I stumbled upon virtual worlds. I entered the domain accompanied by my youngest son, an avid gamer and now on the brink of manhood. Not artistic like me, but devoted nonetheless, he tried this new canvas but moved on. I however, stayed.

Xay Tomsen at Aratura City 2016

I called myself Xay Tomsen; Xay short for Xavier, one of my middle names; and Tomsen (from the limited selection available at the time) as the phonetic equivalent to Thompson.

At this point I already realised that this was the rock I was searching for, a blank canvas like nothing I had ever conceived. Armed with the new tools of a digital age, I built roads and cities, farms and jungles, rivers and valleys and seas.

But this time it was different. I was not alone. People came; other weird people unable to find their places in the world. They explored my cities and seas, my living canvas. They liked what I was making.

Through my art, they could see who I was; what I was trying to say. And through these interactions, I began to understand myself. I finally learned of what I am made, the things that matter to me, and those that no longer do.

They asked if they could stay and share my world. So I built a world for them to live on, a sanctuary where their brush strokes could mingle with mine. I called it Irukandji.

Ten years on, that world is still changing, in league with my child-like dreams.

Irukandji poster 2013

Xay Tomsen a.k.a. Andrew Thompson


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