Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Black Dog

I always thought that the black dog followed you around. Waiting for an opportune time to attack. But that is not the case at all. The black dog lives within. It mostly sleeps but when it awakes it quickly turns into a terrifying growling beast, teeth bared and lip curled back in a vicious snarl. Ready to attack. It forms out of the darkness that you’d forgotten was even there. Barking menacingly at anyone who dares to come near. Sometimes it has such power that it takes on three heads. Each of them a wild entity unto themselves. There is danger for anybody who approaches. But the biggest danger is for within. It builds in strength by feeding on the darkness. And as it rises, it feasts also on the internal organs. Shaking its head as it tears into the stomach and spills out the guts. Black blood dripping from its slavering fangs. It takes control of the voice, rendering its host silent. Like a stunned rabbit caught in the jaws of a wolf. Sometimes it speaks with a guttural growl that will make bystanders recoil in alarm. They think it comes from you. Sometimes it howls with the power of a screaming banshee that has risen from the grave. Its urgent despair clear for all to hear. Sometimes its sorrow is so deep and its control so complete that nothing else matters at all. It is all consuming. It is not an animal that can be easily placated. Do not try to pet or tame it. If a well-meaning person tries to approach they may be mauled. Sometimes mortally. It may savage their arm but really it yearns to rip at their throat. And if there is nobody to attack, it will resume quietly eating. Chewing away at the liver. Crunching through intestines and kidneys. Its appetite can seem insatiable but often as quickly as it appears, it will lay back down and go to sleep. Nobody knows for how long. The cold darkness vanishes. Maybe a hint of warmth appears. It’s as if it was never there. Where did it go? Perhaps it became distracted and with its anger diffused it shrinks to a size that cannot be detected. But it is still there. It is lurking. And nobody knows when exactly it will again rise in its rage filled fury.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The great Facebook massacre of 2017

Facebook brings out the best and the worst in me. Like many people, I have become an addict. Research has shown that receiving likes for a Facebook post activates the same receptors in the brain as cocaine. And like cocaine, you constantly want more. But instead of chasing your friends around the pub wondering if they’ve snuck off to the toilet for another line without telling you, you keep checking back online to see if there are any more likes on your most recent post to give you that little dopamine rush. And like any addiction, it sucks away your time and your health without you even realising it. Compared to other drugs, at least Facebook doesn’t cost you any money. But that means there is no financial restriction to how much of it you can do. You can binge and binge on posts, comments and likes to your heart’s content, occasionally finding yourself lying helpless in a pool of your own vomit.

 I know that I have a fortunate life. I have a beautiful family, I have a job that gives me a large degree of autonomy and that mostly provides me with a decent income. I get to travel a lot, both for work and on holidays with my family. I’m happy to share my experiences online with other people. Undoubtedly Facebook is a great tool for keeping friends up to date with what’s going on in my life when I don’t see them all the time. Particularly those of my friends who live overseas or interstate where dropping around is not so easy. In fact, given how busy my life has become, I don’t get to really see anybody as much as I’d like, even if they live in the same suburb. So Facebook becomes a proxy way of keeping in touch. But I know there is a fine line between sharing what I’m doing with people who may be interested and outright narcissism. Facebook is the perfect outlet when I have a streak of self-importance that means that I am compelled to post something, because undoubtedly everybody must be as infinitely fascinated as me with what I am doing or thinking at any given moment. Conversely there is of course the receiving side of Facebook, which speaks to different character traits. I’m genuinely happy for my friends when they do well and when they are having a good time. I’m mostly happy to see pictures of their lives, children, holidays, indulgences and celebrations. But I can’t help at times feeling envy, or somehow inadequate by viewing some post or other during periods where my emotions are not at the top of their game. I know I’m not alone here and am conscious that some of my posts invariably will conjure those feelings in others. The links between excessive social media usage and loneliness, social anxiety and depression are well established by a load of research over the last few years. I can see from my own experiences how this can be the case. People living in more glorious houses. People on their five star luxury or exotic holidays. People with their flash new cars or other toys. In the old days keeping up with the Joneses usually just meant the neighbours and people who you would see within your own social circles. These days the Joneses are everywhere you look. No wonder there is an increase in mental health issues in our society. If you’re not being made to feel inadequate in some way by advertising, there’s always social media to do it for you. We were already bombarded previously by forms of media such as TV and glossy magazines, now we have Facebook and Twitter on our phones to make the bombardment almost constant. And instead of well-crafted marketing campaigns, we have our friends, acquaintances and that person I friended after spending an hour chatting in a bar while on holiday somewhere a couple of years ago (was it in Bali?) to remind us that our lives on occasions aren’t as exciting, stable, normal, fun, affluent, carefree, social, serene, intellectual, creative or physically fit as theirs. And if I catch myself in any way having thoughts of envy about people I know, then I have guilt to contend with as well. I must not be a good person. Surely I should always be happy with everything that anybody I know does or has.

We all know that a view of a person solely through Facebook is a fake perception. Everybody has their ups and downs. Sickness and death visit us all. Happy photos in front of the Great Pyramid or the Eiffel Tower with the perfect smiling family tend not to reveal the personal problems that we all experience. It is a fa├žade. Captured in a moment where perhaps everything did feel perfect, but perhaps only moments before the next less than perfect thing comes along to jolt the flow in our human existence. But on Facebook, it is typically just those perfect moments that are presented. Most people tend not to post the shit and despair. Not in any detail anyway. And even if they do, it still only provides a one dimensional snippet of it all.

To me, when it’s all under control, Facebook is mostly my personal photo album or diary and occasional soap box from which to yell my views. Pictures for my mum to see of my family and for anybody else to look at if they care or could be bothered. Posts for other people to click “like” on as they skim down their newsfeed without even really giving the post more than a cursory glance, but liking nevertheless, because in some way it seems deserved or owed. Likes such as this can almost make the giver feel benevolent in their actions. “I bestow on you the mighty blessing of my like”. Another flavoursome hit of the social media drug.

Then of course there is the interactive side of Facebook. A ride that only ever seems to lead into the abyss. Political or social issue posts where reasoned debate morphs quickly into outright hostility, anger and outrage. I know that I am excessively guilty of inciting people with provocative posts. I believe passionately in what I believe, especially in regards to what I consider issues of social fairness. I can’t fathom that people really could think any differently to me on certain topics. I know for a fact that my more political posts have bored some people senseless if not offended them. I’d be stunned if a significant number of my Facebook friends haven’t unfollowed me to save themselves from having to read some of my more indignant rants about asylum seekers or how the government of the day is shitting me. Fair enough too (you bastards!). I’ve been engaged in dialogue on numerous occasions by people so caught up in their own ideologies that they can’t see the point that I’m trying to make and it’s like we’re having conversations about entirely different things. Some of the arguments I’ve been involved in have become so heated that they have even threatened real friendships in a way that would never happen in person. Even when the topic has been something as benign as the football. Then there is another level below all of this that is the true cesspit of social media. I don’t count any of my friends (present or recently departed) amongst this dross. For some reason I feel compelled to read the comments of posts on any news story, or political article that I have read. Drawn towards them like Ulysses to the sirens with the same inevitability of being wrecked on the rocks, but typically with the absence of anything that could be referred to as a beautiful voice. I’ve discovered hatred that I knew existed somewhere but was happy that it didn’t really intersect with my life. I’ve read comments by people that are so abusive you just wonder if there’s any chance that they could ever actually say those things to anybody in person. So much bile. So much of the worst that our species has to offer. People so caught up in their ideologies that to make any opposing comment unleashes a torrent of vitriol. Some of the personal attacks on other people that I've read have been withering, often accompanied by extreme racism, sexism and violence thrown in for good measure. I stepped back a while ago from making comments on public posts such as those of the major news outlets. Down that path seems madness.

And now it’s time for me to step further away from Facebook as I’ve known it. I thought about deleting my account, but I have so many photo albums and memories in there that I just can’t do it. I’m trapped. I love the “memories on this day” posts that Facebook displays just for me. Pictures of Jazzy starting school or little Finn at Auskick. Baby Kimi in a caravan in Broome. A shot of Tori and I out on a romantic night having fun together, reminding us that it’s not all about who’s out working and who’s picking up the kids. Photos with friends who I love dearly taken in all manner of places (and states). It all hits me with the nostalgia drug to which I’m also addicted. I want to be able to see what’s going on in friends’ lives and want to be able to keep them up to date with what’s going on in mine. And I probably do still want to yell to the world on occasions that locking desperate people up on an island in the Pacific and torturing them is a fucking disgrace and that our country should be ashamed. So the only way forward for me then is to adjust my habit. If I can’t go cold turkey, I need some form of methadone. Even though like any addict, at times I'll probably relapse. I'm going to make an attempt at taking away the negative but leaving all that is good. And this has started with a very large cull. More like a Facebook massacre really. It’s felt cleansing. One click of the mouse and someone else has been shuffled off my virtual coil. Hundreds have been slain by the unfriend button. All Facebook groups have been abandoned. Most pages have been unliked. Many of the fallen Facebook friends are those who I’d actually love to see in person and share a drink, a laugh and a conversation with. But like the despot who only needs to be upset on one occasion to remove the head of a subject, many friends have been terminated for the mildest of reasons. Some only by association and through nothing at all that they have done themselves. Work related people – gone! Those with friends of their own who have attacked me personally for daring to comment in seemingly the wrong way on a post – gone! Those whose posts are too far to the right for my liking – gone! Those that I just clicked on unfriend by mistake without thinking it through – gone! Oh well. Sorry. Collateral damage. I dare say that some of the survivors are probably thinking “why me? Why couldn’t I have been culled so as to avoid being subjected to diatribes like this? How can I sneak out of social media contact with this dementedly raving person without them knowing”? I say, just go for it. Be bold. Click unfriend. I won’t be offended. After all, it may just save me the trouble next time around :-)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Into The Groove

When I was a kid, I used to get so excited about going away on an upcoming holiday or a school camp that I couldn’t sleep. The anticipation of the journey would fill my brain so much that I couldn’t think of anything else. What would it be like? What would we do? Who would we meet? How much fun would we have? The excitement was so intense it almost made me feel ill. I’m not sure when that feeling of excitement gave way to anxiety. Many of the symptoms are the same. Unable to sleep. Nagging feeling in my stomach that almost makes me feel ill. The only real material change I guess is in the thoughts that bombard my brain while lying restlessly awake at 4 in the morning. Thoughts of fun and adventure seem to have given way to those of how much there is to do before we leave. I’m sure that having my own business exacerbates that. Have to finish a statement of work and quote for a new customer. Need to respond to an email from another. Have the accounts been sorted for the end of financial year? Is my major contract, which expires while we’re away, going to be renewed? What if it isn’t and I come back to no current work having spent all of our money on a trip overseas? Did I find out about the visa situation for all the countries we’re visiting? How difficult is it going to be to find our Airbnb apartment in Beijing? Things that don’t bother me at all during the day seem to haunt me like monsters of the night at 4am. I suspect that this anxiety is all symptomatic of being overstressed. Having too many things on the go. Overload of responsibilities. It’s not just the pending trip that has brought this on though. Pre-trip anxiety has just melded into my current regular state of being. Lucky then I suppose that taking a long holiday is usually the best cure for the stresses of home life. 

But things didn’t start so well on the stress reduction front. I’d discovered a day before leaving that the Landcruiser had a leak and mould had taken hold over various parts of the car interior. Fuck!!! Thanks to my old friend Shane, I was able to get the interior nicely detailed but how to dry it out. And how then to keep it dry from the Melbourne winter, being as though I had nowhere undercover to keep it until we got back and I could sort out the leak. It’s fair to say that my state of mind had me making various poor decisions at this time, one of which seems to be the decision to take the Landcruiser to the airport and park it in the long term parking lot with the windows slightly open, under a tarp that was held in place by inadequately short lengths of rope. Now I was able to add to my mind the image of coming back home to a barely secured tarp lashing against and scratching the neighbouring cars in the strong wind, rain coming in the windows and a forest of mould having taken over the car interior, meaning I’d need to find an alternative way to get the family home from the airport and then work out how to rescue the car.

But as they say… out of sight and out of mind. Holidays are great for relegating things of seemingly huge importance to the “I’ll deal with that when I get home” compartment of the brain. Things always seem to work out one way or another in the end. Life is really just a sequence of continued events to be dealt with or not dealt with as they occur. We seek out the fun and happy times, but even the more difficult times tend to bring something of worth. We often seem to place too much importance on all of them at the time. As those great philosophers the Indigo Girls once said, “it’s only life after all”.

So now the holiday is here. The adventures have begun. The overnight Air China flight to Beijing. A sleep-deprived whirlwind of a visit to that great city that took in dumplings, Tiananmen Square and some Peking duck before being back on a plane for the long overnight flight to Vienna. And on arriving in Europe with the long haul flight behind us, finally the fog in my mind was truly able to lift. A nice little Airbnb house a short u-bahn ride to the city. New exotic places to explore. Languages to be stumbled over and culture to be perplexed by. Local food to be consumed and beverages to be supped upon. Even leaving my credit card in the ticket machine at the train station and having to cancel it, only one day in to a five week holiday, was no longer able to dampen my spirits. Waking up in the mornings with only decisions of indulgence to be made. Or just rolling over and going back to sleep instead. I’m not sure that I’ve ever needed a holiday more than I do now. And now that it’s started, I’m going to relish it with all of the non-effort I can muster.