Monday, September 08, 2014

Emotional Investment

I recall reading in one of my 3 hour breaks between lectures back in the day, one of those books with pictures of animals and affirmations and shit, light on the words.

Anyway there was a picture of a frog and a platitude like 'the human heart has infinite capacity to love' and I remember it re-framing emotions as a resource.

Like there's certain abstract concepts, like time, time is the most limited resource anybody possesses. Conversely apparantly, emotions, like love are inexhaustible. It was a comforting thought, now I'm not so sure.

I think there's a fundamental truth there, somewhere. Like your capacity for love never diminishes. You got this indestructible energy. I think physics would back that shit up.

Upon reflection though, I think our emotional capacity is elastic. Maybe having kids changes shit, you unlock some extra capacity that applies to them in a way outside of ordinary social experience, I'm not qualified to say, but I assume just about anyone reading this would have experienced at some point that state of tension that comes from losing some emotional investment you've made.

The sense that you are walking on egg-shells, or trying to execute some complex manouvre like destroying the death star. Your heart is on the line, your very being. It preoccupies and consumes your thoughts as your run over the plays and possibilities in your head. If you can just salvage that friendship, or get somebody to realize they truly love you...

In my experience from adult life, what I feared losing, was unloseable. Most of these high-tension scenarios were resolved by acceptance, simply accepting the person, the situation, whatever. And like that, it becomes incredibly hard to recall what or how you'd actually lose the investment emotionally. My emotions just snap back into shape.

They are restricted and finite perhaps only because they can be directed by time and energy. The times where I've felt at risk of losing an emotional investment have actually been when that time and energy was disproportionately invested somewhere where I wasn't getting emotions back. Once accepted, bang, I find myself enjoying life more.

The tricky part is that on paper acceptance looks a lot like giving up. But accepting I've read, and it feels right, is an affirmative act. That is you actually have to do it, where giving up (which in the context of running, I've had the occasional experience with) is where you literally just stop exerting effort or will.

It's been too long since I've experienced heart break to really reflect on what that's like, but I don't think heartbreak is acceptance, I suspect it is more like the catastrophic failure of the denial coping mechanism. Some emotional exercise akin to trying to run at the corners of a Necker cube. It's kind of maybe where you want to run but can't, you can't bend reality to your will. But acceptance I can recall feels not like heartbreak, it feels like shit is leaving your system (probably literally a heap of cortisol).

Anyway, the curious conundrum is, how motivating a percieved emotional investment can be, how much work we are willing to do to not lose what we have invested in someone or something. Yet it prolongs often in my own experience a substandard of living, and when that investment is relinquished I always find I have much more of what I feared to lose.

Know what I'm sayin'?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Natural High

Last Tuesday I'd been listening to the Butthole Surfer's 'Pepper' a lot and switching between that and Voodoo Child by Hendrix. Ah those songs they set my mind on fire, and make me feel alive. Then I had to go out, and the weather was nice and I was coasting down studley park road reliving those songs in my head and I realised I was high.

A natural high, that shit is real. It was like the onset of drunkenness without the spongy fatty layer between you and reality.

It was ridiculous, but it can be done. It is possible to just feel really really good, by yourself. Just live in a way that occassionally releases a potent combo of reward chemicals into your brain. Yet it's an experience so lucid, you remember it afterwards, you aren't left with an overwhelming desire to chase that feeling again. It's kind of there.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

To Bury A Reboot

The first time I watched 'Man of Steel' I actually kind of enjoyed it. The second time I couldn't get through the opening sequence on Krypton.

I have to say, my impression of the reviews of 'The Amazing Spider-Man' were that it was treated fairly - it was a well made film, simply missing that Sam Raimi magic. Not much could be said for it's sequal, except that I feel, deeply and with conviction, that this franchise should be buried.

Perhaps same same with the new Superman franchise, I'm not particularly excited about a Superman-Batman crossover, I imagine Nolan will cherry pick the best of Loeb's efforts to combine the two. But even that is not very good, and I suspect, not the way to make Superman interesting subject matter. Like offering a free coke with every sprite purchased. I think at the end of the day it will leave consumers asking 'what the fuck?'

I suspect though the amount of time between reboots will continue to contract. The comic movie industry, is beginning to replicate the comic publication industry. The industry's on a learning curve and the subject matter suffers as the business model strengthens.

Firstly, there's a fan base that wants to see these movies made. They want them and they can't help themselves. A large contingent of comic fandom, simply lacks a capacity to learn. These are nerds we are talking about, dweebs. It's hard to call them indiscriminate, but effectively so. In their powerlessness they can only express rage at the mistreatment of their sacred texts, not actually predict a crappy product and avoid consuming it.

And I don't believe in popular movements or consumer activism. I believe in decision makers. The first three Spider Man films set records at the box office, with a decade of inflation passed and an increase in movie ticket prices, the next two films have cost almost as much budget wise and performed not as well. Not as well as Captain America, when one would expect box office performance to map roughly onto comic title sales performance, and I can't imagine there's anywhere near as many fans of Captain America comics as there are of the many and varied Spider Man titles.

What it puts me in mind of, is of all people Dave "Hughesy" Hughes, because after the opening ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth games, he asked the question 'surely somebody in some meeting pointed out "flying boy on a skateboard, isn't that a little bit like the flying Nikki Webster in the Sydney Olympics opening?"' and in whatever meetings I imagine take place, certain questions aren't being asked.

Like somebody looking over the script and saying 'so we are portraying on film the death of Uncle Ben, Peter Parker's Parents, Gwen Stacey's Father and Gwen Stacey... won't that mean our Spider man pretty much does nothing but deal with guilt and remorse and self doubt?' or even 'these designs are terrible. You're saying this is what our Green Goblin is going to look like? This looks ugly and ridiculous and stupid as shit, we are clearly falling short visually and technologically of what was achieved in previous films. What are we thinking?'

I don't know and I don't understand. That's why I feel comic book movies have probably peaked in terms of approaching legitimate films. Clearly the new franchise is underperforming the historical benchmark set (even adjusted for inflation) but it's still clearing a 160% return for investors on the budget, and these movies will get pumped out so long as they pull in a positive return. What hasn't been established is any threshold for the movie going public to say 'batman, again? you know what, I'm really not interested.'

The profitability will I suspect eventually just be what the comic book industry used to be when it was in print, do to saturation and competition and diminishing quality of product.

The diminishing quality of product comes from the diminished perception of risk. There used to be a reason to get an auteur director like Tim Burton to do the Batman film adaptation, you got very few shots at adapting a comic into a film. It was big and expensive and it needed to work. There used to be a reason to get Willem Dafoe to play the Green Goblin, you wanted a compelling on screen presence because Marvel didn't know if Spider Man was too campy to hold up on the big screen.

These reasons have evaporated. You can be pretty certain so long as the IP is big enough and the visual effects budget can cut together an enticing preview, enough fans will go see to make the project viable, and if it bombs, you reboot in 2 years instead of releasing a sequel the next year.

Thus nobody is going to agonize over script and director until you hit upon Raimi's ability to conceal a romance within a blockbuster action film creating the perfect date movie for a generation. You aren't going to have sketch artists sitting with Tim Burton as he completely recreates our visual conception of Batman characters. You aren't going to fire Tim Burton because his sequel didn't outsell the first installment. You just accept diminishing returns and keep pumping out ho hum interpretations hoping a happy accident will occur. Or knowing you will be dragged upwards if enough of the other franchise films succeed (aka the Avengers).

Even Captain America's installment this year though, suffered from the benefit it receives being associated with Iron Man etc. It could have been fucking great, had it the space to do a Spider Man 2 - which would have been to remove Hydra completely and make it a story about the pin up boy from the propaganda being the real deal having to turn against the propaganda machine that produced him.

Can't do it though, has to fit the plans for the next Avengers crossover.

The decision makers need to be decisive, and ditch these dying franchises to create space for good shit to be created at a rate consumers can handle. Instead of fucking canabalising their own markets through product line extension. Sorry to end with marketing jargon, but if the decision makers read it, they'll understand it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


On sunday I went to a memorial for one of the genuine great human beings it was my privilege to meet. Scott was kind, said Colleen when she burst into tears, and I think there in that moment you have greatness epitomised. There were also two of the first Temporary Protection Visa holders released from Woomera detention center that Scott answered the Fitzroy Learning Network's door to, drove down to the Supermarket and bought packets of biscuits for to make them feel welcome.

And the FLN crammed all those 20 new students into classes with pencil and papers on the same day, again to make them feel welcome.

It's one of those illusive truths, that the greatest acts of kindness and courage, the most heroic and meaningful actions we can take in life are also so simple and practical. There are no doubt incredible circumstances of Scott and others lives that ensure they are in the position, and have the opportunity to extend this hospitality and have this impact. A hidden set of values, social ethos and orientation just as complicated but far less exposed than the huge social machine that produces the kind of people that create the mandatory detention and temporary protection visa policies.

And one of the things I learned on Sunday was an antonym of Xenophobia, something that stains Australian culture. That word is 'theoxeny' a greek term for 'friend of the stranger' the speaker said people of Island nations get and embrace this concept, knowing that with a change of winds, they too could easily be the stranger. It is the very embodiment of empathy. It is a recurring theme in Greek Mythology, and Zeus the mightiest of gods was sometime titled Zeus Xenios, protector of travelers.

It is akin to 'there but for the grace of God, go I' and this man that passed, was a friend to the stranger. There to listen, there to care, there to find solutions. One of the last times I spoke to Scott was when Zamin's daughter had died, and he was tremendously comforting then. Just calm, present and a lender of perspective. And I was just one of many volunteers who very occasionally dropped into the network.

It's one of the few funerals where it could be said that the person's reputation was not improved by death. Scott was what people presented him to be in the eulogies delivered. Any admonishment to 'not speak ill of the dead' was entirely uneccessary with him.

Thus it was an intense privilege and opportunity to have met Scott and conversed with him. He is a rare and important role model, I think for anybody, and particularly men. He is gone now, but it's hard to feel anything but loss. There is no deprevation, or being cheated with a man so kind and generous.

Remember theoxeny people. Don't move away from xenophobia, so much as towards theoxeny.

Body Language ...ugh ...?

I think this is the third time I've written about body language, so I'll be brief.

I've found my study of it fruitful. It has counter-intuitively helped calm my mind and made me a less superstitious person.

The only way body language can be of interest is if it is involuntary, subconscious and explained. Not a very high standard of explanation, just something that allows my conscious mind to reconcile with subconscious behavior.

And that is where I draw the line. I want to be able to recognise body language when ever I am sufficiently present enough to notice it, so that I can walk away from that situation feeling like it went well vs not well.

Because previously I used to spend much more time debating my intuitions, my gut and chest feelings with rational arguments as to why I was 'just seeing things' or whatever. Basically I spent a lot of time doubting, in conflict with myself. Which gave way to denial, which could then be used to exacerbate bad situations, pass up good opportunities or simply just waste my time anxious wondering how some shit is going to pan out.

That's useful. I would venture on my own experience that it has actually been healthy.

Then there's the 'life hacks' or 'how to use body language to...' type shit. Outside of the domain of acting, the very notion of using body language to manipulate communication, in the same way we manipulate verbal communication destroys all interest in the subject.

The moment people are able to lie to me with their posture, there's no benefit to me being able to read that posture. The moment I try to manipulate my studies into presenting myself as attracted to women that I am not, or approachable to people I plan to attack - I can only see such things leading to even more tarnished reputations than if I was just a regular liar. Furthermore I'm sure the cognitive effort would probably override any chance I had of reading and intuitively responding to the body language of others.

I have no plans to think about which way my feet are pointed in a conversation. If I want to leave my feet point towards the exit. If I want to talk to people my feet point towards them. Why do I want to start making decisions about this shit? I don't. But I'm happy to notice when I do it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

"What do you consider to be your flaws or the ways in which you devalue yourself?"

A sat with Bryce in a cafe one time and said to him 'I figure there's plenty of good guys out their for women, they're not losing anything by me not dating them.' or something to that effect and Bryce responding 'that's one of the most depressing things I've ever heard.'

Thing is I was sincere. I kind of see clearly now, or if not clearly, within the vicinity of clear that some devaluation has gone on.

I can see a legacy, of my dad's dad disappearing into a shed to invent or work, something he did around his grand kids when they visited as well, but must have characterised my father's childhood. And my dad caught workaholia long before it became the norm. He came home every night, while we were awake, and ate dinner with us, and he was at all my basketball games and shit, but you know, he was into his work. Really into his work. I see the same in me, how I isolate myself into projects and shit.

Even if I'm present for my friends, there's a value I place on work that isn't real. I don't really care about work as much as I care about people. From the inside the retreat is something about being unworthy of attention. Maybe it's just birth order shit, plain and simple. Not the youngest, most vulnerable and most demanding of attention. Not the eldest going through the learning curve and causing the most anxiety.

It's funny, I really can't point to when I started disappearing. It seems really hardwired, literally subconscious an assumption that I'm expendible, redundant, spare or leftover. Cognitively I can see the irony, it's this belief that lead me to take risks, figuring there was no real harm in my failing, and because of that I've become much more important to many people. A precious snowflake. Yet that assumption of expendibility remains, innate.

Then I'm sure as a combination of cultural conditioning, and post-fact rationalization, needing to be a hero. Stick my neck out for others, charge in the vanguard etc. is superficially admirable but really the result of a belief that I myself am not a sparkle princess locked up in a tower worth rescuing. If you can't be loved, sought after and desired, you can be the one that dose the loving, seeking and desiring. The hero is a hero because he doesn't have a hero to rescue him.

Prince charming isn't locked up in Maleficent's tower because he isn't important, nobody cares. He has to throw a tantrum and cut his way through.

Self reliance too seems admirable but allows me to avoid ever testing whether I can rely on anybody. I think I do ask for help, but there's still way too much Musashi in me, too much Batman, too much Abe Lincoln. Gotta have my own back and everybody else's.

It's all obliquely true. I don't believe in my own value - somewhere deep down. I crave people caring about me. I try to do this for others to vicariously rescue myself. I literally engage in reciprocal tactics to try and fill my esteem needs.

There are worse problems to have. But my problem's out there, I accept it and it is known to me. What next?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Consider what you project onto your partner. Is your preoccupation with your partner's flaws an avoidance of anxiety about your own imperfections?"

Two questions to go, and we get the hard hitting ones. Though in my case it's less a case of partners as everybody.

I almost feel like I answered this question before I started answering any of these questions. I was running at the time and thus it never got spoken aloud, but what I was thinking about on that run was a forthcoming meeting of minds where I needed help. The thought, a whine, a complaint, collapsed immediately upon itself - I wanted to say 'Rod, do you know of an island somewhere populated by happy secure individuals that I could just move to.'

Because my issues are not other people's issues. My issues are my own. I do get preoccupied with the 'flaws' of other people. And there's almost certainly a part of me arrogant and condescending enough to consider people inherently flawed, while making an exception of myself.

The tricky part is the complexity of these words 'an avoidance of anxiety about your own imperfections' I believe in law circles they'd call this a 'complex question' that is to answer it requires me to accept that I have imperfections (no big deal) then that I feel anxious about them (harder for me to recognize) and lastly that I avoid them. (very hard to catch myself doing).

It's true that I am bullshit at multitasking. I cannot think about my own issues and somebody else's at the same time. I can't be looking at and critiquing the work of others while simultaneously making my own. The best I can say, is that looking at and critiquing the work of others is part of my creative process, in constructing the critique, I am already drawing my own piece, my own take.

In the same manner, the best I can say is that getting preoccupied with other people's problems has in some ways helped illuminate my own decisions. I have no evidence to suggest though, this is more productive than just examining myself in the nearest mirror. There's plenty of evidence to suggest it is much more productive when I just sit down and think about myself. It can even be more productive when I am illuminated by others projecting their anxieties onto me.

So yes, ironically one of the things I project most - is a frustration with people in my life worried about the welfare of others, the addictions and mental illnesses of others, even the welfare of animals or kids in indonesian sweatshops sooner than actually take care of themselves and address their own issues.

Looking back at my psychology sessions, I can see how much time was dedicated to trying to solve the problem of other people. How to effect or adapt in such a way as to bring about desired change in others. When I actually gave up and accepted, things got better quite quickly. I just turned on myself. Turned back to myself.

I see with former partners, a clear trend - I only really ever accepted my partners for who they were when we broke up. It's also the only time generally we communicated as adults to each other.

One of the 'too little too late' gestures I made in one relationship was to read 'Development as Freedom' by Amartya Sen. It was one of the two times I showed an interest in what my partner wanted to dedicate her life to. I only remember parts of that book - namely how cultural identities have always evolved and aren't worth defending or preserving, how famines are caused by pricing mechanisms and rarely by a shortage of actual food but also I think so much value is wrapped up in the title - the only goal, the only purpose of development is freedom. And that applies equally to personal development.

Then something I saw earlier in the week, a gif of a Brad Pitt monologue from 'Killing Me Softly':

"My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words 'All men are created equal', words he clearly didn't believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery."

Even though Chappelle did a bit on this before, this particular phrasing hit me harder, perhaps because of the observation that Jefferson sired children that then lived out their lives as slaves. There's something about that cognitive dissonance, that disingenuity that hits home here when asked about projecting. No matter Jefferson's own moral failings, he did manage to pen a document that has formed a very powerful basis for the winning side of the civil rights movement from the American civil war throguh to what's happening in Fergurson today. But this polymath, this genius was blind to his own imperfection in a manner perhaps more instructive than Isaac Newton's failings at investment.

Of course, Of Course, OF COURSE! I am no exception. I go to therapy and regard myself as 'doing something' and therefore an exception to the rule of having to sort your own shit out first. I did eventually, but this here, this is my shit - the world rejects me, I'm not important enough to take something for my own, or to seize an opportunity that is there. I'm worthy of being ignored or passed over, and it is up to me to take care of myself, solve my own problems and then assume privilege enough that it falls on me to 'help' others as well.

The trouble of course being, that this subconscious program I'm on if you will is scary in its power, and it's easy to avoid looking at it. And the anxiety drives avoiding behavior. When you're successfully avoiding shit, then your blind. It's hard to unravel. I don't think the above paragraph accurately articulates exactly what my subconscious drive is, but it's close. I'm getting closer.

next (and last) question.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Note to self - you can trust your intuition

I had a moment of clarity today that coincided with the clear sky's above. I wrote a post a while back I can't be bothered digging up on a question as to whether I was lying by omission.

I listened to Sam Harris' audio book 'lying' in the past couple of days and found it vague on providing me a definitive answer on whether I had been unethical, even though the question had become moot - which is to say one way or another I have to live with the consequences of my non-disclosure.

All I could really say, in basically dropping the question and not paying it much mind, is that it never once felt wrong. I never once did I feel like I'd missed an opportunity to disclose the truth. My intuition let me sit easy with not saying a phrase aloud to an audience of consequence.

A lie of omission, that would be unethical for example would be to not disclose that I knew definitively of an affair being carried out to that persons partner. I would become complicit in the affair even if I saw other parties as having a greater burden of responsibility to tell the person than I did. Harris' book gives a great an illustrative example of such a case.

It is also a lie of omission for me to not disclose the true degree of uncertainty I feel speaking on a subject for which an audience is heeding my advice. That too would be unethical.

But it took until today to have my conscious brain click as to why I felt no compunction to share information I had in a situation that bothered me. But it clicked quite loudly, and successfully and I feel much lighter because of it.

The information I possessed was irrelevant to the decision being made. If it were of consequence, the information I possessed would actually no longer be true, nor informative, and hence not actual information.

Or perhaps in other words, to beat around the bush, if the decision to be made was actually conditional on the information omitted, then the decision would fundamentally change in nature.


Consider by analogy that somebody you know is producing a movie. They are looking over and over the script wondering if it really has the potential to be a great film. They are looking at the production company and the locations sought and questioning the viability of such an ambitious project. You see your friend stressed and being a billionaire with an actual human-chess set, know you could afford to underwrite the production and protect them financially.

Suddenly the decision this person faces is not 'is this film going to get made?' to 'do I want to make this film?' or to be absolved of evaluating the fundamental downside risk and just consider the upside.

See even if all of the above doesn't make much sense, my intuition get's it. I trust it.