Random blatherings from Ged Maybury; maybe about who knows what, but sometimes about Steampunk, Anime, and the design faults of the world. But seldom about writing.
Author: Ged Maybury
Ged Maybury is a science fiction, steampunk and comedy writer who writes primarily for humans and their more intelligent offspring, and for any other sentient beings who enjoy a rollicking adventure sprinkled with cheeky humour.
He was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1953, and spent his childhood in Dunedin. He has been writing books for children and young adults since 1984. He was a finalist in the AIM New Zealand Children’s Book Awards (1994) with The Triggerstone, and in the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards (2001) with Crab Apples.
He currently resides somewhere in the vicinity of Brisbane, Australia.
Silicone Stew 1990
The Triggerstone 1993
The Seventh Robe 1993
The Rebel Masters 1995
Hive of the Starbees 1995
Horse Apples 1998
Crab Apples 2000
I Am Leatherman 2001
Pig Apples 2002
Scuttle and the Zipzaps 2003
Snowcave Inn 2005
I have ‘enjoyed’ ME/CFS for 25 years now, and counting. Imagine my dismay when, in 2001 (I think it was), Te Australian Medical Assn declare that my disease was not even a thing and we were all mistaken and it was just depression .. etc .. BULLSHIT! But it mean it Meant I had to live my life with this disease, and with out any recognition, medical or disability support.
So this report is a very positive sign indeed!
In parliament house in Canberra yesterday, members of federal parliament took the time to listen to world renowned scientists and their ground-breaking findings that explain the debilitating disease myalgic encephalomyelitis, a type of chronic fatigue syndrome. The event focused on a presentation by Griffith University Professors Don Staines and Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik.
The turnout was particularly impressive given the leadership turmoils occupying the headlines and the minds of so many people working in the building. Jokes were made at the beginning and end of the event, confirming that Malcom Turnbull was still the Prime Minister.
The event was hosted by the new Parliamentary Friends of ME/CFS, founded by Greens Senator for Western Australia, Jordon Steele-John and co-chaired by Labor Senator for Queensland, Claire Moore and Liberal Senator for Tasmania Jonathon Duniam.
A range of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate attended, as…
Steampunk is marvelous; I love it, and I have greatly enjoyed my many and various excursions therein, both fantastic (e.g. my book series), and in the real world. By that I mean the inventing, building, sculpting, costuming and ultimately cosplaying my wacko combos.
And as much fun as it is to attend Comic Con or Supanova, fabulously attired and wheeling a contraption or hefting an unlikely weapon, the very best moments have been stopping in at the supermarket on the way home. THAT is gold. The heads I turn and the smiles I raise. Locally, I’m (almost) famous.
But a discomforting darkness has now befallen me: SENSITIVITY. After several years of thought and introspection, I’ve decided to leave The Pith at home from now on.
Why? One word: Colonialism.
I live in the City of Logan, which is not a city, it’s just a huge messy sprawling suburb that has arisen haphazardly upon a patch of land that once (and arguably still does) belong to the Yugambeh and Yuggera People. It was declared to be a ‘city’ some 40 years ago, and has struggled ever since to stamp itself with an identity. It doesn’t even have a natural centre. It has no harbour, no airport, no grand old civic buildings or any history to speak of except bush-felling and cow farming, preceded by the usual arc of invasion and colonial acquisition of course, then some 30,000 years of human occupation by a people far less destructive, and with no desire for cheese.
Ironically, however, it is famous for two things: tragic acts of ‘low-life’ crime (thank you, News Media), and having Australia’s greatest cultural diversity.
On any given day – on my street or going to the shops – I’ll meet and interact with people from Indian, The Pacific Islands, New Zealand (White & Maori), every corner of Africa, from all over Asia, the Philippines, West and more likely Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. They are my dentists, doctors, optometrists, mechanics (mine is Japanese), the electricians and installers who visit, the shop owners, check-out operators, etc etc etc.
And almost ever one of these ethnic groups, somewhere not so far back in their history, have been subjected to British Imperialism. (If you’re wondering what that looked like, go watch ‘Gandhi‘.) The “British”, that is, dominated by the English who in turn were ruled by the aristocracy, the industrialists, the capitalists and all the other arrogant power-hungry arseholes at the top of the Patriarchal food chain.
If you were Scots or Irish or Welsh, your nations had already been brutalised, trampled and overrun by these pricks. Your leaders murdered, your land taken and your language and culture oppressed. You’d then become one of the ‘British’, and if male; likely as not end up in the army or navy by force of economic circumstances. And then, likely as not, you’d get shipped off to some foreign land to take their treasures, timber, minerals and land, and of course oppress or murder everyone who tried to protest. And most of you British Army Chaps would be wearing a pith helmet.
The pith helmet: What jolly fun: we can get them so easily now. We can dress up in the red jacket and the stripe-side pants and carry a fake gun and strut around talking in faux British-twit accents and call it ‘Steampunk’ or ‘historic re-creationalism’ or whatever, a glorious act of taking the piss.
But – what does that mean to other people? That is the question that began to niggle me. As I stepped out of my car at my local shops and walked through a scene populated by almost every culture of the world, outnumbering white Australians and my (very British) culture, I wondered how they were seeing it? What did my hat mean to them? Was it offensive? Triggering? A getting-it-rubbed-it-in-the-face kind of feeling?
How would you feel, knowing your ancestors had been enslaved? Murdered? Raped? Run off their land? Had their natural rights removed? Killed and killed again by disease and poverty and dis-empowerment? Had their culture and language criminalised? How would you feel to see some white prat striding around in a pith helmet?
Now I know: not everyone would see it that way. For some – it’s just a bit of fun. They know me, the cheerful eccentric. No harm done, no harm intended. But I cannot govern that. There’s only one thing I can govern, there is only one choice to make: I’m going to de-colonise my cosplay. I shall take the pith no more.
What’s going on? I keep hearing about an organisation and everything about it is derogatory, inflammatory, or just plain gob-smacking. I always hear about it via the numerous online channels I follow. It goes like this:
1) Some guy (an ‘activist’) makes a remark or takes an action about women, or feminism, or feminists, or attacks a movie containing a woman, or something …
2) … and his remark/action is quickly and widely reported, and …
3) everybody (EVERYBODY!) either jeers at him or rushes to take his side.
4) Millions or words are tweeted/blogged/printed/turned into entire paying articles
5) and everybody (EVERYBODY) becomes more entrenched in their gender politics.
It is a war. A contrived war. A propaganda war. It has been going on for millions of years and it is now entering a new phase of viciousness and intensity.
I can understand why. As we dance upon the three swords of the Victim Triangle (forced by our forebears who were also forced into it) and as that triangle forces us to choose a corner by the combined weight of our upbringing and conditioning, tropes and fairy stories and general cultural baggage, not to mention (for some) a literal struggle to survive appalling poverty, class-ism, racism and sexism …
… As we do all this, we take sides. Whether by conscious choice, or unconscious. (Or if you are in that final category you’re taking a stance or a position of attitude in order to not get raped, or shot, or enslaved, or starve, or all of the above.)
And who are the enemy? MEN!
Heh. Just yanking yer chain. Did you suddenly feeling agitated? Did you shout in agreement? Did you abruptly stop reading? Good. I got you hooked. <evil laughter>
The real enemy, and the only enemy, is the Patriarchy.
It’s not a single person or a single gender. It’s not an Evil Mad Scientist or a Superhero Turned-Bad. It’s damn-near immortal. It resides in every one of us to some degree or other. It is self-replicating and is doing exactly that right now in almost every family in the world, in every school, in every love-affair, in every chamber of government, in nearly every movie ever made; book written; play staged. Nearly every news editor is re-iterating it daily. Nearly every film director; writer; animator; trope-user; headmaster; PR or marketing exec; they’re unconsciously re-injecting it into our veins. I’ve probably done it in every book I’ve ever written, despite trying not to.
It’s damned hard to declare war on something like that. It would be easier to defeat Godzilla. Or Batman. Or Theresa May. Or a … no, not a volcano. No.
One of the joys of privilege is being comfortably numb. And the very best-est privilege in the world is White/Male (I-Had-Wealthy-Parents-and-I’m-Heterosexual) Privilege. If you’re that guy then the Patriarchy is for you. It’ll smooth your way to the very top, where you can be … Oh; say: President … while retaining your right to be a totally racist sexist pussy-snatching domineering (probably rapist) arsehole.
But it’s a prick of a thing too. It’s vicious. If you don’t make it to the top, you’re trampled. It will target your every weakness. “Oh, so you’re still in touch with your feminine side? Ya girl’s blouse!” “Ah, so you care about the environment? Geez, mate, we don’t need your sort on the top table!” “You’re Aboriginal? – Go to Jail!” … Etc.
<Hushed voice> “… here we see the Alpha Male surrounded by his harem of fertile females. He will mate with every one of them as they come on to heat, but he has to fight off his rivals every time. They are drawn to his privileges by raw biological compulsion. Eventually, one of them will win and a new alpha male will take the throne, immediately forced to play out the same vicious, life-and-dead game …” [**]
Human societies, with few exceptions, have been structured on the same model ever since. That Weinstein creep? He was acting no different to his alpha male forbears. Capitalism? – It’s just ‘Patriarchy’ written with cash.
And it sucks. It has always sucked. Every one of us is a victim: the environment; a multitude of ethnic groups and cultures (some completely wiped out); men, women. Even Donald Trump. Yes, because in order for any man to climb the entire Pole of Privilege, he has to destroy dozens of vital parts of his humanity. It’s simple math: You cannot be an utter arsehole until you’ve killed 98% of you human soul. The Patriarchy teaches boys that from the very get-go. I learnt not to cry, then I learnt to kill.
Anyway, back to that mystery I opened with. The organisation is called ‘Men’s Rights’. I know nothing about it except what I receive via social media, news sites and discussions. The impression I get is that the Men’s Rights organisation is made up of jerks uttering the worst possible extremes of chauvinism and sexism – arrogant bleatings from frightened men. Fearing for their very balls, you’d think. Throw-backs. Cavemen.
And maybe they are.
OR: maybe it hides a few trolls, and they make it their business to rush forwards at pre-determined times to lob their troll-grenades, and the Media love the grenades so much they rush them into the centre of town and make sure they explode to maximum effect.
And thus the Troll-grenades achieve the perfect result: everyone takes sides. Everyone becomes entrenched. Feminists are disgusted. They jeer (rightly so) – which the media then reshapes to make them look as bad as the trolls. In fact the whole world jeers, but every undercurrent is media-shaped. The tides of opinion shift a little more, attitudes harden, and the possibilities of a united front retreat even further. We’re being used.
This is what is Happening: The masses are being shaped to believe any organisation advocating for men is silly, or dangerous, or full of pathetic whingers with a trite agenda. (It’s happening for me, I’m believing it, yet I actually belong to a men’s organisation!)
Notice the perfection in this: Instead of seeing the real enemy (Patriarchy), everyone sees the false enemy: That Other Gender. “Women are to blame for our problems! Look what they’re doing to us: destroying our manhood. F*king Feminists!” “Men are such idiots! Worse than that, they’re all rapists at heart! Keep attacking their centres of power!”
This is what is happening: The Extreme Right, bastion of male power and privilege and Capitalism (identical, really), are afraid. These mega-billionaires (like that alpha-male anxiously herding and palisading his harem while the buck-males constantly circle), are living in fear of losing it all. The thing they fear the most is the power of women, and the very worst thing would be if the most insightful, most emotionally evolved and self-aware men in the world were to ally themselves with those same scary women.
But today’s alpha males got to the top by cunning, not by brute strength, and I believe their rat-cunning is now proactively operating a well- known tactic: Divide & Conquer.
This is what is happening: The Extreme Right are paying their minions to find and fund* the trolls, egging them on to make yet another dumb-arse pronouncement about Star Wars, or worse (Hot topics? Perfect!). Cue Hot-headed/dim-witted Troll; he dashes out of the Troll-Gate, lobs his grenade (which, seriously, isn’t worth shit), and The Extreme Right, via their other minions the Media, make damn sure the resultant shit-storm gets full, foaming-at-the-mouth coverage. And the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ gets another boost. Another win to ‘Them’, another loss to humanity.
This is what is happening: The two sets of activists who really need to work together are constantly getting tricked into fighting each other. Every time we buy into Their carefully engineered game-plan, we get screwed. What do you think?
[ * I have absolutely no proof, but hell: we can detect planets around distant stars. My conclusions are based on the same extrapolative methodology.]
[** Bonobos are actually a matriarchal society, but the photo was just perfect!]
This video came to my attention a few years ago, and it triggered a bit of discussion on Facebook. Here’s how I introduced it:
“I have always been of the opinion that we; the affluent ex-British Empire ‘we’ (talking ’bout you too; USA); underestimate our children.
We underestimate them hugely, and stifle them in the same act. Childhood is extended by more than half a decade while initiative, adventure, and self-autonomy are hugely delayed.
The result, in my opinion, is a cohort of adults who are still in many ways just children in adult bodies, on some level always dependent on ‘instructions from above’ and lacking the courage to strike out in the creative or career directions that their instincts dictate.
Thus, I guess, we create perfect fodder for a capitalist/consumerist society. Japan is no exception, but curiously coming from a very different approach.”
THE FIRST TO RESPOND SAID THIS:
“Oddly enough, i blame bicycle helmets. i remember kids used to play everywhere when i was a kid. we’d do everything. run through the bush. off to the shops on our own. at playgrounds, if you saw a parent, it was weird. my friends and i wandered down to the park to play cricket. i’d ride a 1/2 hour by bike to the library on my own all the time. just for the journey. i’d go to the city on weekends on my own. then bicycle helmets became law and overnight, no one rode their bike for fear of being teased for wearing the only style available: big orange thing. schools no longer needed the fenced areas they used to lock up your bikes. it seemed in that year everyone stopped going to the parks, too. people these days blame tv and computers. but i think it was different. in that year we discovered ways to shame kids out of physical exercise AND teach their parents to suddenly be afraid that behind every bush, every door, every piece of park equipment, lay a pedophile. kind of sad how fear and humiliation killed childhood, I think.”
AND SO IT WENT ON. I REPLIED; “An interesting viewpoint, Lucas Thorn. I remember when those helms came in, and yes: Total Dorksville, man! (I waited for more stylish lids to arrive before buying my first. And I still have it!).
“But are you blaming the pustule rather than the plague?
“As someone who is more ‘chronologically endowed’ than yourself, I most certainly grew up in the same era (except we also did everything barefoot, in the snow, while carrying a hundredweight of coal each). We were free-range kids before they even started using the word ‘kids’, and parents largely left us to it.
But once in school, the message was different. Power & control was kept at the top, and delivered from the top. ‘Discipline’ mean getting strapped/canned/humiliated. One did not learn a single thing off one’s own initiative – it was handed down from above. Except (in my case) surreptitiously observing, at every available occasion, girls’ underwear.
The curriculum itself seemed to encapsulate the entire relationship – children had zero autonomy, zero choice, and were give zero opportunities to prove worthy of winning any. And it has been this way in our culture since the Victorian era at least. (They who invented school.)
“Perhaps what was really going on was that children were free to make their own amusements in the bush or behind the bike-sheds because in fact society didn’t care about them enough. How many were rendered basket cases, or worse, by brain injuries sustained from falling off a horse or a bicycle? That was “just life”. In the workplace: no safety equipment, no ear muffs or goggles (unless welding). Dust, danger, and dangling planks to stand on. It was all part of the same mind-set. Workers, and children, were considered disposable.
Then the see-saw swung. We began to care about ourselves more, about our children more. Which is a good thing. But now we’re stuck on the other side – with everyone bemoaning the result.
“But at core – nothing has changed. Curriculums are still handed down, never shaped by a child’s individual interests or talent. We come out of the sausage factory as I said : ‘..a cohort of adults who are still in many ways just children in adult bodies, on some level always dependent on ‘instructions from above’ and lacking the courage to strike out in the creative or career directions that their instincts dictate.’
“And the helmets? As ugly as they were they were not to blame; it was the self-same system that imposed them from the top. Rebellion trigger! Backed up by your peers that, without realising it, were acting out an age-old ritual of humiliation designed to keep people conforming. That’s the true ugly heart of it.”
NEXT UP: KERSTEN: “I agree, Lucas. I think bike helmet introduction was a huge turning point in the cessation of normal childhood (as well as the removal of see-saws and slippery slides). As a kid, we went everywhere by bike, and never in the company of an adult unless it was a planned event or function. Even bbqs, we tore around in the dark on our own while the adults stayed near the barbie to socialise. I remember one such event hanging up a dartboard (I was 11) and a brown snake rearing its head from between the louvres. We kids dealt with the snake and buried it in the yard somewhere. I told Mum and Dad on the walk home (they had a fit, in their defense). We’d moved to Brisbane when helmets came in and I remember no longer riding anywhere, nor friends or my siblings and their friends. We would walk if it wasn’t too far but most of the time we stayed home or got a lift. The helmets were dorky and ugly, and not comfortable. Things did seem to change from that point on.”
BACK TO LUCAS: “it really died overnight, Ged. maybe anecdotal, but EVERYONE had bikes when i was a young. i was still in primary school when they brought in the helmet law and it died overnight. the next law which firmly put a nail on it was they made it illegal to ride on the footpath, which is where we mostly used to ride as kids. they told us to ride on the road, with a helmet. so, naturally that’s going to be both unsafe and ridiculous-looking for a kid. we went from riding all over the place to just staying home. or, as Kersten said, getting a lift to our friend’s place or not going at all. people blame the computers and internet, but at the time, we didn’t have that. i’d personally feel there’s more an argument that the internet/computer thing got more popular just because we needed something interesting to do at home… i remember the ninetendo and sega getting more popular just because parents were starting to want us to stay at home.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT: people are so easily sidelined by their own agendas. An opinion about bike helmets, of some relevance, managed to entirely sideline a discussion that barely happened.
But as I rediscover these gems, I can at least preserve them here.
Please – I’d like to hear from you. Are bike helmets to blame for stifling childhood in the West, or was it always stifled? Can a better model of parenting be found in Japan, or are we merely seeing the polished surface of their own version of the bike helmet?
The most valuable thing I ever had in my entire life was my IQ; being one corner of the big random mess I acquired at birth called ‘gifts and talents’.
I had a lot of them. Maybe they’re still there; I dunno. Most of them seem to have shrivelled up and died.
Gifts and talents seem to be the kind of thing you only get to keep if you constantly give them away; constantly donate to humanity. I’m not going to list them or anything. It’s not a bragging matter. In fact in some ways they’ve been a terrible burden.
I need to be honest here: I’d gladly have given away half of them, even half my IQ points, just to have Purpose; an inner compass that could have steered the rest of them (still plenty) onto some sort of meaningful, sustained, path.
Or to have the feeling of belonging somewhere. To a community, or a village, or a family … or even to just one steady lover.
Or to be surrounded by love; by people who are grateful for my quirks; who will catch every curve-ball I throw and send it bouncing back for another swing, whether it be a fragment of song, a movie reference, a word I just invented. Whatever it is. Playmates, in other words.
Or to get hugs. Just some frickin’ hugs, every day. ‘Just-because’ hugs; know what I mean?
I need to be honest here: I’d trade MORE than fifty percent of all those glorious/useless things I was given at birth, just to fit.
My topic today, Autism. Much has been written recently about every aspect of a worldwide, complex, human and eternal issue: People with Disabilities. Inclusion. Tolerance and Acceptance… etc etc. But I’ve seen far less written about the trials and stresses of being a normal, well-adjusted, neuro-typical, decent-hearted human being stuck with living with the disabled.
I’m one of them. My life is consumed by having to live in a family full of defective, dysfunctional humans. Every hour. Every day. Let me give you some examples:
They cannot stack plates properly. Plates in my house are just put on top of the existing stack. My family are so disabled, they cannot look at the stack and put like-with-like; largest on the bottom, smallest on the top. It’s very distressing.
The bowls, too. I mean, how could anyone be so defective? But they are.
Another one is this: they cannot arrange things on the kitchen bench or on the stovetop. Nothing is aligned. The handles are pointing every which way. Seriously, it is as if they have completed failed to be born with any of the normal sense receptors. And don’t get me started on their total inability to arrange things waiting to be washed. It seems to be the place where all their dysfunctions cluster together as one.
But the absolute worst, and the thing that is so difficult to tolerate (it is like a physical pain to me), is inside the dishwasher. My family are so disabled they cannot perceive the natural order within, all perfected down through the ages by expert German engineers.
To a neuro-typical person such as myself, with normal fully-functional perceptions, it is so obvious where the soup bowls need to go; the flatware, the cups as distinct from mugs, and so on. Everything has a place; it can ‘nest’. And those other obvious things: like tall items being placed to the back or sides to prevent impacts and chipping. Nothing should be placed so that it can wobble. Upside down mugs must always be on a tilt. and so on.
Nope; it just gets flung in there, higgledy-piggledy. It is torment! But I endure it. I suffer, because the disabled must be accepted for their tragic limitations. We must not judge. We must practice kindness, tolerance & patience. Even when we want to scream.
I know, I know. A lot of solid scientific studies are now being done, thank goodness. We understand them so much better than the dark days behind us. For example, their tendency to frame their constant fears and anxieties, and that perplexing tendency to double-guess everyone around them with suspicion, seeking for mysterious signals and undercurrents that are so often not even there, as ‘Social Skills.’
Sad and so unproductive, but we must endure the defective. It’s a great world we live in.
There’s a nasty whiff of the Patriarchy about this. A hint of the evil crap generated and disseminated by arrogant aristocrat gentlemen-scientists of a few hundred years back, declaring Africans as sub-human, for example, or women as incapable of reason.
To me, and I’m out-and-out serious here, the rest of my family are defective. They have a disability. If I were one of those arrogant aristocrat/scientists of yor observing my wife and sons in the kitchen, I could use my power and influence to simple declare their condition to be a real thing. I’d write scientific papers on it. It would get into the DSM. And a lot of people would grab it and use it to bolster their own egos and sense of safety (‘normalcy’) in the bigger tribe. [I live with someone who does exactly that to me. It’s not nice.]
Even when studies are done, there is a recurring blind-spot. Those that believe themselves to be ‘un-defective’ are going to fall prey to their own Confirmation Bias. Results will inevitably be interpreted to bolster the idea that Autism is a defect.
“So, why do so many people see a lack of empathy as a defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder? The problem starts with the complexity of empathy itself. One aspect is simply the ability to see the world from the perspective of another. Another is more emotional – the ability to imagine what the other is feeling and care about their pain as a result. Autistic children tend to develop the first part of empathy – which is called “theory of mind” – later than other kids.
This was established in a classic experiment [my emphasis] Children are asked to watch two puppets, Sally and Anne. Sally takes a marble and places it in a basket, then leaves the stage. While she’s gone, Anne takes the marble out and puts it in a box. The children are then asked: Where will Sally look first for her marble when she returns?
Most 4-year-olds know Sally didn’t see Anne move the marble, so they get it right. By 10 or 11, children with developmental disabilities who have verbal IQs equivalent to 3-year-olds also get it right. But 80 per cent ofautistic children age 10 to 11 guess that Sally will look in the box, because they know that’s where the marble is and they don’t realize other people don’t share all of their knowledge.”
But there is another way of interpreting the results: Some of the children (defined here as ‘autistic’ and therefore already faulty) were actually well ahead of the game. Having superior abilities compared to the rest of the plonkers, even at that age, they saw it for what it was: a puppet show. They figured out that behind the puppets was a single puppeteer who knew exactly where the marble was – because she was the one who moved it to the box. So when she came back as Sally, she was still the puppeteer and would look in the box.
Thus everyone who comes along thereafter, the bright-eyed 19yo psych students, have their ability to reinterpret the experiment re-shaped and glued down by their teaching masters – all convinced of their neuro-typical exceptionalism. I wonder how many of them put up their hand during the lecture and said, “Wait a minute…”?
And if they did, their seniors would smoothly wriggle around the protest, I’m sure. Been in lectures, I have. The Patriarchy writ large.
Anyway, I’ll leave you there. Have to go and do the dishes. <SHUDDERS>
I went to a movie a few days ago: “Loving Vincent”. I was curious more than anything about how it was going to work, considering the odd restraints they’d put upon themselves. Every frame an oil painting.
Now I’ve heard and seen the expression before – but referring to a regularly filmed movie where every frame was well-considered, well-shot, artistically crafted. In that respect ‘Vincent’ was a mess. An utter lack of colour balance, of visual/thematic consistency. The cinematography was all to buggery. In places so distracting as to ruin the story’s progress, the portrayal of character. And yet …
And yet it got to me. I was pulled in. I became emotionally engaged. And at the end, during the credits, in a cinema packed with 8 people, I utterly wept for Vincent.
Something about me, it was. My triggers had been pulled. My own agonies were on the screen. Up there was a story about a man, a GENIUS, who’d finally found his calling after multiple failures in life. For eight years, despite a psychiatric condition and maybe a touch of severe autism and certainly the emotional burdens loaded upon him from birth, he painted. Literally like a man possessed. 800 paintings in eight years. Only one sold in his lifetime. He’d been sustained largely by a loyal brother and the kindnesses of many strangers.
Then killed by the unkindnesses of others. Quite literally, in the end.
I’d gone along my entire life swallowing the suicide myth. Not so. It was complicated, but gradually all the possibilities were cleverly unpacked for me to do my own forensics upon. The most striking thing was how powerful and influential were the blighted opinions of just a few people. False News. On the strength of a few words and a lot of prejudice, Vincent Van Gogh was dismissed as a nutbag who went and shot himself. The history books, the common (mis)- conceptions, the songs; they’re all wrong.
He wasn’t, and he didn’t.
I guess that’s why I cried. A beautiful genius, an eternal child, a gentle spirit with the perceptions of a God; taken in his prime. (Or he ‘took one for the team’, from another view.)
Could have been saved. COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED! And nobody did.
The kind strangers tried to care, but none cared enough, in the end. Everyone had their own agendas; their own myths to sustain and secrets to keep and arses to cover.
That’s why I cried. The sheer fucking awful tragedy of it all.
That was me in the little yellow room. That was my entire life, re-expressed, writ large. Something about failing in “the real world”, about finally finding my best talent that did begin to work for me, that I could be a ‘genius’ at, and about trying so hard but in the end watching it gasp and die like a beautiful beached fish while people walked past, or jeered, or poked it with sticks. (Okay, no-one has directly poked my writing career with sticks, but it has felt like that to me, especially after moving to Australia. Some Kiwi-poking, perhaps?)
But mainly, I cried for Vincent. I finally got to know him. Way too late.
So of course I want to be in there too with that dazzlingly powerful inspirational quote from the once-famous Ged Maybury. Thus an idea is born; a writer’s inspiration. [Read how it went for Mary Shelley. She had dreams too!]
“There’s this concept that you have to discover your Purpose; your Calling. A deep instinct to pursue an epic journey and achieve YOUR role, vocation, art or style of personal expression. And – everyone has one.
“I love this idea, and I’ve used it to beat myself up for decades on end. I’ve longed to answer the question that burns me up almost on a daily basis: ‘What should I do with my life?’ ‘What is my calling?’ ‘I really need an answer here, God! Time’s running out!’
“But no answer comes.
“I’m cursed by two opposing forces: Too Many Gifts; No Guidance System. Yes: cursed. Too many gifts is a curse!!
“I’m a ship with a hundred sails and no compass; no map. I’m blown across an ocean of possibilities, never in any one place for long. But while I was there, say on the Island of Fringe Theatre – I did epic things. While crossing the Straights of Cosplay; Epic Things. Sculpture-land ; amazing stuff. Poetry: ditto. And all those books. All. Those. Books! I spent 10 years ascending the Mount of Architecture in the hope of a compass bearing. 10 years wasted. Yet I still produced two unique buildings. And happy clients.
“But I never stayed long enough. To my dismay my ship would be suddenly blown out to sea again, with me upon the poop-deck looking back in grief and shouting, ‘But I was just getting started! I wanted to do more!’ The memories all hurt; they always will.
“So what do the Inspirational Quoters have about that one? Nothing. Absolutely Nothing. I listen hard, but they never have anything for me. That kinda hurts too.
“But if I could say it, what would it be? This:
“If you can’t find your Calling, you’re not alone. Agonize not! Just do whatever the heck you’re doing RIGHT NOW. Make Art. Write. Sing. And when it dies then bury it, salute and move on. Because at the next turn of the road there’ll be a new friend, a new game. Play it as if there’ll be no tomorrow! Sure: it’s going to be a messy life, but it’s YOU.
There’s an elephant in the room. Don’t look at him! His name’s Nigel.
Nigel might never Go Rogue. He might not kill millions of people (and maybe some of your children, or their children). Nigel might lie down eventually, in about 30 or 40 thousand years, and harm no-one at all.
Or Nigel could rampage and millions will die. Take your pick.
Let me explain: Here we are in 2017 and it really is a thing, people. Global Warming / Climate Change / The Greenhouse Effect, call it what you will, but it is a THING. Lots of dire predictions, a thousand scenarios could play out, but the one we’re definitely not going to get is: everything is gonna be just fine and life goes on and the TV will keep playing and the fashion magazines will still fill our minds with the important news.
Even a fairly mild dose of global warming is going to be bumpy. Extended droughts, constant mega-hurricanes every autumn, and about thirty flooded mega-cities. It’s going to put a lot of pressure on humanity. Starvation, panic, mass migrations, homelessness & unemployment, loss of important species and ecological balance. This could actually go very crisis-y. Some idiot is sure to start a war, too.
So we’re all out fighting the bushfires, trying to eat, abandoning our houses to the waves, running out of gas, freaking-the-fuck-out … etc. Millions of recently affluent people will be wandering someone’s neighbourhood with a thousandth of their previous possessions and 2.3 hungry children to feed and shelter. There will be ‘attrition’. Storm, war, disease, idiots-with-guns … People will die in messy/sad/bad ways. Maybe me, maybe you.
But let’s be optimistic: a good measure of humanity will survive, and survive well. In Iceland. I’ve got a lot of optimism banked in Iceland. (Not so much for the USA.)
But here’s the thing: Nuclear Power Plants. You can’t just just turn them off. Even if you reach the point where it’s like: “Alright, we’ll decommission it. Don’t need it any more. Yeah it’ll cost millions. The processes, machines, experts… Pull out the contaminated stuff and bury it correctly – then keep it cool for a few hundred years … um, shit.”
The things are hot. Literally. That stuff continues to react for decades. Drop all the control rods, moderate it right down, but you still have to run the pumps for .. um, actually I don’t know. For a .. very .. long .. time.
So this is Nigel. No-one’s talking about him.
Right now there are 30 countries worldwide operating 449 nuclear reactors [link]. Rapid disintegration of civic order in any of those places could easily mean governments or other relevant authorities fail to maintain one of their plants. There’s no money, or no incentive, or no-one left who knows how to do it, or no-one to give a damn.
Walk away from any of these 449 power plants and within a few days it will be on fire, melting down, or out-and out exploding. (Not a ‘nuclear explosion’. Just way too much heat in the wrong places, steam pressure, weird chemistry, trouble with a capital T!)
The Fukushima Daiichi power plant is still a mess. The complexities of restoring it to safely are mind-buggering. It is still leaking. How did that happen? The pumps stopped – simple as that. The pumps need electricity (NOT from the plant itself if it’s shut down), but the tsunami swamped every single back-up generator. Utterly Dumb Design.
So start to imagine what we will need in 449 locations world-wide to keep these things safe until they are completely out of ‘juice’. Plutonium-239 has a half–life of 24,000 years. (Half of it is gone after 24,000 years). Uranium-234 has a half-life of 245 thousand years. How long will we have to run the pumps?
Another thing: build a high-pressure containment vessel out of inch-thick high-grade steel, fill it with radioactive crap and let it all stew for 30 or 40 years, and it literally turns into a different element that is nowhere near as strong as the original steel. This happens to almost everything inside a nuke. Whatever it’s made of, whatever it was supposed to be doing thanks to its physical/chemical properties – it slowly ceases to work.
Even if we cannot pull them apart and bury all the nasty crap, even if we run the pumps for a .. very .. long .. time, there’ll be trouble in the sheds sooner or later.
So: 28 years from now, with cities going under and millions on the move, entire nations on their knees, anarchy in some corners, totalitarian states in others, wars and invasions and occupying forces and not enough food and yet ALL of these power plants will still be in safe hands? Well-funded? Staffed by dedicated technicians and scientists? ALL of them will remain sound, or be correctly decommissioned? EEP!
I’m trying to imagine a future in, say: 200 years time. Everything has settled down. We’re wiser, we’re fewer, we’re low-impact, we’re organic and caring and sharing and accept gay marriages and play chess in the evenings … and thousands of us, entire villages, have to spend an entire lifetime getting trained to go in and out of these ancient piles of deadly crap, renovating pumps, painting and waterproofing, pouring in more and more concrete, and marking off the years on a calendar that is literally thousand of years long.
There was another crash on the Pacific Motorway this morning. Traffic was backed up for a good 10 km in one direction, and 15 in the other. The longest queue was on the non-crash side. According to the media: People were slowing down to look.
I say ‘Bollocks’.
I’ve driven past a ‘fresh’ crash. It had just happened on the other side of the barrier, a bare five metres away from me. People were still getting out, looking at the bent panels, trying to come to terms with this sudden interruption to their smooth and perfect lives, or simply going into shock. Others were stopping to help, phoning, making helpful gestures at the traffic still approaching. I saw no injuries, but there might have been.
It was on the other side of the barrier – YET I STILL SLOWED DOWN.
It’s compelling. Not sure why. Novelty factor? So unusual it catches the eye. Social code? We’re compelled to help. The Road Code? We’re required to help! And of course there’s the ‘Holy-crap-that-looks-bad/how-the-fuck-did-they-manage-to-do-that?‘ factor.
So I slowed down; 100 to maybe 80; then immediately resumed. “Nothing I can do. My duty is to not block up my side too.” Already too late. the next driver had to slow down too, or hit me, and they got an eyeful too. The same compulsion took hold; the same thoughts. Maybe they dropped 20km/h too. Whatever. But the wave had started.
Within 10 to 20 seconds, that spot would be going into .. not cardiac arrest .. more like ‘arterial congestion’. Regardless of whether people want to look or not, they’re forced to slow down by this self-perpetrating wave, and if you’ve been crawling for ages you’re going to be mad-curious to see why. The Train-Wreck Effect takes everyone over.
I caused it! Not because I’m a sicko feasting upon someone else’s misfortune; not because I’m a ‘rubber-necker’ … I caused it thanks to deep primal human impulse.
Screw you, judge-y fecking media pricks!
Anyway – this blog is about the other side, where people are dying. They need medics, stat!
I’ve seen awful crashes on that motorway, far worse. We crawl .. crawl .. and finally get our answers – “Holy crap, that’s bad. Fatality-grade, I reckon. … Poor buggers.” Mortality bites my emotional arse. Somberly, we take it in turn to edge into the only remaining free lane and get past. Up to that point it is UTTERLY congested; backed up for kilometres: well past the nearest on-ramp. Finally we hear the sirens and glance in our mirrors.
An ambulance comes creeping up behind us at 1 km/h. I do my best to edge over. It’s 3-lanes wide, no shoulders, there’s no break-down lane. We have to make room, but it takes ages because before I can edge forward & turn, so does the car in front of me, and the one in front of that, and so on. Thus an ambulance at Point-A is requiring the cooperation of drivers that are literally kilometers away, via Points B, C, D, E, … X, Y Z!
In my most recent experience, the nearest hospital was literally 100m away from the crash, but the ambulance had to on-ramp some 2km back. At 100km/h it could have arrived in 1 minute, but that day it took more like 10. (I wasn’t timing it, btw.) But I was busy thinking – “Why are they sending it up the blocked side when, on the other side of the crash, there are three lanes that are almost completely empty?”
INDEED. WHY NOT? To me it is utterly logical.
“Ah; but the problem”, as you quickly point out, “is the likelihood of head-on collisions.”
But hello-o: it’s a three-lane motorway. It’s carrying, at that point, exactly one lane’s worth of traffic and even that is choked down to almost nothing. Tons of room.
Here’s how it could be done:
1) New regulations, well promoted. 2) Remote-controlled lane-signals. 3) TOTAL closure of the next-nearest off-ramp to civilian traffic. 4) Immediate system deployment, as soon as traffic control is notified. 5) Emergency vehicles are then routed ‘backwards’ up that temporary on-ramp. 6) strategic cameras. 7) Rapid responders. 8) Drones.
Now the cameras mostly exist. The worst-case stretches of road are already well-known. Radio contact already exists, as do flashing lights, sirens, and a citizen-base that is only too willing to comply as long as they know it is going to be helpful.
Lane controls: You install a string of emergency lights (green/amber/red) coupled with text-based messages, ‘RIGHT LANE ONLY! STRICTLY 60KM (RADAR ON!) EMERGENCY VEHICLES USING LEFT & CENTRE LANES’. ‘THIS EXIT IS CLOSED! EMERGENCY VEHICLES ENTERING. USE NEXT EXIT’. Whatever it takes.
The thing is – every single driver on that near-empty stretch of motorway has only just passed the crash scene. They know exactly what this is all about. Unless they have absolutely no soul, they’ll want to help.
Finally, there’s always someone at every crash who gets out of his or her car and directs traffic. Sometimes very effectively. Willingly. Unpaid. Well TRAIN MORE! Pay people to train. Give them the equipment to carry in their car. And if they’re unlucky enough to be on-the-spot and they do have to step up and keep things going, hell: PAY THEM AGAIN!
And finally, DRONES. A drone hanger every 2 km could enable central operators to launch a first-response helicopter to the scene, getting essentials there incredibly fast. Not sure what, to be honest. A camera certainly, so that experts still travelling in land-based vehicles can be briefed, even see the images and request details as they approach. Visuals will enable lane-restrictions could be decided before a officials even get there. Fire-fighting drones? Medic drones? Drones that can deliver com-sets and instruct citizens trying their best to help?
We could cut ambulance and emergency-vehicle arrival times by huge margins. Save lives. Get the road cleared faster. Everyone wins. As long as there’s a willingness to do something a bit more obvious.