“Next time when we catch up… let’s make it an experience thing, let’s do an escape room or go bowling or something.”
That was the last thing J said to me in person on Friday after lunch. We hugged and then the next Tuesday I heard he was dead. Suicide, according to what people have told me.
J is the 5th friend to take their own life, most of them (like J) never gave any hint as to what was happening. C, M, R, H & J.
Someone suggested J had succumbed to a “moment of weakness” but I strongly dismiss that. People who commit suicide are not weak, they were strong. They were strong to last as long as they did with whatever it was that was gnawing away at them. Strong enough to pretend that there wasn’t this huge blackness looming over them and their lives, but just not enough strength, in that moment, to reach out for help.
It’s natural to turn the lens inwards at this time and think about what you could have done differently. Three of us had coffee last Friday. J had reached out uncharacteristically looking to catch up for coffee (was that a sign?) I spent over 2 hours with him at lunch and we talked about everything from AI to relationships. He declared my technology advice rubbish but the relationship advice useful.
I put my hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eyes and told him: “you are an intelligent, thoughtful, attractive, hard working and above all interesting person and the right person will come along for you, all the best relationships in my life have happened after I spent time on myself, on caring for myself, on what I wanted. One day you’re going to make someone very happy”.
I didn’t say that because he seemed down, more to the contrary, he was talking about future plans and aspirations, the kinds of things he wanted out of life. None of it seemed far fetched or unattainable. I said it because I wanted him to understand his value as a person. How important he was to me as a friend. I even affirmed that. I told him how grateful I was to know him, that he meant a lot to me.
I have no idea why my friend took his own life and I don’t think I will ever know. I also don’t think I will ever know what words I could have said, things I could have done, promises or bargains I could have made to change the course he had chosen.
So all I can feel right now is this unfocused sadness and rage. Sadness at a brilliant little point of light in our world snuffed out way too soon. Angry just at the world and our crushing reality where someone can be driven to the point where that is their only option. I want to break open the clouds of Heaven, shake my fist at God and call Him a monster.
My cousin is visiting Melbourne and I thought I would document some of my favourite places not just for now but for the future as well. Note that items with an asterix (*) require booking in advance. (yes, even some cocktail bars require bookings!) Most of these places are in or close to the CBD.
One of my favourite things about Melbourne is all the food, the below list is in no particular order my favourite food places in Melbourne.
Max on Hardware Lane – Hands down my favourite Italian restaurant of all time, this restaurant does al fresco dining in the middle of the bustling hardware lane. It’s not fancy Italian, it’s stick to your ribs Italian fare. I love the ambiance, the live music on weekends and the experience of being heckled by the touts on the way down the street. I normally don’t book, but if you have a large group would be best to book.
Tutto Bene* – Another great Italian place, on South Bank. They attract South Bank prices but I feel the view is worth it. The food is great and I very much like the risotto. They are a great option if you are Gluten intolerant.
Strong vegetarian contenders
Byblos* – An amazing Turkish place (book in advance to avoid disappointment). They will put in a spread you can’t believe. They offer fully vegetarian options that will leave meat eaters satisfied.
Vege bar* – if anyone in your party is vegetarian, go to Vege Bar during nice weather, sit in their couryard and enjoy so much great vegetarian food you will forget it’s vegetarian.
Maha* – If you want a vegetarian option but also a degustation, this place will blow you (and your wallet) out of the water, but the food is an experience.
Squires Loft, Docklands* – Squires Loft is a chain, but I have been eating at their Docklands establishment so regularly that I think they have my photo under the desk. Best steak in Melbourne, hands down, you won’t be disappointed.
Meat Maiden* – Meat meat meat. If you want to have meat sweats.
Blue Bonnet* – They do American style BBQ. I can taste it now.
Roule Galette – My favourite crepe place of all time. No need for a booking, just turn up and enjoy.
Bistrot d’Orsay* – Traditional French style food, good to book if you have a show at the Regent theatre nearby.
Uber Eats / Takeaways / Easy options
Lord of the fries – vegan but certainly not low carb
Southern Xross Kebabs – Good kebabs at a reasonable price
Sal’s Pizza – New York style pizza, the pepperoni wheels are an indulgence.
Gami Chicken – Korean crispy chicken coated in sauce, I like the sweet chilly.
Sparrow’s Philly Cheese steaks – Cheese steaks – need I say more?
Betty’s burgers – great burgers and milkshakes.
Vue de Monde* – fancy dining experience in Melbourne. They will do you a degustation that is world class, but they attract world class prices and have a world class waiting list.
Brunetti’s – Close to Roule Galette, the best pastry place in all of Melbourne, it’s a chain, but the store in the CBD is best.
Naked in the sky* – a rooftop restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining options, great tapas and a matching bar (naked for satan).
Milk the Cow – A little beyond the CBD in St. Kilda. They do nothing but cheese with matching wine, beer, cider or cocktails. Definitely worth a go!
Bars / Pubs
1806 – The birthdate of the cocktail, this place never ceases to delight. An intimate cocktail experience.
Eau de Viet* – A “hidden” bar with a nondescript door. They do showy cocktails and cocktail flights.
Bomba bar – a lovely open air rooftop bar. Great when it’s not busy.
Gin Palace – luxurious, and leisurely, more gin and gin cocktails than you can imagine
Urban Alley – A bit of a trek out of the city, but they do amazing craft beers that even I can drink.
Rum Diary – OMG, if you love rum you must go here. They have live music on weekends but catch them at a quiet time to get a rum tasting flight.
Melbourne is world renowned for its café culture, there are coffee shops in New York named after streets in Melbourne.
Manchester Press – They do loaded bagels and great coffee.
Seven Seeds – Great food and great coffee.
Cafe Lafayette – A cute little japanese cafe that does cute latte art and Japanese snacks
Krimper Cafe – Good food and coffee options
Brunetti’s – I mentioned them already but it’s worth mentioning them as they are a cafe as well.
Billy’s Central – A chain in a shopping centre, but some surprisingly good quality food and coffee.
Site seeing – in the heart of the city
All of these experiences are a stone’s throw from the city centre
Federation Square – Go here at least once, there’s so much going on here and there’s almost always something happening nearby.
Flinders Street Station – Don’t have to stay here long, but it’s across the road from Federation Square, so why not check it out?
St Paul’s Cathedral – Beautiful old church near Federation Square.
Hoosier Lane – world famous graffiti lane in Melbourne CBD.
Southbank – make sure you experience this during the day and also at night, go for a walk along the South Bank, have some food, check out the casino. At night time there is a fire display that happens along the walk every hour on the hour.
Eureka Tower – if you’re into tall buildings with a view of the city, this is definitely for you.
Arts Centre – A short walk (or 1 tram stop)from Flinders street station will get you to the arts centre which always has something fresh on display. Note that it’s technically outside the free tram zone.
River cruise – If you have never been to Melbourne, I recommend taking a cruise along the Yarra river, it’s a fun site seeing afternoon and can be educational.
Queen Victoria Markets – Might sound lame, but going to the queen vic markets can be a highlight for many travellers. It’s easy to get to from the CBD and well worth a look on the weekend.
I was browsing Facebook (something I don’t do very often) when I saw this (incorrect) table of numbers presented with the caption “what am I doing wrong?”
Now, the table was developed by my friend, George. George is my late father’s best friend. He’s a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, empathetic man who I have always admired, so I couldn’t dismiss this out of hand as a bad faith effort. I have to interpret this as George asking for advice on what he was doing wrong.
So, I promised George I would help and this is my attempt. I am not an epidemiologist, but the core of this challenge comes from an understanding of statistics, something which I do know some things about.
So let’s start with what George was trying to do, he was using this website as source data to calculate the likelihood of catching corona.
So, let’s try help George make sense of this data. Firstly, we need to set ourselves a goal, the implicit goal is determine whether you’re more or less likely to be infected with COVID if you are unvaccinated, and if so, how much more or less? In statistics, we would say we have a null hypothesis and the hypothesis states “vaccination status has no impact on COVID infections”.
Now as the Irish joke states “I wouldn’t start from here”. I personally wouldn’t trust data on a website called “public.flourish.studio”. So the first thing I did is check the origin of this data. Turns out Flourish Studio is an app for data visualisation. In this case, it’s been used by someone called Farah Hancock. A bit of googling found this article.
So where is this data coming from? Probably ultimately coming from the publicly and freely available data on the New Zealand government website. I note that for data geeks, the New Zealand government has a whole CSV full of detail as well.
It’s always good to use verified official sources of information. So, ideally, we would go back to the source, but I don’t think that’s what we should do just yet. Let’s do what George was trying to do and make sense of this graph in isolation, let’s use this to try figure out what the relative likelihood of someone catching COVID might be, based on vaccination status.
So, what is going on here? Well, on the left hand column we have all the people in New Zealand, broken down by percentages that have different levels of vaccination status. The middle column is the 7 day rolling average of “new cases” of COVID per day. The last column is the 7 day rolling average of “new hospitalisations” where the people were found to be COVID positive. I draw your attention to the footnote which says “data includes people hospitalised with COVID-19, but not always due to COVID-19” this is going to be an important point in a bit.
There are two difficulties we have with interpreting this data as it stands. We don’t have accurate information about “partially vaccinated” people, the number is somewhere around 1%, but it’s hard to say if it’s being round up or down. I propose we exclude the “partially vaccinated” because statistically they are such a small group that our analysis would not be accurate at all.
The second problem is that “new cases” is a self-selecting group. A self selection bias happens when individuals select themselves to participate in a study, therefore the sample is already biased. In this case, presenting yourself for testing is an optional thing which people can choose to do. Some people suggest that unvaccinated people might be less likely to show up for testing, it’s hard to say if that’s true, but we can avoid this bias by looking at the last column: hospitalisations.
In this case (as we determined before) we are seeing people who happened to be in hospital who tested positive for COVID. Whether they were in hospital or not was effectively independent of their COVID status or vaccination status. This is a good thing because it’s effectively a kind of “sample” of the general population.
So, what’s happening here is we have people in New Zealand with certain demographics (vaccination status) and we have a sample taken from that broader population (people in hospital) and we then apply a measurement to that sample (do they have COVID or not?). This should be enough data to calculate what we want.
What we really want to get to is to calculate a “percent infected” value, but we can’t really. To do that we would need: Number of people infected / Total number of people. If we knew the number of people in hospital, we could calculate that ratio pretty easily. Given we’re stuck with this graph we’re going to have to start making some assumptions instead: what is the total number of people in COVID positive in hospital on any given day? Let’s call that number “H”.
Let’s assume H = 100 for our purposes. We’re going to learn that the exact values for H don’t actually change my analysis but it helps to have specific values.
So, we now can easily calculate a number of people in each vaccination status group that we would expect to have COVID if the chance of infection was the same for every group:
OK, so that was very simple, and you might say “duh, you didn’t need to do much of a calculation” but I think it’s important to think about this carefully. We are saying that if the rate of infection for all vaccination groups is the same, then we would expect almost half of the COVID positive people to be boosted. Why is that? Well, that’s because almost half of the population is boosted!
This value is now the value of our null hypothesis. If the actual values are very similar to these calculated values then we have to assume vaccination status has no impact. This is the principle of the P-Test in statistics.
OK, so we know what it would be if there was no impact of vaccinations. Let’s calculate what the actual counts are according to the data we have:
Wait, hang on a sec, what’s going on here? The actual number of boosted people infected is half that which was predicted, and the actual number of unvaccinated people infected is more than double than we predicted.
Could we use this to calculate a relative likelihood of contracting COVID? Yes, I think so.
Let’s calculate the proportion of actual count versus predicted count:
OK, so boosted people are actually getting infected about half as much as we expected them to and unvaccinated people are getting infected slightly more than twice as much. So, in answer to our original question, you are more likely to be infected with COVID 19 if you are unvaccinated.
So, can we then determine what proportion that is? Yes, let’s take all of the last column as a ratio of the first row:
Here we can see that an unvaccinated person in hospital is 4.8 times more likely to be infected than a Boosted person.
So you might say that since I selected a value of 100 for “H”, I have biased my analysis. What about other values for “H”? Well, turns out that “H” is cancelled out in the maths:
Lastly, I would also like to note that “infection” is different from “disease” someone could be “infected” with COVID and not actually have many or any symptoms. Research suggests that vaccinated people are far less likely to contract the disease. If you want to read much more educated takes on vaccination and COVID, then I encourage you to follow Chise on Twitter.
Her latest tweet at time of writing:
Rates of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by Vaccination Status per the CDC: Unvaccinated: 2053.6 cases per 100k Vaccinated: 823.6 cases per 100k Boosted: 642.1 cases per 100k
Unvaccinated: 12.6 deaths per 100k Vaccinated: 1.8 deaths per 100k Boosted: 0.4 deaths per 100k
I’d like to end this blog post on a positive note and one of my new favourite songs by Barenaked Ladies called “Odds Are”. The song suggests that the odds of falling in love are greater than most of the odds of awful things happening to you in your life, so, the odds are we’re going to be alright for another night.
Its a four letter word that’s caused its fair share of trouble since the dawn of human kind. It’s a word I have been pretty skittish about ever since the ending of my longest relationship over 2 years ago. Tim has already declared that for him the “L” word was going to take a while. He wasn’t about to use it lightly. We both had to be sure. We didn’t want to hurt anyone, or get hurt again.
Truth be told I had been thinking about the “L” word a lot, trying to figure out when the right moment would be and if I’m honest, having to bite back my words a little during some moments.
I had been bugging my psychologist about it for a while. How do I know if I am in love? When is the right time to use those words?
“Well, tell me what you feel?”
“I miss him when he’s not there, I’m always excited when he turns up. I get anxious thinking about what would happen if we were separated. He makes me feel happy and safe.”
“So, why not call that love?”
“Because.. I think, this could be a genuine chance at the kind of relationship I am looking for, the kind I imagined in my 20’s. It’s so real, I guess I’m scared.”
So, it was with minor trepidation I had been anticipating this New Years. Tim was luckily going to be at my place for the New Years party, and I didn’t have any idea when we would be able to share another, what with his shift work and my work obligations too. Maybe tonight was the night when I used that word? I fretted over the champagne flutes, one of my favourite double-walled glasses got unceremoniously smashed and we made it to the balcony just in time for the countdown. Was this the moment?
No, the moment passed, too many people. We shared the first kiss of the year but the moment passed. I didn’t say the words I had been thinking about. Was I not ready? Was it too soon? How would I know?
An hour passed and the party was winding down, the mess was relatively well contained and people were at the tipsy-chat phase of the evening. I was glad I had disabled YouTube on the TV so we wouldn’t end up with the inevitable YouTube Party. I had decided that maybe the “L” word could happen another night, content to just enjoy the party.
“Hey, can we go get some air?” Tim yanked me gently from cleaning glasses and took me out onto the balcony. Although it was about 1am, it was a very warm and humid Melbourne summer’s night. The air felt heavy with moisture. We sat there on the balcony and made out like teenagers, interrupted once by some revelers who wanted to get their own taste of fresh air.
They returned inside to a blast of air conditioning and then he seized his opportunity. “Hey foxy… I love you”.
I very nearly gasped in surprise. Not that he had said it but that this was something he too had been planning. He’d been waiting for the right moment himself.
“I, uh, oh you brave boy” was my response “I love you too”.
And with that he broke the embargo on the “L” word. But I still felt uneasy. Was I ready for this?
“It feels thrilling to say it” he said it again as if daring himself.
I searched my own emotions. I didn’t feel a lump in my throat, I didn’t feel a shortness of breath. I just felt safe, calm, happy.
Was this love? I have been trying to separate out in my mind my need to be needed by someone and actual romantic love. Needing to be needed was unhealthy, but love. Well, that was quite another thing.
What was love anyway, how was I supposed to know. My mind drifted to the song “Perhaps Love” written by John Denver, but the version I remembered so clearly was sung in duet by two boys in a choir I saw in South Africa decades ago. At the time, in the back of my mind I registered it would be kind of cool if they were singing to each other.
Anyway, as I fell asleep, I committed to myself that I would learn to play the song “perhaps love” on guitar, and sing it. Maybe that would help me understand my emotions better.
So today, first day of 2022, once the hub-bub had died down and the apartment was controlled chaos, I sat and tried the tabs quietly by myself. As long as the chords are easy ones, I find songs faster to learn now.
I played it a few times to get the chords right, then got into getting the words right.
Then I cried. I cried and I sang, I sang and I cried.
The version below doesn’t have crying in it.
Love is both a source of support and a wide deep unfathomable thing like the ocean. It is as diverse and varied as there are people. Also, love is not just a feeling. Love is an action, love is a choice.
Like the choice Tim made on that balcony last night. I realised after learning the song that the song had to be for him, because last night and for countless days and nights over the last two years I have seen Tim’s love towards me in action. I am excited at what this relationship could be for both of us.
“Goodnight” he said as he rolled over onto his side. “This is going to be a great year”.
Today is my 42nd birthday. I don’t think anyone knows this about me but 42 has been a big secret milestone in my head ever since I was about 13 years old… Three decades ago. That sounds weird to say out loud.
Why 42? Apart for it being the answer to the question about life, the universe and everything? Well, you see, that was the age at which I remember my father re-marrying. I remember distinctly, she was 21, he was 42, and I promised myself then and there at the tender age of 13 that I would go a different path to my father somehow. I wasn’t really sure how, but one of my goals was “marry someone more than half your age”.
You see, I’ve always quite similar to my father. In fact, when I was a child I used to think that he could read my thoughts. I would play a game where I would think of a word and see if he would say that same word later on. The words matched up enough that I decided to stop playing that game.
Looking at my father’s trajectory in life, the decisions he made and the situation he was in at 42, I promised myself I would do whatever I could do be different to him, to choose a different path.
That’s not to say that I think my father was a bad person. More the contrary: he was a very helping and giving person. He was the kind of person who would run towards danger. On many an occasion I saw him run towards where someone was screaming, or put himself in harms way to help others. He was always giving: giving, giving, giving. He developed strong Christian values and he tried hard to hold himself to those throughout his life.
So what was it about Dad that I wanted to avoid? Well when I was younger I wanted to avoid the kinds of relationship mistakes I saw him making. He got himself involved with very troubled people. Jumped in to look after them. The most dramatic of which was marrying someone half his age who happened to need a lot of support. I guess part of me felt like the imbalance of power was a “Bad Thing”. By taking on a partner who needed a lot of support, it was kind of like taking on another child. He controlled most aspects of her life for reasons he felt were for her own good.
As I got older, I started to sympathise more. He got into his relationship to help people after all. I got into relationships to help people too and I realised how being a helper can actually be really bad for me. For many years I pitied my father for the mistakes he had made and the people who had taken advantage of his sweet and giving nature. I promised myself I wouldn’t be anyone else’s crutch. I wouldn’t light myself on fire to keep the world warm…. but I did, of course I did, I am my father’s son after all.
I can point to past relationships where I found myself in that position. In fact, when I was 26, my second boyfriend turned out to be quite troubled. I had to make a decision: do I stick with this person for the rest of my life and be their live-in crutch or let them go? Learning the lesson from my father I let him go.. and I am glad to say he landed on his feet, stronger than ever (it took years though). Dad chose not to let go, and he effectively looked after someone 24/7 for over 25 years. I felt sorry for him. But I don’t feel sorry for the brother and sister that I am blessed with as a result.
More recently, though, I have learnt that “victim” and “rescuer” are two roles in a game played by many people all the time. You could point to the “victim” and blame them, or the “persecutor” who hurt the victim, or you could indeed blame the “rescuer” themselves. You can read more about it in the Karpman Drama Triangle.
Take this song “drive” for instance:
In this song, the singer is singing to someone who needs help, someone who can’t look after themselves. The singer is saying “who’s gonna drive you home?” the implication is that the person they are singing to (a) needs help of some sort, needs to be rescued and (b) cannot drive / rescue themselves.
I used to think of this song as a rather caring and sweet love song. Of a lover who just cares so much for their partner who they just can’t get through to. Someone stubborn who just won’t accept help, who keeps getting into difficult situations again and again, and needs to be helped, needs to be rescued.
But I suggest to you a different reading.
What if this was entirely one-sided. What if the singer (the rescuer) is trying to help this person who doesn’t want or need to be helped? What if this person is, in fact, perfectly capable of driving themselves and if the singer would just leave them alone, they would be OK?
You see, it takes two to play a game. If “victims” draw people in to help fic their problems, then “rescuers” impose themselves upon others to fix those problems.
You see, it’s all about boundaries.
And this is the lesson I have learnt from my father, this is the thing I am now hoping I get right over the next period of my life. I hope I have learnt to see and understand someone who is suffering, to have empathy and compassion for them but to resist the urge to step in and fix things. Not because doing so puts me in harms way (because it does) but because by stepping in and interfering with someone else’s life is overstepping a boundary and taking some of their agency away from them. Rescuing is not always helping and some people need to learn to drive for themselves.
Enter Tim. Tim is unlike most of my past partners in that he is a helper like me. Like me and my father he has also found himself in relationships where he’s “helping” more than he should. Tim and I have been together for a little over a year now and it’s been interesting to see how his “helper” behaviours line up with mine. I am optimistic that meeting my big dorky boyfriend Tim is in part my secret to finding a path different from my father’s.
We’re both helpers, neither of us need help, and both of us say “sorry” more than we should. I have a good feeling about this and I am very happy.
He also lets me drive whenever I want to, which lets be honest is all of the time.
“You just like this song because it doesn’t make any sense” the accusation was leveled at me by my Zoomer friend over Discord as I tried to inexpertly play the tune for him on the guitar. It’s a little rich for a Zoomer, whose meme’s are intentionally uninteligible, complain about things not making sense, so I chuckled.
But it’s honestly hard to explain what a big impact this song has made on me and why. It manages to capture a whole moment in time. This time, our time. But also a feeling.
The song itself is “That funny feeling” from Bo Burnham’s new comedy special entitled “inside”. I encourage all of you to watch it, like and subscribe. Please please go watch that show before you continue reading this. It’s on Netflix… ironically.
Last weekend I was feeling a little down about lockdown here in Melbourne (lockdown 6 going on 7 at time of writing) and so idly picked up the guitar for another attempt. This song had been on my mind, so I started trying the chords and singing along…
Now, every break I get whether it be after a long meeting or before dinner, I am drawn to the guitar to play this and other songs.
Above is my best attempt at the song so far. I’d like to spend some time going through the lyrics and analysing them. As you listen to the song, imagine someone scrolling through Twitter on their phone.
One thing you don’t see in my rendition above is Bo’s visuals, which are important because this song sits itself in a context. It comes right after the super surreal “smile” gag and the stand up comedy where he says some pretty unhinged things about the “inside” digital life being more important than the outside one. All while sitting down on a bar stool in his undies.
The immediate next scene is a close up of a stage light, with the sound of a crackling fire, all meant to capture a campfire moment, a very distinctly “outside” experience. But it’s fake. It’s all obviously fake. So fake in fact that many people I have watched with this have laughed at this juxtaposition.
But this juxtaposition is (in my view) precisely what this song is all about. Throughout the lyrics we’re going to hear things that are incongruous, things that don’t fit. A general feeling of “fakeness” or insincerity. This fakeness is something Bo talks about a lot, he often comments on the “unreal” nature of para-social relationships (the relationship, for example between YouTube content creators such as himself and his audience). He often comments on the insincere way in which we are create a representation of ourselves on social media (see his other wonderful song, White Woman’s Instagram. But that’s not the kind of fakeness he means in this instance. In this instance, he means the world itself is fake.
He starts the song with an uncharacteristic preamble:
“I can’t really, uh, play the guitar very well, um, or sing, so, uh, a-apologies.”
This is, on the face of it, a lie. We have just heard him singing for almost an hour. He’s an accomplished musician who has curated every moment of this experience for us. The fact we saw a few beats of his lighting (the first time we have seen it) and the fact that he makes this claim that he can’t sing means something. These are both fake on face of them, we know they re fake, yet we’re invited to play along and to suspend our disbelief. To listen to an accomplished musician play and sing for us – something they say they can’t do very well.
This sets the tone for the whole song. It’s a song about this kind of creeping fakeness or unreality that we find ourselves in. Not necessarily caused by the Internet but pervasive in our culture in general. I argue that every single stanza in this song is about this uneasy juxtaposition, this unreal reality we find ourselves in. Every stanza is also something you might easily find on Twitter.
Stunning 8K-resolution meditation app
There’s that juxtaposition. Meditation is a very human, personal spiritual thing which has existed since people have existed. Apps exist too, but but 8k? stunning? Why? These are just adjectives we ascribe to technology products to make them sound cool. The number of pixels in your meditation app is not going to improve your meditation experience. Here we’re contrasting the very human and private thing this insincere technophile sales language.
In honor of the revolution, it’s half-off at the Gap
This could be referring to the app itself being on sale, or some other thing that honours the “revolution”. But nonetheless once again, the idea that anything in honour of a “revolution” be sold at a store is speaking to the idea of “manufactured consent”, the idea that even something that intends to fight against the system (such as a revolution) can itself be commodified into something to be sold.
Deadpool is a comic book character who continuously breaks the fourth wall. Deadpool often creates that uneasy feeling for the viewer, he breaks the spell of the suspension of disbelief and has us questioning the unreality of what we’re experiencing. Our own self-awareness is itself a contradiction because as Bo mentioned in another sketch, we sometimes use that self-awareness as a means of deflecting criticism.
So, what the heck is this doing here in this rather morose song? I think this could be talking about the appearance of loving parents. The term “loving parents” sometimes used sarcastically to refer to people who have actually done harm to their kids.
Here, I think Bo invites us to consider that the term “harmless fun” can itself be a contradiction or an oxymoron. Usually when people use the term “harmless fun” it’s in the context of “just a joke bro”.
The backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun
This is a common experience on Twitter. People like to be outraged by something they see or hear, and the outrage itself produces more outrage. I think Bo is suggesting that the negative vitriolic commentary in response to the negative vitriolic commentary to some thing can nowadays happen at the same time as the thing. And in this case, it’s the backlash, or the backlash to the backlash that is more harmful (and faster to spread) than the thing in the first place.
[Chorus] There it is again That funny feeling That funny feeling There it is again That funny feeling That funny feeling
I think that funny feeling is that uneasy sensation that the world around you is somehow wrong, without really being able to put your finger on it. The chorus kicks in as soon as he describes something unsettling, which every stanza is.
[Verse 2] The surgeon general’s pop-up shop,
This seems to be referring to the testing clinics (vaccines hadn’t been invented yet) that “popped up” during the pandemic. “pop-up shop” however cheapens this idea somewhat from being something that’s for the public good to something that’s now a commodity, just like everything else.
Robert Iger’s face
Robert Iger was the head of Disney for quite some time. Perhaps this is referring to the incongruity of a man in charge of entertainment targeting children behaving the way Robert Iger does. Robert Iger’s face is also something you would likely see randomly pop up on Twitter.
Discount Etsy agitprop,
I adore this line. Etsy is a website where people can sell handcrafted things. Agitprop is specifically communist propaganda. So we have communist propaganda being sold at a discount through the capitalist system represented by Etsy. Even the propaganda has been commodified.
Bugles’ take on race
Bugles are chips, and their social media account on Twitter probably has made some takes on twitter. But that juxtaposition of a brand making social commentary about race is once again unsettling. Bo comments on this in another one of his sketches in the show.
Female Colonel Sanders,
Another brand comment. Reba McIntire was cast as Colonel Sanders in 2018 so it’s about the right time for Burnham to be singing about it. Taken along with the Bugles line, it’s likely that Bo is referring here to a bit of an insincere habit of companies to create representation for its own sake. Just like Bugles commenting on race to appeal to a market, so too might KFC switch the Colonel to be female in order to cynically appeal to that demographic for a purely marketing reason.
This kind of fake representation: chips commenting on race and gender swapping a company mascot in an insincere way are all easy answers to a real and growing problem of inequality. Easy answers are often the wrong ones, representation doesn’t necessary fix the underlying problems,
I think this refers to both the “culture war” underway in America but also the juxtaposition of these ideas. This war is a natural consequence of failure to address problems and using easy answers. Also, how can a war be civil anyway?
The whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door
The whole world at your fingertips referring of course to our mobile phones. In the context of “inside” this is presented as a good thing but also potentially harmful. The ocean at your door refers to the climate crisis, spurred on by our insatiable need for energy to run things like our phones and the Internet. We have traded convenience for potential existential threat. This is a theme throughout this song.
The live-action Lion King,
This movie has been criticised heavily for giving up the beauty of animation for “realistic” 3D. On the one hand, the characters look “more real” because the animation is more like real animals, but the characters are also “less real” because they are less expressive. This is a Disney movie, so relates to Robert Iger.
the Pepsi Halftime Show
I don’t really have any thought about this one, it’s a pretty American phenomenon.
Twenty-thousand years of this; seven more to go
This one bites for me. This is an obvious commentary on how we have been around as a species for a very long time, but if we’re not careful, we might not be around very much longer.
A reference to the TV series by James Cordon. It’s set up to seem like a spontaneous unscripted show but it’s of course heavily scripted.
Steve Aoki, Logan Paul
Steve Aoki is a popular DJ and Logan Paul is a popular YouTube personality. I don’t know much about them but I assume this is a commentary on the nature of parasocial relationships and the insincerity we end up projecting into the world through social media.
A gift shop at the gun range, a mass shooting at the mall
These are both real things of course. I have been to a gift shop at a gun range. The juxtaposition here is that these things are obviously the wrong way around. You should be shooting at the range and buying gifts at the mall. We all intuitively understand, of course, the devastating impact of a “shooting at a mall”.
Reading Pornhub’s terms of service,
No one ever does this, no one reads the terms of service, but one might do if one was stuck home for months on end in a pandemic. Perhaps the juxtaposition here is the expectation that we might read the terms of service for something like Porn Hub.
going for a drive And obeying all the traffic laws in Grand Theft Auto V
GTA 5 is a game where you literally get paid when you run people over. Obeying the traffic laws is something you would do if you were extremely bored (similarly to reading the terms of service). It’s a weird thing to do, it feels weird and out of place.
Full agoraphobic, losing focus, cover blown
This could be referring to the experience within the game or in real life. Agoraphobes are afraid of “open spaces” and so tend to stay indoors. Given his history I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham was agoraphobic. “Cover blown” makes sense in the context of GTA 5 (your cover can be blown by the cops) but also could refer to an agoraphobe having a panic attack in a public space.
A book on getting better hand-delivered by a drone
Sweet sweet irony. A book on getting better so you can go outside delivered by a drone (so you don’t have to go outside). Also “hand-delivered by a drone” itself is a nice juxtaposition of a human hand with the action of a drone.
Total disassociation, fully out your mind
Dissociation is where you disconnect from your thoughts or feelings. It’s a very scary thing to have happen or to watch happen. This could be a developing panic attack from having your “cover blown” as an agoraphobe outside.
Googling derealization, hating what you find
Derealisation is that feeling that the world around you is “unreal”. I think this “unrealness” is that funny feeling Bo is singing about. All of the lines in the song refer to a fakeness or unrealness in the world.
That unapparent Summer air in early Fall
That funny feeling of summer during autumn, the forshadowing of climate change.
The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all
That funny feeling of dawning understanding of what everything will end like (through climate change), but also the ending of our own personal existence (suicidal ideation).
[Chorus] There it is again That funny feeling That funny feeling There it is again That funny feeling That funny feeling
[Outro] Hey, what can you say? We were overdue
This was actually a commentary that we made to ourselves during the pandemic. “Oh yeah, we were overdue a global pandemic, about time for it”, but this could also refer to us being overdue the end of our civilisation.
But it’ll be over soon You wait
It will be over soon, we have been telling ourselves this pandemic will be over soon. But it could refer to our civilisation being over soon.
To me then, that last lyric takes on a sinister and ominous tone “you wait”… for the end of our civilisation.
So, if I were to come to any kind of conclusion it’s that the song “that funny feeling” captures what it was like doomscrolling on Twitter in 2019.
I have started dating again, which has been quite a fun and novel experience. Novel in part because Tim (the guy I am seeing) is a fair bit taller and bigger than I am.
Because I’m about 6 foot myself, most of the people I have dated in the past have been shorter than me. This relatively minor change has led to some fun differences to explore.
I see masculinity and femininity as socially constructed and things that we take on consciously or unconsciously based on social expectations. A simple example might be leading and following when dancing. A dance is a socially constructed activity. We made the rules up. The idea that it’s masculine to lead and feminine to follow is socially constructed, entirely made up. For gay men, since we don’t neatly fit into boy/girl, we kind of have to consciously decide when dancing: who is going to be the girl? My first time ever at a gay bar (the Round Up in Texas) I had to “follow” for the first time, which was a bewildering and fun experience.
Another such example is linking arms. Who puts their hand into who’s arm? Sounds simple doesn’t it? I know from personal experience, however, that it’s a nice feeling to have someone you care about hanging off your arm. It might be simple, but it’s quite an important social gesture.
So this is how I often find myself making my way around town: hand firmly embedded in Tim’s elbow, definitely the feminine option, definitely something I have never done before, and definitely something that I like.
And so now we get to the subject of this post: Pride. Specifically: Gay Pride.
I know that some people think being “proud” of one’s sexuality is a bit silly. No more meaningful than being proud of, say, being right-handed or having red hair. But this perspective somewhat misses the point. When people talk about “gay pride” they don’t mean pride in the sense of being egotistical, they more accurately mean “not-shame”. It’s so easy to be shamed into silence, to hide who we are. Pride is a reminder to us all to abandon that shame for something else.
You see, linking arms like this is quite a statement, quite an unambiguous statement for two men to make anyway. When you take on this more feminine role and make this social gesture, you’re exposing a truth out to the world which the world may come back and respond to… and respond they do.
We were walking back from dinner in Brunswick, which happens to be a lovely progressive hipster part of Melbourne: one of the most hipster cities in the world. As we were walking, a group of rowdy young men approached. The kind of boisterous hooligans that I might have been scared of when I was back in high school a quarter century ago.
The thought crossed my mind: do I keep my hand where it is or let go? If I expose us as a gay couple I invite any number of responses depending on what’s going on for those boys. It’s unfortunately a calculation we have to make often with every interaction and every chance encounter: who knows what and how might they react? Am I in danger?
For example, Tim is reluctant to travel with me to Fiji or Singapore because he wants to be able to hold hands without the fear of being put in jail, but I am far more optimistic.
For me it in this moment was an easy decision: I’m not going to change how I behave. They could deal with it, and I could deal with them.
Sure enough, as they passed by one of them remarked incredulously “he’s a faggot?”. I squeezed Tim’s arm “don’t mind them” I said quietly.
“Oh, I don’t” he responded breezily. “You’ll notice they waited till they were well past us to say that, and besides, it wasn’t a challenge, more of a question. Anyway, for all we know, one of them is secretly gay himself and it would be good for him to see a positive role model after all.”
And in some ways I hope it does. I hope that maybe seeing two happy confident grown men just being themselves will maybe change some hearts and minds and help others feel more comfortable with themselves. That’s what pride is all about after all.
We still have a long way to go. That’s not the only time I have been called a faggot in Brunswick. The other time a gentleman took the time to lean out of his car window to declare us faggots as he drove by. To which I responded by flipping him the bird as all good Christian boys do.
I have talked about this phenomenon before, but I think it’s quite relevant for the present day. Let’s talk a bit about loops and spoons.
A loop is an unfinished commitment. It might be something you promised someone else you would do, or it might be something you promised yourself. In psychology there’s a theory called the Zeignarnik Effect which suggests we think more about unfinished tasks than we think about finished ones. Even if this is not true (and some of the research is inconclusive) we do know that we all seek “closure” of these loops. We like things to be done. We think about things that are not done.
Some examples of longer term open loops in my life:
I bought that book when I graduated high school in 1998. I thought it was something smart kids would read, I still haven’t even read the first page. I borrowed those balls off my friend Viren to learn juggling in about 2001. He told me he wanted them back at the time. I haven’t forgotten, V, I kept them for almost 2 decades, but I will give them back to you eventually! That colourful binder is photos that I promised my church I would scan about 8 years ago. I’ll get around to it, I just don’t have a scanner. Oh, and that big box is a control project for my friend’s distillery project which I haven’t done anything on since I moved to Australia 4 years ago. Sorry John.
Loops don’t have to be long-lived though. They could be something as simple as items on a shopping list or an email you meant to write. Closing a loop brings you closure. An “open loop” or an incomplete thing will weigh on your mind no matter how good you are at distracting yourself.
They also don’t have to be chores or bad things. I have open loops about things I am looking forward to, such as seeing friends or celebrating things, food or drink. Everything, even fun things, require energy.
This brings me to spoons. Spoon theory offers a neat metaphor for how much capacity we have for activities during the day. It’s usually used by people with disabilities or chronic fatigue talking about their experience, but I believe we all have spoons to varying .degrees A spoon is a metaphor for a unit of effort we can apply to something. It includes physical, intellectual as well as emotional effort.
I have a further thought for you: open loops use up spoons.
It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. The amount of mental and emotional energy it takes to remain aware of but not address your closed loops is non-zero. It takes effort. Think of it this way: every unclosed loop has a spoon in it. Just keeping the loop open as it were. This happens in real life. I am constantly leaving spoons in containers of things I use regularly because it’s more convenient to keep the spoon there than clean it and use a fresh spoon next time.
But emotional spoons keeping open loops is not a convenience. You can’t just will those loops away. I have books I remember half-reading in my childhood that still weigh on me: we never finished “My Side of the Mountain” in English class and the lack of closure still weighs on me just a little.
Why am I writing about this? Well, over the last little while I have closed some loops and recovered some spoons I had forgotten in their containers. It was such an amazing feeling I thought I would share this with you in the hopes you could go collect some of your spoons as well.
Now, I should start by saying I have a very high capacity of spoons. I am privelaged to be able to cope with a lot of stuff. So much so that I think I often seek complexity out. My calendar at work looks like some kind of abstract art with all the meetings I am scheduled in, and those moments where I don’t have meetings I get phone calls – sometimes I get phone calls during meetings too.
So, when I say that sometimes I have so few spoons I struggle to get dressed in the morning, I am not asking for some kind of sympathy. I am just reinforcing our shared experience: we all run out of spoons eventually, if too much stuff is going on. We all have our capacity, and it’s dangerous to overtax ourselves.
For me at the moment, I am working on about half a dozen projects at work, but three are quite significant. There’s a huge data-oriented project for a very difficult client underway and I have been worried for months now about the performance of a particular part of the system. It just wasn’t right. I have been chipping away at it mentally for weeks now and despite the fact that I have been trying not to work on the weekends, it’s always hard to enjoy weekends because there’s something hanging over you like the sword of Damocles. That thing you know you should be doing, that’s just not done. It’s unfinished, it gnaws at you like an open bottle of milk, expiring slowly on the counter.
Well, Friday morning I sorted it. I implemented a solution I was finally confident in. The sense of relief and closure that gave me provided me with enough spoons to tackle another issue that had been bugging me on a different project. I solved a problem that I have been thinking about for well over a year. It only took me 4 hours, but I could never have done it without enough mental capacity.
I believe closing loops can have a domino effect. You close a loop (use up the sugar in the bag) and reclaim a spoon. You can now re-purpose that spoon for addressing the next loop, and so on. This can be a virtuous cycle if you can game the system.
So, here then, dear reader, is my advice:
If you’re feeling low on spoons, do your best to close some loops.
OK, I know what you’re thinking: the whole point is you don’t have the spoons, how can you do anything without the spoons in the first place?
Well, the funny thing is, you can get a little bit of quarter teaspoon back by creating and closing little loops. When I am low on energy I tell myself “OK, you’re going to get up and have some breakfast, then you’re going to have a coffee”. Turning mundane things you were going to to anyway into a loop allows you to chalk them up as a “win”. Sometimes, for me, winning is putting socks on.
Another lesson is breaking loops down into constituent parts. Rather than have a task of “clean the apartment” which frankly may as well be “conquer Everest” I have tasks that are much more modest “put that piece of paper away” is a small achievable goal you can work on and feel good about, even if everything else is on fire.
Just be careful not to start too many of these little things. I am concious that while I was writing this post I was also:
thawing food for dinner
looking for a CD for a friend
making chai tea
finding a place for chai tea
looking for the cable for the PlayStation so I can play the CD
working on a blog post for my game
It’s so easy to spin up a dozen loops, only close half of them and get stuck back where we started or worse. I think this is what my ADHD friends experience: you get a burst of energy and so this spins up a bunch of loops, but it’s hard to focus and you lose interest in the task but… the task itself remains there, eating away at your soul, consuming your precious spoons.
That’s another one which I am trying to learn: don’t take on loops you don’t want. It sounds simple right? But most of the loops that weigh most heavily on my mind are those obligations where someone asked me to do something… I didn’t really want to, but I agreed to anyway. This could be as elaborate as helping a friend or colleague solve a tricky technical problem or as simple as a friend who wants to catch up for a coffee. Sometimes you need to say “no” to things like that, so you can dig yourself out of the other loops.
Oh, and above all be kind to yourself. If you’re low on spoons because they’re all stuck taking care of unclosed loops, it might be all you can do to just sit quietly on the couch and not cry… or maybe go ahead and cry, I won’t tell anyone.
Because the thing is. When you have no spoons you have no spoons, and the only thing you can do is wait until your capacity grows. Usually sleep helps with that (though if you’re an insomniac, sleep itself can seem like a daunting and impossible task). I guess my thought here is just do whatever gives you the most energy until you have worked up enough spoons to go tackle the next open loop. And make it a small one.
Oh, and there’s another thing I am not good at. Some loops remain open because you’re a perfectionist… you know who you are. You know you can’t call it – won’t call it – till you have perfected it. But sometimes, dear reader. Done enough is good enough and you can simply close the task off.
Like this post – in the past I might have written a first draft and re-worked it over a week or so, but I am trying to be braver than that. So I’m publishing this now and I hope some of these thoughts help you. I know they have helped me.
OK, so with that provocative title out the way, I have a rather useful thought that occurred to me recently I wanted to share. I’ve been doing well lately – very well in fact. I have been improving my work/life balance, I have been doing a lot of home cooking, I’ve been losing weight and thriving during a global pandemic. I even have lovely bird visitors to cheer me up.
I’m also getting a lot of attention from potential suitors, despite the lock down – or maybe because of it. So the natural next question for me is at what point do I entertain the idea I might have a relationship again.
My conclusion for now is “no”. Life’s pretty good, and for now I’m very content to live my life and do my own thing without being accountable to anyone else. I’ve been making home made red sauce, home made brownies, home made Kombutcha.
But then a strange thing happened: someone talked to me about their partner and I instantly felt a twinge of jealousy, it went something like
that person has a relationship
relationships are nice
I should have nice things
I should have a relationship
And just as quickly I realised that’s completely the wrong way to think about it. You see, that’s the same thought process I have when I see someone who has a nice car
that person has a car
cars are nice
I should have nice things
I should have a car
But that thought process is silly. I don’t actually want a car, I don’t need a car either, they’re expensive and inconvenient to store, they cause pollution. Nah, I don’t want one. At least, not right now anyway.
And if I’m honest with myself that’s how I feel about relationships. I don’t want one right now anyway, but this all got me thinking.
A relationship isn’t like a car
Stephen’s thought of the day
Ok, ok, bear with me. What I mean to say is: you can’t possess a relationship. Or at least I don’t think it’s good to try “have” a relationship. I think that for most of my life I saw a relationship as something one could “have” like a car or a house or a TV. Something nice that most people have that I should probably have too because… well… well, why shouldn’t I have nice things? Things are nice. I’m nice!
But I’m coming around to the idea that this is the wrong way to think about relationships. It turns a relationship into a commodity. It makes hunting for a partner an exercise in trying to find the “best deal” or “the best you can afford”. It makes dating a marketplace and heaven knows we see enough of that stuff on all those dating websites. Tinder even originally created an algorithm that attempted to match you more with people at the same level of “hotness” as you have (I am not kidding, look it up).
But that’s not what a relationship is all about is it? A relationship is not something you have, it’s something you do. Who you do it with is up to you and is not really governed by market forces. It’s not a calculation in getting the best you can get or settling for what you think you deserve. It’s falling in love, which is a complex experience which is unique to each pair of people.
So, what I meant by my provocative title is merely this: don’t “have” a relationship, because a relationship is something you “do”.
I think this change of perspective is important. It’s certainly changed how I view potential partners. I no longer think “so and so would be an amazing catch” because… well, no, that’s not the point. The point is not to “have”, the point is to “do”.
So am I set on bachelorhood for the rest of my life? I don’t think so. Remember that bird who visits me? Well that’s not the whole story. You see, Mynah birds mate for life, so I am always visited by two.
Today is the 28th of April and marks the 8th anniversary I would have been celebrating, though if you’ve been following along, you will be aware I don’t have a reason to be celebrating anniversaries anymore.
I’ve been working hard not to wallow, but I hope you will agree, dear reader, that this first non-anniversary after the fact is a reasonable time for reflection.
A few weeks ago. I was listening to show tunes (as one does). Particularly Wicked and the song “For Good” got me crying. At first I didn’t really know why. Like most songs I enjoy, I normally just listen to them enjoying the music and the surface emotion. I don’t normally consciously think about the meanings behind the words.
My subconscious though.. that’s another story. Music has certainly been a strong outlet to understand complex and sometimes conflicting feelings.
I love the play on the idea “for good” (meaning in this context: permanently). We are made of our experiences and most of all, we are made of the strongly emotional ones such as the ones that we have in relationships. Our relationships change us permanently (for good) but we can’t always be sure we end up “better”.
In the 7 years of our relationship I was changed. Perhaps I didn’t change as much as Chloe, but I certainly did change. Did I change for better or worse? The song is ambivalent on that point and this is why I like it.
We can acknowledge and celebrate a huge impact someone has had on our lives without really having to judge whether that impact was good or bad. All experience is experience, all experience is enriching. All experience (like life) just is.
It may not have been for the better, but I know my love has changed me for good.