On turning 50

I stood in the kitchen today and took a deep breath. I’ve just had a significant birthday.

I am exactly where I wanted to be by 50.

This would not be by many people’s standards, but I’ve never paid other people’s standards much attention, so that’s unimportant. It’s also vastly different from my working class roots, but still has aspects of working class sentiment.

What prompted this thought:

A battered passport filled with 18 countries that most people don’t get to. Not your usual suspects, but the kinds of places that make conservatives heads spin. They’d think me a drug lord or a terrorist. All travelled on shoestring budgets, for lengthy stays, guided by locals and more like immersion than tourism. Not just travel for travels sake, but for love of diversity and the planet.

A home filled full of meaning, not just objects. Things like a hand made chess set from Bolivia – with comical chess pieces (that I bought from an old lady in La Paz). Second hand up cycled furniture, some traded, gifted, some bought, some salvaged. Babysitted plants. Art and music space. Everything has a story and not just for decoration, but stories of not just of how it got here, but also why I have it.

Stories worth telling. I am that quirky character I wanted to be as a child. Really I am; but it still shocks me that I am. I had no desire for a suburban life filled with people. Rattling around a house minimally filled with the quirky, living alone, monitored closely by an overprotective greyhound, onto the next course of study (of many) and in no need of validation from anyone or anything. I study because I love learning, not to prove anything, just because I’m curious and interested.

Wealth beyond money. I’ve rejected the notion of acquiring property and land and instead, exchanged it for a life filled with experiences. To others monetary wealth is not renting and staying settled and acquiring property – and that’s fine for them, I have no issue with that. But it’s not for me. To me wealth is the freedom that I’ve got the next few years here doing a planned PhD and getting back to teaching work and I’m not sure what else is next.

But I’m promising myself it will be interesting. Today’s the first day in a while I’ve felt this hopeful, this is huge for me.

2020 was rough, but it was only 1/50th of my life.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this life, however long or short in time, however challenging or rewarding that might be.

Binary Busting #1 – Leaders vs. Dictators

*Menippean satire warning* Leadership is not really a matter of good vs. bad, it’s a matter of amplifying ideas considered effective and acceptable over a certain time period. Can someone burn those “Leaders” Vs. “Boss” memes now please?

So, the world is filled to overflowing with advice on what ‘good’ leaders look like, or what a leader supposedly is. In the current climate of world politics fixated with leadership styles; I’d like to offer some philosophical fat to chew (apologies to those I have just pissed off with a meat eating or considered unhealthy lifestyle reference).

When I studied anthropology I was fascinated with double bind theory and cartesian duality and I read widely. And primary to those studies one notion become clear.

THE binary. Not just any binary. But primordial ooze of social constructs – good vs bad. Good vs bad infiltrates most things humans do and nuance can be lost so easily in the mire.

Sit down. Buckle up. If you are religious, cross yourself, pull out the prayer mat, beads or depiction of any deity, prophet, saint or martyr of your choosing. If you are not religious, then hang onto to your science, relevant belief system, dead or living musician or artist of choice. If you are ‘other’, then wave a crystal, sage stick or do a bog dance or prepare to google stats and take them out of context. The fact is all of you will have a point that will be valid in some way.

This is uncomfortable to write, so I am guessing it may or may not be comfortable, for some, to read.

If I see one more reductionist post or story about what is “good” leadership I am going to vomit. The only thing reduction is good at is great tasting sauces.

But first, an obligatory disclaimer for the manufacturers of outrage and the “you can’t say that” purists. Dictators exist. I am not debating that some leaders become dictators, or are dictatorial from the beginning. This is not angsty existentialism, but I am also sure someone will take it there, and I shall get ready with my popcorn.

Similarly, there are most certainly, leadership styles. But to reduce them down to “one is better than the other”, means donning a funny hat and dancing a jig in the town moot with a jar of snake oil in our collective hands. It’s a sales pitch.

The fact is, some people respond to authoritarian styles and other to humanist leadership styles and some to all the modes in between, around and in circles.

Some of the worlds “leaders” have done awful harm to the world and the planet by killing and destroying. I think most people agree this is bad (yes, I do!), however some will justify it, somehow.

So, a portion of humanity does not share that view, based on experience or their social conditioning throughout life. It’s kill or be killed to their way of thinking, although that might be acceptable to them through “they are taking our jobs, our economy” etc. etc. So leaders who take this view and harness it, are just amplifying what is effective and acceptable to the people they are trying to reach.

And then there is the in between-ers on what is an effective, acceptable view. The “they didn’t die of COVID, they died of an underlying condition – so I am unsure of who I support” folk who will sit on the fence unless they get a painful splinter in the anus, get sick with the virus or someone they know dies. This too is not good or bad, it just is a way of processing information. Some will sit on the fence forever, others will be pushed off it by…well…life. There’s always going to be fence somewhere that all of us will sit on for lack of knowledge or not a large enough splinter.

The notion that there are good or bad leadership styles, in the moral sense, suggests hate spouting leaders who divide and conquer are bad leaders. Yet millions follow them and millions die or create certain social outcomes in their name. So therefore, this ‘evil’ is also good leadership if painted with a binary brush, because that leader has achieved outcomes in large proportions.

Divide (make effective) and conquer (make acceptable) as a leadership technique has worked in the building of kingdoms for a very long time in human history. Even the most moral and ethical leaders can be found promoting a little divide and conquer if you look close enough.

What I am saying this is that people follow other people with worldviews that are acceptable to them at any given point in time and that may shift over the course of a lifetime.

If the ideas of a leader appeal to a human, that leader is effectively reaching someone, then those ideas are acceptable or becoming acceptable to them.

How many more TV shows that put people with different views in the same place under pressure can you watch? Some come out changed, some come out with bits of another views, some come out unchanged. And while there is an argument it’s not a sustained time period with ‘others’ by which to change or that going home to privilege negates that experience – you can witness the varying interpretations of “good” and “bad”.

It’s only when presented with counter positions over a sustained period that humans begin to question the ideas of what a leader or dictator is presenting to them.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the grains of arguments I thought I held dear in the arguments of supposed dictators. So I watch and listen. And usually I am that annoying person at a party who knows the ins and outs of policy, rather than an assumed position and who is quite content to observe people arguing and learn from it.

Leaders are. Dictators are. But I don’t think we are divided so much as people that the two are concrete binaries as some decry, I think there is a more practical reality than good vs bad leaders. You what a position from me? Perhaps humanity needs to stop treating the world stage like a zero sum game to be won or lost.

But then, I don’t consider myself a thought leader or any other kind of leader, so what do I know? *insert splinter here*

Stay tuned for other choice binaries as this unashamed nobody writes them in my head on walks with the dog over a period of days.

Hypocrisy vs. Integrity

Parenthood vs. Martyrdom

Madness vs. Sanity

Religion vs. Science

Hustle vs. Luck

Left vs. Right

Holism vs. Health

Fact vs. Fiction

Love vs. Loneliness

Alliterations vs. Assholes (I’m trying to resist both, I really am).

*Authors note: Google has reasonable reference to satire. I was asked to refine my brand. So my brand is chaos.

The Toughest Gig is Not Comedy

So I did Melbourne Fringe and I decided to do something I titled “Tardy: Ready and Disabled”. I have lost so much confidence in the last 12 months since I killed it on stage for “Tickets on Myself”, last year’s Melbourne Fringe. And that lack of confidence shows, but some people have still enjoyed this show and that positive. feedback. is. literally. the. best. thing. ever.

Tardy is best described as a conversational piece more than anything and a hodge podge of part comedy, story, rant, audio visual, music, prompted by being trapped in lockdown and literally, losing and trying to reclaim my mind.

I faced some huge COVID and non COVID related personal challenges – like so many others in Victoria. I was injured at work in October/December 2019 and had a mental and physical breakdown. That was tougher than any comedy gig I’ve ever done.

This recovery has been the toughest gig I have had for long while, made worse by lockdown. In fact in February – May, I wasn’t sure I’d get to be on stage in November. I’ve grappled with regular suicidal ideation and this regularly requires intervention. It’s been a massive personal battle with demons that I’ve held onto all my life and finally had to face.

I’ve been estranged from my mother and adult son since 2014. They came back into my life during the pandemic and rebuilding that relationship, (required because of the legacy of domestic violence which I fled from with my then young son in 2004), has been wonderful and confronting too. The biggest demon was the feeling I was a failure as a parent. If I failed at that, I must be a truly terrible human being. Turns out I didn’t fail, but it sure felt like it for the past 6 years. This last six years of missing them has been by far has been my toughest gig ever.

During this reconciliation period my mother fought breast cancer and they were in another state and did my best to support her from a distance, worried I would not see her again. But in October I could feel little parts of my heart healing, so I decided to do a show, knowing it would be a tough gig.

I’m still only just managing basic life stuff with support and recovery is slow. Honestly, my creative efforts have kept me alive and keeping going and so has my beloved assistance dog, Pepper. Who is featured in the “Pepper Paws” inserts in this show (she’s there on the green sofa the whole time).

My timing is off, my confidence is down. So I decided to talk about being authentic in this show and just be me – talking to the audience like they are friends in this show. Risky.

So, I am planning to cut it up and put on YouTube in some little bits for the next few days for prosperity’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, I do like this show, it’s just not my usual standard and it’s born of struggle.

It’s not the polished, young, hip, sexy, massively rehearsed confident comedy that dominates the scene. I don’t aim to be (and let’s face it, I would never have been when younger anyway). And that is completely okay. *By the way – I love that young and fresh comedy above I have just described.

So, I want to say this to anyone reading this:

I did this show, regardless of the struggle it took to even speak, but because if I keep putting off doing something because it’s not perfect, then I would still be deep in the headspace I am trying to leave.

And after the twelve months I have had and after putting this out there, warts and all, I feel like I’ve still got a lot of fight in me yet.

And yeah, I can play basic piano now and write my own very basic songs. I can thank this struggle for that too.

Big thank you to Andrew Lewis and James Williams for encouraging me and being a part of this.