dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
As I'm writing this post, [personal profile] japester is practising his violin playing in the front room - and in fact it was his suggestion that I write about music tonight. A musical muse is a useful thing, especially when one is dead tired and stuck for ideas after a long drive on very little sleep.

So, what words do I have to write about music? As it happens, quite a few.

I was about five years old when I first picked up a violin, with intent to learn how to play it. It was not very long afterward that I gave it up as a bad job and instead picked up a cello which, for some reason, seemed to suit me better. Years of cello lessons ensued with a variety of teachers, but it became quite apparent that I lacked the temperament and dedication to be a concert musician (and in any case, I doubt that had ever been my parents' intention in having me learn an instrument) and in the middle of high school, I packed it in.

In the year or two following I had unsuccessful flirtations with both flute and piano which, in addition to being productive of unpleasant noises and a great deal of frustration, seemed to demonstrate that if I wanted to be at all musical, I should stick with strings - of the bowed or plucked variety that is, not the ones hammered with keys in the guts of a piano. Duly chastened - or enlightened, if you want a more positive spin - I returned to my cello-playing and kept it up through my end-of-school exams.

It wasn't until a couple of years later that I once again picked up my cello, this time to play with a medieval-style music group who really wanted a bass instrument to join them. Obviously the cello isn't a medieval instrument, but amateurs work with what they have - and I did get a couple of useful tips from my last cello teacher (who was by then teaching my older brother classical guitar) on how to make a modern cello better emulate the softer, less robust sound of a baroque cello, which is just a little bit closer to the sound of even older instruments like the bass viol, which actually fit the period of most of the music we played.

After another, more lengthy hiatus and a move interstate (about as far as I could go and still be in the same country) I once again took up the cello in the cause of reviving live dance music as part of the culture of our local medieval recreation group - a cause in which I was supported and encouraged by [personal profile] japester, who at that time was also once again picking up his childhood instrument - the violin - with intent to play.

Whether I should call it a departure from my true path or a musical evolution is open to debate but this time, having observed previously that most of the arrangements in circulation either lacked a bass line or had one that was quite dull relative to the other parts, I also taught myself to play the recorder. Like many others, up until my first encounter with medieval music, my only experience with the recorder was that it was that horrible squeaky plastic thing I was made to play in primary school. But I had by now learned that a wooden recorder can be a truly beautiful instrument, in the hands of a competent player - so I set out to become one.

Small problem with this plan, however - I was very, very bad at reading treble clef notation. Bass clef, no problem; but I just didn't know where any of these notes were on a recorder, much less how to quickly match notation with fingering whilst sight-reading. The solution at which I arrived owed much to the fact that I already knew many of the more popular dance tunes by ear, so I could pick them out on the recorder whilst following the music; eventually, I worked out which notes went with what fingering and could now learn new music. For the most part, though, once we'd assembled our core group of musicians, I was still the only bass-instrument player, so when there were bass lines, they fell to me. But that was okay, as long as it meant we were actually playing music at medieval events, rather than just listening to it coming from discreetly-placed and artfully concealed speakers.

So where has all this musical dabbling left me today?

Well, the music group we worked hard to establish is still going strong without us, which makes me happy because that had always been our intention. For me, though, moving back across the country has seen yet another lengthy hiatus in music playing, punctuated by rare and short-lived bursts of enthusiasm. For the most part, my cello, recorders and guitars all lie neglected and unplayed.

However, [personal profile] japester's recently renewed enthusiasm and commitment to playing violin, coupled with the fact that I hear him improving all the time, has made me think that maybe, just maybe I can overcome my present musical lethargy and become, if not anything like a great musician, at least a competent hack who can bust out a tune or three at short notice.

Yes indeed, a musical muse is a fine thing to have...
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
I really should know better than to read anything written by Andrew Bolt. It's certain to be coming from a position of conservative, white-male-privileged ignorance; I learn nothing and only come away angry. This morning, however, I forgot myself sufficiently to deviate from my usual course; or maybe I just wanted an excuse for an almighty rant.

In yesterday's Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, the darling fascist bully-boy (gosh, I loved The Young Ones, didn't you?) came out swinging over Kevin Rudd's appearance on Q&A, in particular his "abuse" of the Christian pastor over his views on marriage.

After trashing the Prime Minister as "cynical and unprincipled" - apparently just because he changed his mind about marriage equality - Bolt rips into him for supposedly trying to make the pastor seem like a "gay-hating bigot." First of all, I doubt very much that it's possible to survive in politics without being cynical and unprincipled; if Bolt's hero Tony Abbott isn't prepared to backflip on policy and lie through his teeth as the need arises, he's in the wrong game. Secondly, if you think, for example, that LGBT people are "allowed" to have their sexual proclivities but not act on them - this is the standard conservative Christian take on homosexuality - then you are a gay-hating bigot. You may not realise it but let's not mince words over the issue here - if I were to make a comment like, "Oh, it's fine if you believe in Jesus and all that, but going to church is just disgusting," I would be slammed for being a Christian-hater quicker than I could blink.

Bolt then attempts to accuse Rudd of Biblical ignorance, observing that it was actually Aristotle, not Jesus or Moses or any other character from Judeo-Christian scripture, who declared slavery to be a natural condition. Bolt even quotes a senior Anglican minister just to emphasise how "profoundly wrong" Rudd's comment was. In doing so, he spectacularly misses the point the Prime Minister was making, one obvious to anybody who's actually thought about the arguments for marriage equality or against religious moralising. The fact is that in modern society, we simply don't get our ethics from the Bible anymore. How could we? It is inconsistent in its strictures and often downright horrifying - despite the mental and verbal gymnastics executed by religious apologists in their attempts to claim otherwise. Of course people have to be selective. Rudd is getting pilloried here for nothing more than rethinking his selections. Oh, and for the record - the early Catholic church was quite happy to appropriate Aristotle's metaphysics; and the apostle Paul is well known to have written that slaves should "obey your masters" (though to be fair, he also apparently thought the apocalypse was just around the corner).

Finally, to drive home the point that Labor, as led by Kevin Rudd, is a bad choice because changing your mind is bad, mmmkay, Bolt makes a little list - three points on which Labor changed its policy: border protection and refugees; Julia Gillard's leadership; and climate change and the carbon tax. Through it all, Bolt was right there, "warning" that Labor was getting it wrong but getting no acknowledgement, poor diddums, even when his opinion was supposedly vindicated by a policy shift. "Remember how we were abused, but never answered?" he rages, comma and all - little realising that for the most part, on all these points, his position was - to use the phrase attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli - not even wrong. Like all good little neo-cons, Bolt presents himself as xenophobic, clueless about the plight of refugees, openly and ignorantly sexist and a climate-change denier. How is an intelligent and rational person - like the Prime Minister, for example - to engage with such robustly backward thinking? Some ideas just deserve to be abused.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
For some time now, my motto has been, "Everything homemade is healthy."

Obviously this doesn't mean that the food I make isn't often loaded with butter, cream, bacon, cheese or duck fat (or sometimes all of the above). What it does mean is that I generally know everything that's going into my food and usually where it's all come from too. I try to maximise the number of ingredients I buy fresh and minimally-tampered-with from markets and to minimise supermarket spending, especially on heavily processed items. I also try to buy organic where possible, especially animal products.

I'm not perfect in adhering to this regime, of course - I am not above chowing down on things like instant noodles (though in this, I am in the company of no less a culinary luminary than Heston Blumenthal), packet soups or frozen pizzas (though in the latter case, I tend to add my own ingredients to the toppings). I do tend to avoid eating from fast-food chain stores, however - mostly because, with very few exceptions, their food leaves me feeling bloated, disgusting and ethically compromised.

The main reasons I claim homemade food is always healthy, though, are mental and philosophical. There is deep emotional satisfaction in creating delicious dishes for myself and others; especially at this time in my life, I need all the positive feelings I can get. It is also very good for me to know that I am actively living my own philosophical beliefs about food. It's been said by many that food is about more than just bodily sustenance but even in these days of preachy TV chefs and growing awareness of the importance of fresh produce, there still seem to be alarming numbers of people who really don't engage with their food as anything more than fuel. Not everyone can love cooking, of course - an afternoon spent pushing meat through a crank-handled mincer, roasting and sieving tomatoes, finely chopping a heap of veg and turning the whole lot into a slow-cooked bolognese sauce probably isn't most other people's ideal Saturday.

I really do think, though, that one's approach to food can reflect a lot about one's approach to life in general. I am an Epicurean - both in its modern sense of being a lover of food and flavour; and in its original philosophical sense of believing that a life of pleasant tranquility is ethically ideal and worth pursuing. Again, I am far from perfect in my efforts to put this into practice; but on those occasions where I settle in to inhabit the kitchen and turn my beautiful fresh and organic ingredients into a delicious meal to share, when I balance the effort of preparation and cooking against the deeply pleasurable reward of eating, then I know I am living up to my beliefs.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
I've been thinking a bit about words today.

Don't worry, though - this isn't going to be a post about blogging. As I found out today whilst doing a spot of research, blogs about blogging are actually not very interesting to read. As anyone who knows me is aware, though, words are very important to me and from time to time, I like to engage in what I suppose, if it has its own word, might be called metawriting - producing words about words.

What got me thinking were some comments made by "hard-hitting journalist" (read conservative mouthpiece) Miranda Devine in the paper copy of today's Telegraph and read aloud to us by Dad, as he tends to do when he approves of someone's description of a politician. In this particular case, I was forced to disagree. According to Devine, Tony Abbott's "baddies versus baddies" description of the situation in Syria amounted to "a fair summation of a complex situation" and Abbott's "clear language" was a sign of "clear thinking." By contrast, Kevin Rudd's "verbosity" has journalists "tearing their hair out."

Um, what?

First of all, coming from a journalist, the notion of journalists getting frustrated about words strikes me as a sadly and ironically accurate reflection of the state of contemporary journalism. Certainly it's getting harder to find news publications that look like they've been subjected to the glance of an editorial eye. Worse than that, though, anyone who thinks that Abbott's comments are indicative of "clear thinking" is obviously unaware of the important difference between simple and simplistic. As I wrote in this blog recently, I'm a big fan of plain speaking, openness and honesty; but I am adamantly not a fan of the practice of "dumbing down" information - it means the speaker either thinks his audience won't understand the situation or - worse in a potential national leader - doesn't really understand it himself.

It seems that in the opinion of the unabashedly right-wing media commentators, in order to be counted amongst the "ordinary Australians" to whom Abbott supposedly appeals, one must demonstrate an inability to cope with sophisticated language. Well, by those lights, I am happy to say, I am very much not an "ordinary Australian" and nor are most of my friends and acquaintance - curiously enough, they won't be voting Liberal either, come election day.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
It's been many years now since I first started to really care about food; though it must be said, the early signs that I would ever do so were less than promising.

During my childhood, I would only ever order one of two things whenever we ate out - lasagne or, if the restaurant didn't have that on their menu, fish and chips. I didn't have what could be called an adventurous palate. Nor did I feel any great interest or demonstrate any particular talent in school cooking classes. I was quite content to stick to a fairly narrow and "safe" range of dishes and my response to new and unfamiliar foods was generally one of avoidance.

My culinary ineptitude continued through my teens but then in my early twenties, a few things happened to shift my attention towards food and cooking. For one thing, I moved out of catered accommodation, so I had to start learning to find my way competently around a kitchen, work out how to make things taste good and realise that rather than throwing every spice in my pantry into a dish, a more balanced, less enthusiastic approach to seasoning generally yielded better results. This was the second half of the 90s, about the time that cooking shows really came into their own - so it wasn't long before Jamie and Nigella found their way into my video collection (to be joined, down the years, by the Two Fat Ladies, Hugh, the Hairy Bikers and more). And the pivotal experience was being taken out to a couple of gourmet restaurants and finding out just how good food could be - it was then I discovered that in fact, I really love eating.

And that's the key thing - I enjoy cooking primarily because I seriously enjoy the results. I cook the kinds of things that I like eating, and it just so happens, fortunately, that other people like them too. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing other people enjoy food that I've cooked.

Happily, with the growing interest in food and cooking came an increased willingness to experiment with flavours and try things, even things I thought I didn't like, just in case I've been missing something amazing. As a child, I never liked avocado. Later, through the means of guacamole, I realised that actually it's really nice to eat. Other things I have more recently added to the list of foods that I like and will readily use include anchovies, olives and even mushrooms (though I still don't think I could face a barbecued fieldy). I have even consumed a freeze-dried cricket, just to see what it was like; if you're wondering, they taste quite unlike any animal protein I'm familiar with - I can't disagree with one food writer's observation that they have a flavour much like that of dust.

Now I'm taking what feels like the next logical step in my foodie progression - growing food. I dare say my gardening experiments will be the subject of many a post in the weeks, months and hopefully years ahead!
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Some days, finding words to write is like trying to get blood out of a stone.

Like today, for example. The sum total of my activity thus far has been to haul myself out of bed, make breakfast (though admittedly, that was fairly exciting), shower, dress, check my email, hover around Facebook, watch TV and go for a walk around the local area. So I really haven't generated much to write about - certainly nothing that would allow me to create a thematically unified post.

Nor am I feeling sufficiently philosophical to simply pick up an idea and run with it. I tried - I've been reading Sam Harris's website, specifically his refutation of negative reviews of his book The Moral Landscape. I really like the idea that morality can be subject to scientific investigation - I always suspected that the naturalistic fallacy was bullshit; in what way can you derive an 'ought' except from an 'is'? - but I don't at present have enough to say about it to fuel an entire post. Watch this space, though, for when I finally get around to reading and reviewing Harris's book - which I will, just not today.

In a way, my life kind of feels like it's on hold right now. Previously, the time I spent visiting my parents provided me with some much-needed downtime from work and my usual routine. Now, though, I really am taking time out from all the things I could be doing at home, from taking my life in the direction I want it to be going. So I'm trying to stay at least partially connected to the things I want to be doing, like writing - otherwise I really wouldn't have bothered churning out this post today, I suspect.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Today, apparently, I am a creature of the early morning. I've actually been awake for a couple of hours now, though most of that time was spent attempting to fall asleep again - clearly without success. So I thought I might as well take advantage of time I hadn't planned on using otherwise. Who knows? I may even manage two posts today.

There is something curiously appealing about waking up early on the weekend; but it's a feat I've seldom accomplished. Whilst I still had my office job, I tried very hard to morph into a morning person, but what normally happened was that I'd drag myself out of bed on the cold and dark weekday mornings, shower, dress, wolf down a caffeinated beverage and stumble out the door, usually picking up breakfast on the way because I didn't have time to make anything at home; then come the weekend, I'd crash out and be lucky if I surfaced before midday.

Of course, now that I don't have to be up early, I'm finding that it's much easier to get out of bed in the mornings. At the moment I don't know exactly what I'll be doing on any given day, and waking up early maximises the number of hours I have to explore possibilities. It used to be the case, particularly during my uni days, that my most productive time was at night and into the wee hours - most of my essays were churned out in caffeine-fuelled all-nighters. These days, the culture of the workaday world has infected me sufficiently that I feel more inclined to do things during the day - and especially if I get off to an early start.

So I'm finding, as I sit here on the couch with a small grey cat alternately demanding attention and exploring the collection of my stuff on the floor next to me, that although I do know broadly what I'll be doing today - driving to Bathurst, shopping, cooking dinner - the day still seems alive with possibility.

And I haven't even had my first coffee yet...
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
I've just finished reading this article, which is critical of Richard Dawkins and his use of Twitter to express what can certainly be taken as bigoted and racist comments. The contention of the article is that Dawkins is well on his way to becoming irrelevant to the 'maturing' atheist movement and is petulantly trying to attract attention, negative though it might be, while he still can (he's into his 70s, after all).

Well, for one thing, I have seen more than enough evidence in online fora to feel quite dubious of the claim that atheism, as a whole movement, is actually growing in maturity, as such. There will always be adherents to any philosophical position who attempt only a superficial engagement with it, who like to use it as a club to beat their opponents, whose allegiance does the community no favours; and they will always be balanced, ultimately, by those who take a more thoughtful, nuanced approach. This is true of every intellectual and cultural movement in human history.

What might be happening as atheism gains more ground in the war of ideas and more prominence in the public sphere is that the need to go on the offensive is far less pressing now than the need to consolidate the territory that has been claimed. This means the focus has shifted from making a lot of loud, righteously angry noise - something at which the likes of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens excelled - to mounting a more balanced and considered discussion of what the philosophical position of atheism entails. Okay, so you don't believe in gods or other supernatural entities - what does that mean in terms of how you live your life?

One of the criticisms often leveled at Dawkins, even before he began blotting his copybook with sexist, racist and other blatantly privileged remarks, was that his approach to atheism is philosophically shallow. The accusation that he failed to acknowledge the depth and subtlety of religious arguments is easily dismissed; Dawkins himself does so in the preface to the second edition of The God Delusion - why engage deeply with a position based on such a nebulous foundation as the claim that a being such as the God of Classical Theism exists? There's no need to undermine a palace built on shifting sand.

But the accusation of shallowness comes from the other side of the faith divide too and really, it's a pretty fair call. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist first, not a trained philosopher. If you want depth from him, read his works on evolutionary theory, not his attacks on religion. Having said that, even the latter, I was somewhat surprised to discover, are not all bluster and aggression; The God Delusion is actually a relatively gentle and humorous read, certainly when compared to, say, Christopher Hitchens' flights of bullshit-busting bombast in God is Not Great. There is, after all, something to be said for meeting obfuscation head-on with plain-speaking, straightforward arguments - and no-one can deny the elegance of Dawkins' writing.

None of this, of course, is an attempt to defend his abuse of privilege with his ill-considered tweets. And perhaps he really is becoming irrelevant to the long-term project of advancing atheism. Maybe every public intellectual has a best-before date.

But one thing that struck me forcibly as I read the article was just how eager we humans seem to be to find cracks in the armour of others and use them as an excuse to denigrate the whole person, to dismiss all their works and opinions as tainted because somewhere along the line, they've fucked up. I believe it was at least in part this tendency that allowed the Australian media to conspicuously fail to recognise the brilliance of Julia Gillard's speech condemning sexism (even though the rest of the world seemed to have no trouble giving credit where it was due). We judge people harshly for getting it wrong and find it very easy then to forget the times they got it right. And for some of us, the greatest victim of this imbalance is ourselves when we turn our overly critical eye inwards.

I decided recently that I'm not going to be that person who takes the measure of others - or of myself - by their failures. I can acknowledge those times when I make mistakes and get it wrong, without using that to invalidate my successes. And I find, increasingly, that I can accept that the people I admire are not perfect, nor should I expect them to be. But the reasons for which I admire them don't disappear in a puff of inappropriate behaviour. So no, I am not going to be shamefacedly hiding my signed copy of The God Delusion at the back of a bookshelf - it is and will remain a valued possession I am proud to own.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Well, (almost) no sooner than I'd made it back from Perth, I've set off again, this time driving north to spend time with my parents in Bathurst, with a stop over in Canberra either side (not really on the way as such, but only about an hour out of it, and another opportunity to catch up with old friends). I've remarked in the past that my car contains my life in street directories - in descending order of thickness, Melbourne, Canberra and Ballarat. I don't need a street directory for Bathurst - it's my home town and I know where everything is there.

So why, after extolling the pleasures of being home, am I leaving so soon after getting back? Well, part of the reason is that I'd been planning to do this trip for a little while, and it was delayed by the Perth trip. Another thing is that I think it will be kind of nice to rock up on my parents' doorstep on Father's Day, so that also helped dictate the timing. And to be honest, I think it's fair to say that home has become kind of a nebulous concept for me. No matter where I go, I'm leaving people behind somewhere.

I also have to admit that I have come to really enjoy taking road trips. It makes sense, of course - they were a big part of my childhood and I always really looked forward to our annual drive from Bathurst to Brisbane to visit my aunt and grandmother. The drive was always part of the holiday, and it still is for me. I love climbing into the car, turning my music up and hitting the road. It's in my blood, I guess.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
One of the great things about having abundant time on my hands at present is that I get to revel in domesticity. It's not that I actually love doing things like laundry and dishes and mowing the grass, but there is something inherently satisfying in the sense of setting one's home to rights.

And there's more to it than simply cleaning and tidying and maintaining - although that certainly has made up the bulk of today's efforts. This afternoon even found me in the front yard tackling our overgrown lawn before the pernickety nature-hating neighbours complain about it again. I was going great guns until the whipper snipper said no and refused to start, or to keep running once it did start. I don't know why. The Powertool Whisperer, I am not.

Be that as it may, my plans for our place extend beyond keeping things tidy and in check. One thing I've been intending to do since we moved in is replace the half-finished mural on the wall of the spa room (which, it has to be said, looks a bit rubbish) with one of my own design. Another, more recently conceived, plan is to make loose covers for the couches in something like burgundy brocade. Then I could line the walls with my paintings, add some luscious draperies, maybe some mood lighting, replace the curtains with something a little less sedate than the rose-print ones that look like they belong in a country short, to make the house just a bit more bohemian, somewhere more suited to an artist-in-residence - i.e., me.

But there is one more thing our place needs - that I need, particularly - and that probably won't be as easy to come by as all the small improvements I'm intending over the coming months. Today I received a call from the Victorian Dog Rescue and Resource Group in response to my application to adopt a dog. Having been badly burnt by our previous experience of adopting a rescue dog, we are taking great care to make sure that the next time goes well and that we find the right dog. The great thing about VicDRG is that they are equally careful to ensure that they match dogs with households, and they were honest enough to say it may well be that they don't have the right dog for us, at least at present. It's likely that we'll end up fostering a dog first, and perhaps a number of dogs before we ultimately find one that will really suit our family. But I really want to persevere in the quest.

Because for me, no matter how firmly I put my stamp on the house and garden, no matter how deeply I settle into the life of writer/artist/domestic goddess, home just won't quite feel complete without canine companionship.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
The black dog followed me home when we were both just puppies.

In those days, of course, all it could really do was exaggerate my self-centred childhood fears and I didn't know what it was so I couldn't shoo it away. Eventually it grew bored with pestering and getting no acknowledgement, so it settled down to wait for the more fertile pastures of an adolescent mind.

Then, still a gangly youngster yet to grow into its long legs and giant paws, the black dog came bounding up, barking, tongue lolling, desperate to play and to be one of the pack, bowling me over with its enthusiasm. Imagine its disappointment when it found I couldn't get up. Deeply offended, it curled itself in a dark corner of my mind and let the demons come. This time they were darker and had claws. They told me I was worthless, that I couldn't love or be loved, that everything I thought I had been was nothing but a thin facade and I was just one slip away from sinking into violence and madness and despair.

And then the black dog whined. I stood up and said, "Enough." I prised the demon claws from my thoughts and began the arduous crawl back to reality. On the way I looked over my shoulder and said, "I see you, pooch." He thumped his tail once, and faded away.

But he never wanders far from the den. I've seen him many times, patrolling the borderlands, keeping watch for the demons. Every once in a while, the black dog barks and I know they're coming - the fear and the despair, the Catholic guilt that comes roaring up with its malevolent laugh - "Muahahaha! You don't care. You know you don't care because you're not suffering enough! Are you suffering now? Well, how about now? Are you?!"

But then I look around and see the black dog guarding my back. I meet the demons face to face with a resounding, "Fuck you!" and after putting up an ever more feeble fight, they scurry away, back to the darkness, as the black dog howls a victory. When my way is clear once more, I pat his now greying head and he sinks into the shadows, until I need him again.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Sometimes you have to go away for a while to recognise those home truths that have been so much a part of the everyday that you've stopped seeing them.

It took a two-week break catching up with friends and family for me to realise that I really had become completely disenchanted with my job. The result was, of course, that I walked away from it to pursue my long-held desire to make my living with my own words (rather than someone else's).

I've now come back from two-and-a-half weeks in Perth, again catching up with friends and family, and what I have realised more than ever is that it's good to be home.

In the past, I always used to feel slightly dejected at the end of a break or a holiday, because it was quite a dull prospect to have to go back to the familiar territory of home. So it was with a certain amount of surprise that I realised on Saturday night when my plane landed at Tullamarine that I was happy and looking forward to getting on with my life back home.

There's more than one reason for me to be surprised at this response. I feel as if I've been quite disengaged from my life for most of the past couple of years, really since losing Bossie. The combination of grief, depression and self-medication is a great way to lose your motivation and just find yourself going through the motions, maintaining a shell of an existence with no real substance. It's not that long since I've begun to claw my way back out of the fog and try to start living again.

So actually feeling happy to be home is a great sign that I'm beginning to find my feet with what feels like a whole new start. It's early days, of course, but I now know that I'm where I want to be, where I belong.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Over the last several years, I have increasingly come to appreciate the value of plain speaking, in all areas of human interaction.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. One has certainly been my growing impatience with the kind of obscurantist religious language with which I grew up and the recognition that once you strip away the fancy phrasing from an article of faith, there's not much actual content left. A bit later, having dipped my toes into the hallowed waters of academia, it occurred to me that maybe the postmodernists are wrong and there actually aren't any ideas that are so complex and convoluted that they require expression in kind. There is good academic writing and very, very bad academic writing - the latter generally leaves the hapless student far more confused than she was before doing the reading. Again, once you've hacked and slashed your way through all the superfluous verbiage, postmodern theory seems remarkably content-free.

And it's not just the intellectual life that benefits from a spot of linguistic spring-cleaning. Being able to speak openly and plainly when sharing your feelings and opinions with others is a truly wonderful thing, and there are times when the sheer elegance of simple, straightforward language produces a deep emotional satisfaction.

However, these are pleasures I have only recently begun to appreciate to their full extent. For it must be said - plainly - that recognising the importance of clear, direct communication and actually being good at it myself are unfortunately not the same.

Why should this be so? Why has it been so hard, for most of my life, to own my opinions and feelings and to speak my mind openly in simple, uncompromising English words?

Again, I can think of a number of reasons. I spent a great deal of my childhood and adolescence believing that it was actually morally wrong to hold certain ideas and opinions, that feeling the 'wrong' way about something was sinful and made me a bad person. Speaking out about such feelings would, it seemed to me, somehow cement them in a way that merely having them on the inside did not. Not to mention the fact that speaking your mind could get you in trouble or draw unwanted attention - and that didn't seem worth it if my opinions weren't right anyway. It took a complete mental meltdown into clinical depression in my late teens before I could bring myself to simply state my feelings bluntly, and then it was an act of sheer desperation.

A bit later on, I fell in with what I now recognise to have been a toxic circle of acquaintance. One of the things that was poisoned during this period of my life was my approach to interpersonal communication - especially when it came to interacting with potential (and actual) lovers. The thing was, if you really liked someone, it was never a good idea to admit it. To do so would be perceived as a weakness or a flaw, especially if the said someone did not reciprocate your feelings. Every admission had to be heavily qualified, just in case.

On the intellectual front, the somewhat tortured prose I tended to produce when writing essays was generally rewarded with distinctions or better - perhaps because of the insidious influence of postmodernism in the humanities. Spinning out sentence after jargon-laden sentence was a great way to disguise the fact that I didn't often know very well what I was talking about - and the positive reinforcement I received from my professors only encouraged more of the same.

Then, somewhere along the line, things changed for me.

I'm not sure when or precisely how it happened, but I couldn't help but notice that failing to speak my mind and express myself clearly and simply was like living in a cage - and having noticed it, I had to do something about it. Why not let people know what I think and feel? Isn't that how you take the measure of a person?

Maybe I just grew the confidence to realise that I could afford to lose friends; to think that, actually, it's better to know that people like you for who you really are, not for the facade you project; that it's better to say nothing than to drivel on aimlessly if you actually have nothing to say; and that it's better to take a chance and tell someone that you find them irresistible, than to stay silent and miss out on what might be the best thing to ever happen to you.

It hasn't been as easy to make the change as it's been to write the words to describe it. But I know that what I write now is authentic, that this is my real voice. I'm not faking it anymore.

And I will never go back.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Jealousy is an odd sort of emotion. I think this might be because it's just so useless, especially when compared to other emotions like fear, love, anger, joy and so on. The utility of these more primal feelings is readily apparent, not merely in that they motivate action, but that the actions they inspire can have beneficial effects upon our lives.

It's less clear that jealousy can have any positive utility. It's not simply that it's really more of a meta-emotion with its roots in fear. It's a cunning little bastard as well - it has a most unfortunate tendency to make people act against their best interests, especially when it comes to relationships. If you cling too hard to a partner for fear of losing them, that's often a great way to drive them from you. Possessiveness is not an attractive quality.

My own experiences with jealousy have been somewhat ambivalent. Certainly I have felt it, but I never felt good about feeling it - I always saw it as a flaw, as betraying a lack of confidence, as something I wasn't really entitled to feel, if one can be said to be entitled or not entitled to feel anything. And I was very aware of its unattractive manifestation. As such, I tended to suppress it.

These days I very seldom experience jealousy and on the rare occasions I do, I don't need to suppress it because I can talk myself out of it altogether in very short order. Even before I was able to do this, jealousy had faded into the background for the most part; what I tended to feel instead, in situations that might previously have provoked jealousy (such as a partner flirting with others), was a consciousness that I ought to feel it, or that others might expect me to feel it, rather than any real experience of jealousy itself.

There's been plenty written on the subject of managing jealousy in polyamorous relationships, and it's interesting to me that one of the reactions people often have to the idea of polyamory is that they couldn't do it because they get jealous (to be fair, I used to think I couldn't be polyamorous either, but that had nothing to do with jealousy - I was simply too focused on my one partner at the time to really be interested in anyone else). In stark contrast to my own attitudes, some people seem almost to embrace jealousy, as though you don't love someone enough unless the thought of them with anyone but you is enough to send you into a fit of rage. The culture of monogamy has normalised jealousy, even though it is at best pointless and at worst, terribly destructive.

The real problem with jealousy - and ironically, the key to overcoming it - is that it turns everything it touches into a zero-sum game. One person's gain has to mean loss to another, so if someone else has something, you have to miss out. Enter, jealousy. But in my experience, life doesn't work quite like that. Yes, everything is a trade-off, but it's not so black-and-white that there's no room for grey. For the most part, it's simply not the case that one person's gain is another's loss and that's that. Sharing and co-operation might cost me an effort of will (especially if I have to do these things with people I don't like much) but the benefits, if I stay the course, are generally worth it, and much better than I'd get if I jealously tried to hold on to everything for myself.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
It feels kind of cliched to observe that life is as simple or as complicated as you make it. While some might disagree, I still think this is true, give or take the odd occasion when circumstances just seem to land on you.

I suppose it's easy for me, right now, to say that my life is remarkably simple, being that I've recently walked away from my job and am pretty much just existing from one day to the next without any really fixed plans. But not everyone is in a position to do this, of course! And it would be fair to say that if I am to pursue the course I intend and still make a living, hopefully with multiple income streams, the simplicity probably isn't going to last.

So much for work. Relationships seem to be the other major area in which people are very good at complicating their lives and I don't think I'm exceptional in this regard. Again, if I pursue the course I intend here, the simplicity of monogamy will be left further and further behind as I explore the greener and many-other-coloured pastures of polyamory.

So it could be said that I'm complicating my life, just a bit. My father has remarked in the past that I seem to be quite good at doing this, but quite frankly, anything is complicated when compared to my childhood. And there it is - it's all relative. When I was working in an office job, the progress of my life was simplicity itself: get up, go to work, work, come home, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Every so often something else might happen, but the pattern was ploddingly repetitive.

The problem with this kind of simplicity is that, well, it's boring. It almost becomes necessary to create complications in order to relieve the monotony. In the end, I think that's why I walked away.

I wonder if that's at least partly why so many married people cheat on their spouses.

What I've discovered is that there are ways and means of complicating one's life in a simple and straightforward manner. One can hold back for fear of getting into too many things - something I've spent most of my life doing, to my great detriment - or just throw caution to the wind and leap into life headfirst, tackling the obstacles as and when they arise. The latter, I think, is actually simpler in the long run.

The trouble is that the first course of action, such as it is, doesn't result in a simple and stress-free life. If you don't engage with life, then anything that just lands on you (despite your best efforts at avoidance) is all the more difficult to deal with. Enter complications, and with them, all too often, a world of hurt.

Of course the latter offers far more opportunities for pain and failure right up front, but these are usually also opportunities for growth and success - especially if you face up to them openly and honestly. It's the difference between the complications you create for yourself and the ones that happen just because you were trying to run away from them.

And the best thing about my simply complicated life? It's not boring anymore.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Yesterday I updated my Facebook status with the declaration that I had done everything I had intended to do during the day. Once the update was posted and when I lacked the energy to do anything about it, I realised I had missed one thing - posting a blog entry. So this is my second one for today, just so I can retain my intended average of at least one post per day.

So what else had I intended to do yesterday?

The one real essential on the list was packing for my trip to Perth. That was in fact the last item to be ticked off the list, after I'd done the other things, and of all the intentions, this one required the least expenditure of energy - all the requisite laundry had been done the night before.

The two most time-consuming and energy-intensive activities were cooking a couple of stews to stock the freezer with homemade ready meals; and a couple of gardening tasks to further my progress towards turning the ornamental garden bed in our backyard into a functioning vegie patch.

So after a less-than-promising start to the day - the waking-up-at-appropriately-early-hour didn't go so well - I duly dropped JP off at work and headed to the markets for provisions. That done, I picked up a pruning saw and a bottle of vodka (that's honestly not as weird as it sounds...) on my way home and then finally had breakfast, at about 11:30.

Then it was out into the garden to attack the thorny tree that was leaning at a somewhat alarming angle and generally getting in the way of clearing the garden bed. I won't say the pruning saw made short work of it, exactly, but the end result was that most of the tree is now in pieces in the green waste bin, along with the satisfying amount of vegetation I pulled up. The stump will be a larger task than I had the tools for yesterday, but I did at least create enough space to plant out one of my potted tomatoes that had been happily outgrowing their pots in the spa room. The other two were relegated to the two large pots by the back porch that had previously been home to some French breakfast radishes.

It was then time to get on with the stews - one with beef and beetroot, the other chicken and green veg. They were both simmered at low heat, one in the oven, one on the stovetop, for a few hours, then seasoned, tasted to ensure an appropriate level of deliciousness, then decanted into containers, cooled and safely stowed in the fridge (to be transferred to the freezer first thing this morning).

Then I packed. Earlier in the day, I'd remembered that on my last trip to Canberra, I'd left my toiletries bag behind, so that led to a quick trip out to resupply. Somewhere in amongst the big activities I also managed to make some experimental herbal tinctures and also phone my parents and contact a few Perth friends.

So all in all, despite my failure to blog, it was still a satisfying day. And I slept better last night than I had in over a week.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Sometimes it seems as if life just happens to me, and I'm just going along for the ride. That's kind of how I'm feeling right now - I'm not acting entirely on my own impetus, but on the prompting of circumstance.

This isn't a bad thing, however. For just over a week now, my life has been relatively unplanned, what with having divested myself of an office job for which I have to show up every weekday, and maintaining a fairly broad set of intentions - adamantly not anything I would dignify with the name of 'plans' - that I can undertake as and when the mood takes me. As of today, and probably for the next couple of weeks, I am more or less completely unplanned, to the point where I actually don't know, from day to day, where I'll be spending the night. This is actually a new experience for me.

What it has done is highlighted a couple of ways in which I am extremely lucky. On the one hand, I have the means, at present, to have this experience in a way that is not difficult or stressful in a financial sense; on the other hand, I have excellent friends who are willing to be flexible and provide me with company and somewhere to sleep at relatively short notice. These are both reasons for gratitude.

I don't know how the next two weeks will go, but I am interested to find out.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
This morning I stood at my front door and debated with Jehovah's Witnesses.

I know this is an ultimately pointless exercise, of course, because nothing I can say is going to convince two middle-aged men who are heavily invested in their religion that they might have less cause for certainty than they think. But it was satisfying and there are reasons for this that run deeper than the superficial joy of having at least shunted the JWs out of their script.

A few weeks ago, I was walking along the foreshore in front of Southgate and there was a man waving pamphlets and mumbling something about "If you want to be saved"...blah, blah, blah. Part of me really wanted to walk up and ask him what he really thought he was talking about - who, what and where was this god he was peddling? Of course I didn't do that. I was not that person, not that day.

Today I became that person.

So why is this a good thing? 

I have spent a lot of time over the past several years contemplating life's manifold absurdities and wondering how, as conscious beings, we humans might approach them; I've been questioning my beliefs, discarding ones I found lacking and building new ones, hopefully on the basis of at least some substantial evidence; and learning how to defend them.

The thing is, it's easy to think of an argument against theistic belief (or anything you happen to be arguing against) when you're on the other end of an internet link. It's easy to trot out the same old rejoinders that have been typed and typed again in countless online fora. It's not so easy to martial one's thoughts when put on the spot in the face of a committed opponent.

Now, the two JWs I encountered this morning were not exactly incandescent with evangelic zeal - I was hardly batting in the big leagues. But the me that obtained only a few weeks ago would have politely told them I wasn't interested and sent them on their way, rather than engage them in discussion. That difference is important to me, not just  because I now don't have to spend the rest of the day regretting a missed opportunity.

You see, there comes a point at which one's beliefs really can't be taken seriously unless they manifest themselves in behaviour. Today I stood up for what I believe. In a small way, to be sure, but it was real. I know. I was there.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
The other day I had what felt like a bit of an epiphany.

I've been thinking a lot lately about gender identity and what it means to need to express yourself in certain ways. In that context, I stumbled across a website dealing with androgyny, and found it quite intriguing. In my experience, androgyny has always been primarily a personal style, an external, perhaps even superficial expression of taste - albeit one I have always fancied; it had not occurred to me that it might also be a gender identity, one that encompasses aspects of both masculinity and femininity but has no particular affinity for either.

Well, I thought, perhaps that's me.

There is some evidence in support of this hypothesis - to wit: I have for some time now been dressing in what I can best describe as "pretty men's clothing", because it suits my body and my demeanour, and I feel comfortable that way. As a child, whenever I made up games with my brother or friends, my characters tended to be either male or 'tomboy' girls. I've always felt drawn to ambiguous-looking people, whether physically male or female; my own self-image doesn't seem to me to be particularly gendered, despite knowing that I am biologically female; indeed, there have been times when I've downright resented having girl bits (though what girl getting her first period doesn't, really?) and being admonished to behave in a 'ladylike' manner. Those who have encountered me only in online fora have tended to assume that I am male by virtue of my writing style. This doesn't bother me in the slightest. The first time I cross-dressed for a medieval event (one of the few places a woman can do this effectively, I might add), a friend remarked, "Wow, Sarah - you carry that off so well!" Even when I don a long, flowing gown to go to a feast, it still kind of feels like I'm dressing up as a woman.

So much for that. At this point I inevitably began the self-questioning that for me goes along with any such feeling of sudden enthusiasm - am I just trying to slot myself in to a pre-existing mould? Am I making a big deal out of something that isn't really that significant? I certainly don't want to be that person who's like, "Hey, so many of my friends are genderqueer - gosh darn it, I need to have a thing too!"

So that's kind of where I'm at right now. I'm still intrigued at the idea, still attracted to androgyny as a personal style, but I don't really want to leap in and claim it as an identity just for the sake of having one, of belonging to the growing numbers of people who are realising they don't fit neatly into the gender binary. I don't think I do, really - but why go to the trouble of putting a label on it and then conforming to the label? Isn't that just the same shit in a different bucket?

Part of it is that I don't really understand it when people talk about "feeling like" a woman, or like a man for that matter - but that may well be simply because I've never had to make the comparison - I certainly have no feelings akin to the sense of having the "wrong" body, as reported by some transgender folks. I've had no real issues accepting the fact of my body, even though it's treated me to my fair share of awkwardness and embarrassment - whose body hasn't done that? But do I "feel like" an androgyne? I honestly don't know.

Another, and perhaps more socially important aspect of my reluctance to define myself as a particular gender identity - no matter how attractive it might be - is the fact that I have, in general, never found that my biological sex has been any hindrance to my self-expression. Yes, there are some respects in which I openly reject femininity, but no-one seems to find that particularly troublesome. My experience would undoubtedly have been different had I not been born into a post-second-wave-feminism society, but as it is, if I want to walk down the street in a top hat and tails, or if I reject the nurturing role of mother and homemaker, no-one except religious fundamentalists and right-wing conservatives (often largely indistinguishable demographics) are really going to have a problem with my choices. It comes down to the fact that I have been luckier than a lot of people who, because of social constraints and deeply ingrained assumptions about gender roles, have to fight to achieve a level of self-expression that truly conveys who they feel themselves to be.

And that is why I feel like a pretender.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
Life has taken some interesting turns in recent weeks.

The big thing that is happening is that I have finally made the decision to walk away from my job, after a couple of years of feeling underappreciated and just a bit too much like a cog in the corporate machine. I'm incredibly lucky, I might add, to be in a position where I can do this. Where the next six months will take me, I don't know - but the fact that I've been feeling nothing less than buoyant since Tuesday last week is enough to convince me that I've made the right decision.

So where do I go from here? Will this be the shake-up that my life has needed for what feels like a very long time? I hope so. There's one thing that's undeniable - self-discovery doesn't end with youth. I realised today that for most of my life, I have lived with the belief that if I really, really want something, I'll never have it - either because I don't have the ability to obtain it, or because it's too frivolous and not worth the wanting. Well, I'm in process of convincing myself that this belief is erroneous - and I have just about enough evidence to seal the deal. Even something as deceptively simple as asking for what I want has recently yielded tangible results, so I intend to continue on this path.

Watch this space...


dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)

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