Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

40 degrees today. House weather. No-one is on the streets; parks empty, houses full, aircon on. I spent some quality time floating down the river on a lilo, a favourite summer pastime. There's nothing quite like submitting to the slow, steady flow of the river. The rapids - normally a bit exciting - were too shallow to negotiate, and I hurt my hand trying to get down them.

Interesting that when we lounge in the sun for hours, we are actually cooking our flesh slowly.

Monday, December 29, 2003

She'd obviously just learnt how to talk, and was making up for her baby years of absorbing the world wide-eyed and (mostly) quiet by vocalizing everything, questioning, laughing, arguing about who was getting most lollies. Cute. But the rest of the theatre didn't see it that way. Halfway through the Return of the King, someone spoke up: "Could you please shut the hell up". Exit dad and little girl, who pipes up - "I'll be quiet! I promise!" - but too late. This little happening made me think about the consensual illusion we engage in when moviegoing. Movies are our culture's ultimate form of storytelling. No longer must we rely on our imagination to supply imagery. But they only work if everyone is quiet, if people give themselves up to the spell of a good story. It's an unspoken contract. People only break it in groups (teenage flirting) or if they are too young to have learnt correct behaviours. The little girl really shattered the illusion for me; the real world competing with the screen world.

She also made me think about the timeline of life. It seems that we're born utterly selfish, knowing only of ourself, with other people as the backdrop and servants to our lives. Then we learn attachment to our parents, and learn something of selflessness and an awareness of the existence of other people. School and siblings help as well; no longer are we the privileged elite, the one round which the world revolves. (When my second brother was born, I hated him for taking the attention which was rightfully mine. I tripped him over, whacked him, tried to hurt him continually). Adolescence furthers the awareness of both self and other. Then eventually we have a child, and in doing so, subjugate ourselves totally to the whims of another person.

35 degrees today. Beach weather. I wish I was elsewhere, another place, another time. It's the first summer holidays I haven't been elsewhere. Home and on holidays doesn't seem the same. I will be away soon, though. The thing I love about holidays is the chance to make yourself dead to the world. For all other people know, you could be dead. I like that anonymity, that absence. I love people, but I get so sick of them at the same time.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

saw the final lord of the rings on friday. i couldn't really speak about it afterwards; one of those experiences where words felt too harsh and, oh, i dunno, somehow perpendicular to the truth. might sound like i'm a tolkein nerd, but not true. its just i was raised on those books, i think some of my earliest memories are my dad reading lord of the rings to me. i can remember intensely visualizing sam and frodo trudging towards mount doom. i read them by myself as soon as i could - i think i was eight - and they meant a lot to me. god, tolkein was a genius. he singlehandedly created the modern fantasy genre, codifying and institutionalising the races found in fantasy novels ever since. no-one has really dared to step up to his precedent in terms of formality of writing, depth of history and language, scope... i'm sincerely glad peter jackson and all involved recognised the importance of what they were doing and created something true to the epic.

anyway, enough enthusing. i feel a bit awkward writing like this. the problem is the whole writing for self versus writing for an audience. a journal (undertone: private) available on the net (undertone: access for all). but in truth, i suppose it's what i want. when i kept a journal as a teenager (i like that, that you 'keep' a journal, as you would a pet), and filled it with angst-wank misery and joy, i secretly hoped that people would read it. well, not really, but half-hoped. because what is misery or struggle if there's no-one there to see it? what is life unobserved? nothing at all.

important things which have happened to me:
- my brother died of cancer, two and a half years ago. he was 18. our family slowly heals, pieces itself together around the gap.
- we moved from perth, western australia to melbourne when i was young (6?7?). 4000 k, from the west coast to the east, away from family and friends. tough for us. tough on me; i transformed from a reasonably happy kid to an overly sensitive introvert. i only really shucked myself from that way of being when i was 16; prior to that, i read a lot of fantasy, saved the world a lot via computer games, and had only a few close friends.
- now i'm a bit of a mix, intro/extrovert. personality characterized by good nature tempered by jealousy (jealous of talents i feel i lack as a result of secluding myself from the world for ten years). good listener, slight tendency towards hedonism, haywire brain.
- glad to finish high school, had no idea what came next. fell into arts/science at melbourne university. started writing for Farrago (, the student paper on campus. Loved it, formulated a dream of one day being the editor. Changed course to Arts (media + communications). Edited Farrago this year.
- used to spend summers down by the yarra river, taking turns to swing out on a firehose rope.

that's bout it for now. 22 years on this earth. a crisis every birthday since my 18th (haven't done enough with my time here)

personal meaning of life: life is all about people.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Mm, an inauguration. I'm putting this little bit of myself out there as an incentive to force me to write. Like a lot of people, I find it hard to write without the wonderfully motivational force of a deadline.

Background voiceover: It's December, university holidays, Melbourne, Australia. Fifth year of the drought; third past the millenium; twenty-second of my life.

OK, so I'd better generate some interest fast. This year I was one of the editors of Farrago, the student paper at my university. The very best thing about being a student editor is that you can write about whatever you like without commercial pressure, explore what you like. This is the last piece I wrote for the paper.

Men and Emotion

I'm so sick of all the shit conversations I'm having with guys. Sure, I talk well with my good male friends, but whenever I meet a new person who happens to be male, starting a conversation which is at least mildly interesting is often more trouble than it's worth. There seems to be a peculiar male-male suspicion that prevents us from immediately trusting a male stranger enough to engage in an in-depth discussion until we've ascertained each other's status. Sometimes I feel it would be easier for us to determine our relative social position by pissing on a wall and sniffing it. Hmm, his scent contains strong elements of steroids, contrasting with the sour stench of compressed anger, offset by a redeeming whiff of newly initiated fling. Could be dangerous. And by god, his penis dwarfs mine. Cancel that. Where did that pin-dick go? We could talk about cars, and what job I've got lined up. At least this way, men could avoid all the bullshit dancing around and vying for social position that seems to occupy a lot of the space in most initial male-male conversations.

But it's what underpins these dancing male conversations that really bothers me. Boys, guys and men talk this way because we aren't able to override our instincts in order to engage in more complex dialogue. The male-male suspicion I'm talking about is based on the competitive instinct and the drive for superiority. It's blunt, unsophisticated and bloody boring, just like lust, or any other mindless primal urge. And yet cutthroat competition is what modern society is based upon. Not egalitarianism. Not mutual respect. Not emotion. Instinct. The basics haven't changed much since the Age of Stick Warfare. Yet in this modern age of anxiety, depression and inferiority, it seems more important than ever that men can learn to speak about what is happening inside them, and not merely about the outside world. It is boys, not girls, who are failing at school, and it is guys who are under-represented at university as a result. It is men who are most successful at taking their own lives, in ever-increasing numbers. And it's men who seem to be more deeply wounded when a relationship they genuinely care about ends. When guys do let their guards down, when they first discover the sweetness and spice of another human being, unedited and unconfined, they have no equivalent and no back up when things fuck up, as they often tend to do. Why? You simply aren't permitted to get close enough to your male friends to come to a deeper understanding of them - and all because they happen to be male.

It may seem to be a bit of a stretch, but I think that these problems are due to men scorning feelings – deeply personal responses to the world – and overvaluing instincts, which are more externally-oriented, confrontational and related to other people. Maybe it's related to the infamous male desire for control. We can't control our emotions properly, even if they are deemed unmanly. Some of the time, we don't even want them there at all. But there they are, bubbling up despite our protestations. I think we should be thankful we've got them at all. A friend of mine takes drugs for his manic depression, and they help him live a normal life. But in order to neutralise the mood-swings, the chemicals knock out his ordinary emotions as well, leaving him numb, floating, dispossessed of life and meaning. Talking to him about this absence makes me realise how important emotions are in fashioning a life which is worth living, and how inadequate instinct is as a replacement.

My dad's of the age in which men learnt Not To Talk About Feelings as they were growing up, a stupid and destructive philosophy compounded by his boarding school education, which, from the way he tells it, apparently consisted largely of encounters between his buttocks and a thin piece of bamboo (wielded by a slavering "Master" delighting in this sadistic desire). The sting in the tail (geddit?) is that he received more cane strokes if he cried or expressed emotion. It's a simple and effective Pavlovian lesson. Be a real man. Take it on the chin. Why? Well, that was never properly explained. And what happened to the negative or positive emotions of the men of his era? They certainly didn't evaporate - they internalised, going undercover to furtively roam the subconscious, popping up now and again like a worm, triggering affairs, mid-life crises, midnight crying. When my brother was dying of cancer three years ago, I watched how this learnt emotional-suppressor shattered my father. While my mother took refuge in friends and her religious faith, my father attempted to plot his own course, take it like a man and survive. Thankfully, he realised the impossibility of suppression before he destroyed himself, and reached out to us.

Things have changed since then, right? Bah. I'd love to be able to argue that men have changed significantly, but it's simply not true. Cultural commentators have eagerly scoured society since the sixties for evidence that feminism and civilisation were permeating the male subconscious, but all they could come up with was the uninspiring Sensitive New Age Guy of the 90's, and more recently, the elusive Metrosexual. Sadly, both these stereotypes fail to touch base with reality. They're all hype, no action. One memorable line from a glossy mag's guide to SNAG-hood ran something like this: "The SNAG has been known to duck into a public toilet during his lunch break and masturbate so as to be good for his girlfriend that night." Now, I don't know about you, but I've only heard one guy beat off in the cubicle next to me and from the sound of it, he wasn't doing it for a higher motive. So, where are these caring, sensitive men? Do they even exist? I think perhaps not – these stereotypes are merely the expression of an idealistic male role model. The men I've met who appear to best embody the ideal of the SNAG/Metrosexual ideal – cultured, sensitive, respectful - have often turned out to be chameleon fuck-hunters, slinking through the city's bars in order to deploy a practiced 'sensitivity' which lures hapless - or knowing - females into their beds, or worse, their bland, onanistic lives. Once again, emotion has been enslaved by instinct.

Yet we can (and do) overcome our instincts. It's difficult, but I bet everyone has conquered lust, or unthinking aggression at some point, most likely because the timing was inappropriate. It's a useful skill (as demonstrated by the rise of anger-management courses). But why on earth should we want to conquer emotions? Emotions are the subtleties and the nuances that enrich our lives. Even negative emotions are valuable - poignant experiences that alter the way we experience the world and throw us into slightly different dimensions. We notice different aspects of the world when we are depressed - leaves tumbling, the emptiness of commuters - to when we are joyful. Why should we want to pretend we are immovable objects? Why should we harden ourselves to trust only in faithful instinct? Why can masculinity not encompass emotion, in this day and age?

I think it has a lot to do with schooling and the process of socialisation. Although the cane has gone the way of the dodo, the role it played in enforcing emotional denial has been taken up by the fear of homosexuality in secondary schools. Although I was fortunate enough to attend a co-ed school, a nagging undercurrent of homosexual-worry ran through all boys from the beginning to the end of school, and from all accounts the phenomenon is far worse in male-only schools. The fear of being gay is drummed into you, which is bad enough as it is, but in addition, emotions are firmly associated with the reviled homosexual way of being. The only way to cast off the slurs of gayness are to embrace manliness, the opposing and negating force embodied by (deep breath) Testosterone-Driven Beer-Swilling, Chick-Fucking, Sport-Playing and a Spock-like emotional impassivity. Otherwise, bring on ostracism and loneliness. Seems like nothing much has changed since the more conspicuous era of the cane and the pain. We're holding on to an outmoded and increasingly ill-adapted model of masculinity for the sake of tradition. And that's a great shame.