Life Swerve

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Ha! So much for reducing my spending on books this year. After much consideration (in a brain-fog of indecision!) I decided to apply to do a Master of Human Rights and see what happened. I got an offer the next day, and as the enrolment cut-off date was looming, I only had a few days to think about accepting or not. I’m totally over all this switching between universities and degrees, and I don’t know if human rights will be a better fit for me, but I guess I’ll find out. And then there were all the textbooks to buy. :/

If Donald Trump wasn’t about to become one of the most powerful men on the planet, I probably would have stuck with my history masters. But. The world has gone f***ing mad, if you ask me, and I feel there’s a genuine need to be more politically active, and to stand up for more things that I believe in. It seems to me that human rights issues are going to become even bigger than they are already, and that if I’m going to be involved in lobbying and campaigning and whatnot, then I should probably know what I’m talking about. I couldn’t really just sit back and study 19th century history, not with all the stuff going on the world right now.

I feel pretty sad about the state of the planet, but I also feel that if we don’t do something, then we’re part of the problem. This is no time for apathy and hand-wringing, although I’ve been doing a fair bit of that over the past couple of months. However, it’s time to act, and it’s clear that a lot of other people feel this way, too:

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“A crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $130,000 to get a photograph of two young girls wearing hijabs at an Australia Day event on billboards across the country, and surplus funds will now go to Indigenous organisations.

Last week the photograph of the two girls – taken at the Docklands celebration last year – was removed from a Melbourne freeway billboard after the billboard company allegedly received threats. The image of the two young girls – one of a series of photographs advertising a nearby Australia Day event – had been posted to a far right group’s social media page and prompted hundreds of bigoted comments and complaints, many directed at the girls.

In response, a crowdfunding campaign by the Campaign Edge advertising agency called for the girls’ photograph to be reprinted on posters and in an Australia Day campaign. After more than $120,000 was donated in 24 hours, the campaign expanded, proposing to erect dozens of billboards across Australian capital cities.” The Guardian

 

White supremacist racist bigots are not going to win.

Hard right-wing conservatives are not going to win.

Xenophobes, religious extremists, and ignorant people are not going to win.

And, those who want to trample our human rights are not going to win, either.

 

Up the Revolution, Comrades! 🙂

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Peaky Blinders – Series Three

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I’m a big Peaky Blinders fan, and I loved the first two series. I found the characters intriguing and I thought the show was stylistically brilliant. The sets and locations were wonderfully atmospheric, and the costumes were just fabulous. I liked the suits and the watch chains, and the shirts with the collar stud and no tie. I liked the ankle-grazing trousers, the flat caps and the billowing coats, and I was very taken with the Peaky haircut.  I liked Polly’s messy chic, and the floaty frocks some of the other characters wore. I was especially pleased with the soundtrack, because it featured some of my favourite music. I pretty much loved everything about the show, except for Sam Neill’s arch-villain, but then no one is supposed to like him. Peaky Blinder World was fantasy, altered reality, visually beautiful, and I loved the whole thing.

Anyway,  I finally got around to watching the third season on DVD. What a big disappointment that was!* The first indication that something was not quite right came in the opening scenes when I saw Tommy Shelby’s haircut. The sides of his head were no longer shaved and his appearance was almost conventional. I used to find it interesting that Tommy’s limpid and innocent blue eyes, and his beautiful facial bone structure, were at odds with his sometimes brutal behaviour, just as his brutal behaviour was at odds with the vulnerability and tenderness he sometimes displayed. Tommy Shelby was a wonderful invention, a complex and contradictory man, a bad man who wasn’t a bastard. It was easy to feel empathy for Tommy and to care about what happened to him. However, in series three, I felt that Tommy was just boorish, greedy and stupid. Even his interactions with Grace, which used to light up the screen, were cold and perfunctory. I could almost see the seams stitching the scenes together; I could see the actors being actors – move here, sit there, speak, emote, etc., – with the heavy, heavy, hand of the director seeming to weigh it all down.

In truth, it felt as though I were watching a whole other show. There was no spark, no levity, no light and shade – it was all dark, all the time, and relentlessly alienating. The plot was convoluted almost to the point of incomprehension, the new villain was bland, and the licentious and corrupt Russian aristocratic family was a total cliche. Tom Hardy’s turn as the Jewish crime boss was way over the top, and oh, sod it, the whole thing was just so utterly disappointing! Even poor Arthur was made to get religion and be under the thumb of a manipulative, hypocritical wife. And don’t get me started on Polly, whose character has gone from being feisty and fearsome, to being a lady-like bourgeois social climber. Somehow Ada has miraculously become middle-class, Esme is reduced to being a drug-addicted baby-maker, and Lizzie still hangs around even though everyone disrespects her. Michael commits his first murders, John sheds sentimental tears, and all the while Tommy scowls and mutters and orders everyone about. The thing is, Tommy isn’t nearly as tough or as clever as he was in the first two series. Stupidly, he thinks that money can buy social class, and his hubris is his undoing. Having Thomas Shelby snivel and grovel and almost beaten to death might have made a nice change for Cillian Murphy and allowed him to flex his acting chops, but the Tommy Shelby of series one and two was far too street smart to get done over like that. In short, in this series, nothing added up and nothing made any sense. I didn’t buy any of it, and I felt short-changed when Grace was killed off. Viewers had a lot invested in the Tommy-Grace relationship and it felt all wrong to have her pop her clogs so soon. I think that Grace deserved better treatment, because it was through her that we were able to see Tommy’s humanity, and it was their relationship that made the show more than just the doings of a violent rabble.

I hope that series four gets back on track. I’m not waiting with impatience for new episodes. I’m still trying to get my head around the dangling plot threads and that ending, which might have been the most unrewarding thing I’ve seen on the screen in a very long while. Apparently, filming of series four begins in a couple of months, and the show might be out by the end of the year. I won’t be holding my breath for the return of the magic, though.

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* This is the reason why I haven’t watched Victoria or War and Peace, yet. I’m worried they won’t live up to my expectations and I’ll be horribly disappointed. I’m looking at you, Poldark. *shudder*

Another Post about Buying Fewer Books

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intentI’ve been trying to a write a post for the past week about my need to buy fewer books in 2017, but my brain hasn’t wanted to think about it. Anyway, at the end of 2016 I was sorting out my Filofax, and as I removed the old pages and inserted new ones, I came across all the book lists I’d compiled. The lists got me wondering about how many books I’d actually bought throughout the year, so I consulted Booxter, the trusty old database app I’ve been using for years, and was rather surprised at the number it turned up. I became curious about how much money I’d spent on acquiring those books, and was pretty shocked to find myself staring at a not inconsequential figure. Multiplying that by 5 – because I’ve been on a book buying bender for at least that many years – made me sit back in my chair and draw in my breath rather sharply. Really!? It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d actually read the books I’d bought, but most of them are languishing in piles, unread and mostly forgotten.

After that unwelcome revelation, I decided I needed to get serious about my ongoing battle with my unread book mountain. I’ve written here so many times about reading projects and plans that were supposed to motivate me to reduce the piles, and I even started a new website in an effort to force myself to read my own damn books, but nothing has worked. I decided to give it another try, so I set myself a perfectly reasonable monthly amount to spend on books and vowed to stick to the budget. However, on New Year’s Day I was feeling a tad stressed and I ended up going on a bit of a binge and spent three times my monthly allocation in one day. Yup. Since then I’ve been feeling quite disappointed with myself. I know I often use online book buying as a displacement activity when I’m feeling stressed – it’s a distraction from what’s bothering me and a way to escape my thoughts for a while. And, although book shopping isn’t exactly a self-destructive and dangerous addiction, I do feel that I need to quit indulging the part of me that still wants to find a way out of dealing with what is.

As regular readers know, I have an OCD/depression/anxiety thing going on. I’ve been off meds for over three years now and am doing ok. I no longer see doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, because quite frankly, they made me feel worse about myself; they made me feel as if everything about me was very wrong and totally broken and that the best I could hope for was to find a combination of medications that would correct the chemical imbalance in my brain. I got tired of the ‘suck it and see’ approach of psychotropic medication, the way that prescribing is more of a black art than a science, and the way that doctors discount the horrible side-effects of some drugs. I got tired of all the waiting rooms and being asked questions and being labelled by people who had only met me half an hour previously. I got tired of the whole thing, really, and decided to quit the system and see what happened. Sure, it can be a bit tough sometimes to be with my crazy brain, but I seem to have developed some coping strategies and so far I’m doing alright. I don’t discount the idea of taking medication again at some point, if I think I need to, but at the moment I feel as though I’m dealing ok with my thoughts and impulses, except for the excessive book buying thing, and it’s time for me to deal with that, too.

After my shopping binge on New Year’s Day, I’ve not felt inclined to buy any more books. I’m feeling alright about trying to stick to a monthly book buying allowance. Instead of making lists of books I need to buy, I’m writing about the things I could do with the money I save. I could do something about the travel plans that have been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, or I could buy the top-of-the-range motorcycle I’ve been hankering after. I could spend money on the house, or buy furniture, or just leave the money in the bank and watch it grow. I know that I need to avoid reading book reviews and trawling websites looking for out of print editions. I’ll have to try to get over my fear of missing out: on a bargain, on a great read, on learning something new. I need to turn away from the internet as a source of distraction, and instead invest more of my spare time and energy in real life activities – such as reading, making art, and writing.

Yesterday, I went to the metropolis and wandered into a book shop and looked around, and I didn’t feel in the least bit tempted to buy anything. Instead, I felt a kind of revulsion at the idea of acquiring more books, and I felt very tired all of a sudden. I just didn’t want to be there, so I left empty-handed, which has to be a first for me! I didn’t have any sense of prohibition; I just didn’t want to break my promise to myself.

It’s not as though I’m going cold turkey with a book buying ban, because that never works for me in the long-term. Gradual reduction and resetting the want-o-meter is the way to go. Setting reasonable goals instead of setting myself up for failure. Stepping off the conspicuous consumption roller-coaster. In the end, I’m accountable to myself. I need to stick to the plan, stick to the promise, defer action, and let it go, whatever it is. I’ve been here a time or two in the past. I know how this goes. If I can stay clean and sober and vegan and sane(ish), hopefully I can apply the same principles and stick to my book buying budget.

I’m determined to do it. It’s time.

C U 2016

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Well. What a tumultuous year it has been. Australian elections, Brexit, US elections, and the deaths of so many beloved cultural icons. The refugee crisis arising from the wars and political instability stemming from the dislocation and disenfranchisement caused by European colonisation, all those years ago. The state of the world is karma in action, if you ask me. Then there are the climate change worries, the resurgence of nationalism, fascism, and social conservatism, and the everyday violence, cruelty and stupidity so many humans choose to engage in. On a personal level, 2016 zoomed by in a flash, because I’ve been juggling so many hats and trying to keep all the plates spinning on their sticks. No wonder that this year has probably been my second-worst reading year ever, and that’s saying something! Of course, I did do a lot of reading every day, for research and other purposes, but reading in my leisure time just went right out the window this year.

I did start quite a few books, but by the end of most days I couldn’t stay awake long enough to read more than a couple of pages. Not only was I tired, but I lacked motivation and focus, and it was much easier to veg out and watch a DVD instead. I ended up watching quite a few Nordic crime series, and cosy whodunnit shows, such as Father Brown and Grantchester, and not-so-cosy series, such as Vera, Happy Valley, and George Gently. I watched all the costume dramas I could get my hands on, including all the Austen adaptations, yet again. However, I’m afraid I couldn’t get into the new Poldark, because I thought the acting was very ordinary and Ross is too pretty to take seriously. Also, I couldn’t watch Outlander, because it was just too banal and stupid. I still haven’t watched War and Peace, either. I can’t quite bring myself to do it, even though I’ll probably like it when/if I get around to it.

And so, on to the five books I enjoyed the most this year:

5: Zero K, Don DeLillo.

I didn’t love DeLillo’s latest novel, but it does get my vote for sentimental favourite. I think it’s great that he’s still writing in his old age, and that he’s still concerned about issues to do with how we live, and how technology is shaping our experience of life. There were so many quotable passages in the book, and although I think the narrative was a little disjointed and the characters not particularly well-drawn, there was still much for me to enjoy. One of my big concerns in life, which DeLillo writes about in Zero K, is the way in which so many people are ‘performing’ and ‘curating’ their lives via devices connected to the internet, rather than living in the REAL WORLD. How will life and death be defined in the future? Will future generations end up living in virtual reality? I’d much rather be out there in nature than in here staring at a screen. It might be time to pack up and head for the hills!

4: Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, Jack Kerouac.

Jack Kerouac took his writerly vocation very seriously, although urban legend would have it that he sat down and dashed off his novels, just like that. Actually, as these extracts from his journals show, he agonised over his writing, and wrote and rewrote, and rewrote some more. He spent years and years practising and honing his craft. Sadly, when finally he had popular success with On the Road, he didn’t know how to deal with fame, or the expectations of his readers who couldn’t see the wild man of his early novels in the somewhat raddled, middle-aged conservative Kerouac had become by the time he was well-known. Anyway, as a fairly major Kerouac fan, I enjoyed reading his journals and seeing what he was like when he was young. I liked getting a glimpse of the things he thought and worried about. I was impressed with his dedication to reading and writing – he was a big Dostoevsky fan, and he greatly admired Proust, which is fairly obvious seeing as how Kerouac’s own sequence of novels were very much based on the literary foundation constructed by Proust in his In Search of Lost Time cycle.

3: Dying: A Memoir, Cory Taylor.

Cory Taylor wrote this book not long before she died from cancer, and it is a beautiful and unsentimental reflection of her memories, thoughts and feelings, not only about her own imminent death, but about her childhood and family, and the relationships, joys and sorrows she experienced throughout her life. The memoir is not only about dying well, but also about about living well. I heard Taylor being interviewed on the radio a few times when the book was first published, and she sounded so prepared for death, even though she had massive regrets about leaving her children and husband behind. In her writing, Taylor is totally clear-sighted about what will happen to her, and she is courageous and brave about facing the reality of dying, even though she was angry that we don’t have voluntary euthanasia rights in Australia, so she couldn’t choose when to end her own life. It seemed to me that the book was really written for her loved ones, so that they could take comfort and strength from her, even after she was gone. She seems to me to have been that sort of person, always thinking of others even as she faced up to her own mortality, and wanting to ease the way for others. I liked the book a lot, especially the way Taylor stayed true to her atheistic beliefs, and I admire the way she was so practical and matter-of-fact about what was happening to her.

2: A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

I loved this historical novel for all sorts of reasons. Not only is it beautifully written, and also clever, witty, elegant, and sometimes delightfully farcical, but I fell in love with the protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov – Member of the Jockey Club and Master of the Hunt. He is such a quintessential Russian aristocratic gentleman, and he might have stepped out of the pages of a Tolstoy novel or a Chekhov story. Despite losing everything in the war between the Bolsheviks and the Imperialists, Rostov maintains his integrity and dignity as a representative of his class and all the positive values they held dear. For him, kindness and decency matter, and he is determined never to let the Reds get the better of him, no matter what the provocation. Towles deals with a very sombre subject – the chaotic aftermath of the Russian civil war and the bureaucratic nightmare of the Soviet era – but he maintains a light touch throughout. Frequently, I found myself reading between the lines, as I situated the events in the narrative within the wider context of Russian history. This is not a realist novel, but it is historically accurate, and the execution of the narrative reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s line, ‘tell all the truth but tell it slant’. I think Towles’ novel has something of the zeitgeist Bulgakov created in The Master and Margarita – it’s a fable, a fairy tale, a fantasy, but it’s also deadly serious.

1: A Country Road, A Tree, Jo Baker.

After feeling decidedly underwhelmed by Baker’s Longbourn, I approached A Country Road with caution. I really didn’t like what she did with the Bennet family, so I was a bit concerned about what she might do with Samuel Beckett. I needn’t have worried though, because Baker’s portrayal of Beckett’s war years in France is clever and imaginative, while at the same time being soundly based on the facts as we know them from his journals and letters. The Beckett I encountered in Baker’s narrative is pretty much how I imagine him to have been. I don’t like biographical fiction very much, as a rule, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how ‘alive’ Beckett seemed to be in this novel. The title of the book is taken from the first stage direction in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and A Country Road contains many such winks and nods to his writing, and to his writing style. I loved everything about this book, and it was definitely my best read of the year.

I don’t have any reading plans for 2017. I have a feeling that it’s going to be another year of not-so-nice surprises. Who knows what will happen when Trump and his bunch of crony capitalists get their hands on the levers of power? Will the UK actually leave the EU? What will happen in the elections in France and the Netherlands? Will Trump tweet something that really upsets the Chinese? And will Australia’s government last the year, given that the hard-right faction is calling the shots and its members have been emboldened by Trump’s victory and they’re behaving more outlandishly than usual. How will we tree-hugging green lefties counteract the racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, nationalism, authoritarianism, and all the other isms and phobias the fascists-in-waiting are allowing to crawl out of their collective consciousness? I expect I’ll feel just as appalled and bewildered in 2017, and I’ll probably find it as hard to concentrate on reading anything I don’t absolutely have to, because that would feel like fiddling while Rome burns. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but it really does feel as though the world is caught in a moment, and it’s time to stand up for what I believe in, or run the risk of finding myself living in the 1950s, or much worse. If anyone knows of any books about how to use social media as part of a political strategy, please let me know. I’m totally clueless when it comes to social media, but I think I need to educate myself about its intricacies.

Good luck with your reading in 2017. Good luck in general! I think we might need all the luck we can get. 🙂

Year’s End = Decision Time

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It comes around so quickly, this annual need to make decisions about what I’m going to do in the coming year. The 2017 academic year begins in March, and I need to make a decision about whether I shall continue with the MA in history, not study at all, or apply to switch to a Master in Human Rights. I’m not feeling the joy with my current course. It’s a very familiar feeling and sometimes I think that I’m just totally over the whole university thing, yes, really and truly over it this time. Maybe my days as a perennial student are finally done.

In the past number of years I’ve switched from doing a Master in Psychoanalytic Studies (I bailed out 3/4 of the way through because if I had to read one more of Freud’s whacked-out theories I would have died from apolexy. The dude was snorting a ton of cocaine and he was off his tree a lot of the time) to three different postgrad lit studies or English courses (I loathed those courses because I’d been there and done that in my lit studies honours year) to philosophy (I loathed that course because it was all DWM philosophers), to history (I loathe this course because the units available to me are mostly Australian history, which bores me to tears, really). Ah, the annual quandary. I’m attracted to the issues surrounding human rights, but yeah, a whole postgrad course on the subject might reveal itself to be a bit, hmmm, loathsome! I don’t know. I wish I could make decisions and not second-guess myself and experience massive buyer’s remorse. AND, the tuition fees are quite steep these days, and studying tends to ramp up my anxiety, and sometimes I think I’d like to stop being so hard on myself all the time.

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Speaking of buyer’s remorse, I bought the Delicious Library 3 book catalogue app the other day, and am regretting spending $60 on it. I had the bright idea of replacing Booxter, which I’ve been using for years to keep a (somewhat haphazard) record of the embarrassment of books lurking throughout our house. It’s an ok app, but it’s pretty old and the UI is kind of last decade, really. It’s basically a database with tiny book cover images, and I wanted something more, something with more bling, I suppose. Delicious Library is quite nice to look it, but it’s pretty much just a conduit to the Amazon website, much like a personal version of GoodReads without reviews, but complete with recommendations based on books in your collection, if you care to click on the recommendations pane. However, DL3 quite often recommends books already in my collection, so it’s more annoying than helpful or useful. There isn’t any way to disable that feature, unfortunately. In fact, there are no preferences in the app at all: what you see is what you’re stuck with. I did download the trial version and have a play with it before I bought the full version, but I wasn’t paying attention, obviously, and hit the BUY button before I’d really thought it through.

I tried importing my Booxter database, and the titles and authors showed up alright, but then I needed to download each individual item’s details and cover art from Amazon using the ‘refresh’ feature, and who has the time or patience to do that? Book covers do look pretty on the pretend shelves, though, and if you’re a visual person like me, that is much more enticing than looking at Booxter’s drab interface. So, I think that beginning in 2017, I’m going to use DL3 to display lists/shelves of books I want to read, acquire, have read, etc. That might work for me. Otherwise, I guess Delicious Library will be consigned to the ether, along with all the other crap apps I’ve forked out for over the years.

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I can’t even begin to articulate my rage about how various layers of Australian government has treated/is treating Indigenous children in the (alleged) juvenile justice system. Yesterday, Dylan Voller gave his testimony before the royal commission into youth detention and child protection in the Northern Territory. He has been failed by so many people, and by a system that treated him in the most appalling manner.

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And, in a completely different vein, I have to say that the reading slump I’ve been in for the longest time shows no sign of going anywhere. I think I’m too preoccupied with Trumpism and the ghastly people he’s selecting for key posts and the Russian espionage angle and the fact that it’s all even happening. The whole situation is bizarre and surreal and too weird for words.