Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Grandfather Had a Stroke Last Night

My grandfather had a stroke last night. It was a shock despite his history of medical problems and the fact that he has a brain tumour. The tumour, which has been chilling in his brain for about as long as I have been alive if not longer, seems unrelated to this event but it is just one of his many medical problems. He’s getting older and so it was a matter of time before something bad happened I just didn’t really stop to think about the likelihood of it. Yes, he's ill, but when did that ever stop him?

There are two types of strokes apparently: clots and bleeds. It was a catastrophic bleed deep in his head. That sounds as un-reassuring as you can get. Not mild. Not "mysteriously fluffy." Outright catastrophic.

It was weird visiting him. I haven’t really been in many hospitals in my life. The smell was... sterile. That's an obvious way to describe it but it was. The faint stench of chlorine wafted through my noise as I walked the halls. I felt out of place in this unfamiliar world of nurses and equipment that was foreign to me. I didn’t even realise there was such a thing as a bladder scanner but the sign on the wall said thank you in advance to whoever would return it to its proper position after use. I made sure not to touch that.

They were keeping him in the high dependency section. Only two visitors allowed at a time so my mother and father went in first and talked to him while my brother and I waited outside, standing in the corridor. Eventually my parents came out, their eyes watery, and the nurses led us to him.

He was paralysed on one side and lying to look towards a single chair that had been placed next to his bed. His left arm was the only arm he could move and he didn’t seem to have much control over it. It would just move occasionally, his hand waving indistinctly in the air before placing it down again. He grabbed the bed a few times and squeezed before letting go. Half of his face didn’t move and so his mouth was crooked and the left side acted independent of the right. It made it impossible to tell what exactly his expression was meant to be. Was he uncomfortable? Was he in pain? Was he even paying attention to me as I awkwardly told him how I had recently finished with my University degrees and needed to get a real job now? I couldn’t tell.

That was the terrible part of it: not knowing. Not being able to interact properly with this man who had been around my entire life. What do you say when you're the only one who can talk? It felt like I was talking at him not to him. I didn’t even know if he could hear me because he kept on squirming where he was even when I stopped talking. His one working eye opened and shut randomly and his breathing was heavy and laboured. I kept trying to think of new things to say because I couldn't just walk out that door. Even though it was awkward and at times I just stood there in silence with him I knew it would hurt both of us if I just left him without a good reason. It must have been painful for him to watch, trapped in a dysfunctional body that was falling apart, unable to communicate as he watched me struggle to find words to say. How horrible must it be to be incapable of reassuring a family member who is made uncomfortable by the very way you are? I couldn't imagine how frustrating it must have been for him confined to a bed, unable to move, just... being there as everyone worried over him... his son exiting the room, teary eyed.

It's incredibly difficult to talk to someone who is unresponsive but I had to anyway. I told him about the novels I was writing and about how I did really well in my final ever exam for my degrees. I hope that made him proud deep down inside. My parents were off talking to the doctor about the medical details of his condition and just how bad everything was. Eventually my grandmother came into the room to talk to him and my brother and I left. I had brought my laptop to work on my novel while I was waiting but couldn't think of anything to say as I stared out the window and watched the construction across the road. Words were few then and there from either party. It was then I realised that I hadn't said enough.

I went back. The rules were you had to be escorted in by a nurse so I waited for one to tell me it was OK to go in. It was 15 minutes before visiting hours were about to end. There was the reality that he might not get better and this was the last I would see of him. Right now we're not sure if he'll get better or worse but I didn't want to let me optimism come off as apathy and make the mistake of not having said goodbye properly. His eyes were closed when I came in and said hello but they opened enough for me to know he had heard me start talking. 

I told him I was leaving now but I just wanted to tell him that he is a really good grandfather and that I hope he gets better. Not exactly the emotional "I love you" farewell but it was still something. 

If those were my final words than I will be content to know that I at least let him know that I cared about him and that he did a good job. That, I cannot regret. He's lived to see at least one of his grandchildren marry and I have finished University so he has seen a few miles stones. I hope he gets better. I really want him to get better.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rewatching Doctor Who

OK so I have been rewatching the later half of season 7 of Doctor Who with Clara in the lead up to the 50th Anniversary and I’ve been skipping a few episodes because they’re actually really terrible. It’s sad just how terrible a lot of things are. Even the Neil Gaiman episode was disappointing (probably because either the script or the director was under the misunderstanding just how old the kids were meant to be and thus Angie seems oddly old for her behaviour) and even worse: two whole episodes were written by Mark Gatiss! Ugh. Normally he only writes one terrible episode per season at the most.

But the thing is I have unpopular opinion  regarding the episode The Rings of Akhaten and that is that it is actually really good. People go “oh ugh it’s so stupid, they sing to appease the star and it eats a leaf and the day is saved” but that’s really just an over simplified misinterpretation. The thing is it works with pre-established canon about how magic in the Doctor Who universe works. Spells are emotional energy which are induced through words, chants, songs, etc. This is classic era stuff, back in the 3rd doctor with The Daemons or 7th doctor with the pseudo-vampires repelled by the psychic energy of faith in the cross not the actual cross itself in The Curse of Fenric. If you want a solely new-Who example of this then this is present in The Shakespeare Code. Admittedly that episode wasn't that great but the idea isn't necessarily what makes it bad, especially when in The Rings of Akhaten it is done so much better.

Then there’s the idea of eating the energy of a potential story. Clara manages to "defeat" the God-Sun, Akhaten, by over satiating it with her leaf, the leaf that led to her creation, and holds the potential of her entire life which is seemingly infinite. "Oh that's silly too!" Well we've already established that this is a completely legitimate idea within Doctor Who canon with the weeping angels. The weeping angels were an invention of Moffat back when everyone adored him and thought him amazing thanks to his creep-tastic and quite solid episodes like The Empty Child and Blink. Remember how everyone loves Blink? Yeah. A BAFTA and Hugo award went to that and no one complained that the premise of an Angel was complete nonsense.

See, this episode doesn't want to make up something new to justify itself, it already is present in an already established framework that dates back over 40 years. It actually tells you all the ways it works and explains itself all the way throughout. That by itself means the entire episode is quite solid as far as plot goes, unlike a lot of the other episodes which rapidly resolve themselves in the last few minutes through poorly explained reasons and care more about the drama of the premise than the actual logical resolution of the conflict. This episode actually takes time to introduce the conflict, make you interested, give you a protagonist to care about, a world with nuance and charm to get to know, and builds towards its climax and resolution in an actually structured and ordered way instead of BAM! Buiild build build oh wait we’re running out of time RESOLUTION SOMEHOW! Which I hate about a bunch of other recent episodes. 

It also has a stellar performance from Matt Smith whose speech against Akhaten as he encourages them to take everything is so emotionally charged. He manages to express deep emotion even when the shot shows a near silhouette from behind him, not showing any facial features at all, simply his body language alone can convey the emotions of the scene. He’s telling Akhaten to take his life. Not his physical breathing and hearts beating but the experience of life, the very essence of being, the things that make him the sentient being he is now and that’s powerful. It is one of the most dramatic and emotionally powerful speeches of that season (part 1 and 2). He's facing off with a God and combating it with the sorrows of his life.

"I watched universes freeze and creations burn, I have seen things you wouldn't believe, I have lost things you will never understand - and I know things, secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken..."

Just ooooh. Shivers. That's but a section of the speech and it is so powerful. It is summing up the darker part of the Doctor's existence: sad, destructive, shrouded in mystery, empathetic and a survivor of endless disasters. It's effectively the 11th Doctor's version of the "he's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun" speech, delivered with all the weight and eloquence that proves why Matt Smith is playing The Doctor to begin with.

Then comes in the leaf. Now the leaf seems stupid because oh, just a leaf, but it works because of the pre-established canon of potential energy. There’s the potential existence of a whole person placed within that leaf and that by itself was awesome but when you go back and watch it with the fact of who Clara is in mind you understand that leaf isn’t just potentially massive but potentially infinite. She isn’t just a singular person but spread out through time and space over and over, different incarnations all over the place, living different lives over and over to save the Doctor throughout time and space. She is almost infinite and thus the leaf is more than just the infinite potential of a single person but the infinite potential of a whole myriad of beings with potentials all the way through time and space. By itself it is a pretty solid and cool episode but working within the grander scheme of the overall series arc it serves as  a pretty epic reminder that the idea of Clara is more powerful than it seems. It is not just a leaf, it the catalyst for a massive cosmic event. Clara is so much more than just one person and the potential of a life not lived can satiate even a God.

Cool, huh?

So the episode gets a lot of hate for being silly but I think it's actually one of the cooler episodes in that debacle of weak episodes strewn together for series 7b. It just has a bit of an unconventional mythology to its central conflict which people didn't want to accept but once you realise it is completely legitimate within the working canon of the show then it vastly improves. So I encourage everyone to rewatch it with that in mind and hopefully you'll think more positively of it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I Love Being Event Staff

It's great being event staff. I have never paid for a music festival because most of the time I get in for free doing some form of volunteer work, whether it's gate staff or photographer for Murdoch (I guess those days are over now... oh well). It gives me the freedom without all that much responsibility. Just do the thing and everything is OK.

It would be an absolute nightmare to be important. The people organising things look constantly busy, rushed, stressed out, like they're burdened by the responsibility. They're grateful for the help and I am thankful for the rewards which is: I get to walk places normal people don't and no one questions it. The magical aura of "staff" shrouds me in this grand glow of moderate-responsibility with amazing freedom.

Tired? Well I get to go to some sectioned off staff area where there might be chairs. If I'm there for Murdoch then the Murdoch tent (or radio caravan if it is Southbound) is free for me to chill in. Feeling crowded? A quick nod to the security guards and a flash of my mystical staff-band adorned wrist and I can simply walk out of the festival and then back in. No one questions what I'm doing. I don't need a reason I can just walk places, so long as they are not specific to different staff members. I can't go everywhere but the fact that I go nearly anywhere is a blessing made all the sweeter by the hundreds of people all around me who have made a commitment to stay in a certain spot for the festival. If they leave they forfeit their right to be there. No passouts.

This makes everything so casual. I do my job and once done I chill. Life is good when no one expects grand things from you. One festival I left it and went to McDonald's with friend and brought the security guard a coke on my return. This freedom turns a day of unpaid work into a relaxing day out. Unlike festival goers I don't have to prove my identity when I go through gates. They know I'm one of the staff and it's bam, straight in or out without breaking my stride.

Recently I was working (paid this time) at a film screening. My job involved interviewing people about their responses to the festival and I basically had free reign to walk in and out as I pleased as the event staff knew who I was and the staff of the cinema knew I was with the event staff so didn't question me walking in and out of a cinema holding a giant camera. Of course I wasn't going to wander off unless I had to but afterwards I was told to dump the footage on a laptop that happened to be located in the projector room. So I just walked into it. It was a bit odd without asking anyone but when event staff the location sort of becomes your domain and you feel free to do as you wish if it helps you do your job, and walking around without supervision just so happened to be part of that.

The projectionist came up minutes later and I said hello. He didn't seem at all phased or concerned that I was up there by myself. I had a reason related to my job and he gave me help in locating the laptop (it wasn't up there, it had been moved). That's the joy of being staff: as long as you don't be a dick everyone just accepts what you're doing.

I like that. It is so liberating to just be able to do something and everyone accept that it's OK. It doesn't make the job feel like a chore and it doesn't weigh me down. Volunteer or paid, it is the way to go.

Let's Talk About Lorde

Recently I decided that it wasn't just enough to watch her music videos, turn the volume way up whenever her songs were on the radio, and listen to the Love Club EP repeatedly online. I had to buy her physical album, "Pure Heroine", to experience her brilliance in even more detail.

I think she's great. Let's start with this album. The album cover is this:

Well that seems rather boring doesn't it? Lazy minimalist design. It's just the album title in white on black background. "Boo!" you cry from within the crowd. "Why is that good?"

I'll tell you why it's good: because the title is a sheer bit of brilliance. "Pure Heroine" sounds (and looks) just like "Pure Heroin" and that's exactly what I mistook it for when I first glanced. I had to look twice and Googled it to make sure everything was correct. Yes. It is called "Pure Heroine." That is not a mistake. See, that's the first thing, and only thing, you notice, and that in itself is enough to go "whoa, wait, what?" It's even more eye catching when you know she's only 17. "Why is a teenager making an album based off drugs? What?" Album covers need to grab your attention and we've got off to a good start by doing that simply with two words instead of a fancy image and that not only is a brilliant bit of design but it represents Lorde's music quite well too.

Her music is driven by her voice. There's a beat going underneath her voice to give it a bit of depth but really we're listening to the nuances in her voice (the opening of "Team" is just beautiful). I feel covers of her songs really fall flat in that they just don't have the right wonderful sonorous quality. They copy the music but it's her voice that really makes those songs. I heard a remix of one of her songs and it was just her sped up and homogenized into a steady factory setting dance beat and it was like someone punched music in the face. That works for other songs but her work it is a quick and easy way to destroy it it. It ruined the point of it entirely. It's soft, it's relaxing, it's a short story with a minimalist music accompaniment, and it's enjoyable.

I wish I could make music like this. She proves that teenagers are capable of being talented. Of course everyone is amazed by her age as if talented people don't exist under the age of 23 and admittedly there are fewer well crafted musicians at her age. I don't want to disregard the talent of many teenagers out there (who are super amazing, just not famous), but I do found her quite amazing despite her youth.

She is a teenage girl and with this comes a bunch of assumptions and stereotypes. I was listening to the radio (horrifying, I know, but it is how I discovered her music so it's not all bad) and Smallzy on Nova was interviewing her in some exclusive first Australian interview or whatever gimmick I'm not entirely sure is true ("first" in advertising generally means "one of the first"). I listened to that station waiting for that interview, listened to horrible music, terrible ads, and endured even though the interview got later and later after its supposed start time. Finally she was on and all the questions were very basic things, nothing even within spying distance of groundbreaking but there was this one question that screamed "so... you're a teenage girl huh?"

They asked which one Lorde would prefer as a boyfriend: Harry Styles or Justin Bieber. Her response was "aww yuck! They can have each other!" That was such a puerile question that played on the idea that all teenage girls are screaming adoring fans for manufactured pop icons and she shut it right down. She had more important things to do than fawn over them as if they were the only two boys in the world. I heard that and thought "I am young but I am not a screaming fangirl. I am not your stereotype." I loved it. That first interview gave such a great impression of her personality despite the basic questions thrown at her.

Getting to know her personality seems to be part of her marketing. If you look at her VEVO account on Youtube you'll find a series of videos that aren't music videos but just short videos of her talking about her life, her inspirations, music, and life as a musician, edited with footage in short documentary format bits of entertainment. This certainly isn't limited to her, but it's an interesting way to get to "know" the musician. She's from a small country that people know of but, outside of Lord of the Rings, does not really hold the global spotlight very often. It minimises distance, erases unfamiliarity. She's there on our screens, talking, wandering around, being a teenager - and a down to Earth one at that. It's not just about connecting with her but we see her as a pretty level headed and calm individual who is fascinated by her fame and hasn't let it get to her ego like other teenage singers (you know who they are). "Don't worry, she's young, but she's not one of those reckless and ego-centric teens who turn into dicks when they get fame that you're all scared of and horribly judge constantly."

So she's got an unusually brilliant debut album cover, her music is amazing (and I have listened to the whole album more times than the amount of days I've owned it), and she is not the negative stereotype of a famous teenager or a teenage girl. This isn't the point where I deride every other musicians out there and say some cry along the lines of "finally! Music is saved!" Music is fine. She may be called Lorde but she is not some saviour for a cynical generation of disillusioned people who think music has gone downhill (despite what some people will try and convince you in the comments section under music videos - that is, when they're not complaining about the new Youtube comments section). But I do think she is brilliant and I look forward to many great things from her. We have one album from her and already I wish she'd make another one.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Well... what now?

So I finished my degrees. I finished multiple degrees. I did it and I didn't even stress over how difficult my last assignments were (probably because they weren't that difficult). See, a year ago I was completing the final practical element of my film degree and that was so utterly stressful and painful that, after 36 hours awake straight, I collapsed and became an inanimate object for quite some time. This time... not so much. There was no big hump to get over, no giant final hurdle to overcome. When you've got no other commitments and all you have to do is write essays then all there is really is the steady approach. It wasn't an end of semester sprint so much as a long distance jog.

See, that's some fancy metaphorical prose all up in this blog post thanks to my handy English and Creative Writing degree skillz yo. Word.

I did a first year unit in my fourth and final year and that probably contributed to my relaxed last semester ever. It was simple. 800-1000 word essays? Bite sized! I spent about a dozen hours studying for that final exam. It felt like some cruel twist of irony (read: not really irony but whatever) to be doing a unit for beginners to finish off. I stood in the abandoned ampitheatre next to the carpark afterwards and had a moment of preemptive longing for the place I would soon say goodbye to for potentially forever. It didn't seem like I had done enough there, like there was just something more I should do before my final farewell. This was it. I had grown accustomed to the idea that I simply was a student. I liked the feel of it. I liked the aesthetic of trousers, casual shoes, a satchel over shoulder, and the love of 11:30am starts. There was a structure and order to being a student but also (as long as it was the first 10 weeks of semester) a sense of freedom. I could do whatever I wanted as long as I got everything in on time and I did just that. It was a truly saddening feeling to look around speechless at the grass before me and marvel at it like it was somehow special to be there here and now for the last time. I decided to go on a little nostalgic walk around campus for a bit while the sun lowered in the sky just so I could see all the familiar sights again...

I stopped and sat in the back of the old Hill Lecture Theatre... the familiar lecture theatre for film students of all years. I remember sitting down there in my very first semester writing out notes on a notebook long before I invested in a handy laptop. So young, so ready to learn about what I needed to work in my dream job of film.

I looked at the tiny lecture theatre one last time, sighed, and left. I went home a new person, a non-student...

...of course then I came back two days later and the day after that because I had agreed to do film work. I will come back to film a few Second Chance Theatre plays. I actually will see Murdoch a few more times at least before graduation and probably will come back many times afterwards. I basically had this emotional farewell for nothing.

But now I am just a non-student. I am no longer blessed with the wonder of a structured life with a simple schedule. There's no need to be at a certain place at a certain time for X amount of hours because I don't have a job... all I have is a bunch of skills and memories...

And these two hands.

These two hands are all I need from my body and persistence and determination is all I need from my mind. I am a creative person. I do creative things and for quite a while things held me back; excuses I made up about being too busy with University so if I was working on projects then I wouldn't be working on assignments or doing my readings... so I just ended up not doing either a lot of the time. But now I don't have an excuse. There was no big stressful finish point to collapse over so there's no need to spend a few days doing nothing to recover. I am without reason nor hindrance to be better.

What do I now? Well, I make great things. I have been writing every day since I finished and I know that hasn't been long but I will make sure it is every day for quite some time to come. I want to get published. I want people to read my work and be entertained. I want you to fall in love with people who are not real and miss places you have never been to...

There are ideas in my mind, unfinished novels on the harddrives of my computers, thousands of words upon thousands of words describing complex people, stories that go fantastic places, stories that go nowhere but will after I put the effort in to make them work, and so much potential to be amazing.

I have two degrees. I will not let them go to waste, job or not.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Problem With Being a Nice Guy

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine (who happened to be girl) about women and how they dress. I said that the kind of women who dress in tight clothing that shows off their legs aren't inviting rape and that's a horrible thing to happen to them. She agreed. We shared views on contraception, sex positivity, and even that make up is not inherently for the sake of men viewing the wearer. (See, remarkably, women do it because it makes them feel good and sometimes they then subsequently wish that guys would similarly find their appearance appealing. See how it can be related to men viewing them but isn't always? Shocking.) Heck, we even discussed how there was this dick in one of her classes that believed women shouldn't use contraception because their purpose was making babies and those who do are sluts. Well there were many things wrong with that starting with the moment he opened his mouth, followed by contraception isn't solely for preventing babies and has other medical uses, followed by women are not factories, and topped off with the delusion that a) women on the pill are promiscuous b) their worth as a person is determined by their sexual exploits... ("I'm sorry, you've had one too many dicks this year. Your dick quota has been over loaded and now you must wait until the new year for anyone to be a decent person to you. Remember citizens: dick quotas are important if you want to impress prudes!") Thankfully he did something right by closing his mouth and not talking anymore.

My friend was so happy that I agreed with her completely that this guy was a complete ignorant f***! That's when she said it...

"You're such a nice guy."

Oh. Dear.

Then I groaned.

I basically said "women are people who shouldn't be punished for having bodies" and I got rewarded? See, this thing happens where I be a decent human being and women tell me how nice I am. I'm "nice" because I'm against rape? That's really the cut off here? Surely I thought I would've had to worked harder. I didn't even compliment you I just didn't actively shame you.

That's the problem with being a "nice guy"... it's not that hard to be one. It doesn't mean anything.

Then the worst part is then when women say "I wonder why you're single."

No don't say that. That's horrible. That implies being nice is the only thing that is important. It's a prerequisite, I know, because respect is a basic thing in a relationship but there is far more to me than just "I understand and accept you have autonomy and a personhood outside of my own pleasure." Simply saying that I am nice and thus should have a partner is to deny my complexity.

That's right. It's a bad thing to simply just be "nice" and anyone who complains that this isn't sufficient to get girls does not understand the nature of being nice and how insufficient you are as a person to only have one admirable trait. I am nice... and so is nearly everyone else. I don't actively have to avoid a**holes in my daily social interactions. They're not a plague. To rely on that would not distinguish me from any other random person. I'm nerdy, I am hopelessly romantic, ginger, calm, devoted, I use idiosyncratic language to discuss serious things to lighten the mood, and so forth. It is the specific qualities of my nature that make me appealing to another person and vice versa. I am very much so not an outdoorsy person and so I am unappealing to someone who I am good friends with who finds my company otherwise a delight. See? I get along well with them but I'm just not the right combination of things to date. Simple. I have wooed girls with a mention of my comic book collection whereas others have no interest and I have to stress the other appealing aspects of me. My beard turns many a person on but equally as many off. Not everyone cares for my ideas of romantic gesture whereas others have practically melted just by me explaining my plans for cute surprises for eventual partners. I am a complex bundle of qualities, I am a variety of mannerisms, I am a diverse range of quirks that make up a person that is uniquely amazing, but only appealing to a select amount of people for different reasons...

And none of those reasons include "you don't punch me in the face" (or other not nice things like "youdon't actively attack my body image with snide and manipulative remarks" and other such romantic things).

Women telling me I'm nice and thus shouldn't be single reinforces the idea that this is all that it takes. I know it isn't all that it takes but not everyone has quite realised this mentality yet (this isn't women's fault though, as it's somewhat basic to realise if you have the gift of logical thought, self-reflexivity, and a bit of respect for women as complex beings to begin with). I am nice to strangers in the street but they're not flinging themselves at me to get into my pants. (Thank goodness as that'd be horrifying. "Lovely day isn't it? You look good in that dress." "GIVE ME YOUR COCK!" "OH F***! RUN!") It also doesn't praise me on the things I actually hold as an integral part of my identity (like how gosh darn pretty I am) which is what I really want. So merely being nice is sub-par. I am not nice, I am sweet. I am adorable. I am cute in the ways I make sure that my partner feels cared for and happy. Women don't come to me simply because I'm not a douchebag, they come for my personality.

So don't aim to be "nice." Aim to be so much more.