For the past two years, I’ve struggled with a lull.
Back in the TEDxMelbourne, social media and UX days, my brain hummed happily on novelty. I attended meetups at least four times a week, made dozens of friends, pushed myself to learn daily, felt positive about the world and felt as though I was making a difference. I like to think of it as my period of activity, where I thought I could be a thought leader.
Then I got married, joined the Melbourne Lindy Exchange, fell off my motorbike, changed work roles, moved house, tried to renovate, got a dog. I drifted sharply into being a passive consumer. Computer games filled my time (and still do), and allowed me to have fun while not having to put any weight on my foot. I read twice more books than I had in the previous year. I even had time (and excuses) to isolate myself in Bon Temps and its surrounds (hello, True Blood!) and the hills and deserts of Westeros and Essos (Hello, Game of Thrones!)
In a funny way, the common thread was still my need to be immersed in something. I wasn’t creating things. I wasn’t building community. I wasn’t facilitating interaction. But I was learning to slow down and interrogate why I’d done those things in the past in the first place.
A friend of mine went to an Eric Whitacre workshop, where he talked about his A Boy And A Girl composition, and how creating that song taught him that value of rests, not just for the singers to breathe, but also for the audience to breathe.
This has reminded me that this isn’t a down period, or one of nothingness. There’s plenty roiling about under the surface, but sometimes we just need time to notate rests in our lives, not just to breathe, but to effect change within. Creating a space of emptiness to allow new things to flow in.
I still can’t help feeling some shame when I speak to someone, and realise that I can’t report much to them, apart that I’ve been working hard, playing Bioshock Infinite, and having many brunches with friends. But I realise that shame comes from no one but me.
Alan Ball was in town for a night, and he spoke to a packed out RMIT Storey Hall about his beginnings in sitcoms, “moments of shit”, American Beauty and, of course, True Blood.
1) His description of Nelsan Ellis as, “channelling from Planet Lafayette.”
2) The need for a writers to have something on the side that they truly care about, partly for the sake of sanity, partly because it’s important to stay prolific.
3) The formulaic nature of sitcoms. Every episode centred around a climatic “moment of shit”.
4) How the story is influenced by demands of execs, advertisers and the stars
5) TV shows exist only as vehicles for advertising. The same way I see carrot sticks as mere vessels for fatty mayo dip. They are not valued as an art, just a craft.
6) How HBO told him that his initial scripts for Six Feet Under were too safe and that they needed to be “more fucked up”.
*warning, the end is really cluttered, and I’ll clean it up over the weekend.*
Having a good think about blues dancing, the sort of people it attracts and the reputation it has, triggered by this somewhat misleadingly tield NPR podcast, The Healing Power of Blues Dancing.
First off, blues means different things to different dancers. Depending on how you define blues dance and therefore what music you dance to and how you interpret that music as a dancer, it could be about slow dancing with lots of hip movement, shoulder rolls and snake-like litheness. It could be a close and cosy groove to close and cosy music. It could be a grand leaping rollercoaster of acrobatics. It could be done to some funky soul, nu-soul, hip-hop, jazzmatazz, with lots of locking, popping and peppy moves.
But we humans do what we do best: make meaning out of things. Cast value on objects and acts. Physical intimacy becomes associated with romance and attraction. People categorise the behaviours and categorise the people associated with the behaviours to make sense of their own identity in the community. Hierarchies are established.
Blues gets the reputation of being sleazy, and it’s because of the slow side of blues with all the hips and shoulders and more. Perhaps we should question instead the values placed on these movements. I usually like to argue that slow dancing to blues normally involves slow, deliberate, sinuous movements because that is what the music is itself. Slow, free-form, deliberate, sinuous, sensuous, purposeful. Why not see it as a celebration of these things instead of assuming that it is done for seduction? Why not enjoy the confidence of the movement?
And as a result of the values of sleaze cast on the movement, the assumptions roll on to the people who enjoying doing those movements. People who dance sleazy blues are then sleazy people. Sleazy people attract other sleazy people and form a big sleazeball community of sleaze. It’s slut-shaming in another form. I’ll start another day on the gender differences between solo blues for women and solo blues for men.
I love blues pretty much the same way I love lindy. Endorphins from exercise, neurons firing off from new learnings and creativity and the music, oxytocin from physical contact and empathy. The oxytocin, in particular, lends to that feeling of ‘romance’ from the closeness. Pheromones probably don’t help.
But the bigger issue arises when people take this ‘romance’, run with it, and impose their desires on those who don’t feel comfortable with it. I’m sure that there are people who enjoy the romance and the social floor is not the place to, well, impress this upon an unsuspecting dance partner, unless they’re a willing consenting equal. Or if it’s mutually and culturally acceptable. I’ve been told that it’s less of an issue in some US blues scenes.
It’s naive to assume that people dance solely for the sake of the art. The human interaction factor is huge. There isn’t a pick-up culture in our lindy and blues scene here, not as overtly as, say salsa. But it would also be narrow-minded to swing to the other extreme and assume that all blues dancers are in it to sin it.
And even then, so what? There’s a time and a place for everything. Whatever happens between consenting adults and all that. Maybe a private house party would be better (thanks for that perspective, dogpossum).
My reasoning is that we have to accept that different people flock to the dance for different reasons, because that’s inevitable, but it’s important to nip predatory behaviour in the bud assertively and proactively and always educate through public discussion. And reinforce respect, compassion and honesty. Tackle the issues systemically and as and when they, well, arise.
That said, could blues dancers be recoiling at the mention of ‘romance’ because it’s associated with the reputation that other forms of partner dance, like latin and salsa, acquire and we don’t want to classed under the same banner, especially with the terms ‘romance’, ‘passion’, ‘sexy’… and the assumed pickup culture?
Sometimes it feels as though dancers are trying to kinda rebrand blues by emphasising the technical value of it and shielding blues from those perceptions. Like parents trying to save their children from the unsavoury peccadilloes of the internet by advocating internet censorship and putting a blanket ban on them going online at all. Why not accept that all those things happen and instead give people the tools to negotiate this socio-cultural landmine with their own informed decisions? Through open discussion in public forums?
Those damn ‘puter games have me in their spindly claws again. After the wedding, we didn’t need any more plates or bath towels. Our linen closet vomits rainbows of bedsheets. So we (and, by default, our kind wedding guests) decided to indulge in a luxury. Enter the Playstation 3.
On top of this, we have less money coming in and I hurt my ankle from my other hobby: falling off motorbikes. You can see how a cash-strapped and immobile lass would have an aversion to going out for dinner and dancing.
Being at the mercy of a good game is a warm and familiar state. This is evident in my foetal crouch on the couch during intense gunfights. However, I noticed that I battle with the ‘gamer’ status more than the actual digital dudes I allow to mow me down.
Gendered kids’ play
I’m ever aware that gaming is gendered as a masculine activity. Weird strata exist to designate certain games to women. Ok, not so weird. It’s called the patriarchy. Apparently we’re more likely to (and therefore should only) enjoy games such as puzzles and anything that nurtures their ‘natural’ instincts to play house or nitpick imperfections. I’m not a real gamer if I enjoy something like The Sims 3. Little Big Planet gets a begrudging pass, but real gamer cred seems to go to those who enjoy shoot-em-ups, tactical military games or sports. On the weekend, a dinner companion double and triple-checked my assertion that I enjoyed Red Dead Redemption, suggesting that I was actually referring to my husband. Perhaps he’s also a clueless sheltered dolt, but hey, who am I to vilify clueless, sheltered dolts?
That said, there are happy overlaps in games that are considered gender-neutral. Rock Band is a unifier, a staple for when friends come over. It’s the modern equivalent of the parlour game. In The Fella’s humble opinion, Singstar spells the death of an evening, a last resort by gracious hosts if conversation runs absolutely dry. But I’m used to having awkward friends and I’m given to spates of awkwardness in company. Singstar can be a relief, a way to create bonds even without obvious verbal cues. I’d buy those games, if I was so ready to part with my money for fake guitars, drum kits and mix tables.
I admit that I’ve never been into games with guns. The whole Half-life and Counterstrike era flew by me, mostly because I was didn’t have access to machines, money or time, so I chose to ignore it. My colleague on the other hand is a mad raving fragger (is that term still used?) and astounds me with her knowledge of gaming, now that she’s out to me as a gamer.
She was hesitant at first to talk about her passion. Apparently, most people think that gaming is a childish pursuit and as an adult woman, she’s regressing into some Freudian condition, rather than engaging in a hobby with merit. Apparently gamers are supposed to be younger, male, single, allergic to sunlight, socially inept and hooked up to an IV drip of caffeine and sugar. Your average IT developer, really. Adult diapers optional.
The both of us are certainly more technically savvy than most, but it doesn’t preclude us from being ordinary folk who happen to enjoy gaming as much as other things that adult women enjoy. I encourage her to talk about it as much as possible, and now we trade articles and strategies. When she games, she encounters incredibe sexism, not against her in particular, but it can be confronting enough that she logs off. Sometimes she confronts the people making comments, but largely, she doesn’t see sexism as a battle worth fighting. She just wants to play games like everyone else.
You must remember that people deal with these things the best way they know how. At least she talks to me about it, and even though my feminist toolkit is a few spanners short, it’s enough that I can discuss issues with her and navigate that mindfield of gender politics in gaming.
The Apple IIe phase
Looking back, I’ve been gaming on and off for 25 years. My chubby fingers first made little pixels on a screen eat other little pixels when I was five years old when my father got an Apple IIe in the early 80s. These are the games I remember:
- Winter Games
- Summer Games
- Lode Runner
- Donkey Kong
- Snake Byte
- Snack Attack
- Montezuma’s Revenge
- Karateka (Thanks for the brain jog, @rob_caporetto!) and;
My brothers got their teenaged paws on sneaky copies of French Postcards 1 and 2 but that’s another story.
I must have been the only one among my friends who had a computer. I never heard anyone talk about it, so I never traded game stories with anyone. Then again, I did go to a government school; most families were working to middle-class. Personal computers were not yet affordable. My father’s computer was only meant for word processing anyway. Honest.
The Sony years
There was a gap of about five years before my father bought us a Sony Sega Mega Drive. There we played a host of delights such as ‘Sonic the Hedgehog‘ and ‘Castle of Illusion, starring Mickey Mouse‘. There were many squeals of, “Oh NO! Big Boss! Big Boss!” at the final level. When the cartridges wouldn’t read, we’d pull them out and heave a good lungful of air and spittle into the contact points, then they’d magically work again. Probably out of fear.
I still occasionally draw on the sweet memories of the Castle of Illusions’s Enchanted Forest level music to lull me to sleep.
After a good run with the school report card, I managed to whine at my dad until he bought a Sony Game Gear in the 90s. I’m sure we had heaps of games, but I only remember playing, yet again, something which involved Mickey Mouse, this time jumping over
rabid turds chocolate drops on a conveyor belt.
I’m a PC — the Telnet diaries
We didn’t get another computer for a very long time. I blame a spate of bad run-ins with bad grades. But I had access in secondary school when they got us into the computer labs to play English word games. That was the extent of my gaming in my early teens.
Around Year 10, my grades went up again, and we got a PC, running on Windows 3.1, then later Windows 95. My younger stepsisters were on the scene by the time, so we had many ‘games for kids’. I kept myself occupied with learning touch-typing with Mavis Beacon and reading as much of the Encarta encyclopedia as I could.
Then, one day, I saw the boys in my Year 11 class with their windows open to ever-scrolling fountains of words and letters. They explained to me that they were playing games, but with other people from all around the world. Oh really? The internet for home was still a rarity in most homes. We were one of the lucky few to have it, and I’d been using it for things like ICQ chat and IRC for a while, but it never occurred to me that I could continue to play games.
Thus started my addiction to Multi User Dimensions using a Telnet client, later upgrading to zMUD . TeraMUD was my virtual hangout. It didn’t help that I wasn’t allowed to go out with friends and all our phone calls were recorded (my dad was rather protective), so MUDs were one of the only ways I could engage with others, communicate meaningfully and feel part of a community. I once earned us an $800 bill from our ISP, on dialup. But I also earned precious (at the time) XP and friends from all over the world. My father didn’t see it the same way. I used to sneak downstairs where the computer was after 1am and create elaborate ways to avoid being heard. Sometimes my father woke in the middle of the night and came downstairs. I just killed all the power and hid under the table, cowering until he sauntered back upstairs.
Other games I remember were Tombraider (of course) and most fondly, The Neverhood. I hear it has a cult following now. I may even still have the disk. My sister once confessed to having a crush on the duck-lipped protagonist, Klaymen. I had a crush on the entire soundtrack of the game. Some of the sheen came off when I learned that the creators of the game were stark raving evangelicals, which explains the creation story in one of the game caves.
The partner years
As a child of the internet, my romantic forays were also online. My first relationship was long distance and sustained by IRC and ICQ. That boyfriend played a lot of Counterstrike and Half-life. The first time I tried to play Counterstrike, I fared so badly that the boys around me shook their heads and ignored me. I vowed never to touch it again.
My current fella was into all that stuff, but only as a casual hobby. We also purchased a chipped Xbox and to this day, he enjoys coercing me into playing Halo with him, just to hear the way I talk as the game goes on. Apparently I change completely and a new vocabulary of war appears out of nowhere. Kinda like Winston Churchill strategising, but with a Singaporean accent and less tobacco.
I also became a GTA: Vice City widow, so much so that I considered getting a t-shirt made. He disappeared briefly from my life for hours at a time, with only squealing tires, gunshots and an 80s soundtrack weakly emanating from his office to signal his presence.
Present day: Playstation 3
So where to now with the console?
I will try my best to be open about my passions. It’s the ‘get ugly early’ strategy of life. Be upfront about your quirks and predilections and meaningful connections will filter your way. I’ve had at least five other colleagues ‘come out’ as gamers. It’s amazing how they light up. We’re talking about taking turns to bring a console in and capitalise on the huge flatscreen telly in the kitchen and have game nights.
Besides, I’m thrilled with the quality of games today. In a way, I get to watch Oscar-quality movies with gripping storylines, engaging characters and worlds that I can bend to my will, level design confines willing.
I’m currently obsessed with L.A. Noire. It’s the first time since Tomb Raider that I’ve been so invested in a game and character. It has its shortcomings and sometimes I’m convinced that I’m only in it for the sexy suits and hats. But it’s inspired me to fight against spoilers or cheats and walkthroughs. I want to play with all my own effort, mistakes and BYO wonder.
I’ve chosen an excellent time to get back into gaming and for what it’s worth, I don’t think my five-year-old self will be disappointed at all.
Bloody Mandarin. I frequently dream that I’m in Chinese classes in high school. Then I find out that there is an exam that I haven’t studied for. On top of that, I try to get to the exam hall, but all sorts of obstacles come in my way. I never get to complete the tasks.
Last night, however, I dreamt that I was in smaller tutorial class and yes, of course there was a test that day that I wasn’t aware of. Everyone else wrote their essay and handed it in quicksmart. While my classmates celebrated with chips and fizzy drink, I persevered and eventually came up with something passable. I knew it wasn’t the best quality, but I felt strongly that I would pass by a sliver.
This is significant. For once, I am performing enough to get by, instead of either failing or waking up before I get to know how it ends.
What is changing within me?
Interesting times. We had a few en masse family gatherings recently, Chinese New Year reunion dinner is this weekend, we’re organising a large family event and my uncle also moved to Melbourne last week and is occupying our sofabed while he settles in. All this brings old memories, stories, longings. My uncle particularly enjoys the reminiscing process, so I have a backlog of 40-odd years of family history to catch up on every night.
Last night, I asked him how he met my Aunt. Apparently it was at a fancy dress party where he was dressed in a gorilla suit and apron, along with a catheter bag half-filled with dilute tea, strapped to his leg.
[edit — it wasn’t a party. He was on his regular rounds at the hospital. He was in a gorilla suit and surgical gown, with the catheter bag attached.]
My parents met in far less surreal circumstances and have my father’s caution to thank. Here’s how he told his story:
How we met? Why you want to know? I dunno why you want to know about these old sentimental things. It is all history, OK? When the dog wants to sleep, it’s better just to leave it alone. Otherwise it will get angry and come and bite you, then you know.
But because you asked, I will tell you.
When we met, I was studying for my MBBS. Your mother was studying nursing.
During that time, I worked very hard. I was on scholarship, so I was damn scared of failing. That’s why I tell you, you better concentrate, don’t become school councillor or do drama, do debating, all these sorts of things? It’s false glory, ok? I already failed one subject because I was so stupid and said yes when my friend asked me to be treasurer for some club, can’t remember what it is already.
Then that’s why, when everyone was throwing this party and that party, I always said no. Study comes first.
Anyway, I managed to save some money to buy myself a gramaphone. Second-hand only, but I was the only one in my dorm to have one, so I made sure that it was always locked up. Sekali someone come and steal, then how? Cry lor.
One day, some of the medical students wanted to have another party, and they asked me if they could borrow my gramaphone.
At first I say no. Of course I say no! What if they damaged it, or what if I never saw it again? You never know how other people are going to treat your private property.
Then they say, “Come, lah! You also come to the party, then you can jaga the gramaphone and all of us can listen to Zhou Xuan. Come on, Ah Nam. You’re the only one who can help us, just be nice and share.”
So I say ok, can. Like that, how to say no? Feel bad, lah.
So I went to this party and I stood next to the gramaphone. I handled all the records, just in case the others were rough with my machine.
All the nursing students came up to me and asked what songs I was playing, but your mother was the only one who sat by herself. She never approached anyone, never smiled at anyone, never danced. Some of the boys would try and talk to her, and she would just chit-chat for a short while.
While I was changing records, I noticed that she smiled at me a few times. I was also tired of changing records all the time, so I sat with her while everyone was dancing. Then, dunno how, we started talking. I cannot remember what we talked about, but then it got too noisy, so we left the party and went to jalan-jalan together.
The gramaphone? Haha, I forgot all about it! Thank goodness it was still there when we got back. Still, must be careful, ok?
And that’s how me and your mummy met, lor. Happy now?
The daily grind: coffee revelry
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m happiest when I work myself into the ground, or, to be specific, coffee grounds. It’s been a week already and I still have bean fragments lodged in the creases of my hands, particularly where they split from the incessant water-dust exposure. Tattooed by coffee. How apt!
We used Yarra Fair Trade Organic at the Holy Cow Chai Tent. I think it was the FairTrade blend, which did half the work for us. I experimented with different grinds, given the dry weather, and found a happy compromise which spouted sexy mousetails from the portafilter, collected itself like a good pint of Guinness and spread across the palate like honey.
The machine almost gave out on us on the last day. The pressure kept dropping dramatically, which hadn’t happened in preceding days when both Mel and I were on the steam wands. That said, we were grateful for the breaks while we waited for our asthmatic machine to recover.
Shiva on shift — colleagues
Cafe staff are often in transition, doing uni, acting etc., just looking for something to tide them over before they disappear in a month or two.
With the chai tent, people genuinely want to be there, not just for the handy cash. We orchestrated leave from our city jobs to camp away from loved ones and creature comforts, partly for the love of the work, and partly just to work with Twid and Colin. They pretty much trusted us as professionals and adults and left us alone to do our magic. We, in turn, could trust them to give us quality material to work with and oversee the bigger things.
And the Chai tent seems to attract rather good-tempered folk, so personality clashes were just about non-existent. I can’t wait till we meet again at WOMADelaide.
That said, I had one GRR moment with one less experienced colleague. I was assigned to coffees and she got service and miscellaneous tasks. She kept gravitating towards the machine, placing hands everywhere, rearranging things. I had orgnised things within arm’s reach such that I could do my job blindfolded if desired, all Shiva-like, so I was frustrated when she, to be polite, messed with my system. I often reached for the milk, only to find that it had waddled away and I once nearly cooked her hands when she went to clean the steam wand, just as I was turning it on.
I apologised to her later for being terse and territorial (I actually grunted at her at one point) and it turned out that she had been flustered and kept trying to be on the coffee machine where she could shut all distractions out. We weren’t so different after all. We promised to work something out for WOMADelaide.
Twid and Colin could, at least, trust us to be adults too about sorting out our perceived differences.
Amanda Hugandkiss — customers
- The one who always asked for a very weak cappuccino with as little milk and froth as possible and and a sprinkle of chocolate. Basically a dishwater Americano, grazed by the milk jug.
- The ones who were shaking so much from the night before that they couldn’t open their wallets.
- The one who gave his name as Squeee just to be greeted or summoned with a “SQUEEE!!!”
- The one who insisted that her coffee and service had to be done by no one but me. I wasn’t particularly good, she was just particularly insistent.
- The one who sniffed, “Absolutely not!” when asked to line up with everyone else.
- The tic I developed every time I heard one of the less experienced coffee makers jerking the milk jug up and down against the steam wand. Microfoam, honey. Not handjobs.
- The one who thought that he could get a free coffee by flirting.
- The one apparently named “Amanda Hugandkiss”.
- The kids who came clamouring up for hot chocolates, and my surprise when I saw one of them later smoking a cigarette (he didn’t look older than 12).
- The one who bartered two hot chocolates for a sack of cashews.
- The one who pouted and sulked when I told her we didn’t have cinnamon sprinkles, then lied, “But my friend got some yesterday!”
- The one who came around with a nostril-searing incense stick and insisted on watching while I poured so that he could make sure I was giving him the EXACT amount of milk he wanted. I had to stop and start six times for him. Just didn’t know when to say “when”, I suppose.
- The one who thought that sneakily touching my ear while I was working with steam was a good idea.
- The ones who didn’t understand why their slow-brewed masala chai wasn’t thick like cafe chai lattes (we boil the spices, then steep tea in the spice water, then add milk. Chai latte formulas have stabilisers and thickeners and they are usually 2/3 milk. Then again, even most commercial soy milks have additives.)
- The ones who thought that the brewed chai teas were chai lattes anyway, and that chai lattes were called chai lattes because they had coffee, and therefore asked me to add an espresso shot to make it more like a chai latte please thank you very much.
Rainbow can be an alternative-lifestyle coming-of-age for many, at an apt MTV pace.
The festival newbies start out in streetwear, but as the festival progresses, they capitulate to the cause wholeheartedly. We watched as some urbanites stuck resolutely to their fancy sneakers and jeans while others incorporated pieces bought from stalls onsite, experimenting cautiously.
Even with attitudes, from the first day, the old hands are very comfortable holding their own. They gaze into the crowd, make eye contact and smile. The newer ones start out skittish but become much more open and friendly by the end of things.
It’s what happens naturally when people try to figure out a new environment, perhaps.
Or, because the city takes away what little physical space we have, people compensate by creating emotional space that few are allowed to enter. Connecting with someone invites them into your space. In the city, because it is uncommon, the invitation implies something more.
On the other hand, at things like Rainbow and Confest, it’s possible to have meaningful contact with someone without expecting to see them ever again. It’s awfully Zen. It’s beautiful while it exists and doesn’t have to be recreated again. Just look forward to starting a new day and see what new interesting conversations that brings.
I’m romanticising and generalising the Festival experience, of course. It’s the same for travellers. It’s all about the transience.
Invisibility through visibility
While resting one afternoon, I overheard a dismissive conversation about a girl who wasn’t at the festival. The group concluded that she ‘just wants to be invisible’, to blend in, and was therefore to be pitied.
Perhaps they were unaware of the irony. They had chosen to blend into their group with their coded costumes. On a larger scale, they also blended into the carnival of Rainbow by being carnivalesque themselves. They achieved invisibility through visibility, whereas their poor friend had achieved visibility through invisibility.
My fellow barista Cam and I talked about how we felt almost naked, without a costume or facepaint for the festival. I had brought some of my old grunge-punk items from uni days and that was the closest I was ever going to get to ‘fancy’. Cam decided that he will come back with a mohawk, loincloth and huge headdress. I’ve promised to take many many pictures.
Home sweet home
It’s nice to be back in constant air-conditioning and a comfy bed, without the constant thud of doof music reverberating through the ground. This trip taught me that I doof isn’t my first choice, which I knew in the first place. I closest I get to doof is psy-trance when I’m trying to work, which explained why, yet again, I felt inspired to create a spreadsheet on several occasions.
On the last day, I blasted my Kitty, Daisy & Lewis CD through the car speakers as I packed up my tent and even managed a few little jazz steps in the dust. If we establish what we are relative what we’re not, Rainbow had given me a smorgasbord to choose from. Then again, I wouldn’t say no to RSF2011.