Treading Down The Path.

So the other day I read in the paper that Ed Sheeran has recently broken the record for most tickets sold to a stadium tour of Australia. Ed sold an actual Million tickets, which dethroned Dire Straits’ 960,000 – a record held since 1986. This had me somewhat worried, I wasn’t sure I was kosher handing over such a significant record to a ‘new’ musician. This isn’t to lay claim to the position of absolute arbiter of what is and is not ‘good’ music – I was just unnerved to see a record held by a band I admired retreat into the future. Eventually I reminded myself that, in fact, I like Ed Sheeran. I own all 3 of his major albums and I probably sing his material in my ‘shower hit list’ more than I would like to admit. Still a small part of me felt somehow historically aggrieved that a piece of my cultural past seemed to have been diminished. I was raised on Dire Straits – I have precious few happy memories of my childhood, certainly not many involving those who would later become my abusers.  One of the few strongly positive memories I have from my early days is the first time I heard Brothers in Arms. The sound of Knopfler’s iconic picking building a resonance deep inside me, that I still feel listening to the song today.  Despite all this, I reminded myself that Ed Sheeran is both objectively good and, certainly based on my understanding of his career, entirely deserving of his success – I like everybody, love the rags to riches underdog stories.

I went to work that day and had a conversation about this record with many of my older colleagues and their responses fit largely into two categories. The first being those who didn’t really care for Dire Straits and thus were largely uninterested and the second being those who, like me, had a certain cultural nostalgia for ‘the good old days’. I mean there were others who were huge Sheeran fans and had actually attended the concert the previous night, but they are largely irrelevant to the point at hand… Those who were unimpressed that Ed had beaten out Knopfler almost universally appealed to the greater quality of Strait’s catalogue. Which is where the cracks started to form.

Flash forward to a fortnight later. I have just finished watching the 2017 remake of Power Rangers. Half of me is still buzzing uncontrollably from the opening of the films third act. Whereby fully CGI Zords have just run across the screen to the original western Power Rangers theme. The other half is struggling to understand the early stages of cognitive dissonance I felt setting in. When asked about the film’s quality I immediately, and unthinkingly, responded with ‘Shit’. But this answer did not satisfy me in the least. The film had been fun, light-hearted on the whole, but unafraid to meaningfully engage, or at the very least attempt to engage, with the struggles of being a teenager who for some reason does not fit a mould. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was derivative in this sense though. Even going so far as to surmise the plot as – “The breakfast club become Power Rangers”. However, in many regards I preferred the Rangers, because what self-respecting geek wouldn’t prefer his teen coming of age drama to also feature a 100ft monster made of gold… in any case despite not really having enjoyed the bulk of the emotional material the film had to offer, I could see how a younger less confident version of me would have absolutely devoured it.

This was the uncomfortable moment where it all fell in to place for me. I had gotten old. There was now officially a noticeable cultural generation underneath me. I was no longer a member of ‘the youth’. This realisation hit me like a slap full across the face. Young was generally the first adjective I would use in any description of myself. So to realise that it was no longer us fully applicable as it had been a mere two hours before was shocking. But It made me realise that there was a beauty to this new positon, I could appreciate culture in a new way. More objectively than I had previously seen it, I could now look at emerging properties and trends that were not made for me.

Both Ed Sheeran and Power Rangers had shown me something that as I grow older my image of what is formative and relevant and classic needs to grow with me. Music and culture and art can be timeless – but that is an incredibly high bar to clear. Even the best art is likely just – very good. And as such will age and become less effective and affecting with time. The idea that 2017’s Power Rangers was just “The Breakfast Club, just as Rangers” highlights this for me more astutely than I would have first thought possible. The breakfast Club is a classic, but it has aged and that is not a tragedy it is a product of reality. Time changes all things and we too must change with them.

We continue to move forward as a culture and create new and exciting versions of the timeless tales we always have. Timelessness here represents not so much a film or piece of art that has transcended time but rather a story that is spun up from the collective unconscious every time it’s last iteration loses value or meaning. Instead of viewing this process with revulsion or fear I want to learn how to embrace it better, and I challenge you to do the same.

 

 

 

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All These Lights and Sounds.

This one has been a while in the pipeline. Not because the subject matter is challenging or because I haven’t had the idea fully formed in my head. Rather, because it has only recently resurfaced inside the contents of my consciousness as something that needs addressing for the rest of the world. To rephrase, this is something that I have long held to be kind of an inherent truth of Art – It is the role of Art / The Artist to describe ‘The Human Condition’. Now, that is an immense responsibility and certainly I don’t expect all ‘Art’ to fill this billet equally. Certainly, the expectations I place on Shakespeare are notably higher than those I place on the most recent Fast and the Furious film in this regard. But all Art has something to contribute to this process. As an aside, I feel that this owes a great deal to the fact that Art like Mathematics, exists external to Humanity and we merely transmit it by momentarily channelling it – we call this process ‘inspiration’ or ‘The Muse/s’. So, each piece of this greater universal truth adds some small piece to the consistent search for communal meaning that we all seem to share.

That was a pretty hefty intro – admittedly – but I wanted to fully situate you all in the type of idealistic mindset I slip into when I am considering any Art.

Recently, I finally managed to convince my poor and longsuffering partner to sit down and watch Darren Aronofsky’s most recent film Mother! I have been excited to see this film for about 2 years now. I gave my partner a stay of execution when the film was in cinemas. She had originally agreed to go and see it there with me, but as soon as I read the first reviews out of the US, I knew it was not going to be something that she would enjoy – all the reviews agreed on two things about the film, the film was both unforgivingly visually brutal and entirely open ended to the point of mindfuckery. This, for the record, basically describes my perfect film – and I am a huge fanboy for Aronofsky.

The end result of the viewing was less horrific/ painful than I might have imagined. My partner had reservations about the lengths the film had gone to in order to make it’s point. And she also didn’t like the fact that there was not a traditionally satisfying narrative conclusion. However, much to my surprise and satisfaction, she engaged in a fairly robust discussion about the 3 or 4 different readings of the film we could immediately discern from using a few quick google searches for other common readings of the film. This process made me remember why I adore these types of films – films that invite audience speculation. Because they allow for many tiny windows into that universal Human Condition I mentioned earlier.

Not particularly wanting to engage fully here with the continuing debate about Authorial Intent and its ir/relevance to how one should read a piece of Art – I shall merely note that I do not frequently look up a definitive statement by those engaged in the creative process and leave it at that.

With that put firmly to one side, I think it is the highest achievement of film when there are multiple equally valid and rather different ways to engage with the ‘text’. I think that these types of films have an important role to play in ensuring that we as a society are able to develop and maintain the type of curiosity that allows us to fully engage with films as Art. Specifically they allow everyone to engage across multiple readings, not just cinema geeks and critics.

It is common for cinema geeks and their ilk to analyse films by applying multiple genre lenses to them and thus be able to provide a type of ‘deep engagement’ to a fairly broad range of films. That type of analysis is a learned and practiced skill and I think films that have open ended narratives, like Mother!, are the gateway to that skill. I think that films that openly challenge the audience to look deeper and think about what the film is saying to them specifically and individually, have the potential to open people up to seeing this type of multiplicity of meaning in a far broader range of materials than they may have seen previously.

Now it is important to note here, lest a throng of angry Art purists batter down my door and lynch me, that this is not the exclusive domain of Film as Art. This type of invitation to engagement has existed for far longer than Film as an art form – I am just talking about it in this fashion as: 1) It was the first method by which I personally received this type of invitation and 2) I suspect that it is the most common method for people these days, as film has become almost ubiquitous in its circulation globally.

I think that it is important to remember that Art is only as valuable to us personally as we allow it to be. Authors, Creators and Channelers around the world, spend countless hours slaving away to manifest a piece of the collective unconscious in an attempt to make the world a more beautiful and meaningful place, or at least to provide a momentary reprieve from the cosmic dread that sits at the heart of everyone. I consider it to be a small victory for the ‘good guys’ every time I see a film or other piece of Art that openly invites and challenges its audience to take the time to notice the bigger and more meaningful picture it is painting about our lives.

Demystifying the Disney Myth

Over the course of a number of conversations in the last few weeks, it has become apparent to me that I have been living a truth I never really noticed nor truly realised. Now the explanation to follow – that outlines the nature of this ‘truth’ may seem banal to some. And for that I do apologise. But this has taken me years, blood, sweat and more than a few tears to come to and it now that I have truly grasped it – I wanted to share it, I wanted to maybe help some people find this truth a little faster than I have. Now this story is a little involved and requires a trip through the decidedly more warped parts of my psyche – but bear with me as we walk the thin line between Disney and happiness.

I looooooooooooove Disney films – like adore them – like have written about them in blogs before, like know all the words to, and frequently sing ‘Let’s Get Down to Business” – loudly. I love Disney -THAT MUCH!! So, when I say that as a young boy/man I had been ensnared by ‘The Disney Myth’, I doubt it will surprise you in the slightest. What is ‘The Disney Myth’? Well it is a nefarious offshoot of Romanticism. Specifically, it is the offshoot of classical Romanticism that afflicts those raised on happily ever after Disney films. Films that show the protagonist reaching self-actualisation either as a direct result of finding the love of their life, or as a lovely (and rather rewarding) coincidence of finding the love of their life.

Now we all know that the realities spun by Disney films are foolish fantasies for children. Mere distractions to help ease the burden of over tasked parents by enrapturing the children for 90 minutes at a stretch.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that we all intellectually accept, acknowledge and understand that the perfect partner for us isn’t actually a talking frog that falls into our lap, or a dashing street rat/ thief we just met. Sometimes we don’t actually stop ourselves from feeling as if maybe one day this could be the case. That maybe the reason we are failing to find love in our bleak modern existence, is because we just haven’t found that magical someone.  Now, very explicitly, what I am not trying to do right here is poo poo or decry the exactly two couples in the entire world who actually fit the Disney mould. You are a fantastic, magical and lovely exception to the rule and the world is made better by your being in it. However, for the rest of us; that type of magic doesn’t exist. That type of truly effortless and singular love is not ever going to be ‘for us’.  Not only is it not for us – but holding onto this idea is preventing us from moving forward in constructive and worthwhile relationships right now.

For most of us, the rather pedestrian experience of anxiety ridden nights on Tinder or blind dates or similar are the norm. These nights are often spent trying to work out if that other human across the table/ bar / bed is anyone close to the person we need in our lives right now. And all too often, these people are not. Not because they are a bad person or because we are truly an unworkable match, but rather because we (the Disney fans and romantics of the world) have expectations that make those of Donald Trump look prosaic by comparison. Because we are hopeless, hopeless romantics that still believe in a small, naive and protected corner of our heart that every single girl or boy we meet could be our Princess Aurora or Prince Charming. It is this belief that drives us to connect with this person/people and in turn, ensures that we will damage that connection irreparably almost immediately.

Love; the type that lasts, the type that feels good as it lasts (which is an even rarer breed still) requires change, requires a few sacrifices and compromises. The real evil of the Disney myth is that if you really really believe it, I mean believe it to the point where you feel it inside you. You will never be happy making these types of changes because you shouldn’t have to. Your Prince/Princess should be perfect. They should intuit your every need and respond before you even ask, and they most certainly should need to be reminded to brush their teeth at night time. Moreover, if you believe the Disney Myth – you won’t have a model in your head for what these types of changes and sacrifices look like. Because Disney never bothers to show you what happens after happily ever after.

There is a Frank Turner line that I adore, “Love is about all the changes you make and not just 3 small words”. It perfectly captures the problem of the Disney Myth. The myth would have us believe that love is instantaneous and complete in its magic and that those 3 small words represent the end to anxiety, loneliness and all those nasty Saturday nights spent yearning for ‘someone who understands’. Frank Turner’s line on the other hand shows that this is just not the case. Turner embraces change as the key feature of love. Change requires a number of things – but most glaringly it requires acceptance that no one is a perfect match, that no love emerges complete and wholly formed into existence in a single moment of tremulous and magical passion as a pair of eyes meet from across a darkened room… The small habit of not putting the toilet seat down, or of not coming to bed at the same time as you or anything else at all in some immeasurably small way proves that your love is not the perfect Disney cut-out they hitherto had supposedly been.

This can be a shock, it can be an unendurable shock. Certainly, in my time being a young, and often stupid man on this earth, this realisation has ended relationships. But I am here to tell you that it shouldn’t. That every time that a relationship dies because both parties had entirely unrealistic expectations of the other – because one or both parties needed a Disney saviour – Walt, that old Jew hating squillionaire, gets another dollar from Satan. If we want to make a better go of actually finding lasting happiness in our relationships, we need to stop buying into the Disney Myth and start accepting that the people who we love and who love us, are just as imperfect, crazy and relentlessly broken as we are and just like us, they can change for the better.

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. 

-BB

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.

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.

BB

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.

 

 

 

#NEWYEARNEWME

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.

Interrogations

So, over the course of the last year, whilst I have not been writing, I have not let my mind sit and go to mush. I have been devouring books. In multiple formats; both traditional, bound, fare and also audiobooks. Between the two media I have racked up in excess of 40 titles during 2017.

I’m a little proud of myself – my goal for the year was half that number.

These titles have ranged from Game of Thrones novels through to Guy DeBord and Stephan Molynuex and I am incredibly pleased with the intellectual results of this meandering. It has allowed me to develop in ways that I would not have thought possible 12 months ago. To critically analyse ideas and arguments in a manner in which I had not previously in my life.

When I was younger I was a prolific reader – primarily of pulp and high fantasy, Eddings, King, Jordan etc. This habit seemed to drop off during university as my reading became thoroughly directed towards my study – video games seemed a far more appealing abnegation activity after hours of reading heavy history textbooks. This is the first year since I started my very first tertiary qualification that I have found reading for fun to truly call to me again.

It is from this vantage that I have spied a particularly troubling phenomenon. Now I certainly will not claim to be alone or even early in this observation.  However, it has troubled me in increasing amounts as the year has progressed to see that those who I would consider intellectual peers are far less interested in diversifying their scholastic intake as they are with shoring up their ideological holdfasts’.

To expand – Earlier this year I mentioned to a work colleague – who until this time I had thought very highly of. This colleague had certainly impressed me with their ability to hold a conversation on just about every progressive subject matter – up to and including some of the more far out nutbaggy global conspiracy trains of thought – Rothschild dominance and all that. I was shocked, however, when I mentioned to this colleague that I was ½ way through Milo Yiannopoluos’ ‘Dangerous’ to be immediately inundated with pressure to explain why I had helped finance a hate campaign.

I tried to explain that rather than react to media pundit interpretations of Milo’s writings I was keen to interrogate the subject first hand in order to circumvent bias. Having been thoroughly convinced of the media bias in my country by the shameful reaction we have had to Cassie Jaye’s ‘The Red Pill’. This colleague waxed lyrical for nearly a full 10 minutes about the various logical fallacies in Milo’s work and the many ways in which he was entirely unworthy of my patronage of his literary endeavours. When I pushed this colleague as to how they were so knowledgeable about Milo’s positions and writings they began to reference several 2nd and 3rrd hand sources of response to the material.

This was the moment that my internal alarm bells kicked into high gear.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident across this year. Sadly it was not. Several members of my intellectual exchange communities have taken great pains to ignore and implore others to ignore large swathes of the emerging fields of argument, particularly in the conservative cultural analysis space. It seems that the echo chamber effect that has been oft discussed has begun to migrate from being solely the province of the anti-intellectual class within this country and take disturbing and fascinating route within the intellectual class as well.

I cannot begin to express how scared this makes me.

Whilst I cannot claim to be well and proper OG in my antipathy for this particular issue – having spent far too many hours of the last decade blissfully connected to the hypereality of the MMORPG sphere to feel at all secure or legitimate in such a position. I can certainly say that this last year has done a very great deal to convince me that I was right to make the swap from comfortable and safe intellectual wandering to ‘transgressive’ and ‘problematic’ inquiry.

We as a society need to spend more time focusing on ideas and arguments that challenge us in real and meaningful ways. Rather than allowing ourselves to apathetically seek out news sources and public intellectuals that reflect and shape our opinions and perceptions along lines we have already set for ourselves.

We don’t all need to – by virtue of literary patronage – finance right wing nutbags touring our country and inciting civil unrest – but certainly we do need to spend time engaging personally and legitimately with all of the legitimate arguments that are being presented to us. Failure to do so will leave us as out of touch with the reality of the intellectual space that we inhabit as the Tsars of Russia in 1913.

We need to allow ourselves to be made uncomfortable by the ideas and premises of those who we wish to debate and convince. We need to allow space in our personal echo chambers for dissent and synthesis through this dissent into a greater intellectual understating of the true reality that we all inhabit.

So this is my challenge to the few of you that are still here after all of that. Go out and read, read widely and read politically. Read left and read right. Engage honestly and completely with both sides of this space. Because we are living at the edge of history in this country, things are changing in ways and through means that we have never experienced as a society or as a race. It is at this critical juncture that we have  people of robust and thorough intellectual grounding to help round out the public discourse that we are exposing the masses to.

Do not be cowed by the dissenting voices and remember always the famous Aquinian quote, “Hominem Unius Libri Timed” …..

“I fear the man of a single book”

The Weight of Scars

So I had a very vivid recollection the other evening whilst watching a new episode of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. I promise what follows isn’t a shocking revelation of some royal heritage or similar.

In this episode, a scene takes place where rather dramatically Elizabeth’s character asks her uncle how he could forgive himself for consorting with Nazis after his abdication. The gravitas and drama with which the line was delivered pulled me right back into my angsty teenage mindset and reminded me of a conversation I had had some years ago with a parental figure of some sort.

I cannot duly recall the inciting incident – however the context would infer it was something altogether unpleasant. The conversation ran somewhat as follows;

Me: ‘Parental Figure – how do old people live with themselves?’

Parental Figure: ‘What do you mean?’

Me: ‘How do old people live with the weight of all their stupid decisions and unforgivable wrongs weighing them down?’

Parental Figure: ‘That’s rather bleak…..’

Me: ‘Not really – more just accepting of the reality that we all make mistakes and calls that end up being vastly wrong with consequences that echo throughout our lives, and I think that it would be really hard to get by feeling all of those like I do right now’

Like I said – fairly angsty teenage fair.

But it is a question I’ve never satisfactorily answered. Or rather the method of answering it emerges out of learned ‘adult’ apathy. Things an angsty teenager (myself included) counted as unforgivable sins seem positively puerile by comparison to the realisation of the gargantuan lies we live under every day in global society – insert ethical consumption under capitalism meme here.

This episode of ‘The Queen’ has catapulted this set of personal problems back into the forefront of my consciousness and all the argument I can muster within myself is the Christian tenet of forgive and forget. In this case leaning heavily on the later rather than the former half of the idea.

I don’t know about you but certainly if I cast my mind over all the bad calls I’ve made in my life – all the hurts that I can chalk up to being ‘my fault’ there are certainly a share that I don’t think I shall ever find an opportunity to resolve either due to not having resolved the underlying dispute or hurt – or not having access to the other party or object as required to truly reconcile.

So answering my own teenage self I find myself drawn to, what seems like a typically apathetic Australian response – we just do. We just try to do what we can and make the best call at the time and don’t sweat the small stuff. This doesn’t satisfy me though. Just doing – just allowing grievances or crimes to fade into the hazy obscurity of memory does not do them justice – does not do the passion of humanity and human life and love and existence true justice.

What is small enough to be small stuff? What is the line between a problem that needs fixing and a problem that will resolve itself with distance and time? None of these things are truly universally answerable of course – however my semi-aut brain will still shout to the modern ‘heavens’ and demand a sensible reply.

I have striven to live honestly – to fight the battles that ought to be fought and more challengingly to learn how to admit when I am in the wrong and need to ceed ground or a point. However somewhere in the hubbub and prioritisation of adult life the angst that drove that was lost – complacency set and began to decay the fibre of a belief as it all too often does.

I have to chalk some of this up to a problem of scale – as I have stared out into the enormity of the social and political problems of this day and age – my personal missions have become dwarfed by the relative insignificance of one life in the grand social game. However, this was not enough for the absurdist’s and it is not enough for me. I cannot, now that I have been reminded, allow the insignificance and absurdity of my personal struggle to be a free pass and I remain somewhat embarrassed to admit I let it become one.

 I have let things that could have been fixed remain problems and add anxiety and weight to my life that did not need to be there because these things and problems seemed ‘hopeless’ or ‘insignificant’.  No more, I will make angsty teenage me proud of the human I can become.

So I write this as a challenge not just to myself but to all of you.

A challenge and a reminder – to be better than apathy – to be better than obscurity. To demand resolution, to demand answers. To solve the problems that can be and stride forward to solve the bigger ones yet.