Not This Again

When it rains in this heavy way parts of the cuttings along the sides of the roads become saturated, and becoming saturated they crumble and collapse.  Cars slow as they move past the piles of dirt and rock with their tufts off sodden grass on top. And then the drains overfill and create pools on the streets that leave tide marks of leaves and twigs when that water recedes down the drains and through the pipes and out to the sea at Island Bay.  It’s a familiar pattern.  Watching the sparrow shelter under the eaves as the rain sheets down; watching how the rain passes in rolling waves like a net curtain hung from the sky between me and the houses on the hill on the other side of the valley.

The car park at the shopping centre at Lyall Bay is wet.  Hundreds of cars.  Dozens of empty spaces.  My shoes have holes in them.  Chipmunks is full: a party – when the sliding doors open I can see a line of parents standing in a ragged semicircle back from the party table as the little kids clumsily stuff chips and soft drinks in their happy, oval mouths.  There are screams.  Happy ones.  A cacophony rides out the sliding doors on a waft of fuggy, sickly air.  The pet shop is quieter.  The man with a beard who serves me keeps turning away from me when he speaks.  Sounds of birds chirruping from cages. People in puffer jackets and woolly hats wander the aisles, some stopping to look into the sides of the luminous fish tanks in the wall.  I spend $65 on a little tube of poison to put on the back of the cat’s neck.

I am thinking about the death of David Berman.

At night the sound of the rain is what I notice.  Watching the rain during the day can be drab and dispiriting, but listening to the rain is calming.  It is a white noise that takes away all the other noises; a vast and complicated sound that becomes one simple sound.  As the rain slackens, and the down pipes finish their gurgling gasps, the other noises return: the drips from the tips of the leaves; the tyres of cars across the wet tar seal.  I’d rather it went on than stopped and started, but it stops and starts: the rain.

Won’t soul music change
now that our souls have turned strange?

I’m used to thinking how strange the souls of people in the distant past may have been but it’s the other way round: we are the strange ones.  The medieval peasant lived in such a different way, with such a different set of explanations for all things that it seems hard to imagine we really would share a brotherhood or sisterhood of mankind.  Wouldn’t we be alien to each other?  From each other?  Wouldn’t things I believe be partly incomprehensible and partly reprehensible to them?  The recent rise of addictive, ubiquitous information technologies is fashioning something new out of human clay.  Something that seems limited; made out of baubles and buttons and swipes.

Those fish in the tanks at the pet shop.  That rain that finds itself in the sea.  The trucks come and the workers scoop up the earth from the streets with their shovels, street sweeping machines will come and suck up the debris from the gutters.  A star detaches from the night and turns into a plane descending to the airport’s landing strip.  The moon is nowhere to be seen.  And sadness wins out again.

Send in the clouds
Bring down the rain
Shut all the blinds, turn out the lights

I am the trick my mother played on the world

 

Something About David

New Releases in New Zealand, 6 August 1989

U2 – All I Want Is You

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David Berman died.

Friends are warmer than gold when you’re old
And keeping them is harder than you might suppose
Lately, I tend to make strangers wherever I go
Some of them were once people I was happy to know

All My Happiness Is Gone – Purple Mountains

i

All I Want Is You ended up being a kind of the funereal finale to U2 as I knew them growing up.  I’m judgmental and definitive like that.  Black and white.  I know they wrote some good songs after Rattle and Hum but to me their career became more like a stuttering bi-plane coming off the top of its upward arc after that album.  Everything is descent  from then on with only a few burps and farts of creativity turning the rotor over occasionally.

ii

Into my mind, the thought begins to seep
If no one’s fond of fucking me
Maybe no one’s fucking fond of me

Maybe I’m the Only One For Me – Purple Mountains

I’ve been watching things like Atlanta and Bojack.

Who is Bojack?  A badly damaged, combustible individual in a highly flammable environment addicted to smoking?  Metaphorically.  Something like that.  But if you draw him as a horse and throw in a bunch of animal gags you can fail to notice that for awhile.  Aside from being funny, the animals make the entire visual of the show absurd which fits nicely with the basic moral premise of the show: Bojack’s life is utterly devoid of meaning or human connection and is therefore absurd.

Atlanta also makes its characters deal with the absurd.  People external to the core characters are often full of shit, dangerous or a liability.  Racism lurches up suddenly like a drunk snapping awake out of his chair and shouting a profanity.  The main character is probably Earn, and his main flaw is not knowing what the hell he wants to do with his life possibly because most of the options seem stupid.  Some of the options aren’t stupid though and he can’t seem to take them either.

Bojack and Earn are paralysed.  The things that happen in their lives are funny, degrading, rewarding, pointless preambles to a book that no one can seem to be bothered starting to write.

iii

How long can a world go on under such a subtle god?
How long can a world go on with no new word from God?
See the plod of the flawed individual looking for a nod from God
Trodding the sod of the visible with no new word from God

Margaritas At The Mall – Purple Mountains

I listened to The Butterfly Effect a few years ago.  It is a podcast series about how the internet undermined the porn industry.  The “sequel” is The Last Days of August.  It’s about a young porn star who committed suicide.

While The Butterfly Effect contained a lot of unusual stories it was only occasionally sad.  It was actually just as frequently heartwarming and funny.  The Last Days of August is only sad.  It’s more what you would expect to hear about the porn industry.  That a lot of the young women involved are dealing with past abuse and mental health issues and have difficulty forming relationships.

iv

Course I’ve been humbled by the void
Much of my faith has been destroyed
I’ve been forced to watch my foes enjoy
Ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude
And as the pace of life keeps quickening
Beneath the bitching and the bickering
When I try to drown my thoughts in gin
I find my worst ideas know how to swim

 

I only just started with him.  I heard Purple Mountains and I loved it.  I thought about listening to the Silver Jews but didn’t before he died.  No one seems to be saying how he died but he was 52 and depressed and had attempted suicide in the past so I suppose it’s safe to assume it wasn’t an accident.

The woman in The Last Days of August had attempted suicide once before she succeeded.  The news in New Zealand asks if we can solve our mental health crisis.  Unlikely.  We have evolved a society that is short of breath and high on fat.  A high anxiety competition; a bargain in one place and a holocaust in another.  What should we do?  Chase it?  Opt out?  Bojack it? David Berman it?

Say when.

New Releases in New Zealand, 6 August 1989

  • U2 – All I Want Is You
  • LL Cool J – I’m That Type of Guy
  • Malcolm McLaren and the Bootzilla Orchestra – Waltz Darling
  • Netherworld Dancing Toys – American Dream
  • Dave Dobbyn – Space Junk
  • Kate Ceberano – Bedroom Eyes
  • Martika – Toy Soldiers
  • Waterfront – Cry
  • Jody Watley with Eric B. & Rakim – Friends

Who Are You, Really?

Who Are You, Really? is a book by Brian R. Little published by TED.  It has a personality test in it which I decided to take mainly because it was short and designed by psychologists rather than a lifestyle magazine.  It assesses your openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.  I feel like my results were very accurate.

Openness, high; conscientiousness, low; extroversion, low; agreeableness, low; neuroticism, high.

Which – if you read the explanation – turns out to mean something like this:

Highly open people are often creative, and keen on exploring alternatives or starting new things.  Low conscientiousness however means there might be problems sticking to things and finishing them off, and not very good habits around reaching goals and maintaining relationships.  Introverts get tired out by social contact, but often prefer quality over quantity.  Those with low agreeableness are cynical and distrustful of others (and have poor health, like those with low conscientiousness).  The highly neurotic are prone to depression, and vulnerability.  Many artists are highly neurotic which equates to being highly sensitive and socially aware.  Something that, again, contributes to poor health.

I think that this pretty much sums me up.  Which is good – I am a creative person – and bad – I am also (overly) sensitive, prone to depression, and fail to follow through.  I was impressed.  It was a very simple test of 15 questions, and took about five minutes to complete.

About a month ago I took another test to do with personal values.  This was so I could use it for teaching.  It’s a slightly longer test – but only about 10 minutes long – and allows you to map out which values are the most and least important to you.  I came out very strong on self-direction and universalism.  Self-direction is all about independence and creativity and privacy, and universalism is about human rights, social justice and the environment.  In other words, this test was accurate too.  Of the values listed those were certainly the two that felt closest to me although before answering the 30 questions I wouldn’t have necessarily been able to identify them so clearly.

This work is based on research by Shalom Schwartz and has been a useful teaching tool.  I would have to say though that culture does complicate the picture it presents.  The diagram showing all ten values positions suggests that values at opposite edges are often in opposition in society (self-direction is opposite tradition for example).  However, culture can make conflict occur within a values domain.  If you add some adjectives to the word tradition you can see what I mean: Māori Tradition and European Tradition.  This addition of culture creates a different kind of conflict that is not between different values, but between competing versions of the same value.

Of course part of me resists such tests and what they say about me, but then looking at how I score I think that is predictable for someone like me.  A creative person, who is neurotic, and values his self-direction is highly likely to sneer at tests I would say.  After all, I like to think of myself as “different” (although I am cynical enough about even myself to sneer at that too).  The thing is; I’m not different. Whenever there is a reason for me to engage with a professional like a doctor or a psychiatrist I always fit exactly into the exact pattern of typical behaviour of men my age, class and race.  I think one of the many negatives of a culture of individualism is believing yourself to be special and therefore ignoring the wisdom that can be derived from statistics by professionals that might help you.

It only took about two sessions with a therapist before they were pointing out fundamental things about my emotional make up which were both blindingly obvious and that I had never thought of before.  I’m a bunch of jangly nerves, introversion and creativity but to an expert I’m a type.  Probably a very frustrating type given my enthusiasm for trying new things and my poor follow through.

Brian’s TED Talk is very good, and the book is good too (although I’m only up to Chapter Three).  I suppose one thing that is attractive about his speech is that he more or less is me.  His description of being an introvert who acts extroverted at times in order to carry out a project important to him is me exactly.  Most people imagine I must be a bad teacher because I am quiet and shy, but teaching is a different thing.  When I teach I seem like an extrovert.  Brian hides in bathrooms at conferences which is something I do; or at least get out and go for a walk and read a book.

Brian is keen that people are seen both as by their traits and as individuals, which is something I appreciate.  I’ve learned the value of seeing yourself on a meta level.  The last time I was in an argument I realised that I was getting so angry because the dispute was attacking my self-direction.  Last week I felt myself becoming furious with a Year 9 who showed no capacity to care for people in the abstract (underpaid workers in a garment factory for example).  Thinking back on that now the reason I felt angry was because I have such a high stake in universalism.  Knowing this about myself is useful; especially if I can think about the values of the person I am in argument with.

Similarly, I have much more empathy for extroverts now.  I used to think they were intrusive and trying to embarrass me with all their egging on to join in and hang out.  They’re not.  They’re often trying to be nice, but joining a group of strangers and making chit chat is right at the top of my list of things I hate to do.  Hate.  In any kind of free flowing social situation I would rather be somewhere else.

Which leads to me think about my new work environment.  It is a school with large open plan shared spaces, and teacher offices that have no privacy and open on to those large open plan shared spaces.  This is a disaster for me.  A horrible environment for an introverted, neurotic like me.  It will suit some people though.  I realise that now.  The difficulty though is that it is built for only some traits and not others, and I feel like I’m trapped at a party of strangers that I can’t leave.