Monday, January 18, 2016

When the elephant forgets

We all know about the pervasive generic belief that society always progresses, always advances in ways that are both subtle; with effects that are felt positively much much after the fact, and revolutionary; promising change to the ways we do things here and now, almost immediately imposing on us the burden of adapting or being relegated to the dark, seminally unfashionable class of every society's own version of neo-Luddite.
Does this idea ever transcend the subjective aspects of our experience of life i.e. in a personal sense viz. in how we understand human sexuality and personal expression, and communally viz. in how we use new technology to enhance our understanding of our place in the unbound, countless, and varied iterations of human community?
To focus on our sense of family, for example, is to feel lulled into an effortless belief in the sanctity of perpetual forward motion. We grow up in a social unit that either feeds our self-belief or challenges us to constantly prove just how valuable we are. We grow up as contributors or scavengers depending on our place in the social order of things, and always tend to hitch our star to the widely held wisdom of the crowd: 'It Could Be Worse'. In the process, unless we are victims of severe personal calamity, incorrigibly self-centred, or resolutely fatalistic, the default sentiment on our deathbeds is that we have lived our lives, honourably or not, in a world that is more expressive than our parents' ever was.
Could we be wrong?
I do vaguely remember a very happy childhood, followed by a measure of tragedy and relative hardship as a young man, and am now surrounded with very adult, grown-up problems in a world that bears absolutely no resemblance to the one I knew as a child, from memory. Every time there is an eruption of frustration, a rupture in the normal psychological order of things, a build-up of stress, I fall back, almost psychosomatically, into that comfortable expression of medicated relativism: It Could Be Worse. But what if it never was? Is it a myopic refusal to face the uniqueness of the circumstances of our lives? Could all the comfort and privilege a middle-class existence in the modern world affords us have not actually brought us progress?
I am constantly sensitive to the lack of a basis for comparison when my wife and I tackle a seemingly intractable issue in our family life. But, perhaps there was a time when a similar issue was tackled with relative ease in our parents' lives without a similar measure of drama and heartache, and we don't know about it simply because they're not around any longer to ask, and even if they were, it would be bad form to ask for help.
This asking for help is what I am getting at. If we have bought into this myth of continuous and self-perpetuating progress in everything, then have we also lost faith in age-old solutions to seemingly modern problems? And if so, can we ever think of the past in the same terms as we think of the future, as a hoary place full of incandescent wisdom waiting to be uncovered and enhance our experience of the present.
Modern life is a great big sky full of endless possibility, but it is also a claustrophobic, dark, and cold den of hopelessness. Perhaps we will not feel so alone if we retain a little of the sense of where we came from, and that it indeed was what led us to who we are today.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Season's Greetings

Things one remembers, does, feels, and grudgingly accepts during the holidays:

A German friend telling me that Ben Kingsley's performance in, 'Gandhi' (1982) was disappointing because he expected the portrayal to exude more cheer and goodwill.

An Australian friend laughing at my face when I told her I write in English.

Recounting all the memories I thought I shared with a Norwegian friend, animatedly, only to be met with blank stares.

Expecting sure and calamitous disaster from an impending gathering of close family members, knowing the only simple way to ward it off is to not say anything at all to anyone, just smile self-assuredly.

Looking at my growing gut with displeasure and foreboding.

Thinking about the relentless passage of time, and thinking about it again.

Reading a travelogue published over One Hundred and Eighteen Years Ago, and revelling in the topically contemporaneous dystopian humour.

Reading blurbs about books published over the last year by writers I enjoy reading, without wanting to read any of the books being so blurbed about.

Thinking about how good it would feel to be at a particular beach, at a particular time of day, among particular people right about now, when none of those things actually exist any more.

Being grateful for my life and my people.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What do mass shooters think?

I had a dream last night.

I was angry, frustrated, depressed, maniacal, and violent. I got hold of a gun. I thought of all the people I wanted to kill, whose bodies I would riddle with bullets and feel satisfaction at having done so: all the people in my life who humiliated me, hurt me, pitied me, didn't love me back, didn't give me a chance, spoke behind my back, worked to undermine me among my friends and family, doubted me, loathed me.
I thought of all the people who I hated without ever having met: the recruiters sitting in their offices passing on my resume to the rejected pile because of my antecedents, my lack of the right qualifications, my strange name on the front page. The parliamentarians passing judgements on what constitutes a fair-go, a chance at assimilation, an equitable society for all with a level playing field. The politicians who say I am not warranted to feel offended when someone casts aspersions on my race, my ethnicity, my foreignness, that I don't really belong here, that I should be grateful for the very fact that I am here, that my life is worth less than the closest white person's.
I thought of the people I had met professionally: the clients who interjected constantly through my presentations to take credit for some input or another even though it was the first time they were encountering the idea, the smirking colleagues who feigned compassion with my circumstances when they were actually laughing at my misfortune, the school teachers and university lecturers who implied that I didn't fit in, that I wasn't the right sort of clay to be moulded, that I had an attitude problem that wouldn't stand me in good stead.

I thought of my father who died when I was nine. I thought of my mother who died when I was twenty-nine. I thought of my wife.

I thought of all those who would be affected if I killed someone. Their friends, colleagues, daughters, sons, wives, mothers, fathers.

I thought and thought and thought.

I then turned the gun on myself, put the barrel in my mouth, and fantasised about the blood splatter that would be left on the wall behind my head when I was done.
I then thought of my daughter who will turn five next month.

I woke up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Sea of Faces

I've been looking at faces a lot these past weeks - faces from the internet, of famous people, profile pictures of the less so on social media, my own from times past and present... I don't know why this has happened but before I can catch myself I see that many minutes have passed in silent and absorbed contemplation of the pictures that I click on, zoom in on, open in applications so that I can get a less cluttered view...

Perhaps I am trying to see what time does to a face when it freezes it for eternity in a particular pose, at a particular time of day, in a particular light, in a particular mood, in the throes of a particular self-absorption. Most of these pictures are of people staring directly at the camera, some of them have the air of being caught out, but most are of those investing something of themselves in the moment, aware that the here and now is when they are being captured for eternity while attempting to infuse the moment with a sense of timelessness, as if the moment will be a salve for the relentless toil time takes on the self-image.

Exoticism, fetishism, escapism, voyeurism... are terms that come to mind when I think of what I am doing, but even so, these are terms that are only ever relative to a subjective sense of moral outrage and what relativity can extend to my quiet reflection on the face of another that is available in the public domain, and that for all intents and purposes is being advertised in the service of the promotion of a personal brand?

So, what exactly is the purpose being served here? Comparison, perhaps? Here I am, a middle-aged parody of the man I once thought I was, stolidly plodding along through the opacity of a recent civic relocation, trying to keep my head above water in the face of recurring challenges to a personal sense of well-being, during a phase in my life when I should have already been paying back mortgages and planning vacations two and three years into the future, and not wondering where the next year's school fees are going to come from. Comparison, in these circumstances, is only ever going to be disastrous to my continued functionality as a father, husband, and citizen, and therefore is a moot point.

Could it be due to something darker? That I am trying to infuse in the faces of anonymous others something of my tottering belief in the shared sense of the human? That the shattered state of the world today can somehow be overcome by a preoccupation with form, and aesthetic, and imbued character and personality. That the face of another is a giant outlined slate that I can write my fantasies on; of origin, and ambition, and mobility, and dreams. Tenuously holding on to a personal belief that the world consists of faces that are representative of more than just the exigencies of personal advantage, and self-aggrandising, and terror, and fear, and the darkest manifestations of our collective flaws and follies.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Something to believe in

There is a certain sadness in writing about things that once mattered to you, and realising in the present that your interest was founded on a once profound naïveté and unjustified optimism that you wish you weren't disabused of, if only because the myth would have been easier to live with these days.

The myth of representation is certainly one of those things. I grew up in a community that was wholly sceptical and apathetic when it came to matters of political representation. It was understood that council members, MLAs, MPs, and sundry representatives of even the local Residents Welfare Associations (or equivalents thereof) were corrupt, mean-spirited, under-educated, big-mouthed, self-serving accused (or convicted) criminals, that one with some future in life would do well to steer clear of. Elections, consequentially, were times to sit back and let the whole pageantry of campaigning glide by your upraised eyebrows, when you were not smirking at those poor schmucks to whom they apparently meant so much. Nothing in the personal experience of public life ever changed those fundamental impressions of lassitude and was indeed only ever scrutinized subjectively when you were forced to confront the fact that you did share a country with those who would determine the state of the roads and/or the condition of the drains before the monsoons came if they embezzled too much of your taxes when they did come to power.
In such an environment, if one were to enter the political space as a campaigner, coordinator or even a vocal supporter you had to be prepared to face scorn, accusations of complicity in an unethical social order, and sometimes even violence when the confrontations with the status quo became too immediate for a retreat into the relative safety of a measured appeal for civil discourse.

This very environment, or somewhere very similar, is where most first-generation migrants to the First World originate from, and if they claim that they are treated as second-class citizens in their adopted countries, feel constantly racially and ethnically discriminated against, and worry for the futures of their children, what is most often the reality is that they are disillusioned with the quality of political representation, in comparison to their encounters with political representation in their home countries.

When my family and I migrated to Australia in 2013, the timing of our move happened to coincide with the 44th Australian General Elections. The first thing we noticed was that it was an event lacking in the loud pomp and skulduggery and drama that characterises every election in India. The second thing we noticed were the colourful names of the myriad smaller parties contesting seats for the Federal parliament - names like, 'Australian Sex Party', 'Smokers Rights Party', and, ' Pirate Party Australia', to name only a few of the more colourful. The third thing we noticed was that the campaigns, at least between the two parties seriously competing for power, were being conducted almost purely on a platform of prosperity vs. economic doom, with the challenger repeatedly focusing on a plus/minus view of public policy vis-à-vis graphic projections of looming budget surpluses or deficits depending on who the Australian public chose. The fourth thing we noticed, and that we are still continuing to see, is that the business of political representation in Australia is as feckless a performance being enacted for public consumption as it was in the country we left behind, albeit with the stakes much higher for us now.

From the time of the first alarm bell ringing in the current Coalition government's record to the latest one (there are so many of them, take your pick), there is no evidence that public life here is more accountable, held to a higher standard, or less petty and basely competitive than it is even in the places where politics is only a matter of assassinating your opponent and declaring a State of Emergency for the 1000th time. The level of discourse in Parliament is wearily obfuscatory, the campaign promises one after another so spectacularly disowned and discarded, and the character assassinations so familiar, that it takes all I have not to dissociate in despair of the legacy we are leaving behind for this increasingly multi-cultural, immensely promising, stunningly beautiful nation of wanderers, dreamers, and doers.

There is no question that this base ignorance of the real reasons behind the, 'Stop the Boats' slogan, the relentless attacks on the Renewable Energy industry, and the suspiciously regular eruptions of a patriotic dissonance based on supposedly, 'imminent' attacks on our way of life, must be tackled among the electorate so that we, as a society, do not succumb to the hysterical world view of Tony Abbott and his honourable frontbenchers, but what is also of increasingly critical import is that Australia as a nation must live up to its potential as a shining beacon of fairness, a place of boundless possibility, a land where its truly wondrous indigenous history and fantastic geography can seamlessly come together to create the conditions for true leadership in the modern world.

We must always remember that hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are watching us and waiting for a sign that things can and will be better.