How cynical are you?

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How Cynical Are You?

Just thought I’d make a quick update as I haven’t posted in a while. I’m still not feeling well which is why I haven’t been online lately… I think it’s just a virus but it’s frustrating. I haven’t been able to answer comments yet either but I wanted to thank everyone for their thoughts on my last post; you’ve given me a lot to think about and I’ll be following up with another post in a few days.

I haven’t done much writing either but I’ve been thinking about an idea which could be different for me… it was sparked by a dream and I’m just debating whether it should be a screenplay or a story at the moment. I had this image of a man emerging from a fire, a shape-shifter, and everything’s just fallen into place from that scene. I’m leaning towards the screenplay, but we’ll see… I’ll post a short synopsis once the details are worked out.

Anyway, as I haven’t been able to do a normal post, who’s up for a quiz? πŸ™‚ I found this one earlier and thought it was interesting. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a cynic but I am with my writing; I’m confident but I try to keep myself in check. Apart from that my result seems about right… I’m fairly positive but I know how the world works and my impressions are pretty accurate.

I wonder if being cynical is so bad, though? A cynic is often portrayed as pessimistic but I think you can have a healthy scepticism about anything; sometimes being a little cautious can be a good thing. What’s interesting is how our impression of cynicism has changed from its origins, though. Originally cynicism wasn’t about seeing the world in a misanthropic way as much as advocating a simpler lifestyle in the pursuit of virtue. It encompassed a number of Greek philosophies but now a cynic is someone who always believes the worst in humanity… as a philosophical movement you can see its benefits but now it seems somehow dishonourable. Strange how times change.

So are you a cynic? Do you think cynicism has its place? I’d be interested to find out. And I’m looking forward to catching up with your blogs again too. It feels weird catching a virus when it’s still 26Β° C outside… must be Murphy’s Law. Or maybe I’m just being cynical. πŸ˜‰

A time of change

So Easter’s over for another year. It’s amazing how quickly it’s gone; I was thinking earlier that it’s hard to believe we’re almost at the end of March… the year’s gone quickly, even if it has been the earliest Easter in years.

I’ve always liked Easter. I’m more spiritual than religious but I like the sentiment that comes with the season; it’s a time of renewal and continuing life and it always makes me think of the changing seasons, the leaves starting to brown. It makes me think of where I am in my life as well and I’ve been doing a lot of that over the last few days.

I’ve been feeling like I’ve been needing a change for a while and so recently I applied for a new job. I’m hoping I’ll get it but I realised over the weekend that that’s not the only thing I’ve been frustrated about. I’ve started to feel like I’ve outgrown some of my friendships and I’m not sure how to feel; it’s natural we’d grow apart after ten years but now I’m not sure if those relationships were as important to me as I thought they were.

I also haven’t been feeling well for a few days, so I’ve had a few things on my mind. But then on Sunday everything seemed a little clearer. I guess I just realised that there was no point feeling frustrated any more; the job was out of my hands and did it really matter how I felt about my friends? Those relationships had changed but how I had felt then wasn’t any less real because the feeling had changed now. Resisting the change was stopping me from moving on and I realised I should honour how I had felt in my heart, rather than trying to recapture it.

I’ve always resisted change a little bit, like most people; we’re comfortable in the world we’ve created for ourselves and it’s scary when that world changes. But I’ve always been quick to embrace change once I’ve recognised it and it seemed apt that it should happen on Easter Sunday, right at the end of a difficult week. Maybe the universe was watching out for me.

It seems like everyone is talking about change at the moment, though, doesn’t it? The election has stirred up a lot of those feelings; even if you wanted to avoid the hype I don’t think you could, it’s everywhere. And I’m half the world away; I can’t imagine what it must be like in the US. It’s funny how “change” seems to have become the motto for this election. It’s electrified people, particularly Obama’s supporters, but you hear about change at every election; politicians promise how they’ll be different but usually it’s just a number of empty platitudes. This election is different in that a black man or a woman could become president for the first time but most of the spin is still the same.

One of my favourite songs is David Bowie’s Changes and I came across this video earlier which captures it perfectly, all the candidates wanting to be the agent of change. I thought it was so funny, particularly at the end when they all started singing the chorus! But it’s true, change really has become the theme for 2008 – but why? It’s too simple to say it’s just Bush; I’m sure Bush is a big factor but the changes being talked about are more widespread than that. It’s a number of factors coming together; the economy, housing affordability, health care, gas prices, climate change, Iraq… but are they any different to the issues normally talked about during an election? I’m a bit confused about why the whole “change” theme has caught on so much, except because the candidates are so different and foreign policy.

To be honest the way the entire election is being reported over here is starting to annoy me, though. I don’t like the way the media thinks we have a right to say who we (or should I say they) think should be president. John Howard criticised Obama in 2007 after Obama announced his presidential bid, saying al Qaeda should “pray” that Obama and the Democrats win in 2008. He was deservedly roasted for interfering but isn’t the media being hypocritical? They often talk about which candidate would be “better” for Australian interests and stories like this one on Hillary Clinton hardly seem balanced. Online Opinion even carried out a poll of the candidates Aussies would pick. I know it’s in the media’s nature to speculate but their attitude has to be influencing their reporting – and they’re already biased because of their distaste for Bush.

I think everyone has the right to an opinion on any election, whether it’s in their country or not, but it should be just that, an opinion; the media’s influencing the way Australians look at the election and therefore how we look at the US. I’m no fan of Bush but I will always be a friend of America; 9/11 was a day that changed my life and the attitude that some people have towards America now disturbs me and doesn’t all come from Bush… it says a lot about us and if we’re talking about change, that’s something I’d like to see change about us as well. Maybe this election can be a catalyst.

I think the candidates need to careful about all this talk of change. If that’s what they promise and in the end little changes, they’re setting themselves up for a backlash. But even if there is change, that doesn’t mean it will be noticeable right away; change takes time to implement and often you only see it later, looking back. As the David Bowie song says – time may change you but you can’t trace time.

So anyway that’s what I’ve been doing over Easter, making some changes. I hope you had a good Easter and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of posting and commenting again after a long break. And oh, if you’re a Bowie fan like I am, there’s a great clip of Bowie singing Changes live available here; just don’t blame me when it gets stuck in your head. πŸ™‚

The Galleon


Image: Voyage by Paranoimiac on Deviant Art

The Galleon
CJ Levinson

In my dreams I see a distant land
Surrounded by a vast ocean and shadows
On the sands of that desolate place
Lies the wreck of an old galleon
Tall and shattered, all that remains
Is its weathered and half-buried frame
A relic from an ancient past
That no one remembers

What brought it here I do not know
Nor what became of its prized cargo
Of gold, sandalwood and cinnamon,
And slaves taken far from their homes
It seems a sad fate; but if you listen carefully
Sometimes you can still hear its stories
Whispered on the wind
Whilst it stands sentry over the night

Far in the distance a small cemetery
Marks the last resting place of the dead,
A wooden cross beside each grave
Watching over their nameless remains
How many survived and for how long
Is something only the sands can know;
I can only imagine how it must have felt
To be destined to die alone

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

What makes something art?

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Cartoon from See Mike Draw

What do you think makes something a work of art? Is there some quality that distinguishes a painting or sculpture as art compared to an object in the natural world? Or is there a cultural difference, with what we consider art changing based on our beliefs and heritage?

For me the difference is that a painting (or any work) is created by the artist; it’s the expressive nature of the medium that makes something art. In that way I think any work that touches us on an emotional level – brings us joy or anger, tears or laughter – is art. But there is a cultural aspect to it as well, particularly in how we interpret art. Some works can be so foreign that they’re lost in translation to different countries, and sometimes what’s considered art by one group of people can be offensive to another.

I wonder what you think of this cartoon? It’s from See Mike Draw, a blog I stumbled upon last week. I’m addicted to Mike’s drawings; they’re so clever and there’s not enough cultural satire these days. The reason I found this one interesting, though, was because of the what happened after it. After Mike drew it and another cartoon, he received a comment a few days later calling his blog blasphemous and saying that he was using his talent to “give glory to Satan”.

I couldn’t believe the comment when I read it. First – and this is the writer in me – it would be sacrilege, not blasphemy. But it’s strange anyway. I don’t find any of the cartoons offensive; it’s the job of a humorist to make observations about life and I don’t think any topic should be off-limits to humour, including religion. I can understand someone not liking a joke or finding it tasteless but if that’s the case, don’t read the blog; no one’s forcing you to. Sometimes people just need to grow a thicker skin.

What it’s made me think about again, though, is the way we view art. The best satirical drawings are memorable because they create strong feelings in people, and that’s true for any work of art. But what about when something doesn’t touch us that way? What about when a work goes too far, or doesn’t make us feel anything at all? Sometimes it seems like the only reason something is considered “high art” is because the critics rave about it, but why should a few people decide what’s culturally relevant, or what I like?

David Hockney said something similar recently. Hockney was asked about the current standard of painting in Britain and didn’t seem impressed, believing the widespread use of cameras in art schools and fewer drawing classes had created a generation of shock artists. He was particularly critical of Tracey Emin, an artist known for her conceptual art. Hockney sparked a lot of debate and I tend to agree with him, particularly about Emin. I’ve never quite got what her work is about. She’s best known for My Bed, a work showing her bed and objects from her room in an abject state; sheets stained with body secretions, a pair of underwear with menstrual stains, the floor covered with cigarette packets and condoms… I just don’t get why that’s art. I mean, I don’t like it, I don’t hate it… it doesn’t make me feel anything, which is the point. But it was shortlisted for the Turner prize and had the critics raving, so I must be missing something. Right? πŸ˜•

Conceptual art seems to be the rage in art circles at the moment, and I like some of it, but there seems to be a debate going on as to what crosses the line. Emin’s work is often described as conceptual art (and much of it is) but some people think that My Bed and other works are closer to shock art; it’s confronting but then the idea forms the basis for the work, so it tends to fall between the lines. For me it illustrates that the way we look at art is changing; with less time we’re attracted to works that can fit in with our lifestyle and traditional art is taking a backseat to it.

But perhaps it’s also a generational difference. While many critics praise works like Emin’s, they also seem dismissive of digital art, or at least don’t see it on the same level as other forms of art. I don’t understand that. Why should an artwork be any less relevant because a computer has been used to make it? Sites like Deviant Art show what’s possible with technology and some of it is stunning. And I can’t help but think that some of Hockney’s criticism shows a disconnect between his views and younger generations. That art schools are using cameras shows they’re providing artists with different skills, which is necessary. And after criticising Emin, Hockney went on to say that iPods were as much to blame for the decline, which further highlights the disconnect.

I wish people would stop blaming the iPod for everything. I know it’s easy to use it as a symbol but blaming the iPod is like blaming a gun rather than a person; it sidesteps the issue. Hockney’s main criticism is that we’re not living in a visual age because of the success of the iPod. He says that sound has replaced sight; on buses we don’t look out the window, listening to music instead, and that’s resulting in a weakening of the visual arts. He also says that’s producing badly dressed people.

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty comfortable with how I dress and I still look out the window when I listen to music. I’m not listening to escape inside my head either, rather it’s to block out other noise. The one thing people seem to forget when criticising the iPod is that cell phones are a big intrusion too and the iPod has been a godsend for people wanting to escape from them. The ironic thing is that Hockney isn’t entirely wrong but by attacking the iPod he loses credibility. It’s true that people are turning to music more now but the real reason (apart from convenience) is because the imagery isn’t connecting. It says more for the art that’s being produced; show me an exhibition that’s not of someone’s bed or a movie that’s not all CGI and I’ll be the first one there. I’m sure other people would say the same thing.

And why is it that music is being portrayed like a lesser art anyway? Is listening to or performing music somehow less stimulating than creating visual art? Is writing? Something makes me think that if it were Mozart or Chopin we were listening to that Hockney might have a different attitude. It feels like elitism and it’s a pity because it dilutes Hockney’s other points.

Anyway, I should say that I don’t know that much about art; I just enjoy it as an observer and this has been on my mind lately. As a writer the devaluing of the arts is a big concern to me but also the idea of valuing one art above another; all forms of art have merit and just because some forms produce more mainstream works doesn’t mean that they’re somehow lesser than other forms. Anything that has beauty has value and should be treasured.

I wonder what you think? What makes something a work of art? Is there a difference between how different generations view art? Is there anything that should be off-limits to artists? Let me know what you think. πŸ˜‰

Are you an Internet Addict?

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Are You Addicted to the Internet?

I hate being offline. I’m not sure if anyone else feels like this as well but when I’m offline for more than a few days I start to get anxious; not so much that it becomes a problem, but I always know there are emails in my inbox, things I want to do online… it nags at me and then when I do go online, there’s so much to catch up on that it makes me want to turn off the screen again.

I call the feeling iGuilt and I’ve had a really bad case of it lately. I’ve been a little distracted and haven’t been able to do more than just check my email and I even let that slip for a day. And when I came back on, I had over 30 emails to reply to. Well, they can wait; another day’s not going to hurt them. What I’ve actually missed more has been blogging. Answering comments, catching up on other blogs… it’s funny how much it becomes a part of your life. I’m looking forward to catching up later.

Being offline never happens at a good time, though, does it? I’d just got some ideas for new posts and of course that’s when it happens, not when I have blogger’s block! I’ll get to them over the next few days but I thought I’d just post a quick quiz today to go with the update; this seemed like a good one to go along with the iGuilt. πŸ˜‰

Apparently I’m a pretty normal internet user. I guess I’d agree with that; I’ve never had too many problems online. But I’ve often wondered about internet addiction. We treat it sceptically but in South Korea and Japan there are entire centres for internet addiction. I’m not sure why we dismiss it so easily here but it’s simple to see how it could have a major impact on someone’s life… more people are spending longer and longer online and the impact that can have on our health and relationships shouldn’t be underestimated.

One thing I wonder, though, is whether it’s a true addiction or merely a symptom of other disorders? Many internet addicts suffer from depression and emotional problems and for others it can hide impulse disorders and gambling addictions. Using one term to cover everything seems to give the wrong idea. And unlike other addictions, aren’t most forms of internet addiction self-inflicted? Obviously it’s not as simple as just stopping, but no one forces someone online to begin with, so aren’t they responsible in some way?

I’m not sure myself. Most experts think that the problem can correct itself, suggesting it’s more that someone has to unlearn a behaviour… but then that can’t be true for everyone. If someone has an addictive personality, their brains are wired differently; once they start, they lose all control and they can’t stop even if they try. You only need to look at some of the people who died playing video games to see that.

Perhaps what we’re really talking about is the difference between an obsessive personality and an addictive one. For some people it becomes an obsession; spending too many hours online, losing track of time… it builds up over time, but it’s something they can change if they try. But for others it really is an addiction, something they have no control over. It takes over their lives until they can think of nothing else… it’s only going to become a bigger problem in the future as well, so hopefully it’s taken more seriously.

I know I don’t have a problem online but I try to be careful. Often I’m online for most of the day; part of it’s work and the rest of the time I’m doing research. Because I’m on a lot there’s always the risk I’ll come to depend on it, and in a way I have; that’s what I found with being offline for a few days, I missed it. But I think that’s natural as well. The net has changed; the content is better and there are reasons to want to be online, not least of which is the community. Like anything it’s making sure that you stay in control and can enjoy what the net has to offer. At the moment I think I’ve got a good balance… even if it comes with iGuilt every now and then. πŸ™‚

So what about you? Are you addicted to the internet? How do you balance real life with virtual life? If you have any tips, I could use them at the moment. πŸ˜‰