Sunday 22 February 2015

Expanding to fill the metropolis

I missed the action of Cyclone Marcia, which has just travelled through the town where I used to live, and instead revel in the mild weather of Sydney in late summer, with its warm days and cool nights. Missing the bad weather on the Coast is a real blessing because it was just this kind of weather event that had caused me so much anxiety: the torrential rain, the horrendous winds, the flooded streets. I have quickly adjusted to life in Sydney, although to be sure it's not an entirely typical household still because just after I moved in my flatmate then moved in as well. The apartment is full of boxes and there are a lot of things still to put away. There is a shortage of cupboards.

In contrast to the chaos that's here in the apartment my mother is living in quiet seclusion in her nursing home, which is located about 30 minutes north of here by way of the Warringah Freeway, the Lane Cove Tunnel and the M2. I went up to see her today but left there early, before having the lunch I had ordered, because I feared I had a cold. Flu is a real threat for old people, so instead of staying for lunch I hit the road again after about 90 minutes. Mum and I spent the morning talking about things and I was relieved to see that the lower back pain that had made her life difficult has disappeared due to the careful ministrations of her GP. Last time I visited Sydney before the BMS (big move south) mum was groaning every time she moved, but that evidence has disappeared along with the cause. She also seems even to have put on a couple of kilos. And she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt today and did not seem to mind the cool of the nursing home's air conditioning system. All told the place seems to suit her.

In fact while I was there we talked a bit about her life in the old apartment on the Coast but she can't really remember much about it, although she has only been in Sydney for two months. It seems that she is getting used to the nursing home. "I don't mind living here," she told me today. I remonstrated with her at this prompt because it appears to me that my mother now lacks nothing for her happiness. She has her medication looked after, she gets three square meals a day, she can watch her TV in her easy chair, she can go out into the hallways and chat with other residents, and she has 24-hour staff making sure she is perfectly comfortable. In fact, it seems to me that mum is even being a bit selfish by saying this.

Her selfishness is something I have had to get used to though. When the nursing home first became a possibility back in March last year mum would say to me, "I don't think I need to go into a nursing home yet," and I used to think to myself (just quietly of course, at least at first), "Yes of course you don't need to go into a nursing home because you have two people who do everything to make sure your household functions normally." Now the theme has changed but the message is the same. To me it seems that when you get old you become very self obsessed - the classic trope of the old person who loves talking to their doctor comes to mind - and as your horizons shrink - especially true for those old people who are living with dementia, as my mother is - you find it more and more difficult to see beyond the edge of your own world.

Your world shrinks, in a very real way. But for me things are otherwise. Having lived in a small regional Queensland town for the best part of six years, and having now moved back to the nation's dominant metropolis, I find my awareness of things has expanded. (A change is as good as a holiday, they say.) With this expanded consciousness I can see things that I had previously missed. (We replace very cell in our bodies every seven years, they say.) Unlike mum, who is in my care still, even now that she is living in permanent care, I am expanding to fill a bigger space. I can feel myself expanding and it feels comfortable. 

Saturday 21 February 2015

Settling into the new apartment

Yesterday my flatmate moved in and so there were a lot of decisions to be made about where to put stuff. I also started unpacking the pictures from their boxes and throwing the empty boxes into the loading bay for recycling. I completed numerous trips down in the lift to the second floor where the loading bay entrance is located. You might think there are better ways to get rid of empty boxes, such as returning them to the removalists or putting them up on a website so that someone else can use them, but with two people in the apartment, now, space is really at a premium. Every spare inch of vacant space that can be generated is a blessing. The boxes get thrown away as soon as they are empty.

I suppose that one question people might have is how am I feeling now that I am relocated in Sydney - home of my memories - and in fact I had lunch with a friend on Thursday and that's exactly what he asked. It's hard to answer that question. In one sense I feel privileged to be able to live in such a nice location, and so I feel a bit guilty and then worried that some accident is going to take it all away. That's the paranoia associated with schizophrenia kicking in. It really is a nice place. The apartment has views of the city skyline and I can see the new towers of Barangaroo rising in the distance. So if you were to ask me how I feel I would probably answer that I feel anxious.

But on top of that I feel frustrated because there is still a lot of sorting and arranging to do. The books, for example. When the removalists first brought everything of mine into the apartment they put a lot of boxes of books in the second bedroom - where my flatmate now lives - because the designated "library" was getting so full and nothing more could fit in there by a certain point in time. Then to get my flatmate installed we had to move those boxes of books out of the second bedroom and into my bedroom, so I now have towers of book boxes all over the place in there. The book situation is compounded by the fact that I had to leave two bookshelves on the Coast as they wouldn't fit in the lift of my old building to get them out. So I'm short two bookshelves and I have a bedroom full of books.

On Monday the picture hanger comes so that we can get the pictures off the floor and onto the walls. It will make a lot of difference once that is done. Then I can move a bit more freely.

As for what I will do now that I am installed in Sydney, it's hard to say. I have been thinking about taking up freelance journalism seriously again so that I can engage more with the world and earn some income. But then I think about how many trips I will be making to the nursing home to see mum. I haven't worked out how often that trip will be made, but because I continue to feel guilty about her being in there I feel obliged to do as much visiting as I can. That's not the only reason to go there, of course. I do like just sitting down with mum in her room and having a chat about my problems. There's something comforting about this way of going about things.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Finally relocated to Sydney

It has been a while since my last blogpost here, almost 10 days in fact, due to the relocation (the big move south). The last blogpost I made was on a Sunday. The Monday after that the loading crew came to my Queensland apartment and loaded everything into a shipping container. That night I slept in a rented apartment and Tuesday morning I got up early and drove south toward the border. There was heavy rain inland of the Gold Coast and heavy morning commuter traffic around Brisbane's outskirts. It was 10 hours to Macksville, where I stopped for the night.

I had a good Chinese feed at a restaurant in Macksville along with a bottle of wine from the boot of the car; that particular case of white didn't fit into the shipping container so I had to take it in the car. The next morning I started before 6am and arrived in Sydney around 12.30pm. I went straight to the real estate agent's office to collect the apartment keys, then I went to my hotel in the city and got rid of the car with the valet service. The next morning the delivery crew arrived at the apartment building with my shipping container.

That was Thursday. It's all still a blur. One thing then another, and another. I got the delivery crew to set up the washing machine and the bed and then said goodbye to them at the end of the day. I bought them all lunch. That evening I had dinner with a friend in a restaurant near the new apartment. The next day I started unpacking and that's what I've been doing every day since. That includes Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On Friday a technician came and connected my TV and DVD player. Today a technician from Optus came and connected my landline, which also has the broadband modem attached to it. I unpacked another three boxes today as well.

I have scoped out some of the local eateries. There's the coffee shop near the light rail where I usually go for breakfast. So far I've gone for the sausage and egg roll to have with my flat white. But they don't open on Sunday, so I have to go further down toward Union Street on that day to get a Vietnamese pork roll for breakfast. There's a small sandwich shop a bit further down the street toward the harbour that isn't open on weekends too, and I often have lunch there. I usually go to the pub for dinner, they do a nice steak and chips.

Tomorrow I will walk into the city to buy some shoes. The ones I wore for the trip down I threw in the garbage yesterday as they had reached the end of their effective life. I have two other pairs but one of those pairs has a hole in the right shoe and is developing a hole in the left shoe. The other pair I haven't worn for a long time and they are rubbing at the heel when I walk. Tomorrow I'll also to go the post office to return some letters addressed to the apartment's previous occupants.

I  plan to have coffee with a friend in town and then lunch with another friend on Broadway.

Today I contacted a picture hanger to get that ball rolling. I hope to have everything up on the walls by the end of next week. There are boxes of pictures all over the apartment; you can see them in the background of the photo that accompanies this post. The pile of white sheets in the foreground of the photo is wrapping paper that I have flattened and folded ready to dispose of in the recycling room. They take the recycling garbage away daily.

On Thursday I plan to go up and visit mum. She has been doing ok as far as I can tell. She only asked me for a block of dark chocolate.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Isn't this #libspill just a slow motion train wreck?

As Monday approaches it seems the pressure got too much for Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister who has been fighting off pressure from the wider community to step down from his post. A party meeting scheduled for Tuesday, at which a spill motion put forward by two Western Australian backbenchers was to be put to a vote, has been brought forward to Monday. Next week is a parliamentary sitting week, and it was suggested on Twitter that Abbott was afraid of facing the full house under current circumstances.

For whatever reason the decision was made to bring forward the party meeting, it's clear that people are getting a bit tired of waiting. This morning there was a story on Fairfax mastheads about pressure being brought to bear on the supposed contender for the position of PM, Malcolm Turnbull. There are many people in the community who would prefer to see a resolution sooner rather than later, and so the PM is not alone.

The speed with which circumstances change is a defining characteristic of this year's #libspill.

Yesterday morning it was revealed in a Fairfax news story that Liberal Party supporters had set up a hashtag on Twitter to use to generate support for the PM. The #ImStickingWithTony hashtag was however hijacked around midday by people in the community opposed to the PM, and they made merry with it for the rest of the day, although activity there has slowed right down by this morning. Everything changes at a rapid pace as facts and ideas are received online by the broader community and are quickly digested. Online influencers deploy their personalities in this process, and the combination of emotion and information serves to speed up the process of assimilation. Events get crunched in rapid time.

People get involved online in a way that is impossible in the real world. A story appeared yesterday from Medium, the Silicon Valley-based magazine, that showed how use of social media can stimulate the brain with the result that people receive pleasure from using it. Memory retention is also better with social media use than without it. The story's authors relied on a new Australian-developed technology to find the scientific evidence they use to describe how social media improves the quality of interaction with information.

Given this, it's not surprising that Australian voters are spending so much time on Twitter discussing the #libspill and associated events. Nothing seems to be too insignificant for them. All this online activity is also serving to speed up the political process, so that what might have been left for days or a week now has to be completed immediately in the real world by politicians keen to limit damage and to maximise opportunities. There is no time to dally any more. People have no patience. They want to know it, and they want to know it now.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Has social media sped up the political process?

A couple of weeks ago Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, complained in the media about "electronic graffitti" when talking about the social media response to his awarding Prince Philip a knighthood in the Order of Australia. So on top of annoying practically the entire population of Australia with the knighthood, Abbott then annoyed social media users doubly by blaming them for being what they normally are - opinionated and slightly cantankerous blabbermouths.

Let's face it, it's true. Online we talk more than we should and we're not always the best source of information. My brother saw those fateful words of Abbott's, moreover, and came back with this little gem he'd written in 1998 titled Harlan Ellison versus the Crazy Yenta Gossip Line in which he discusses the way the media, itself, is not to be trusted, and how having a broad array of participating voices can at least go some way to correct the more egregious errors the media might perpetuate on any given subject and on any given day.

Now we're talking about this plethora of competing voices, it's worth looking back to a story that came out on LinkedIn (I know, that's a surprise right there) by a smart guy who specialises in talking about social media. Titled With Social Media We Are All Swinging Voters Now, the story discusses how the public sphere has changed, and points to the recent LNP (almost)-defeat in Queensland. We might better classify that event as the huge landslide to the ALP in the state. In his story, Gavin Heaton talks about influence, which is something my brother also talked about in his story.

What has changed, and what might be making the Australian political landscape so volatile now is the fact that there has been a huge increase in the quotient of voices participating in the business of influence in the country, thanks to social media. The way things are now, you only have to wait a few minutes before at least one consensus opinion emerges online about any given subject, whereas in the past it might have taken days or weeks before this could happen. It's not just the news cycle - before the journalists try to claim credit for the new paradigm - but the cycle of information generally, and as we saw yesterday with the #libspill hashtag in Australia, it only takes an hour for an issue to be thoroughly debated and tweaked in many different ways.

As Heaton says in his article, also, it's not just politicians and journalists now who are influencers, but everyday people with a Twitter account. And who are these people? Well, you'd need a university research laboratory and some heavy funding to work out where the actual influence is generated, but it's certainly possible to do, as Heaton shows briefly - albeit partially - in his story.

What's beyond doubt is that the crazy yenta gossip line is now indisputably the locus of broader community influence and, like it or not, everyone involved in the political process - from the prime minister down to the guy who serves cappuccinos in the local cafe - has to cope with a novel situation. As more and more people join social media the issue is only going to deepen, in other words the pace of political change will get faster and faster. If you don't like it, you can always set up your own hashtag and try to attract supporters. No doubt there will be a few switched-on Luddites out there ready to retweet you.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Conditions for the creative process

The BMS (big move south) continues, with 46 boxes of books packed. That's for all of them bar a few that are still lying around. I'll be taking two books of poetry to Sydney in my luggage. But the process is coming to a close, with only the removalists coming tomorrow to finish packing the rest of my household effects. That means I'll be whiling away the weekend on my laptop probably, because if there's one thing I cannot do without it's the life online.

I also crave the musicality of poetry. It's funny considering I don't own a stereo and only usually listen to music on the radio in the car. But the music of poetry moves me. The other day - just a day or so ago - I was sitting here reading through old poems and alternately reading and weeping. Silently the tears fell down my face as the music of the poems mingled with the old emotions that had been encompassed by them.

And despite the disruptive influence of the BMS I wrote a poem this morning. It's called 'The weather' and as usual it's a sonnet. I am getting into stride with sonnets now I think, after working with the form for about seven years. One aspect of the sonnet that's becoming easier to negotiate is the volta - the switch of theme or style at line nine, at the start of the third quatrain - and so I can quickly switch tone or subject now at this point, where before I hardly even thought about it. At least in the beginning, that is.

One thing that really helped me was being able to talk with a woman who not only writes but also teaches writing. During our discussions we touched on many of the characteristics of the sonnet. She also suggested other forms for consideration but for some reason I still stick with the sonnet as I now find it a sympathetic form for me. It suits me.

Writing in the middle of a major disruption like the BMS - or any other kind of major change of life - is a challenge for anyone. So I was slightly surprised this morning when I opened the file on my computer and started the first line of the new poem. But once the process was finished I was happy that it had been begun. The theme of moving house forms part of the subject matter for the sonnet, so the whole complex of feelings and emotions surrounding the BMS is included in the poem. I'm not sure when I'll publish it, or where, but I have been putting other poems on Patreon in recent weeks. Go and have a look if you're interested.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

42 boxes of books

That's how many boxes of books I have packed so far, including yesterday and today. Yesterday I wrote about some of the sensations this exercise has caused me, but today there's more. It's a kind of excitement-with-anxiety. It's that feeling of separation at the top of the stomach except now it has spread to the extremities of my being. I am light. I feel light. I feel as though I could float away.

I wouldn't say it's entirely a pleasant or an entirely unpleasant sensation, although it is different. Normally I feel quite heavy in the world, quite substantial. Even if I'm feeling happy. But now I feel as though I'm about to spin out of control and go spinning all the way across the room. I don't feel fixed in place. I feel movable. I feel temporary and unstable.

As I said, it's not an entirely unpleasant feeling. It feels as though something is about to happen. And of course that's perfectly true because I am going to move to Sydney early next week. By the end of the week I should be ensconced in the Pyrmont apartment with internet connection and everything. It's just that between now and then a hundred things could go wrong. I tend to be pessimistic.

Most of my bookshelves are now empty. I look forward to a slow afternoon online. This blogpost represents the start of the slow afternoon. I am ready to receive. Over.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Packing books in boxes

I am in the middle of packing my books into boxes. I have thousands of books and they all have to be packed up before the removalists take everything away on 9 February.

It is a kind of meditation, packing books. There are books I have not looked at for years, and there are books I have not touched for even longer. Books I never thought I owned, and books I vaguely remember buying. Memories of where the books were bought, whether second-hand in a charity sale or in a bookshop new.

Each book has a personality and a character. I renew my acquaintance with each book as I put it into the cardboard packing box. I come to know my library again. I am reacquainted with my library. I get to know it again, as if it’s new and just acquired, although in reality I have been collecting books for over 30 years. There are books from when I was first at university in the 1980s. There are books bought after I returned from Japan in 2001.

I am becoming familiar once again with my books, and it’s a strange experience. In a way I want to have less books, because so many books are a burden. Each time I move house I have to go through the same process of packing and moving. I have to take the books down off the shelves, put them into boxes, and then put them back on the shelves again at the other end. It’s a problem.

On the other hand I revel in having so many books in my library, as though each book were a separate part of my personality to be handled and discussed at some future point in time, at some indeterminate locus of interaction with the world. In this way I become, in a way, able to be shared with the world because I own so many books. There are some books I forgot I had, and other books I am waiting to find.

I am awash with books, I am steeped in them. I am soaked in their knowledge and their styles of writing. I am in a way submerged by their richness and their excess.

Monday 2 February 2015

Preparing to leave the Coast

Today it's one week to go before I head south finally for Sydney in the BMS (big move south) that has been developing since the beginning of December, or even earlier. I had delivered 70 packing boxes today for my books, which I am tasked with packing myself. I'll start that job tomorrow morning.

I have been quite busy enough today including getting the delivery at the destination set up. The building in Pyrmont I am moving into has a "moving in" procedure they require all removalists to follow, so I got in touch with their onsite manager - called the "resident services manager" - and made sure all the boxes were ticked to make the delivery of my household effects smooth and seamless. This is part of my "thinking forward" technique of making sure there are no stuff-ups to mar the move. (It's also an indication of my inherent pessimism.) With so many moving parts (it's like a big machine) I have to take time to get things right. I also booked the motel for the trip down - I'll be overnighting on the road in the town of Macksville on the Nambucca River - and the hotel in Sydney for when I reach the city in my car.

I then dropped off some keys for my mother's apartment at the real estate agent's and had a haircut. This was my final haircut on the Coast. I shook the hand of the barber when I had finished and had paid. We said our goodbyes. (You develop relationships with barbers. They're some of the people you actually talk to in your daily life. You don't really talk to the woman in the grocery store or the guy in the fruit and veg store.) I came home and ate lunch I'd bought at the local cafe - the one I use for lunches, which is different from the one I use for breakfasts.

I filled out a form to redirect mail. Then I took it down to the post office and registered it, and paid. A small white dog licked my leg and put its paws up on my thigh.

An email arrived earlier today from the picture framers telling me that some items were ready to pick up. I went over there and got them. On the way home I stopped at the petrol station and bought fuel for the car. Everything is so close up here on the Coast, but I will need lots of fuel for the drive to Macksville on Monday.

As I said to the barber, living in this town has been my first and only experience living in a small country town. I have learned a lot. It's also my first time in Australia living outside Sydney. It is the end of an era for me. Today I said some goodbyes. I will say more goodbyes over the next few days. Tomorrow I get started packing books. I will label the boxes. Everything will be in order. Here's to order.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Palaszczuk win shows us that governments cannot rely on the old rhythms of government

Tony Abbott thought he was John Howard and counted on at least two terms. Like Howard, Abbott has worked away on deconstructing the old socioeconomic settlement underpinning the demos in Australia, and like Howard he has been punished by the electorate (in the unofficial polls). It looks certain that Abbott will lose the leadership of the Liberal Party within the next couple of weeks. Campbell Newman, Queensland's erstwhile premier - who has just lost his own seat of Ashgrove in the leafy suburbs of Brisbane - tried to stave off the effects of the corruption within the federal Liberals by bringing the state poll that was due forward by two months. But it didn't work. Newman, who might have thought back in 2012 when he took the reins of government in Brisbane that he had three terms' clear air, is out and his party is about to concede defeat to Labor.

Another factor guiding events in Queensland is the fact that there is no senate in its Parliament. Voters in the state must take on the additional responsibility of keeping the bastards honest. They have showed us twice in a row now - the 2012 election result was also a landslide, to the LNP - that they are quite capable of turfing the pricks out on their arses if they don't behave.

Asset sales turned out to be a big issue for voters. While LNP pundits in the period of reckoning after the polls closed complained again and again that their Queensland ministerial team was unable to "bring people along with them" to do the "necessary" reforms facing the state - thus virtually laying the blame for the election defeat on voters themselves - the fact is that most voters are aware that the global economy is stuffed right now and government just has to get used to raising debt to pay for things until the cash flow kicks in again at some indeterminate point in the future. Government has a few jobs, and one of them is supporting the economy in times of crisis. We are still in a period of crisis following the 2008 GFC. Most voters also know that it was conservatives who got us into the GFC mess in the first place anyway with "necessary reforms" - those weasel words again.

With the Greek result also front of mind, it appears that the world is "turning against austerity", as Jason Wilson argues in the Guardian. Whatever the reason, as Wilson writes, "All over Australia, the electoral see-saw is accelerating, with short or nonexistent honeymoons, and more governments in trouble within a single term." First it was Victoria, then it was the federal government, now it is Queensland. New South Wales has an election due in March. Will NSW Labor recover from its own malaise of collusion and corruption and return to power there, too?

But there's another element in play as well. As @boeufblogginon said last night on Twitter, "No-one's factored in the changing nature of media coverage of campaigns. Social media's role has to be recognised in countering MSM." Instant access to the public sphere via social media is something that has really only matured as a force in the past few years, as more and more people sign up to the publishing platforms available online. Their willingness to engage in socmed is matched only by their awareness of their rights and prerogatives. Australian socmed users are an entitled bunch. It might just be that their relationship with the politicians who are elected to represent them in Parliament has changed in a material way because of the success of Facebook and Twitter.

Certainly, the mainstream media in Queensland appears to have lost yesterday's battle in grand style.