Lazy Luddite Log



Last week I spent my time at the Sydney Choral Intervarsity (IV) Festival. The full event extends over two weeks but I only attended one of those (still that was more than the few days of visit I made to the last one). In some ways I am missing SNIV strongly. However I also wonder how well I would cope with a full IV.

The setting of the first week was a residential college at the University of Newcastle (hence some of us inserting "N" into SIV to produce SNIV). One of my few regrets of the week was that I never saw much of the township itself. I did see the uni and some of the suburbs but never the old town itself. Still, IV was way too intensive for that. Staying at a halls-of-residence was luxury by IV standards apparently. We each had our own room and I found that very useful just for grabbing moments of solitude with my iPod. From there everything was all too conveniently within a short walk. So showers and kitchenette were seconds away. A swimming pool was possibly two minutes away and I got to swim before breakfast many-a-morning. Then there was the common area in which meals were served and rehearsals were held - also two minutes away.

The regime of rehearsals was punishing. On many days they took the bulk of the day. Fortunately the conductor excelled at promoting both good cheer and useful musical instruction. Still it started to get to me by the end of the week. In particular dress rehearsals bugged me as the task of walking onto and off stage in formation was practiced. Singing is one thing but choreography too! Another thing that arose from the various frustrations of the assemblage was that by the end of the week orders were barked both by those in a position to do so and by some of those who simply had an opinion. Suddenly the following words started playing in my overtired mind:

Been beat up and battered round
Been sent up and I've been shot down

...and from the same song...

Been stuck in airports, terrorised
Sent to meetings, hypnotised

That was from Handle Me With Care by the Traveling Wilburys. But back to me - I suppose I was having a melodramatic moment there. I had a few during the week. I think everyone thrown into the pressure cooker of humanity that is an IV will be like that. In some ways the human contact and sleep deprivation made for a more sensitive me but I enjoyed it. These conditions combined with one of the pieces we were performing - the beautiful Dusk - to make me cry while singing it.

The concert itself went well by all accounts. It felt like we got on top of a rather challenging program of original Australian works and impressed the audience (and in some cases the composers) so all that rehearsing did the trick. Rehearsal and performance is only one aspect of the IV experience, however, so I now must move onto the greatest challenge of all...

How does one choose between rest and recreation? The flesh wants to sleep but the spirit wishes to engage with friends and friends-to-be in a host of activities. The spirit inevitably wins. And what a lot of stuff to do! There was a revue to both perform in and be entertained by… secret-swapping games… the sculling of beer (which for me was reminiscent of inter-school sports)… assorted partying and dancing… singing along to skilled pianists or guitarists… and the most important thing of all – getting to know others.

My personal perspective is that we are all ultimately alone – nobody but me can ever reside within my skull and it is important that I can live with that truth. But it is also important for me to challenge that truth and so the greatest activity I can ever undertake is to try to understand and be understood by others. That is why I love talking and I did a lot of that. And the best kind of talking is the face-to-face kind complete with its attendant waving of arms and pulling of faces.

Getting to know someone is a process that never ends – I spent time at IV with MonUCS friends because of the comforting familiarity of them and yet in that process feel that bit closer now. And it is never too late to start. There were some interstaters who I was becoming familiar with only on the last day I was there. Someone who may have seemed a blank mask to me one day would become a unique and fascinating person the next.
All that contact within the context of a big but closed group will have its consequences. My confidence in my own ability to interpret nuances in communication was regularly tested. I think I did okay but still spent some of the time wondering what the heck was happening around me. If stumped for what to do I would just smile and let others respond in whatever way was best for them.

Exposure to others also mutated my mannerisms. Ever since the United Nations Tertiary Youth Conference I attended (aged 18) I have experienced this phenomenon. At IV I acted like an exuberant and verbose chorister two thirds my age and of another gender!

I also started to lose my ability to make decisions and process information independently. On returning to Sydney following camp I found basic things like interpreting shopping centre maps more difficult than had I travelled there alone. It was as if a week of consulting leaders or following the crowd had dampened personal autonomy. I wonder if this is just me or if it has implications for the political nature of closed and homogenous communities.

There were tensions and confusions and mixed messages and all that is to be expected of IV. I would go further and say that all those things are to be expected of life but that the IV setting will tend to concentrate them just as it concentrates the fun and fulfilment of human interactions. It is something I will do in future but possibly I will be better at pacing things and choosing between rest and recreation than I was this time.

Update: I have indexed my seven IVs as of 2013 in this post.

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Those who became adults in the 1990s may remember the 24 hour burger bar close to the intersection of Spring and Bourke that went by the name of Fast Eddy's. One day it just closed and went away. What a shock.

Many of us had spent lots of late nights there on the way too or from other things. I was walking along Bourke Street recently and noticed something in passing - they have left the signage of that old haunt there despite the fact that its location is now occupied by convenience stores. This image took me back.

I like how old stuff mingles with newer stuff in the urban environment - I love how sometimes one can almost perceive the translucent layers of time we have passed. Possibly it is that I have been experiencing some changes recently (in particular that Sara whom I have been dating since Winter is returning to the US) that serve to make me more aware of such reminders of the movement of time.

I am away for over a week now so this will be my blogging for now. Feel free to comment and share any anecdotes you may have of Fast Eddy's...

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Feet On Seat

I have moved once more, and it has gone pretty smoothly (once more thanks to family and friends). In the process I have rediscovered a lot of old possessions, including some old poetry I penned a long time ago (like in my uni days). It was very much a phase as I far prefer prose to poetry (with the exception of song). Still sometimes poetry can encapsulate things in a way that prose cannot. Looking over it is a sobering and sometimes embarrassing experience.

A lot has changed in my life and some of it now seems childish. At the time it was the heartfelt expressions of a person experiencing emotions – many of them new ones – and seeking to make sense of life. Those are private and shall stay so. Then there are the verses written for the purpose of embellishing my fantasy role-play games, but they are just too wanky for words. The only kind of poetry that I would consider making public just now is the comedic or nonsensical stuff.

One such funny bit of verse was written as a description of an incident in my life at the time (just over a decade ago). It was something that had an impact on my conduct for a long time, but it seems the lesson has faded in my memory because I experienced a very similar incident only this week. Here is that original bit of writing which tells you pretty much all you need to know…

I was sitting in a carriage
Of the Dandy transport line
Minding my own business
And feeling kinda fine
Looking out the window
With my feet upon the seat
When along comes this fine fellow
With a brisk “g’day mate”

He looked so ordinary
Just a man from off the street
But he was in the business
Of bringing me my fate
He checked my card and ticket
For the proper price and date
But I’d been sprung a’loafing
Well ain’t that just great

So now I got a fine to pay
By the time it’s due
My money it will go
To the transport revenue
And the next time a seat gets slashed
They’ll have the cash to fix it
And the next time that I ride a train
My feet’ll stay beneath it

Coz anyone aboard the train
That crafty cop could be
It could be him or her or you
Or maybe even me!

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Nepotism, Naturally

World events have been sporadically impinging on the warm hazy time I have been having lately. We see many parts of the world in which there is a tense vassilation between democracy and dictatorship. Corruption is rife. Concepts like multi-party states or rule-of-law seem disturbingly fragile. And one gets frustrated at the lack of progress in addressing all these issues. I think a big part of the problem is that the kinds of things we desire more of run contrary to much of human nature and experience.

Nepotism is a form of corruption in which one uses ones position of power to benefit ones own family and friends. And nothing is more natural or more well-regarded in human conduct than nurturing ones family and enhancing the lives of ones friends. We all do it. We get instant satisfaction from such behaviour. It is something we had done for as long as we have been human. And yet it is this loving caring behaviour that helps to keep developing nations poor and conflict-ridden.

We in developed nations are advantaged by having generations of practice in selectively curbing the natural tendency to help those close to us. All manner of protocols and practices are in force to make it difficult for public servants and politicians from serving only themselves and those they love. This includes instilling in them a self-image of propriety. It also involves paying them a generous salary to curb temptation. Much of this is artificial and bureaucratic. It runs contrary to the oldest emotional responses in us. And it must constantly be revised and renewed.

One of the things that I hope the new Rudd Government will do is make good on its promise to return to the practice of independence for civil servants inherant in the Commonwealth tradition. The last government dismantled much of that tradition. And yet we still have one of the strongest cultures of impartiality in the world. Even public inquiries that expose corruption in Australian institutions hint at an overall lack of corruption because they show that such investigations are allowed to work here.

What of other parts of the world in which such institutions and practices are only a few generations old and are only respected or understood by a few? It is a very difficult thing to construct and preserve. Who can be blamed for doing what comes naturally? We cannot just expect them to do what we have been practicing for over a century in one form or another. In calling for an end to corruption we are in a sense asking for everyone with a share of power to extend the care and consideration they feel for loved ones to all of humanity. That is a significant shift in human thinking and feeling.