Tuesday, December 31, 2013


So yesterday I completed an exercise that few have done 'a sketch a day' for a whole fucking year. I kind of can't believe I did it, because it's the kind of long term project one doesn't even notice hip hop happening while everything else is going on.

In terms of building a discipline of literally drawing every day, it was a failure, it was always going to be. I built in enough flexibility for myself to actually get it done from the outset. But the fact remains that I have done 365 sketches in one calendar year and now, on January 1st I don't have to do any to complete the task. There is a sketch for each day of 2013.

With it, ends my overcommitment of time (hopefully, though it's hard to see your overcommittment when you are committing them). When you add to 365 sketches, the 150 drawings I did for the thanxhibition, and the 30 drawings I did for the colour exhibition, and the 20 I did for the live exhibition, plus commissions and gifts, and don't even include the unpublished pages of comic books I drew, I produced close to 600 images in one year, almost two a day.

What that means for this year is: relax. It's time to move back from quantity to quality. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Picking Your Battles

Book 1: The Death Dealing Sword

This year, it has come to my attention, that I was born, and raised, and trained, and schooled to thrive on conflict. To seek it out, to introduce it. In the past I've written about my distaste and suspicion of the popular school 'sport' of debating. To rehash briefly though - it teaches kids that values are arbitrary and the most important thing is winning. Such that I now think it is grossly irresponsible to teach kids the sport of debating.
But I've also written in the past about the 3-phases of being a foreigner in Japan, and without rehashing I want to transpose those phases into a learning cycle that may or may not pre-date me that I call exuberence-rejection-acceptance. I'm further stealing the three book titles from Yagyu Munenori's martial treatise 'The Life Giving Sword' to talk about conflict.

See as a plucky young adolescent, it was simply all about winning. Debating taught me how to argue, how to win. I would ride a bus from Ballarat to Geelong, speak for 4 minutes, watch for half an hour, listen to the adjudication and feel robbed and cheated and stay up all night replaying the debate in my head and thinking of what I should have said but it was too late. I had many sleepless nights following lost debates. My ego couldn't stand it.

Eventually, with experience and the right team mates, we started winning. I became an award winning speaker and then my team had an undefeated home season - losing alas, in the first round of the finals. The thing was, that back then I would argue with anyone. Nobody was undeserving of my scathing intellects bite. What was important to me was that everybody knew who the smartest douche in the room was. I would argue with anyone over anything. The important thing, was winning.

I had skills to get my way all the time. (Not all the time, I lost a bunch of times) But I thought there was this holy grail of being unbeatable logically.

I was over exuberant about intelligence, intellect, logic. Even though it would be almost a decade later that I actually first learned about formal and informal fallacies, rational debate and what an argument consisted of. I just had this clear cut path - fight my way to the top.

Because the emphasis and sole measure of success was on winning, defeating your opponent. I call this mindset 'the death dealing sword' a purely destructive tool - for destroying opposition, resistance.

Book 2: The Swordless Sword

I started debating in year 8, I would have been 14 at the time. I kept doing it until I was 18, at that stage a fifth of my entire life. I don't know when, but eventually my EQ started speaking up and noticing that sometimes people weren't impressed. They resented my aggression, responded with dislike, started treating me as unapproachable.

In a true blessing, I eventually realised that the people that were impressed by my argumentative nature were wrong. I would later learn of the psychological experiment that found in any conversation between strangers the best impression was created by the person who spoke the least. Some reflection as well that I'd never myself walked away from an argument thinking 'gee it feels great knowing how wrong and stupid I am!'

So I gave it up, (as much as I consciously could). Turned at some point, anti-debating. Decided that values aren't arbitrary, and bad causes should lose because they are bad, not because they are argued poorly. Good causes should win out, even if it's me opposing them.

And thus I entered my 'conflict rejection' phase.

The thing is, that some people, some cats never get to this phase, importantly they never realize the distinction between the competitive domain of debating and how things work in real life. There are four types of conflicts (broadly speaking) I define by their outcomes win-win, win-lose, lose-win, lose-lose.

Inside the context of debating, you have win-lose, lose-win outcomes. The positions are neatly mutually exclusive, one teams win is at the expense of the other. Simple. But artificial.

Outside of debating, you get lose-lose and win-win far more often.

Book 3: The Life Giving Sword.

I can't even recall what or when or with whom it happened. Whether it was on my behalf or another's. Which is strange. But eventually I had an epiphany in a situation where the very skills I had rejected became useful and constructive.

I do recall, miraculously getting my arse handed to me, and actually walking away thinking 'gee it feels great knowing how wrong and stupid I am!' I was literally overjoyed and freed by the experience of getting demolished. I like to think I lost that argument quickly and gracelessly.

But here is the thing. I once in a different context posed the question 'when losers win, are they no longer losers?' a fun little word game. But one that has come back to me very recently and struck me as entirely relevant. Perhaps a key to life.

Some people, unwittingly, unknowingly and through no fault of their own where born and raised to lose. They have learned self destructive behaviors, ones that not only hurt themselves but those around them. When these people win, when they get their way over certain matters - when their self destructive nature wins out - everybody loses. (lose-lose)

Here you have a context where if they defeat you, if they introduce or prevail in the conflict, not only do you lose - they lose as well. It's in their own best interests to lose.

Some people, unwittingly, unknowingly and through no fault of their own where born and raised to win. They have learned self promoting behaviors, ones that not only uplift themselves but those around them. When these people win, when the get their way over certain matters - everybody wins, even the 'losers'. (win-win)

Picking your battles is knowing when your victory's are at the expense of others and yourself. If there's a way to fuck up the battles you pick, it's when you stand to lose if others win (lose-win). But really the only fight to pick, the essence of the life giving sword is win-win. You practically have a moral imperative to introduce conflict.

But this knowledge is an artform in itself. fools rush in.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell's Next Book

I finished David & Goliath, a couple of days ago. This isn't a review.

I'm currently reading Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb a former subject of one of Malcolm Gladwell's articles in the New Yorker. I bring NNT up, because on a page I read this morning he talked about how professional journalists took his book 'Fooled By Randomness' and misrepresented his message.

I think David & Goliath is an important follow up to Outliers, because I think heaps of people read outliers and came away with the incredibly stupid '10,000 hour' rule. Again I don't know if NNT will comment on this in his upcoming chapters on the fragilistas, but it's the kind of thing fragilistas will misconstrue and trumpet on about.

I hate the '10,000 hour rule'. Not the rule itself, but the phrase. Short distinct and memorable, as opposed to the less memorable qualifier, that those who followed it - loved what they did. Loved what they did so much as to pursue 10,000 hours without really evaluating the probabilities of success or costs of failure. Gates to Gretzky they didn't so much as do the 10,000 hours but were availed both the disposition and opportunities to get 10,000 hours.

What I imagine, is Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother's everywhere pointing at a copy of Outliers and saying 'now stop playing and go practice violin!' then under their breath 'waste of motherfucken time...' or in other words, the 10,000 hour rule as misconstrued is employed as license for child abuse everywhere.

I don't like it. Paradoxically, I'm going to call the 10,000 hour rule lazy. It's just plain lazy to believe you can work hard and you will be absolved of risks and yet somehow the world will reward you for it.

So David and Goliath is a nice frustrater for fans of Outliers. Outliers though is a truly excellent book, as was Blink and the Tipping Point. David & Goliath is perhaps that first 'difficult second album' to the mega-hit of Outliers. I think it won't sell as well, won't be talked about as much and thus, a naive 10,000 hour rule will persist. Because Tiger Mother's can make their kids do 10,000 hours of violin practice but they can't make their child a dyslexic options trader, or trial lawyer. Hopefully though, the very notion that their child is not encountering enough adversity will frustrate their natural inclination to try and insulate them from all adversity.

So Gladwell's next book? What's it going to be? I have no fucken idea. But I think he like NNT (unashamedly) and Michael Lewis (unashamedly) are writing about markets as a consistent theme. And I think he touched on a viable theme to actually continue a thought into a whole new book - the full court press.

He simply asks why the full court press hasn't caught on, after it got an inexperienced coach to the national finals in his first season coaching a junior girls basketball team.

So you have the tipping point, about the spread of ideas, and then you have this story in David & Goliath and you have this interesting question of why some viable, proven, good ideas don't spread.

I just assert, with no evidence, (and no real understanding of how NNT's fat-tail investment approach really works) that as the world becomes increasingly globalised (flat world thinking) the more effective contrarian strategies will be.

Contrarian strategies are simply strategies that assume the majority can be wrong, they bet against the momentum of the market waiting for a correction they feel are inevitable. I don't know any unashamed examples, and despite Buffett saying 'our strategy is to be fearful when the market is greedy and greedy when the market is fearful.' and some such, and being a student of Benjamin Graham's 'Mr. Market' he denies he is a contrarian.

So I don't know if  being contrarian strictly means you are mechanically contrarian 'I must assume the contrary position' as John Cleese might say, a reflexive 'no it isn't' strategy. Or whether one can set about trying to make intelligent bets, and wind up being contrarian due to the collective stupidity. A de facto contrarian maybe.

Gladwell, could do a book about why good ideas don't prevail. I guess in a way NNT has done 4 books about why good ideas don't prevail. Michael Lewis kind of does the David & Goliath stories, which explain how good ideas can prevail (Money Ball & The Blind Side) but he hasn't really looked into why the bad ideas are so prevalent to begin with... ah... I can't make that call, I actually haven't read any of Michael Lewis' books. Liar's Poker is on my 'to read' list.

Gladwell though, can tell stories, and people have learned to listen to them. He (perhaps) presents empiric findings in the form of anecdote which sadly sway people more than raw data and empiric experiments. Gladwell can tell the story of Henry George, and why his economic model never caught on. Or the story of risk homeostasis. Or why lottery isn't used to select members of parliament/congress.

I think why good ideas don't catch on their proven merits is a most interesting subject for a book. Stories must abound on the theme.

Friday, December 13, 2013


"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck." ~ the duck test.

Actually the wikipage on the duck test is pretty amusing, largely because a potent picture-caption combo.

The duck test is a heuristic, a rule of thumb. It may lack the precision of say, DNA testing, but it's good enough.

What is good enough? Something that works often enough to be useful, and when it goes wrong it's of negligible consequence. A heuristic survives because of it's imprecision, because it has a bunch of exceptions, it gets naturally selected out if these exceptions are actually of any concern.

Go ahead, try and imagine a situation, a dire situation where not knowing if something that looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, is of dire consequence?

Notice, that the duck test is not for example going to get Elmer Fudd confused betwixt firing at a duck or firing at his own daughter, or even confusing a duck for a rabbit for that matter.

As Douglas Adams parodied:

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands."

Now I'm sitting with my friend Rod and he is talking about the launch of the Apollo mission. If the trajectory is off by 1 degree, just 1 degree, the rocket misses the moon by some hundred-kajillion-billion-miles. 

What's the solution?

I facetiously suggested you launch rockets in 180 directions, so one of them is bound to hit.

The answer though, is (hopefully) obvious. You build a rocket that can adjust it's course. 

I'm sure the apollo missions had a more specific trajectory than 'up' but essentially, when you are able to adjust that's really all you need.

NNT would cite domain dependent thinking, in that while it seems obvious to build rockets that can adjust course and cars with steering wheels and ships with rudders and pencils with erasers. There's times when we strive to an ideal of perfection, precision, as if the best approach to the problem is simply to get that trajectory absolutely right.

What are Carl Thompson's secret's to making the worlds best bass guitars? 'Use Good Wood.' not particularly helpful, but I think if you come across a number of master craftsman, practitioners, artists, chess masters you'll find they just have broad principles to convey. No specific technique like Kung Fu Panda's Wu Shu finger hold.

While presumably there's a lot of skill in balancing a bass so it sits right on the body, and placing frets so they achieve the right harmonic frequency, Carl Thompson pointed out the hazard of overdoing such precision work - he'd seen bass builders pet a fret board on that was thin as paint, so that it got scratched and was impossible to remove because the veneer was so masterful. Or wiring up the pots so the wire was the perfect length, then one of the pots busted and you had nothing to play with, nothing to cut away so you had to rewire the bass rather than just replace a knob or pickup.

NNT divides these principles into a dichotomy of being 'approximately right' or 'wrong with infinite precision'. Delicious.

Let's recap on what has been covered in this blog before.

So Miyamoto Musashi arrives late at Ganryu Island by boat, where he has carved a 'bokken' wooden practice sword from an old oar in the bottom of the boat. Sasaki 'Ganryu' Kojiro whose day goes badly enough for an island to be named after him is furious at Musashi's tardiness for their duel. According to legend, Kojiro drew his sword 'The Drying Pole' and threw his scabbard away.

Here remarked Miyamoto Musashi 'You've lost.'

What makes the legend plausible, is if you read the Book of Five Rings, I can't account for what is lost in the original language, but from the translations I've read, Musashi's confidence is about as complete as one could get. I can totally see the author calling a fight for himself, to his opponent as it is being engaged.

Assume the legend to be true then, Musashi knows none of the details, couldn't possibly know, how the fight would go down. He just applied a heuristic, a man who throws away a perfectly good scabbard doesn't expect to win. A victor would make sure to keep their scabbard, for being alive, they would need it to sheath their sword in.

The other (perhaps) heuristic or reverse heuristic to apply is that a man that turns up with a wooden oar handle to face a Japanese katana doesn't expect to lose (or even be hit).

Move past Musashi's voice in his book of 5 rings and you'll find it filled with vague hueristics, including his 'body of a rock' untouchable defence. I think it's a not-unreasonable inference that rather than some mystical technique that hardens Musashi to stone, the principle was to not get hit at all by an opponents weapon - based on the fact that Musashi in legend would fight naked blades with wooden practice swords, sticks, fence posts, scabbards etc.

Switch over to his contemporaries in the Yagyu clan, who devised the 'no-sword' school of kenjutsu, and their invincible defence breaks down to getting a good judgment of your opponents range and never letting them get in range.

I share all this to point out that those adolescent minds that seek out esoteric martial arts treatises for secrets to hidden human potential are often dissappointed that far from specific actionable techniques to dominance, the martial arts treatises are usually just a collection of heuristics.

But that in itself is telling. Because martial memes are subject to the same darwinian forces that apply to biology. Ineffective martial memes kill their host organism when stressed.

Sun Tzu's art of war contains no concise, comprehensive strategy of dominance. Just a set of rules that evidently over the ages and abstracted to other contexts work 'well enough' most of the time. The Art of War breaks down to a collection of duck-tests.

Get to the battlefield first and you'll win.

Take the higher ground and you'll win.

Always punish deserters and cowards.

Don't eat provisions provided/discarded by your enemy.

And so on for a bunch of pages, of which I'm sure history would find exceptions that would reject every single thing discussed in the Art of War as a hard and fast rule. But I guess that's why it's called the 'Art' and not 'Science' of war. These are just generally good strategies and tactics to adopt. They work well enough that they are a good basis to adjust from. And if you are aware that they are fallible, then they actually help you see that the problem is not as straightforward as it first appears.

Because what makes a rule of thumb smart, is that they have a built in stupidity, they are fallible. They inspire a different kind of confidence to say Modern Portfolio Theory - it's genuine confidence - the willingness to take risks rather than hubris - a belief in riskless-profit.

As President Ike quoted 'Plans are nothing, but planning is everything' as good a military heuristic as there is. Nothing goes to plan, planning allows you to recognise what isn't going to plan.

I also like the heuristic 'you know you've won when the enemy conforms to your strategy' you don't need to know the details, you can't know the details, you just need them to start behaving like you want them to.

I haven't read far enough into NNT's book Antifragile, he certainly included the memorable phrases of 'approximately right' vs. 'wrong with infinite precision' in the futile attempt to eliminate all risk from life. But I'm sure he's coming to the fragilista's and could predict that they will never use heuristics, or if they do, won't treat them as soft general principles but hard and fast rules - subject to 'insults from reality' as Sam Harris would say, an author I suspect NNT doesn't respect much.

Anyway, due to my current reading, I learned a new word, a word central to who I live my life and interact with my environment.

Precision is at best a training exercise. Heuristics are for going live.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


I've had reason to think about the few truly failed relationships I've had over the years. By truly failed I mean they are, as of this writing over. There are people I can go a year standing on my head without speaking to or seeing, but the relationship isn't over, it's secure. It is ever present simply waiting for the time when it will be activated again.

My Japanese family might be a good example of this, we don't communicate much, until I go to Japan, and then they smoothly supplant my social life here. They are the people suddenly that I text daily, spend all my downtime with, laugh and joke with. I feel sorrow at our parting, but we both resume our lives for a few years until we meet again.

The failed relationships are also secure, they are firmly established as over. I have one, truly failed relationship. A friendship that ended because I was inspired to never exert energy to repair it. Then I have a few teetering on the edge.

I notice though, a pattern.

I have long felt that the surest way to misery is to keep score. My most disdainful and hated phrase in the whole English language is: 'I've worked hard.' In my view an almost equivalent statement to 'I took no risks' to which the only fitting response is 'duh!'.

What characterised my at-risk/failed relationships, is a form of this score keeping. The relationships I struggle to maintain are where people have become invested in a set of rules to deliver ... I don't know, happiness, respect, love, recognition etc. And the tension is all from the failure of these rules to meet expectations, the insults from reality.

Almost all the animosity, I feel, is directed at my (and often, everyone's) failure to play by the rules.

Here is the only rule, I feel, worth playing by:

No matter how much effort, or sacrifice you go to to obtain a certificate of greatness, understand a certificate of greatness is not a recognized qualification in greatness.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Listen Up Good Mother Fuckers

Last week I met with a wise man, a man I once said of 'if by his age I have half his knowledge I'll consider it a life well lived'

He is one person that has manhandled me, flung me around like a rag doll and just obliterated all my defenses. It was one of the most powerful and most enjoyable experiences of my life, I shall ever be grateful for it.

Anyway, I was explaining to him a situation, dilemma I was in, a central tension in my life. I have a question that plagues me which is 'how do I act with integrity?' I am fortunate to be experiencing remorse from one situation where I didn't as another near identical (but crucially, not identical) situation plays out.

That dilemma I might write about another time. 

But this post, this post isn't about me. It's about you.

The wise man said to me 'remember how I said love and hate are the two sides of the same coin: the coin is passion?' and I did both our brains are wired up like elephants. He said 'well helping and hurting are two sides of the same coin. What's the coin?' It took me two or three guesses before I got close enough for him to just tell me. 

The coin is empathy.

I don't want to steal a wise man's thunder, so instead I'll just say this very insight is very present in my favorite Lauryn Hill track - Ex-Factor note in particular the contrast between 'No one loves you more than me, and no one ever will.' and 'No ones hurts me more than you, and no one ever will.'

Now I was walking through New York looking for a shoe store lost and getting sucked again and again back into Mid-town, arguably the worst place on earth, truly the arsehole of Manhattan proving once again that the perfect body doesn't exist.

But I digress.

I overheard this lady on her cellular phone speaking to somebody she was out of sorts with and she kept repeating to my delight: 'Now you listen, and you listen good...' in a delightful ebonic accent. How I wish somebody would speak to me that way.

But I mention that to say this. So you listen, and you listen good mother fucker. I am trying to reach you, YOU directly because if I have one Christmas wish for peace and love and harmony it is this. Pay attention. Are you ready? Open up your mind and lower your defenses. Here it comes:

Asphyxiating infants aren't saved by asphyxiating infants. They are rescued by big strong fire fighters who are trained and equipped to rescue people in these dangerous situations even if they don't always succeed.

Drowning people aren't saved by drowning people. They are rescued by big strong life guards who are trained and equipped to rescue people who are drowning even if they don't always succeed.

Broken people aren't saved by broken people

It's a fairy tale, a fucken myth, an old wives tale. Moreover it's actually really dangerous. And just like an asphyxiating infant is more likely to have other asphyxiating infants around them than firefighters, and just like a drowning person is more likely to be surrounded by other drowning people than surf-life-guards, so too are broken people likely to keep the company of other broken people. 

Which is dangerous and bad enough. But please, please, please, please I am talking to you - STOP PUTTING THEM TOGETHER. The act of omission is bad, one I am now struggling with. An act of commission I hope to never ever have on my conscious.

It's a suckers game. Broken people will empathise with eachother 'He really understands me' are famous last words, because anybody who can recognise the self-destruction in another that they feel themselves is going to finally, be able to turn that destructive potential on somebody other than themselves, and be destroyed for it.

So let's be clear - absolutely clear. Asphyxiating people know how to asphyxiate. Drowning people know how to drown. Broken people know how to break. They have nothing to teach each other, they can just combine their expertise to amplify and accelerate.


Okay, so let's bring it back to my conversation with the wise man. I'm still really immature, this wise man can teach me. I can see the gaps in my understanding. I'm excited by it, it fills my future with potential and promise. My future looks bright.

What is empathy

Now you know, it's value is greatest in it's ability to travel. Somebody identical to you empathizing is almost useless to you, as their percentage of time experiencing empathy approaches 100% they are simply going to make the exact same moves as you are. When somebody exotic and foreign to you can empathize with you, temporarily they can inform themselves, correct for your weaknesses and make them irrelevant, amplify your strengths and move you closer to theirs.

That's what my wise man points out with his helping/hurting coin. A skilled firefighter knows the mistakes an infant is going to make, understands how they will panic, how their intuitions and instincts will betray them and can correct for them, maximizing their chances of survival. A skilled surf-life-rescue volunteer will know what goes through a drowning mans head, how their family are going to react, what panic will do to them and correct for them, maximizing their chances of survival.

The point is, that empathy is useful when you can actually choose which face of the coin comes up. When you have the skills and the training to choose between helping or hurting, cruelty or kindness then and only then can you really engage these situations.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Utility of A "Stone Boat"

'A lot of comedians are very troubled people by the way...' ~ Dr Gabor Mate.

Our society has subscribed fully, impressively, recklessly to a notion of sacrifice. I don't know when or where and why, but we now celebrate the martyr and live in a cult of suffering.

It isn't Jesus. Jesus is okay, though I am persuaded by the charismatic Christopher Hitchens, that Christianity is a cult of suffering. Because it's more recent than that, more recent than capitalism as an ideology.

Capitalism, as practiced, as it exists as a lot of problems, but at it's core in it's naive conception it was underpinned by the notion 'we can all prosper together' which I'm sure has something to do with it's wide subscription. We subscribe wishfully, not empirically.

What prevails is the idea of sacrifice, that it isn't possible to progress or advance without some sacrifice. We praise Steve Jobs as a genius of our times, yet the man died of cancer. Bill Gates who does seem to have it all has been out of vogue for two decades almost. Eric Clapton overcomes his heroin addiction, wins a stack of Grammy's, is still alive to this day. Yet it is broke and abused Jimi Hendrix that died face down in a pool of his own vomit that is more celebrated.

We find something comforting about the tortured genius, we find some strange comfort in their incompleteness. The self defeating example of their lives. Hendrix is dead, did he ever find true love and acceptance? Did he have a safe place? Forget the music he never composed, he lost the opportunity to pursue happiness when he died.

Jobs had the world of nerds in his hands dancing, yet his cancer must have been incredibly painful, for him and those who loved him, a painful end.

In the modern era, we value the tortured soul as somehow worthier than that of the sage.

People who can render great benefit to others yet are unable to save themselves. We are being sold this story and we are buying it.

Japan has evolved into perhaps the most masochistic of cultures in the world, yet go back 3 centuries, and look at the decidedly un-japanese genius of that era.

Miyamoto Musashi died at the age of 60. What was his genius? Mortal combat, his very lifestyle was putting himself deliberately (and consensually) into mortal danger. He did not die in combat, he had many famous duels some of them resulting in the death(s) of his opponent(s). Yet he grew old and died, of cancer and his final work really is a sad tale of self-repression, but still compared to the life-span of his European counterparts Musashi lived 3 lifetimes, genius used to be the reverse of the 27 club. Everybody died at 27 unless you were a genius.

Then there's Yagyu Sekishusai, 'The Stone Boat' died at 78. His genius? Mortal combat again. Also regarded as invincible, I read his grandson's book. Where Musashi was invincible carrying two swords though, Yagyu was invincible fighting with no swords. He didn't need to draw against his opponent. He didn't even need to bear arms. This man had it all, by his full maturity.

He allegedly was not without crisis. He did withdraw, seeing no point in anything beyond his swordsmanship and described even that as having 'the utility of a stone boat'

I wish to rededicate my life to pursuing this kind of genius. This sage like genius. I've realised in the past week that I am still very immature. Incredibly immature. The thought excites me with possibilities.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Free Won't

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT) wrote in The Bed of Procrustes: "You are rich if and only if the money you refuse tastes better than the money you accept."


When you start out on a journey, a vocation, you're highly likely to say shit in the neighbourhood of 'if only somebody would just give me a chance.' Chances and opportunities seem scarce.

But as you start to succeed, and as NNT has studied, success then compounds - opportunities become abundant and necessitate decision making - saying 'no'.

How do you know if you've succeeded? In short, it's when you say no to an opportunity. Success is heralded by opportunity cost.

Dr Gabor Mate of whom I don't know if NNT would approve or affiliate, but fuck it I'm doing it here didn't coin the phrase but employed it - drug addiction isn't a lack of 'Free Will' but 'Free Won't' an inability to say 'No'. The nature of addiction is a lack of 'Free Won't'.

I guess if I don't believe in free will, by default I don't believe in free won't. Still - a useful concept.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

the trouble for couples

So I think recent (post wise) I already made this point, so if you're attentive you should blitz this test. If you know one of the 3 (or 4) basic concepts from which all my posts stem, you should blitz the test as well.

So you have 4 options:
1. good couple stay together
2. good couple split
3. bad couple split
4. bad couple stay together

Here's the quiz:

1. Which are the bad options?
2. Which are the errors?

Because this is a blog post - I'm going to put the answers in plane sight of the questions. The only truly 'bad' option is 4. Though it would be nice if 3 never happened in the first place. question twix the answer is 2 and 4.

I hope that's straight forward. If there's some 'ugh?' over the difference between 'bad' and 'error' let me put it in the flowery prose of Shakespeare for you:

"Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." you know what, that's probably paraphrased I'm too lazy to even copy and paste that shit.

So assuming no incredibly compelling extenuating circumstances, if a good couple split - it is an 'error' the wrong decision was made. But it's not 'bad' because the relationship was good. ie. you can look at it and say 'we had a good thing going on but it's over now.' It happens, a career can get prioritised, people can I believe even exit a good relationship to pursue a bad one.

That's all just preamble.

A friend of mine ended a bad relationship. I'm impressed. Because bad relationships are kind of like bad food. And food I believe is the most common substance people abuse. Like KFC, you know, you fucking know that it's bad for you. Yet, you keep eating it. You make a decision, Colonel, I'm leaving you tomorrow. Then the next day comes, there's nothing in your pantry, there's money in your wallet, you are suddenly hit by the physical withdrawel of sugar, salt, fat, caffeine. Every hit you can get in a value meal. And lo and behold, back you are at KFC.

Many relationships, particularly bad relationships are kind of functionally no different. People might be less good at realising that the relationship is bad for them, particularly if they have never had a good relationship. Which brings me to a side point:

"Tis better to have loved and lost..." If you've had a good relationship fail. You have a benchmark. It's very hard to enter or get stuck in a bad relationship after knowing what a good one consists of. Adolescence is generally where we have a string of bad relationships and bad sex until we figure out by trial and error what a good one consists of. Going from good to bad, generally only happens when somebody has never had a bad relationship to figure out what a good one consists of. My friend has a term that's probably useful called 'deferred adolescence' for people who haven't figured out 'not to date the dickheads we dated in highschool'.

Back to the main point, when you are in a relationship, any relationship you are going to get dollops of dopamine and hits of oxytocin from even your worst partner. Eddy Murphy does a bit in either Delirious or Raw about making a girl come real hard and then you get to say to her 'what have you done for me lately?'

Many of the couples around, not to be overly cynical, are actually just addictions. Not smack or crack or some shit, but your lazy garden variety fast food addiction, caffeine addiction.

It's why I kind of resent the advice 'dude you need to get laid' offered to people who are down in the dumps. Often this equates to 'just get drunk' (also often offered) or 'you know what will cheer you up? heroin' ridiculous, scandelous.

The thing is, that drugs work. Getting wasted will calm a lot of anxiety, taking heroin feels really great, and having sex will make you feel more in control of your life and less anxious about the people you are afraid of.

But to quote(ish) William Goldman 'one of the hollywood bullshit stories you can tell is "A Good Woman Fixes Everything"' and as he goes on to point out, in reality, there are plenty of men with good women that leave them still drinking and getting abusive.

I can't speak with any authority at all, but drugs are known to work, it's a chemical reaction. Exercise works, it hits the same receptors in the brain as morphine. Hugs work, sex works, all these things can do things to your brain that lift your mood. Unfortunately you can enjoy an intimate coupling with a man who you don't enjoy abusive verbal exchanges with regularly. A man can cuddle you as he whispers what a worthless piece of shit you are in your ear.

And those are just the extremes. You can get by for years on a ho-hum dose of dopamine with somebody who roles their eyes at you, or leaves you isolated at parties, or won't leave you alone at parties, or is never at fault for anything.

The thing is, you can only really know how good or bad a relationship is from the inside. Or can you? I'm currently being proven right in the Marxist hypothesis that 'if it looks like a disaster, walks like a disaster and sounds like a disaster, then it's probably a disaster.'

This poses the trouble we have with couples, a seperate topic altogether and one I know too little to write about. Maybe in 6 months time. Anyway, it's what to do. How to act with integrity when somebody is embroiled in a bad relationship.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thoughts Fed

One of those valuable days where you feel transparent and can see through yourself as easily as others do.

I read this:

" If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day… More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.
I'm guilty.

Another friend commented on a set of pictures I did about Jesus. Proving the value sometimes of ambiguous encoding of message. I'm not sure he got the joke I was trying to make, but read a different critique I hadn't constructed. But as the prolific anonymous once said 'All art is self-portraiture' so I take the critique personally. Jesus may be a dude, but that was my Jesus it came from me. The critique was that efforts to combat your demons may in fact 'amplify them by their absence' I'm not sure what it means to be honest, but there's definitely something to chew on in there.

We all project ourselves out there as an image, so it's nice when somebody points out some spots or even pubic hairs on the lens.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

the drinking coconut

I had just finished... I dunno, something. Something had me in the city buying something or some appointment, maybe teaching. I dunno. My memory is pretty sterling most the time, but certain repetitious tasks blend memories together. So I can remember the entirety of the last conversation you and I had, but I may not necessarily remember if I brushed my teeth this morning or where I parked my bike.

Anyway, none of that is relevant. I was cruising down Victoria Parade, and I don't know what the word for it is, but this guy was listening to Tool while pasting up posters with a broom. And overhearing it filled me with joy, and I thought 'man that makes my fucking day' and contemplated posting a shout out that would never reach my intended audience on facebook.

Continue coasting down Victoria Parade though and you come to the bane of all traffic - Hoddle St. It's a slow painful intersection where essentially two freeways collide at a set of lights on the doorstep of Melbourne CBD. Seriously this city would work better if they just erected an East-West Berlin Wall type thing rather than whatever Hoddle St is supposed to achieve.

So I'm sitting at the lights, waiting. As one does. And then I hear this 'hey are you thirsty?' as a cyclist, it took me a while for my subconscious to process that the voice was addressing me. And I turned around.

There I see a white commodore or falcon type car, with my friend Andrew leaning out the drivers window with a hand extended, and in that hand is a drinking coconut. 'Take it, put it in your backpack and drink it when you get home.'

I have to take it. As soon as I grasp it he continues to execute the left hand turn he is in the middle of. And like that it is gone.

How delightfully random!

Or is it?

In one sense it appears random, because this stuff doesn't happen all the time. It required a friend spotting me in traffic, and I don't consistently ride home the same way at the same times, so that lowers the odds that anyone will spot me on one particular day. I don't know if Andrew spotted me while taking a drive on a regular route, but I presume he was also not following a routine. Thus we managed to intersect and he at least managed to spot me.

He also happened to have a drinking coconut spare.

So it's improbable. But then it kind of stops being 'random'.

Firstly, take Andrew himself. He is the kind of wonderous rarity that would hand a drinking coconut out a car window. If you ever get a chance to meet him, know that he is amazing, has an amazing energy and please, please, please I implore you... shake his hand. It's a must.

And then, he didn't spot any friend riding through traffic. He spotted me. He spotted me and decided I was worth the effort to track down and give up a drinking coconut for.

I don't think it's random. Or an accident. I have to confess I love Andrew, but I actually don't know him that well. We didn't talk much in school, I saw him rarely in the 12 intervening years and as of late last year I have only run into him 3-4 times. Yet something has changed and as I recognise an amazing energy in him, he seems to see something in me.

This coconut transaction is imbued with meaning, that's what makes it so fucken great to me. Our 3-4 conversations over the past year have produced a coconut.

My life is strange, and wonderful and I don't understand it. But it is increasingly being characterised by these strange acts of generosity. I don't know what it is. But I do know what it isn't.

It's not an accident.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Proof of Concept

The night before last, I completed my live exhibition. That's why I've gone up a notch.

The strange thing is, and the content creators privilege/curse is that it fell far short of what was envisioned.

But if I could succinctly describe my creative process it would be thusly: stripping back my vision into something that can actually be done.

I did something, it was maybe 30% of what I envisioned. It was still my most ambitious undertaking ever.

Here's the thing. I've never experienced fear before. Not just anxiety, but fear. A grounded fear of the unknown. It wasn't just ambitious, in terms of quantity of work produced divided by the time I had to produce it. It was the farthest I've ever strayed from my comfort zone.

Let me tell you about the discomfort. Let me tell you about the fear.

I heard the biggest obstacles to learning are emotional. This was totally the case. This year, my gut has been in fine form. My brain and mouth hasn't. When something feels wrong, I felt it in my gut. When I feel it in my gut, it generally goes wrong. Each time that's happened I've said nothing, so I don't know if it's a useless sense of foreboding, but it is at the very least a correct sense of foreboding.

I never had that with this project, or at least, the project overall. That's how I got as far as I did. That is to say, to do it. What I had the entire 8 months prepping for it was this gradually increasing current of fear. I think, and I bring it up that this is half of what procrastination consists of. And with this sort of shit, I think you need to be kind to yourself and realise that procrastination is part of the process too, as in procrastination is something I at least, find I have to get done. Sure it can be disrupted, but I actually feel like I'm being interrupted when somebody urges me to stop procrastinating.

The current of fear passing is the certain knowledge that you have to do something that you don't want to do. I can't explain it any better than that. For me, that was practice. The single hardest part of it, what is totally foreign to me, is knowing what I want to draw and instead of just working it out in pencil on the page having to do it again and again. After it was all worked out on a page.

The other half of procrastination is what I have discovered is called 'self-efficacy' perhaps better understood as creative confidence. So how it works in my case, is I sit down to practice, being afraid of how hard it is going to be, then I find it easier than I expected, and I don't practice as much as I thought I had to. And it's break time again.

What I've discovered, is that I approach art no different from how I've approached school. If my other exhibitions were assignments though, this was an exam, an exam for the rare subject where I wasn't confident I could bullshit my way through.

Because the thing was, that the practice could never be 'done' all it could do was build my confidence, but simultaneously by focusing my attention on what I was undertaking, it stressed me out.

But that stress was omnipresent. It worked it's way into my muscular skeletal system. It effected my immune system. It effected my sleep. One thought kept entering my head again and again 'so this is stress.' I've never honestly experienced it, in my life. Not for anything I wanted to achieve. Not even when I did that play that I neither really directed or produced. This was my mental everest.

When I studied business, which is why I'm an artist, this guy from Axa which I'm not even sure exists anymore said that if you aren't stressed, you aren't making the right decisions.

The thing was, for all the stress, for all the fear, for all the procrastination, I never felt in my gut that this was bad.

Now. Now I'm just tired, and relieved, though the stress comes back a bit thinking about how stressed I was. But mostly just tired.

The best kind of tired. If you can maintain a good amount of tension for 8 months and release it, it's a high like no other. And an exhaustion better than death.

I love you all.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


A term I've been using, and has come to annoy me, is 'creatives' referring to a broad category of professions - painting, illustrators, musicians, writers etc.

It's a useful term, it has currency, but it has downsides as well. For example, if it were limited to people who create content - either in the abstract - intellectual property, plans, scripts, designs, schematics etc. or material - sculpture, paintings, finished product, furniture, buildings etc. I'd be totally fine, totally relaxed about throwing 'creative' round as a catch-all profession.

But it comes with baggage too. Reverence and exceptionalism and judgement. And this leads to a paradox I have come across again and again. Some of the least creative people I've met, are those most readily identified as 'creatives'.

Perhaps by contrast, the most overlooked for creative ability, are those most readily identified as 'suits' or even I'm told, 'military brass'.

It's a big call and a hard position to defend, by and large, because it's so hard to identify creativity. It gets smudged into a bunch of other words like 'originality' that I feel is unrealistic and damaging to many creatives, and 'intelligent' which correlates but is neither sufficient nor I suspect necessary, for creating.

For me, I feel in personal experience, being creative involves a lot of insight and very very little imagination. The reason being, that if you have sufficient insight, the answers (I find, at least,) are quite obvious. There was a Ford engineer that once wrote on a wall in his office 'the solution to this problem, once found, will be simple.' In a fine example of a suit understanding the creative process.

It's the 'exceptionalism' that comes with the term 'creatives' that gets annoying. Because really, there's no career advice I'd give to a creative, that I wouldn't to a suit. And I find it hard to imagine situations that apply to creatives that don't to suits, or don't have a direct analogy.

This leads to creatives getting a reverence that they really haven't earned. And really, the unappreciated difference between respecting and revering is something about creatives that gets up my nose often.

Here are the real differences - 'creatives' are almost universally undertaking a scalable, or 'winner takes all' profession. Thus the revenue's of creative pursuits are distributed inequitably, you have a heap of people making no money, you have a few people making a lot (or all there is to be made, at least).

That's pretty much an exhaustive list of the differences. The use of a term like 'creative' comes into play when comparison to other people's lives, and lifecycles is both unfair and non-favorable. It serves nobody to point out that a 'creative' can't afford to buy a house, nor can guaruntee their income. These are all intrinsic to the risks of the scalable profession.

But then the lack of comparison can also be unfair, and serve nobody. I meet a citizen of Thailand, a lifelong Chiang-Mai resident, and I might comment that he is very 'exotic'. But this is only relative to my cultural grounding. I feel when a suit bumps up with a creative at a party, the creative will indeed seem 'creative' relative to the suit.

Note though that I use the term 'suit' which really doesn't describe the rest of us at all. Also note that I identify both with creatives and 'the rest of us'. The point being that within the context of creative world, what you will notice increasingly is, that many creatives, aren't really creative at all. They just exude an interest in creativity. In the same way that my Thai friend, isn't exotic at all in his home village.

So let's draw the line in the other direction for once. Walk into an office full of suits, and you'll realise that the term 'non-creative' doesn't work as a catch-all. Offices contain very creative people, as does the military and other scenes you might be inclined to call a heirarchy or even, 'organisation' with the suggestion of being organised.

But to be fair, you will notice a lot of people, who's job consists of facilitating a procedure. Often a procedure they did not design themselves, nor one they apply critical faculties to to refine it. Many many people simply conduct useful work, but are not themselves creative in any sense. The same applies to artists, writers, sculptors, musos etc.

Yet, while it seems almost admirable for somebody to point to the worker living a routine existence in an office 5 days a week, and say 'what are you really doing with your life?' it is considered exceptional, and people will take exception if you point at an artist churning out meaningless artwork and ask them 'what are you doing with your life?'

There are, as a percentage, as many people in an office just so they could wear a suit, as there are musos on stage just so they could have an album recorded.

And the point, once synthesised, is that a term like 'creative' gives many a free pass assumption that they have somehow found meaning in their life, that they are living their passion. It's simply not true, in fact this very free pass allows many 'creatives' to not even ask the hard questions of themselves.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fear Itself

I'm not sure what I experienced. But I experienced it, and other people did too. I'm fairly sure it was a universally horrible experience.

What made it horrible, was that it wasn't our experience, we were merely witness to it.

My friend once pointed out that you can't keep making bad decisions and not have them catch up to you eventually. In a similar vein I read in a book 'it is my experience that life makes us pay for our mistakes... what you are experiencing now is that payment.'

Here is the thing with bad decisions though, they compound perhaps? Yes, my experience also confirms that we have to pay for our mistakes - but this doesn't deprive us of choice in how we pay for those mistakes. And how we pay for them is yet another opportunity to make a good or bad decision.

You can either - take the pain now. Also known as cutting your losses, which is to make one painful payment to get out of the situation. Or you can remain in the situation and make a small payment every day for the rest of your life.

You reach an age where your friends start getting married. You reach an age when your friends start having children. Scariest though is reaching an age where your friends start paying for mistakes they made earlier down the track.

The worst outcome in your career is not perhaps losing a job you quite liked. It is maybe, keeping a job you dislike. The worst outcome in love is not being left by somebody you loved, but maybe keeping somebody you don't love.

What seems ridiculous is how escapable these worst-cases appear to be. It only takes one to end a relationship. An employee can quit at any time. There are exit fees to be sure. But that's the pain you can take now to be rid of the daily pain you will experience otherwise.

I can understand a degree of hesitation, because many of these exit strategies once commenced will carry out on you. What I don't understand is how people feel trapped into simply making payments for the rest of their life.

It must be fear. That's the limit of my imagination. People just must be afraid to set these painful processes in motion.

I like to style myself as thinking, that I'm in respect to the long run MORE afraid that tomorrow will be no better or worse than today, than I am that tomorrow might be worse than today.

A fluctuation I can handle, a long-term trend terrifies me.

While I wouldn't say we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear makes for bad decisions it seems, and thus may be one of the things most worthy of fearing.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

3 kinds of shit

I forget where I read it now, but it's not mine. But basically what I read was, you get three kinds of shit, chicken shit, bull shit and elephant shit.

In any profession you gotta watch for all three, but particularly as a creative. Why? Because I think the business models in the creative sector are so poor, that self-delusion is common. To be an artist, almost by default you need to grossly overestimate your odds of success, just to show up. Know what I'm saying.

Another way of looking at it, is you need a lot of positive self talk 'ignore all the others, YOU can do this!' etc. which is great, it does greatly enhance your chances of success.

A bi-product I suspect though, is you wind up working in an industry populated by people who believe they can do stuff, deliver stuff, achieve stuff with no real evidence or requirement for evidence. Not populated exclusively, but I just suspect that people channel the positive self-talk into side jobs - support jobs for other artists - and suddenly they're telling you when they tell themselves 'sure we can do this, this will be great, this is all good, it will be fine.'

The thing is, nothings ever binary, it's always a spectrum, artists are entreprenuers, risk takers, artists patrons are risk takers, and much of the affiliated professionals are risk takers and they provide important services and opportunities.


There's this tactic when you are starting out, to make stuff happen and to get you learning. It's basically, agree to everything, take the job, say yes, then figure out how to do it. It's an urge to seem reassuring so you get the business. It's useful.

Chickenshit is not much to worry about, when you are getting a tour from a young entrepreneur who answers your questions universally positively, it just means you have to chase them for those details later. A little experience goes a long way, and usually it's just a matter of pressing for commitment. The paper work etc.

The opportunity at this end of the spectrum is that the price is right. You are both learning at the right stage, all the headaches and paperwork involved. If you are an artist just starting out, dealing with these people can leave some money left over for you.

It just needs to be low risk stuff, this isn't compulsive lying, this is where people are effectively telling you 'I'll sort it out later' like a teenager with chores. Go to somebody who knows what they are doing, and they charge you a premium, the undertaking might go without a hitch, but you may end up with a double whammy of making nothing and learning nothing. A few headaches induced by chickenshit can be a good thing.


There's this great line of Casey Affleck's in 'Gone Baby Gone' where he says to Omar from the wire "I can't think of a reason big enough for him to lie to me that is small enough to ignore." It's a fire big enough to burn you so your recognize the smoke next time.

Say you ask about a liquor license, it's the difference between being told 'yeah we can sort that out and send you a form' and 'yeah it's all good, we sell it here all the time.' That's the difference between chicken up to bull.

In that specific example, it's bullshit because the answer is indirect. It's not a definitive 'yes, we are a licensed premises' it's a dodge. It is one thing for somebody to lie to be reassuring, it's another because they are trying to get away with something.

In this case and the above, the response is to try and hammer shit down into some kind of binding agreement. The difference is that when somebody lies to you because they are trying to get away with something, at what point do you decide that they can be worked with at all?

Because ultimately, there will be shit you need to rely on them for. Even if it's just turning up to let you in the building, and if they let you down, you have to eat the embarrassment.

Bullshit's more concerning because it can cost you too. The person is running a scam, it isn't the lie of a novice coming from inexperience. It's somebody who is skimming off an otherwise functional business model.

If they don't get around to putting up the posters you agreed on, or provide the audience they promised, even if it's in the contract. Can you afford to sue? as an artist, the answer be - probably not.


Spawns the cliche 'too good to be true' if you get sucked into this shit, it's the kind of thing that leaves you feeling pretty stupid after the fact. I believe Hitler said something to the effect of 'the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.'

I find elephant shitters easy to spot for sheer ridiculousness. They promise a whole heap of grandiose stuff that will help you out and make your dreams come true. You should be suspicious because it sounds so easy on you, that everyone else should be riding this ticket to success. You should be suspicious because somebody is helping you with seemingly no motivation at all. You should seem suspicious because there's no evidence they can actually provide what they claim.

People who talk elephantshit don't so much have an opinion on everything, but have the correct opinion on everything. They've unlocked the secret, everything they touch is presently going to turn to gold.

These guys can exist because they are like spam male that promises to enlarge your penis or deposit a bunch of money in your account. They are so transparently a scam that the people who would shut them down if burned don't touch them at all. They are dangerous because they are lying to themselves most often as well, completely out of touch with reality, they can take $1500 of your money and turn it into cold hard nothing. They can have you locked into a job for months only to shut down before it can see the light of day. Most often they just completely waste your time.

My only advice is to answer this question: would you want to win the lottery? Really. Think about it. To win a bunch of money rather than earn it. Imagine going to a millionaire's party with your lottery check - and talking to somebody who actually built a profitable business. Or somebody that actually came up with a life saving patent, or somebody who did exactly what you want to do, but actually did it.

The best way to avoid being burned in general is to adopt an attitude where you want to do the work and you want to do it hard. The kind of details you want taken care of, are the ones you can do easily and are simply tedious and take time. You want to do everything that is challenging yourself. The kind of things you want taken off your hands by somebody who assures you they can do them, are the things you know for sure can be done.

Otherwise if I could impart my own experience in intuiting when I'm being lied to, and how big that lie is, I'd have no bankable skill on that front, and I'm not really sure that I am good at it.

It's a work in progress.

Monday, September 02, 2013


In 1800 maybe, you would have walked around and talked to people with weeping sores on their face, the wealthy would have had dentures, the working classes an incomplete set of brown and yellow teeth.

People would have limped around in chronic pain, with injuries far more commonplace. People would have died young and disease would have devastated whole families.

I literally holidayed in Cambodia, where a doctor performed a concert to raise awareness of the 'passive genocide of millions' that is the children in countries like Cambodia that die from simple conditions such as dehydration resulting from diarrhea resulting from mosquito transmitted disease.

You walk the streets of Bangkok, a country over and beggars line the streets with conditions that simply don't exist in a country like Australia. Not diseases, but simply untreated wounds that fester. I mean you hear things about the beggars of Thailand, so it's hard to say if conditions that appear to be a complete lack of antibiotics is any reflection on the state of, or attitude to health-care.

My point being, that if you travel (or time travel) to these places, the amount of suffering that could be prevented we could plainly see and quantify. We could compare it to the world live in. We know it is possible to live without dehydration and with all our teeth.

We live and walk around in a world now, where pathology is written on people's faces and in their eyes. On certain streets you can see addiction as visibly as a Thai beggar's fractured leg.

Can you now envision a world where people get their heads looked at as routinely as their teeth? I mean I don't envision a world devoid of psychopathy, narcissism, depression etc. But I can envision a world where people almost universally achieve a degree of mental health we aren't currently.

The simple ability to break behavioural legacy's. For people to get better at picking partners than their parents were. That's the future I envision.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

False Springs

Success is hard, it's hard to identify, it's hard to get to. What makes it hard? A lot of things look convincingly like the path to success and yet they lead nowhere.

See when you first start out, a bad opportunity is easy to pick, you open up the door and see a brick wall. Nothing promised eventuates. But sooner than you think in your career, you open a door and follow labyrinthine twists and turns for days, months, years only to discover it is a dead end.

Sometimes, success comes with the free gift of your downfall included in the pack.

It is not just persistence. You need some smarts and foresight. Some really simple principles, can take you a long way (persistence being one of them) but if you think it's just a matter of clearing a few hurdles and coasting to the finish line insight, better to think you are sailing through a fog, sounding for rocks and other hazards while sirens gently singing try and lure you to your death.

All that glitters is not gold and other cliches, cannot be appreciated until you have a polished turd in your hands.

Friday, August 16, 2013


I have become intensely fascinated by the business models of creative fields. Here is but one aspect.


First let's hear from Pixar:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.
That's an excerpt from Anton Ego's review of the Rat chef in their movie Ratatouille, and I start with it, introduce it to dismiss this consideration for all artists.

He points out the dichotomy of power, of risk taking between the critic and the creator. It's easy to criticise, and hard to see the value in reviews. How many people are really teetering on the brink of seeing something or not? How many genuinelly face dilemma's over what they can consume?

And what indeed, can the artist do about reviews? Here I feel are the two attitudes, options, what have you - 1. you can try and get good reviews. 2. you can hope to get good reviews. The difference between the two is subtle and if you are creating content you may wish to meditate on that difference.

So you log onto facebook, and you scroll down through your feed and your eye is caught by a link shared by your friends band. It has the following preamble 'a great review from ...' You click the link, you are pleased for your friends band. Hey good for them, a great review.

And that is as far as I have ever dug. I must confess, I never go check the sites that post these reviews in any greater detail. I personally, don't put much stock in reviews. I've never checked out anything based on any reviews, I don't seek out that information.

So the rest of this post is based on nothing more than impressions, no hard data and memories of my marketing degree, of Al Ries and Jack Trout.

The first thing is, that I don't know how many sites review gigs in Melbourne alone. Let alone nationwide album reviews, single reviews. I don't know any of their names. I've heard of things like Pitchfork etc. apparently they have sway over people's consumption habits.

And maybe their are record execs, still, that scour review sites and read that stuff. I don't know. I don't know.

What I'd suspect though, is the amount of words written about just Melbourne's music scene must have exploded in the internet age, in just the last 5 years. Any good review, must be a small fish in a whole school, a float in an ocean that was described way back in the 80's by Ries and Trout as 'an over-communicated society' those two pointed out that at average reading rates, words per minute, that the average person would take most of the week just to read the Sunday paper.

Flash forward two decades and I'm at a party where a dude tells me that in the first 5 years of Youtube, more content was uploaded than the entire history of cinema in the previous century.

Do you get a sense of what I'm getting at? Stand inside the system, a good review looks identical to good reviews of the past. It's just instead of being in a glossy Alternative Music magazine, or the Age's entertainment supplement, it's on a website.

But stand outside the system, a review is smaller than the pixels on the screen you are reading this on, in what I suspect is an ocean of reviews.

And here there are two ways to cut through the noise, I'm just speculating though.

First, you have a user rating system, like Amazon reviews, or one of those restaurant guides. Somebody goes to a restaurant, or reads a book, and they like it, or they don't. Not needing any particular qualifications, that person writes a review. Next somebody else goes to that same restaurant, or goes to order that same book, and they check out the other user reviews, ratings, and they might dig deep, or just take the meta-review, the aggregate.

This first system for cutting through the noise, is not particularly useful to you, if you want to explode onto the scene, the user ratings system cuts through the noise by them hearing about you some other way and that's how they find your user reviews. See, it's ass-backwards see. You allow people to find your review, but if you want the review to be helpful, you need people to find you because of the review.

The second way, is magic. No I'm not fucking kidding. It's more an acknowledgement that reviews aren't entirely useless. If you get reviewed by the right reviewer, it can catch, like a virus, and it spreads, you need like a meta-reviewer, a reviewer that reviewers read to decide what they will review. Or simply a reviewer with enough followers that actually respect her/his opinion enough to send your way and make your career, or at least your night. But how to get that review or even become that reviewer...?

Consider the reverse problem, you are a reviewer, how do you get people to read your review, get the hits up on your sight, get more followers?

Before I go on. No conspiracies, it's a Darwinian view I take because it's simple.

See a band, walk up to them before the set and ask some questions, get down some info. Introduce yourself tell them who you're from blah blah...

Then you watch the set, it's awful, you go home and write it up.

The band gets up in the morning to post a thankyou note on their facebook page whatever, then they remember you and go to your site. They read the awful review and feel hurt and discouraged and spend the day getting over it.

That night, you go see a band, do the same shit, you love it, you write a glowing review. That band, suddenly posts a link to your review, because it is glowing - hey it encourages them, you gotta celebrate your successes, maybe those who were on the brink of coming will be shamed into actually getting to your next one.

The reviewer checks their hit counts, yesterday 18 hits. Today, 70. What's the difference? The good review got reposted by the band, and a bunch of their fans checked it out. Furthermore, the bands fans go check your review and find you have the same taste!

This unlike the user review system, literally helps the reviewer more than the subject. Even if it's inefficient, what's darwinian in social media, good reviews get reposted (reproduce) bad reviews perish. Whether cynical or a person of great integrity, the reviews that will get most read are the good ones. You can write bad reviews, but they are less likely to spread. Either way, your following will be based on how many good reviews you write. At least if my description of how it works matches reality.

And now I must plead ignorance. Or a lack of imagination.

What's hard to estimate for me, is the impact of reviews and posters and all these things. This has always been a problem in marketing. The question is put at 'Does Coke need to advertise?'

I only have a sample of one, but I go to probably close to 100 local gigs a year, I would see at least that many sets for sure. The number of those gigs I go to because of a poster I've seen is probably 0.3 out of 100. Reviews then, have no impact on me personally in anything I check out.

Specific to me, there's nothing somebody could write that could describe to me in persuasive terms what it is like to see a local gig. Even then, the venue, the sound tech, whether the gig reviewed is an album launch or a Tuesday night residency, all make a review unreliable in picking the next gig I get to. To me they are all after the fact, and almost obsolete. And furthermore, I don't seek out reviews, I only come across them when bands or artists or whatever that I already know about draw my attention to the review. I guess the best case a review can do, is to validate what I already think.

And this is almost a topic for another post, is that I don't really see the contribution reviews make to success. I don't know what success looks like. But I don't know how many times I've thought one of my friends has finally made the big time, or even just passed through the next gate towards success, and it's turned out to be nothing, a diversion, a misnomer.

Good reviews don't seem to pack out gigs, or exhibitions, or sell records, or keep the Tote open, I will concede that they may exert a weak cumulative positive effect. If you can get 100 good reviews, a person will see 10 of them, and they will be persuaded to go check it out once.

I think Gladwell's 'Tipping Point' applies. I just think, reviews are now mostly self serving, and if you are creating content you have way, way better uses of your time.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


I really love hearing people talk about their craft. Of all the payoffs to having a successful art showing, the number one is inspiring other artists to do shit, the number two is getting asked advice, even if it's something banal like materials used. (although from first hand experience, material advice can be some of the most invaluable).

Anyway, I love it, and I think it's true - all advice is autobiographical, everybody is just talking to a younger version of themselves, not to you, so I'm collecting this shit here for me, but an older version of me and I wonder if he'll/she'll still hold that my succinct advice to younger me is: "surpass me"

The Most General Advice

The problems your career will solve, will be the problems of your career, and for the most part that only. Success as an artist won't resolve your personal problems, it won't alleviate the loneliness, it won't resolve your inter-personal conflicts, it won't fix the mistakes you've made with loved ones. But it can contribute to your overall happiness. There's more to life than work, there is for example also love. But it's equally true that there's more to life than love, there is for example, also work. And work is a significant part of any day, and subsequently your whole life. And while it's important to try and get it right, that promotion or milestone you strive for is probably not going to fool any person you had to sacrifice to get there that it was all worth while.


Just realize what you are doing, question your motivations, be intellectually and emotionally honest at least with yourself. This is the best way to manage, or even better, exclude the frustrations of your career. How important to you is control? credit? recognition? attendence? feedback? collaboration? ethics? money? If you know what's important to you, then you can embark on the project with these things settled.

Most importantly, if you know what you want out of something, you can simply ask for it. The most effective way to achieve anything ever.

But realizing goes beyond that, you need to realize what your success asks of others. If you are using that art space it means somebody else can't. If you dick around a curator being indecisive it demands of them they hold 'tentative' bookings which mean they can't get somebody else in, and people will get shitty with you. If you get jealous of a peer and try and undermine them, realize that a healthy art scene is good for you too, you want peers, and you want peers to succeed, you want art to be a thing.

Our emotions and subconscious mislead us constantly, and I find it is worthy of scrutiny so that in some small way we can correct for it.

Actually take risks, don't just act like you do

It is okay to fail, and you can survive feeling like a loser for surprisingly long periods of time. But what you can't escape is a universal truth of 'risk' - if you take no risks, you are guaranteed, guaranteed, failure.

There are few concepts that really dictate most of my behaviour, and risk is one of them. It's one of those central themes. But don't think, for a second, that its easy.

What defines risk is uncertainty, and you are only taking risks where the conditions required to succeed are identical to the conditions required to fail.

The easiest way I can think to illustrate this is consider two artists, two exhibitions. Both artists are relatively unknown, one's exhibition is large scale sculptures of triangles, an exploration of space and geometry. The second artist does an exhibition of small portraits of elderly women, an exploration of aging, beauty and mortality. Who is taking the risks?

In the first, consider that while mathematics is a pure philosophy, a universal language, few people will ever really be concerned about the artificial regularity of triangles in the same way that almost everybody will be concerned at some point about beauty, aging and mortality. Consider also that while many exhibition goers may have wall space to hang a picture, almost nobody has a spare room for massive triangle contemplation.

My feeling is that a lot of people misfire and think that the person working on the relatively more obscure subject matter creating art that has the remotest chance of selling is the one taking the risks. It's the opposite, it's the artist that dares to express their opinion on a subject almost anybody will have an opinion about including a high likelihood of a conflicting opinion is taking the risk. Because there's a greater degree of uncertainty as to how people will react.

Furthermore, the person who sets a price that can be either too high or too low, takes a risk, because they don't know how people will evaluate their pieces in regard to it. The first artist might have a 100 people shuffle through their exhibition and expect no sales, they aren't taking a risk. The second artist might have a 100 people come through and make a bunch of sales, or no sales, they don't know. They risk dissappointment, in order to obtain joy.

As many artists in my opinion, pursue their art, in the same manner that an alarming amount of people in general pursue their financial security through the lottery. The lottery is as close to certainty as gambling gets, you are virtually guaranteed to never win the lottery even if you play it every week of your life. Such that if you do win the lottery, people may be able to say you 'deserved' it in some karmic sense, but nobody can really say you earned it.

So to, if some obscure artist gets 'discovered' and sells their avant garde piece for $80,000 to some gallery, they just lucked out in some art-curators lottery, they didn't earn their success by taking any risks.

Perhaps another way of putting it, you have two types of people, those that work hard and take risks, and those that work hard at avoiding any risk.


Scope is probably the other central concept to my life. We all have to deal with the conflicts between long and short term payoffs, think big vs. small picture here's where I think most artists get caught up... they think small.

This gives rise to false dichotomy, rationalization and annoyance. It ties in with realizing, but it's really an exercise in looking at what you do from every angle. Thinking about your audience, your buyers, your suppliers, basically, you can't operate in a hermetically sealed chamber and become the greatest artist in the world. It's just too simple and lazy.

Artists limit themselves in their imaginations. For example, don't presume a dilemma between 'being true to your artistic vision' and 'selling pieces' you are just covering up a large number of options that satisfy both.

Fact is nothing you do happens in isolation, nor is any effort wasted if you are playing the long game. The effort that doesn't seem to pay off in your first exhibition can pay big in your next exhibition, and the one after.

Furthermore, consider your own position in relation to people you have to deal with, like the people who approve your grants or whom control the gallery spaces you need. Realise it's a two way deal, if you are giving them money, what do they give you in return? If they are giving you a whole bunch of 'free' money, what's expected of you? what hoops are you jumping through? What skills are you losing out but getting that windfall?

Scope's a big part of 'realize' really, but it's worthy of consideration, how not to shoot yourself in the foot so to speak. Just realize decisions you are making today are making your day 6 months from now easier or harder.


Take nothing and nobody for granted. Go to pains to make sure they know you don't.


If there's anything I came to appreciate more than anything else, it's the unasked favor, or initiative. The ability of a person to do something unbidden. The ability to go into action without any apparent driving force. Acts of initiative go a long way when you are stressed out or having to be in control.

Like anything I appreciate in others, endeavor to emulate it. You need to show initiative, not just in doing favors for others, but doing favors for yourself. You don't get anywhere worthwhile through wishful thinking. The easiest way to obtain anything is to ask for it.

It's a balanced equation, somebody has to initiate, be the initiator, because it's a nice thing to do for other people, and it makes it extra nice on those occasions where you don't have to be.

Get Paid for Piping

Do you want this job? Do you want this to be your job? Then you need to figure out, sooner, rather than later how to get paid. I'm not sure if this phase can be shortcutted, but you will be approached by people who feel they are doing you a favor by letting you work for them, or working for exposure.

Always endeavor to get paid for playing, and realise there are only so many jobs that you can take on. The ideal is to do something fun and get paid for it. Working on stuff you hate and getting paid for it is pretty fucking bad, but if you aren't getting paid, you may as well be doing your own thing, if you can't get paid at least pick the tune. Or start taking risks on your own stuff and trying to sell it.

Do the Work

This is no big secret, it is in fact the universal piece of advice that I include here simply to reaffirm that I too am no exception. If you want to draw, draw. if you want to paint, paint. you want to drum, drum. What I like to think of, is that every day I die, and some other person inherits my life tomorrow. I want to make future tohm's life easier than I found my life. So I work on drawing so future tohm's career as an artist is a lot easier than mine right now.

Make sense?

Anyway, you won't get there by staying where you are now.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


So you want to be an artist? a rockstar? a... a... a manager?

Same difference. What do you do? Why you work your hardest to be the best damn artist/rockstar/manager etc you can be. o be the cream of the crop and then somebody (or everybody) will recognise your talent and promote you and all your dreams come true.

You're lazy.

The dream of being discovered is I think fundamentally lazy. It's just another manifestation of the rescue fantasy. You know that boyfriend/girlfriend that will solve all your problems. But instead it's just some person who weilds the influence in society that you do not somehow validating you, and giving you all that influence they have accumulated just for what? A reasonable cut of your profits?

I think I probably haven't thought through what it means to be discovered, or how it all really works, but chances are neither have you.

But heaps of people just think that if they build up their skill-base enough, if they just work hard enough, somebody will swoop in and throw cash and power at them.

And who knows they may, it's not unprecedented. It's not unprecedented but it is lazy.

And I think it's hard to get. In offices all around the world, there are a bunch of employees that don't get this, would frankly be indignant and insulted to be told they are lazy.

But in an office it's easy to see. You have somebody, you give them a job description. Then rather than get better as an employee, they simply just do more. And more is easy, it's the easiest thing in the world. It's just hanging back an extra hour or two beyond the hours you are required to work.

But think about it, should that be more impressive, than an identical employee that achieves the same output but leaves work an hour or two early?

That's the difference between more and better.

Artists are no exception to this mode of thinking. Just like employees putting in extra 'voluntary overtime' in the hope that they recoup their time in promotions and higher wages, artists that lock themselves away trying to get really really good, are kind of the same to me.

It's just trying to be so great, that it doesn't matter who you are or how you treat people. That it doesn't matter how aware you are of what other artists are doing, or supporting them in their careers, or being part of a community, or taking risks, or showing any investment in anybody elses career but your own.

It's avoiding all the risk, and all the really hard and exhaustng work. Your inclination is to just keep doing what you know - practicing. Practicing and practicing until you obtain a level of perfection that makes you impervious to everything you are afraid of. Once you've theoretically perfected your art, you don't need courage, or to stress, and everything will theoretically take care of itself.

Fuck that shit. It's fucking lazy.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good Lesson Learned

Shona loves me. She tells me so, and from my observations, I believe her claims.

I should offer at this point, that I love Shona too. And one of the things I love about Shona is that she can say she loves me in any situation or any context and own her words without requiring any reciprocity, she just puts it out there and it is up to me to take it.

It was not always this way though, Shona freaked me out for years with the casual ease she could make such declarations and her dogged persistence in doing so.

I would seize up, get anxious and try to speculate as to how to respond appropriately. How to articulate in some kind of socially acceptable legalize exactly just how I loved Shona, or that I didn't, did I love Shona? How many people can I love? What if I give her the wrong idea? Is it worse to not say I love them, than to say it and then have to redact or clarify?

I got quite uncomfortable, my own family doesn't use the word much. More so now than it did, and probably because of Shona's influence, so that was part of it. Also contributing to my discomfort was the trauma of being told by our mutual friend Bryce what an idiot I was to tell Sarah I loved her as my first act of dating a girl ever.

It's only really recently that I've realised that amongst the girls that have freaked out when I told them I loved them, beyond freaking out, nothing bad came of it. They all just sort of froze up, took it on board until they could deal with it.

To Shona's infinite credit as a human being, as a partner to Grzergorz, mother to my niece Austin, she seemed to intuitively understand what took me years to figure out.

I always freaked out, more so than anything by the feeling of control I assumed I got from the disparity in our professed stances toward one another. Accept it felt like being trapped, trapped by my own insecurities, what I figured out after some years was that Shona was the one in control. She knew herself, how she felt, and how to express it.

What I learned from Shona, is that in this world very few people have such an extraordinarily distorted concept of love, that loving somebody is ever threatening. Loving somebody is a wonderful thing, and the challenge is to live up to it, as per what some author wrote to his kid.

If anybody kept a scorecard, and I hope nobody does, between Shona and my professions of love, I feel I would come off looking incredibly weak by comparison. Most people accept that love makes us vulnerable, so there's an inclination I believe to think that the lower your tally of 'I love you's the stronger your position, but it's the reverse, the person who lives most comfortably with their vulnerability is the strongest, the freest,
the most valuable player.

Shona in many ways is the persistent teacher that never gave up on her remedial student, and she once expressed frustration that english only has one word for all the nuances of 'love' she didn't teach me this per se, but if somebody loves you, or you tell somebody you love them, generally they will know exactly which nuance you mean.

Did I mention that I love Shona?

Foot-note to absolve personal responsibility - I don't know you, and it is possible that you have a pathology where you have grossly misinterpreted 'love' to be some flattering form of possession and control that is sacrosanct and inviolable to those you confer it to, and possibly are quite unwilling to be vulnerable or harmed by your notion of love, and quite possibly feel that any hurt you suffer by your own sense of entitlement, entitles you to exact hurt on the people you claim to love. My advice to you, if telling somebody you love them has been met with fear and withdrawal (very distinct from 'freaking out'),  is to closely scrutinize and evaluate your concept of love maybe enlisting the help of professionals. Your dilemma is not the dilemma found in the post above.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


I actually in only two sittings managed to read this. I wouldn't call Manic Pixie Dream Girls the bane of my existence but they are a reliable source of annoyance. So I'm glad the feminist critique exists about how one dimensional, superficial and shallow they are, if this critique could be made non-gender specific we'd be in much better shape as a society.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl is now a fortified trope, easily diagnosed, and the trope predates the name. For me my aversion to the trope occurred much earlier when my much less culturally influential friend Sam and I were in a theater sports team and he coined a standard phrase for rejecting suggestions - 'that's a drama students are kooky' he would remark, and it was a fundamentally correct and easy rule to follow.

Basically, if you are playing an improv game and need a scenario 'the beach' is a great suggestion as it is full of opportunities and places the participants can take it. A scenario that is 'my mothers head is made of puppy chow that wants to eat my girlfriend the martian kitten' is fucking shithouse suggestion to have to deal with, it smacks of an effort to be creative, it is a 'drama students are kooky' suggestion. The comedy improv equivalent of cramming your life story and political views into a shitty question at a writers festival.

Implicit though is a distinction between 'kooky' and 'funny' and further more that 'kooky' is in fact shit, and 'funny' is good. Manic Pixie Dream Girls are kooky.

I feel it's important to distinguish this notion from the argument 'women aren't funny' to say that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope has more in common with being Jerry Lewis, than it does with being a woman.

And the problem being that the MPDG's role is to lift a brooding male counterpart in a movie out of their doldrums and teach them a lust for life.

In reality, it's more like Bill Hicks' bit on nightclubs. You know where he stands at the darkest furthest exit from the dance floor and stands there with a drink in hand until a girl asks him 'you wanna dance?' and he replies 'oh yeah you read my mind.' His last statement is of course sarcastic.

The article I linked to at the start of this post indicates that there are men that are into this kind of lady, but for me I would have thought the reality obvious that a wisecracking snark like Juno just never stacks up against those friends who would never need to ever check urban dictionary for anything ever.

What a MPDG brings into your life is slapstick and kookiness where I would hope most people have actual comedy. Perhaps like the vast array of white males into submissive stepford Japanese girls, the real appeal of the MPDG is just another 'birds with broken wings', somebody whose questionable attire, dorky interests and pun driven humor speak of low self esteem ready for exploitation.

Thus it was quite insightful to read an article where the archetype was adopted out of a desire to rescue brooding boys.

Perhaps the flipside of this hollywood legacy, is the characterisation of males that is so far from reality. In high school movies, the jocks are dumb and belligerent football heroes manicured and attired to make them repulsively attractive while the awkward Michael Ceras and Joseph Gordon whatshisface offer the real heart of gold sensitivity.

I don't know what your highschool was like, but mine tended to be the exact inverse. The high performers tended to dominate all fields, sports, drama, music and academia. These were jocks, and they tended to have their shit together. The dumb and belligerent guys were just dumb and belligerent guys, lacking the personal discipline or insight to succeed at anything. And the awkward guys were just creepy, the Nice Guys of OKCupid, obsessed with pornography and resorting to dating emotionally disturbed girls 4 year levels down into the statutory rape charges.

To me, MPDG as a dating strategy is just the closest thing to synthesizing being a Japanese girl. Creepy white guys (and admittedly, less creepy guys of other ethnicities) are into Japanese girls because they come from a glamour brand obsessed patriarchal society that still equivocates them with chattel whilst simultaneously exposing them to the romantic notions of shows like 'Friends'. Thus regrettably they are sought after by the very men that make poor companions in their own cultural context.

So to and thus unto you, it probably cuts both ways, guys with no social intelligence are the gene pool you can tap into as a subculture simply by disguising yourself as somebody 'too weird' for the mainstream dating culture. You are if you will, that coveted op-shop find, you just have to chuck yourself into the bargain bin first, so the creeps don't think they have to compete against the jocular.

And I might end it there, because I have dog shit to pick up, with perhaps the best phrase from the whole article:

Firstly, averagely pretty white women in their late teens and twenties are not the biggest, most profoundly unsolvable mystery in the universe.  Trust me. I should know. Those of us with an ounce of lust for life are almost universally less interesting than we will be in our thirties and forties.