Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Way It Is

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

I’ve tried to write this about a dozen times now, and I keep having to scrap it and start again. Actually, that may be a lie but you wouldn’t know that would you, oh oppressed reader?

This is the third part of what I’ve come to call the Caelan trilogy. You will see why in time.

It started with this piece about myself, a light hearted romp about an intrepid hero fighting comic book villains (like depression, anxiety and grossly indecent comical value).

In case you haven’t worked it out yet (as I hadn’t till I thought up this hilarious piece just minutes ago) I’m following the classic Star Wars format. The sequel was this depressing article, which, much like The Empire Strikes Back, was a little bit shorter, mostly rubbish, and ended on a depressing note. Also, interestingly, there was a surprise ending (that was really kind of obvious when you think about it) where you discovered that I am in fact a father. I guess that must make me the villain.

And now I come to the end (until the remake), an article about cute little people that act just like regular people in many ways, aside from their passion for destruction using bows and ropes: babies. Ok maybe this analogy grows old.

It is completely cliche to say having a child is a life changing experience…Having a child is a life changing experience.

It’s not what I thought though. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I always heard people say that, I imagined people pulling up their boot straps, throwing out their Megadeth collection, and suddenly realising they want to be a good person. Like they were some kind of bottom feeding scum that just happened to get lucky and pop a child out.

“Pop a child out”, such a patriarchal saying. “Like, geeze I already spent five minutes huffing and grinding will you just hurry up and do your part and pop that thing out?” Phbbbbbbbbbbt POP!

In some ways though it is kind of descriptive of a father’s experience of child birth. The mother (or so I’m told) feels the baby inside themselves, slowly growing. They know them before they’re even born and develop a deep bond. When you’re a father on the other hand you don’t completely understand what’s going on till the baby “pops out”. In one of my classic foot in mouth moments, when Caelan was born all I could think to say was “Oh my god, it’s a person!”, like secretly I was expecting some kind of alien zenomorph to crawl out and immediately face hug the nearest midwife.

When you first see your child there is a flood of emotion. It’s inexplicable so I’m not even going to attempt to try. If you haven’t had one yet, go do that quickly before reading on.

I’ll wait.

Actually, while we’re waiting for the others, why is it that dead baby jokes are so funny? You know the type, like:

What’s yellow and pink and blue and sits at the bottom of the pool? A baby with slashed floaties.

By all accounts this is kind of disturbing. But we’ve all laughed at them and told them in secret to our school yard chums. I can only imagine that the idea of treating a baby in such a shameful way is so ridiculous, that the only reaction you can summon is to laugh at the extreme stupidity of the whole idea.

And yet, things like this happen.

When I saw my son for the first time, it was like a flash of clarity came over me. A child, of your own flesh and blood (well DNA anyway. What is this? 18th century biology class?), innocent and exposed to the world. What choice do you have but to protect it? Anything else seems inconceivable right?

And still, things like this happen.

Like that, all the excuses, all the reasoning, all the rationales, all the traditions, just melted away like the bubbling pot of bullshit excuses they really are. In that moment I realised that no person deserves to be abused. This, beautiful, perfect creature, this miracle of the natural world. This thing to which we owe everything, and yet it gives us so much. Our future. All that remains in this world after we die. To do anything but cherish it, isn’t that some kind of failure (however understandable) on our part?

And then the world came crashing down.

I began to see things for what they really were. The things that had happened to me. They weren’t just the way it is. This wasn’t right at all.

I think this is probably hard for people to hear but this is something I’m starting to realise: you may be as mentally ill as I am.

The number one barrier to dealing with mental illness (in my humble opinion) is this simple fact: everything you ever do, have done or will do, will be the only world you know. You have no frame of reference. We convince ourselves that we are some kind of “gods”, as though we can have some kind of objective view of our life experience. But really the frame of reference IS our own life. Objectively knowing how happy you are is some kind of myth. What? Do we just look it up on the periodic table of happelments? “Oh yes I see I’m experiencing 14000 megajowels of happiness this morning”. How do we even know we’re happy? Maybe we’re just less depressed than yesterday?

And so you go through life, and maybe you have this inkling in the back of your head that something’s not quite right, but still you tell yourself “that’s the way it is”. Have you REALLY ever taken a good hard look at your life and asked, I mean truly asked, is my life ACTUALLY normal? I hadn’t. I assumed that every little thing was just normal experience. A healthy life. It takes asking the hard questions to really even come to accept that you have some kind of illness in your mind. And I mean really hard questions, the kind that we don’t like to even imagine lest it destroy our very image of the world as we know it.

Maybe the most important question I am still asking is, who are the villains? Ask yourself that and look around. We all try to convince ourselves that villains are nasty creatures that jump out from behind trees to scare small children. But are they really? Who are the villains in your life? Is it your friend? Your lover? Your family? Is it you?

Maybe there is something more to this whole Star Wars analogy. Vader, in his moment of triumph, realises this at just the right moment. Finally sees himself as the villain he has become. He sees the way he is oppressing his son, the man he is meant to love. And in a final act of supreme sacrifice, both learn to forgive the villain, and Vader saves his family (and the entire galaxy…booyah).

And we see, too, at that moment, that Vader is victim and villain both. And, for a moment, hero. I kind of wonder are they one and the same thing? Maybe these words we use don’t even really make sense in the real world.

I know now that there is something not right. I know that my life is not just “the way it is”. I have my son to thank for that. My beautiful miracle. I suppose we’re lead to believe that as parents we are supposed to save them. It’s almost self obsessed, like we imagine them mortals and ourselves their saving titans.

I know differently now. It is they who save us.

Caelan Raynor, space adventurer. My hero.

Next week: How to start your own blog, in only 427 simple steps!


Everybody Hates Ian(mond)

You may not be aware of this but you hate me with a passion. Wait, let me back up a bit.

In the beginning there was nothing but a formless void and a singularity of matter. Immense forces acted upon the singularity, so that over time, and yet (due to the wonders of relativity) all at once, the singularity exploded and started spewing matter to all ends of the universe. Oh hang on let me fast forward I think I’ve gone too far.

Hi, I’m Ian’s unconscious. I just wanted to interject here and explain a little something. You see I’m not REALLY supposed to talk to you directly. By the rules I’m really only allowed to talk in metaphors and riddles. That stinky preconscious tries to stop me but I have my ways. Here he comes, more later. Ok back to Ian.

Let me tell you something. When a marriage breaks down, it sucks. You might think you have some idea but I don’t think anything can make you understand. Sure, you might even tell yourself, at least you have the life of a bachelor to compensate, right? The truth is you don’t even know who you are any more. What kind of pathetic piece of shit must you be to let it all fall apart? And all you can hear every day are the silent echoes of people judging.

You want to be strong for your kids. It sounds easy. But you hear them judging you too. So you try but you always fall short of what they need you to be.

And all the people. They hate you too. They know all your secrets. They see what a failure you are. They feel how worthless you are. You try to reach out, but no matter how much they give, you still feel it deep down. They despise you.

Nothing can shake that feeling.

I have to be honest, it’s not a completely new feeling. When I think back I honestly wonder, how is it that I made any friends at all? It seems almost like some cosmic accident.

It can be a little bit like that time dilation I was mentioning earlier. It’s like, the closer you get, the stronger the repulsion, till you become completely frozen. Do other people feel that too? I honestly don’t know.

This really is the hardest thing to explain. It’s almost like a phobia. Sometimes it even feels like a conspiracy. I often wonder if my life is, for reals, a reality tv show. Everyone is watching you. I’m pretty sure it’s a comedy.

I really can be completely clueless. When I first met my ex wife, I spent several nights at her house, while her kids were away, sleeping in her son’s bed. At the same time she, presumably, was alone in her bed having the most amazing fantasies (I mean, I’m not completely delusional, I “have” seen a mirror). This, if you can imagine, is essentially my history of romantic encounters. I’m the guy whom when a woman says “it’s hot in here” I ask if they want me to turn on the air con. Yep…that guy.

I do understand that it’s probably all in my imagination. Outside of the most evil of villains, like Cruella Deville and Justin Bieber, it’s just a whole lot of effort to hate someone. Even Dexter is kind of loveable. “Ohhhh come here you old serial killer. I can’t stay mad at you.”

And on retrospect, it’s easy for me to see all the people who’ve tried to love me and failed.

But I just can’t shake that feeling. And then he comes again.

Oh, it’s HIM.

They ALL fucking hate you.

But something happened that has changed everything. I had a son.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Next week: Curry and the mouths that love them!

There Is No Elephant

Cinema has an amazing way of making you feel, at least for the time that you’re watching the movie and shortly after, that you’ve got access to hidden information and finally know the truth. I thought I’d write it down so others could read it later and thank me.

I just got back from watching Ender’s Game, based on the amazing novel by Orson Scott Card. I won’t spoil it, but besides that’s not really what was on my mind.

Now Orson Scott Card, by some measures, is not a very nice man. He’s a known bigot. He struggles with concepts that are clearly more driven by his religious upbringing than his keen intellect. Which is sad, since his writings show that also inside is the mind of a great thinker.

Ender is a boy of vastly superior intellect. Even using those words strikes a little pang of concern. It’s as true today as it was when the book was written that intellect is seen by society with fear, mistrust and jealousy. Just think of all the loaded meanings and insults that reinforce the idea: smart ass, don’t be so smart, you think too much (oh really?? Maybe YOU don’t think enough?). There’s also the sneaky cousin of the insult: everyone’s entitled to an opinion (and therefore your one backed by evidence and critical reasoning is WRONG you asshole).

The discrimination is even implied deeply in how we judge people. Compare the dumb thug versus the intellectual mastermind. Who would you be more likely to forgive. But as a friend once so eloquently put it (to paraphrase), the difference between these two is not in their value as a character, it’s just one did a hella better job of the crime.

Which brings us back to the character of Ender. Ender is a very violent person. Only ever in self defence mind you, but violent nonetheless. As much as I abhor the intellectual discrimination implied, even I feel a little fear at the thought. An intelligent and POWERFUL person is an intimidating thing. Yet, let’s be honest, if you wanted to get the shit done, isn’t that exactly the person you want in charge?

Yet violence, it seems, is used as the balancing factor for those who lack in intellect. Not encouraged exactly, but excused, almost like unconsciously we’re conditioned to root for the “underdog”. “You may be smarter than me, but I can sure beat you up!” For further details see Revenge Of The Nerds.

I find it frustrating in fact, to see comments on the recent death of one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century. I’m talking, of course, about Nelson Mandela, also known by his tribal name Madiba.

Briefly mentioned in the novel of Ender’s Game (although absent from the movie), and the main topic of the sequel, was the idea of a person called the Speaker For The Dead. The basic premise is for the speaker to speak honestly and truthfully about the deceased persons life, both good and bad. The aim being that all people will see that we are not good nor evil incarnate but simply human. By celebrating a persons whole life we truly honour the great things they achieved, and also allow ourselves the freedom to forgive ourselves and seek a higher purpose in life, regardless of our past.

Which is apt, I feel, given Nelson Mandela’s complicated life. How offensive when others point to Nelson Mandela’s violent acts as if to discredit his life. As if to say, none of it mattered.

It’s a common kind of poor thought, that something so complicated as a human life can be distilled to either good or bad. Yet funnily, we seldom apply it in the other direction, as if, for example, we should celebrate Adolph Hitler as some kind of hero because he invented the Volkswagen.

Is it, then, some kind of lazy excuse for discrimination? “Oh, suuuure he may have freed millions of people from second class status and altered the discussion on racism more than just about anyone from the twentieth century, but lets not forget he’s a terrorist (oh and black too by the way just in case you forgot)”. After all, how many so called terrorists come from privileged classes? Was Ned Kelly a terrorist or a hero? Robin Hood? William Wallace? Strangely peculiar, the fine line that divides heroes and villains.

Ask yourself, if someone threatened to enslave your friends and family, wouldn’t you do the same thing?

I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I can’t speak for the man nor his ideals. I’m merely trying to suggest an idea. Maybe the very language we use is corrupt. Maybe the very morals we live by are just a thinly veiled means for keeping us under control. For stopping heroes like Nelson Mandela from fighting back.

As I see it, though, there is no elephant in Nelson Mandela’s room. The man lived a life of integrity. A life of courage. For all his faults…INCLUDING all his faults…he lived a life to be proud of. The simple life of a human.

Or maybe I was right earlier. Maybe violence should be kept as the sole domain of the bullies. After all how else would the spineless pricks ever compare to truly great men?

There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile to continue talking about peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people.
– Nelson Mandela

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.
– Mahatma Gandhi

Here I Am

It’s always difficult to know where to begin. To many people it seems obvious: that age old saying “start at the beginning”. But like many common sayings this one is mostly flawed, based on the most rudimentary of “rational” thinking, the kind of thing we might expect a five year old to say if we posed him the question.

Think about some of your favourite stories. Imagine if THEY had “started at the beginning”.

“Hmmm, yes,” thought George, “I’ve got this one: once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, Darth Vader (evil mastermind) had a baby named Luke Skywalker”.

Sure, there is ample literature that is written this way. But where is the drama? Where is the lesson? Some people may even like the simple things in life (they’re often the best, if again you listen to that five year old brain that so many of us seem to base our lives upon). For my liking, on the other hand, I’m seeking something more.

I’m going to start in the middle.

I may not tell you the end. I don’t even know it yet, and even if that weren’t the case how would I recognise it even if it occurred?

If we’re lucky, I may eventually get around to the beginning…but even that may be trite. All our beginnings are the same essentially: “it’s getting a little squishy in here, what if I just roll over…oh my god! What is this??? Squish..splat.”

All of this, so far, of course, is mere mental gymnastics. Procrastination of a sort. It would make sense if you knew me intimately, but you don’t, and that’s what makes this so difficult. Hopefully it will make sense in time.

So here I am. And where I am right now is filled with a deep sadness. It’s there most of the time. I won’t call it depression because that’s such a loaded word. It seems, at least, more complicated than that. Depression conjures up images of physical illness, almost irrational sadness for want of a better phrase. There are reasons for the way I feel though, even though they’re quite complicated.

Mental illness is a strange beast. Something they don’t really tell you is how underdeveloped we are as a society to deal with it. It has taken me many years, decades even, and many approaches to come to the understanding I have now. And it’s probably fair to say I still have more to learn.

Seeking help is not like going to the GP to get something for a cold, or seeking treatment for disease. A lot of it is guess work, or at least that’s how it seems to me. Apart from some small indicators, such as checking dopamine levels for instance, you can’t just do a quick blood test, or have an X-ray. “Oh I see Mr Jones, you have a contusion in your unconscious sense of self. Take these pills and call me in the morning.”

Oh, and that’s another thing. There are “physiological” mental illness for sure, such as schizophrenia. But much mental illness, especially of the anxiety and neuroses types, barely even fit the standard model of illness at all. There’s no physiological problem, which makes it all the harder to take seriously I guess (but that’s another topic altogether). It’s more akin to a computer virus, like a sickness in your thoughts, so ethereal you start to wonder where illness ends and personality begins.

I dare say that to many people, except those close friends and family, this will come as a surprise. I’ve learnt to hide it well from general society. That’s something that goes along with my condition (if you can call it that), but I’m getting a little ahead of myself now.

It’s a special case I guess, not unique but certainly not your garden variety. (“Ooooh, it’s a bumper crop of arachnophobia and oral fixation this year Mr Farley, but ewww what’s that thing growing over there?”) It is a little hard for me to judge objectively though, because I have little bits and pieces of all sorts of complexes, and there’s a good chance that one of them incorrectly convinces me that I’m irretrievably different to everyone else. On the other hand my neurotic desire to doubt everything I think gives me pause and I’m back where I started.

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure where I’m headed with this. One thing I’m sure of is I have a deep desire to communicate, but the specific reasons for that are still unclear. So I thought I’d start to write. Maybe it’s an attempt to find some truth in the telling that one can never quite find when mulling an idea over to themselves. Or it could be some vague attempt to help others who might follow in my footsteps.

Mainly though, I do get a kind of perverse pleasure in bringing people down. I hope you have a miserable day.

We’re laughing at your misfortune.

Next time: Xbox vs Playstation: who really gives a fuck?