20 April 2011

A forced smile, concerned eyes, a tight embrace.

I study societies and cultures. They are two of the majors in my degree. I spend many hours of my academic year seeking to understand - or at least, provide myself with the frameworks - the world. I have so many lens through which to look at the world, and they have meant that I understand so much more of why the world is as it is. It's all very abstract and pretentious, but that doesn't detract from its truth. Yet, despite such lens and understandings of people and cultures, I currently find myself completely and truly lost.

For the last four months I have been in Canada, rather far away from my family and friends. I arrived in this country on 29 December and knew absolutely no one. Not one person - not a family member, not any friends, not any distant relatives. I was - as you might remember from last time I posted - alone in a hotel room in a city which I knew nothing about.

Four months later and my world has changed completely. Vancouver has become my second home. I've learnt about its histories, its cultures, the stories of its people, and I've fallen in love with it. I know names of streets, can navigate around the city with ease, and feel that I am a part of this gorgeous landscape - thousands of kilometres away from my other life. I've met so many people. I've talked to people on trains, chatted with classmates, shared anecdotes with shop assistants, and made friends from every corner of this globe.

This has been my world for four months, and suddenly, in exactly a week, I will be moving away from the university, to begin my adventure across the great white north. For the last few days I have said more goodbyes than I ever thought that I would have to. And it hurts.

Which brings me back to my being well and truly lost. I don't like saying goodbye. I don't know how to say goodbye. I don't want to say goodbye. And yet - I have to. These aren't the kind of goodbyes that you give to your family and friends when you go away for six months. These are the kind of goodbyes that signal a undefinable period of time apart. They are goodbyes that could mean many years apart. They are goodbyes that might even be forever. People who've touched you for such an important period of time, and yet you'll never see again.

How do you even begin to say a goodbye to someone you aren't even sure you'll ever see again? How do you put all of these feelings into a single word and a hug? Do you just have faith that the flows of your life will bring you all together again to share another beer? Do you both accept at that moment that this could be that last moment you lay eyes on each other for many months, years, or decades?

I don't know how to do it. I've said too many of these goodbyes, and none of them feel like enough. I want to cry, and to smile, and to laugh with them - all in the same moment. And yet, all my eloquence can muster is a forced smile, concerned eyes, a tight embrace, and whispers that the flows of the world will bring us together again.

To all those I have to say goodbye to, and to all those who I have already said goodbye to - this post is for you. I want you to know that you have made these four months of my life amazing and unforgettable, and the most amazing adventure that I may ever have. And for that - I am truly grateful.

And so I wish you all goodbye, and my most sincere best wishes for the future.

"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends."
-- Richard David Bach

31 December 2010

Sending New Years Packing

As has become traditional on Present Tense I always take the time to write a blog for the New Year. Even when I am halfway round the world in a hotel room in downtown Vancouver, struggling to think about what the hell I am going to do today.

I'm not bragging or seeking to evoke jealous reactions when I just point out the fact that I am spending New Years in an exciting new location (okay, maybe I am just a little). But that I am overseas is of importance for this year's post.

I begin with an anecdote - perhaps my first from this foreign country. I was on the train from the airport to the city when the girl in front of me turned around and said "You said you're from Australia, right?" (I'd said this when chatting to someone else). "Why yes," I replied - being that I am. She proceeded to ask me what I was doing here, and when she heard that I was going to be here for six months, studying, she looked at my bag surprised and exclaimed: "And that's all the stuff you have!?"

This was an intriguing reaction, and hit on a theme that I've been pondering since a began packing. Packing is hard, especially when you are going into a cold winter, and then going to be staying until summer (Damn! Just realised that I forgot to pack any boardies!) and that you also need to pack books and stuff for uni. And can't be over 27kg (including carry on stuff). Twenty-seven kilograms. That's not very much. If I were to weigh everything that I own, it would come much closer to 1000kg - and that's not including a car (Actually, I don't have a clue how much it would all come to. But I do own a lot of stuff, and stuff is heavy...sooooo the point is, I have a lot of stuff). What I could take overseas is a fraction of what I own. But, it is perhaps a selection of the most essential stuff that I own.

Packing, through these weight restrictions, is one of the rare occasions that forces you to actually stop and think about what you own. It forces you to consider what goods are most important to you - not just for your comfortable survival, but your self worth. It is one of those moments where materialism, perhaps otherwise banished to the back of one's mind, are pushed into the forefront of your mind - rendered visible through your very mobility. Suddenly, in a foreign country, I'm without five pairs of shoes to pick from every morning. I no longer have seven jumpers to choose from, my hairbrush is missing (seriously, I don't have a clue where it is... :P), my car wouldn't fit in my suitcase, and I only have one type of face wash and soap. I have a skeleton of my possessions, and yet, I'm more than happy with my current situation.

Why then, do I feel that I have to have so much stuff? Well, it is, of course,the kind of society that we all live in. I'm not judging you, and I'm not going to tell you to stop - merely just observing this. I'm not going to stop buying stuff, I love buying stuff - I work hard so that eventually I'll be able to afford even more stuff, and maybe even a house to fill with this stuff. And one day I will go on a holiday, and I'll be forced to pack twenty seven kilograms - and I won't be able to fit my home cinema system, or my yacht (I'm going to have a yacht), or my three Hugo Boss suits, or my booze collection. I'll be forced to go back and consider what is most important to me, and that is a humbling situation.

I could not think of a better way to go into the new year. I like to take stock of things, see how my world has changed in the past year, look back on how I've grown, and look back on the things that I now consider important. Last year I was hell bent on discovering my passion for the year. Turns out I still am not sure that I have that. I mean, I'm more and more passionate about study, my friends, ...knives. But, nothing really in particular - so I've failed that resolution, but certainly not the year.

As cliche as it is, this year has taught me to appreciate, more than I ever have before, just how important the people you surround yourself with are. Uni is not just enough for me any more - it suffers when I don't my friends for days. I know people have been saying this shit for years. But I don't know - I've only just come to truly respect and understand what people mean when they say without friends their lives would be meaningless. Perhaps some are still just mindlessly quoting cliché when they say it. But the relationships that I share with those around me are amongst my most prized possessions (NAWWWWWWWWWWWWW).

The great thing about relationships are that they don't eat into your weight limit (I'm sure there are other great things about them too...). You can take as many of them with you as you like. You may have all the riches in the world, but you can only pack twenty seven kilos of them (assuming of course, that you are stingy with your riches and don't pay the extra charges). Those that take the most with them travelling, do not have to be rich in goods, but rich in bros and bro-ettes.

So to answer your question, dear stranger on the train, - no, what is in the suitcase is not all I have.

It's just all that you can see.

Happy New Year to you all, may 2011 be a wonderful and exciting time for you all. Much love.

11 July 2010

I'm probably just dreaming

In the past I'd never really put much faith into dreams being able to tell me much at all - I'm not sure what dreams are, or what purpose they show. You can throw a number of scientific papers at me about what they mean, but frankly, I'm not sure I even want to know.

To me, dreams are an intriguing part of the sleep cycle. A unique experience. Its incredibly unlikely that someone - on a planet of a few billion - will ever have the same dreams as you. Contrast this to things that you think consciously - I'm probably not the first person that has thought that it would be entertaining to set Kyle Sandliands beard on fire, or that Anne Hathaway would be a damn fine "sleeping" partner, or even that it would be cool to get a giant wig and put it on the statue of liberty. Chances are pretty high that none of those thoughts, however obscure, are unique to me.

But I doubt that anyone has experienced - in the same vividness that I did - going to your next-door neighbour's house through a hole in the fence only to discover that there is a damn fine lion that wants a piece of you. The lion then proceeds to maul your little finger off, and won't stop until the homosexual planeteer from Captain Planet comes along and yells "heart!"

It was at this point that the lion stopped mauling me, and a doctor came to reattach my poor finger, but they didn't get all the pieces of skin from the lion and so it couldn't be sewn back on properly.

That was an outline of my very first nightmare, and it's bizarrity has stuck with me - which may have had something to do with waking up in a pool of sweat and checking that my fingers were all still attached.

That isn't something that I could've just consciously thought up - unless I really strained my imagination. The nature of dreams - at least many of the dreams that I have - is that they can take the most bizarre memories and feelings of your life, thrust them all together, and construct some form of narrative with them.

But what I've begun to learn is that my dreams are not just trivial events that can be forgotten upon waking. Many dreams can, in fact, provide a means through which to examine your life in a different manner. I like to think that on some occasions dreams really are your subconscious coming out to play. They play on your deepest fears, your biggest regrets, and your most intimate thoughts. In this sense dreams can - to use a cliché - allow you to think outside the box. They can grant certain perspectives about events, people, and places in your life, perspectives that your conscious mind has perhaps dismissed.

I'm thinking that maybe it is time to start learning from my dreams. Maybe it is time to embrace that which my concious mind has rejected and see circumstances through different lenses.

Because if dreams really are unique, no one else has the chance to act on them.

“You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'”

-George Bernard

07 June 2010

Everday words

Words are used all day everyday. Many people ponder words on a daily basis. I could harp on about how I love language in movement, how I have a soft spot for correct grammar, and how I love the feel of a good word as it rolls off the tongue. But no, today I would like to just discuss words that people like, and words that are under appreciated. Recently, many of my friends (okay, really it's just a couple..) have been chatting about words that they like. Invariably these are words are long, they are not used very much, are obscure, or they words with vague definitions.

They are not the regular words of the everyday.

I like the everyday - the everyday fascinates me. There is a beauty in the mundane rituals of daily life, rarely pondered as the world bounds and weaves around us. The mundane is so hard to write about because it flows beneath our conscious, taken-for-granted as we ponder the larger questions.

But the answers to these questions, I would suggest, are perhaps hidden in that which goes noticed on our quest toward enlightenment. We use big, pretty, and smart sounding words to make these larger concepts and questions describable - dichotomous, irreverent, indoctrinated, effervescent, finesse, supposition, aforementioned, entwined. But these words make little sense without the little words between them. The ones that we don't say, "ohh what a pretty word" to, the ones that seem to serve the purpose of merely being connectors to greater things. The highway between Canberra and Sydney. An inconvenient part of the journey.

They are words of utility, ones that work tirelessly to show the beauty in other words. I think that is an admirably quality for anything. But, like the everyday, they go unnoticed as they paint a bigger picture.

There is beauty in these smaller and more regular words, a beauty that can only come from their understatedness.

So next time someone asks you about words that you like, think not about the words that you have sex with once in a while because they are drop dead gorgeous and you want to feel pretty and smug, and like a little bit of a wanker.

Think of the words that support you when times get tough. The ones that are always there for you to fall back on or prop you up. The words that you do not forget, or have to look up definitions for, the words that you know in and out and are an unnoticed joy to use.

These are the words in which true beauty lies.

"When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain"
William Shakespeare

09 January 2010

The present tense of Present Tense.

Dearest Readers,

Alas, it has been many a week since this blog has been graced with presence of its writer (excluding new years, of course). I would love to blame being busy with university as the excuse - but I fear this would be inaccurate, for it has never stopped me before. No dear Readers, it is something a little more serious that has been blocking my writing.

And it is, coincidently, a direct result of university. But not because of workload, but rather the way it has been changing how I think.

I won't lie - and many (if not all ;) )of you will already know this - I have something of an ego. I am not afraid to admit that I used to think that some of my entries were slightly unique, exploring things that were not really looked at much. I made that wonderful inexperienced teenage thing of thinking that I knew something about everything.

University has shown me that I know nothing about everything. It has shown me that there are people who spend their entire lives researching things that I have only ever started to allude to in previous entries. There are bodies of work relating to nearly everything I have ever talked about. An entire academic world out there with much more life and academic experience behind it than I could ever have. The incredible naivety of my self was thrown unceremoniously into my direct line of sight. And I am glad it was.

But it has left me in a rather problematic state. I know nothing about everything, thus how can I possibly write with any form of authority, sway, or power? I cannot write about that which I do not know. My words cannot have any power to affect the readers of this humble cyberspace. What is the point of writing about something, if I can never know everything about it. Who am I to engage people on topics that many people are much better qualified to discuss?

And I came to a realisation. And it is this realisation and resolution that mean I am not afraid to talk frankly about way I used to think. This realisation involved re-examining the the entire purpose of this insignificant little corner of cyberspace. The tagline to my blog reads "..Hell-bent on discovering the world." Through this blog I sought to learn about the world, myself, and the people around me through writing about that which I saw, and that which I wanted to see.

I guess I always knew that, of course, the world could never fully be discovered. But it is only now that I realise the implication of the tagline is that, in a subconscious manner, I may have thought that there was an endpoint to this blog, that it is indeed possible to discover the world. Yet the world can never fully be uncovered, and so this blog does not have an endpoint and never will. Which left me realising that this blog is, and always was, a reflection of a very personal world. A world which is unique to myself. My world.

The world is a bigger place than I had ever previously imagined, and not one which can be explored objectively, separate from my own experience. My own experience is intricately linked to my perceptions of the world.

I may not know anything about everything. But I know something about somethings.

These writings - the past writings, the future writings, and the writings of the Present Tense - are about me and the way I see my world.

And so I seek to show you all, dear Readers, my world. And through that, perhaps, I seek to offer you an insight into your world.

With love and the fresh side of a new leaf,

If one is estranged from oneself, then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

29 December 2009

A decade ending in passion.

As has been my New Years tradition for many years, this is my wrap up of my 2009. What I have seen in 2009, what I have learnt, what I wish to learn.

More succinctly, however, it is my time for a bit of nostalgia.

New years eve, two-thousand and nine, is a pretty big deal - I think. What we have here is the end of a decade. This decade, the naughties, is the decade that I have really grown up in. I remember 10 years ago I was getting ready for the biggest change of dates that was seen in 1000 years - the turn of a new millennia. It was pretty exciting for me. The year 2000 sounded so futuristic. The turn of the century was the first new year that I really remember. It was the first time I tried champagne, and the first time that I stayed up 'til 1.30 in the morning.

The following years huge changes occurred. 10 years has seen me complete my schooling and move into higher education. It has seen me begin many new things, and even been enough time to end the new things. The 10 years are riddled with personal achievements - the highlights and...lowlights.

But these 10 years has also seen huge changes to the global landscape of the world. The internet has taken off, and grown at an astounding rate. Facebook, Youtube, Myspace, Bebo, MSN, Blogger, Google - all of these are household names, terms. My fantastic new phone, purchased at the turn of this decade, now has access to all these sites, and many more. The social landscape has changed entirely.

The naughties also saw September 11 in 2001. When my parents told me of this I never realised the true implications of the event. Yet still we feel the effects of this event - eight years later.

Environmentally, global warming has gone from the realm of hardcore environmentalists to front page populist news.

But that's the big picture decade - viewable in the essay section of any major newspaper. This blog is really about myself and my year.

War followed and has been a part of our headlines for eight years now.

Passion has never really been a concept that I have put too much thought into. Whenever I heard the word passion I tended to think of a passionate relationship - a person to person relationship - and looked upon it cynically as just some overblown Hollywood concept.

The way you see many things changes as you go through life. All of you already know that, no doubt. This year - 2009 - has seen me change the way that I see many things and perhaps passion is perhaps one of the most pronounced of these. It shares the stage with other concepts, but for the purposes of this blog - passion is in the spotlight.

When I think about 2009 I think about one thing in particular - my first year at university. Now I have constructed for myself a pretty idealistic view of uni. I really like it. It's a great place to get my learn on, it's stimulating and it's full of interesting (though pretty damn pretentious) people (I fit it rather well). But what I like most about uni is the passion.

I am being taught by people who have devoted years of their lives to studying, exploring and teaching different, narrow and highly detailed sections of human knowledge. I think it takes a great deal of something to be able to do that. And I think that something has to be passion.

Now...I guess I always knew that people had their passions...but I never knew just how powerful a concept passion really was. We have here something that drives people to examine the most intricate and almost irrelevant knowledge to a subject that many would be surprised even existed. There are entire bodies of work devoted to riverbank erosion on the Bangladesh delta, the social construction of nationalism, the way we structure identity online. Each area has hundreds of texts, several books, and endless discussions between a number of academics.

Suddenly I could see and explore the results of incredibly passionate people and I understood just what a powerful force passion can be.

Though it took academic passion to make me realise what passion can be, I now acknowledge that it is not the only form of passion, and all forms are just as likely to result in wonderful things - be it on a personal relationship level, or on a global knowledge level. This year I have met people this year who are incredibly passionate about the natural environment - taking great strides to change the perceptions of the greater population. I have made friends with people who are passionate about music and the power it has to bring people together. I have been taught by someone who knows more about Vietnamese culture than the probable majority of the Vietnamese.

These are people are individuals who can change the way other people relate to each other. They have the power to inspire change within one's self, one's community, or between people. Passion empowers the individual.

And though that sentiment is a tired cliché (though is there any other type of cliché?) it is an important thing to discover for yourself, rather than be told.

The naughties have given me a solid foundation upon which to construct my future.

And the last year of this decade has shown me the way to move forward into the next decade.

And so I set myself not a new year's resolution, but rather a new decade's resolution.

I will find my passion.

And I will empower myself with the ability to effect change.

And I promise that I will also learn to write these yearly recounts in a way that won't sound so ridiculous. =)

To my friends, family, and valued readers I send my love and best wishes as you welcome in the new decade (to those that don’t fit those categories I also offer my best wishes. But you’ll have to work for the love.=) )

Sincerely farewelling 2009,

14 September 2009

Living the "real" life in cyberspace

More and more often I am hearing the terms "real life" and "real world" in conversation. It might not be that there is an real increased use of these terms, but learning this year has been starting to train me in doing a double take on terms like this - so I guess I'm just learning to notice it more.

Whenever I hear "real life" or "real world" I almost have to stop and question what the person is actually referring to when they say this. Why indeed do we feel the need to have "real life" as a term? And indeed, what is this "real life" everyone is going on about?

I have decided of late that I do not like the term "real life" or "real world".

Now I'm going to place some boundaries on the particular usage of "real life" and/or "real world" that I will be covering in this entry. I am going to be discussing this term in relation to the divide between interactions within "cyberspace" and interactions located within geographical space, or tangible physically existent space.

The usage of the terms generally implies a kind of divide between virtual worlds and the physical world. The term can be used to devalue interaction in web based mediums, used with disdain for people who interact with people on the net who have never met in "real life". But it doesn't necessarily have to be used with malice, it can be used just in passing. It is a common part of our everyday speech. But it is a loaded part of our speech - it comes with a series of assumptions that we make about the internet that I fear we do not stop to question.

I guess we have to ask ourselves what we deem to be real. I think we can all agree that the monitor you are reading this through is real. You can see it, you can touch it, you can relocate it, you can physically interact with it. Same as your mouse, keyboard, phone, bed, etc etc. I would suspect that many of your friends you would view as real. They exist, you can touch them, speak with them, see them with your eyes, you can interact with them as if they are objects located physically around you.

So anything that you can touch, see, smell, hear, taste is real, yeah?

Now I'm going to move into the slightly more abstract. Are your emotions real? Is love, jealousy, happiness, sadness and anger, real? Even though you cannot feel them through your senses, they are something that is there, something that is real.

Again, I would suspect yes, though feel free to disagree.

Having accounted for that...I have a proposition for you, my dear readers. I propose that cyberspace, although not physically tangible is a valid means to experience a certain kind of life. This type of life, I would argue, is no less real to those experiencing it than those who are of the opinion that real life is mostly or only present in the physical world.

Alas, I cannot touch the person on the other end of my MSN conversation, nor can I smell or taste them. But these days I can see and hear them. They are real people, my conversations actually happen, and the consequences of these interactions spill over into my face to face interactions. Same with Facebook - the interactions has on that website affect people in a very real way. Some would argue that social networking has led to suicide - one of the most real consequences of cyberspace.

"What about more anonymous interactions?" Many would now seek to argue. "What about World of Warcraft, that's not a real world, that's make believe."

Alas, I would also argue that online gaming is very much a real world. What is not real about interacting with other humans in an imagined world. Children do it all the time, in fact they are encouraged to (On a side note, if you are interested in childrens' interactions with cyberspace this blog entry is good). They play in imagined worlds, pretending to be something/someone else. This is much of what online gaming is - playing in an imagined world. You can feel anger at interactions, you can make friends who are not physically tangible, but are very real in the sense of how they make you feel.

Furthermore I would argue that by continuing to employ a discourse that implies a segregation between cyberspace and the physical world we continue to adopt a blind eye to the social problems that go had in hand with the reality of web based experiences.

I think recognition of cyberspace as an environment that is very real in both its interactions and its consequences is vital toward encouraging open and frank discussions about how to deal with social problems like cyberbullying. This, combined with an education of parents, teachers and academics of how social interactions occur in cyberspace, should provide us with the foundation to understand how cyberspace has changed the dimensions of social life forever, and what this means for society.

I shall leave you with a theory from William Isaac Thomas, famous American sociologist:

"If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences"
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