Stay Angry

One to ponder, on this Day of Australia and Invasion and Survival (and Rum Rebellion Anniversary):

Have you ever been on the phone to some poor call centre drone, trying to get someone to hear your complaint, only to have them tell you to calm down? Or even hang up on you, if you should – heaven forbid! – dare to swear in the course of expressing your feelings?

Sucked, didn’t it?

It’s a neat little trick, the way that we’ve all been convinced that whatever point we’re making is instantly delegitimised if we should commit the simple human error of being angry while we make it. (Unless we’re a member of the current federal government, apparently. They seem to be able to spew hateful bile without any consideration.)

Never mind that there’s nothing like being told to calm down to get anyone’s hackles up. Never mind that it’s not like the people actually responsible are even going to hear our complaints – one of the major reasons why call centres are so popular with companies and government agencies is that they insulate those in power from our complaints. From our anger.

Hell, complain too often, and you’re just a crank who can be ignored entirely, all your anger delegitimised because what reason is there to complain?

(While we’re talking about it: be nice to the people in the call centres, because their only sin is wanting a job. Don’t take out your anger on them unless it is truly deserved by them. Instead, try asking for their help with making your complaint, because you’ll be surprised at how many of them are ready, willing and able to help you stick it to their bosses – and know how to aim your complaints better than you do.)

So the next time you hear someone making a fuss about something that seems like a non issue to you, don’t tell them to be quiet, or nice, or polite about it. Remember all those times someone told you that, and how it made you feel.

All those people out there who are telling you to wait, to be calm, that the time is not yet ripe…

…they are either your masters or the sheep who serve them.

Everyone who says that gay people in Australia need to wait just a little bit longer to be able to marry; that racism would end of only indigenous Australians should stop making such a fuss about it; that Australia’s women should wait until men are ready to let them be equal…

…to blazes with their calm downs.

Apologise for your word choices if you must, apologise if you manner frightens people, sure.

But never apologise for an anger against injustice. Never.

Dunning-Kruger Club

The first rule of Dunning-Kruger Club is: you’ll never know you’re a member of Dunning-Kruger Club

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you what the Dunning-Kruger Effect is. (If you don’t, click on the words.) And while much has been made of it as an explanation of why so many people vote against their own interests based on gut feelings and such, less attention has been paid to its effect within politics, and particularly, within political parties.

There are many ways that the Dunning-Kruger Effect can manifest within a political party, quite aside from the behaviour of individual politicians. (If the words ‘Captain’s Call’ or ‘Pig Fucker’ make you shudder, you know what I mean.) But increasingly, the most common is an insistence on ideological purity over competence to govern.

For decades, this insistence was considered the dividing line between professional and amateur politicians: it was the extremists at each end of the political spectrum who made that error, whether it was the ever-schisming-over-arcane-points-of-doctrine Left or the holier-than-thou Right. If you were too hung up on being pure (however it was you defined ‘pure’), you were never going to make it as a serious politician. But over the last few decades, as the definition of a professional politician has become ‘a politician who’s never had a job outside of politics’, this mode of thought has migrated to the centre of poltitics. I don’t believe for a second that this is merely coincidence.

When ideological purity is substituted for intellectual rigour and practical competence, you wind up with the kinds of situations that are currently rife in the democracies of the West. The Tea Party Movement of the United States is among the more prominent exemplars, and indeed, the problem often seems worse on the Right than on the Left, but it’s hardly the only example. (If the problem is more widespread on the Right – and this appearance may be simply confirmation bias – it is likely because the Right has a more authoritarian style than the Left, making it even harder to question the arrant stupidity that so many politicians display.) In Australian politics, the imprudence of Tony Abbott and the intransigence of Cory Bernardi on the Right are matched on the Left by the occasionally baffling decisions of the Greens about when it is and isn’t alright to compromise. Its defining feature is a preference for absolutism over incrementalism.

It’s not hard to find examples: every time someone decries the solution of whatever problem for not being a perfect solution, it’s there. Every time a single incident or utterance is held to be representative of the entire person, it’s there. Every time bullying is used instead of reasoned argument, it’s there.

Mourning never ends

I truly believe this. Because mourning is not an entirely conscious process. Like any emotion, a lot of it goes on in the background. It’s not always on your mind; but it is always on your heart or soul.

(Yes, this is about David Bowie as well, but more obliquely. His passing has caused me to think about these things anew.)

You’re moving along just fine, and then you see something, or smell something or hear something, and it all comes back to you. And when it does, you feel a species of guilt, because we all know in our hearts that mourning never ends. If the way the people who are gone live on is in our memories, then to have forgotten them (with one’s conscious mind), even for a second, is to have killed them. And we apologise inwardly, invoking and palliating the shades of the departed, because it feels like our forgetting them has hurt them the way that their deaths hurt us.

All but one of my grand-parents died before I was more than 12 or so. (My maternal grandmother didn’t die until I was in my thirties, and I got to know her – somewhat – as an adult.) At that age, it’s less that one cannot process death as that one bounces back more quickly. You are young and bright and energetic, and sad that you will not see them again, but your emotions are still so inchoate that the simple fact you can’t put a name to it protects you from the worst ravages of grief. That’s how it seems to me at this remove, at least.

In the mid-Nineties, a friend of mine – the very queen of snark – committed suicide. I had feared that she might (and went on spend years wrestling with the guilt of not having done more), but it was still a shock and a blow. I cannot hear any version of “Tomorrow Wendy” without thinking of her, even today. Hey hey, goodbye, old friend.

One of my aunts died after a protracted struggle with cancer. She was, well, to us nephews and nieces, she was our second mother. She was kind and giving and supportive, and I honestly do not know how she did it. She wasn’t a saint, don’t get me wrong, but she was an excellent human being. (The thing that sticks in my mind: on the day of her funeral, one my cousins couldn’t make it due to other commitments. A young man in his early twenties at the time, he wept unashamedly about that. And this was a cousin on the other side of my family, related to her only by my parent’s marriage. She was that kind of person.)

One of my father’s cousins, who was basically an uncle to my brother and I, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was a great guy, smart, incisive, funny. He’d been a school teacher most of his life, and before that, a member of the first ever graduating year at La Trobe University (which was my alma mater also). I’d barely seen him for twenty years, largely because I spent a lot of my twenties far from most of my family (emotionally, and sometimes geographically), but I cried at his funeral, which was so crowded with his family and friends and former students (and their families and friends) that the church wouldn’t fit us all.

Freddie Mercury died. My girlfriend and I had been away for the weekend, and only learned it when we got back to her place and her sister told us. We lay together and cried on each other’s shoulders.

Gough Whitlam died. Non-Australians won’t understand this, but Gough was one of the titans of Australian politics, a man whose works and legacy you could not fail to have an opinion about. Love him or hate him, his death seemed like the end of an era.

Robert Anton Wilson died. No single author has ever affected my thinking or the way I view the world as much as him, no one wrote books I more eagerly re-read or shared with others. (If anything that I’ve ever said meant a damn to you, the odds are about 50/50 that you’ve him to thank for that. I was merely a messenger.)

David Bowie died. Yesterday.

I could go on. I could talk about Paul Hester, or Hunter Thompson, or Roger Zelazny, I could bring up Isaac Asimov, or John Lennon, or that kid you went to school with, but there’s no need. My point is made.

People in your life die. Artists who you never met, but whose work has touched your life, die.

We don’t need to know them personally, because like all those we love, we know their hearts. Family, friends or distant strangers, they are the ones Who have brought hope to your heart, fire to your spirit or electricity to your brain. Who made you smile on your worst days, and who appreciated your smile on your best days.

Mourning never ends, so their absence will forever make you sad. At times, it will reduce you to tears and sobbing.

But ultimately, grief is a cause for hope. Because the reason mourning never ends is that love never dies.

Perhaps you’re smiling now, smiling through this darkness…

A Remembrance of David Bowie

Start here:

It’s perhaps a little late for it, years into his career, but perhaps that’s just when it felt real enough. When stardom was in his grasp, and all he had to do was reach out and take it. In retrospect, “Star” sounds like a mission statement, even a manifesto. Bowie started the song in 1970, tinkered with it on and off over that year and the next before finally recording it for his upcoming album. 1971 was a cusp year for Bowie, and a sense of make or break pervades the entire album of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. (Tellingly, Bowie’s vision of stardom includes both make and break. Bowie would both be Buddha and kill him on the road.)

Star” is one of the most optimistic songs on the album, full of Warholian ambitions. Bowie sings of a Transformation, even a World Mutation (the capitals are quite audible). Did he intuit, even then, that one day he’d need to kill Ziggy? It’s hard not to feel that he understood, already, the need to be protean. Bowie as shapechanger, as trickster, switching effortlessly from heart-on-sleeve passion to above-it-all cynicism and back again. Endlessly. (Ask any student of the tarot: death is just another transformation.)

Bowie, at every point in his career, is an outsider artist. Even in his Eighties incarnation, as pop music royalty, as one of those who sat enthroned above the system, there’s a sense of subversiveness. At any point, like his goblin prince Jareth, he’ll reveal that his authority figure status is just another act, just another character. (If you cower, he’ll be frightening. Yes and, right?) And even if that never happens, at some point he’ll be bored with it, and go do something else.

To me, and I suspect to many another misfit, that was the most alluring thing about Bowie. It’s not that he made it okay to be weird, or to be artistic, or to be queer, although he did those things too. It’s that he made it okay to be, in the eyes of the external world at least, inconsistent. Bowie’s integrity as an artist was writ most large in his unpredictability. He was always Bowie, but what Bowie was changed constantly. Other artists might become golden oldies, but Bowie was always mercurial. Bowie was Ziggy and Jareth and the Thin White Duke and so many more, sometimes simultaneously. It’s never better encapsulated than here:

Which one is the real Bowie?

I don’t think it matters.

In the end, this is what I’ll remember him for. Not for being perfect. Certainly not for easily comprehensible lyrics. But for being himself, even when that self was a surprise to everyone around him (and at times, it seemed, to him too). For taking himself so very seriously, and not seriously at all. For the stream of his consciousness. For his endless reinvention.

He did not die. He could never die. Death is just another transformation. David Bowie simply moved on:

Sometimes I can’t believe it

I have always tended nocturnal. I have been known to refer to the sun as “the big light that comes on when it’s time to go to sleep”. Moreso in summer, when it’s merely a common sense way of avoiding the heat (so long as you’ve no reason to be up early the next day). It suits me. I sunburn easily and I hate the heat and humidity.

But I don’t live in New York, and Melbourne is a city that does sleep, at regular and sensible hours. So as much as I love it here, and appreciate the weird beauty of the suburban night, the nights are long and empty of human contact. And then I sleep all day, or until mid-afternoon or so, and my friends are tired after work, or have something on, or have kids to look after, and I can maybe come visit, but not too late, because there’s work or school or both (depending on the household) tomorrow.

(It makes you stealthy, not so much from a desire to be a ninja as from a desire to not be an arsehole.)

The internet helps this a little – I have friends in other time zones to talk to, some of the time at least. But there’s no one I can pick up the phone and call unless it’s an emergency. (That’s not a criticism of anyone but me, by the way.) And I love missing the days’ heat, but the nights can be cold in more ways than one.

I used to get a fair amount of writing done of a night, but not so much these daysnights. Now I just wander around on the interwebs, reading things I’ve read before, failing to reach inbox zero, and playing games. And missing the world, because it’s gone to sleep without me.

I used to go clubbing three nights a week, week in, week out, and honestly, I still would if I had a crew and venues that played music I like. (It’s been a surprise to me, over the years, to find how little it takes to satisfy me.) I suppose I probably also lack the stamina, in my late forties, although I suspect it would come back if I worked at it. (You can have your gym, I have mine.) And my hair wouldn’t smell like smokers afterwards, either, which would be nice.

I don’t really want to change, in many ways.

But the life I’m living is… unsatisfying.

I don’t really want to change… but I need to.

Damn Me

Sometimes I feel like my footsteps erase themselves behind me. Not always. But often. Most of the time, even.

I’ve felt that way, on and off, for twenty years or so, but more often as time goes on. I’m barely here anymore. Barely real. I lived, back in the Twentieth Century, but here the Twenty-First, I merely haunt.

All my stories are old and shop-worn, all my habits of steering conversations away from the awkward questions are distressingly well-practiced. It’s not that I don’t recall much of the last few years, it’s that there seems to be so little worth recalling. Memory is hollow.

I don’t know how exactly this happened. I can’t pinpoint any single thing that made this happen, no event or choice that decisively shaped me. I can’t, at this point, individually identify all of the snowballs that made this avalanche. I just know that I am buried under it.

I have become things that would have been an absolute anathema to my younger self, like cautious and content and complacent. (I’m fucking terrified as I type this, but I know it must be done.)

It’s not that I no longer want the things I once wanted, although I have come to understand that they won’t come as easily as the me of my early twenties thought. And yet…

I’ve come too far for anything else. I’m still not ready to be normal, and I doubt that I will ever be.

But as much as I’m still in that ocean, more and more I’m treading water instead of swimming.

And it’s funny, because all this noise and splashing is for an audience that hasn’t been fooled by it in a long, long time.

And it’s sad, because all this noise and splashing, all this attention-seeking, is just a way to hide.

I don’t exactly know how to change this. I really don’t.

But I’m going to find out. Because, however much I’ve clung to the notion that there was only one, there has to be more than one way to be a grown up.

We’ll talk again on this, and soon. I’ll play you my theme songs, and hopefully you can suggest some better ones for me.

On the use of the word “cis”

So a few friends of mine linked to this article on Facebook: 6 Reasons Why Being Called a Cis Person Is Not Oppressive

It’s a pretty good article. It’s concise and good-humoured. It puts forward the case For pretty damned well.

And it’s ultimately counterproductive, because its introduction basically says “you’re wrong, so there” before actually trying to explain why, and because none of its explanations actually rebut the arguments against.

Now, in all honesty, I have not yet made up my mind about this particularly philological battle. But this article helped to clarify some things for me. In particular, I realised that it’s less the word itself than the way that it’s being presented.

I can see why some people do consider it oppressive, for a few reasons:

  1. It’s one thing for you to ask me to call you a particular thing, but for you to ask (let alone tell) me to call me a particular thing is a different kettle of fish. It comes across as “I’ve made up new names for both of us and you’re not allowed to disagree with them.” If your name was David, and you met another David who then went on to introduce himself as David 1 and you as David 2, without ever consulting you about it, you would object, would you not? Consent matters (particularly when the politics of the people opposing you are so motivated by personal grievances). Point 4 in the linked article brings up this point, and then answers a completely different question.
    (Yes, this argument is somewhat reductive, but do you honestly think that the people objecting to the term are really thinking of the nuances?)
  2. Cui bono? Seriously. It’s easy to see what’s in it for trans people, but what’s in it for cis people? Most people want more than just the rosy glow of being polite as a payback, especially when (as described in the preceding point) this courtesy is not being demanded in an especially courteous fashion.
  3. For want of better phrasing, the term has been poorly marketed – by which I mean it’s too often been used in the same stupid-human-in-group manner that a minority of every single human group in history seems to think is necessary. If you’re attempting to popularise the use of a new term, sneering at people for not already knowing it is counterproductive – especially when, as the article below implies, it’s intended to be inclusive. But there are some people who do this, and all their use of the term does is to make it objectionable when it doesn’t need to be.
    (Again, a lack of nuanced thought is the problem here – but how many people are going to think it through to realise that they should be annoyed by the behaviour rather than the word, especially when they’re already annoyed?)

Another Friday Dies

So, another week gone by, and I don’t feel like I’ve achieved as much as I should. Which is, in its own way, kind of odd, because I actually got a fair bit done this week. I’m back to doing stuff over at my other blog The Centre Cannot Hold again, getting back into the swing of things there, which is a nice feeling, because it means that I’m putting at least one new thing, however small, into the world each day. Plus there’s the assorted reviews I’ve been putting up here.

I’ve spent a lot of this week listening to various new podcasts. Some I liked, and I may wind up talking about them here at some point, others I didn’t, and I’ll never mention them again. I like to like things, after all, so when I dislike a thing, I try to put it down the memory hole (which may not be entirely healthy, but what the hell). This blog isn’t a place for criticising things, but a place for celebrating them.

For some reason, despite all my best efforts, my body keeps resetting to being almost completely nocturnal (I have literally seen about an hour of sunlight each day for most of this week), which is deeply annoying, because the world that has jobs in it doesn’t work that way, and I like having money. (To say nothing of my creditors, who also like having money, and would like very much for me to give it back to them. Sorry guys, I know it’s taking forever, but it is happening.) Still, there are worse things than being nocturnal, although this being winter, it does mean that my waking hours are in the colder half of the day.

Fortunately, now as always, darkness makes me smile.

Uncritical Criticism

I’m both awesome and sucky at being a critic.

Awesome, because I’m good at seeing the flaws and the merits of a given work, and explicating them simply.

Sucky, because I’m a little too good at forgiving the flaws. If I enjoy something enough, I can forgive a lot. I can forgive the egregious plot hole in “Seveneves”, despite the fact that it annoyed the hell out of me for the first 500 or so pages of the book, for example.

I tend to try to view things in the context in which they were created – I don’t judge an Eighties sitcom on its gender role assumptions the way I’d judge one made today; I try to ignore the racism in 19th century (and earlier) novels (with mixed success); and so on. There are a few things I draw the line on, but in general, I have higher expectations of works created closer to the present time or day.

I also try to judge things not by an objective standard of artistic quality, but instead by the range of their particular form (i.e. I don’t compare a sitcom episode to “Apocalypse Now” or “Macbeth”). I’m quite comfortable with something being a solid but unexceptional example of its kind (yes, “Watchmen” is a better comic than say, “Marvel 1602”, but they both have their charms), which is a useful ability if you watch American sitcoms.

Experience has made me expect more of some creators than others, and so I hold them to higher standards – I expect more of Dan Harmon than Chuck Lorre, or of Kieron Gillen than Dan Slott, or of Jo Walton than Mike Resnick – but than doesn’t stop me from enjoying at least some of the works of all these people. (NB. “The Big Bang Theory” still sucks, but I enjoy “Mom”.)

I like to like things, in short.

(Thank you, Miles Stokes, for that wonderful phrase.)

And that’s going to be with this blog is about from now on. I’ll be writing about things I like and why I like them. Probably with occasional outbreaks of more personal stuff, but mostly just fansquee. Be seeing you.