Monday, February 21, 2011

Let's Talk About Your Mother...

I heard word (not the bird) of a book called 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' about the 'chinese' way of raising children. To quote the blurb that appears on the back, front and inside covers of the copy I perused - 'This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising children than Western ones.'

And rather than reviewing a book I haven't read, I read bits of it, in store like Amy Chua's take on what the violing represents but nothing comprehensive. This article probably makes most of my critique redundant, but here is a run down of the impression I get:

The 'chinese' way of parenting is to obsessively push your child to succeed. Thus an A- is an unacceptable grade and you pull your kid out of school for extra violin practice, you never give your kids praise and you put them down and make sure they never accept that they are good enough.

Amy argues (perhaps... or some reviewer) that 'the results are hard to argue with' and my fear is that prospective idiot parents may actually accept that statement as somehow valid in some way.

It's this 'success' that is the crucial fallacy that makes me worry about imitators of the 'Chinese' way of parenting, or even societal approach. This relentless pushing of your child so they get into Yale and can play classical music in world class symphony orchestras is all easily unstuck by the simple fallacy that it ascribes a universal definition to success.

Such a definition does not exist, but 'high-context cultures' fall into the trap constantly. While it is true to say that 'rules exist for a reason' it is not true to say that those reasons are good ones. Pursuing academic success is fine, if our educational system was actually a good one, but it isn't. Up until post-graduate university studies it is almost entirely about assessment and has very little to do with knowledge.

Higher education is very vocationally specific, in the same way as secondary education is very focused on getting kids into university, university in turn is very focused on getting kids into salaried positions at large pre-existing firms.

Both these situations arise I feel worldwide because security is far more marketable than risk taking. My personal experience studying economics and finance is that a degree in it is almost the equivalent of being a 'certified fool' unless you read widely outside of the prescribed texts and remain skeptical of everything you are taught.

It's on the outskirts of academia you find invention, creation and progress. The individuals taking these risks may be professors themselves inside academia, but there theories don't make it onto the academic syllabus worldwide (behavioural economics being a case in point, your average graduate won't touch this emerging feild and will not even know they have been trained in Neo-classical economics, they will just think they have learned 'Economics')

The merits of the 'Chinese' tiger mother method sink or swim against academic results being a worhtwhile pursuit.

I don't think the goal is necessarily 'Chinese' in my experience the same parental concern manifests itself everywhere. Namely 'Medicine and Law are for winners, dentistry and accounting for losers' attitude. What is the attraction to Medicine for example? There are few highly influential doctors in global society, they are not kingmakers, innovators (apart from the obvious medical breakthroughs) they don't sit anywhere within the Forbes 500 rich list, they are rarely Times' Man of the Year and are relatively low profile compared to business school graduates, musicians, artists and scientists.

The answer is that all the other professions entail risk, whereas Medicine is attractive because it is the best compensated secure profession. People will always get sick, due to the maslownian heirarchy people make a priority out of getting better and are willing to pay to do so. Thus doctors will probably always lead a comfortable life relative to the average shmuck. By comparison, one musician can earn $40 million dollars in a year while vast numbers of muso's earn almost nothing from their calling and most pouring coffees for doctors.

The parenting role is almost irrelevant though because from the information provided in the preceeding paragraph it is impossible to determine who would be happiest.

I have sadly controversial views on parenting, they are as follows:

1. You don't have to live your childs life.

This means exactly what it says. Your child is the one that actually has to practice medicine or live on the streets, not you. Their experience is subjective and it is up to them to choose how they wish to experience life. If somebody blocked you from taking some kind of risk to make them feel better, eg. preventing you from going on holiday to South America because of kidnapping, it would feel like usurpation - and you would be right. Your career, and education are far more significant than a holiday so why should any parent be allowed to usurp their childs will on such a significant part of their lives.

2. You owe your life to your child, not the other way round.

This argument is often degraded as immature the 'I didn't choose to be born.' But I feel it is fundamentally valid. One way or another a parent chooses to have a child, even if it is their choice to continue to observe their own religious prejudices. There are viable ways to prevent and terminate pregnancy. If you choose to have a child, then you take responsibility for everything that comes with. You are bringing a sentient individual into the world, yyou have to look after that individual until they can support themselves. Society will step in because our community is awesome, but fundamentally a parent in having a child has committed their lives to the support and raising of that child that they may be whoever they wish to be and belong to themselves (until such a time as they choose to have a child). In return, the child owes you nothing, absolutely nothing. Their requitted love is a bonus, but they don't even have to turn up to your funeral. It's your job to win their love, not the reverse. (which pretty much entirely invalidates Tiger Mother method).

3. Yu encourage and enthuse your kid.

Under 1, we have established that parents don't have the right to usurp the risks their child is willing to take for their own personal comfort. Stepping beyond this, a parent has to, to the best of their ability actually create opportunities for their child to succeed at what they want to do. It's your job to find your kid a basketball team, get them music lessons or pull them out of school and find them a butchers apprenticeship. This is not pushing though, this is going with the flow. As the article pointed out whoever heard of a kid giving up drawing when their parent said their first crappy offerings were good.

4. You teach choice and responsibility.

Which you can't do if you don't accept number 2. That would be hypocritical. This though is the basic ingredient for making an individual not a dick, and thus a functioning member of a community. It is a simple repeatable phrase 'well that was your choice, you have to take responsibility for the consequences.' Much bad parenting is trying to insulate kids from the consequences of their decisions. They are protected from failure. An inability to accept responsibility for ones position in life is the key shaper of embittered individuals, they blame the world for their problems. My own mother for example has carried the belief that her family growing up were miserable because they were poor, it occured to me much later (if not her) that perhaps they were poor because they were miserable. Once again it is actually impossible to tell on the surface who is happier between a paraplegic and a lottery winner.

5. Happiness is the goal.

On the surface having an academically successful kid that can play an unpopular* style of music profficiently seems preferable to raising a child that has a drug addiction and no direction in life. However, if I had to bet on one actually finding the motivation to achieve happiness by implementing lifestyle changes it would be the latter.
Regardless this isn't a bogus dilemma, there is success in a predefined regimented context (like academia, and prescriptive genres of music) and their is success in reality. You don't even have to create the iPod to be a success. You just have to be happy, happiness is determined by genetics, parenting till around the age of 6 and achievement of short term goals (regardless of actual context). The first two an individual can do nothing about. Unless you are a parent you can do something about another individuals happiness. I imagine it takes collossal discipline to actually live the words 'I just want you to be happy' because vested interest crops up all the time. But that's the goal, parents should try and live it.

But the last thing I will say on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, apart from being pretty much the antithesis of good parenting from my own prejudice, is that on a personal level I found it reassuring. I have a prejudice against a totalitarian government responsible for decades of widespread misery rising up in the world. The emerging China myth though I feel will amount to very little. High context cultures are great when it comes to playing catch-up on a pre-defined path of success, as Japan did up until the 80's. But when it takes time to take the lead that's where you need the entreprenuers, the risk takers, the dreamers and these are not produced by blind dedication to a predefined path. China thus far has proved less innovative than Japan that at least produced the Walkman and the Nintendo before its bubble burst.

*I don't mean to diss classical music, but it is in most places in the world sustained by government funding because it cannot attract audiences willing to pay the monies that would make it viable as a private sector industry. I have enjoyed classical music, at free concerts put on by funded institutions, government bodies or long dead benefactors. By contrast I have often paid $80 or more to see public school drop outs from Brooklyn rock a concert hall and I am almost never alone at these events.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yet Even More Epiphanies

I had the realisation that you help nobody when you have a relationship based on guilt. Or guilt as a motivator. Kind of like when a relationship hits that 'trying to make it work' stage, and its just awful. You can't fake love or whatever.

In a semi related matter I've been using youtube to listen to songs I don't have. One thing I would do if I was supreme overlord of the world is just get rid of youtube comments. Watching Peeping Tom's live performances, the sicophantic comments make me throw up a little in my mouth:

' I Mike Patton fan I'm still objective, because that's what he asks from his fans.' n shit. And these are the comments that agree with me. So if people who share my viewpoint make me sick, I feel really we should get rid of it completely.

It's kind of like the Southpark episode where Jim goes undercover into the Ku Klux Klan and convinces them that because everybody hates them, they should support the flag change. Sometime it's nice to be backed up, but othertimes it's a liability to be backed up by somebody negative.

It's the negativity I am done with, tired of it. On friday I wrote a post about a character trait I found ugly, and a few hours later I deleted it. This reaction is good but not as good as not having spent my time writing something negative in the first place.

There are two dogs fighting in all of us, one called 'hate' and one called 'love' and do you know which dog wins that fight? The one you feed the most.

That is the crux of it all, I am done feeding my hate, my sister told me off for railing against hipsters and their apathetic music, and she's right. I couldn't handle being mainstream and current fashions remove most men from competing in my niche, so really I should feed the positive of the hipster situation.

So too, with any situation that fosters negativity, I am just going to avoid them as positively as I can. I know there are times when it is appropriate to bitch and moan and complain. There are times where conflict is constructive, but for now I'm just going to roll with being positive, till my love dog is morbidly obese - oh, that sounds like a disgusting euphamism.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fake it till you make it.

Last week I hugged 7 people. This week I hugged 22. Why the fuck do I know how many people I've hugged in the last fortnight?

I don't want to go into the specifics, but basically I realised I'm a closed person. My body language is closed, and there are only two people in the world I actually let into an intimate space on a regular basis.

And if you are thinking 'mum and dad' you are wrong, they are Shona and Bryce, the two people I have actually let get close to me over the years. Thus they actually don't count in my hug counts.

I've been confident with handshaking since I was eight years old. Janice has repeated the story to me many a time of shopping at Wendoree village and seeing me walk off and shake hands with this chubby kid, talk like we were about to declare war on some Balkan state, shake hands and walk away. That chubby kid was Bryce.

I have no fear of public speaking, I will make a speech off the top of my head, I can approach a burning car with no fear as to my personal safety, but I can't let people get close to me. I don't know why, I've probably learned bad insecure body language from some role model along the way.

I have always fucked up the kiss hello, I cross my arms when talking to people, I keep a distance, I turn my shoulder when sitting next to somebody to erect a barrier. I notice these things consciously now. Most of my life I just did them unconsciously.

Now I am consciously hugging people. And it's:

1. Awkward.
2. Pleasant.
3. Surprisingly well accepted.
4. Informative.

I'm bad at it. Really bad, blundering, blunt, shit, bad. Having said that, behavioural change is never easy. I'm far too conscious of the whole process, I don't really know what constitutes a good hug (surely I cant be hugging everyone like they're my girlfriend).

But seriously if I had told myself that I could even hug 22 people in 7 days a month ago I would have balked at such an inconcievably large number. I still can't believe I did. That's like 3 hugs a day. Previously my max would have been 3 hugs a month and that would include Bryce and Shona.

Attitudes are often taken to shape behaviours, but behaviours in fact often shape our attitudes. Thus I am changing my behaviour pattern. I hope to get better at just opening up, opening up my body language in the same way this blog opened up my thought processes for others to go through at their leisure. Maybe I'll never be one of those people that others feel they can just walk right into a hug, but maybe, maybe I will.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

First Impressions last because so few of us bother to ever change.

So my head is still at Good Vibes which is a good place for it to be. Towards the end of the evening, dressed as some kind of Celtic Eskimo with Viennese sausage in hand (not a euphamism) I wandered across some lawn and some pavement into the laser lighting show of Faithless.

Something about electronic music and flashing lights and the colour blue stimulates the brain and though I was not tripping on any drugs (as per always) I found myself going on a journey of emotion and possibility that felt a positive shade of blue.

The title of this post was one of the repetitive hooks of a song in Faithless' set which if memory serves me correctly was actually coloured green not blue but it needless to say went 'How can I change the world if I can't even change myself ?' and thanks to the miracle of Google I was able to find out the song was called Salvae Mea, which according to the miracle of Wikipedia means 'Save My'.

Anyway, Faithless push the positivity they don't promote no junk, but I found this song quite positive. Thanks to it's repetitiveness its message was easy to absorb. Badu also did a prolonged 'Believe In Yourself' but the freestyling vocal style made it relatively harder to absorb. Plus you'd be all like 'this isn't techno, why's she all repeating herself?' know what I'm saying?


Okay so Faithless were saying 'How can I change the world if I can't even change myself ?' and here's the thing. I can change myself. I'm capable of change. Sure there is some essence that makes me, me. Plus peeps including myself tend to misremember things. NNT points out that often an actors 'skill' or 'talent' or 'genius' is retrospectively applied to their careers AFTER they win an Oscar. We forget that we never really noticed them before. Or we assume that other people did.

Anyway, I can make a jump shot, like shoot overhead in basketball, this is just one tangible way I have changed. That is reversing a life long bad habit of shooting from the hip. An easier to block underarm shot that I always did (and I am told looks particularly ungraceful).

I am also much better at listening than I was 5 years ago, when I didn't listen to anybody at all. Everything I knew about anyone I did through observing and assuming. I was taught the secret by Shona, that in fact everybody is kind of fascinating if you can just listen to them, look for them. I'm still a terrible listener, but I am 1000 times better than I was.

To answer Faithless' question though (which was rhetorical I know) I can change the world around me by changing myself, a part of our environment is me. I think though that the very wording of the question alludes to responsibility I am reminded of the Maturity Goats: The one specifically in the upper left looking at the clouds, that 'Blames Self for World' is the contrasting goat to the red one with back to the clouds 'Blames World for Problems'.

The very question 'How can I change the world?' is to suggest we are in control of the world, that it can be changed by 'I'*. It is already assuming that we are not a victim. That if the world doesn't suit us we can go out there and change it. How empowering. To ackowledge that we can change ourselves though is most empowering.

I don't mean in the Little Mermaid sense, where you make sacrifices for cosmetic changes in order to get a guy, but in Emporers New Groove sense where you transform yourself into a better human being and grow for your own sake.

And like a Llama crossing the jungle, change isn't easy or even pleasent, but if you can make yourself more capable, more versatile it pays off, peeps will notice it eventually and you don't have to be saddled with some first impression. You can make a second impression if you are capable of change.

*'I' kind of looks like a seal looking at me.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


So yesterday I was at Good Vibes, saw some amazing shit that turns my brain to shit. Nas and Damien Marley and some guy who constantly twirled the Ethiopian Flag, a surprisingly enjoyable Koolism, A post apocalyptic dance party, a trippy spirutual journey into the colour blue with Faithless and the complete kitchen drumkit but none really compared to the incomparable Erykah Badu.

Why and how? She has mastery, like absolute mastery of what she does, it translates into this impossible sense of control over everything the whole music, not just her vocals but the band, the stage, the fans... in control. Just literally owns it.

Like I wrote about the importance of the audience in a performance but she just orchestrated the whole thing, just shit like 'okay I'm tired of your shit' blah blah blah I'd seed De La Soul on Friday Night, and MCs are really MCs they talk far more than when you see a rock band (maybe not a folk band though) but Badu puts De La to shame, made all the 'put your hands in the air' stuff seem really laboured and tired.

Mastery owns, I find it hard to articulate, but somebody who has mastered something owns it, their personality comes through. I was always struck with her studio albums how conversational and personal Badu's tracks are. Like you feel like you are sitting in her kitchen while she is just singing to you. I feel I know what it is like to be her kid getting lullabys sung or whatever.

Sooooooooooo really I shouldn't have been surprised that this is amplified in the live experience. Here's a clip that may or may not convey to you what the fuck I am talking about:

Now I say it's incomparable but I would compare Badu for my white male friends to seeing Mike Patton. Mike Patton has completely different yet similar vocal mastery, this too reminds me of some quote by somebody about NBA greats 'all this talk of what position a player plays, whether they are point guard, power forward, center. You have people like Barkley who was supposedly a power forward but stepped back and drained threes. You had Magic who was tall enough to play center and ran the point... in the end the truly great players don't play a position, they play basketball.' Patton is for my black female friends a vocalist ostensibly, but he can sing death metal style, opera, soul, beat box, rap etc. he is at the very least 6 vocalists in one. He has that kind of freedom, Badu and Patton don't just sing, they make music.

Patton has that presence too, given his cultish following yet broad reaching tentacles into the musical industry (a musicians' musician?) you see him playing to crowds who have no fucking idea who he is, particularly since in the US Faith No More are regarded as one hit wonders. (But what a hit) instead of produces of 4 five-star completely different albums.

He has that same undeniable personal presence in what he does. Mike Patton sounds like Mike Patton, Erykah Badu sounds like Erykah Badu. At the Peeping Tom concert which I did devotionally drag my feet along to because I thought it might be my only chance to see Patton, it fucking owned. I was not expecting to honestly enjoy the concert that much. The thing was though that I was directly behind some cocktard who did nothing all concert but take photos and spit on Mike Patton.

To give an example of Patton's unique and undeniable stage presence he got fucked off with this guy and told him to try and spit on his tongue, stuck it out and then the guy hocked like 7 loogies at Patton's face and Patton just stood there tongue out taking it.

So yes, Patton's a freak but he does have that complete mastery of what he does, a looseness and freedom that says you could throw anything at him and he will just do his thing. Here is a video of Peeping Tom to illustrate his stage presence.

So what is mastery, I actually suspect its the point where you know yourself so well that you can move freely, Badu has lyrics in some song that said 'I have the weight of the world on my shoulder' (sorry it's really hard to try and recall specifics of a live audio experience) but on the contrary she comes across as incredibly light and loose, but large, very large. The kind of large that bridges distances and makes them feel like they are in your face.

There's vocalists that are amazing like Maynard of Tool, they have range, expression and emotion, they have risen to near perfection of a tightly defined performance. There are in your high-school class, your workplace, your family people who can sing and carry a tune and hit desired pitches better than you ever will, but mastery is something different, it's where all the restraints, preconceptions and expectations fall away and whatever happens just don't matter. You are in control.

At the very start of her performance Badu spilled a thermos of tea (I assume) that ran down her jacket and her leg in an incident that I imagine would send one of the costume change-as-performance pop divas into an irretreivable tail spin. She didn't even shrug it off, it was like it just happened and it didn't matter.

I'm in a real Musashi frame of mind at the moment but I thinks this captures Musashi's 'heiho' concept that is near and dear to my heart, and I think this mastery, this looseness is what Takehiko tries to convey in the image below:

That indefinable quality, I hope I can get there with my drawing one day.

Friday, February 04, 2011


I nabbed a lift from my sis in the rain last night, we are very similar. I'm taller and generally more awesome than she is, but otherwise Identical.

One thing we agree on is that whilst knowing a problem is good, it isn't everything.

Faith No More's 'Last Cup of Sorrow' contains the line 'It won't begin until you make an end. Until you know the how the why and the when.' or something. And it's true, conducting autopsies is productive. Epiphanies are valuable.

But there's a line. There's a line in which case self psycho analysis is productive and on the otherside it is just self indulgent bullshit.

That is, you meet peeps that have spent years in therepy going over the same old shite, getting presumably deeper understandings of their probs. And some problems are relentless and unending, like addiction. And better to be addicted to therepy than alcohol etc.

The line though is a fuzzy and fast moving piece of razor wire you have to jump over. You can pull apart your brain for ever but eventually that line needs to be crossed into the light.

The line is 'what are you going to do?'

For example. I am an introvert. I drag my feet to parties, I shy away from new people and I feel exhausted after meeting them.

On the bad side of the line, this sort of knowledge is employed as an excuse to not go to parties, to continue to shy away from new people and insist that people simply 'understand your way.'

On the good side of the line you say 'I gotta bring the fucking effort' and you go to those parties, you ask questions of new peeps and you bring the enthusiasm to engage.

This doing shit revolutionised my life about 5 years ago.

My mentor Rod let me in the secret when I was complaining that not enough people thought about 'why?' in their lives, and that 'why?' was an exciting question. He corrected me and said 'why isn't nearly so exciting as 'how?' you wanna see a group engaged you ask them 'how?'''''''''''

After the pinata therapy I had an epiphany, I can't go into the details, but let's just say I have a specific irrational fear that I didn't understand and my desire to be rid of it lead to it undermining my confidence in all areas and drawing me ever downwards into a negative frame of mind.

Specifically I was afraid of success, my mind wouldn't accept it and would play devils advocate at pretty much every positive development. Without knowing whether I actually would succeed or not, I simply didn't want to take control of it and my solution was to try and simply be so awesome that success would be handed to me, sort of like Lebron has been handed everything in life.

Some people get lucky and this happens. I am kind of glad it didn't though, I feel understanding my fear has made it solidify into a scab in my mind and now I can dance around it.

What do I do? Stop praying for rescue. Stop letting it get into every aspect of my life and stop letting it set unrealistic and unachievable benchmarks that only serve to demotivate me. That and calm the fuck down.

Infact my epiphany was nothing new, but more the revelation that this old fear was still hanging around and I'd forgotten about it. It's kind of a shame it tripped me up, but these things happen. I'm just glad I know what to do now. I know which corner to fucking put that fear in.

Now all I need to do is dance.