Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Short confessions of a Summit Cynic

It's been challenging trying to keep my dinner down while I've been surfing the internet lately. I've read more 'motherhood statements' and 'aspirational' messages over the past couple of days than I have ever seen in my life. My saving grace was Annabel Crabb—whose hilarious blog about the proceedings mysteriously disappeared. Overnight. Every search for it on resulted in a confounding "lack of search results". But at least there is now a new voice in the Australian media who makes me laugh and with whom, on many points, I strongly agree.

What I strongly disagree with is these people, the self-proclaimed "chosen ones", who have motherhooded themselves into some tardis of sociopolitical relevance that seems to have eluded every one whose opinions I value. "The Chosen Ones" have taken refuge behind the most convenient of barricades: that anyone who has an opinion about the summit and its outcome(s) that is not wrapped up in divine love is a "cynic". A Naysayer. "You're either with us ... or agin us." That we're all suffering from some hideous plague of Summit Envy Syndrome (SES) ... or Acquired Idealism Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The critical point to surface for me out of the proceedings over recent days is that—even with all the protestations about "robust democracy" and "fresh air"—that people who have not found worthy and meaningful ways of contributing to society and justifying the amount of oxygen they steal from everyone else have suddenly been recognised as having some immense societal worth. In their own minds, at least.

I 'worked' for the ALP last year. I 'worked' for A Candidate in an unwinnable seat. I learned many, many, many things. And chief among those is that Politics is a grubby, nasty, toxic business. It's the absolute manifestation of self-interest. Absolute. That this Summit was anything more than a fancy 'Thank You' card to the personal attention of some hard-working campaigners ... or a PR event of national significance is really, I'm sorry to say, idle conceit. You'll see what I mean when your well-intentioned emails start bouncing back. And people stop remembering and/or using your name. And the extent to which you supported them becomes irrelevant in their continued pursuit of their own selfish agendas.

I have worked with women who rocked their new-born babies to sleep in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet because they couldn't afford child care. That Cate Blanchett seems to be celebrated beyond the boundaries of good taste for turning up offends the sense and sensibility of working mothers everywhere. The Unchosen Ones it would seem. And that Kevin (07) Rudd missed the great John Button's funeral to drop off what I imagine were Osh Kosh B'Gosh overalls to the newest Upton/Blanchett, is an astonishing lack of judgement and political sympatico.

I feel like I've just spent the last couple of days at somebody else's cast party. I wish Annabel Crabb had been there.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wise counsel

I had dinner with an old friend the other night. Charming. Lovely. Nostalgic. She cross-examined me about why I hadn't continued writing plays. Or writing anything. I proudly discussed my blog, this blog, with her ... and encouraged her to log on when she felt like reading some of my musings. Our evening ended with a sudden and somewhat hostile disagreement about the value of looking back into the past ... of not "moving on", as she put it. And as she dropped me home, I wondered what she would make of theartofdistraction.

It didn't take long for me to find out.

The next day, she called me on my mobile and told me she thought my blog was probably the primary reason why I hadn't "moved on", as she put it. She was greatly concerned that I was about to embark on another toxic regurgitation of people, places and experiences that were, collectively, hardly worth the time.

"What did you learn from these revolting experiences?" she challenged.

"To never consider anything like them again", I replied.

"You said it yourself last night," she snapped ... "Gay is so fucking OVER that it's hardly even worth mentioning! And as I've said time and time again Geoffrey, you're too fucking NICE all the time and yet you're obsessed with making some kind of meaningful contribution to some fucking imaginary Gay Community that simply don't deserve it darling!"

I was speechless.

"Did you do the Sydney Film Festival last year? I thought it was 2006!?" she wondered.

"It ... yes, it was 2006," I confirmed.



Great advice ... possibly one of the most sensible things anyone has said to me in the past twelve months.

Liberating. Forgiving. Wiser. Determined. Looking toward tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

In the Pink: Part 1

It all started harmlessly enough, as life-changing experiences often do. Ambushed, wooed, flattered and ultimately seduced with promises of great wealth and opportunity, creative autonomy, a supportive team and life-long friendship, associations and success. Who could resist? And who would ever have guessed that a little over eighteen months later, I would be standing, homeless and stranded on the wrong side of Sydney Harbour with my life in tatters?

Bear with me. Withhold your judgment. Resist the temptation to know where this was all going to end ... if only because we do.


Making things happen

My single greatest blessing and my single greatest curse is simple: I make things happen. From the days of my childhood when I used to mount entire puppet productions of the great musicals in the loungeroom of our family home, I have always made things. Happen. People who, in my presence, have dared wonder how an idea or a vision might be brought to life have usually either ended up running from it as it materialises right before their eyes, or (on the rarest of occasions) embracing it.

Burnt almost beyond recognition by the penury associated with being an independent theatre maker, and desperately needing a handsome and reliable income to pay off the accrued debts of my creative fancies, I established a small communications company ... a desktop publishing company, actually. It was actually always just clever me with an Apple Macintosh and a couple of clients who needed my skills. Nothing grand ... business cards, letterheads ... the occasional brochure here ... flyers, posters ... you know. Junk mail. Clever, neat, pretty and fancy, maybe, but junk mail nonetheless.

Over the years—ten of them in fact—I actually became quite good at junk mail. My designer's eye developed and my instinct for balance and a visual imperative translated almost effortlessly into graphic and typographic design. Slowly, my little business grew and a steady (if not always reliable) income ensued. Sure, it had its ups and downs ... but mostly, I could pay my bills and live the kind of life where I could do pretty much what I pleased. When I pleased. And it pleased me, often.

My move to Sydney in 1999 was an impulsive, spontaneous and entirely irresponsible leap of faith. I had grown tired and bored in Melbourne and the pre-2000 Sydney Olympic Games was abuzz with all sorts of mysterious possibilities (none of which, I should add at this point, ever materialised ... for anybody). Perched in Utopia on the rooftop of a daggy old apartment block in Potts Point, I fell in love with Sydney and her dazzling physical environment. The sky. The lights. The water. The constant activity. The new sights, sounds and smells. The impulsive recklessness and the determination. And the greed. My little business bubbled along ... and courtesy of Marcus O'Donnell, who I had known from the tiny and insular world of gay publishing in Melbourne, I started a regular job as Production Coordinator at Sydney's leading weekly gay and lesbian newspaper – The Sydney Star Observer.

This contract was the beginning of many, many wonderful Sydney stories. Guy, who was the designer and person who put The Sydney Star Observer together, would become a great, inspirational friend ... and a significant aspect of my salvation from the rigors of penury and homelessness would, months later, be in no small way directly attributed to his care and generosity.

It was also at The Star that I would befriend a young advertising salesman who would, in the months that followed, become my dear friend. And I would become his mentor. We would sail the harbour on his boat and I would bask in the glow of his companionship, friendship and irascible nature. Months later, he would become one of many who have mistaken my generosity and capacity for friendship for a seemingly never-ending supply of energy to be relentlessly drained. Exhausted. Our friendship capsized on an immutable point of contention: that I was in love with him and he was not in love with me. Whatever it was, I had actually became fatigued by his constant need, hunger and demand for every ounce of energy I had. On one memorable occasion, even his sister saw fit to warn me that I was being used up.

One night, as I was on my way to the boat with takeway dinner for the two of us, he called my mobile and suggested that it might not be a good time for me to come over—even though I was responding to his call for my company (and takeaway food delivery services). He had someone coming over who he would, er, prefer to spend time with. And at that moment, I burnt him off ... like a leech. I never saw or spoke to him again ... and even now, his attempts to re-establish contact with me are met with a perfunctory and entirely necessary resentful silence.


One of the greatest achievements of my life was the little magazine I published in Sydney called homo. The concept and the look of homo had come to me while I was wandering dazed, confused and dehydrated around the base of Uluru for the second time that day. He had leapt into my mind with such fierce and determined visual clarity that he was impossible to ignore.

Upon my return to Sydney, I immediately made him happen ... and after eleven issues (one every month), homo and my business collapsed under massive debts and my complete inability to continue to service the vision in real and meaningful ways. homo was to have been my future. In his short life, he had made an enormous impact. I had been celebrated as 'Homo Man' at ritzy Elizabeth Bay rooftop parties ... and he had gathered a tiny but loyal band of subscribers. But yet again, the grand theme of my life so far, continued to play out: that with two exceptions, no-one knew how to help me. They knew what they needed from me, and rarely hesitated to ask. But when I was capable of struggling to find the words and to ask for help ... or power with suggestion ... or even on one occasion, plead for support, nothing was forthcoming. And everything that might have been done by others to help me was conditional. Or absent. And homo vanished ... and with him, went my pride, my sense of achievement ... and my perception of a future.

It was a spectacular failure that even those closest to me have no concept whatsoever of the extent to which I was (and remain) incredibly damaged by it.

I've never understood conditions ... but I am beginning to like the idea of further exploring the concept. At least.

Inbox delights

This arrived in my Inbox this afternoon ... and given my current theme, it's a timely addition. Thank you Lisa!

"This little animal really exists! It's called a Naked Mole-Rat, from Africa. So if you are having a bad day and feeling sorry for yourself, just imagine going through life looking like a dick with buck teeth!"

Bless its heart!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Selfishness: The context

Definitions of selfishness:
1. stinginess resulting from a concern for your own welfare and a disregard of others;
2. Selfishness is, at base, the concept and/or practice of concern with one's own interests in some sort of priority to the interests of others; it is often used to refer to a self-interest that comes in a particular form, or above a certain level; and
3. … is devotion to or concern with one’s own advantage or welfare to the exclusion of regard for others. Science and religion both teach selfishness: That the first rule of life is self preservation, which results in "me first" and the creed of materialism.

Quotes about selfishness:
1. He who lives only to benefit himself confers on the world a benefit when he dies. — Tertullian
2. Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race. — William E. Gladstone
3. That man who lives for self alone, lives for the meanest mortal known. — Joaquin Miller

It's difficult to remember when the concept of selfishness first entered my orbit ... but it is not difficult to remember the many occasions when it had an incredibly destructive impact on my life. I am also not entirely sure what and when has triggered another's selfishness ... and how, in whatever way, I have been responsible for their action—their flagrant disregard for my feelings.

I have written about the selfishness of a past partner/lover/boyfriend. His constant, reckless and selfish pursuit of sexual intimacy with, well, anyone else—in much the same way as most fags I have known ... the sad, lonely, cock-obsessed tragics who think that finding themselves perched on the end of a stranger's cock in some way makes them far more worthwhile to society than they truly are. Or to themselves. Or to those who really care about them. The great misappropriation of esteem and value, suddenly and brutally equated to the length and breadth of a stranger's dick. Is this what the value of sexuality is? Does the sexual act—or perhaps sexual greed and need—trigger innate selfishness?

Or to be less (or perhaps more) specific: does the lack of emotional honesty in our lives gradually (or suddenly) instill in us faith in a belief that all else of real value and worth suddenly becomes expendable?

Does the crippling betrayal of one's unconditional trust and belief in the wholesome good and potential of a shared experience destroy our ability to be selfish? Are we so damaged by the experience that we move on and away ... silent, forever, about our needs in case someone destroys us again because we dare to allow ourselves to be open, accepting and vulnerable to them? Pathologically both naked and selfless for fear of being hurt to that extent ever again?

Is that the trigger? Is this the point at where one might feel incredibly alive and worthwhile ... even at the expense of another's needs, value and meaning in their life? And then, like some grotesque masquerade, buoyed with the ballast of this vain and fleeting conceit, they sail on—blissfully unaware that their worth is actually afloat on the decimation of another's.

Is this what 'learning selfishness' is?

In what circumstance and at what point do we decide that our needs have more priority to the needs of others? In my case, the quandaries and conflicts in my life have arisen because of the very opposite of selfishness ... selflessness: "having, exhibiting, or motivated by no concern for oneself; unselfish." ( I don't want this to read as though I have a Jesus Complex, but somewhere along the line, my priorities have become incredibly skewed … I've bundled myself off in a corner somewhere ... to watch the paint dry.

Are we taught to be selfish? Do we learn to be selfless? Is there a point in our journey through life where we finally realise that, apart from only the good dying young, that those who pursue their goals and aspirations with dogged, selfish self-determination are the ones that get 'there'? I will be able to discount this possibility entirely in a future post ... but it doesn't change the overall challenge to the context of these qualities in the way we present to the world. Or ourselves, in the quiet, fearful hours of lonely contemplation.

Selfishness and selflessness are equally powerful and destructive forces. Selfishness, by its very definition, can't exist in isolation ... one needs the other. So is the act of one's selfishness made more potent by the extent to which it is matched by another's selflessness? Have I, in some way, added fuel to the fire by matching people's incredible selfishness with my own peculiar selflessness? Is it, perhaps, that one's selfishness is dramatically inflamed, and possibly even dragged into existence, by another's selflessness?

So what then happens when two equally selfish people meet? An explosion of need? And what happens when two equally selfless people meet? An implosion of equal velocity? A great spontaneous nothingness?

Or is selflessness simply Fear underwritten by Weakness? If I look at any number of the unhappy circumstances present in my life at the moment, I could take a completely different approach to each of them. I could say what I really think about how I really feel ... or I could do as I do—which is respect the other person's situation … a complicit and unholy alliance between a person who might have known better and a person who does, but is too afraid of confrontation that they silence the solution. Well, one of the solutions anyway.

Creating Theatre trained me to be selfless. My scripts would arrive in the rehearsal room, and from that point onwards, you value the contribution made by everyone who comes in contact with it, before handing the (un)true realisation of it over to the ensemble and releasing it to the many relationships it is to go on and experience: the actors, the technicians, the audience ...

Creating Theatre, in a way, drills the capacity for honest reaction out of you. It creates the circumstances and the environment in which your once perfect vision exists in hybrid form … possessed by others ... spoken, felt, watched, and listened to by people often not of your choosing. And yet as the creator you are silent. Immune.

It is a precious and rare exchange, and one that does not necessarily belong in the domain of business ... or even life generally. That, I think, demands the very personification of the Law of the Jungle:

Can I fuck it? Will it fuck me?
Can I kill it? Will it kill me?
Can I eat it? Will it eat me?

And when the Australian actress Leah Purcell warned me that I "had bad magic happening on that stage" only hours before my Opening Night of the Sydney Film Festival, I should have handled my response differently. Very differently. But that is another story ... and one it is time we shared.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

UPDATE: The Candidates: Part 1

... and then there are stories like this one.

I'm almost inclined to rest to my case … if it weren't for the fact that even though there are amazing people on the planet like this young man, there are The Others. Sinister, self-serving … and, especially by comparison, entirely worthy of a different kind of attack.