Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why can't we talk and tweet about serious issues?

So it's over. For now.

It was a fun week for political geeks, as the #respill, #kevenge and #ALPocalypse hashtags dominated Twitter like few other non-Bieber trends have for such a prolonged period. That's the social media world we live in now - a few days is 'prolonged'.

And nothing really came of it. Other than, hopefully, Kevin Rudd's quiet retreat to the backbench and then retirement. It was a battle between public relations and (attempted) good government, and for once, somehow, the latter came out on top.

But what does the Twitter activity around it all say about Australian politics, and even those of us who constantly begrudge the focus on superficial polls and leadership speculation at the expense of meaningful policy discussion and education. Yes, the leadership challenge was more than just speculation in the end, and the potential change of Primae Minister in these circumstances is definitely big news - it could have brought down a government - but it never actually looked like happening. It was all about one man's ego, and other people's obsession with (possibly misinterpreted) polls. And that doesn't excuse the media from talking about virtually NOTHING else since Kevin Rudd resigned as Foreign Minister.

This was a drama, led by a protagonist up there with the best in terms of vanity and meglamania and fed by petty infighting, not an issue of public interest. They need to sort their shit out and if - yes it may be a big if - the government can move past this now and focus on policy we'll all be better for it. But will the media pack of pavlov's dogs promote the public interest, or push for more excitement? It's easy news, it's sexy news, it fits the new instant gratification and production paradigm, and doesn't require the knowledge and resources for proper analysis.

And it's telling just how much more Twitter activity there's been in the last few days. Not to mention during QandA last week when the number of tweets sporting the #qanda hashtag seemed to plummet when the discussion finally moved on to issues of policy and genuine public interest after the halfway mark of the show.

I got sucked in - truth is, it's so much easier to tweet about Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and leadership than technical elements of policy. And it's more salacious, so it drags us in. It engages us more immediately, and we don't need to concentrate so intently to understand the content so it's easier to tweet about it at the same time - giving the impression this is what everyone wants to talk about.

But that doesn't mean it's what we want dominating the news, especially on the ABC! It doesn't mean I won't be pissed off when I tune in to Big Ideas on a Sunday and find it's been replaced with a news bulletin telling me nothing I haven't heard a hundred times already.

I'd dearly love to tweet intelligently, with an informed view on the Gonski Report, or health reforms, or disability legislation, but I don't know enough about it. I should seek out more information, but I'm just another time-poor voter who thought he could rely on the ABC to give me the meaningful side of the political debate. After the last couple of weeks I'm not so sure.

Even they are feeding us more of this crap now, because it seems to be what we want to talk about. But the fact is, most of us can't engage in the discourse on real issues because we don't know enough about them. It's a sad cycle of entertainment in shallow waters.

But at least we don't have a Prime Minister today who seems to live in the shallows, feeding an obsession with his own image. Maybe if he retreats quietly we can move the conversation back towards something meaningful before the next election.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Song - Valentines Day

Another amateur song: accoustic guitar by me; harmonica, gong and mix by The Realisation

Demo 2: Rerecorded on electric on a sick day

Monday, February 20, 2012

The circuit breaker

Among the thousands, millions, billions or however many thoughts fly through your head every day there are plenty of scary ones, carrying doubt and seeking to play on the deepest insecurities.

Most of the time for most people (I think) they pass with maybe a fleeting awareness, a shiver at the thought and a fix of rational perspective. Some evolved people even embrace these thoughts to stare down their fears, and as a deep, dark and brooding Scorpio I'm partial to dabbling in darker areas of the mind when I feel capable. Probably why I struggled with my anxiety for so long.

Like many people, thoughts that frightened me often got caught up in a web of uncertainty and anxiety that demanded thorough reassurance before they could be released. I'm no scientist but I believe it's partly thanks to an overactive amygdala. Simple chemical reactions lead to entirely misguided attempts to attain feelings of certainty, security and confidence. Just because of a shot of anxiety.

The thought itself isn't important - it could be the self-conscious anxieties we all get about appearance or safety or acceptance, or an absurd irrational fear like what if I walk under a ladder and there's a poisonous spider in my cereal?! The anxiety caused is dependent on the brain, not the cause of the fear. And what's important is how you react.

It's that moment when you should step back and take a deep breath, but the instinctive response for those of us habituated to anxiety is 'fight or flight'. To fight is to confront the thought by addressing it, answering it, thinking through it, rationalising it. Flight means trying to push it out of your head, by controlling or suppressing certain thoughts, or engaging in distructive distractions. Try to not think about an elephant for a minute. Fight or flight can bring temporary relief but in just feeds the beast of anxiety, making it stronger and/or more regular. Jeff Bell has a good analogy relating to OCD he calls Octopus Chewing Doubt-nuts.

When it comes back it is even harder to ignore, its demands even greater. And so the cycle begins. A downward spiral that gains momentum and becomes harder and harder to stop as anxiety grows and hits more often. There are only two ways out: play it out and hit the bottom when you get so exhausted or even sick you no longer have the energy to fight or run and gradually realise how useless the whole exercise was; or you find a circuit breaker to get out early. The first is obviously not recommended. The second is necessarily difficult. Sometimes painfully so, as anxiety grows along with the urge to give in, but it's damn rewarding - resist the urges and the anxiety does fade, thinking habits are altered and the actual structure of the brain starts to change. Stick to it and it gets easier each time.

One of the awesome things about your brain is its plasticity, you can literally change the way it functions to make you happier.

Finding a good circuit breaker can be a good way to do this when it comes to 'bad thoughts' that lead into a downward spiral. I understood all this for some time before I found the technique that works best for me - mindfulness. Learning to accept the anxiety-inducing thoughts for what they are and let them go in their own time rather than waste energy thinking them through or pushing them out.

I knew about and understood mindfulness for a while before I was able to actually learn how to practically implement it. For me the two best methods are yoga and running. Yoga forced me to let go of thoughts that held me back and find the moment with a clear mind. That helped me get into running and practice it in a non-structured environment. Knowing I could let them go, I eventually brought the practice into my regular thinking.

In 12-18 months my thinking has changed dramatically. I can recognise the thoughts that will throw me into that dark pit and let them go a lot easier. Not all the time, but I don't get caught in extended downward spirals for days and weeks like I used to. Where I do feel anxiety and overthink (overthinking is my one major lingering issue!) my circuit breaker kicks in much earlier. The urge, the absolute need to address some of those thoughts, 'normal' and irrational, is no longer really an issue.

After 15 years of conditioning my brain to debilitating, pain-inflicting ways of thinking and responding to my anxiety, and about five years of trying to figure out how to implement some of the cognitive therapies I was learning about, I have now significantly rewired my brain and overhauled those negative thought processes.

Finding the circuit breaker is the first step. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cockheads and culture

Last week I saw the worst and best of Melbourne. Appropriately, it was a night experiencing the two sides of the city that we pride ourselves on most - sport and arts (music).

I've been to three hours worth of A-League soccer now and haven't seen a goal.

Melbourne Victory fans show their class
At least last week's match between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart - with the confusing cheers of 'Go Melbourne' - had dramatic edge to it thanks to the new rivalry, even if nothing actually happened (true soccer fans would argue that point). An AFL does leave a certain feeling of emptiness, but only after an eventful and exciting match, which someone has led and someone has evened. Not so with a nil-all soccer match.

Anyway, I like soccer well enough. With cricket turning into a circus I pay it a little more attention through dry sporting summers.

When Melbourne Heart were established I wondered why anyone would switch teams, but last week I saw first hand exactly why. I also saw evidence of the sheer lunacy of those liquor licensing laws we marched against a couple of years ago.

I am a casual Heart fan, simply because I didn't have a strong enough emotional investment to the Victory to stick with them when I first heard about their crowd behaviour towards Melbourne's new team last season, and because one of their players does yoga at the same studio as me. As good reasons as any.

Thinking I knew what the Victory crowd were like - I live in Richmond and see the effect they have on Swan Street, which is worse than the drunks at 2am, with numerous police required to supervise the mob whenever they play at home - I wanted to buy something to show my colours. A mild act of antagonism more than support for my team. I'm glad I didn't. My passionate Victory friend booked seats at the 'Victory end' and I felt like an undercover Nazi in Israel, without the legitimacy behind their hatred. Since when do we segregate general admission supporters?? I reckon it just exacerebates the problem and spite towards those down the other end, which included official-looking scarves that read "FUCK OFF MELBOURNE HEART" and repetitive, mindless chants such as "You're supporters are fucking shit". They abused the one or two Heart supporters (at least those brave enough to wear their colours) as they walked off to the toilet and vicously told them not to come back.

Apparently "THERE'S ONLY ONE TEAM IN MELBOURNE, ONE TEAM IN MELLLLLBOURNE ...". in which case I'd have thought scoring at least one goal in a local derby shouldn't have been to difficult for them.

Excuse my own language but I've never come across a collective at any event that could be so aptly described as cunts. And there wasn't even full strength alcohol available to the crowd.

My friend says its just passion. Well yeah, and I'm pretty passionate at AFL games, but passion isn't so great when it manifests itself in unwarranted abuse.

I sat in silence throughout the game, genuinely afraid of the reaction should I dare to vocally support my team, in my city. I've been to AAMI stadium in Adelaide in my Essendon jumper, drunkenly but playfully obnoxious and vocal - more towards my own team who lost by 96 points - and actually had a laugh with the Adelaide fans nearby. I've sat in the Fremantle members section in same Essendon jumper, the only on in sight, and treated politely as a welcome guest!

AFL has bad and abusive supporters, people who give me the shits because of how angry they let it make them, and the cheer squads just reflect poorly on society in general. But I've never seen anything like this before, so toxic, spiteful, abusive and threatening just because people followed a different team. So I walked in a Heart supporter with a remembered, if now secondary, allegiance to Victory; I walked out a Heart supporter who dislikes Victory the way I dislike Collingwood. So I have a greater emotional investment in A-League now I guess, but I won't be rushing back to games involving Victory and have no one to go to Heart games with. Whatever. Footy starts soon.

So I trudged off from the game and headed for a bar in Collingwood to see a local band called Immigrant Union, feeling a little disillusioned with my species.

SLAM rally 2010
Reassurance was swift. Having paid $10 entry I met three close friends and 60-odd friendly strangers who all came together in a bar that may not have been able to put on live music under the enforcement of the old liquor licensing laws to enjoy something beautiful, communal and not in the slightest bit divisive. Melbourne's music scene is underrated, especially by the millions who walk past it every day. There is so much happening I don't know how to find the best stuff and suffer choice anxiety. A well-travelled friend says its the best for bands and venues in the world. Probably a patriotic overstatement, but one backed by Dandy Warhols drummer Brent DeBoer who lives here now (he 'liked' the Facebook status saying as much). It doesn't matter anyway, we have something golden here and it needs to be protected.

I might be a music snob. There may have been 20,000 more people at the soccer that night. But I can tell you which of the two events I went to that night contributes more to this city's cherished liveability. And there were a hundred other gigs going on around city and suburbs at the same time. And everyone was there to have fun - with friends and strangers - and celebrate a cultural, artistic, soul-nourishing experience. There were no fights or abuse, but there was alcohol.

And I'm yet to see a fight at any gig I've been to. Sport can bring people together as easily as it divides. My favourite ever AFL moment was jumping up and down hugging and high fiving strangers when Essendon beat Collingwood on 'AnZaharakis Day' (any opportunity). That's why I love going to the footy.

Live music just brings people together. It's almost certain I'll be surrounded by a bunhc of awesome people I will/would genuinely like and get along with at any gig I go to. That's why I love Meredith/Golden Plains so much. That's why I love living in Melbourne.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Music by me - 'Glenrowan'

An amatuer song I put together as part of a hobby band I'm in - called 'Prohibited (named in high school) - that is more talk than music, so I figured I may as well share this in the likely case it gets no further input/treatment by the band.

I already have various thoughts to make it sounds better, but I was just stoked to get a full take with few fuck ups so up it went.

Music and imagery by me.


Friday, February 3, 2012

A rant against FPDAs (Facebook public displays of affection)

Of all the social media indulgences (and I'm guilty of many) FPDAs - Facebook public displays of affection - have to be the worst; the main offender. Just ahead of unneccessarily creating acronyms.

You know, public display of affection - couples attached at the hip and lip in a social setting - but words on Facebook. Bringing anti-social behaviour to social media is a serious crime.

I may be a jaded cynic whose last proper relationship sank just before everyone jumped on board Facebook, but I'm as familiar with infatuation as I am with the sweet gratification of online attention. The addiction of connection and interaction is a great distraction from real life with its seemingly endless potential for instant gratification. It's also relatively empty most of the time. I hope once they go public they start charging to use certain elements - rather than making a dollar out of the entrenched, it will make it easier to step away.

Facebook is mostly, and probably at best, a performance stage. Its worst is the passive cries for attention and assurance. You eventually reach a point where you're so sick reading self-indulgent vague, melancholic, reassurance or concern seeking posts that you resolve to shift them to Twitter. I now try to keep my Facebook posts light-hearted, funny or sensibly activist. If a post that doesn't get at least a couple of likes and/or comments I'll regret saying it. I'm an anxiety-ridden amatuer writer, of course I still seek validation.

Everything posted on Facebook is doesn't for a wide audience - it's a one-to-many medium. Even personal messages on a friend's wall are simultaneously a broadcast to everyone else who passes by. Would you say these things to one person at a party with a microphone? If not, probably don't post it on Facebook. If you really want to shout or whisper it into a crowded street where few will care, tweet it. Otherwise have a personal conversation. And/or get a journal.

So then there are the couples. I always thought people in relationships generally used Facebook less, at least less than they would if they were single, and have some good evidence to that end. Myself included. But now it seems couples are more and more bringing their personal, intimate relationships into the public electronic domain. Sorry, that's a misuse of the word 'intimate'

It isn't a one-on-one medium unless you direct message. If there's relevance to others or its funny or ridiculing one party, completely fine. But I do not want messages about how much they love or miss each other or how many days until their wedding filling up my feed and getting in the way of things I might actually be interested in - music videos, interesting discussions and drunken photos.

FPDAs are like an infatuated couple at school passing notes in a classroom and having everyone it passes by open it (and maybe like or comment). It's just not as (eek) romantic. Aside from the personal touch (oh for a letter in the mail!) text messages or phone calls are far more effective. Cost money though right? Well use email or private message. The more you dilute a personal conversation in the ocean of the crowd the less meaningful it is to the other person.

If I read a single Valentine's Day to that effect I will defriend the perpetrators immediately. There is a certain romance about shouting your love from the rooftop; and people may applaud and celebrate with you initially, but if you don't get back down to earth soon enough they'll turn and start to throw shit at you.

I just don't think Facebook is designed, or works best as a medium for, personal communication - whether with a partner or friend (other than private messaging). Because, I'm sorry - people just don't care. And having people care is half the fun (read 'point') right?

Public statements through art are different because of their (sometimes) beauty, subtlety and personal reading.

I'm not a wowser. After being single for most of the past five years I miss the affection like Schapelle Corby misses cuddles, and you better believe when the right girl comes along I'll want my friends to share my happiness. But I won't put it in their face, in public or online.

I'm not opposed at all to displays of affection in public, but rather displays of public affection - those where the mind is focused beyond the person you're engaging. Unless, of course, they are directed at me

Affection for a crowd is an act, it just seems phoney. There is substance in subtlety, moreso in intimacy. Inctimacy being that close, personal, deep connection between two people - where outside attention is irrelevant because everyone else disappears.

Of course, it's not just couples. Some people have just lost the art of personal communication. For fuck's sake, I'm sure we've all been at a table of friends where a number of those present are online on their iPhone, or whatever one's cool now, giving in to the addiction of wider but less meaningful discourse.

The Facebook birthday wall is a farce. I've given up posting on people's walls on their birthday. If they're a friend we'll catch up or I'll send a personal message. If we're close enough for that we probably shouldn't be Facebook friends anyway. The only exceptions are where it includes a dedicated YouTube music video, which I may wish to see, or if it is my birthday. I like others to see how many people care about me.

And plenty do, don't you worry. Which is why it hurts so much when no one 'likes' my witty posts.