So maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t like being watched

I’ve just got to put on record my disagreement with the government’s request to access every drivers licence photo and ID from the states. For me it’s another step down the path towards a surveillance state. The justification put forward is obvious – to safeguard us from undesirable characters and prevent terrorist attack. To do that means that we, the citizens, will be subjected to real time facial scanning. There are many who think that’s a small price to pay, including every state government, who have rolled over on this meekly.

Me, I hate the idea of being tracked. I don’t want my face being scanned over and over again as I go about my business. It’s an infringement of my civil liberties to start with, but the practical implications are pretty scary too. The government in the past has made a big song and dance about keeping such details secure, but information has been leaked, and details shared with other government agencies. What happens when this stuff gets hacked? Where is the line drawn – who will have access to this information?

Ultimately there is an existential threat as well. Nearly 30 years ago there was an uproar when the government tried to implement the Australia Card – an ID card. That was a step too far for civil libertarians, and most of the public agreed. The idea was scrapped. Thirsty years on we’ve gone far beyond a simple, dumb ID card. With CCTV on every corner, government access to our metadata, and now this, our personal privacy has been reduced to the size of a postage stamp (not to mention Google, Facebook, tracking, etc). To a degree some of this is unavoidable, but it should be minimised.

This is how it happens. It becomes a domino effect. Once you relinquish that first right the others become further threatened. One after another you lose these things, small things often, but in totality they add up to a lot. That is what we are facing now. Once we have relinquished something we have lost it forever. Where does it end? At what point will we be asked to produce ID on the streets – as only a couple of years ago Abbott’s Border Force did on the streets of Melbourne?

We have given the government the tools to monitor and control us. In the hands of a benign government there should be little to fear, but should we degenerate into an autocratic state then there is every reason to fear that what has been wrought supposedly to defend us, will instead be used against us. In this day and age, who can guarantee that won’t happen?


Our time travels with us

I was reading a review before of a book I’d like to read. Other Men’s Daughters is a re-release of a novel originally written in 1974 by one Richard Stern. It was controversial then, but praised for the quality of the writing. In the review, it is presented as an intelligent and insightful piece of work.

Stern died, aged 84, a few years ago. This little tidbit is casually reported in the review, but to me, reading seems most relevant. I have not read the novel, but in reading the review of it the novel seemed true to another time, now past. It’s not that the themes were no longer relevant – stories such as this continue in life. Rather it focussed on something in such a way that is no longer true to this time. Perhaps more serious than others, the book appeared a part of the Roth and Updike style of writing about relationships and sex. What were probing questions then now appear settled or discarded arguments.

Updike in recent years has been decried by some contemporary critics, with the inference being that his writing about sex was archaic, juvenile and even sexist. The new guys know better. And Roth has given up writing altogether. Needless to say, I am a great admirer of Updike’s stories (not so much his novels), which are beautiful things; and have read most of Roth’s oeuvre, and think him a master. Literature should be timeless, but clearly, there are trends that come and go, and times – and mores – that are described, then lapse. Is it just me, but are Updike and Roth old-fashioned now? Could there be an Updike or Roth – or indeed a Stern – these days?

I wondered this as I read the review, doubting that such a book would be written now, or even if anyone would be much interested in it now if it were – except, perhaps, to question and vilify any uncomfortable aspects of political incorrectness.

At the back of my mind is Tom Petty. Tom Petty died yesterday at age 66. He is another of those artists I grew up listening to. He is another thread from the soundtrack of my life, unravelled. And in fact, his era had passed too, though he still recorded and toured. He was mainstream once, though still critically acclaimed, his music was no longer part of the rotation, and his name no longer resonant.

It seems to me that as we pass through time we carry our own time with us. We learn to look a bit differently perhaps, our eyes take on new lens, but by and large, our perspective remains as it was when it was formed – in my argument, through our late teens and early twenties. It’s the burgeoning stage of our life full of discovery, sensation and rugged education. It can be modified, refined, it may even mellow, and rarely it may be inverted – but it is the same thing in different ways.

What it means for people like me is that I can look upon many things today and find myself weighing them against things I knew before. Nothing is entirely fresh because it is another representation of what I have known before, though the comparison is often puzzling. It means that the things that were important to you before remain true in you, even if they are no longer in vogue. Very little becomes irrelevant with the passing of time, regardless of what some critics would tell you.

That’s why a book like this resonates with me, because it was true when I was made. That’s why Tom Petty means something, never mind he hardly gets played anymore. None of this makes me old-fashioned or retro, it simply means I can see things from more than one angle, and with a lifetime of context.

Flickering moments

I slept unusually long last night, though it seems that come Sunday night the week catches up with me and I need an extra hour of sleep to make it good. I switched off the light at 10.30 and woke up a little before 7 (typically I’m lights out 11.30, up at 6.45). I woke and felt in no hurry. I give myself leeway on a Monday morning because who wants to rush anywhere then? Certainly not if it’s to work.

Eventually I get on the train and it’s a bit fuller than usual because it’s later than customary. I sit there and do the usual thing, idly watching the comings and goings while listening to an audiobook.

My eyes light upon a man a few years older than me in a suit. He seems much older than me, but that’s always hard to judge, and something I tend to think more often than not regardless. In any case he has about 10 kilos on me and is silver throughout, hair and beard. I don’t really take much notice of him but for his leather satchel. It’s a quality piece, but what catches my eye is the strap, which at one point has frayed to the point that it looks like but a thread holds it together. I wonder, why has he not replaced it, or least made some effort to mend it? I imagine when inevitably it will part. What will he do then? My mind slips into speculative mode. I wonder when he bought the satchel, and where that was? What was his life then? What did he think and feel? What has changed?

The train carries on and at Middle Brighton a blonde woman slips into the seat diagonally opposite me by the window. At first glance she is attractive, fine featured, shapely and well dressed. She has a stern countenance though, a look that discourages easy conversation. It’s probably just an unfortunate case of a harsh resting face (I know that my resting face intimidates people), but I can also see how she will age into a hard faced old woman if she is not careful.

After that first glance I take little notice of her. She spends most of the trip staring at her phone as if she is angry with it. But then she puts the phone down and looks out the window. I catch her reflection in the glass and look again at her face. She has the most striking eyes. I wonder what colour they are, somewhere between blue and green I think, but with a crystalline purity. They are just eyes, but I wonder what they mean. What does it feel like to have eyes like that? Maybe it makes you angry, but I doubt that. I want to know more about her. Like the man she has a story.

I look out the window. Richmond station has passed and we are edging into the city past Margaret Court Arena. A spontaneous memory comes to me as the train passes beneath Fed Square. I remember a moment, many years ago. I’m with a woman, she’s Italian, with lush, dark tumbling hair and a wide mouth that smiles a lot. She thinks I’m the bees knees, but I can’t recall her name. We have just watched an old French film at ACMI and are getting some fresh air during the intermission. It’s a warm night and this girl looks into my eyes and takes my hand, and presses it down under the strap of her paints and there between her legs warm and inviting.

Hail the individual

Was walking to work this morning when I passed going the other way a tall, slender, stylishly dressed woman. She was about 32, 33, and what I would call handsome, rather than pretty. It was the strong, confident face of someone who has experienced life and drunk it in. It would not be unusual for me to appreciate a woman like that as we passed by, but what really caught my eye on this occasion was her hair.
She had beautiful hair. It was dark, and fell to just below her shoulder, though ‘fell’ is the incorrect verb. Her hair was gently kinked and had an airy quality that immediately put me in mind of the seventies. It was an emanation, a halo of beautiful hair that was impossible to miss. It was a statement in itself, of style certainly, and certainly of individuality.
I felt a thrill just seeing her hair. You go, girl, I thought. I admired such strident independence. She was someone with her own mind, her own view of the world, her own unique way of expressing herself. I wanted to know her, but at the same wished their were more people with such irrepressible individuality.
I really think it boils down to that in the end. There’s no point in being anyone other than yourself all the way through. What joy is there in compromising on your individuality? The highest attainment of selfhood is to understand and embrace that individuality and express it without compunction.
I think there is a real practical benefit of this. Society is such that often we feel obliged to conform to norms which are ultimately quite arbitrary, and often no more than temporary.
That’s especially true within a work environment. We become a part of an explicit hierarchy. We have defined roles and responsibilities. Most of the duties we perform are clearly prescribed, and we must comply with office rules and regulations. We are squeezed on every side.
One of the reasons I managed to climb the ladder relatively quickly is because I rejected much of that. I always had a strong sense of self, had the confidence to speak my mind more often than not, on top of which I’ve always been stubborn. All the same, I’d never have got away with it if I couldn’t deliver.
Still, you have to play by the rules, even if you might stretch them a bit.
I reckon most major advances come from someone having the balls to defy convention. That’s true at work, and I think it’s true in history. I reckon we should celebrate individuality more, and in fact, encourage it.
If nothing else it’s liberating to see someone so completely themselves.

Equal love, equal recognition, equal rights

Last night I watched A Single Man again. I’m already on record exclaiming at what a beautiful movie it is. Visually it’s fantastic, with vivid colours and great angles. It is a work of artistic vision, very personal I suspect, and so often very clever. There’s a knowingness that is true both for technique and content. It feels so real, and at the same time, so true – different things. Some of that is simple, such as the light, and the neighbourhood, familiar to me at least as someone who grew up in a similar world in far

Some of that is simple, such as the light, and the neighbourhood, familiar to me at least as someone who grew up in a similar world in far away Oz. Of course, the truth goes far deeper than that. This is a movie that charts human emotion in the most poignant way. Certainly I, watching it, recognised much that hitherto was set aside in some dark internal place. Movies such as this, and great art in general, bring such things to the surface. They touch on the universal in such a way that is new to us, reminding us of the depth of things we overlook in the busy act of just living. For me, experiencing such things, there is a bracing reminder that that’s what I want, in fact, that’s what is meaningful even in such a melancholy film as this. To feel deeply, truly, both the razor’s edge and the sublime.

Watching, there is a heart-rending scene early in the film that made me think of the looming same-sex marriage plebiscite here in Australia. George has just heard on the phone that his dearly loved partner has died in a car accident. He is undone, but holds it together in a very British way while talking to the far away cousin of his partner. George is lucky to be told at all, and it is clear that the family view his connection with shame – it is only this cousin, Ackerly, who has been decent enough to do the right thing. George inquires about the service, and is told that the service is for ‘family only’. He is not wanted there. Though George has shared his life for 16 years with their son, he is not of the family, and is an embarrassment they want nothing to do with. It is truly awful, if not downright ugly.

George must mourn alone, without even the solace of a service to bid goodbye to the person he has loved above all else. He is bereft, without even the comfort of the dogs they shared and loved so much – they too were victims of the accident. He has gone from perfect happiness to devastated isolation in the course of a short phone call.

This scene to me is a neat parable illustrating what we are voting for next month. Everyone is capable of love, and in our willful hearts, there is no division between love for someone of a different, or same sex. Love is independent of us all and can’t be legislated on. Where we do discriminate is how we recognise that love, and it’s that legislation we come to battle over. This story is all about recognition. The right to recognise the love and relationship of two people regardless of whether they are of same or different sex, indeed, the opportunity to celebrate it. It is

This story is all about recognition. The right to recognise the love and relationship of two people regardless of whether they are of same or different sex, indeed, the opportunity to celebrate it. It is time we reached out to say that you are as equal as us, and what you feel for your partner is no different in nature from what we feel for ours. Any argument to the contrary seems ugly and bitter and just downright wrong. A no vote cannot be abided.

Who in their heart would deny George his grief, or indeed, his love? It is a truth that can no longer be ignored.

Look beyond

Our experience of the world is personal. We see through eyes that are skewed by temperament, experience and state of mind. Ultimately our response interacts and reflects upon those elements.

That’s true of each of the little moments and events that make up our experience of the world, and it’s true also when we begin to string those moments together. They’re like atoms that bounce off each other in our self, heading off in unexpected directions. Together they make for an ever evolving experience of life, and it’s unique in each of us.

I have an example of that, but need you to bear with me as I attempt to link seemingly disparate moments into a coherent and very individual whole.

On Saturday morning I discovered that a popular sporting commentator over many years – Drew Morphett – had passed away at the age of 69. Drew was a particularly affable character, full of energy and life which he brought to the commentating job. He was a spritely character impossible to dislike, and also very good at his job.

I was returning from my weekly grocery run when I discovered this, and I was both surprised and given to further consideration. There were three distinct phases.

The first, quite transitory, was how Drew had always reminded me of my uncle. They had a similar look, both eternally youthful with dark hair that tended to curls, and of almost identical vintage. My uncle, quite a tragic figure, died about 15 years ago of cancer.

The second thought was how many people seem to be dying these days. Of course people are always dying, and as I walked home I wondered if it was just my experience of it that made it seem the number had increased. It made sense. The older you get the more people you are aware of, and a greater number of your contemporaries, and those you grew up around, reach the age when death becomes a possibility. I wondered if that’s how it is as you get older, ever more aware of mortality? It hardly enters your head when you’re young. You feel invincible and, even so, death is decades away. But then the decades dwindle and one day death appears like an oppressive inevitability.

The third consideration was remembrance of Drew Morphett himself. I grew up listening to him commentating on footy particularly, him and Doug Heywood, Geoff Leek, Doug Bigelow, and so on, great names, now all gone. In particular I recalled when I was just a kid still in school when as a family we moved from Melbourne to Sydney when my dad got a transfer. We lived in leafy Gordon in a lovely house and occasionally I would go next door to the Meggitt’s where I would baby-sit for them. What I remember best about that was sitting down in front of the TV once they had gone and watching The Winners on the ABC. That was 1980, and how the years have flown.

Then it’s Sunday and all day I’m flat. Is there a reason? Probably a million reasons – life is still tough, and there is very little emotional nourishment. Still, that has been the case for ages, and I manage to override it. In itself that becomes a source of dissatisfaction. To the world I appear intelligent, confident and strong. I am those things perhaps, but I am much more besides. Even those who know me and my circumstances see that and take it on face value, even though beneath it all it is a grand struggle. That’s on me, I should share more, but I want nobody’s sympathy, and besides, the stubbornness and defiance I had long before any of this buttresses the appearance of being on top of things.

It’s like a poison inside you and sometimes you can taste it and then I wish others understood. It’s not easy. I struggle. I have to fight for everything. I’m so tired. I need tenderness. And so on. And even then as I use wit to hide the fact I feel disaffected that no-one understands. Why can’t they understand? Can’t they see me inside? Can’t they see I hurt?

There was an episode last week that epitomised this. I’m having lunch with a female acquaintance. She’s got this idea of me, one of my personas I guess. She told me months ago when she first met me she felt intimidated by my intellect. Now she seems to think me a force of masculine nature. I try to correct her. I’m not as hard-driving as that, and even if I was there are other parts to me. I feel two dimensional when there are worlds inside me. I’m sensitive, I’m tender, I’m kind, I’m compassionate, why is it that no-one ever sees anything but dominant masculine traits?

And so this feels like a betrayal that I pay no mind to until I taste the poison.

I wander about Sunday doing things and trying to get excited, but know if there is a source for the current state of affairs then it is my job. I feel betrayed. I have been let down and poorly treated, something my manager would agree with. I have had to fight for what should be my right. I struggle to get things done when no-one is interested. I never thought I’d say this, but I have become de-motivated and listless. I am burnt out and quite possibly depressed, because nothing has meaning for me.

So, it is, but no-one is going to do anything about that and so I put it at arm’s length, as I do. I feel it, but won’t indulge it. The day drifts into night. It’s dark outside. I think of how all there is seemingly is memory, as if there is nothing now worthy of it. People die and it recalls to me times when things happened and meant more. My life is looking backwards and warming myself on the memories of better times.

As if to emphasise the point I end up watching The Fisher King on TV. This is another of these elements. I know I watched it not long after it first came out in the early nineties, and that it meant something to me. I watched it then and something stirred in, what it was and why I don’t know. Still, I watch it again knowing that and hoping, I think, to feel something again. And once more I’m aware that I’m harking back to another time. The boy who baby-sat for the Meggitt’s became the man in the thick of things watching this movie as if it meant something, and to the man I am today looking back and wondering at the path that led me here, and at the path that leads away.

I went to bed last night and pulled from my bookshelves one of Robert A Johnson’s The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden.

Dare I say it there was a time when I read books by him, and Campbell, Eysenck, Bly, and Antony Storr. Back then it was a form of investigation. I was curious. I wanted to understand. This was through the late eighties and the early nineties. Now I took to this book to understand myself, and my ‘wound’.

There was no magic. I knew it all. It was inside me. I can know things and they make no difference. I can’t heal myself. I turned off the light and went to sleep. In the morning I woke and went to work.

Something has to change, I know that. Work is dead to me, and maybe fatally. I’m applying for other jobs, but, well… In the short term I plan a short break, a week, just to get away from it and freshen myself up, but not until I know what’s happening with my job. It’s a little thing, and only temporary, but it’s something. I need something more beyond that though. I need something meaningful. And maybe I need to be understood. Above all I need some nourishment for the soul. All of this ends one day, and I don’t want this to be the tale. There is more out there, and more in me, I just have to find it.

Of course, you know by tomorrow I’ll be that force of nature again. Look beyond it.

If you’re a bigot you’re a prick, no saying otherwise

I figured out about a month ago that anyone who opposes marriage equality is basically an arsehole. Or dumb. Or both. Being a well-brought up middle-class kid meant that I gave the benefit of the doubt up to then. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion after all. But truth is just as everyone is entitled to an opinion then everyone is entitled to disagree with it. You might think it a step too far name calling as a result of that, but I’ve got no time these days for well-mannered reticence. That describes pretty well who I’ve become in recent years. I’ve always been blunt, but these days it verges on the brutal – and I’m fine with that. Sometimes things just are and you have to call them for what they are.

And so I’m willing to proclaim it – anyone who believes that two people in love of the same sex don’t deserve the same rights and respect as two people of different sex in love is just a fucking narrow minded bigot, and I don’t care how they dress it up.

The no side of the equation throw up a lot of simple-minded and uneducated reasons why it should be opposed. Believe me I’ve listened to them and read their opinion pieces. I may not agree with what they say, but I’m always prepared to listen because I want to understand. I’m a rationalist, and I give them the benefit of that. I’ve yet to come across a single opinion of substance. Most of it is raw prejudice – be it based on religion or bigotry – dressed up in self-serving justification. The bottom line is that they don’t like the idea of two people of the same gender getting it on, and are prepared to impose their ugly worldview on society.

I’m sick of it, and want nothing to do with those people, simple as that. If someone stands up and tells me they’ll be voting no to the plebiscite then I’ll tell them what I think, and with some relish.

Now this is an attitude some in the no camp are using to justify their position. I read another opinion piece by someone this morning saying they would be voting no because the debate had been too one sided and in favour of yes. Well, there’s both a logical reason for that, and some wilful blindness.

If most of the commentary has come out in favour of marriage equality that’s because most Australians are in support of it. It’s simple arithmetic. There was also the inference that the debate had become tawdry, and this is just rank hypocrisy.

I may rail against those nay-sayers and I’m happy to call them a prick to their face, but it’s not the yes side of the argument perpetrating outright lies and misinformation, engaging in inflammatory bigotry by suggesting that same-sex relationships are un-godly, or will lead to child abuse, and it’s not the yes vote re-printing vile posters from neo-nazi organisations. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that this is a vile allegation that proves that anyone against equal rights is an utter prick.

Bigots I can understand. Religious nuts I understand. Morons I understand. Supposedly measured and intelligent people who claim to be indifferent to the result but will vote no for spurious reasons of discrimination I don’t understand. For someone to come out against something they claim to be sympathetic to for such narrow (and cock-eyed) reasons is deplorable. If I were to take it at face value then it’s hard to understand why someone would choose to cut off their nose to prove a point not worth making: it’s selfish to the point of idiocy. I doubt that. I reckon they’re just one of those people deep in their soul uncomfortable with the idea of gay love. It creeps them out, not that they would ever admit to it, to others, or to themselves. Easier to find an excuse to justify a reason to be out of step with society.

Well, you’re both dumb and a prick. You can tick that off as more justification, and burn for it.