Monday, May 31, 2010

Technical Support: - technically neither.

Just recently I have restarted Bowen Therapy each week and have had a couple of small but nonetheless remarkable symptom improvements.  Like, I can speak half-reasonably sometimes now.  And the last couple of days I have used a pen to make marks on paper that were recognisably language to another human.  Wow, imagine if this continued.....but I shall just stay present.  One thing it meant was that........

I finally bit the bullet and called (our near-monopoly, half-government-owned telco provider) Telstra's tech support line today to deal with this wireless broadband USB modem issue.  It's being going on for months but I only use it when I'm away from home (in respite care) so I tend to not think about it.  Here's the backstory.

It causes my computer to freeze.  Not always, but often enough.  Sometimes after a few minutes, or maybe over an hour or two, but when it does, I have to do a cold reboot as nothing else saves the day.  It is indisputably the modem and/or its software, not a program on my computer, the alignment of the planets or how I am holding my left leg.  When it first happened I called their number but was twice hung up on when the operators had too much difficulty with my speech problems.  So I emailed them.

The website promises a reply in 24 hours and indeed one does receive an automated "we got your mail" reply in a few hours, which also informs you to expect contact sometime in the next 48 hours.  Unless it's a weekend.  Anyway, their email 72 hours later expressed concern at my reported ill-treatment and requested I call them to discuss the technical issues.

I emailed them - this is all months ago.  Over time, up until a few days ago, I explained in emails my reasons for emailing, and suggested there would be nothing one could do over the phone that could not be done in writing.  I put every bit of diagnostic data in possible, answered any questions they might have which I could guess at and asked lots of simple questions, hoping a techie might look at the issue.  You know, questions like : "has this ever happened to anyone before?" And "if so, what resolved it?"  also the "is there an actual fix if this is a problem known to you?"

Then a ray of hope.  I began corresponding with a single entity, a person called Jai.  They asked me to email back a few proof of identity answers (serial numbers etc) so they could look into it!

And then answered!

By answering irrelevant questions I had not asked, and that they'd fixed the spelling of my surname in some file or other at their end (which did not relate to the problem) and then saying I needed to call a certain number, as this was clearly a technical issue and that's where the techies are.

I have not heard back from my return email asking if their techies were able or allowed to use the internet services they allegedly support and thus email me.

OK, so, I have an hour spare, and am having a reasonable talking moment, it being the balance point between Bowen sessions where I get 24 or 48 hours of relative understandability going.

The IVR (Interactive Voice Recognition) does not understand me when I say "fault" or even "yes", despite the fact that my short "e" vowel and round "o" sounds are still very distinct.  Eventually I get through to the Mobile section as told to do via email.  But apparently, this is an internet problem so I am transferred..........but no, it's not an internet problem, it's a wireless problem so I'm transferred to wireless.......but no, because it's prepaid I'm transferred....wait, what?  You're not transferring me?  You're giving me another number to call?  Is this not the same company?  "I have to give you this number to call sir, it's only a local call cost, I cannot transfer to that section".

At each of the above stages, I was asked questions from a workflow script. "So you are unable to connect to your Bigpond account, is that correct?"
"No, I don't have a Bigpond account, the issue is that my prepaid wireless broadband modem is freezing my computer"
"So you are connecting to Bigpond using wireless network at home, is this correct?"

And around and around we went.  To give fair credit, I was never on hold longer than 9 minutes during transfers.  They all tried to do their jobs as per the script.  and as soon as they got an 'out', like "Not Bigpond!"  or "Wireless!" or "Prepaid!" they got all happy and extremely helpful and friendly handballing me onwards....

Now here's the lowdown.  I did some research.  Telstra have about 3 properly trained geek techies to support the country and their job is to jabber at specialist call centre bureaucrats who construct workflow scripts in simple English for use in their overseas call centres, mainly in the Philippines.  It would seem this is an unsolvable (to date) software problem that has been with us since 2007, according to third party geeks and bloggers online.  But Telstra has a complete monopoly on coverage in the majority of the landmass (if not an absolute majority in more populated areas) and a bunch of insoluble issues.  They know they have a reputation as the worst customer service provider in the country.  They have been half-privatised and must make a profit for the huge percentage of the Australian population that own shares in them (thus they have electoral clout in all sorts of ways) so how better to manage a problem they can't fix than make it impossible to contact them about it?

I decided early on to remain in personal equilibrium to the greatest extent possible today, and enjoy at least what human contacts I could have.  This helped, I am sure.  My plan is to remain this way but to not give up.  I shall make sure to remember all the lessons of my time as a bureaucrat and call centre worker, and employ those learnings with integrity and purposefulness.

And see what happens.

But only as long as I enjoy it.

Because in the end, I'm not going to give away my energy for life for something I hate.  That must be the secret to useful customer self-advocacy - integrity, and enjoyment.

I'll let you know how it goes.

PS Of course, while I stay happy and keep cleaning, the modem works just fine!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

To everything; turn, turn, turn.

There is a season; turn, turn, turn,
And a time for every purpose,
Under heaven.
 - Ecclesiastes via The Seekers.

It occurs to me that Ecclesiastes should be some kind of fruit-fllled super-pastry, like a meta-eccles cake.  Imagine a multi-dimensional pastry full of divinely tasty fruits-of-the-gods goodness yet appearing for all the world just like those late eighteenth century creations from Eccles, England.  Mm.

But I digress.  Sorry, had a little moment there.

This post is to commemorate Drusilla.  You remember her, the philosopher rabbit.  Sister to Hamish the (late) daredevil stunt rabbit.  Well, i am here to announce that Drusilla and I are more completely as one than ever now.  She has returned to the Universal Beige.  Been released from this mortal coil, let go of the order of being her Drusillan self and become subsumed into the great chaotic carbon cycle of creation - bodily at least.

Well, she asked for it.

A picture of equanimity - beyond patience is this one, mm.

It was simply time.  There were no tearful farewells, because she was after all made of chocolate.  Chocolate cannot cry, and I do not cry for chocolate. Well, not lately I haven't anyway.  We just looked at each other, remembered our last conversation, and knew.  Plus, I ran out of other chocolate over a week ago and haven't had any since.

Odd blend this time, here's what went in
(remembering of course that I don't always.  Remember, that is)

Sesame seeds, a short pouring.
Almonds, maybe 30.  Yes, probably only 30 or so.
Walnuts. No, wait, pecans, sorry.  Say a decent handful.
A banana.  I had one frozen and thawed it.  It felt horrid when I was peeling it.
Fair big chunk of raw sweet potato, as usual.
Guavas, about 3 medium ones
Flaxseed oil, a large glug
Olive oil, a larger glug
Cardamom, ginger (both ground) and fennel seeds.
Oat milk
Love and gratitude, a representative moment of each.

The last goodbye.

Drusilla was really happy, happier than she's been the whole time she's hung around on our kitchen table, and she's been pretty happy to do that too.  I wouldn't ever let a rabbit be unhappy.

Next time I have a pair of chocolate rabbits I shall call them Lorraine and Deirdre.  There will be a narrative of their life here where decisions must be made about who is to go first, because consigning two rabbits to the angular momentum soul liberator at once is just too much.  They will tell me that I must, truly must, atomise and consume Lorraine first.

And when that's done, and Lorraine has become through the actions of the VitaMix deity and my digestive tract become as embeigened as can be, I shall look across at my remaining rabbit, and in a slightly twangy country-style voice sing:

"I can eat Deidre now Lorraine has gone....."
  - (to the tune of I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash)

Thanks, you've been a wonderful audience.

Remains of the day.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lovely outing today dearie....

Makes me sound like such a senior citizen doesn't it?  The thing is, in so many ways I really am like so many of our older folks these days.  The walk, the voice, the lack of stamina, the stupid weak hands......and of course the memor......what was I saying?  No, the mind still works fine as far as I can tell, or am told.  Or can remember.

I once had as fine a set of wrinkles on my face as ever one could wish for.  In my early twenties even; a 12-corrugation forehead when I raised an eyebrow, those vertical 'concentration' brow lines used to denote stress in Hollywood sword-and-sandal dramas from the seventies, big cleaving triple smile lines and a 90 degree splay of multiple squinty things at the corners of my eyes.  Damn it was good.  Seriously, I actually really liked it.  You can do that as a male in this society fairly easily, unless you're a pretty-boy type.  Scleredema came along and reversed my premature ageing in these ways at least.  My very own botox lab; not a single wrinkle in sight.  

Also in my twenties I would oft be known to quip when needled about my sometimes irascible or seemingly overserious nature (and the wrinkles and greying hair) that I had been born old and was proceeding to age in reverse.  Actually, I wanted to be older than I was from an early stage, being discontented with the offerings of childhood and arrogantly precocious in a couple of ways.  A defense mechanism in great part, as physical aspects were very much the prime determinant of masculine virtue in my neck of the woods, and I was quite simply the polar opposite of the bronzed Aussie lantern-jawed Chesty Bond surf god required as minimum acceptance on the sunny and weirdly insular northern beaches area of Sydney in the seventies and early eighties.

Not me.  Pretty much most of the local male population in my schooldays though. 
Quite a few did turn out to be gay as it happens.

Funny how those self-fulfilling prophecies do.  Self-fulfil, I mean.  Here I am growing younger - of heart at least, and lighter of spirit too.  Yet not, it would seem, at all throwing off the early condition of being old before my time.

So yes anyway, it was a lovely outing today.

I had sort of saved up a lot of my energy because Meeta and I wanted to do a 'town run' where we do the drive into the medium smoke (our city doesn't really qualify as a big smoke, except in burn-off season when there's an atmospheric inversion layer but I digress) and get a bunch of stuff we can't get in our tiny smoke.  Dog coats, bulk dog and cat food, garden edging stuff (less than half the price in the big city stores), some seriously good foody bits, you know - a buncha stuff.  But also, we'd sort of mentally set aside some pennies for an excursion to what I can confidently describe as the bestest garden nursery ever.  Where else are you going to wander around a meandering pathway and see this?

It's maybe 15 ft tall at least, they call it a Zandersaurus.  
The place is fiull of amazing sculptures and art on a natural theme.

It's called Zanthorrea Nursery (that's a funky misspelling of the botanical name for the local so-called grass tree, known previously in these parts as a 'black boy' which has been phased out for the same reasons as golliwogs essentially and more previously than that known as balga) and I'm not surprised it keeps winning awards.

 Xanthorrhoea Australis in flower.  
Similar to our local X. Preissii, but a nicer photo than I had of one.

Zanthorrea's  main focus is local natives, and as we share much in the way of climate and soils with the hills areas that the nursery services, and as we had last been there maybe ten years or more ago and loved it then, we were excited like kids on our way there.  It was no disappointment.  You know how so often when you go back to a place you loved it doesn't quite feel right anymore, or how sometimes it's just really gone downhill?  Didn't happen.  Their own gardens were even more beautiful, there was more harmoniously made and placed art all around, and their selection pf plants was first rate.  Plus, they are an entirely natural nursery, so no chemical nasties and every plant there looked in perfect health.

It's not a showy look-at-me place with try-hard floral displays and massed this and that; rather it seems to be designed in aesthetic accord with its philosophy of gardening.  Go with what works locally, and play with it.  There is no strain.  Just lots of life being allowed to get on with itself.

Note to all other nurseries - you can be like this with just a little care and effort too, OK?

We bought lots of plants.  We even know where most of them are going.  We exercised restraint you see, so we can go back again soon.  It was just such a lovely place to hang out, and the staff were exactly as you'd hope staff everywhere to be.  In two words; happy, and helpful.

After an hour or so there and with a half-full trolley I realised it was time for a feed.  So I thought rather than my usual thing of doing it all in the car I'd get my bag of gear and have a nice relaxing tube session on one of the numerous park benches placed thoughtfully here and there.  And had a potential catastrophe.  But the unfussed equilibrium of the surrounds meant I was able to overcome the issue (a blocked tube, far from home, and I hadn't brought a plunger for the syringe body etc etc annoying possible ramifications of a day now lost, finding a pharmacy and hoping they'd have a 60 my syringe and that it would work and I would manage without calories for another couple of hours geez this could be really stressy  etc bullshit etc) with grace and calm and by Meeta finding at first glance downwards, when asked, the twig that saved the moment - of perfect dimensions, texture and flexibility.  Did seem to rather bemuse a couple of ladies of a certain age passing nearby, who inexplicably found a reason to reverse their intended course and explore elsewhere for the present moment.  Ah well.

I do so love when the perfect twig falls to hand.

We also found the ideal bird feeder for our apparently resident thundering herd of finches.  And then forgot to buy it.

Darn, we'll have to go back!

See the rusted metal sculpture of the Xanthorrhoea in the middle there?  The 'leaves' are springy and make a delightful boingy boingy sound like the world's biggest out-of-tune music box. That's what kids are for.  Showing you stuff like that.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Being a post in which I shall enumerate just a few morsels of counted blessing.  The tiny things that make me happy, usually.  Because it's always worth attempting the impossible occasionally - like trying to count one's blessings.

Mornings.  My last real relationship with early mornings in the very early 80's involved porridge and heating my ugg boots on the grate of the one-bar heater on the kitchen floor before being bundled tracksuitedly off to swimming training just as the sun came up.  5 days a week.  To be repeated after school.  There were saving graces, but really it put me off the early hours for some time.  That and musician's hours later on.  Then with intubation last year I needed to get up early so I could space my feeds out enough over the day and not have to go to midnight every night.  Now, even as winter draws steadily onward, it's a favourite time.  Birdsong, pale dawn light, and the odd hot air balloon.

The theme tune to Dead Like Me.  I rented the DVD of the first series of Dead Like Me to take into respite with me last time, because it looked interesting.  I'd never heard of it before.  Turns out, it was a great series (only 2 seasons, sad) following a group of characters who, following their deaths, become grim reapers whose job it is to help remove the souls of those just about to die.  It's a sitcom, btw.  I'll probably blog more on it sometime, but quite possibly the greatest part is the kick-ass theme tune by Stewart Copeland (the drummer from The Police).  I can even say it's better than the Seinfeld one, funky and ear-wormy as it was.

The sound of two handfuls of kindling.  It takes me forever these days and would be hilarious for a fly-on-the-wall to behold, but every week or so I split a supply of kindling for our wood stove.  Our firewood is of mixed species, a fair bit of it salvaged fence posts and telephone poles, and there's a small percentage of very old, very dry jarrah in there, which I try and use for half the kindling.  When I'm done, Meeta usually helps me pick it all up and I quietly revel in the xylophone-ish tinkle of the rough cords of wood as they jostle about in our hands.  It's a sound of distance and age, it reminds me of noises far away in a hushed forest - and it's also the sound of the tightly woven grain of stored life energy, just perfectly ready for its blissful luminous release back into the grand carbon cycle of life on Earth.

Trains nearby.  I'm not and never have been a trainspotter but I've always liked having them nearby.  Most of my wheatbelt homes have been close to train lines.  I get train nerds, I really do, but I can't explain it.  I know someone who lived right beneath a suburban train line (as in the line was on an embankment 10 metres past the back fence).  She woke suddenly one night, weirdly concerned and discombobulated.  It took a while to work out what was wrong.  The trains had stopped, a strike had been called and the 11:45 had not come past.  You get really used to trains.  We have two lines close by, and I love the sound of them doing their thing.  For me having a goods line nearby always feels like I'm further from everything than I probably am, and I like this.  Not always the best way to get somewhere, but a wonderful way to travel.  Besides, something interesting always happens on a train.  I would like to be a goods train driver.

It's not the big things, really, is it?  I mean breathing,  love, friends, children, all of that stuff is of course the stuff that sort of shapes our lives, so we think, when it's time for gratitude.  It's the little stuff.  Getting the AM radio tuned just right.  A full woodbasket (you'll be sick of that one before winter's out for sure).  Finding that a cafe in a tiny country town makes the best coffee you have ever tasted, and I mean ever.  Then going next door to the tiny charity shop and finding an as-new Irish wool houndstooth sports jacket that fits perfectly for $2.00.  And they will accept $5.00, thanks.

That's the stuff you remember.

"I meant" said Ipslore bitterly, "what is there in this world that makes living truly worth while?"  Death thought about it.
"CATS." he said eventually, "CATS ARE NICE."
 - Terry Pratchett.

Monday, May 24, 2010

On The Disappearance Of Teaspoons and other philosophical conundra

According to the most accurate and reliable source of rigorously qualified information available to mankind (wikipedia), a teaspoon is:

"an item of cutlery (in American English, also called flatware[1]), is a small spoon, commonly part of a silverware (usually silver plated, German silver or now, stainless steel) place setting, suitable for stirring and sipping the contents of a cup of tea or coffee. Utilitarian versions are used for measuring."

This is a teaspoon.

Seeing as how you are on the internet right now, chances are you have already come across this scientific study on the disappearance of teaspoons from the workplace.  Most of us just stop at simply asking "where the bloody hell have all the teaspoons gone?" but when the question arises in a group of epidemiologists, they go ahead and do what they do best - a longitudinal cohort study - and publish it for peer review.  It's brilliant, it is.  There are graphs and everything.

For those not into reading the full study, here I have copied the abstract:


Objectives To determine the overall rate of loss of workplace teaspoons and whether attrition and displacement are correlated with the relative value of the teaspoons or type of tearoom.
Design Longitudinal cohort study.
Setting Research institute employing about 140 people.
Subjects 70 discreetly numbered teaspoons placed in tearooms around the institute and observed weekly over five months.
Main outcome measures Incidence of teaspoon loss per 100 teaspoon years and teaspoon half life.
Results 56 (80%) of the 70 teaspoons disappeared during the study. The half life of the teaspoons was 81 days. The half life of teaspoons in communal tearooms (42 days) was significantly shorter than for those in rooms associated with particular research groups (77 days). The rate of loss was not influenced by the teaspoons' value. The incidence of teaspoon loss over the period of observation was 360.62 per 100 teaspoon years. At this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical institute-wide population of 70 teaspoons.
Conclusions The loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid, showing that their availability, and hence office culture in general, is constantly threatened.

Beware - spoon piracy area.

But wait, there's more.  As part of the discussion in the study, a link is made to a classic of scientific philosophical literature, Garrett Hardin's The tragedy of the commons in which is described a situation where individual farmers decide for their own gain to overgraze common grazing land with their livestock, thus ultimately destroying the utility of the commons for everyone, including themselves.  So too with the teaspoons in the institute studied.  As individuals seemd to have chosen - consciously or otherwise - to remove a teaspoon from the common space (the tearooms) presumably for their own benefit, not only did their peers suffer from a lack of easily accessed teaspoons, but they would have also.  Despite teaspoon numbers being replenished throughout the course of the study, in a post-study survey 73% of respondents indicated dissatisfaction with teaspoon coverage.

And this is where it gets interesting.  This is where an attempt was made to extract more value and sense from the data - the statistics were extrapolated, and some surprising results emerged:

"If we assume that the annual rate of teaspoon loss per employee can be applied to the entire workforce of the city of Melbourne (about 2.5 million), an estimated 18 million teaspoons are going missing in Melbourne each year. Laid end to end, these lost teaspoons would cover over 2700 km—the length of the entire coastline of Mozambique1—and weigh over 360 metric tons—the approximate weight of four adult blue whales.2"

 The thing is, you can easily believe it, can't you?

 Ever heard the phrase "Lies, damn lies, and statistics"?  Its origins are debated, but its meaning is fairly clear.  Statistics can be manipulated to show anything.  It's worth remembering two things (at least) when wandering into this territory: Firstly, that correlation is not necessarily causation.  Secondly, the correct statement that "a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square."

On the subject of teaspoons, a writer in an open letter to the Ministry of Defence, responding to the news that the latest generation of British submarines perform very poorly in terms of stealth, suggested that they design the next version based on the shape of a teaspoon.  The reasoning would appear to be sound, and you have probably repeated the experiment successfully yourself.

" I shit you not that I can virtually guarantee when dong 'the pots' I will search the remaining water for any missed items.  After a good firtle with both hands I declare the water clear for emptying into the sink.  But no, oooh no.....
....there, undetected in the bottom, is a teaspoon!  BASTARD!!!  I wouldn't so much mind if this happened on the odd occasion, but I can tell you every fookin' time I'm doing the washing up the bastard teaspoon will evade my detection.  So off you go, rule the seas with your teaspoon-shaped sub.  No-one will ever, EVER find it.  Yours sincerely, Ninj."

I find his reasoning reasonable, don't you?
Or squares and rectangles?

Then there's the now well-known proof that global warming is caused directly by a decline in the number of pirates. (Correlation vs causation, remember?)

My father was a maths teacher, but also a fairly gifted mathematician.  The quote about squares and rectangles above came from him.  He also pointed out the absurd, yet true, statistical fact that half the population is of below average intelligence.  My own years-long study of this phenomenon not only seems to bear this fact out, but also another related factoid has emerged - a vast majority of Australians prefer to express this truism in reference to the half being below average, as opposed to the half above average.  I wonder how this would parse in other cultures.

Probability wasn't his favourite area of expertise, but he certainly had a good enough grasp of it (and himself) to stay away from the temptations of the racetrack and those lovely lovely horses.

Here's where we really fool ourselves.

With the disappearing teaspoons above, a probabilistic result was one of the outcomes - a half life of teaspoons was determined (ie the time it takes for half of the population of spoons to disappear).  This can be done because only two possible outcomes for any given spoon were considered - disappearance, or non-disappearance.  When we look at gambling though, like wagering on horse racing, a very different thing must be considered.

A bookmaker frames a market, or in the case of modern totaliser-type betting pools, the market frames itself.  The punters' expectations of the probability of various outcomes (eg certain horses winning) are expressed as odds, say 10 to 1 (or $10).  These odds would represent a horse which some consider could win, and are prepared to gamble that it will, but most don't.  However, when calculating the probability of any event (eg a horse winning a race) what you really need to calculate are the chances of every other possible outcome that could occur.  and no punter wants to think like that.

Because the whole point is to 'beat the odds'.

It's how we live our lives.

Done well, it means that we can carry on enjoying life not crippled by fear of all the dire fates that could befall us at any moment (my favourite meme of being killed by falling space junk - preferably a zero-g toilet seat), and enjoy a bet on the thoroughbreds.  But done badly it means we fall prey to exactly those fears of what might happen....

,,,,it makes us steal that teaspoon for ourselves.  Which we then don't want others to see that we have lest they think us not engaged with the common good, so we hide it in our desk drawer.  Where we can't use it.  And a bunch of other bastards besides ourself have done the same thing and then we want a nice cuppa and.....

...."Where the bloody hell have all the teaspoons gone???"

Just lastly, the answer was never found.  No-one knows where all the teaspoons go.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Global Economy Explained Precisely

Rarely have I seen such a prescient (and hilarious) analysis of the way money supposedly 'works' in our world.  Maybe it's just taken until things have gotten this extreme for us to be able to accept that this thing is really just a house of cards.

See John Clarke and Brian Dawe calculate the cost of the current European financial mess HERE.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Order, chaos, order, chaos, ord......

We've all noticed this pattern in the universe by now, surely.  It's what gives us beige, and then makes the beige at some point go lumpy and develop personality, maybe even discover fire and perhaps ultimately invent Cheerios.  Which then of course, turn back to beige.

I'm starting to think that maybe this is all we need as a Theory Of Everything; it might well prove to be the driving force behind all the known mechanisms of gravity, thermodynamics, quantum attraction, and all that other heady stuff.  Entropy is really just a logical corollary.  This putative TOE certainly seems to explain a whole lot about how we live our lives as a species on this planet - and I'd humbly suggest it might be time to start wising up to it and working with the way the universe runs.

Sorry, I should back up a step and make my founding point clear:  Order tends to spontaneously emerge from chaos, but chaos likewise inevitably follows out of order.  Things always eventually fall apart, and things also naturally congregate.  This is the sort of stuff that gives us glimpses into the sacred and numinous side of mathematics, but also some of our most prosaic moments of simple beauty.  Here's one I prepared earlier:

Pleasing pattern to my eye at least, the way the logs just find their place in what appears to be a repeating pattern, you can quite easily see the averages in log and gap size.

But if you were to look more closely at just a section of the picture...

You only really now see the chaos, just random placings and gaps.

At some level, all of this stuff really is just a matter of scale and perspective.  Look at one of Spencer Tunick's installation photos of massed nude humans and you see just pattern, repetitions of basic humanity - but zoom in and you can detect all the wondrous human variance of each person's face, or buttocks, or whatever.

Pleasant weather in Melbourne that day.  Which was nice.

Alright, we recognize it visually, and maths nerds have epiphanic conniptions over the ultimate incalculability of pi versus the sheer complete oneness of every single circle, but how does this thing shape the way we are living each day?  Can it inform us more deeply about our history?

Profoundly so, and yes.

Much as we like to take credit for shaping our own destinies, over time patterns emerge in our shared history.  Empires start, expand, plateau, and fall, giving rise to periods of smaller-scale and usually shorter-term governances, and typically one of these smaller groups grows, expands......and so on.  This seems to happen regardless of how we direct our efforts to prevent declines or achieve stability.

Of late we have looked to natural systems to provide us with some answers to these conundra.  Something like free market capitalism is a good theoretical example, wherein there is no regulation, so competitors are able to predate, or be preyed upon, to fill and even create niches within the market, to prosper, to die.  Just like nature, it would give us booms and busts but over the long term be as stable as anything else.  Funny thing is, that even though no such thing as a free market system (unregulated and a level playing field) exists in our world, the natural cycle of order and chaos intrudes and subverts whatever efforts we apply to control the situation.  Same goes for planned economies, like socialist states of old (and even now).  Chaos and entropy inevitably arise, it has never been otherwise.

Why do we even bother to fight it?  Perhaps it's because we do not like to admit our small place in the scheme of things.

Image of Earth from the Mars Surveyor.  On Mars.

There's this odd thing going on in so-called conservative movements in the USA right now, calling for those banks and businesses that had massive blowouts in the "GFC" to be allowed to fail, regardless of jobs lost or damage to economies and so forth.  It's usually the same voices you hear railing against the health care reforms POTUS Obama has finally got passed.  These forces have indeed had many wins in diluting the regulatory and socialisation efforts in those two areas.  They are seen by many in the left as radical neo-conservatives (the definiton of 'conservative' politically is one who wishes change to happen only slowly, interestingly) and the image is strongly allied to the 'religious right' and Republican Bible-belt-ism.

Looked at from a natural systems point of view, these (allegedly mainly Creationist) folks are espousing a regime of survival of the fittest.  Who'd'a thunk that 'fundamentalist' creationist Christians would be the biggest advocates for us being allowed to ehave as per Darwin's observations of nature?  Businesses that do not successfully compete in the market should be eaten or replaced by those that do, and those individuals who do not compete successfully enough in the market to be able to afford good health care should be assisted in being removed from the gene pool by being denied access to such.

Fair call, from that perspective.  We'd certainly learn a strong lesson or two by letting a system such as this run its course unfettered.

Then again, we are part of nature, and part of our nature is to fiddle wth stuff.  This helps propagate the order/chaos cycle too.  Nothing we can do will ever, ever stop it, short of the final entropic collapse of the universe.  If that ever happens.  Bet it doesn't.

Our more direct relationships with our environment are where we see some of the deeper truths of our ignorance, and also our wisdom.  Pollution.  The whole carbon/climate change debate. And on the other hand, a new appreciation of the importance of biodiversity, and understandings of how we might just start to fit our lives back into a more natural cycle.  I'm thinking here of notions like Permaculture, and effective grass-roots environmental advocacy.  Just yesterday people-power prevailed with sensible participatory social actions to help the NSW Premier reverse her previous position and now protect many thousands of hectares of River Red Gums from logging along the Murray-Darling basin, which would have been an incredible disaster had it happened.

Farm near Orana, Vic, Australia.

Permaculture is perhaps one of the best widely-known examples of something we do that embraces the natural cycles of order and chaos.  It is far more than a way of gardening, but to be simplistic here the fundamental design principles used are those which best mimic nature, and provide the greatest sustainable productivity from the least amount of energy input, in a designed ecology which is ultimately helped to move towards a state of natural equilibrium - to the extent that such a state can exist.

Chaos is not just allowed, but expected.  Half the secret to successful permaculture practice is diversity in every sense.  Order just naturally emerges, as you discover certain things like growing in certain places, for example.  Aphids attack, ladybirds and other predators move in.  Where imbalances occur, ature tends to do something to heal this; but just as importantly, as order arises, so random and chaotic events occur to refresh the system.

In many ways Permaculture is at the heart of a painful struggle going on in the hearst and minds of those who live their love of the planet.  Because Permaculture embodies the fact that ecosystems change, that we are a part of nature and have every place in changing and interacting with it (wisely) and that the old ways of environmentalism - saving 'pristine' wilderness as is at any cost - will not succeed in any case in the changed global reality we face.  We need to accept the loss of some of the habitats, and lots of the species, we have come to know.  We shall see much death and destruction.  We shall see much new creation of life and ecology.  This is the grand cycle of life, it would seem.  The very universe is observed to operate this way, so why would life on Earth be any different?  Mass extinctions have happened here since life arose, so perhaps we need to take a step back and humbly accept that despite our love for our planet as it is, things will change.

To do otherwise is just going to hurt more.  There are, in fringe suburbs of the city near which I live, 'rogue ecologist gardeners' who go about poisoning certain plants in people's gardens, because they have been deemed by these groups to be damaging weeds to the nearby bushland.  Bushland already full of weeds, prone to savage fire since the introduction of cats and dogs and foxes and rabbits (all of which have destroyed or displaced the native animals that used to do such a super job of keeping the forest floor so much cleaner), beset by deadly phytophthora fungus and generally in poor shape - compared to how it was a century and a half ago.  It's too late, people.  Time to let nature (which includes us acting wisely, with natural systems and ways, and not necessarily endemic-only planting programs to try and recapture a lost time) do some healing.

This will all work out.

It always has.

You are allowed to just bear witness, you know; destruction and chaos give us creation and order.

In case you don't think you live in a universe of circles, go outside and look up.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Toast. I want it.

This is toast.  It's really all I want right now.

All those snacks the other day (previous post) started another wave of food longing, dammit.  For those who've just tuned in, I cannot eat or drink at all the regular way, instead using a marvellous tube directly through my abdomen wall into my stomach. 

Most every day, I am completely fine with it.  I shared lunch wth my wife yesterday, which is unusual as we typically eat at different times, but I was due for a feed (which I do 5 times a day fairly clockwork-ish) and she had soup and rolls ready so we sat and dined together.  Well, she dined, I tubed my homemade blend of stuff.  It was lovely, but along with a few other things kicked me back into eating grief.

I have realised I may never quite get over it, you know.  Meeta has compared it to losing a limb, and there's a lot in that thought.  Unlike quitting say, smoking - which was not exactly easy I can assure you - this is not something I can actually choose to do again.

Big thing, food, isn't it?  I am now more of a gourmand than ever, and mostly this pleases me because I can really get off on imagination.

But then sometimes I just really want to make myself some toast.

Oh well, thanks for listening.  I feel better now.

Now that I think about it, it has been ages since I've had this reaction.  So, yay me, I suppose!

Still, shame about the toast.  If someone had used as an example of cherishing life in each and every moment, (because you never know when you might be suddenly struck by a re-entering zero-gravity toilet from a defunct space station), the idea of contemplation of the simplicity of toast - I may have had a chuckle.

Seriously folks, do please make your next piece of toast the best you've ever had.  It will be so worth it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Had it too good for too long? Closes your heart and mind, probably.

"Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
 - Samuel Johnson.

Recently I've become a little perturbed by the pervasiveness of fear about immigration, asylum seekers, border protection and the like.  Not just in Australia mind you, but it does seem to be rather concentrated here right now.  And the thing is, this fear is manifesting itself in unexpected ways and in unexpected people.  A friend sent me an email forward all about how the author came to Australia on a boat from Europe 45 years ago full of different nationalities - but the "all from Europe" was stressed heavily - with 48 pounds in his pocket and never once did he put his hand out for help yadayada and so it goes on.  There were good points badly made in there, about the need to fit in to and respect a society you choose to enter, but overall it was laced with invective and anti-Muslim sentiment, and resentment that this guy's taxes are supporting people who come here and have the gall to complain about their treatment or ask for flexibility to accommodate things from their original culture that are very important to them.  The author never makes a distinction between different classes or circumstances of immigration.

Short memories?

The email was sent from a friend I may have voted amongst the least likely to jump on this bandwagon.  The sort of person who has a high spiritual sense and otherwise tends to live the notion that "we are one."  Maybe he didn't read it properly, I don't know.

Vietnamese "boat people" late last century.  Mostly turned out to be one of our best human imports ever.  
Vietnamese Aussie faces are now for the most part icons of the successes of multiculturalism in Australia.

The above sort of fearfulness is just one example of what I'm seeing.  There seems to be a willing disconnect between the genuine human compassion most of us hold dear as part of our identity and the thought of people arriving on our shores "illegally" having made great sacrifices and taken great risks to get here.  So far, I've not heard a reasonable or rational solution put forward that respects the human rights that you or I would expect and hope for if we were in a similar situation.  I don't have the answer either, but I may have some thoughts that we could start working with.  Ideas that really don't have a lot to do with refugees.


I deeply love my country, this land, and will happily tell anyone that I consider it the best place in the world to live, bar none.  I accept that others think that about different places and I think that's wonderful too.  Everyone's different, which is just as well.  When Samuel Johnson made his famous remark in 1775 that "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" he was not in fact bagging the notion of love for and loyalty to one's country.  He was specifically referring to what he called "self-professed patriots" who use the term in a self-aggrandising way, or to cover for ill-begotten motives.  You know, the sort of politician who uses the phrase "unAustralian" to put down someone with a differing viewpoint from theirs.

Look, I'm not a major fan of our flag but I don't hate it either, and for now I'm totally happy just to leave it as it is.  It speaks of our post-invasion history and place on the globe, and the only change I'd really go for is some visual acknowledgement of the Aboriginal Australians, who have been here so much longer than most of our families.  The sacred spirit of this land is more important to all of us than is commonly considered.

But our poor old flag has had all manner of iniquities heaped upon it of late, and I'm not overwhelmed with joy about this.  With the Howard years and the rise of the militarisation of Australian history through increased myth-making about ANZAC, Gallipoli, Fromelles, Kokoda and so on through the changes to how we 'celebrate' Australia Day, and on past the Cronulla riots we have seen our flag stand increasingly for white, Europe-sourced Australians only - even the word "Aussie" has been taken in so many contexts (like the Cronulla riots) to stand for 'white folks' as opposed to Australians who come genetically from other stock.  Many subcultures of non-white immigrants here use the term to mean locally-born white folks, which is sad.

So many Australians do not want to see themselves as insular, fearful, or racist; but standing by as those who espouse greater social (cultural/physiognomic) homogeneity and a push to see ourselves as 'sons of ANZAC' (ie founded on a white militaristic heritage) take our most recognisable and unifying national symbol for their own - co-opting all who wish to adorn their car or wave a flag on Australia Day as one who professes such retrograde, racist hopes and desires - well, it's not a good feeling for me, at least.  How would you feel about your flag being subsumed by stealth as a white supremacist symbol?

There's a thought.  Couldn't happen if there was some overt Indigenous imagery there, eh?

For those elsewhere, the image replacing the Union Jack in this possible future flag is our Aboriginal flag.

It's like this, people.  It might well be time to stop hoping your neighbour or family member of friend or colleague just eventually gets over their latent or overt racism, sexism, homophobia, and general bigotry - and start helping them out with it.  We've got this terrible habit of just saying nothing, which only serves to reinforce their belief that we agree with them.

The government cannot change this.  Only you and I can.

I'll tell you something else, it takes no courage whatsoever, and here's why.  Apart from the few rabid in-your-face overt hateists you hear on talkback and similar ranty fora, no-one actually wants to admit to - or even be - an intolerant bigot.  So if you can point out that they've just made a sweeping generalisation based on a race prejudice, for example, without judging them as being inferior to you, then you can help them think and feel through why or how that might be and whether they wish to be part of the thoughtful and caring Australia, or more aligned with the fearful and regressive.  If they take offense at your polite non-judgemental observation, then maybe it's time to back off and let them feel their fear alone.  It's not your job to help them feel better about being stuck in fearful hateism.  Maybe they need to go through it the hard way.  That's OK.  Just let them know that such words and consequent deeds are not OK with you.  You can still be friends, if you want.

Howard and the culture-wars gang sort of imported the flag-centric thing from the United States; we've never been real flag-wavers prior.  It's worth noting that the history of the USA's relationship with its flag is very different to ours, and theirs stands for a bunch of stuff they achieved through struggle, conflict, conquest, debate, and the very best and at times ignoblest of intentions.  We just made ours up when we needed one, remembering to pay obeisance to Mother England.  Over time we got used to it.  The Americans ejected their absentee landlords by force, and then over time kicked and heaved themselves into a more or less unified nation, complete with God complex and myths of divinely ordained destiny, and the flag they now have is a simple yet masterful iconographic summation of their post-invasion history.  So I get their flag mania, I really do.  It is a thing that has developed along with their national identity (to the extent that such exists) and makes sense in their context.  It just doesn't suit us, at all.

The concept of sovereign nations will be with us a while yet, I suspect.  But it's time to stop hiding behind xenoprophylactic phrases like "the national interest" as an excuse to behave inhumanely to our own kind.  Unless, of course, you think you belong to the master race - then, well, good luck with that.

I don't think xenoprophylactic is a word.  But I like it, so it stays.  Think of it as an immigrant.

Anyway, this idea I had.  I floated a two-sentence version of it on a comment thread on the ABC news site, below a story about the domestic politics of boat-propelled asylum seekers coming to Australia (as opposed to the far more numerous ones that arrive every day by plane and claim asylum), and the vehemence of the responses I got somewhat took me aback.  Mainly they fell into two camps, one which could be described as just calling me a totalitarian fascist, and the other saying I'd clearly not though very much about it.  The latter camp was right, and I've thought just a little on it since.  Not too much, mind, just a little.

National Service

(But not compulsory military service - let's get that clear right away; military conscription is a Bad Thing.)

I'd like you to come on a voyage of imagination with me, to suspend your judgement as far as possible to the end, to sit apart and behold the whole picture if you can.  Snacks will be served at points along the way.

Have a pretzel, they're fresh and crunchy on the outside.

Imagine we're in my idealised small valley village scenario, of 20 or 30 families living in a mutually interdependant, sustainable way but where everyone is free to follow their own star.  Lovely, things mainly in balance, not too much conflict or worry, and a secure-enough feel for the future.  Now let's see what happens when a new family wanders in, homeless, due to a catastrophe far away, seeking a new life.  In this village, we have a fairly simple approach.  We outline to these folks the most important communal aspects of our way of living, underline the importance of mutual contribution and good neighbourliness, and assuming this is not part of a massive influx that would very seriously threaten our own survival, we offer them a space and some help to build a new home.  But there's more.  We expect in the first couple of years that in exchange for set-up and survival help that all of their work beyond building their own new shelter be directed at projects that benefit all - like maybe infrastructure stuff, working common food gardens, and so on.  Just as we expect our young adults who come of age and decide to stay on in the village to do.  Seems only fair.

But the important factor is that everybody does work at times for purely common goals, without any striving for personal gain, is what makes this work.  Otherwise it's just exploitation and would create a class divide that is not conducive to a harmonious social life.

Do try a spinach pakora.  Great with a drink when guests drop by.

Now let's scale things up a bit, and bring it all closer to current reality.  One of the greatest tensions in the West, or in capitalist democracies in general, is that between individual liberty and utilitarian (ie the "greatest good for the greatest number") ideals.  It has been fairly amply demonstrated that complete laissez-faire diminishes group security and fosters social divisiveness and conflict - all good preconditions for the undesirable state of war.  On the other hand, centralised control towards a utilitarian ideal state tends to squash individuals' pursuit of happiness and typically  requires oppressive methods to endure.

But imagine a setting in which people had every opportunity to observe that by contributing willingly to cause of the common good, without though of personal gain beyond an equal share in common benefits, would make your life happier and your freedom to pursue your own individual dreams and desires even greater?  In the words of Sam Kekovich, "You know it makes sense."  We can get there, but it will take some time, and some legislative direction, for the culture to catch up.

Here's a bit about how such a scheme of Civilian Service might work in Australia.

DISCLAIMER: this is not well thought-through at all.  I welcome debate and suggestion about how stupid I may be, or how  this could be made to work better.  My aim is to get it to pass the 80% rule:  where 80% of us would happily agree to "Sam Kekovich" the idea.  Viz, to say "You know it makes sense"

Upon reaching voting age, every Australian citizen or permanent resident is expected to undertake 2 years, probably consecutively, of Civilian Service, at some point in the next 10 years.  For this (at the basic level) they will receive only a basic wage and housing allowance as necessary and reasonable.  Service can be in such areas as health, environment, public works and maintenance, aid projects, and also military service.  A participant will normally be able to choose from whatever program is available in their area, and the timing of their service.  Certain levels of service will require qualifications and experience already gained through study and work (so will necessarily be later in the 10 year window rather than earlier) and may require special entrance screening, such as for the military.  With the exception of military service, it should be designed so that jobs performed require a minimum of training to do well, thus maximising the common return.

There would be another level of Civilian Service (I'm going to start calling it CS now) however, with different pay and benefits.  This would be in two streams - military service and 'high need' CS.

I'd suggest that military service be bona fide military service, and not the sort of halfway thing that the National Service Act and similar things initiated, where the original stated intention was to have those 'Nashos' only serve in direct defense of their country, on home soil, if needed.  Like a National Guard.  I think you have to be honest about it and have exactly the same entrance parameters and training - and expectation of service if called - as you would if you joined up the regular way.  Pay would be higher, but not at the full military equivalent scale, except for in certain circumstances, like active deployment.

The other stream  would be for 'high needs' areas, such as might be the case in an acute shortage of, say, nurses, where people with the existing skills who are either not working in the field currently or are due to do their CS (eg they've turned 26 and haven't done it yet) can opt to work in that capacity at regular pay and have it count as CS.  this may also apply if for example the government wished to embark on a massive national rollout of renewable energy generation systems, and there was a big shortage of certain skilled labour types available.  They may mandate that X number of people with these skills can apply to have say a 3-year contract at the going pay rate for that job count as their 2 year CS.

Newly minted Australians - those granted refugee status or residency - must do their CS immediately.  For some reason, this seems fair to me right now.  Let's pause for another treat,

Tasty, tasty popcorn, mm.

So obviously there will be exceptions.  New immigrants with poor social skills (like English) will be doing some training as well that counts towards CS, and I'd like to see the family reunification thing stay on, so we'd have an age cutoff for those much older arrivals to be exempt.  Certain major disabilities will naturally mean some Australians are entirely unfit for any type of service, and we might just have to wear that.

What of conscientious objectors?  Well, we're talking about finding a balance between utilitarianism and individual liberty so we might have to just accept that somewhere in the infinite spectrum of human possibility someone has a genuinely held moral certitude that they have a right never to be compelled to be told what to do ever.  Or something.  Anyway, I would suggest the Swiss option (they have military service).  An extra 3% income tax until they reach a certain age.  In Switzerland it's 42, the standard age for early army retirement from active duty.

I did say I hadn't though this through clearly, didn't I?

Details, details.....what it's all about is what matters.  It's a means to several very good ends.

M&Ms, working together, but sort of randomly at the edges.
Go on, crunch one or several.  They've made their beautiful point.

It would be a great way to get a nation like ours thinking a bit more like a self-sufficient village.  I do believe the days of the nation-state as we know them are ultimately numbered, but we'll only get to move on either through catastrophe or by mastering a better way to live together.  Working with what we have now is realistic.

So imagine the national conversation about all the details of such a scheme.  Controversies, amazing achievements, debacles, unexpected benefits, rorts, countless stories of selfless acts......we do need a forum to develop a conversation about being a nation.  So we can be a global citizen more powerfully than we each are on our own at present.

It also brings the focus back closer to earth - to nationhood being about looking after our people and just as importantly our land - and for this to be somethng we are all involved with directly, not solely at arm's length through this bizarre fantasy we call the economy.  It would necvessitate the government doing a whole nuch of nation-building type stuff, like energy infrastructure, environmental improvement and so on, and because we'd all have a stake in it we'd all be far more interested in having a say about what we want for our collective present and future.  It will help shift the balance back away from over-reliance on market capitalism to provide for future needs, and back to our own thoughts and feelings as the foundation of our nation.

We are the perfect nation to go down this path for so many reasons.  We like to think of ourselves as egalitarian, so let's put money where mouths are before we change our minds.  That $2000 an hour lawyer does know what it's like to mop hospital floors 8 hours a day, just like all of us.  And he can still be who he is now, that's fine.  We are an island nation, yet seem to not be noticing our current path of action relies on transport of every kind to distant parts.  We mine soil.  All of that.  CS will bring us necessarily into a discussion about how we want our country to be for yet another resaon;  because everyone, at some point in their lives, sacrifices 2 years worth of seeking personal gain for the good of our nation.  No-one wants to see that sort of investment of time and energy just frittered away.

Last chance finger food.  Amazing combo of balsamic-roasted brussels sprouts with toasted pine nuts.  Can't grow these if you ain't got soil now can you...try one, they're delicious. It's the pine nut cruch that really does it.

See, it's about moving past the apathy that comes from having had it too good for too long.  In a world beset by the sorts of tensions and inequities we currently have, it's entirely naive to expect we can continue to be as isolated from sharing in the shit as we have been.  There can be no pulling up of the drawbridge now, short of us becoming a nuclear-armed, entirely self-sufficient, xenophobic totalitarian state.  That might work.

We are chasing the ghosts of young soldiers who died in an attempted invasion of foreign soil, at the behest of a nation we felt ourselves to be a subordinate of, for our sense of national identity.  As if those diggers didn't have enough on their shoulders already.  We're too young for that.  Something traumatic and terrible that happened to us when we were such a tender child, by our parent's hand, no less, is not the appropriate thing to build a sense of pride upon.  If we want to see ourselves first and foremost as brave and foolhardy folk who prevail despite overwhelming odds in situations we should never have allowed ourselves to be in, then we will very neatly cause history to repeat, and live the nightmare over and over, every time our 'luck' runs out.

It might be better to start involving ourselves in some positive action to create the nation we want to be, not just debate about what we don't want.  Your thoughts on this?

Lastly, just imagine again how differently we might feel helping out some people arrived from far worse places, knowing that the first few years of their lives with us consist of building themselves a foundation, with our help, as committed, contributing citizens, not solely motivated by purely personal gain.  Guests who give of themselves, as we share of ourselves for their sake.

We're mighty quick to pat ourselves on the back when we rally together to help victims of a natural disaster, but not nearly as willing to kick ourselves in the bum when we behave like a bunch of hard-hearted elitists with a born right to a better life than others.

Thanks for your imagination time, I hope you enjoyed the snacks too.

I'm hungry now.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"I'm a model, you know what I mean..."

Working on a couple of bigger posts again now, but in the meantime, an article I just read in the weekend paper inspired me to remember things, and think......

Adventures as an artists' model.

I don't remember exactly how it started, but what memory I do have involves some artist friend or a friend of another artist lamenting the preponderance of female artists' models, with the few men around being just a couple of sameish older, paunchy guys.  Someone needed new models for a class they were running.  I probably just said "I'll do that, sure!" Especially when I found out it pays.

It's been said that apart from the usual things like casual alcoholism, mateship, blokeyness, sports addiction and an indefinable brand of egalitarianism that a stand-out feature of the Australian psyche is a general willingness to nude up in a crowd.  Maybe other cultures do it too, but it's true, we are prone to spontaneous group displays (or displays to a group) of our finer selves, in a jovial and celebratory spirit.  Maybe it's our weather.  Regardless of whether this is in fact an Aussie thing, it exists here with its usual counterpart, prudery.  As for me, I have always been pretty comfortable with my naked self, and that would be a blessing of my upbringing.

I'm guessing one of the big (snigger) reasons that more men weren't - or aren't - into doing the artist's modelling thing is simple penile insecurity.  It was especially hard to understand in my circle of mainly 'self-employed' (jobless) arty/academic types living in a modern caffeine-fuelled New Age anything-goes ghetto rife with promiscuous partner-swapping and lots of fun times - but not much cash.  OK, artists' modelling is not a beauty contest; you're there as a representative of the infinitely interesting and varied human species to be drawn and learned from.  But of course even those most comfortable with their post-Eden originality will ponder what others may think of their visage.  I won't get into discussing the issues women have to navigate in this society about their body image, but despite all ameliorating talk to the contrary these last decades, the basic question most men will be asking is "do they think my penis is too small?"  I say most, because I suspect the giants that walk amongst us may not ask that question so much.  Or at all.

As you may infer, I am not one of those giants.  But you're wondering now, aren't you?  Maybe you aren't - certainly enough people have already seen me in the flesh.  Anyway, I shall keep you wondering for now.

Or not:  Many episodes of my more youthful years involved numerous-enough sexual liaisons driven at least in part by a need to prove myself - to be liked and considered someone desirable to, er, know, at least.  So I'd had enough experience to realise that my penis was not in fact a dissapointing one in general usage.  At some point, as most or all males almost certainly do but rarely admit to, I did some measuring and was pleased to discover my length roughly matched my academic achievements at school:  Above average, but not by anywhere near as much as I might have suspected or hoped for.  Oh well, that will do.  So now you know.  My point is, that all of this plus my natural overconfidence added to my well-adjusted (in this sense) upbringing meant that I simply wasn't troubled about it.  Really, you can't go all the way through puberty spending 2 hours most days at swimming training in all sorts of temperatures wearing just 2 grams of lycra, surrounded by Adonis incarnate in every lane next to you and still have a complex.  Although in the end, it really did put me off swimming.

Apart from having gone through that journey of fear, I also at that time was pleased enough with my body, which you might have described then as 'wiry' or 'ropy' or even 'scrawny', so I was quite looking forward to the experience.  Plus, I had great long hair almost to my arse that I was really into.  I was born in the Chinese Year Of The Rooster, so am given to cocky (snigger again) seeming strutting and preening.  Even now, looking the way I do today.  Can't help it, sorry.

Prior to my first gig, I found out that it would involve a couple of hours of my day, for which I would be paid - well I forget the amount, but I remember it was about four times the hourly rate for, say, working behind a bar - and I would be well looked after.  There would be 3 or 4 five-minute poses for the class to warm up (there would be a heater for me too) and then some longer poses, and I would get breaks in between to stretch and so forth.  And cake after.

Well, bugger me, what an eye-opener.  Firstly, males are generally expected to do 'harder' poses than the ladies, to take advantage of musculature and so forth.  And I wasn't quite prepared for how hard it can be to hold perfectly still for a length of time.  I had no problem with fidgetiness, but after 5 minutes or so you start to become aware of a little extra tension here, a bit of muscle fatigue there......and soon it becomes a pain you must mentally manage.  It was masochistic.  It sent me on a wild internal journey, an entirely new form of meditation in which I was more in touch with my body than ever before, yet would occasionally completely lose myself - lose my body - only to return snappingly back to the utter discipline of ensuring that even my breath didn't move my pose around, and directing chi to the aches and pains growing about the place.  I frigging loved it.

Very glad to have had such a good all-round martial arts background then, I was.  The gig went well, and word got around that I was available, and I started getting more work.  Being me, I got right into the performance of it, and chose or accepted poses that would push my endurance, strength and flexibility further and further.  I left each session feeling like I'd had a really good workout.  Do a good job, get more work.  And so it went for a few months.

This isn't me.  Obviously. 
But I can tell exactly where he's going to start hurting.

Once, a friend who had just told me that they could never take their clothes off in front of a room full of people asked me whether I wasn't concerned about people looking at me inappropriately.  I had in fact noticed once or twice that an individual would have a particular 'look' in their eyes (I may be male, but I'm not entirely blind to these things), and often a glance at the artwork they'd produce would tend to confirm some speculations I'd had about the more particular nature of their musings.  But as I explained to this friend, I felt that when you're the only one in the room with your clothes off, you actually tend to have a great monopoly on a type of power in the room.  To some extent, you are completely in charge.  Maybe that's what all this pole dancing/burlesque craze is about too.  It is so completely easy to talk to a stranger you've just been standing naked in front of for an hour, who's been concentrating, just like everyone else in the room, on observing and recording you minutely.

But the real fun was yet to begin.

I'd been doing quite a few classes for one particular artist/teacher, and he'd produced some great big charcoals from it he was planning to use in his next exhibition.  I first came to his attention from a friend of mine, Jude (and Jude, if you're reading, hi, and if these disclosures are in any way a problem for folks you might know now, we'll just say it was another Jude, yes? Great. Saves dicking around with name changes, and I know you won't have an issue really) who had modelled for him before.  It was known to him that we knew each other, obviously, and he asked if we'd do some sessions together at a weekend retreat with a few of his regular students and artist buddies.

This is not me either.  Or Jude.  
Looks like the studio floor could use a clean, eh?  
Dirty feet and floor splinters is a hazard of the job.


Jude and I in fact shared a house at this time, and that circle of people which I mentioned earlier.  We had been lovers, but were not currently, and I think I had a girlfriend living there too.  It was a large house.  I have some fuzzy memories of that time.  Anyway, Jude and I were firm besties-type friends, and headed off at the appointed hour for the rural retreat where the artists would be assembled.  We took the wrong road out of town and arrived a few hours late and missed the evening session.  Oh well, they'd saved us some dinner.

It turned out to be some of the best fun I'd had in years.  They all just assumed Jude and I were an item, as they'd allocated us the double bedroom of the big old boardinghouse thing we were all using, and we did nothing to disabuse them of the notion, for it made us feel very safe and protected.  The stakes felt higher somehow, being together and there for a whole weekend.  It was cold too, I think probably Autumn, so all of us had this fireside kitchen-cosy cameraderie going, except that two of us were never actually dressed.  Jude had some sort of robe thing, and I was very fond of my kikoi - basically a thicker African version of a sarong.  Outside was a little garden area and then all was woods, so we could go for pleasant walks in the pine needles before going back inside and adopting the next in our series of romantic poses together. 

Nope.  Not us either.  And this does not look comfortable.

It was a magnificent experience to share the special internal life of artist's modelling with a friend.  Head-to-head, holding the poses, supporting each other and communicating through the minutest of small-muscle movement where our bodies met.  And psychically.  Jude fell asleep at one point.  I roused her ever so slowly so no-one would know.  There was never any crossing the line into sexualisation, the feeling was more soulful and deeply human.  As I said, we'd been lovers, but this was altogether more intimate; mainly I think because of the stillness.  Our friendship grew another level.  And some really great works of art came out of that weekend.

A bit of  craze for life-drawing was going on in our town (Fremantle/Perth) now and another of my male friends, and art student and musician, was getting into the modelling as well.  We would talk each other up to different groups and teachers and spread work around.  Then the artist that hosted my weekend with Jude asked me if I might know a male I would do a session or two with.  I thought about my friend doing the modelling, but he and I had a slightly uncomfortable unresolved relationship thing in the past involving a woman, and besides I thought he might be having a bit of a bi/curious thing going on in my direction, and I really didn't want to go down that road.

So I asked another guy I knew, Kai.  We'd been nude together before in a short student film a mutual friend had made, so I knew that aspect would not be an issue.  (Hi Kai, if you're reading, see disclaimer option as for Jude, above, just in case).  Talk about Adonis.  Just make a cast of this guy.  A little taller than me, with that classical statue musculature covered with just the tiniest amount of softness, flawless golden olive skin, dark ringletty hair and the sort of man/boy face that helps men understand what women can find attractive in a male.  Sorry, don't have a pic of him either.  It's a wonder more people didn't hate him because he was also academically gifted, spoke a few languages, could play a few instruments really well, and sing, and he came from a reasonably happy, wealthy family.  Really good man too.  In Australia, following this sort of write-up, we usually just say "Bastard."

Kai was into it, in an adventuorous spirit, and took to it like a duck to water.  This was a totally different experience to modelling with Jude.  For starters, Kai and I weren't really close, more just members of related circles, but we'd known each other for a couple of years.  And the poses we were asked to get into were not romantic in the least;  this was combat.  At first, we approached it with a jovial sort of armwrestling vibe, pushing each other a bit, but soon it became apparent that we wouldn't last long that way.  So we entered a really interesting zone of perversity, where we were portraying a martial (no, not marital, martial) wrestling scene of struggle against each other, whilst inwardly doing everything to support and look after each other, and survive intact.  It was fabulous too, and Kai and I got to know each other more deeply through the meditation of silence, stillness, and shared pain.  Again, I got to see some truly wonderful art created.

In a sense, that was my mistake.  Hands up who you'd rather draw now, since you've been drawing me every few weeks for months?  Same skinny long hair guy, or Adonis incarnate?  Over to Kai then.  But it wasn't really that which moved me on from such regular modelling work.  It was just time.  Like all relationships founded on mutual convenience and personal gratification, it has run its course.  I'd been through a little journey of discovery, and learned to inhabit my body in a more conscious way.  I had exorcised some of the mind-body relationships that many years of martial arts and various sports had fostered, and experienced a physical form of zen practice. 

Do I miss it?  No.  I will admit to still sometimes missing the intoxication with my own physicality that I experienced at times then, but even despite the way my illness has variously shrunken, swollen, bent, twisted and partly paralyzed my body in different ways and places, I think that just with time and ageing we go on a journey through the changes in our bodies.

If you get the opportunity, don't pass it up.  You cannot but learn and grow by standing there, fully you, as muse for others' creativity and yearning for original expression of our wondrous human form.  And maybe ask yourself, when was the last time you were awake, and perfectly, perfectly still, for forty minutes?

So go on.  Find a group that needs someone, and nude up.  There is nothing like it.