Subtlety and Fuckery.

So, I – like countless others it seems – was drawn in by the pithy title of Mark Manson’s recent literary offering and found myself working through ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F@*k’. Now up front I must admit that I have exactly no previous or other contemporaneous experiences with Manson’s blog or other works – so my broader contextual knowledge of the author is lacking. The intent of this piece is to be somewhat of a ‘hot take’ on how I experienced the book, because I have mentioned it to several friends and co-workers who have all asked me for my opinion as they: ‘Keep hearing that that one is good’ and ‘Should get around to reading it someday’. So, I thought hey – I have a blog and a semi-review, semi ramble through my experience of the book, in a mostly spoiler free manner, definitely fits my style and tone. So why not save myself some time giving this opinion out on repeat to all my different circles of friends over the next few weeks and commit it to binary.

Like many of the books I ingest I took Manson’s text in through my ears – god bless Audible and saving me from literally hours of monotonous driving a week. A quick completely non-spon aside here, if somehow you still haven’t trued audiobooks, or at least podcasts, just do. They will change how you view downtime and chores forever. Anyway; Manson didn’t narrate his own book in this instance, which I found a strange choice…. Many bigger, presumably busier author’s do these days – I have found it to be the standard, rather than the exception, so the fact that I was left with an, admittedly excellent, interpretation rather than the complete experience of the author’s intent and definitive tone, was a touch saddening. But that is a risk of the format and apart from leaving me with several unanswered ‘why’ questions, this didn’t impact my ‘reading’ at all. As I have suggested the narrator (Roger Wayne) was fantastic, I found his dry tome to be wholly suited to the text.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@*k can be broadly split into 2 halves. The first is filled with punchy almost syllogistic ‘subtleties’ and the second is more fully fleshed out and so invariably contains far less sexy arguments from personal experience on the part of Manson.  I must admit I have a vivid recollection from the initial chapters of the book. I was sitting at a set of lights (on Toombul road of all places) listening to Manson (Wayne) wax lyrical about how we should divest ourselves of all fucks and there is nothing that is really worthy of our completely disparate supply of these precious little fuckers…. “NIHILIST” the accusation burst forth from me. Dirty filthy good for nothing Nihilist! Peddling his dreary, melancholy philosophy as self-help and getting paid to do it. My guard was raised – this man was trying to corrupt my beautiful existentialism with his honeyed words of darkness – I was sure of it. But given that I had spent this month’s Audible credit on this book (and that I am a completionist and also far too lazy to swap books with any degree of regularity) I pressed on.

As the book progressed and Manson fleshed out his personal story and how he came to develop his subtle position, I began to once again relax my intellectual guard. This book was the work of a man who had known failure and betrayal first hand – who was lazy, self-piteous and self-indulgent in all the ways that I find loathsome in myself. When I have the introspective energy to spot the beasts lounging around in my psyche and putrefying the place. As I delved deeper into the world according to Mike Manson, I found myself not only seeing the subtle differentiation of Mark’s position from that of those stinking Nihilists I had been so quick to throw him in with earlier in the text. But I was also thoroughly taken with the particularly accessible and earthy manner in which Manson had constructed not only his book, but also his thought. To be just a touch more specific; Manson’s bruises can be seen in every ‘page’ of this book. The hard-won nature of his wisdom can actually be felt. There is conviction, passion and sometimes even vitriol in his words and that cannot be faked – at least not to someone who writes a nothing blog in the middle of nowhere on the internet to rid himself of surplus conviction, passion and sometimes vitriol. That was what drew me to the end of The Subtle Art – not so much a desire to fully flesh out Mark’s particular little slice of dark existentialism – but rather a feeling of kinship with someone who wanted his life and his pain to be something more than what they might otherwise be if left unexamined and untold.

The greatest strength of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@*k is that it and its author have honestly seen enough of the rougher side of life and don’t feel like watching you beat your head on the same old rocks. Despite having a start that might require some readers to steel themselves in order to get to the better meatier centre of the book – the journey is thoroughly worth taking – The Subtle Art is a charming and deeply relatable book that does deserves your time and one or two of your most precious resource -your fucks.




Retributive justice and its discontents.

So, disclaimer; this was written as a hot take at about 3 in the afternoon on International Women’s Day. I am aware that at the time of publishing – it is not, in fact, still IWD. 


Today is a great day, today is International Women’s Day. Today is a celebration of the continued movement for the equalisation of the playing field between the sexes around the world. At least that is what today is supposed to be. Unfortunately, there are elements within professional well-intentioned organisations that subvert and destroy this outcome. These elements, through a continued misunderstanding of what it is to be a feminist, fight for a retributive system of justice to be enforced upon the patriarchy that has held them back for so long. I ran into this in my own professional sphere this week and it so deeply disquieted me that I was moved to putting this piece together – oh well, I’ll get around to talking about Residual Self Image next week it seems.

In any case, I was putting together a guest list for a high level IWD event to be held in Brisbane earlier this week and canvasing my workplace for attendees – I approached one of the members of my team and we exchanged the obligatory jokes about the touchy nature of the event for some and I relayed that I had been brutally shot down by my boss last year when I tried to organise a similar event for International Men’s Day. The response I got from this person honestly shocked me “It’s what you deserve after being blessed by the patriarchy for so long”. I was stunned – surely this was a joke this person was intelligent, funny and charming, surely, they couldn’t hold such a troglodytic view of the world? “Surely you can’t honestly believe that retributive justice will solve the equality issues that we are facing?”  I asked. “Men need to be brought down a few pegs in order for Women to achieve equality”. At this point I politely made some noncommittal sounds and prefabricated phrases to extricate myself from the conversation before I got fired up and made an ass of myself in the workplace, particularly to someone who was more senior than myself.

This isn’t the first time I have run across this opinion in Australian popular culture or even within my own organisation and I can’t sit back and say nothing anymore. Now very explicitly, I am not trying to take a single thing away from IWD or the associated feminist/ egalitarian movement. I am trying to draw attention to fringe elements of the movement that have the potential to significantly hinder the continued progress of gender equality through poison and malice.

With that in mind – Broadly speaking as a society we expect that our laws mirror the values of the society that has constituted them. In Australia, we have a preventative / rehabilitative view on justice, the intent of punishment enforced by law is to prevent harm to the broader social group and try to rehabilitate members of our society that have lost their way, wherever and whenever we can manage it. The intent is not actually to punish unnecessarily, so it shocks me to find that on social issues such as gender equality there are elements that seem to ignore this broad social contract and attempt to bring about equality in this ‘zero-sum’ fashion. Now I am not so naive as to think that there aren’t elements within both the left and right spheres of political and cultural discourse that would implement retributive justice into law if they could (bring back the death penalty for instance – the ultimate expression of such justice). However, I am certainly convinced that the so called ‘feminists’ who push for retributive justice to be enacted upon men in order to level the playing field would cry out with a vengeance if such systems of justice became the social and legal norm.

My key point of contention with retributive justice is that it brings about a new injury for someone with every implementation. Every time someone is punished in kind for a slight it breeds a new source of resentment and suffering. We see this, not only in domestic laws but also in international humanitarian laws and the laws of armed conflict. Globally we agree that ‘an eye for and eye’ – does, in fact, leave the whole world blind. We simply cannot continue to allow fringe elements within the push for gender equality to continue to undermine the whole movement trough such narrow minded and destructive means as retributive justice. Not only are they hurting others, these people are hurting themselves by holding on to outdated and outmoded ideas that can only result in a cycle of dominance and suppression between the genders maintained rather than eliminated.

Instead of pushing the ‘mighty’ off their thrones, we ought to build new thrones for ourselves. The arguments that continue to rage about equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome aren’t going to go away any time soon – there is still far too much hurt left in people’s hearts, globally, for that. All I can do is ask you, my readers, to follow the golden rule – Do unto others… It honestly is the only way we will ever see true equality and true intellectual, spiritual and emotional peace between the genders in this world. One of the best ways I have ever seen this put forward was by The Doctor. The key is to forgive people, to forgive and let people know that they can build a future with you, together. That is what I ask of you all – the next time you catch yourself or a friend/loved one decrying ‘The Patriarchy’ or admonishing ‘Feminazis’ stop, and remember that in the ideological space that gender inhabits, words are bullets and they are continuing to fuel the cycle of ‘violence’ raging across the globe. Don’t let yourself be an unwitting solider in a war that you don’t want to fight.

In Defence of Games.

Recently I picked up a new Nintendo Switch for my Birthday and with it The Legend of Zelda; Breath of the Wild.  Now Zelda is a franchise that I go way back with – it is a franchise that will sell me a platform, I have bought 2 separate Nintendo portables in my years to play just 1 Zelda title. So, needless to say I have wanted to pump a great many hours into the experience. It brought up a discussion between my partner and I that pops up from time to time. My partner has playfully teased me on several occasions – almost always when a new Hearthstone expansion is released and/or when I get a title I have been waiting months for (I’m looking at you Complete Edition of Horizon; Zero Dawn) – about being ‘Addicted’ to this title or that and it has always stung just a little. This is an issue I have dealt with at several points throughout my life and I wanted to take the time to look at my own experiences with the darker side of game addiction and why it isn’t all bad.

Now up front – by in large I have a complex relationship with the terminology ‘game addiction’. It is not so much that I think it does not exist, I have spent enough time logged into World of Warcraft in my life for that argument to hold exactly no water with anyone who knows me. Rather the majority of my issues with the term arise from it’s over use and incorrect usage by people, generally not gamers themselves, to describe the specific type of fascination that is displayed by people engaged in gaming.

Games have always striven to be ‘immersive’, it is a term that has existed as the gold standard within the industry for decades. Little by little games, broadly, have achieved this goal. It used to be that only the truly extraordinary games could achieve immersion through a suspension of disbelief in the player. But now as technology has advanced the bar has dropped in terms of the technical prowess required to create a truly engaging simulation. On top of this the industry has matured and developed its own internal lexicon of systems and shorthand and the general gaming public become more and more ‘literate’ in these systems thus it takes less time to convince a player to ‘buy-in’ to these systems. All of these factors combine and create an environment where the median game is capable of being enthralling if only a limited capacity and the best the media can offer are truly inspiring masterpieces. It is this that I am referring to when I describe a ‘specific type of fascination displayed by people engaged in gaming’ the product of decades of research and development in order to grab a player’s attention resulting in an experience that demands total attention.

A number of years ago now I saw this amazing video from James Portnow; one of the lead forces behind the excellent YouTube Chanel Extra Credits – definitely go check them out when you are done here. The video was the end to a multi part episode on Game Addiction and it is an absolutely heart wrenching 25 minutes for anyone who has ever gone through similar experiences but it is 100% worth the watch.  The moist poignant point that Portnow raises in the piece, at least in my estimation, is that “The world will always welcome you back [from game addiction] – It will reward you for applying the types of behaviours that games train into you”. This is the thing that I am not sure many people see or can understand just yet, video games are still such a young media by compassion to even film, let alone the other visual arts. The type of focus, analysis and understanding of systems, and more importantly systems of systems, that games can engender in players is truly and remarkably invaluable in today’s society.

As our organisations become increasingly managed and complex it is important that we employ people who can navigate the layers of guidance and policy and understand how key systems of management and leadership interact to create corporate direction. Games are amazing teachers of exactly this. Understanding that the weather simulation system in a game directly effects a number of other key systems such as travel, combat and crafting teaches people to look for systems that interact with one another. In addition to this the type of patience that ‘grinding’ takes is an excellent way to render oneself rather immune to boredom from conducting repetitive tasks; or at the very least a key demonstration of just how willing one might be to conduct such tasks if the outcome is desirable enough.

In addition to this there is the type of ‘head fake’ learning that Randy Pausch talks about in his famous last lecture. Learning when you don’t think you are. Developers use common elements of history and myth and religion to form the basis for many of their settings and this type of information can spark interest in people. One doesn’t need to look far at all to see this exact phenomenon in the Assassin’s creed franchise, whose recreations of locales like Rome and Venice are so good you can actually navigate the modern day by having played the games.

Now I am not suggesting that going through an addictive phase with a game is required in order to reap these benefits, certainly I would urge everyone to live a balanced lifestyle after years of imbalance in my own. However; I am saying that the type of engagement that games ask of their players does not go unrewarded –  the peripheral learning opportunities are vast. Despite asking a fairly totalised for of attention during play, games give back in many forms not just entertaining but training and educating all at once.

Human-ness is next to Godliness.

Earlier this week a particularly wily friend of mine sent me a link to a short story by Andy Wier titled ‘The Egg’. Now I swear to you that the story is:

  • Eminently worth reading
  • Insanely short
  • Entirely necessary to understand the rest of this post.

So I want to spend the rest of this post semi-reviewing semi discussing The Egg.

First up – I absolutely adore this story. I am awed by how well it carries itself – it constructs an entire universe of possibility through a few scant lines of dialogue. Not merely in the fashion of the two-sentence creepy pasta but rather through a quick-witted back and forth between the man and God. Weir manages to build what could basically serve as the foundation for an entirely new subset of Christianity (if it doesn’t already exist). The story opens a mental door and then…poof. Done. Finito. The Egg knows 100% what it is about and once it has fulfilled its role – it strolls off over the horizon to awaken another person.

And awakening is exactly what the story does to those who read it. I was gobsmacked by how well those few unassuming lines fit into the far grander and universal narrative that philosophy and mythology have been constructing in my head for the last 2 years.  Firstly, The Egg gels with the fundamental Christian creation story. In Genesis when Adam eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he becomes aware, not only of everything there is in the world – but of himself. He literally becomes self-aware, or self-conscious for the first time. Now for those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with their Christian mythology God doesn’t actually notice Adam and Eve eating the fruit in real time (or maybe he does and chooses not to act on it – but that is a debate for later). God only ‘finds out’ about Adam’s transgression when he enters Eden for his evening stroll with Adam, and finds Adam hiding from him in a bush – claiming he is not worthy to walk beside god in his state of nakedness. Soren Kierkegaard calls this ‘the birth of anxiety’.

Kierkegaard says that anxiety is created from the knowledge that the self is capable of an infinite number of possibilities. It is this anxiety we see Wier capture so perfectly in The Egg – man even when confronted with the entire possibility of time and existence and the knowledge he is fundamentally a God in his own right – balks, cannot accept his true nature – he must pay his penance and repeat his cycle. Depending on how positively or negatively you choose to read The Egg it is entirely possible to see this as an endless and inescapable loop – Man will never achieve his full potential, this being the curse of ‘The Fall’ to see the future, to see possibility and endlessly work and pay penance on the way to achieving that future – as Jehovah decreed in Geneses. The idea that ‘man’ is tied inexorably to the unwinnable battle to return to the state of grace – to return to innocence is one that has been explored countless times. The fact that Weir can so subtly imply it in this story with the mere line referencing living all of human history ever – surely a feat taking all of time itself – is genius.

It is also equally possible to read The Egg 180 degrees the other way and see the possibility that God is describing the inevitability of ascension to deific status.  Equally intriguing is the possibility implied by the story that this ascension is contingent on realising and accepting the universality of humanity under the model described in The Egg. If all men are really a mere manifestation of the single God-Foetus spun out endlessly across history interacting and living their lives towards ascension then the fundamental punishment of Adam in the fall is entirely fruitless. Self-consciousness and anxiety require an outside source of observation – Adam is only ashamed when he understands himself to observed either by Eve or by God. If, as Weir postulates in The Egg, there is no ‘other’ to observe the ‘God-Foetus’ anxiety is unnecessary, a figment of the illusion of multiplicity and the realisation of this fact may be the unstated key to solving Weirs puzzle.  As Nietzche said; “What is the seal of liberation? To no longer be ashamed in front of oneself”.

I adore this later reading – though I must admit the former darker reading does also strike a fancy with me – this concept that by overcoming that singular fear, the unstated darkness at the heart of each of us, self-doubt we might achieve something akin to deification is truly inspiring. It accords so closely with the best works of Camus, de Beauvoir and DeBotton in the call to action for each of us – to look inward and conquer the real challenges we face. The understanding that it is only ourselves holding us back. We are each our own egg, do not let self-doubt, self-consciousness and anxiety stop you from hatching.

Beautiful Scars

So before beginning in earnest I want to preface this blog as I have with some other content in the past with the statement that this is not representative of any deeper trauma that I am currently viscerally struggling with, I am just using my particular virtual street corner to try and untangle some of the more worrisome knots in my own emotional space.


A few weeks ago, my partner’s mother asked me about the meaning of my half sleeve tattoo. Now the actual content of the tattoo from a visual standpoint is almost the least interesting part of this thought – but if you need to contextualise this idea in the same way I have, go find an Instagram account and search for The_Brave_Bothan (yes it is my online handle). For those of you too sensible or lazy to go looking for my IG, I hope the following description will suffice. The Tattoo is of a Dragon coiled about a sword on my delt, flowing down into a stag’s head whose antlers wrap my bicep, on the inverse side of the arm there is a wolf’s head, placid not snarling. The whole piece is tied together with dotted alchemical symbols and illusory 3D effect cubes. I told my partner’s mother that it had many meanings, but mostly, I thought of the three animals (if a dragon is an animal) as my totems. Things that represented me on a deeper emotional level. I also pointed out that I enjoy wearing my heart (Hart) on my sleeve, but she failed to register the fantastic joke…

Now all of the above is at an incredibly surface level, while true, it is far from the best answer I can give to the question, which I must admit has been rattling around in my brain for a while now. So here goes; more than anything else my many tattoos capture an emotional moment in time for me. They capture a powerful and devastating emotion and channel it, physically, into being. Through the effort of an artist and paid for with my blood, my tattoos are a way of magically making a memory that I could never before see or touch, real. This is exactly as ritualistic as I honestly think tattoos are – they really are a kind of blood magic to me. Certainly, there are enough instances of cultures placing magical reverence in tattoo ceremonies for me to think that they were onto something ancient and powerful that our secular society has forgotten.

The thing that tattoos do first is hurt – not a lot, mostly (unless your artist saves your elbow for last in an 8-hour session, the sadistic bastard 😂) but they do hurt. An old American slang term for getting a tattoo was ‘getting cut’ – and this is incredibly appropriate, because tattoos are at their core, beautiful and societally acceptable scars. Now this is of importance to me because I still bear other far less ‘acceptable’ scars. I used to cut to cope with my pain, not because I wanted attention from anyone, I was very, very good at hiding them even on my forearms and other obvious spots. It was honestly the best way from me to feel. My experiences with childhood trauma left me numb, I fled into the works of the stoic philosophers and read them with the misguided passion of a youth, forcing all feeling and emotion out of my heart until I was a husk who only had the sensation of cold steel to instil even the merest flash of feeling into himself.

When I finally turned 18 and worked out I could pay someone to cut me and people would admire this, they even called it art I was amazed. It was a dream come true. No longer would I have to hide my pain and shame from the world I could walk openly and proudly down the street and invite people to gaze upon a physical representation of all of the deepest, darkest pieces of myself. It was an explosion of catharsis. Of course, I got more and more tattoos; I poured more and more of my pain out onto my skin and it felt unbelievably good.

But there came a time when I had to face facts, I wasn’t coping well with my pain – I was spiralling downwards by continuing to put my pain new places without really addressing it. Skipping over the more morbid details of the interviewing time, I spent more or less in a depressive stasis, perhaps the topic of a future blog. Over time and through lots of professional help I began to open up about my pain and those experiences that had so deeply scarred me. It took years and more tears than I thought I had left in me, but eventually I got through to the other side and I haven’t gotten a ‘sad’ tattoo in a number of years now. Now at this point some readers may, fairly rightly, lean back and wax lyrical, about how foolish tattoos are and that their permanency is never good and this is one more story of regretting tattoos. Aaaaaaaand I’d scoff and have to explain that no – I am still deeply in love with every single tattoo I have and to a lesser extent with those regular ‘unsightly’ scars on my arms. I have on a number of occasions even gone so far as to say I’d consider myself entirely boring, plain even, without my ink.

As I have moved forward and found more effective ways to put the pain of my childhood behind me, rather than just outside of me, I have grown to more deeply appreciate the truer magic of tattoos. They don’t just externalise trauma for me, in the way I first experienced. Whilst they do still bear the indelible memory of their inception, that will never fade, they have come to represent my climb through life. They have come to represent my climb out of depression and out of the past that defined my entire existence for far too long. Now that I see them more fully, the true beauty of my tattoos and by extension of all painful scars, shines clearly to me. By having a beautiful physical representation of that pain and the moment it was made real to me, I can see how far I have come and be proud. I can see the beauty that pain has wrought not only in the artistry of scars that form my tattoos, but also in myself.

I cannot change my past, the people in it or what those people did to me – or more disturbingly in some cases, what I did to them. But I can continue to grow, I can continue to get better. Better than any of them thought I could or would be. Better even than I could have dreamed possible as a child or a teenager or a young man crying and praying for it to all go away. Every day I wake up and when I look at myself I see a roadmap of where I have been and how strong I have become – and I smile.

The Chaos of Serendipity

So, I was driving a few weeks ago I had a thought. Now this isn’t in and of itself a particularly notable or rare phenomenon, but hey we had to start somewhere alright? I was listening to a song I hadn’t heard in years and was recalled of how I had first become ‘introduced’ to the tune (for any wondering the song was ‘In the Sun by Joseph Arthur). I had first encountered the song through ‘Scrubs’. This in turn led me to think about how perfectly timed the entrance of that show had been into my life, specifically into my psychological development. It had been humour in a humourless place. An emotional guide on how to maintain a sense of the joy in life even at the heaviest moments we experience, which is a lesson I still find invaluable to this day.  Overall, I felt incredibly lucky to have been introduced to ‘Scrubs’ exactly at the moment in my life when I had been.  I’ve always been fascinated by the random chance that seems to govern our lives, so my thoughts drifted to the largest and most unlikely of happening in my life to date. How I met my partner.

That meeting was recounted in full right here in an earlier version of this blog, however after considering the relatability of the tale and the bulk it added, I was unhappily prevailed upon by kindness to my readership to cut it.  Suffice it to say the tale involves dramatic and unlikely hospital admissions, life and death struggles with weird medical conditions and 8 hour dates in art galleries, enthralling!

So, returning to the present train of thought. I found myself enamoured with this idea of serendipity and chance. Now whilst these words do have separate meanings; chance being a largely neutral term and serendipity having an air of romance suffused into it. They are largely used to describe the same phenomenon – the unlikely or uncontrolled sequence of events. Soon I realised that another word commonly associated with this is luck, both good and bad. As I continued I found I knew many, many words we use to describe this same phenomenon and the differing emotional inflections they each had. Serendipity for love, luck for financial gain, chaos for the truly bizarre, tragedy for the truly horrid. It was apparent to me that at the centre of it all was the absurd lack of predictability in life and the universe. Which of course excited my existential sensibilities to no end.

I have pondered this train of thought on and off for some weeks now and have come to regard these names as a kind of magic, or at least a modern attempt at magic. You may or may not be familiar with the school of the occult that deals specifically with ‘true naming’. Effectively, the idea suggests that each entity or thing in the universe has a secret ‘true’ name that will give it’s knower power over that entity or thing. Simple enough for me, it certainly has flavours of several strands of religious and mythological traditions baked into it. It seems to me that by attempting to brand the chaos and serendipity of the universe we are not just pigeon holing things for the sake of ease. We are attempting to control their outcomes, or at least their recollections and later influence over our lives. By branding what is effectively a pure manifestation of the chaos at the heart of the universe as serendipity we attempt to make it more palatable, more rosy, friendly and comfortable. We store it next to our happiest moments and derive comfort from it as the years roll past. This stands in direct opposition to a more honest reading of the events as mere dumb luck or improbable chance. Such a reading would serve to make one feel insignificant or powerless against the scale of all that had to occur for that one entirely improbable occurrence to eventuate just as it did.  By allowing ourselves this kind of ‘reverse control magic’ we shield ourselves from the harshest of reality and its unknowable nature and chaos by feigning control over it. It has been pointed out to me when giving this explanation to people that the secular version of this ‘magic’ is a legitimate technique used by people suffering from anxiety to move phenomena from an external to an internal locus of psychological control in order to rationalise our experiences.

Obviously, this sensation of chaos can also be combatted with faith ‘God moves in mysterious ways’ and such. Now I will not deny those who would use this explanation their comfort. Certainly, chalking the manifold nature of life’s Chaos up to a deity has its appeal. By giving every manifestation of that chaos, good or bad to one, or many deities, it removes the requirement for the human psyche to rationally explain those unexplainable patterns, correlations and chances that are required for a life to emerge just in the fashion that it does. The fact that through history we have seen a pendulum swing from polytheism to monotheism and back without ever losing the ‘mystery’ of deific control, to me is merely further evidence that it is this inability to comprehend the nature of the universal chaos that gives rise to religion.

At the end of it all though when I look beyond faith, beyond rational traditions of magic, everything gives way to the terrifying beauty and horrible majesty of the cosmos. Chaos, serendipity, luck, chance, tragedy all of it is unknown and unknowable and to attempt to put it all together is to be driven mad. To quote Lovecraft:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.




The eye of Sisyphus

He walked from the car to the door of the gym; rummaging through his bag as he did so looking for the fob. His fingers found the rounded plastic edges of the fob and he withdrew it. He pressed it against the receiver, mounted at waist height on the door frame, and he waited for the familiar click to let him know the lock had disengaged. Sisyphus always felt a rush when he sensed that click, he waited until that exact second to pull the door open – he enjoyed the display of mastery in opening the door at the exact moment it unlocked, the exact, precise, minute execution. A moment sooner and the door would pull, uselessly, against the locking mechanism. A moment later and he would have wasted a single precious second of his morning.

He strode into the gym, this early in the morning it was all but deserted. Sisyphus enjoyed training at this absurd hour. He enjoyed the struggle in it, the battle to rouse himself from slumber and assert his will against the natural order of things in order to train. Of course, Sisyphus did not need to train. Thousands of years in Tartarus rolling his boulder up the hill had refined his already masculine physique into a positive masterpiece of strength and poise. He placed his bag on the ground and began his memorised morning ritual. First; he opened the bag and withdrew the water bottle. Next, he found the towel in its aerated side pocket and stuffed its corner into the waistband of his pants. Third he took the gloves from the main compartment of the bag and placed them under the crook of one elbow as he zipped the vessel closed. He rose, headed for the water fountain and began to fill his water bottle from the chilled fountain. As the water flowed, slowly, into the bottle, Sisyphus donned the gloves and began wrapping the tails of the gloves around and around his wrists for stabilisation. As he finished the second glove, the bottle was filled to capacity and he took the bottle into his hands and replaced the cap.

The final and most important part of Sisyphus’ ritual was next. The part he savoured most. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his phone. He opened his music application and the endless possibilities of the morning finally engulfed him. Of all the magic and majesty Sisyphus had found upon his release from Tartarus, modern music was certainly the greatest. In the untold years he had toiled underneath the earth, hopelessly happy, he had not thought to ever hear music again. Early on, sometime in the first millennia of his struggle, he had despaired when it dawned on him he would never hear the mournful tones of Calliope’s lyre again. He had realised what music was to him. Was to all men through him.  A source of transcendent joy. A way to momentarily transport oneself into the place of another, the place of a creator –  a muse for the mundane man. It was this realisation buried deep in Sisyphus’ consciousness that drew he so forcefully to the modern musical masters channelled through his phone.

Having found a track that suited his mood, Sisyphus reached up and placed his headphones over his ears and hit play.

Shuffle 2:17

“Forgive me, I’m trying to find My calling, I’m calling at night I don’t mean to be a bother, But have you seen this girl?”

The words burst into his consciousness from the speakers. Manifestations of some pure universal magic, some truly wondrous shared unconsciousness. He hangs from the bar, his heart swells as the feelings surge, unbidden, to the forefront of his consciousness. Reah turns and leaves, her parting kiss haunts his lips. Her laughter echoes in his ears as she tells him she will return. He feels intoxicated, he wants to call out to her, but doesn’t. Fear, holding his tongue. The vision fades as he heaves himself aloft once more, feeling the sinew and muscle of his back contract as he rises Sisyphus smiles. Reah’s kiss fades form his lips as he crests the pull-up and the music swells again.

Shuffle 2:09

“And there before my eyes on the glossy paper, quiet whispers of something I had lost or put aside for the longest time. The hope that I might find some kind of peace”

 Sisyphus lowered himself on his raw knuckles, his chest brushing the spongy, rubberised floor. His breath beginning to feel heavy in his breast. The slow, sad sounds seeped softly into his ears as he raised and lowered himself once more. Esper stood, illumined against the fading light of the fiery orange sunset framed exquisitely by the pillars of his manor behind her. Her eyes, clear, deep and pristine in their beauty burned in their sockets as she smiled at him once more. Love, it beat strongly in him once again. He felt it, truly viscerally – as if he were there, at that moment once more.  As she began to turn, heading into the manor the vision wavered and Sisyphus was confronted once more with the chalky, flecked matting of the gym floor rising to meet him.

Shuffle 2:25

“Please don’t walk away and please tell me you’ll stay”

As the guitars swelled in his ears Sisyphus saw her, Jezabelle, her pale skin reflecting the warm rays of the morning sun back at him. Her elusive topaz eyes faintly touched by the hint of her suggestive smile. Trapped in the midst of his movement he could only let the weight of his bar press down on his shoulders as he was enveloped by the memory. Jez, shifted as he moved around her to kiss her cheek softly and whisper into her ear. The weight moved up as Sisyphus pushed away the bar and the memory away.

For all the time he had spent toiling for his freedom, thirsting for the immortality he craved so – his ghosts had lost none of their potency.

Modern Myths

Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the modernisation of the classical myths. The largest single force driving this movement is obviously the enormous success currently being enjoyed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the crossover between that material and classical mythology. However, around the periphery of this there are a number of far more interesting ‘goings on’.  We are seeing a far more proliferated movement to recapture, retell and update the ancient myths to suit our modern needs and sensibilities. It is this phenomenon of updating these texts that interests me most – certainly from the perspective of myths as living stories that evolve with each retelling and further through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s work in the space between psychology and mythology.

The classical myths have always seemed to fascinate us. From almost endless republication in one compendium or another to the more modern ‘Hollywood reboot cycle’  popular culture has never seemed to lose touch with the Greek, Norse or Arthurian mythologies. It does seem however, that as time marches endlessly onwards that we grow more open as a society to slight alterations and changes to the classic works. The initial spate of mythological films in Hollywood was far more interested in straight adaptation and imitation, rather than interpretation of the source material. Think of things like the Biblical Classics or even Ben Hur, Cleopatra or Clash of the Titans. Now clearly these films were wildly successful at the time of their initial release and for a plethora of reasons are remembered as classic films. But we simply do not see these types of straight adaptations appear in our media anymore.  Instead of wishing solely to bring the old stories to life as they were written it seems we have begun to fully engage in the process by which these myths were created and add to and reinterpret them.

Myths have never been a single fixed quantity in the way we understand a movie or a novel to be. This is widely attributed to the majority of myths initially finding their ‘homes’ in the oral tradition, rather than being committed to the ages in the form of words. By the time the populace was advanced enough to bother writing down stories and myths there were already far too many variations of any one myth or character to claim any type of totality and completeness over one version.  Each individual author or collector of stories could choose which previous tales were cannon and which of the characters traits were going to be accentuated in their own version of the narrative and as such held a radical power to re-imagine each induvial player in mythology. This then created a feedback loop – informing future tellings of the story. It is this very same process that we find ourselves currently engaged in. The MCUs Thor is not somehow separated from the Thor of the Poetic or Prose Edda, but rather the exact same being as the ancient Thor. More disturbingly the Thor in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is the eventual fate of the Thor in his Norse Mythology compendium. The truly fascinating part of this phenomenon is the rate at which we can see iterations on our characters. When there is a major Hollywood instalment into the MCU multiple times a year, many featuring these mythological beings. We get to see many directors make changes to our public ‘cannon’ of these figures in real time over only a few short years, rather than the decades or centuries it took ancient storytellers to recast characters in their times.

Bearing all of this in mind I am drawn inexorably towards the works of Joseph Campbell – Both ‘The Hero of a Thousand Faces’ and ‘The Power of Myth’.

Campbell talks about the requirement for myths to supplement and support religion in order to stabilise the Psyche of the collective and individual consciousness. To replace lost understandings of rituals that the modern age has forgotten or left behind. Perhaps this resurgence of myths and myth telling after nearly 60 years is due to the increase in religious and philosophical turmoil. People retreating into fundamental needs for community, safety and love. Certainly, there is no small degree of appeal in this reading of the current political and cultural zeitgeist for me. To think that in a deep seated fashion our entire cultural machine ‘knows’ that we need this return to the origin of storytelling. It is the seemingly unconscious and disparate nature of this movement that lends this reading veracity in my mind. Over the last two decades independent authors and studios have seemingly without collusion or correspondence independently turned the cultural production engines to reworking, updating and reinvigorating the classic myths just as Campbell has argued was and is necessary.

In my last blog I talked extensively in terms of Apollonian and Dionysian models of masculinity these frames of reference themselves are drawn from a classicist reading of mythological personae. Initially outlined in the works of Nietzsche these archetypes have been used throughout modern philosophy as a short hand for entire swathes of human being and experience.  These terms have also been used in artistic analysis; and in that capacity they were almost completely divorced from their parent deities. However, the innate and irreducible nature of their mythological fathers abided deep within them and has now begun to seep out and assert itself once more. If there was ever an argument for the continued importance and relevance of mythology to our lives this certainly is it.

I continue to be fascinated by the realisation that we have never truly abandoned mythology – it has moved, shifted and grown with us as a species being reimagined and reinvented to suit out needs. It feels as if we are witnessing the early phases of the next change in our conceptualisation and use of mythology as a culture and I simply cannot overstate how awestruck I am at the raw humanistic power of these stories to abide and morph to fit our sociological and psychological needs as we advance as a species.



Problems in a Galaxy Far Far Away… Gallifrey!

Toxic masculinity is a concept that has been gaining increasing attention over the last few years in pop culture analysis and political commentary. With the rise in global illiberalism reaching record highs in the form of BREXIT and President Trump, the issue of Toxic masculinity seems rather central to understanding the current state of things.

Our world is currently suffering under the weight of too many men and boys having been raised to strictly follow the Apollonian virtues, and consequently an Apollonian model of masculinity. We have raised these men to seek might, and conquer every challenge that stands before them through strength, grit and determination. These ideals leave no room for men to express their emotions, no room for men to quietly contemplate how they might develop themselves more fully.  Conversely, we have routinely mocked the Dionysian man. More specifically, mocked him as a role model for the masses. We accept that some fringe, artistic and dangerous men that transgress social and gender norms bring us fantastic art and music. But we do not allow them into positions of power or true authority in our cultures. These men are too weak, too effeminate in their connection with the ‘softer’ virtues to be trusted to do what is right and ‘necessary’ should the time come. We can see this worrying trend reflected in much of our modern pop culture. We have far too few silver screen mainstays that express anything resembling a balance between these two virtue sets. We have not allowed any semblance of synthesis in these models of masculinity to be included in the collective consciousness of generations of boys and men. This is where Poe Dameron and The Doctor come in as representatives on this issue in the current pop culture zeitgeist.

The fan backlash at the most recent Star Wars film should not be news to the majority of you. At the time of writing there is a 40 per cent gulf in review scores (90 – 50 per cent) between critics and fans respectively. Similarly, when Jodie Whittaker was revealed as the 13th Doctor there was significant backlash from elements of the Doctor Who fan base. This unrest over The Doctor’s new-found femininity has reared its head once more following the recent Christmas Special. In both instances gender and diversity issues were key talking points on both sides of the debate. This isn’t the work of those much maligned MRAs or regressive men needing to hold onto patriarchal dominance of the media (ok well it might be in some cases – but here is one argument from a different perspective). It is a symptom of a much larger and much more sympathetic issue about men and masculinity in contemporary media.

One of the key features of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ that ‘right wing’ fans have condemned is the ‘continual’ humiliation of Poe Dameron. Every time Poe tries to take action, he is shown not only to be wrong, but often he makes matters worse through his attempts to ‘go in half-cocked’. Now fans have said that this represents a gender equality conspiracy, one set to destroy the traditional male ‘action-hero’ archetype and render him useless. Further, the same fans argue that destroying this particular vision of the male empowerment fantasy betrays the Star Wars brand. However, I would contend that it is a valiant attempt by director Rian Johnson to highlight the need for his Apollonian poster boy to learn the softer and more deferent virtues of the Dionysian man. It is worth noting that by the end of the film Poe has begun to see this himself. Towards the end of the third act, Poe is offered an opportunity to seize a decisive victory by a true male hero, another character similarly rounded through experience and defeat, if he is willing to recognise what he needs to do and to act against his ‘guns blazing’ instinct. This is an important step forward in our portrayals of masculinity as Star Wars is not only a mega-blockbuster film that acknowledges the value of the Dionysian virtues, but also a film that demonstrates that these virtues are best utilised in harmonious conjunction with the Apollonian virtues.

All of this however, has been learned before by another Sci-fi legend, The Doctor. Since the return of Doctor Who to television in 2005, the character has grown an enormous amount. We have borne witness to the Doctor in his most heroic Apollonian moments (think Burning Galifrey to save time) and we have seen the character come to personify charm, creativity and heart (think setting up an alternate universe version of himself just to love Rose). All of this, and a wonderful rainbow of shades in between, have blessed the successive series of The Doctor’s modern run. This is why it stings so much to see young boys lose such an important touchstone in their development. This is not to say people cannot have role models outside their own, race, gender, or religion – it merely acknowledges the well accepted fact that we identify far better with people who more closely resemble ourselves across all of these axes.  We have only just begun to see Hollywood accept the need to show more balanced male role models. To then lose The Doctor, the best example of this from within our contemporary pop culture, is most certainly a blow to the movement that calls not for additional male role models for men and boys, but rather cries out for better quality male role models is certainly a significant blow.

In 1994 the Australian Psychologist Stephen Biddulph published a book simply called ‘Manhood’.  This book was largely aimed at translating the works of Robert Bly into an Australian bloke’s context through Biddulph’s own work and experience as a psychologist. In ‘Manhood’, Biddulph talks extensively about fathering, and more explicitly the increasing phenomenon of under-fathering in young men and boys, focusing on the impact that this has on their development throughout their lives.  One of the key messages raised by Biddulph, is that young men and boys need ‘strong well-rounded male role models’ in order to flourish as complete and whole human beings. Biddulph acknowledges the integral role of mothers and female role models (teachers, aunts E.T.C.) in shaping and influencing male children, but ascribes the central role in the development of these male children to father figure/s.  In the terms of this argument it seems evident to me that Biddulph is calling for balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in raising young boys and men. This is as true now as it was when he originally published ‘Manhood’, perhaps even more so.

The reactions held by the right-wing fan base to both the Star Wars and Doctor Who franchises contribute significantly to the destructive way in which we view male role models. If we do not take significant and immediate steps to rectify this imbalance we risk irreparably damaging another generation of young men through reckless and one-dimensional portrayals of masculinity in pop culture. This argument is not always articulated well, or even articulated at all, however when it is, and when it is expressed properly with respect and thought it can be the spark that lights the fire of change.


So, as we ring in 2018, I wanted to pause for a moment and reflect on the newest face of the New Year’s resolution – #newyearnewme (#NYNM). This #NYNM is likely already in your ‘most maligned bullshit of 2018’ mental pigeon hole and fairly rightly so… Only the most ‘Basic’ of humans use such a trite and saccharine method to express their deep and heartfelt desire to change, surely. But here is the rub – we all have that low and persistent desire to grow and learn and be better today than we were yesterday.

We all have that feeling, in the deepest darkest recesses of our mind that we aren’t quite as good as we could be. It is why the concept of the New Year’s resolution is so instantly accessible to most of us. Why then does this not translate well into the social media sphere? Why does #NYNM fail so completely to elicit an empathetic response in the broader social consciousness? This cognitive dissonance has been gnawing at the back of my mind for the last few days and refuses to leave.

I was thinking on this and initially I wanted to dismiss all of the #NYNM ‘resolutioners’ as being ‘weak’ for needing prompting to bring about change in their lives. I wanted to solve this problem easily by criticising them for needing the death of a year and the birth of a new one to rouse them from their complacency. But when I really examined this premise I was forced to face facts, that I too had been subject to similar apathy and sloth when faced with the requirement for my own change.

When I was depressed and obese it had been the gift of an original FitBit Flex (for Christmas) that had finally awakened within me the knowledge and desire to bring about the physical and mental changes that largely defined my life.

I have been forced to accept that the #NYNM movement and I shared similar levels of external influence in initiating our respective evolutions. That wasn’t an easy realisation to swallow, knowing that I could never again earnestly enjoy a meme of Arnie looking despairingly over a packed gym and decrying the unwashed masses of #NYNM ‘resolutioners’. But it is the right standpoint to view this issue from – for better or for worse, very few of us manage to successfully self-initiate change of a lasting nature. It is almost always the words, or gifts of a friend or family member, a new financial or domestic situation that really get our respective ‘balls’ rolling.

As enlightening and challenging as this personal realisation was – it still didn’t get to the bottom of the #NYNM problem – except in secret it had.  When I really sat down to examine the problem it hit, square in the face. #NYNM is an impossibility. My personal changes had been improvements, rectifications of deficiencies and similar, not ‘evolutions’ not a replacement of the old ‘Me’ with some new and improved ‘Me’.

#NYNM it is not something I think anyone really honestly wants, or is capable of. The traditional New Year’s resolution has been about changing one or two minor aspects of one’s life in order to live a better more complete happy existence. Conversely, the immediate connotation of #NYNM is that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “New Me – completely different from old me, old me is horrible and childish and completely bleh!!!!”. The idea that once you have come to such an epiphany that you could completely divorce yourself from ‘old you’ in order to achieve #NYNM is entirely without merit. More disturbingly, it shows signs of the invasion capitalistic ideals into our deepest personal spheres.

Now that was an alarming paragraph, let me explain.

The idea that we would ever want to completely do away with the entirety of our being in order to be reborn – a glorious phoenix arising from the ashes of our own demise – is truly preposterous. Anyone capable of such a thought is clearly a mostly rational actor and more than likely has a concept of self and identity through time. The idea that one could ever meaningfully engage with the concept of a philosophical ‘death’ in order to initiate change simply flies 180 degrees in the face of reason.

The contrast between the more traditional resolution mindset and the emerging trend of #NYNM shows that the cultural zeitgeist has begun to more fully adopt a mindset of disposability. Rather than taking a slow, deliberate, painful and honest assessment of our personal shortcomings, flaws and insecurities in order to engage in an equally slow, deliberate and painful program on self-betterment. We would much rather just throw out old damaged ‘IPhone 7s’ me and switch to new amazing and awesome ‘IPhone X’ me.

It is the growing influence of capitalist culture that has begot this change. This idea that the new year gives us an ‘out’ to throw away our concept of self and begin entirely anew, much as we would our smartphones, fundamentally ignores the fact that in order to feel true satisfaction in life we need to better ourselves. To iterate rather than replace, to grow rather than upgrade. More shockingly this the #NYNM idea seems to posit this theory of replacement without ever truly engaging with the harsh reality that we are building our new identity out of the same material we always have – the only material we can, to older ‘versions’ of ourselves. Without ever acknowledging that the IPhone X is really just an iteration rather than a revolution.

So, dearest readers, I implore you. Please when you see someone touting a #NYNM attitude, or god forbid an actual #, please show them some humanity and respect. Don’t just mock them in the privacy of your own home, chortling heartily at their ‘basic’ nature. Show them that what they are truly aiming at is self-improvement, not self-replacement.