Hey it’s me, I’m dynamite and I don’t know why

Among many other things, last year was the year I reconnected with Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. If that was the only thing I’d done in 2012, it still would have been a worthwhile twelve months.

I made a playlist at the beginning of the year that consisted of about eight songs, and this one was on it twice. I listened to the playlist (appropriately titled ‘2012’) on average probably every second night as I went to sleep, plus this song at least once every couple of days during daylight hours. It’s definitely the song I heard most last year. I’ve always loved it, but for some reason this past year it really slugged me in the chest. Best Van Morrison song ever from the best Van Morrison album ever (followed closely by His Band & the Street Choir), and probably the most hope-filled love song ever written.

I defy you not to be in love by the time the vocals kick in.

Defenders of Marriage

Today I turn 27, and I has an interwebs present for you.

Further to my previous post and on a lighter note, please enjoy the musical comedy stylings of the genius Roy Zimmerman – as ever, shining a most hilarious spotlight on ignorance and prejudice.

Why Are You So Angry?

“It seems like everybody’s getting married all of a sudden. Now I have another wedding to go to next year. You know my friend Dean? He just got engaged.”

“Oh! That’s wonderful news. How lovely! So he’s found a nice girl at last?”

“No.”

“Oh.” <Disappointed sigh.> “I shouldn’t have asked.”

“He and his fiancé have been living together for four years. They’re a wonderful couple. They even have a baby. She’s a pug; her name’s Lola. They’re very happy. I’m over the moon for them.”

“Oh. How can they get married?”

“Queensland now recognises same-sex unions.”

“Oh.”

“I’m very happy for them.”

This is an actual (paraphrased) conversation I had yesterday. It’s not the only one I’ve had recently with somebody who was excited to hear that one of my dearest, oldest friends was getting married… until they realised he would be marrying another man, at which point their excitement visibly and vocally diminished.

(I should note that the person I had this particular conversation with is a very lovely, kind-hearted person, a very close friend of my family and somebody I have a lot of time for. They just happen to be homophobic.)

When I told some friends this story today, they of course agreed that it is wonderful news and they are as happy for my friend as I am. But they also thought I was trying to be provocative by having such a conversation with somebody I knew to be homophobic, and that I probably should have left well enough alone.

Of course, I wasn’t “trying to be provocative” at all. What they meant is that I wasn’t actively concealing potentially provocative information.

This is something that has come up a few times recently, the idea of “leaving it alone” when it comes to talking about marriage equality and gay prejudice. Not just in personal conversations but in the media – for example, it was suggested to me recently (by someone who ostensibly supports marriage equality) that it would be too controversial for anyone to publish gay marriage-related content in a traditionally “straight” wedding magazine, even now that civil unions are recognised in our state.*

I vehemently disagree.

Why do so many purportedly liberal, unprejudiced, broad-minded, rational people cower like beaten housewives at the idea of open conversation about contentious topics?

Why are we so afraid of upsetting the status quo, or of being impolite, or of being seen as argumentative and opinionated when it comes to the idea of marriage equality?

Exactly how deep does our social conditioning go, that we think sharing the happy news of a dear friend’s engagement or writing about legally recognised gay weddings is being “too provocative” or “stirring the pot for the sake of it”?

It’s difficult for me to talk about this without becoming really angry, and then having to justify my anger to people who perceive it as aggression. It’s an important issue to me and I therefore have a tendency to speak passionately and vociferously about it. I’ve tried not to. I’ve even tried being apologetic about how intensely I argue the point, but frankly? Fuck that and the horse it rode in on.

You don’t need to get so angry about it.

I am tired of hearing this and variations thereof. So here is my official response:

Yes, I’m angry.

Of course I’m angry.

Of course I’m speaking with passion, because I’m fucking furious.

I am enraged that people think it’s okay for them to not only disapprove of somebody else’s sexual identity, but to actually play a part in legislating their personal life.

I am incensed that people are so offended by the idea of my friend and his fiancée finding happiness and making a life together, that they would actively work to prevent them from doing so – despite the fact that they will probably never meet or interact with this man, never be personally affected by his lifestyle in any practical way, and never have an interest in his life beyond the vague, ultimately passing offense they may feel at this one aspect of the way he lives it.

I am infuriated that this offense they feel, these hurt feelings they get at the very idea of a man being in love with another man and wanting to have that love recognised as equally worthy and important as the love they feel for their own husband or wife, are actually given any kind of weight in a political or social arena.

Who cares if you’re offended?

Who cares if it shakes your world view to think that the love between two men or two women might be equally important, equally valid and equally real as the love between a man and a woman?

Who actually cares about your feelings on the matter, when it doesn’t affect you – personally, physically, practically, financially – in any real way?

Look At All The Fucks I Give

This isn’t about feelings or belief systems or taking offense. This is about people’s lives. It’s about the lives of our friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers.

It’s about the lives of your friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers, unless you are living in a magical remote commune of happy homophobia which doesn’t allow queers within a hundred-mile radius.

You know these people. They are real, and they have real lives that exist outside of your hypothetical, theoretical ideas about whether or not it’s okay to be gay. The argument is over, because they are gay, they are operating as functional gay adults who work, live, pay taxes and spend money in this country just like you do, and they’re trying to get on with their goddamn lives and be happy.

So how can anyone worry more about the feelings of somebody having their outdated belief system questioned than about the actual, real-world lives of the people who are affected by this issue? I mean really affected, not just affronted or offended or challenged, but properly impacted in a practical, significant, living way. In a way that says, specifically, “You are not worthy of one of the basic civil rights that are afforded to every single other person in this country, because some of those people don’t like who you sleep with.”

Why am I so angry at the idea of “leaving well enough alone”?

Well… why aren’t we all angry? Why aren’t we – the supposedly inclusive, fair-minded, “fair go” Australian people – in a heightened and sustained state of rage about this issue?

If you say that you believe in marriage equality, that you “have loads of gay friends”, that you think they deserve to be happy, that you want to support them and that you oppose the aggressive and rampant homophobia in this country, then why should you be quiet about it? Why shouldn’t you share your hope for a truly egalitarian society every fucking chance you get?

Not just by signing e-petitions or by voicing your support only when you are amongst likeminded people, but by speaking up and standing by your beliefs even if – especially if – the conversation happens to be with somebody who could potentially disagree with you. If the topic comes up, why clamp down? Nobody deserves to have their prejudice go unchallenged forever, especially not when that prejudice has an impact on other people’s lives.

Your actions and words matter. And the actions you don’t take – the words you don’t say – matter just as much as the ones you do.

So say something, for goodness’ sake.

Get angry.

[*In case anyone who personally knows me is wondering, the person who suggested this is in no way affiliated with my sister’s excellent wedding website, The Bride’s Tree. In fact they’re not actually in publishing at all. But I presume they read a lot of wedding magazines.]

On Jonathan Harris and the Digressica Project

O hai. Happy New Year.

01/01

I don’t really know where to start. It would be ridiculous to comment on the fact that I haven’t blogged here since almost a year ago. Ridiculous and unnecessary. I may do better in 2012. Let’s see. I have a good feeling about this year.

I wanted to write about Jonathan Harris, one of my favourite artists. He calls himself a storyteller, but the New York Times calls him “a renaissance man for the information age”. I think they’re probably both right.

You might have seen some of his work without realising it. His We Feel Fine project (co-created with Sep Kamvar) is maybe his best known work. You should take a look – it really is incredible, and a lot of fun to play with. The website is an exploration of human emotion, a database of millions of feelings and micro-stories pulled from the internet every few minutes – statements beginning ‘I feel’ or ‘I am feeling’ – published on millions of blogs, message boards and social media feeds all over the world. We Feel Fine identifies the emotion expressed in each sentence, as well as the age, location and gender of its author. Based on that information it extrapolates other data, such as the weather at the time the emotion was expressed. The playful, colourful interface lets you interact with the stories and understand the data in meaningful ways.

It’s basically brilliant.

Even better and more impressive – I think, anyway, in terms of ingenuity and user experience – is The Whale Hunt, another storytelling experiment that documents Jonathan’s experience with an ancient tradition in the Inupiat Eskimo community of Barrow, Alaska through a constant sequence of photographs taken at five-minute intervals over a seven-day period. The result is what he calls a “photographic heartbeat”, where at moments of adrenaline as many as 37 photographs were taken every five minutes, so that the rate of images increases to mimic the quickening of his own heart in those moments. Like most of his projects, The Whale Hunt is about data collection and interpretation. You can see the images in a linear fashion or apply filters to isolate sub-stories within the larger narrative. Jonathan describes The Whale Hunt as “a choose-your-own adventure book crossed with a data visualisation project crossed with a slideshow”.

It’s basically brilliant.

But one of my favourite Jonathan Harris projects might be the simplest one, called Today. When he turned 30, Jonathan began the ritual of taking one photo every day and posting it online with a short story. He continued for 440 days, ending up with a kind of tapestry-like portrait of his life at age 30. He describes the project as a “crutch for memory”.

I’ve had a few friends who have embarked on this sort of project and I’ve always found it a rather lovely idea. My friend Brusca took a photo on his iPhone every day for a year, embracing the Chase Jarvis philosophy that “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. I loved it – it’s nice having these little window insights into a friend’s life, just tiny snapshots of his day.

When I saw the short film Jonathan and his friend Scott Thrift made after the Today project ended, I just found it really moving. I love the simplicity of the idea, and the way that each image by itself is just an image, but put together and watched in a linear way, you get this kind of understanding of a person and their life. A shallow understanding, of course – it’s a bit like sneaking a peek at their family’s home movies. You’re never going to get the full story, but you do get an overall picture and a sense of forward movement, even though they’re just still frames – a microsecond out of a whole day.

Anyway, I loved it so much that I’m unashamedly ripping off the idea. I’d like to make a video of my own at the end of the year. I guess I’ll see how I go.

If you’d like to follow the unimaginatively titled Digressica Project, you’re very welcome to. I’m mostly doing it for my own satisfaction, really – a sort of experiment in memory – and maybe for my family and friends who might be interested. Maybe you’d like to do something similar yourself. Tell me if you do; I would love to come and nose into your world.

I won’t link to every photo on here because that would be absurd, but I might try to choose one every week. The one at the top of this post was taken at twilight at Currimundi Beach on New Year’s Day. Here’s one from today.

04/01

The Bruschetta Conversation

Photo courtesy of SummerTomato's photostream on Flickr

Every time I have ordered bruschetta in a restaurant or café – every single time in my entire life – I have had basically the exact same conversation with the waiter or waitress that served me.

It usually goes a bit like this:

Waitress: Hi, what can I get you today?
Me: Hi there. Can we please have two iced teas and… um, let’s see. I think we’ll share some broosketta too. Thanks!
Waitress: Blank look.
Me: Blank look.
Waitress: Sorry, what was the last thing?
Me: The broosketta, please.
Waitress: Sorry?
Me: Broosketta?
Waitress: Sorry, I didn’t quite… Holds up menu for me to point at.
Me: Pointing. The broosketta. Just there.
Waitress: Loudly, with barely contained laughter. OHHHHHHHH. You mean the BROOSHETTA!
Me: Silent, impotent rage. Um… yeah.

But this is how it would go if this were an alternate universe in which I wasn’t irrationally afraid of making waitresses dislike me:

Waitress: Hi, what can I get you today?
Me: Hi there. Can we please have two iced teas and… um, let’s see. I think we’ll share some broosketta too. Thanks!
Waitress: Blank look.
Me: Blank look.
Waitress: Sorry, what was the last thing?
Me: The broosketta, please.
Waitress: Sorry?
Me: Broosketta?
Waitress: Sorry, I didn’t quite… Holds up menu for me to point at.
Me: Pointing. The broosketta. Just there.
Waitress: Loudly, with barely contained laughter. OHHHHHHHH. You mean the BROOSHETTA!
Me: Rising slowly from seat. No. No, I don’t mean ‘brooshetta’. I mean ‘broosketta’. You know why? Because it is YOU, feeble human child, who is pronouncing bruschetta incorrectly – not I, as your patronisingly instructive tone suggests. And maybe – just maybe – if you’re going to work in an ITALIAN restaurant, and serve ITALIAN dishes, and read out the ITALIAN specials, perhaps it would interest you to know that in the Italian language, the letters CH are pronounced as a HARD FUCKING CONSONANT, YOU SMUG PIECE OF SHIT.

Other oppressed diners in restaurant applaud. Music swells. Close up on me looking triumphant and a bit crazy.

The Lucky Ones

When the fear of failure grips me, when I’m paralysed by the prospect of a mediocre life in which none of my imagined achievements manifest, when I’m reminded of my own mortality and suddenly aware of the fleeting nature of life, when I can’t convince myself of any fairytale ethereal world beyond the real and only one we have, I think of these words:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

I’ve found this, the opening paragraph of Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow, to be a source of unspeakable comfort and inspiration since the first day I read it. These are the words I want spoken at my funeral when I die, and they’re the words I try to carry around with me while I live. They bring a lump to my throat. They make me want to go further, see more, do better. They make me grateful that I showed up at all. They make me want to shake hands with everyone I see, congratulate them on just being here. Well done everyone, we made it.

Image courtesy of mcdlttx‘s photostream on Flickr.

Don’t promise anyone anything. Ever.

No promises

Such was the best piece of advice I ever received, although I didn’t realise it at the time. My friend Polski told me one day that he won’t make offers or promises to anybody. If a mate is moving house, he won’t offer to help. If someone needs assistance in his particular area of expertise, he won’t volunteer. If an old friend is flying into his city, he won’t promise to pick them up from the airport.

At first I was appalled. How cold! How heartless!

It didn’t take long, however, to recognise the intelligence of this seemingly cruel policy. Polski’s reasoning is faultless. It’s game theory.

If he doesn’t offer and doesn’t deliver, he has broken no promise and nobody gets hurt.

If he does offer and doesn’t deliver, he has broken his promise and let somebody down.

If he does offer and does deliver, he has merely met expectations and fulfilled what is already anticipated.

If he doesn’t offer and does deliver, he has pleasantly surprised somebody and exceeded their expectations.

Although the idea of never offering to visit a friend in hospital, babysit their kid when needed, help them with a problem or take them out for dinner sort of makes me cringe a little bit, an honest review of the many broken promises that litter my past has actually got me thinking. This policy isn’t about being cruel or uncaring. It’s not about letting yourself off the hook and never helping your friends, it’s about striving to be the kind of friend who is reliable and helpful, but not feeling like a total deadbeat if you don’t always deliver.

Polski, I apologise for calling you a selfish jerk. You might actually be a genius.

Photo courtesy of Discoodoni‘s photostream on Flickr.