The Complex Orchestra


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pic by Garry Knight (Creative commons - free to use with attribution, free to repurpose with CC licence intact)

I am the conductor of the Complex Orchestra. It is a somewhat difficult process in some ways and unbelievably easy in others – I didn’t realise I was the conductor for a long time. I also didn’t know who or what I was conducting to – they are not to be seen. The choir is not so much invisible as, well, not embodied. You notice them more by the wind they swirl or the bum notes they hit or the way something beautiful occurs when they pay their two instruments in harmony. They look at each other in astonishment sometimes, or so I sniff, anyway.

The fact that the complex orchestra is not embodied does not mean that you cannot find them stuck down the back of the couch, in your hair just after you’ve freshly washed it, sitting on the toilet with you in the dead of the night. The bottom rangers seem to like 3am and use it as their moment in the moon, as it were. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, painting them black. The dark, the nighttime, the mysterious, the hidden and the colour black have all been dissed down through the ages, especially by those who simply cannot bear that they are there and would prefer to have the lights on all over the world, so that nocturnal animals all die of anxiety disorders.

 The complex orchestra is mammoth. It stretches away as far as my non-eye can see. It’s such a conglomerate! I was amazed to find that some of the very worst musicians in the complex orchestra who seem to struggle with a bit of aggro, like the one who has seaweed hanging off her shoulders and the one who smells always of Pinetarsal, they are often the ones who are most desperate to play as a team in the orchestra. One character has hassled me for decades. For long years he stood out in the hallway refusing to come in, smashing his bassoon against the wall specifically to disrupt the piccolo player, who already has a few unravelling holes in her basketcase as it is, poor thing.

I don’t know where their historical grievances come from. As far as I can see, the bassoon player is jealous of the piccolo player. I would also estimate a large dose of terror at her anxiety. How could I to say where this originated? I’m just the conductor. This ongoing dispute and terrorising may well have begun in the diaspora in 586BC or in some intergalactic family dispute a million years ago. I don’t know, I’m just the conductor.

It took me an awful long time to realise that I was able to conduct. It’s quite easy, really. All you need to do is see an invisible framework that no one teaches you about, be tormented or captivated by music that flows through you and then just as quickly leaves, and to not get caught up in thinking that you are responsible for playing the music with your own fingers. It takes a while to dawn on you that you are the conductor. And then it starts working better if you let the Complex Orchestra each play their own notes and help them to harmonise, and let them know that they are to try to contain themselves so that they don't waltz all over the will of other people. Jazz is fine, nastiness unconstrained without at least trying to self-regulate is not.

I was never so surprised when one day I walked out into the hallway and said to the bassoon player, “We are all sick to death of you banging your bassoon against the wall because of something that happened a million years ago. Work it out, please. We are not putting up with this kind of behaviour anymore. We require a bassoon player, and we would be most happy for you to come and join our orchestra" - I heard the piccolo player scream behind me, but I continued. "But if you cannot or will not behave respectfully, then we will have to ask you to leave the entire building. And I mean it this time.” And the clarinetist and trombonist both murmured yes. I knew the rest of the orchestra was behind me, that it was time for this particular hallway discord to end.

I had to leave it there then and go inside and placate the piccolo player and remind her that now I know I’m the conductor, and it is the right time for healing, that I am not going to let the bassoon player hassle her anymore. And so then the bassoonist came meekly into the room, holding his bassoon in one giant hand, and sat down at the end of the row and blew one long note on his bassoon. The piccolo player curled up in the lap of the tambourinist (she’s very small) and spent the next three weeks there, until one day the bassoonist, whose music now lent the most wonderful depth to the orchestra, played a long D and she pipped in with some pippy piccolo on the end, as a top note, like salt on caramel.

I don’t think the piccolo player and the bassoonist are going to go hang out at the pub together or anything, but they don’t need to, do they? You don’t need to be best buddies with everyone or even to really like some people. Doesn’t mean you can’t harmonise together.

Friday Afternoon


Friday, 26 September 2014

Sometimes I am so freaking dumb it beggars even my own belief. Incomprehensible the things I think, do and say when I'm anxious and under a time constraint. When I get a little calmer - say, AFTER I've sent a last-minute job application on behalf of my partner because he is at work - I realise that I've listed his work position wrongly, plus a bizarre "time in corresponding position" answer based on I know not what, and then neglected to list at all his previous experience that's most applicable in the cover letter.

So I hope he didn't want that job too badly.

I have rolled around all day flapping my hands and feeling like I have turpentine running through my veins and feeling unable to settle on any of the 1317 things and seriously, this must be what it's like to be a demented old woman

I feel dumb as a box of hammers, a few fries short of a happy meal, as thick as two planks. If you're not too attached to your own functionality, though, even being a dill has its pleasures. I still think good thinks. It's just conveying them outward that's a little more difficult for someone whose brain is filled with gurk and splinken dopf, neither of which are meant to be there.

I couldn't get back to sleep after I woke at 4.30 this morning which was why I was texting my local radio station at 5am about the footy. (If you're in Melbourne at the end of September you are accosted on all sides by the football, which must be frustrating in the extreme for those who hate it. If it's any consolation, the AFL is accosting us with Tom Jones as half-time entertainment so perhaps you can feel some appeasement with that). The radio station was playing a fun game of "pretend you are the person who kicks the winning goal in the grand final". I sent my text in which Libby Gore declared beautiful 'cause she knows sensational writing when she sees it. The producers then called me and asked me if I would go on the air and commentate my text and I said I was too tired and I write better than what I speak and no. Because clunk. I am seriously as thick as a brick, as dippy as a roller coaster, as vague as a 170 year old, as deadshit as a not-alive piece of faecal matter when I have to say anything coherent at 5am.

I'm also pretty smart and whippetlike but that only appears between 6 and 7.12pm of an evening, and on Tuesday mornings
I have been writing this entire status update lying in my side in the bathroom with coffee up my arse and you will never, ever be able to get that visual out of your head.

Hawthorn by 16

Sol Invictus


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Melbourne sunrise.  Pic by Steve Davidson

When you consider the financial and environmental benefits, it’s unsurprising rooftop solar power has taken off around the world. Solar is sexy. It's also the grand narrative pantomime for our age, with Tony Abbott our local panto villain – his government is not behind you, nor behind the earth, for that matter. They’re behind the friends and supporters with links to fossil fuels who donated more than A$900,000 to the Libs in four years.

It’s unsurprising that the old guard, who stand to lose most from change, dig their heels in so. We are creatures who do not take kindly to change at the best of times. Our physiology is yet to catch up with our technology and our global connectedness, and our anxiety levels reflect that, as do our biases. Add megabucks in, and you can understand why their sight is so short and their ways so corrupted, though it may be hard to forgive them their blind stupidity.

The change that is to come must come from us, from the so-called leaners. As ever it’s always been.

Someone once said that cash is deceptive. It’s never quite enough to satisfy the particular discomfort that comes from living in this world where nothing is as safe as we wish it to be. Though it is hard to imagine, even Gina Rinehardt – who earned in 3.9 minutes today what I earned in the entire 2013 financial year – feels fragile living here too. Can you imagine living with such a level of hatred directed towards you? Of course you’d surround yourself, more and more, with gatedness, with the people of yes. And even if you’ve had money and power all your life, surely it doesn’t stop the 3am shadows nipping out from the dark whispering that despite it all, you still don’t feel safe. And if Gina and those like her are taking any notice of the still point our society is heading towards, they might just be feeling the nip of the pitchforks at their heels, too.

When your fortune is built on coal – or, for that matter, on newspapers, or on keeping a political party in office – the fear and addiction that comes with that power and success are the noise that drown out the signal that everything, and everybody, ends. (All good Buddhists, Taoists, and people who have watched Six Feet Under know this). The pendulum always swings. The world, Nassim Nicholas Taleb would suggest in his book Antifragile, becomes more fragile when we try and keep it from swinging, not less. Some of the mess we find ourselves in is because we simply don’t know when to stop meddling. We feel so unsafe, so we try to control what is required of us to let be. Sometimes, it is better to sit back, take a breath, and do nothing. Inaction is its own form of action.

Once, the stories we told ourselves about ourselves were limited and local and the ways we kept ourselves warm were the same. Forest wood and coal fared fine when used for household energy purposes. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the mass rise of industry that the extraction of coal got deeper and dirtier and required more than a bunch of people digging it out with picks.

Today, urbanisation and globalisation have stripped many of our old stories away, just like Mr Abbott’s counterparts in the Tasmanian government plan to strip away more of Tassie’s old-growth forests. The stories we tell ourselves to keep warm now are just as inclined to come from a culture from the other side of the world as from any remnants we are lucky to glean from our own, and if we do have a shared global story today it’s about unforseen climate shit hitting the fan along with long foreseen inequality. See the smog blocking out Beijing’s cityline? Gina dug that out of a hole from land her forebears didn’t even know existed 200 years before.

The problem with all the stuff that needs changing is that we see now like we’ve never seen before the impacts of our unintended actions. At the same time, this expanded view is delivered to us through increasingly fragmented shards of information. Our world’s health report is delivered to us as a whole glass globe made entirely of shards. This continual central nervous system rev-up makes it hard for us to distinguish the signal from the noise and know when to stop looking and start breathing.

Because we have so much to do, right? The way we do stuff is so wrong in so many ways. Ever thought about why, if you want to make big bucks, you can’t do it feeding the homeless? Or that money, invented out of thin air by our richest, is sold to us as a debt, and yet it’s so damn hard to come by? Or how for decades the IMF and the Wold Bank have bailed out the poorest in the world by selling them loans they could never afford to pay back? Or of how we already produce enough food to feed the world; it’s our systems of distribution that are the problem?

All that stuff is dirty, complicated mess, and combine it with all of that win/lose/leaner crap spoken from entitlement, it’s exhausting. We want to get away. We need to pan out a bit and get some distance and some silence. It’s been just over 40 years since our first photographic glimpse beamed back to us of a vision of the earth as a whole, in colour, from space. A beautiful blue, green and brown ball, swirly with clouds, grandly hanging, dammit, right in the middle of the air.
Pan up and out to that 1972 view and from here you see the potential for cohesion. It’s silent up here. Silence might be terrifying to us, in our noisy world, but there is strength in it and a peace once you get used to the agarophobia. Out here, we can believe that change is possible. And of course it is – it’s happening all over the place, if we can just distinguish the signals from the noise.

Out here in space, we can turn and see the sun ... actually, probably best not to frazzle your eyeballs off, so let's keep it metaphorical.  Up here, that damn sun couldn’t be more egalitarian if it was wearing a beret, chowing down on a croissant, and welcoming in the eight hour day. What is more egalitarian than the sun? Though Tony Abbott and his rich friends worldwide seem to believe it shines out of themselves, the fact is that the sun shines on the egalitarian and the oligarch alike. And while solar power is not going to solve everything, it’s a damn good and hopeful symbol of what's started.

If we are all made of stars, then what better way to fuel our lives than star energy? It’s 99% pollution free.